Or not.

As counterpoint to this post, an invented dialogue which explains why I am not a liberal according to the modern definition:

(DISCLAIMER: many of the statements below are for the sake of argument.  They employ sarcasm and irony, and should not necessarily be taken to indicate my real views.  I am an advocate of total liberty – of action,  expression and association.)

Just as I should be able to marry anyone I please, I should be able to do what I please with the money I earn.

Those are completely different. Marriage bans are about imposing one group’s idea of morality on everyone. Taxes and welfare aren’t legislating morality.

Oh no? So we have no moral obligation to feed and clothe the less-fortunate?

I didn’t say that. Anyway, it’s just money. Marriage is a lot more important than money!

It’s just a piece of paper.

Marriage is a lot more than that! It affects inheritances, job benefits, tax status, the division of property in case of separation, patient visiting rights…

A lot of those things sound like they have to do with money.

Okay, but take all that stuff away and it’s still different. Forbidding me to marry someone denies me basic respect as a moral being with the ability to make good decisions on my own. It forces someone else’s idea of what’s best for the community on me.

Well, you seemed to agree earlier that charity is a moral issue. Forcing me to give my money to the causes that someone else deems best denies me basic respect as a moral being with the ability to make good choices about where that money is best spent. It forces someone else’s idea of what’s best for the community on me.

Yeah, but that money does some good. What good does banning gay marriage do?

So the only test of whether a law is legitimate is if someone thinks it’s doing some good? I can find you some people who think that keeping marriage between a single man and a single woman is a public good. The majority of America seems to think so, in fact.

They’re stupid.

Quite possibly. I suppose their support of wealth redistribution is also stupid, then?

You’re just selfish.

My, that sounded like a moral judgement. Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing you’re fighting?

OK, I’m sorry. I know you’re a nice guy; if you got to keep that money I’m sure you’d put it to good use. But you KNOW that the majority of people would just keep it for themselves. Without taxes the poor would starve. There’d be no social services to speak of! Taxes are the only way to insure that money gets to where it’s needed.

Ah, so they are only necessary because otherwise all those poor slobs wouldn’t do the right thing on their own. You know, you sound a little elitist. Kind of like some fundamentalists I’ve heard. Very sure that they know what’s best for everyone else.

Talk about elitist. You sound like you’re sticking up for the rich elites who pay the most taxes. They’re only, like, 5% of the population. And they’ve got plenty of money to spare. Why should you care about them?

Gays are, what, 4% of the population? And they can still have relationships even if they can’t get married. Why should you care about them?

It’s a matter of principle! It’s about freedom in this supposedly free country, and about respect for human beings!


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  1. “Gays are, what, 2% of the population?”

    4%, I believe.

    1. Thank you. Corrected.

  2. *loud roaring cheer from the choir loft*

  3. A thought that has been rattling around in my head. It’s not quite fully-baked, so take it with skepticism:

    Liberals (Democrats and such) have a somewhat, well, liberal view of sexual morals: Do what you want, and allow other people to do what they want. (Subject to limitations such as don’t hurt people).

    Conservatives (Republicans and such) have a restrictive view. They have decided what is right for them, and those morals will be inflicted upon everyone else, too.

    I’m not sure where to go with this. I need to think more.

    1. I think what the above discussion illuminated is that both democrats and republicans have areas in which they are restrictive.

      Republicans generally want to enact laws that support a judeo-christian morality ethic, sometimes at the expense of liberty.
      Democrats generally want to enact laws that force the more fortunate to provide for the less fortunate, at the expense of liberty.

      Republicans act out of fear that “sexual immorality” will destroy our society, while democrats fear that “greed and selfishness” will destroy our society.
      Either way, they are forcing a morality structure upon the voting public.
      Libertarians generally believe that people are smart enough to make their own decisions about morality, everyone understands the ups and downs of their own lifestyles. We have faith that the rich aren’t all greedy cartoon-style mizers, but that they have a keen interest in charitable works, and left to their own devices will help the poor out far more than a govenment check will. We also have faith that men having sex with each other will not destroy families or adversely effect anyone else’s marriage vows, but that bestowing basic respect to such stable relations is a good thing.

    2. put it quite well. I’ll just add this:

      The point of my invented dialogue (which, incidentally, takes place between a libertarian and a liberal), is that both liberals and conservatives have a restrictive view of morals, which they would like to impose on everyone “for the good of the people”. The liberals, however, like to claim that the things they want to restrict haven’t got anything to do with morality. In this they are assisted, ironically enough, by the culturally ingrained Christian system of morals, in which anything having to do with money is considered vulgar and unrelated to the higher ideals.

  4. I’ll just add one devil’s advocate..

    I think put it quite well also.. but I have one quibble.. and I think it does make a lot of difference…

    Being a historian–I’ve a pretty good sense of what American society was like over the past 150 years or so (due to lots and lots of reading)… and it makes me take issue with one particular point…

    It is this part from Darth’s point
    “We have faith that the rich aren’t all greedy cartoon-style mizers, but that they have a keen interest in charitable works, and left to their own devices will help the poor out far more than a govenment check will.”

    If I may ask–what evidence do you have to support this point of view? Have you gone and spoken to Charitable institutions about this state of affairs? I know for a fact that when Bush started talking about just allowing private charities handle things like welfare–that these private charities all freaked out and said that they don’t have nearly the resources to do this and didn’t expect to get this money from increased donations by the well off…

    On another score–If we go back in history–then the most appropriate period we are talking about that would model this libertarian ideal–at least economically–would be the 1870-1910… And it was in this period that we saw the effects of mass poverty. It was also the period of astoundingly wealthy people… Yes.. Carnegie did eventually give away all his wealth–in order to build a universtiy and lots of concert halls–not something that generally helps the poor in a direct way…

    In fact, it was during this period that we saw the largest growth of socialism and totalitarian ideologies, because people were so desperate that they would latch onto anything–they had nothing to lose…

    (In the end, this state of affairs was mitigated by the Progressive movement and then the New Deal–both instances where the middle class, in order to stave off revolution from below, expanded government to deal with the problems that allowing the wealthy elites to run things had caused…)

    Thus.. in the end… while I think that it would be nice if libertarian theory truly applied to reality–I don’t think that the historical evidence supports this view at all..

    Know your history! Provide evidence!

    maybe I’m wrong tho.. maybe rich people do all want to give money to the poor..
    Maybe we should take an empirical survey and ask all of them how much they give in charities each year–with proof as provided by their tax returns..

    I’m game if you all are!

    1. Re: I’ll just add one devil’s advocate..

      I don’t believe that all rich people want to give their money to the poor. Although it only takes one Bill Gates to make up for hundreds of mere millionaires who don’t give.

      I do believe in the charity of the middle-class, the people who tithe even after being taxed. That same middle class is increasingly being promoted to upper-middle class these days, and I doubt they stop giving when that happens. I believe in the charity of churches, mosques, and synagogues – and in the studies which show that they are far more effective, and far less wasteful with their money, than equivalent public institutions. I believe in superior value of localized charity, where the people who understand the problem are in charge of deciding where the money goes, over centralized programs which distribute help based on politics rather than need. I believe in the private cooporative mutual-aid clubs of 19th-century Tampa, where workers got healthcare, insurance, and a myriad other services for a fee they could afford on their meager wages. I believe that such things would be possible again if we didn’t have a million regulations governing such institutions. I believe that the minimum wage has killed off an entire class of what I’d call “threshhold jobs” – shit jobs that let an utterly unskilled laborer get his foot in the door, thereby reducing the need for welfare. Telephone sanitizers, full-service gas station attendants, the kid who puts groceries in your car. Hell, the kid who mows my lawn is probably technically working illegally. Minimum wage isn’t the only barrier to entry keeping people from beginning to support themselves, but it’s one of them.

      I also think we’d see a lot more charity if mutually-beneficial charity weren’t so taboo. Let corporations establish schools that would actually teach kids a marketable skill by the time they turned 18, in return for first crack at the graduates. Give students an alternative to student loans, in the form of speculative investments in their future earning power.

      I’m dubious about your claim that 1870-1910 legitimately represented the libertarian ideal. Did the rule of law reign supreme? Could any common plebe yank the biggest politician or the richest corporation into the courtroom for violating her rights, either through force or fraud – and win? Economists have noted that capitalism only works when the rule of law is imposed, and while we have a better record on that count than most, I think we have a long way to go.

      1. Re: I’ll just add one devil’s advocate..

        A couple of points…

        1) Charity of middle class– While I agree with you that it is generally the middle class that gives–and often not just the upper middle class (Working as a stock-boy in a liquor store–I only got tips from working class people for hauling out kegs to their car–rich folks almost never tipped.. which is ok–it’s not expected–but it was an observation..) but more rather the middle class overall–I disagree with your statement that this middle class is constantly being promoted into the upper class…

        While some of these people in the middle class are being promoted–the vast majority are not. Financial facts to support this are pretty clear–and I got these numbers from gov’t stats..–Since 1973, the median real wage for non-supervisory workers has declined. In 1998, real weekly non-supervisory wages were 12% less than they were in 1972. Also, real incomes for families have only grown through an increase in hours worked–mainly as housewives entered the workforce and we got the two-wage earning family. Finally, overall, only the top 20% of the income distribution has seen large increases in real wages…

        Now.. if you think the entire middle class fits within that top 20%.. then we are actually not in disagreement–but I tend to see the middle class as composing the middle 60% of incomes–and here your story is not backed up by the facts…

        As for private charities and schools–they do do a lot of good–that I won’t deny–but a partial explanation for this is the fact that they don’t have to deal with problems they don’t want. For example–we have a school voucher system here in Wisconsin–that gives $5,000 to students who want to move into private schools. However, as soon as this went through, the majority of private schools basically raised their tuition appropriately so that they wouldn’t have to take most of these students..
        Thus, they got the benefit of getting the “best-off” of the poor students, while relegating the most poor back to a weakened system. Also–most private schools shun learning disabled students–they kick them out.. and the public system gets to deal with them…
        How are you going to compel them to accept such students?

        2. The history of corporate schooling is not as promising as you think it is.. I did a paper on this for a class on the progressive era–and basically what happens is that corporations have never really been willing to invest in trainig people who then might take these skills elsewhere… In fact, Corporations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used to have big apprenticeship programs–which they then got rid of and pushed onto the states…

        (In fact–why shouldn’t corporations be expected to teach people how to function in them? Why do we assume that the state should do this? Education originally was there to create good citizens… and functional training came from the particular industries… )

        Thus.. history backs up the proposition that corporations–because their prime motivating factor is profit–are never going to go into an area that often is inherently unprofitable.. (more evidence for this is when all those charter schools in california right at the beginning of the school semester just closed because of financial problems–and the students were all screwed)..

        1. Re: I’ll just add one devil’s advocate..

          This conflicts with an economic analysis I read recently, which I apparently failed to bookmark. I’m going to see if I can find it.

      2. part two!

        3. I personally think the libertarian ideal is based on flawed assumptions. While it assumes that the rule of law will solve all these problems–it strives at the same time to eviscerate the practical tools that the law uses to enforce itself.
        Libertarians don’t want regulations–but then assume that people will obey basic ideals…

        Now if you fundamentaly believe that people are generous, kind-hearted, and follow rules without threat of punishment–i.e. that they are basically altruistic–then this system would work..

        I, as you probably know, do not believe this to be the case. My personal experiences, my attention to current world affairs, and my knowledge of history show me that the vast majority of people are basically self-interested and follow rules only because there is a threat to not following the rules…

        I am obviously in league with Hobbes here… And while there are countless instances of altruism at personal levels–neighbors helping neighbors–counting up such instances–which I have done at times–and then comparing them to the instances of basically selfish behavior–still leads me to the conlcusion that selfishness wins out 9 times out of 10…

        While there are enlightened individuals–these are exceptions that confirm the rule–and thus, I tend to err on the side of creating more permanent institutions to enforce basic rules supporting equality and opportunity than to just trust people..

        As for your rule of law today–I think that most of what you describe doesn’t get through today either–and that people like bush are appointing judges who work against this (which is probably his scariest power..)–concretely, I am referring to the attempted appointment of a conservative judge (a female one no less) who threw out a women’s case against a gynecologist who brought in a salesman during his examination of her and where they cracked jokes at the women’s expense— this judge threw out the women’s case–claiming that she had no expectation of a right to privacy in such instances…

        But I’m getting off track.. sorry…

        Fundamentally–I just don’t see the evidence for libertarianism working–and thus I stick with liberalism…
        Maybe in a more enlightened age we can all become libertarians… but not yet.. and dismantling the government now is only going to work against this goal…

        1. Re: part two!

          You’re arguing against anarchy, not libertarianism. Libertarians want less regulation, but if anything they want to see the remaining regulations much more vigorously enforced.

          I do agree with you on one point: the supremely utopian libertarians who dream of eliminating government in one fell swoop are nuts. The change has to happen primarily in the citizenry, and government will follow. Which I think is a sufficiently impossible task to keep me occupied for the rest of my life 😉

    2. By the way

      I don’t mind arguing the particulars… but that kind of misses the point of my post. The point was that sometimes you fight for something, not because it’s pragmatic or practical or sensible or historically validated, but because it’s right. We’ve never tried a society where gays are on equal footing with straights (OK, a few European countries have, but the data has only begun to accumulate) – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it. We haven’t tried a society where property rights are universally protected, even from the State – that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. There are a lot of liberals out there that would insist that my fight is not on the same moral level as theirs, and that’s why I cannot stand side-by-side with them and call myself one of them. Just as I can’t proclaim myself a comrade with someone who will defend my right to marry a man, but not my right to marry two women concurrently.

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