Posts filed under Alas, A Blog

Re: Why Are So Many Libertarians Republicans?


Thanks for the link, and for the kind words.

I also think that Bartlett’s case about CATO is fair. Since CATO and the Libertarian Party are hardly small and irrelevant parts of American libertarianism, I don’t think it’s true that Bartlett’s argument is, as Rad Geek says, a “ridiculous strawman.”

Well, I don’t dispute that CATO and the LP are significant parts of American libertarianism. But you don’t have to find some crazy-ass Red-card-carrying left-mutualist anarcha-Dworkinist like me to find self-identified libertarians who speak out vocally and repeatedly on the specific political issues that Bartlett claims libertarians aren’t speaking out about. You can find that standpoint among many people in the LP (including pretty much all LP presidential candidates prior to Bob Barr), or in any issue of Reason, which is not even remotely a radical publication, which you can find on the newsstand at any Barnes and Noble, and which is, as far as I know, the highest-circulation libertarian publication in the United States. These aren’t small or irrelevant parts of American libertarianism either, and if Bartlett can’t find the kind of libertarians that he’s looking for, then my suspicion is that he’s not looking very hard.

The claim that libertarians don’t speak out often enough about the War on Drugs, of all things, strikes me as particularly loopy and ill-founded.

Re: Supreme Court Seems Poised to Okay Schools Strip-Searching 13-year-old for Ibuprofen; also, Stephen Breyer needs to stop rewatching that scene in “Porky’s”


Children can and do administer over-the-counter and prescription drugs to themselves in homes, libraries, stores, museums, parks, and just about every single other institution that they encounter in their daily lives, with the sole exception of schools.


Homes have parents.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I was 13 years old, I was at home when my parents were not. Sometime I even took an Advil when they weren’t around, and without having checked with them first.

Children in libraries, stores, museums and parks generally are attended by parents.

I think you’re underestimating the amount of time 13 year olds spend outside of immediate parental supervision. But even if you weren’t, I don’t know what I’d be expected to infer from what you say here. If, when parents are around, 13 year olds aren’t generally subjected to zero-tolerance policies where they absolutely cannot consume prescription or even mild OTC drugs except through the mediation and supervision of their parents, then that would seem to indicate that the school’s policies are out of touch with what responsible 13 year olds are able to do, and in fact do, outside of the school. Which was my point.

Moreover, librarians, storekeepers, docents and rangers never have been deemed to stand in loco parentis. Schools have been, which is why you see this exception.

I’m aware of the legal reasons that government schools have felt compelled to adopt this kind of policy. But I think that’s an explanation of the policy, not a justification of it, and it is absolutely not a justification of using invasive and sexually humiliating methods to ensure that it is rigidly enforced.

As for standing in loco parentis, I think it’s a funny sort of justification for imposing policies that are far more invasive and busybodying than the practices of actually-existing parents. Of course, I know the legal reasons why this is so (specifically, the threat of a lawsuit), but that’s a good reason for dealing with the out-of-whack legal situation, not a good reason for anti-ibuprofen policies.

Re: Supreme Court Seems Poised to Okay Schools Strip-Searching 13-year-old for Ibuprofen; also, Stephen Breyer needs to stop rewatching that scene in “Porky’s”


The school has an interest in ensuring that drugs (whether OTC, prescription or illegal) are not distributed among the students outside of the control of the faculty and administration.

No it doesn’t.

No school in the United States spent a minute of its time worrying about anything of the sort until about 15 or 20 years ago, and there’s no real reason why they should, any more than they worry about whether or not students are distributing snack-packs or mechanical pencil refills outside of the control of the faculty and administration. Children can and do administer over-the-counter and prescription drugs to themselves in homes, libraries, stores, museums, parks, and just about every single other institution that they encounter in their daily lives, with the sole exception of schools. The current fixation of schools on trying to tend to every conceivable need that students might have and control every conceivable action that students might take, while on school grounds, is foolish and destructive.

It’s quite reasonable to presume that a kid might stash illicit drugs in their underwear if they don’t want to get caught holding them.

There needs to be some way of searching a kid to see if they’ve done that.

No, there absolutely does not.

If I were to grant, solely for the sake of argument, that schools ought to be concerning themselves with whether or not kids are carrying around Motrin outside of the control of the school nurse, then it would certainly not follow from that that the school has to be able to use strip searches in order to detect violations of the policies they set. Just because something is Against The Rules doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to do anything and everything in order to find out whether or not people are doing it.

Sometimes the only way to catch someone at breaking The Rules is to use procedures that would be too costly, that would interfere too much with other more important goals that the school is trying to accomplish, or that would unacceptably violate the student’s liberty, privacy, or dignity. If so, then what you have to do is just come to terms with the fact that you can’t always enforce all of your school policies all the times, and sometimes clever kids are going to manage to get away with something that the rules say they shouldn’t do — and, well, Christ, what else is new?

Re: The Soldier’s Truce Of 1914


One shouldn’t ignore the effects that conscription had, and the shifts in consensus within the military where it has been abolished. But in a line of work where your boss has the legal power to treat striking or quitting as a hanging crime, the line between volunteers and conscripts is fuzzier than it might at first appear.

That mattered a lot for the boys who signed up voluntarily in the Great War, not knowing what they would find in the trenches. And it matters a lot today in this age of stop-loss and endless reserve call-ups.

Re: Why we need radical healthcare reform

Bjartmarr: Finally, we need medical tort reform. Asking juries to determine whether a doctor was negligent just doesn’t seem to be working out very well, as awards are fairly unpredictable. My friend proposes that patients with grievances instead take them up with a medical grievance board made up of physicians. These doctors would decide if the doctor who performed the procedure was indeed negligent, and would award damages out of a state-supplied fund. Doctors would not pay damages for their own negligence (eliminating the need for medical insurance), but a doctor who erred too egregiously would have his license revoked.

Oh, great.

I’ll bet this would work out just about as well as it does in cities where people have to take their complaints of police misconduct to a “community relations board” which is itself packed with police representatives, and where the costs of civil rights settlements are taken from taxpayers rather than from the offending cops.

If your goal is to get a group of professionals to deal with people in a responsible, accountable way, then it strikes me as foolish to put the sole power to rule on grievance claims into the hands of those who have a professional interest in dismissing or minimizing complaints against themselves and their colleagues.

For deciding these kind of claims, a plain old jury trial is just about the worst system possible, except for all the others.

Re: Why we need radical healthcare reform

Myca: If you oppose universal health care and you do not explain clearly by what mechanism you will give medical care to poor people, you will be banned.

Well, I will give medical care to poor people (other than myself) by continuing to do what I already do. I scrape by on about US $13,000 a year and I give about 1/3 of that to groups that provide direct economic and medical aid to other poor people (Direct Relief, abortion funds, Planned Parenthood, battered women’s shelters, rape crisis counselors, etc.). I’m able to give that much partly because I don’t have any children to care for and partly because I have wealthier family members that I know I could ask for help in an emergency. But even without those advantages, I’d be able to give this kind of money more comfortably if it weren’t for the government’s constant draining of my resources through taxes to pay for red tape, corporate welfare and armed thugs. In any case I do think that I, at least, am doing something more to own my beliefs than just waving my hands around. As for explanation and defense:

Myca: I’ve heard over and over again that our current system is not a free market, and that’s cool, but then it’s incumbent on the person claiming that a free market would provide healthcare to those without money to show precisely how that would happen, because I don’t see it.

OK, but that’s not what’s been argued so far. What keeps happening is a comparison between something horrible that happens, or almost happened, under the U.S. state-corporatist system, and what would happen under some other state-socialist system of healthcare. But comparing the characteristics of one tightly-controlled government-regimented system of healthcare to those of another tightly-controlled government-regimented system of healthcare illuminates very little about how a free market would work, because neither of the options under comparison has very much to do with free markets. If you want to argue that state-socialism is better than state-corporatism, fine, but you should leave the free market out of it. If you want to argue that a free market in healthcare would still have features that make it worse than state-socialist healthcare, that’s fine too, but it requires some further argument that hasn’t yet been given in any detail.

As for the beginnings of an argument that you give in this comment:

Myca: Roughly, because the free market has no mechanism in place to provide health care to people who are unable to pay for it.

I’m not convinced. Because, well, of course it does. The “mechanism” is the same mechanism that exists in state-corporatist or state-socialist healthcare systems: people who are unable to pay for healthcare themselves can get it by getting other people to pay for part of it or all of it. The question is what means of getting other people to pay for it are available–and whether these means are voluntary or coercive.

Any State-run system of medical care that you happen to like could, in principle, be provided by voluntary mutual aid on a free market. The State has no special ability to make medical care “free,” or to summon up money from nowhere to pay for it; for the State to cover the medical costs it has to get money, labor, or supplies from somebody else, and whatever the State takes could be given voluntarily. Suppose that you like the way that money is collected and distributed in the French medical system; then on a free market, nobody is going to stop you from creating a nonprofit French Mutual Society for Medicine that uses the same bureaucratic mechanisms to collect, allocate, and pay out money. The only limitation is that, whatever system you cook up, you cannot force people to pay in, and you can’t force people to use your system for their own healthcare costs.

You might claim that unless everybody is forced to pay in, there wouldn’t be enough money to go around. But consider the billions of dollars that are voluntarily pissed away every two years trying to elect a slightly more “progressive” gang of weak-kneed establishment politicians, and what might happen if those resources were redirected towards direct action rather than electioneering and lobbying. Let alone the amount of money that might go to healing people rather than killing them if individual people, rather than belligerent governments, had control over the dollars currently seized in taxes.

You might instead claim that even if there is enough money to go around, this kind of model puts poor people at the mercy of donors for their healthcare. But I could just as easily respond that using the State to cover healthcare costs puts poor people’s at the mercy of the political process, which certainly offers no guarantees that the least powerful and least connected people in a society are going to get what they need, or even get decent human respect. In either case, people who aren’t very powerful need to organize and struggle to protect their interests from people who are more powerful than they are. The question, again, is what means of struggle are (1) morally preferable, and (2) strategically effective.

I don’t think it’s crazy to see voluntary, bottom-up mutual aid as both morally and strategically preferable to top-down political regimentation. Voluntary mutual aid may not actually produce a healthcare system that looks much like the nationalized healthcare systems common in western social democracies, but I think that the differences would largely be for the better: less bureaucracy, more alternatives, and more control in the hands of the patients themselves. Unlike the corporatist system in place today, medical costs would be drastically lower, thanks to the removal of the government-created monopolies and cartels that currently control every aspect of the insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical industries. And unlike the corporatist system in place today, medical costs might be covered not only by charities or churches or bosses (gag), but also through grassroots associations such as mutual aid societies and labor unions. (There is some actual history here; lodge practice medical arrangements in the U.S., U.K., and Australia used to provide healthcare to working-class folks at a rate of about one day’s wages for one year of healthcare, before the growing trend was halted and obliterated by the politically-connected medical establishment, with the backing of the State.)

Hope this helps.

Re: Why we need radical healthcare reform

r@d@r: … high drug costs can be attributed to the cost of advertising.

High drug costs can be attributed to many things. But among the most important factors are certainly the government-created, government-enforced patent monopolies on new drugs. When the government forcibly suppresses market competition from generics, this unsurprisingly tends to create monopoly pricing.

Re: Why we need radical healthcare reform

Myca: … our current system is abso-fucking lutely sadistic and nonsensical.

This is certainly true. But what has it got to do with “how the free market works”?

There is no free market for healthcare in the United States. The systems whose merits are being compared and debated are two different styles for government regimentation of the practice of medicine, one of them state-socialist and the other state-corporatist. In the former, the State directly controls payment and administration in every aspect of healthcare. In the latter, select cartels, heavily privileged, heavily regulated, and heavily insulated from competition, controls much or all of the work of payment and administration.

Maybe something more like the former system is better for many people than something more like the latter system. But there are specific historical reasons why, for example, and why most people depend on their bosses for health insurance. But these reasons have a lot to do with specific government actions (wage controls during World War II, for example, and ongoing tax incentives for employer-provided health insurance plans) and not much to do with market dynamics. Whether State-regimented healthcare is better on a corporatist model or better on a socialist model, none of it says much about the virtues or vices of a free market in healthcare, since that is not yet one of the options that has been brought up for consideration.

sailorman: I think there’s…


I think there’s a lot of non-overlap (not everything illegal is immoral, and not everything legal is moral, and so on…) but to a large degree, don’t you think that laws reflect society’s attempt to codify morality?

Not really, for two different reasons. First, because the province of law is more narrow than the province of morality. (Not everything that’s widely considered wrong can or ought to be legally punishable. For example, it’s widely considered wrong to stiff a delivery worker on a tip if you have the money and there was nothing wrong with the delivery. But it isn’t, and certainly shouldn’t be, either civilly or criminally actionable. That’s just not the government’s job.) Secondly, because “societies” don’t make laws in the first place; governments do. Provided that the people in government come from roughly the same culture as the private citizens, there will tend to be some overlap between what the people in government and what the people out of government widely consider right or wrong. But if the internal culture of the government is skewed towards certain views, or if the people who enter the government tend to be skewed towards specific sub-cultures within the larger culture, then you can expect that skew to be reflected in a similar skew between the laws that are in place and the laws that most people think ought to be in place. (In fact all of these conditions apply, which is why there are many unpopular laws that governments nevertheless insist on trying to enforce, and why many laws that are widely considered good ideas have not yet been enacted.)

That said, I think that you misunderstood the point I was trying to make in the first place. The point that I was trying to make didn’t have to do with attempts to “codify” morality, or with what people in a given society widely consider to be moral or immoral. My point had to do with what it is actually right to do, or actually wrong to do, or what people do or do not actually have a right to do. That’s an independent question; there are lots of cases where something was widely considered right even though it was wrong — say, slavery or witch-burning — and lots of cases where something was widely considered wrong even though there wasn’t anything wrong with it — say, interracial marriage or homosexual sex.

The point I was trying to make, then, is that something being legal or illegal has precisely nothing to do with whether it’s right or wrong to do it. Pointing to something and saying “That’s against the law” tells you something about what might happen to you if you do it and get caught, but it tells you nothing about whether you ought or ought not to do it. And pointing at an order and saying “That’s a legal order” tells you nothing about whether you ought to obey it, to ignore it, or to defy it. This is just an application of the principle set out by Dr. King in his letter from Birmingham jail:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all”.

FormerlyLarry: Every right to…


Every right to not comply with a legal order?

Your remark presupposes that the legality of an order has any moral significance. Actually it doesn’t. The cops who, in earlier times, turned firehoses on peaceful marchers, dragged black students out of segregated lunch-counters, forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps, opened fire on striking workers, and enforced the Fugitive Slave Act against innocent people, were all issuing “legal” orders, too. And so what? They had no right to act that way, whatever the law said. And the people being thus targeted had every right not to comply with the orders.

Let us know how all that works out for you.

Of course it’s true that caving in to an abusive dickhead will often make things go better for you, for the time being, than insisting on your rights. But that has exactly nothing to do with what your rights in that situation are. That’s a question of power, not a question of right.

IMHO really good cops are rare. It takes a special kind of person that can handle the authority over the general public without it changing them in negative ways.

If the power that cops are given over ordinary badgeless people is so morally corrosive then maybe we ought to be talking about ways to reduce or to check that power, rather than looking down our nose at the behavior of the people victimized by it.