29 Mar 2013

Disposing of the Classical Liberal Tradition in Minutes

Matt Yglesias 20 Comments

Steve Landsburg rightfully went supernova on Robert Frank for his (Frank’s) NYT op ed defending Mayor Bloomberg. Frank actually wrote:

But while almost everyone celebrates freedom in the abstract, defending one cherished freedom often requires sacrificing another. Whatever the flaws in Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, it sprang from an entirely commendable concern: a desire to protect parents’ freedom to raise healthy children.

Being free to do something doesn’t just mean being legally permitted to do it. It also means having a reasonable prospect of being able to do it. Parents don’t want their children to become obese, or to suffer the grave consequences of diet-induced diabetes. Yet our current social environment encourages heavy consumption of sugary soft drinks, making such outcomes much more likely. So that environment clearly limits parents’ freedom to achieve an eminently laudable goal.

In a related vein, Matt Yglesias commented on the new Mercatus U.S. state freedom rankings by writing:

[N]o normal person’s experience of freedom tracks the conclusion that New York is less free than South Dakota. You can, obviously, do a much wider range of things in New York than in South Dakota. People attempting to construct some alternate definition of freedom that will better-track the libertarian political program will try and fail to put together a metaphysically workable distinction between “negative” and “positive” freedoms that immediately collapses in the face of air pollution, unsafe driving, lawsuits, etc.

Look, if Frank and Yglesias want to throw out the entire classical liberal notion of political liberty, I guess they are “free” to do so (ha ha). But you would think they would be a little more reverent about it. By the same token, for all I know maybe it makes sense to plow up corpses and eat them; the ancient taboos may be anachronisms with modern food preparation techniques. But I would need more than a blog post to convince me.

20 Responses to “Disposing of the Classical Liberal Tradition in Minutes”

  1. Tel says:

    Robert Frank has a pretty consistent method for arguing these things, and no he does not believe in freedom, not one iota of freedom. He will quite often sound momentarily plausible in his pretence of believing in freedom, so you have to watch his hands closely when the shells start to dance.

    Step #1: something you do is a perfectly reasonable thing for you to do and has no observable direct effect on me.

    Step #2: a vague miasma of “current social environment” or some such nebulous term radiates from your actions into the world at large, not in a quantifiable way but maybe it could show up on a statistical survey of sufficiently dubious sampling and methodology.

    Step #3: a vague miasma of “current social environment” or some such nebulous term radiates from the world at large and encourages me to do something that I didn’t want to do, but anyway I had to do it because you made me. Well OK, I didn’t really have to do it, but another statistical survey proves that I might be more likely to do it, and that’s enough because deep down it’s a ridiculous concept to think that people are responsible for their own behaviour.

    Step #4: clearly I have demonstrated a link bask to Step #1, thus your actions harm me and I am entitled to injunction and probably restitution on top of that.

    • Ken B says:

      “The most important freedom you have is the freedom to do what I tell you.”

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Ken B is channeling the lovechild of DK and LK.

  2. Tel says:

    But income level isn’t everything. What the revisionists ignore is that increased spending at the top causes real, unavoidable harm to families in the middle, even those whose incomes have risen slightly. It harms them by raising the cost of achieving goals that almost every family cherishes.

    Few middle-income parents, for example, would rest easy with the knowledge that their children were attending below-average schools. But since the quality of public schools is closely linked to local property taxes, which in turn are closely linked to local real estate prices, you cannot send your child to a public school of even average quality if you buy in a school district whose house prices are well below average.

    The conclusion being that successful people are guilty of the crime of making other people somehow less successful. Not only is this pure envy (the very stuff of the destructive waves of Socialism that killed millions of people) but once you accept such harm by indirect association, all freedom and individuality becomes impossible. That is of course the end-game for Socialism — complete destruction of individuality.

    This is a very pernicious thing, be on your guard.

  3. Teqzilla says:

    Like most people I am annoyed by the success of others but the success that Yglesias enjoys is particularly aggravating. He was recently in the news for purchasing a townhouse for $1.2 million. Most of the coverage centred around whether it made him look a hypocrite given his repeated attacks on the ‘rich’. I can understand that question, but a more pressing question, at least to me, is how the hell has Yglesias’ career in punditry secured him the cheese to buy a million plus pad?

    This guy cannot distinguish between a place being unfree and it being boring and yet he is considered creme de la creme of the leftist commentators with the pay packet to match. Liberals talk of the apparently undeserving rich whilst not caring a damn that Yglesias gets Scrooge McDuck money for writing pieces which imply that the primary moral problem with the soviet union was how few good boutiques there were.

  4. Mike Sax says:

    How is saying that NY is freer than South Dakota “disposing of the classical liberal tradition of political liberty in a blog post?”

    If the CL tradition believes that SD is more free than NY it probably rests on a house of cards.

  5. Mike Sax says:

    What’s interesting about you Bob is that you seem to be both a libertarian and a social conservative which seems like a contradiction

    • Bob Roddis says:

      That’s ridiculous. Libertarianism is the answer to a social conservative’s prayers. They could purchase the land and form their own subdivisions/neighborhoods with private streets and schools and vet every potential resident or even visitor for a proper outlook on life. It would be drug free and thug free and all the while without being forced at the point of a gun to fund the civilization-rotting influence of the “progressives”. Apparently, the strong anti-religious views of most libertarians preclude explaining this option to their natural allies.

    • Ken B says:

      Bob is not a social conservative.

  6. Mike Sax says:

    In fairness to Ygelsias he wasn’t attacking political liberty-and thinks that freedom is important of course-but that the trouble with this list is that it doesn’t want to upset it’s socially conservative friends:

    “Some of the problem here arise from arbitrary weighting of different categories in order to simultaneously preserve libertarianism as a distinct brand and also preserve libertarianism’s strong alliance with social conservatism. Consequently, a gay man’s freedom to marry the love of his life is given some weight in the rankings but less than his right to purchase a gun with minimal hassle. A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy or a doctor’s right to offer a pregnant woman treatment she considers appropriate are given zero weight. You might think at first that abortion rights are given zero weight for metaphysical reasons rather than reasons of cultural politics, but it turns out that permissive homeschooling laws are given weight as a factor in freedom. Children, in other words, are considered fully autonomous agents whose rights the state must safeguard vis-a-vis their own parents from birth until conception at which point they lose autonomy until graduation from high school.”

    • Bob Roddis says:

      Being able to kill your baby makes you unfree. And being able to raise your live child away from the civilization-rotting influence of “progressive” schooling means nothing on the “freedom” scale.

      • Mike Sax says:

        So we’ve gone there Bob? You’re deciding arguments by calling the other side baby killers? Maybe this is why nobody outside libertariains themselves takes their talk of loving freedom seriously. Next you will explain that the the old slave south was freer than the nonslave north as the south let people do what they wanted with their property even if the property in question was other human beings

        • Bob Roddis says:

          The same way I call Keynesian carpet and drone bombers “baby killers”. You are so right. The next thing you know, I’ll be defending slavery.


          BTW, I have no intention of trying to change the minds of Keynesians or “progressives” I just enjoy eliciting unambiguous examples of their beliefs for the world to see and examine.

          • Mike Sax says:

            Don’t sell yourself short Bob. After that video of Dick Nixon and the corpses you’ve won me over.

            I repent of my evil Keynesian ways. From now one, I’m a Monetarist. Surely they don’t have so many corpses on the consciences-though Milton Friedman hung out with Nixon a lot.

    • Bob Roddis says:

      Nothin’ free about Home Schoolin’. Especially in Deutschland.


  7. Silas Barta says:

    I actually *happen* to know a libertarian Yglesias might have in mind when he talks about a kind of freedom that includes freedom to flood a Bengali estate …

  8. Andrew Keen says:

    When will you silly libertarians learn that freedom can only be achieved when everyone has the same amount of stuff and no one is able to do anything that is democratically determined to be wrong? It’s almost as if you believe that a homeless man has more freedom than a prisoner. Clearly the prisoner has more freedom. There’s just so much to do in prison that a homeless man couldn’t possibly do! Also, all of the prisoner’s peers have the same amount of stuff as him. Plus, the prison guards ensure that no one does anything wrong in prison. Glorious Freedom!

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Don’t forget the freedom to be raped in prison.

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