I’m With Elon: Let’s Colonize Mars

So Elon Musk wants to screw Earth and colonize Mars. Excellent, I completely agree. Let’s get started.

The interview Musk gave to Ross Anderson of Aeon Magazine is fantastic. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a forceful advocacy for space colonization, which is refreshing. It seems like the cause of space has languished over the past couple of decades while people want to focus on more down to Earth matters. I think they’re forgetting that many of our down to Earth matters could probably be solved by going outward and exploring new frontiers – and settling them!

My reasons are different than Musk’s, are, though. Musk seems to be afraid that, since we haven’t discovered any interstellar aliens in our searches of the night sky, something bad must have happened to all of them:

Musk has a more sinister theory [to the Fermi Paradox, basically –Jeremy]. ‘The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favour of us being in a simulation,’ he told me. ‘Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilisation that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a petri dish.’ Musk flipped through a few more possibilities, each packing a deeper existential chill than the last, until finally he came around to the import of it all. ‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’

Personally, I’m more in favor of the Great Filter being life itself. Wait But Why has a great blog post on the Fermi Paradox and all of its implications, and count me as a guy who thinks that life is much harder to happen than Ross Anderson seems to think (going off what he writes in Aeon; it might be he’s just summarizing what others think and that’s not his own opinion.) I don’t look at this as a bad thing; instead, we now have the entire cosmos open to ourselves. We are the Ancients, the Precursors, the Progenitors of life in a barren and empty universe.

But not if we screw it up before we get out there.

I’m not talking about the existential fears that most people talk about. I’m not worried about nuclear war or plague or global warming killing us. To be sure, we have some problems for this century: we need to stamp out religious and ideological extremism that leads to violence; find new and renewable sources of energy to keep powering our civilization; and maybe not build artificial superintelligences in our basements. But I think these (well, to one extent or another) are all manageable. The problem I fear is one of philosophy, political science, and sociology. We need space colonization to overcome the dimming of the (classical) liberal vision.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long, long time. Well, over a year, to be more exact, but it’s been fluttering in my head for longer. The problem is that I’m finding it very hard to put it into words why we must colonize Mars – and the rest of space – to preserve classical liberalism and by extension civilization, freedom, and all those good things.

I look at the growth of government over the past century and I see it as expansion turning inwards. There is less for us to go out and explore, now. We no longer have a frontier, a Wild West where the government’s arm is distant and individuals rely on themselves. It seems very romantic, because it is very romantic – and of course, there were problems. Colonization uprooted and destroyed indigenous cultures all over the world, caused pain and suffering by bringing diseases, bloodshed, and slavery. The Wild West was not as dangerous as the Western movie genre made it out to be, but there was racism, crime, and an eye for an eye mentality in some parts. My point, being, though, was that as there was a frontier, there was an argument for freedom. Government could not expand inwards on people because there was somewhere to expand outwards.

But then the 20th century came. By now, there was nowhere left to expand to. The only uncolonized parts of our world are the Artic, the Antartic, and the bottom of the oceans – the first two being extremely inhospitable and undesirable, the latter uninhabitable until somebody decides to invent SeaQuest in the real world. (Get on that, Musk.) Now, the expanding mass of government ran up against a solid wall, and as it hit this wall it folded back in on itself and expanded back towards its center. Now it was expanding on top of itself, layering itself upon itself, burying beneath itself the seeds of liberalism and freedom. Where else could it go now but onto its own people?

We lost the frontier. On top of that, we continued to multiply. I hate thinking in this manner, but the law of supply and demand comes back to haunt me. We have all these people now, and we keeping having more, and I wonder, as supply goes up, does demand go down? It used to be you could know everyone in your community. Now, do we just look at others as statistics? Not even fully autonomous human beings? Do we think everyone around us is a p-zombie? It seems very crass on one hand – how can we apply supply and demand to people – and yet very conservative on the other – here I am talking about community and how the modern era has increased the distance between us and yadda yadda yadda. Not being that sort of conservative – or really, any conservative at all – it’s hard for me to put this into words.

Unfortunately, I don’t have to. From China, we have a couple of videos and stories of how low human life is valued:

Then there was the toddler who was run over by two vehicles and ignored by scores of passersby before finally receiving help. Again, this is from China.

These are just the two things that come to the top of my mind. I don’t know if it’s because there are a lot of people in China, if there’s something deeper in Chinese culture, or if these are really bad examples. But that is what I think of when I see rising population. Is this something we can overcome? Is it bound to happen?

Then there is the issue of running out of work for people. I know many scoff at the idea, but there is some concern of “technological unemployment”. My friend Travis Thornton has blogged about this subject before. Now personally I am all in favor of a post-scarcity economy, and I think it’s absolutely delightful that we’re heading towards one…but are we going to need a new thing to give us meaning? Why can’t that thing be a settled, terraformed Mars?

The moon terraformed, covered in blue seas, green forests, and whispy white clouds.
I have to admit, a terraformed Luna would look cool.
TerraformedMoonFromEarth“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I realize these thoughts are not entirely coherent or cogent. Like I said, I’m having difficulty putting what I’m thinking and feeling into words. That’s why I’m doing this blog post, to solicit feedback and comments and see if I’m on the right track. But essentially, what I see is that, to preserve classical liberalism, individual freedom, and a culture of the same, we need to start colonizing planets. We need to go with Musk and start doing this right now. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Mars. We should also colonize the Moon (though terraforming it would be a waste of time I think, since it doesn’t have enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere, unless you paraterraform), and we should probably also build O’Neill and McKendree Cylinders. Eventually, we might even terraform Venus, build Banks Orbitals and a Ringworld (okay, fine, we can have one Halo off in the corner for all the first person shooter types) and then from there…

The galaxy will be our oyster.

But not if we get stuck here. It’s not the asteroids that will kill us, or the threat of alien invasion, or potential nuclear war or grey goo or artificial superintelligence. If anything does us in, it will be the banal overlayering of bureaucratic, authoritarian government, run by busybodies and people of little vision. Humanity needs a new frontier, and there are many out there: uninhabited, barren, lifeless, ready for us to come. We need that frontier to rekindle our spirit of freedom, and get us moving again. Take the germ of liberalism, and spread it across the stars.

That’s my vision for the future. And that means I’m right there with Elon Musk. Let’s go to Mars.

Get Off The Couch: The Participation Income

This month, Cato Unbound is hosting a discussion on the libertarian case for a basic income. As readers of this blo–oh, who am I kidding. Anyone who knows me knows I am a libertarian who supports a basic income as an alternative to the current welfare state morass – both on a pragmatic “it’s better than what we got now” stand and on a principled basis. (But then, I am slowly becoming disaffected with the term libertarian anyhow.)

One point that has come up repeatedly on discussions about the lead essays is that a basic income of any form would create a nation of layabouts. After all, the argument goes, if you collect a check just for being a citizen, who would actually work? I think that’s a problematic argument for many reasons, but I just wanted to toss out there one variant that does require some effort on the part of recipients: the Participation Income.

I think it was first proposed by A.B. Atkinson in 1996 – though I don’t really know, I was just Googling things. One such Google result [PDF] gave me the following:

A ‘Participation Income’ would be paid to any individual ‘participating’ in society. The list of ‘participations’ would include employment or self-employment, retirement, absence from work because of sickness or injury, inability to work because of disability, and approved forms of voluntary activity. Students, trainees, those caring for dependents (the young, the elderly, or disabled dependents), and those unemployed but available for work, would also be counted as ‘participating’.

So basically, you have to do something in order to get the basic income, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be paying work. Studying, taking care of the elderly or children, volunteering – these all count. (Dunno about the last one in the above quote, though.) I don’t know if this would meet critics’ standards, but at the very least it would require that something be put back into society, something productive happening, in order to receive benefits.

Personally, I can see issues with this. How do we determine who is “participating”? Who will determine and how will they determine what counts as eligible participation? It’s yet another battlefield ripe for political combat, with all the terribleness, shrill partisanship, and uncomfortable silences at the dinner table that come with it. It also seems to be pretty invasive, as I am sure people will demand more accountability than simply trusting the applicant that they have participated. But then again, we have W-2 forms, so something along those lines may suffice.

To be honest, though, I’m not terribly worried about a basic income (or my preferred form, a Negative Income Tax) turning America into a nation of layabouts. We sort of have that problem already, for starters (though it isn’t as bad as some conservatives may think), and furthermore, life without work is not at all pleasant. People need work to have meaning in their lives; without it, many grow unhappy and listless. (I know, I’ve been there.) People are constantly trying to do and make new things – sure, not everybody, but look at all the various projects on Kickstarter, or volunteering activities, or new code developments made when somebody was out of work. I think if people knew there was something like a basic income to catch them if they fell, they wouldn’t just stop doing things and collect a check – they might take some risks to develop a new product or company, knowing they have something there if they fail. How many of us want to do something like that, be an entrepreneuer, but are afraid that if we screw up our families will be living on the sidewalk?

In short, I don’t think everyone will stop working. One commentator, Martin Brock (no idea if that’s his real name, as it’s only Disqus), however, does make one comment that I thought was pretty insightful:

I don’t fear a nation of layabouts. I fear a nation of actors, musicians, painters, novelists, astronomers, photographers, videographers, philosophers, talk radio hosts and political opinion bloggers all producing vastly more drama, music, art and the rest than other people actually want to consume while trying to consume the dwindling supply of goods no longer produced by all of these actors, musicians and painters.

Some of these people might be wondrously “productive”, in the sense of laboring conscientiously to produce lots of wonderful stuff, but if this stuff has little market value, because so many people produce so much of it, the people are not so “productive” in the economic sense.

The world is full of starving artists without a UBI, so I can only imagine vastly more artists producing far less than the cost of their maintenance with a UBI.

Yeah, that actually might be a problem. I know I would happily go off into my room and write science fiction all the time if I had a basic income. The question is, how many Americans would do that? Seeing the multitude of posts on social media, I would be willing to bet a lot (though many would be painters, sculptors, audio remixers, etc.) who then wouldn’t be producing other things. This would probably put a lot more strain on the rest of the economy – i.e, on all the other people producing things – and it might even threaten the very same basic income because at some point we wouldn’t be able to fund it.

But not doing anything? Sure, there are some indolent Americans. Hell, there are maybe a lot of indolent Americans. But there aren’t that many who would stop doing anything except collect a check. More likely, they would take that check and go do something with it.

I also just want to say that I’m not ignoring the public choice considerations here. It’s very likely that any variation on a basic income plan to replace welfare and the minimum wage and reform the tax system that goes before Congress will be butchered and mutiliated horribly. It’s in the nature (and interests) of legislators to craft legislation benefitting their benefactors, and I am sure that one interest group or another will try to bust it or just add it on top of the current welfare morass. But just because that’s a possibility doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reform the system by proposing this. If such considerations were to stop policy proposals before they began, then libertarians could never work on public policy — and I find that a very silly position to take.

Me and the Angry Atheist: I’m On a Podcast

I am so terrible at selling myself. It’s almost embarrassing.

In any case, earlier this week I had the pleasure of joining the Angry Atheist on his podcast, the Angry Atheist Podcast. You can check it out here.

Looks like I’m moving up in the world. And yes, I do apologize to those Angry Atheist podcast listeners who have come here expecting something interesting…I’m kinda not.

Why Gundam Build Fighters Ending Is The Worst Thing Ever

I’ll just say it: I’m an anime fan. I’m probably not an otaku – I don’t worship it that obsessively – but I do love Japanese animation. One of the first cartoons I saw as a child was the original Digimon, and from there I went into the Japanese Transformers, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and all sorts of things. Recently, I’ve been watching the Gundam franchise, and finding out the latest series will have only one more episode has really made me have some profound thoughts.

Yes, Gundam Build Fighters, the dorkiest, lightest, and just utterly most un-Gundam of Gundam shows has made me have deep thoughts.

It’s okay if you think I’m crazy. I probably am.

Gundam Build Fighters is, from the surface, aimed at children. Even with the battles and the skullduggery that goes on in the background, it is a lighthearted romp through a massive fandom that has touched on Japanese and Western audiences alike for 35 years. (Build Fighters is actually part of the 35th anniversary celebration, which will continue with the next series, Reconguista in G, being created by Gundam’s original creator, Yoshiyuki “Kill Em All” Tomino. Yeah, that’s not a misspelling; Japanese audiences prefer the hard “g” sound than Reconquista. Figures.)

Set in near-future Japan, it takes the real life industry of Gunpla – plastic Gundam models – and using magic (basically) animates them inside of special playing boards, letting their weapons actually fire lasers and bullets and missiles, and they actually explode when destroyed. Nobody, though, is actually harmed, though they take it very seriously. The series itself engages in a ton of lampshading and parodying Japanese anime shows where the basis is on collecting and winning in tournaments, over just how silly it is to be so super serious about playing tournaments with toys. It does so not in a blatant way, either, although I’m not sure “subtle” would describe it either. It merely makes it all work in a spectacularly entertaining fashion.

Here’s the weird thing, for me: I am a 25-year old white male, one who has lost a good amount of weight in the past couple of months and doesn’t look like he lives in his mother’s basement, and here I am being very unhappy that this show is ending.

What kind of a person am I?

There’s a small bit of me that looks at the rest of me and wonders, “Jesus, man, are you ever going to grow up and get into the adult world?” I shouldn’t really care about this show. It is entirely fictional. It’s definitely a niche thing. And yet I am still rather pissed that, in all their wisdom, Sunrise is only giving it 25 episodes. That will make it the shortest Gundam TV show by far, with the next shortest, After War Gundam X, coming in at 39 episodes. (Note: I haven’t watched Gundam X, so I have no idea what it’s like. Other than it’s post-apocalyptic. Sorta.)

This show deserves, at the very least, a second season. There are so many questions left unresolved. For instance, one of the protagonists, Reiji, comes from another world (and so does the “big bad”.) We only see him disappear in a flash of light once, although his other world is talked about a bit as a subplot. But ending it now? We have no idea what is going on with that! It’s barely even touched upon, only enough to make us wonder “What?” And maybe that is the point, that not everything should be explained, that there should still be some mystery in life – for else, why live?

To be fair, though, I don’t think the creators of this show were going anywhere that philosophical.

But what really makes this show so wonderful is that it is a total release. Living in the Washington DC area, in a place where a hotdog costs one and a half reverse mortgages, bombarded every day with politics and scheming and BS, Gundam Build Fighters is my little escape valve. I can watch a brilliantly colorful world come to life and just forget about all the insanity going on in 3D land. I can cheer on the protagonists, Reiji and Sei, as they fight to win the championship. I can curse their opponents for underhanded moves. I can laugh at the zany jokes and awe at the cool moves.

At the end of the day, Gundam Build Fighters is pure catharthis. In many ways, it’s therapy.

The weird thing especially for me is how I have come to care about the characters in a real way. I’ve always known that an author’s first job is to make the reader care about a character. This is one of the ironclad rules of writing. But for me, I never had the reactions others had. For example, some people said they cried when reading the last Harry Potter book. I don’t think I could do that. Harry Potter is, after all, fictional. And yet here, I am practically crying over the end of this series. I don’t want it to end. It needs to go to at least 50 episodes. That makes me feel quite sad.

In many ways, it reminds me of the first anime I ever watched: Digimon Adventure. I saw that in second grade, and I remember being quite teary eyed as a child over the ending. I wanted it to go on forever. And now I want this to go on forever. I hate goodbyes. I hate endings. I just need that release to keep going. I need something to keep my sanity in a world gone completely insane.

That’s why I love Gundam Build Fighters, and ultimately all Japanese animation. It is a total cathartic release from the world in ways that I cannot obtain as readily from Western media. Don’t ask me why or how. I don’t understand it either. Maybe it’s because Hollywood has just completely run out of ideas. I don’t know.

But, for whatever reason, Gundam Build Fighters has helped me keep myself intact in this world by giving me a portal to another. That’s a very useful thing to have at any age.

And with that, my friends, it is now time for me to go watch the final episode. It’s going to be a good one.

The Day We Fight Back – #StopTheNSA

I shouldn’t have to write anything like this. It should be painfully obvious why privacy is important. It should be blindingly clear why it is wrong to have the National Security Agency put tracking devices in your computers, collect all your phone calls and emails, and turn on your webcam to spy on you directly.

These things are just not permissible.

Sadly, American society has become all the more accepting of these things in the past decade. Perhaps accepting isn’t the right word; maybe it is “resigned.” Either that or they just think they have nothing to hide, which is a painfully stupid thing to say.

A world without privacy is a world where we lack individuality. Sure, we share a lot of things on our social media accounts. But the point is we choose to share. We don’t have others deciding what is public and what isn’t. With all of our secrets laid bare, suddenly we start to censor ourselves, to conform, to stop being ourselves.

Think of what happened to people in East Germany or Soviet Russia. Think of the social atomization that went on in these societies. The pain, the fear, the terror.

A society cannot survive without privacy, without civil liberties, without individuality. A democracy cannot survive.

That is why I too am fighting back against the NSA. Stop it today. Stop it before it stops all of us.

Employment & Free Speech

So A&E (apparently) suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty, for homophobic & racist statements he gave in an interview. Naturally, there’s been a lot of outrage on all sides.

Let’s get something clear: this is not the First Amendment. That applies to the government, not private employers. Don’t even think of making it a First Amendment issue. Matt Yglesias is completely right on this. (And I disagree with him on a lot of things.) So let’s just get that out of the way: First Amendment applies to government, not to private employers.

However, be that as it may, is it still right for companies to terminate or suspend employees over voicing opinions and views, no matter how backward or detestable they may be? Sure, companies may have a right to do so, but it does not make it right. It may also be completely legal, but again, not right. It’s very clear it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it is right to me.

Libertarians frequently talk about the chilling effect on speech whenever government censors. What libertarians don’t talk about is the chilling effect when companies censor. Now, to a large degree, this is because employment is a largely voluntary activity. If you don’t like your company, you can leave. You can even blow the whistle and enjoy certain legal protections.

But you still have to deal with the consequences of those actions. And one of those consequences is losing your paycheck. In a world that is the end result of a century of rampant inflation, losing your paycheck means a lot of struggle and hardship. (Okay, it did before the rampant inflation too, but not nearly as much. With things costing less, I think it was easier to compensate.) To speak your mind and possibly lose your source of income that pays for your housing, food, clothing, transportation–everything–is one hell of a chilling effect.

Now that doesn’t really apply to Phil Robertson. He’s clearly well off and will not be harmed by this whatsoever. But most of us are not Phil Robertson. We don’t have those resources to fall back on. Even if we may have some resources, we may be facing hardship we are not ready to face.

The problem with then saying “Nobody should be fired for voicing their opinions” is that you have a free association issue. People should not be forced to associate themselves with people they don’t want to. That includes corporate management that wants nothing to do with a person who vocally articulates hateful or otherwise harmful rhetoric. I wouldn’t want to be around a gay-bashing homophobe, and I suspect most A&E employees don’t either. So by mandating some sort of “don’t fire” principle, you’re effectively forcing people to pal around with people they really don’t want to.

And that creates a whole heaping load of problems on its own. I mean, hello: hostile work environment lawsuits.

I want to make it clear that I don’t support homophobic or racist rhetoric. However, if that’s the content of Robertson’s speech, I’m still not sure that suspending him was the right thing for A&E to do. I also want to make it clear that I think that employers should not terminate employees based on voicing their opinions outside the office, so long as they are not bashing the company, the company’s clients, or even possibly the company’s vendors. I also want to make it clear that any resolution towards these problems should not involve new legislation; we know how that creates a horrible, unmitigated mess.

In short, I am very conflicted. I think good, sensible employers will realize they cannot punish employees for voicing their opinions and will not do so. Bad employers will, and they will lose talent and suffer. But at the same time, I hate what the guy has said and I wouldn’t want to work at a company if such speech was allowed to run rampant in the office. Yet if companies start punishing employees for speaking their mind, what kind of a world would we be living in?

And this is the real world, unfortunately, where nothing is easy and you get your dilemmas for free.

Image: By Njallis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Scrapping The Welfare State, Giving Out Cash, & A New Future for Liberarianism

Man, that title sounds hella-pretentious, but it’s immediately what came to my mind reading this article by Matthew Feeney on Reason.com, Scrap the Welfare State and Give People Free Money. It is a fine argument for replacing our current welfare system with a form of basic income, which I have come around to over the past two years (roughly) living in Washington DC. After leading in with the recent news that Switzerland has created a basic income (on top of their preexisting welfare system, which is dumb) he gives this key passage (emphasis mine):

Without the Swiss proposal being attached to drastic welfare reforms the plan is, I think, unfeasible. However, that the particular proposal in Switzerland is not ideal does not mean that libertarians should shy away from proposing something similar. Being morally comfortable with some degree of government wealth redistribution might be contrary to anarchism, but it is not contrary to libertarianism, and were libertarians to argue for replacing the current welfare system with a basic national income we would be better positioned to not only highlight the fact that libertarianism is not the heartless and selfish philosophy it is commonly portrayed as, it would allow for a more humane and effective way to deliver welfare than the current system on offer.

I’m sure that will greatly offend the Rothbardians in the audience, but I really don’t care about those guys anymore.

Matthew also makes this other key point, which is that the welfare system actually hurts and dehumanizes people:

In discussions about welfare it is astonishing how often the current system is portrayed as humane, just, or charitable. However, one of the tragedies of the current welfare system is that it strips welfare recipients of their dignity while treating many of them like children, and functions on the underlying assumption that somehow being poor means you are incapable of making good decisions.

Many welfare recipients are required to undergo drug tests, despite the fact that many Americans take illegal drugs while still being good parents and holding down a job. If employed professionals are able to fulfil their duties at work while also maintaining a recreational drug habit, why should welfare recipients be treated differently? In fact, in the last year welfare recipients in Utah were found to test positive for illegal drugs at rates less than the national average, and in Arizona 87,000 screenings between 2009 and 2012 yielded one positive test result.

Perhaps the best example of the demeaning nature of the current welfare system is the SNAP program, otherwise known as food stamps, which works by giving recipients a card that can only be used to buy a selection of government-approved goods. Alcohol, tobacco, pet food, and vitamins are only some of the products that those on food stamps cannot buy because the powers that be have determined that they know what is the best lifestyle for food stamp recipients.

Since I moved to DC, and “enjoyed” it’s sky-high prices for rent, food, utilities, clothing–well, everything–I’ve started to abandon my old view that we shouldn’t have welfare, period. As much as I do not like the idea of welfare itself, or the idea of wealth redistribution whatsoever, I now realize a couple of things:

  1. The American public will never buy a political system completely lacking in wealth redistribution, period. You can call this stupidity, you can call this a decline in American virtues, you can call this the bandwagon fallacy, you can call it whatever you wish–but it is reality. No matter how much I would prefer a more Nozickian (or heck, more Randian) government, the majority of Americans will consistently vote against such an idea. Trying to push that view is just a waste of time, energy, and resources.
  2. As much as I would like  a more Nozickian state, and a completely free market economy, the current welfare system has so thoroughly ruined poor Americans there is no way to abruptly transition to a welfare free society. There are millions of Americans trapped in a cycle of poverty, a cycle partially perpetuated by the government (at all levels), and we’re going to be able to just switch and leave them behind. We have to light a path out of that and into the next stage. To us the words of philosophy professor Michael Munger, it’s not so much a libertarian destination as it is a libertarian direction–and I’m okay with that.

Considering that, the only real alternative available is a negative income tax. I’ve come to champion this proposal of Milton Friedman’s, for multiple reasons.

  1. It combines both welfare reform and tax reform in one package, making it more likely to get libertarians and conservatives onboard.
  2. It is more effective at helping the poor, so it should (in theory, anyways) be attractive to leftists.
  3. Unlike other universal basic income schemes, it is actually sustainable.
  4. It does not trap anyone in poverty, but instead lifts them out; poverty trap problems are neatly dealt with.
  5. I believe that it also avoids the problem of disincentivizing work; while those under the threshold do get money, they still have an opportunity to gain even more money past that threshold instead of receiving nothing. Also, many would appreciate a safety net to fall back on should their business attempts go awry, which may encourage them to go out and be more productive, rather than sit back and do nothing out of fear.

About a week ago, on Bleeding heart Libertarians, philosopher Fernando Teson laid out the basics of a philosophical school he called “sufficientarian liberalism.” I don’t want to quote the entire thing, because it’s brilliant, but it’s essentially where I have come to be. Teson notes that most libertarians readily acknowledge that free markets and (classically) liberal societies generate tremendous wealth and are the best tool for bringing people out of poverty. He then adds:

Here I take a different tack. Classical liberals should endorse a political system that includes a safety-net for the poor while simultaneously abolishing virtually all other barriers to market entry. This means no more subsidies, no more tariffs, no more licencing of professions, no more burdensome regulations, no more state-run education, no more barriers to immigration, no more unproductive public spending, and no more bloated bureaucracies (you can add an appropriate public-goods proviso.) Call this view sufficientarian liberalism. The view is sufficientarian, not egalitarian: it advocates state redistribution of resources only toward those who cannot provide for themselves.

Sufficientarian liberalism can be philosophically justified. In the Doctrine of Right Kant argues that to sustain the civil condition the state must provide means to those incapable of providing for themselves. But the state cannot legitimately redistribute resources beyond this, because doing so would encroach on people’s protected freedoms. The only legitimate reason for coercion is the establishment and maintenance of the civil condition. That is why the state can punish criminals: the state hinders the freedom of someone, the criminal, who has hindered the freedom of his victim. Now property-less persons cannot act autonomously because they are subject to the permissions and wishes of others. Therefore, the state must provide them with the material means of acting autonomously, as required by the civil condition. If you are charmed by this view, then you have a first-order, ideal justification of the sufficientarian liberal state.

But suppose that Robert Nozick is right and no redistribution, not even to the poor, is justified. In that case we can no longer justify sufficientarian liberalism on first-order principles. However,  we can still defend it as a second-bestnon-ideal political arrangement. If the Nozickian utopia is unattainable, then classical-liberals’ best strategy might well be to support institutions that frontally address the plight of the poor. Now imagine a society where the only redistributive job of the state was to help the poor. That society would be an immense improvement over the crony-capitalist systems we endure today. If we couple a safety-net with vast deregulation of markets, and we add the fact that freer markets help the poor more than known alternatives, then the classical-liberal has the upper hand, because the defender of the welfare state has lost her main argument for big government.  If the poor are provided for, all that remains of the welfare state are subsidies, privileges, rent-seeking, and various other inefficiencies. I doubt honest egalitarians can defend that.

Although the comments section is rife with diehard libertarians and anarcho-capitalists flinging barbs, nothing here sounds too controversial to mainstream Americans. I wrote earlier about “market democracy” being a true American centrism; that was a more abstract view of things, while this is a bit more concrete (though still not a specific policy platform.) People really don’t give that much of a damn about income inequality; they only care that there are people starving and want them to be not-starving. Even the poor, I think, don’t really care if they’re making less than a Wall Street banker, they just want enough to get by. (And if they have political power, that definition can be “Let’s get the government to get us plasma TVs and a Cadillac too. I still think that would be easily dealt with in a negative income tax system.) Teson also makes the necessary point that this system would have to be combined with a deregulation wave; I don’t think an NIT on its own, without a dramatically freer market, would really help people all that much. There are a great number of government actions–such as the Dairy Price Support Program making milk more expensive, to monetary idiocy at the Federal Reserve killing the buying power of the individual dollar bill, to various regulations propping up barriers to entry and killing the competition that brings prices down–that artificially raise prices and make things more expensive, especially for the poor. Unless those things are done away with–and thus, in the process, making there a lot less poor to go around–anything else will have a blunted impact on poverty. (And though it shouldn’t be mentioned, such a plan should also include reducing the military budget by half–at least–and enacting serious entitlement reform, which may actually end up being scrapped if such a system was implemented.)

That’s a pretty damn good view of centrism to me.

I think what Feeney is writing about here is actually the future of libertarianism. He’s right that this isn’t ipso facto against libertarianism, just anarchism, which I don’t think libertarianism really is (no matter how much undead Murray Rothbard stamps his feet about it.) And while I suspect both of us are going to get a lot of flack from more hardcore libertarians who will claim we are sanctioning state theft, that has been going on for well over a century in America and centuries elsewhere; we are advocating lessening it greatly, and ultimately such a thing is going to be seen as a cost of living in society. Should there be a cost? That’s a philosophical discussion for another day.

TL;DR: I think a basic income of sorts can be justified on broadly libertarian grounds; it is clear that such a system is superior to our current welfare state; and I think that libertarians should stop beating their heads against the immovable rock they’ve been killing themselves with for decades, adopt this plan, and actually move the ball down the field beyond our 30-yard line, because it is getting to be really, really ridiculous at this point.

And I’m very, very thankful it is beginning to get a wider audience.

From @Superbus » Richie Incognito And The Male Disease

» Richie Incognito And The Male Disease The Superbus’s Thoughtpad.

I forget the guy’s name, but I’ll never forget the time my home town of Seymour effectively beat a kid to Florida.

The Seymour High School football team1, in my freshman year of 19952, got in a lot of trouble because the parent of one kid reported the hazing that her son – someone I knew, but wasn’t very good friends with – went through and wanted answers. What kind of hazing? How about softball-sized welts on his back from being whipped, while tied up, by weightlifting belts that reportedly were made wet to make them hurt more. Basically, imagine being hit by the leather part of a championship wrestling belt after it’s been sitting in water for an hour and you have an idea. That’s the kind of thing a plantation owner would do to a belligerent slave.

However, this woman and her family made one key mistake: they didn’t get anyone else on board. Other people who took that barbaric abuse didn’t back him up, and other players, upper classmen, called him out. Things only got worse from there, as the entire school, and eventually the entire town of Seymour turned against him and his family. I don’t remember specifics, but he got abused far more, and far worse, as time went on. Eventually, the family moved to Florida, and though I don’t know them personally, it’s patently obvious that they moved because their son was being abused to the point of cruelty, not just by the jocks who turned on him, but by a town that abandoned the snitch, the heretic, and the one who could have hurt the season of a team two years off a conference championship. I mean, God Damnit, we have to beat Torrington! We have to beat Torrington!!!

When I think of the barbarity of what Richie Incognito is guilty of, I think back to that 15 year old kid who was abandoned by adults because he was deemed soft by the kangaroo court of a small town who takes its football way too seriously.

Such are the opening words to an amazing, utterly amazing blog post on the recent brouhaha with the Miami Dolphins, and more general issues regarding the contemporary man.

There are a lot of things floating out there; one of them is that we are engaging in a “wussification” of men across the board. I think that’s happening in public schools, especially at the elementary and junior high levels, but in general I think there’s also a lot of macho man BS going on. I see it all the time, where men are expected not to be thoughtful and kind but just turn to violence or other forms of barbarity in order to get ahead.

I see it in society all the time. There’s a dark layer of barbarism lying underneath modern culture, undergirding it in some respects, and it bothers me. We’re above this stuff, or at least we should be. I was done with bullying in the sixth grade, but I see it all the time as an adult–at work, at my house, on the street, in politics, in the media, in churches, in schools. It’s ridiculous.

Anyways, I encourage you to read the entire blog post and leave Chris a comment. It’s an extremely well-written piece and he deserves a few more blog hits than he normally gets.

GOP: Listen to Libertarians; Ignore Social Conservatives

Earlier this week, Virgina voters went to the polls and narrowly elected Democrat Terry McAuliffe–who is a veritable dirtbag–over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is pro-life, wants to force transvaginal ultraounds, hates gays, and is a climate change denier. Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis picked up 6.5% of the vote as well. Naturally, this means that Republicans are blaming libertarians (and Libertarians) for this loss (while some conservatives are already blaming “ze establishment.” More on that later.)

Two major points need to be said about this. The first point is that Robert Sarvis did not cost Cuccinelli the election. Indeed, most of Sarvis’ voters, if they didn’t have Sarvis as a choice, would have either voted for McAuliffe or would have just stayed home. Indeed, one theory I have seen floated around is that he brought extra voters to the polls who may push Republican Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain over the top against his Democratic opponent, so Republicans will have to turn around and thank the Libertarian Party (grudgingly).

As Chris Cilizza notes,  most of Sarvis’ fans would have stayed home. As Neil Stevens adds, Sarvis voters “were more interested in voting for him than they were in tipping a close election between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli.” He increased turnout and in turn highlighted a growing part of the populace: libertarians. (Even if they don’t label themselves as such.)

Here’s the second point: even if Sarvis cost the election for Cooch…

GOOD.

I wholeheartedly agree with my friend Tom VanAntwerp, who wrote:

Libertarian candidates do spoil elections for Republicans. And that’s awesome!

Republicans need to remember that they are not entitled to anyone’s vote. (Nor are Democrats, for that matter.) They have to run a solid campaign that promises what people want if they hope to win. And over time, when they do win, they have to deliver. When Libertarians draw enough voters away from Republican candidates such that they lose, they should take it as a sign that they promised the wrong things and delivered the wrong things.

The Republican reliance on social conservatism will continue to be a growing weakness, and Libertarians will exploit it. And if Republicans hate that Democrats win because Libertarians exists, then they should take the views of the libertarian swing vote more seriously.

Republicans and conservatives only pay attention to libertarians around election time–and that’s always with pathetic bullying antics and fearmongering of what would happen should the Democrat win. When libertarians protest at this, or after a Republican/conservative loses, there are always cries that libertarians need to work within the system, stop being purists, and learn to compromise. Never do these individuals admit that at no point did they or their candidate throw libertarians more than a symbolic bone. Never do they admit that they ignore libertarian philosophy and libertarian policy proposals, and just move brazenly on in their conservative worldview, never stopping to consider other viewpoints, that maybe if they want to win they have to build a coalition that includes them making some compromises to attract more voters.

Daniel Bier put it well in an October posting for The Skeptical Libertarian that “Small Government Is Popular–The GOP Isn’t.” And why is this the case? Because the GOP continues pushing social conservatism at a time when the country is becoming increasingly liberal on social matters. Gay marriage enjoys majority support, as does marijuana legalization. Huge majorities–even Republican majorities–support immigration reform, specifically reform that is more permissive than today’s miserable condition. And religiosity–as much as that is a word–has dropped to about 60% last year, while 20% of Americans have no religion. Among those under 30, that number is 1 in 3.

If the Libertarian Party is costing the GOP elections, then good. That’s a sign that Republicans and conservatives are turning off voters with their policy packages, and that if they want to win, they better start coming back to the center and actually start incorporating libertarian ideas in their platforms, campaigns, and policies. If they want libertarian support, then they’re going to actually have to start being more libertarian.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they will heed that lesson, since they’re already blaming everyone but themselves for this defeat. Earlier, I cited Jonah Goldberg’s criticism of the establishment, yet as it turns out, Tea Party groups didn’t spend a lot of money helping Cuccinelli either. That they flail around pointing fingers instead of being introspective on where they failed doesn’t bode well for conservatives learning a thing or two.

And, of course, it should be repeated: libertarians did not cost Republicans this election. But Sarvis did tap into a growing percentage of Americans who are libertarians, and this growing voter base is not interested in right-wing ideas on social issues. So maybe not today. But in the future, it will increasing start to cost Republicans. The only question is when they start to buy.

Blaming libertarians is not productive. Neither is consistently running socially conservative candidates, nor kepeing their heads in the sand. If conservative Republicans want to see where their problems are, they need to stand up, turn around, and take a long, hard look in the mirror.

A Truly American Centrism

Before this week continues into the bloody mess that is the Healthcare.gov website, and the PR fiasco Obamacare is becoming for liberals and Democrats, I wanted to examine something far more promising and hopeful for America: that of the growing, silent middle.

Last week, a study from Esquire and NBC News identified a “New American Center” made up of disaffected Americans. NBC headlined their blog post with “Why our nation isn’t as divided as we think” and argued that our country, outside of the most vocal (and annoying) folks on both extremes, really isn’t that polarized. However, both Ramesh Ponnuru and Josh Feldman took issue with the study, noting that there weren’t many non-centrist categories to be in, and that the vast majority of the center was (in Ponnuru’s words) “irreligious and white.” Huh. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I fell in the exact middle when I took the online quiz.

Despite these flaws in the Esquire/NBC “study,” I still think there is an American center, I’m just not sure if it’s new. But there is a new and growing field in the realm of political philosophy that is American centrism, and always has been, it’s only been given a name recently. That field is market democracy, launched and identified by Harvard political philosopher John Tomasi, and explained at length in his fantastic book Free Market Fairness.

What is market democracy? Tomasi calls it a “research program,” which sounds clunky but apparently is perfectly apt, as classical liberalism is also sort of a “research program.” But more specifically, market democracy is:

a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.

In the above quote, when Tomasi says “liberalism,” he is not just speaking about classical liberalism, but all liberalism. Tomasi divides the liberal camp into two shores on the sides of an ocean: on one side, the libertarians and classical liberals; on the other, the “high liberals” like Rawls and your average lefty who think that economic liberties are not that important and the free market is not the greatest thing in the world.

Tomasi operates from an essentially Rawlsian viewpoint, and indeed his entire book is about taking on the Rawlsian enterprise and forming a hybrid between it and classical liberalism and libertarianism. He takes the Rawlsian framework seriously, but notes that if you do so, then you must also take economic liberties seriously. Although “high liberals” who follow Rawls almost always single out economic liberties to be ignored, marginalized, or otherwise downgraded in importance, Tomasi makes the case that if you follow the rule that governments are about treating democratic citizens with dignity, then you must also give them the dignity of owning a business and earning profits. Thus, anyone who follows in the steps of Rawls–which is most academic liberals, though I think it’s a vanishingly small number of “liberals” and progressives you meet on campus or on the street or on the Internet–must also be a strong proponent of economic liberties and the free market if they want to be consistent.

One of the great aspects of market democracy, in my mind, is it’s focus not just to a social justice that takes free markets and economic liberties seriously, but also the concept of “responsible self-authorship.” Tomasi describes it thusly:

This, I believe, is not just deeply powerful and inspirational, but is actually very acutely American. Even in 21st century America, with welfare queens and people constantly demanding more welfare, most folks believe that people have their own lives to own and run, and seek to do the same for themselves. Those who agitate the loudest for more wealth redistribution are largely on the far left, and only get so much attention thanks to a frankly pathetic news system which paints a picture of poverty being far larger than it is.

Because it is a research program and not a blueprint for government or even public policy, market democracy allows a lot of room for variation and nuance. Tomasi himself outlines three concepts in his book that fall within the market democratic paradigm: democratic laissez-faire (a very minarchist government that provides minimalist safety net features), democratic limited government (a slightly larger government that resembles suggestions by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman), and “Free Market Fairness” itself, though it is a tad more abstract than the other two. What’s interesting to note is that Tomasi is not hostile to some welfare, though it is far more limited. Instead, Tomasi notes how free market capitalism has made especially the worst off in society far better than even the best off in non-capitalist societies, and (rightly) trusts in that ability to do much of the heavy lifting on poverty reduction. However, he still notes with praise for government actions to take care of the most indigent amongst us, and joins company with such luminaries as Friedrich Hayek. The concept of a guaranteed minimum income or a universal basic income do get mentioned in this book with some positive tones.

This is what I think American centrism truly is: respect for each other as individuals leading our own lives, while accepting some help for the truly, truly needy, with those falling in that category being those who are so needy they can’t even run their own lives. Although most right-libertarians would attack market democracy on the basis that it is a contradiction, when viewed through this lens, it most certainly isn’t.

The first (major) party that truly latches onto market democracy—free market individualism combined with a concern for social justice defined as responsible self-authorship—will dominate the American center and be able to take solid control of the political process. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you like gridlock) neither party is anywhere close to embracing this.

The Democrats and the left are most certainly not interested in treating Americans as responsible self-authors. They seek to infantilize and coddle Americans every step of the way, by paying for their insurance and dictating what they can eat, drink, wear, drive, and so on. And although masked by a veneer of progressivism and social justice concerns, the left is really just crony capitalism in disguise—robbing the poor to feed the rich. Everywhere the left is trying to administer our lives, from Obamacare fiasco to the overreaching EPA, while simultaneously giving fat loans to political allies and cronies in big business and writing more and more regulations to protect their friends from market competition that might actually force them to reduce their prices.

Regrettably, the right isn’t much better. There is, out there, a sensible center-right movement. A great representative of this is the R Street Institute (disclosure: I have blogged for R Street in the past). Unfortunately, as this brilliant webcomic shows, almost the entire right-half has been taken over by the far right. These are folks who are trying to push their own socio-cultural views on everyone else in America, and in the process ignore two things that are absolutely essential for a modern, democratic state to thrive: cultural liberalism and liberal neutrality.

By cultural liberalism, I broadly mean the freedom to march to the beat of a different drummer. Liberal neutrality is the government part of this, that the state should not promote any conception of what “the good” is. Considering the vast variety of opinions, backgrounds, viewpoints, and so on and so forth that exist in an active democratic society, not taking these two points as a given and a foundation for all public policy is suicide. When you have different groups trying to impose their views on each other, you’re not going to have any peace. Better to just have a truce and let people go their own way. Otherwise you’ll get what we have now.

And, on both sides, we have a great deal of just plain tribalism. That doesn’t help anybody.

I have noticed that centrism, in America, typically is described as a sort of movement that is led by Thomas Friedman and would be willing and able to elect Mike Bloomberg president. That sort of technocratic lefty-lite centrism doesn’t really exist beyond the DC-Boston corridor. Instead, I think it’s much closer to the idea of market democracy.

The interesting bit is that market democracy is not too far off from libertarianism, at least not a moderate rendition of it. I think market democracy can be libertarianism 3.0, and indeed must be if we’re going to get liberty pushed forward in this country. The anarcho-capitalist path of just abolishing government is a political dead end. And while I am attracted to Objectivist thought, regrettably the way that Rand phrased her philosophy has made it an instant turn-off for all but a small contingent of Americans. It seems to me that the only long-term, viable path for libertarianism is market democracy. And while it’s not exactly the same thing, there is already a burgeoning movement called “bleeding heart libertarianism” which combines free market individualism with social justice concerns.

In summary, there is a distinctly American centrism out there, and that centrism is market democracy, combining free market individualism with social justice. The idea of “responsible self-authorship” makes a lot of sense and should be the basis for politics. And I really, really wish one of these parties would come to it’s freaking senses and embrace it before things get worse. Though I won’t hold my breath.