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Monday, August 19, 2013

Hey, What's Libertarianism, Anyway?

In the posts and comments on this blog, the term "libertarianism" is used quite a bit.  Unfortunately, like most "isms", it means significantly different things to different people.  I can't say what others mean when they use the word, but I'll at least try to be a bit more concrete by what I mean by it.

We'll start with the extremely useless dictionary definition:


1. a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct.
Anyone who's read a sampling of the posts here knows that liberty is extremely important to me, and is part of the reason libertarianism has appeal to me.  However, there's a bit more to it than that.

Moving onward to Wikipedia, we have:
Libertarianism (Latin: liber, "free")[1] is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end.[2][3] This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty,[4][5] political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism.[6]
That definition is more complete, but still not adequate, because the Wikipedia article points out:
Different libertarian schools of thought disagree over whether or not the state should exist at all and, if it should, to what extent.[7] While minarchists propose a state limited in scope to preventing aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud, anarchists advocate its complete elimination as a political system.[8][9][10][11][7][12][13] While certain libertarian currents are supportive of private property, such as in land and natural resources, others reject private ownership and instead advocate collective or cooperative ownership and management.[14][15][16][17]

Whoa! Some libertarians "reject private ownership" and "advocate collective or cooperative ownership" instead?  I'll admit that's news to me and I definitely don't mean that when I use the term.

When I think of a libertarian state, I think of the United States just after the constitutional convention.  At the Federal level, it was mostly a Minarchy:

In the strictest sense, it holds that states ought to exist (as opposed to anarchy), that their only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and that the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. In the broadest sense, it also includes fire departments, prisons, the executive, and legislatures as legitimate government functions.[1][2][3] Such states are generally called night-watchman states
Minarchists argue that the state has no authority to use its monopoly of force to interfere with free transactions between people, and see the state's sole responsibility as ensuring that contracts between private individuals and property are protected, through a system of law courts and enforcement. Minarchists generally believe a laissez-faire approach to the economy is most likely to lead to economic prosperity.
That's a pretty good definition of the direction I'd head and what I mean by libertarianism.

There are a few caveats.
  1. I only advocate for libertarianism at the federal level.  As far as I'm concerned, the 50 States can do whatever they like (within constitutional constraints) since I can always move.
  2. I'm libertarian leaning as opposed to libertarian.  That is, I believe that all incremental change at the federal level should be towards a smaller government and that the change should be done in small increments as opposed to a revolution or rapid restructuring.  I suspect that well before we got to a true minarchy at the federal level, I'd want to put on the brakes, but we're so very, very far from that point today, that I simply needn't worry about it now (or in my lifetime).  I'm also very, very sure that the federal government does not need to get any bigger and yet more cumbersome.
So that's what I mean when I use the term libertarianism.


Bret said...

I have some planned posts on topics of big government and libertarianism and it became clear in the comments on other posts that we all have different ideas on what libertarianism is.

So that's why I decided to do a definitional post.

To summarize: I think the federal government should incrementally head towards a minarchy, sometimes known as the "night watchman state."

Peter said...

As I've argued before, the relatively late arrival of libertarianism (it's the philosophical new kid on the block) and lack of historical experience in government means you are still stuck with your fruitloops. A purge or a putsch might be salubrious. Until then, it's hard to tell the difference between your moderate, patient, constitutionally flexible brand of libertarianism and that of the fellow who wants to tear down the Smithsonian and chase down ships in speedboats to collect tolls for using a lighthouse.

Two points: The first is that I'm not sure that proclaiming a love of liberty and freedom takes you all that far. They are euphonic abstracts that pack a positive emotional punch and speak as much to the human spirit as to any programme of governance. Who's agin' them? It's a bit like democracy. The fact that the Soviets and other tyrants misappropriated the word outrageously to mean its opposite shows that the word imports rhetorically much more than it's objective definition.

Secondly, I've been thinking about your and AOG's efforts to hold up early 19th century America as an example of the libertarian ideal. I'm not convinced it was, but let's concede your point for the sake of argument. It seems to me that, from the perspective of an older, more empirical conservatism, you (pl.) have to do a lot more work explaining how a sparsely populated, low-tech, autarchic, 3% urban society with virtually unlimited land and resources can be a model for our 50% urban, highly interdependant, scarily high-tech world. Otherwise you may just end up as the latest nostalgic fad doomed to disappear forever when the next cool idea surfaces. I'm not in any way a Malthusian blathering about resource "sustainability", but surely it is axiomatic that most of us can't exercise our abstract freedom like they did on the frontier without bumping up against one another and decreasing our neighbour's freedom more immediately. Plus we need our neigbours a lot more than we used to and should be more careful not to step on their toes, lest they step back on ours. I'm a firm believer in property rights, but I would still be opposed to allowing my neighbour to open a Triple XXX porn shop in his garage or even paint his house fuschia, and I suspect he thinks similarly.

The urban/rural divide seems to be marking modern electoral politics more and more, with the rapidly expanding suburbs holding the balance of power and keeping everyone grounded, something Romney apparently lost sight of. Sara Palin's bubbly evocation of the hardy, self-reliant frontier life inspired some and appalled others, but even those who liked her like me wondered the relevance of what she was saying was to inner Detroit or even the sprawling suburbs of D.C.

Annoying Old Guy said...


"Libertarian" is only relatively new, it's really re-labeling of ideas from the 16th C. and onwards because, as you note, the collectivists stole "liberal". I think there's plenty of historical experience, the history of the USA being a rather large chunk.

Second, is it incumbent only on minarchists like me to explain how it applies to the changed demographics of modern societies? Would that not be even more critical for all those other political ideologies that are even older? As usual, the arguments against libertarianism tend to compare it against a utopia or some unmentioned but implied better ideology. As always, I don't argue for perfection, but from a "least worst" point of view. In that sense, I won't argue that our ideology struggles with modern society, but I say that other options struggle more and are less relevant. For example, I would say that if people in inner city Detroit had more of Palin's attitude to life, it wouldn't be the collapsing nightmare it is. I think it is precisely the view that people need to surrender and let The State run things that has destroyed them.

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "you (pl.) have to do a lot more work explaining how a sparsely populated, low-tech, autarchic, 3% urban society with virtually unlimited land and resources can be a model for our 50% urban, highly interdependant, scarily high-tech world."

I rather don't think so. Note that I wrote "I only advocate for libertarianism at the federal level."

The problems of "50% urban, highly interdependent, scarily high-tech world" that require government solutions can be dealt with at the state and/or local levels.

After all, a dozen states have populations larger than Norway and Switzerland. Or are you saying that Norway and Switzerland don't and can't have enough government to be successful states?

Minarchy (or at least signficantly less government) at the federal level allows for the states to become laboratories of democracy and to compete and evolve ever better forms of government.

It also allows citizens to migrate to those states with the style and level of government that they find preferable.

What I don't see, especially if done incrementally, is a downside. Everybody would be better off and there's remarkably little risk.

erp said...

Libertarian came into use by right thinking people because Republicans became RINO's and conservatives were depicted as bible thumping throwbacks.

Liberal which is what I consider myself was usurped by those whose views are the polar opposite of classic liberalism.

Peter, you have no faith in your fellow homo-sapiens. They really will get along without you. They aren't doing it now because, they've learned to wait for handouts. Those who really are really needy will be taken care of by their communities.

Wydawnictwo Witanet said...

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Harry Eagar said...

I read and was disgusted by Rand at age 14. Nothing I have encountered since has caused me to revise my view.

I am not very interested in defining libertarianism, but Peter is right that if there are any decent ones they need to work hard on reading racist loons like Paul out; a task they are going the wrong direction on.

However, as a student of economic history, I am very interested in the notion of minarchy and the early Republic.

Guy has often said I do not understand free markets, but I do understand that in the early Republic rich Free Marketeer A and rich Free Marketeer B could and did agree to sell poor blackamoor C and his labor and children.

This seems to me classical liberalism at its most basic: A and B look after their own interests and society as a whole benefits.

It's hard cheese for C, but in history an increasingly large, interfering and decent government did eventually intervene on C's behalf.

The only discussion I want to see is how a minarchical system would have intervened against A & B in an ideal libertarian world; and why in the real world it didn't.

Annoying Old Guy said...

People other than Mr. Eagar might note that the abolition of slavery started and was supported by the most free market societies of the time, and the the early Republic shifted in historical terms quite rapidly in that direction, culminating in a war to settle the matter. As I just mentioned before, minarchy isn't compared to other extant systems, but only against a utopian ideal.

In a minarchial system, the consent of C would be required for any business dealing involving C. I would say, as noted above, the minarchial system of the early Republic did far more in that regard in less than century than another system had done in thousands of years.

Harry Eagar said...

And if someone decided to sell C without his consent, where would C seek relief?

Actually, of course, it was the minarchists who defended slavery. The reformers looked to government and legislation and regulation to implement their ideas.

Annoying Old Guy said...

"if someone decided to sell C without his consent, where would C seek relief?"

The police, the courts. Exactly the same way C would right now in the USA.

"the minarchists who defended slavery"


Still, results matter, don't they, and I have already pointed out the very superior results in this case.

Clovis e Adri said...


The police, the courts. Exactly the same way C would right now in the USA.
There is a caveat here. For minarchism defends the govt. only needs to manage and enforce the application of the Laws.

If the Laws allow for slavery, and they did, what govt. would do is to enforce that C abice by the business if hew as born from another C1, who was a slave, who was born from another C2, who was a slave, and who was maybe brought ffrom Africa where he was captured and sold following another set of rules, but whose buyer would not care as far as he got him in exchange for money.

And I guess you know all that, don't you?

Harry Eagar said...

But for there to be police and courts, there needs to be a government, and -- in the specific conditions you refer to -- a very large and powerful government.

The 'very superior results' did not come from small government, though.

Nor were the intentions of even the emancipators so awfully benevolent, either. Few, indeed, supported the idea of clearing off a level playing field on which blacks would offer their labor service in an open market.

The regnant idea was to round them up and ship them back to Africa (not unlike Hitler's initial plans for the Jews, as it happens). But even if it had been, there was no chance a black would have been treated as an interchangeable labor unit.

That doesn't even happen now, although the situation has been mitigated a good deal by intrusive fair hiring laws.

Annoying Old Guy said...

"In the specific conditions you refer to -- a very large and powerful government."

No. For instance, such a state would not require a welfare state, nor a regulatory state.

Harry Eagar said...

Big army, though.

And regulations, because how else to control the cheaters?

And, yes, a welfare state. Or have you not heard that the condition of the citizenry was dire, especially when the business cycle reversed as it did every 7 years or so.

People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day.

Annoying Old Guy said...

No, no big army.

There's a difference between having regulations and a regulatory state.

In my opinion, the primary effect of the welfare state has been to make poor people worse off. Although we have Detroit as a shining example.

We've discussed the long run issue before and it's clear even you don't really believe it. But people who don't plan for eating in the long run end up not eating in the short turn, either.

Peter said...

In my opinion, the primary effect of the welfare state has been to make poor people worse off.,

Worse off than what? Worse off than they were before welfare or worse off than they would have been had there been no welfare? And worse off in what sense? Worse off in terms of satisfying basic needs or in some psychological sense? Are "poor people" a homogenous unity that even allows for such a sweeping generality?

erp said...

To answer your question. Worst off than anything you can imagine.
As was said many time in previous comments, before welfare and federal programs for every imaginable life situation, there was charity, i.e., free medical clinics, local churches, clubs, quilting bees, etc. People actually down on their luck through no fault of their own, were looked after by their communities. They may have been poor by your standards, but they lived with extended families in communities. Welfare came along and destroyed the concept of a family and responsibility. Able-bodied men weren’t needed anymore. Uncle Sam was the man of the house. The woman of house is like-wise no longer needed, so kids run wild.
Prior to the welfare mentality, drunks, drug addicts, perverts and the like were treated like criminals and/or the social pariahs they are. Now gazillions of tax payer dollars are devoted to their rehabilitation with results about the same as the results of the public schools, drain on the public treasury and gain in the bottom lines of poverty pimps including union thugs.
Welfare came along for two reasons:
1. It made the lefty elites feel even more superior.
2. It gave these same lefties more and more power as more people were fit into the "poor" category (if there is still any doubt that the modern left are fascists, their mania/obsession for classification and record keeping should remove any remaining doubt) and then by extension all the rest of us.
After all, they know what’s best for us and as a bonus (or as aog puts it, a feature, not a bug), they will save the planet as well.
Harry: The so-called Depression as well as the current one were manufactured and orchestrated for exactly the same reason. To scare the living bejusus out of us and allow even more intrusion into our lives, but there is a glimmer of hope. Many of the youngest generation, ironically the children and grandchildren of the hippies, aren’t buying it.
May their numbers increase.

Peter said...

That is simply not historically accurate, erp.

erp said...

What isn't historically accurate?

Annoying Old Guy said...


Worse off than had there been no welfare. If you look at statistical data, the trends lines of improvement end soon after the Great Society.

I would say worse off materially and socially. One need only look at indicators of social dysfunction to see the latter.

Are "poor people" a homogenous unity that even allows for such a sweeping generality?

Does this mean I can automatically discredit any justification for the welfare state that mentions "helping the poor"?

Harry Eagar said...

The happy stata of affairs erp describes is entirely delusional. Such a place never existed.

To take just one aspect, marriage, back when divorce was difficult and/or disallowed by religion, the poor (and some of the middling sort as well) simply abandoned their families.

The rates of spouse flight were enormous.

It took a very big army to do away with the free trade in slaves. There were regulations against importation but with its tiny navy (and jury nullification in th4 South), the US was unable to enforc them.

See, state power is at times a good thing.

To go further ahead, the bluecoats protected the freedmen until 1876. The racist reign of terror resumed when minarchy returned.

erp said...

Harry, striking down the straw man again. Your obsession with religion and slavery colors your every argument.

Nowhere is anyone saying that life was a 50's sitcom for the "poor" or for the rich before welfare. Only that things got steadily worse until now even the most naive bleeding hearts can't say anyone is better off least of all the victims of the their do-goodness.

Apparently you are arguing that because some married people deserted their families prior to welfare on-demand, those who get Obama phones and EBT cards are now far better off because so few of those on the dole are married.

Yikes! What must it be like in your head?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Mr. Eagar;

What very big army did away with the slave trade in the northern states of the USA from 1776 to 1850?

Clovis e Adri said...


Please answer to me a simple question.

Do you believe the world, and your society (USA) in particular, is better or worse off nowadays, comparing with, let us say, 50 or 100 years ago?

I strongly believe it is better, way better. So I can not see all this worsening of society you talk about. (I do not mean we no longer have problems, we have huge ones, only that we have less problems than in past)

erp said...

Much worse. We have lots of great toys, but society is violent, people are hopeless and almost half of us are in custodial care. Race relations have been set back 100 years with the poverty pumps trying to foment riots.

Sorry, I really don't have time for more.

BTW - On what do you base your opinion that things are much better. You don't even really know how things are like here at the present time, never-mind 50 years ago since all your info is from the left wing propaganda machine that is the media and academe.

Harry Eagar said...

Oh, I see, because slavery died out because economic organization disfavored it, but grew by an order of magnitude where it was favored, no problemo! Got it.

Clovis, I agree that things are far, far better than they used to be. I the US, for example, since the New Deal the government no longer shoots down workers. I believe this is now the case in Brasil as well.

erp is committed to a fake history in which it is an exaggeration to be concerned that 10-70% of the population could be bought and sold.

Peter said...

Hey, erp, I thought you would enjoy this historical photographic record of how everybody before welfare rallied around those in need and took care of them.

Annoying Old Guy said...

From 1936, eh? After almost a full FDR term and much of the New Deal? And the interventionism of the Hoover Administration, rallying around them? This is your argument in favor of that kind of result? As usual, there is a problem, the government gets involved, and then you have a worse problem.

erp said...

Peter: They look a lot better than the pictures I've seen of do-gooder projects and other modern helpful type stuff. They seem poor, but not drug addicted, criminals, aren't killing their children... and somebody must be helping them because they aren't dead of starvation.

The depression was an earlier stunt to stun us into submission. It's hard on people when elites manipulate them to gain power.

Harry Eagar said...

The Lange photos could have been takn any time during the 70 years before 1936, including any day during Coolidge Prosperity.

Notably, though, a little matter called the Dust Bowl (a classic example of free market outcomes) had occurre simulataneously with the coming of the New Deal.

erp, of course, had a completely delusional view of our history. For example, rather than letting hungry, unemployed people eat waste oranges, the growers sprayed them with kerosene. That's private charity in action.

erp said...

Noticeably no comment on whether these guys were better off than the current custodial care folks? Also it's doubtful the people in picture's progeny are still sitting around that table generation after generation like the current custodial care folks.

BTW -- I'm no expert on growing oranges, but I doubt spraying kerosene on them is good for future crops. You forget that capitalists take care of their capital and don't destroy it just to be nasty. That's the style of union thugs who know there's always more coming their way that they didn't earn.

Peter said...

Noticeably no comment on whether these guys were better off than the current custodial care folks?

Comment: They weren't. Demonstrably.

erp said...

Peter, in your opinion the people currently the second or third generation living on the largesse of the U.S. taxpayer without hope or dignity, so much so that a prominent lefty like Cornel West has noticed, are better off than the folks who were pictured in your last comment.

That is really amazing.

Peter said...

erp, I realize you and aog are trying to manoever me into defending everything about present welfare system, but I'm not gonna play. I am simply saying that your conspiratorial history of how it happened and your idealized descriptions of what went before are not accurate historically. Ditto for your sunny visions of how great everything would be if we just trashed it. You are far from a leftist, erp, but you do argue like one.

Harry Eagar said...

Th oranges were off the trees when they were sprayed, erp.

erp said...

I don’t know about aog, but what I'm trying to do is get the answer to the question of why people in custodial care for up to three generations and counting are better off than the people in the photo you posted?

Why are children whose parent(s) get all kinds of money from us to take care of them, end up going to school for their meals even on weekends and summer vacations? Why aren't the funds allocated for child care spent on children instead of drugs, booze, tattoos...

Gazillions are spent on the public schools yet in many many schools kids literally can’t read, writing forget about, arithmetic – probably enough to figure out what things costs to some degree.

Whenever I have this conversation, I am called a fascist, nazi or racist. Since the name callers have no idea what the first two mean (to wit Harry’s single-minded belief they’re right-wingers), racists is the one they think hits the mark. However, the places I’ve lived for the past 35 years, Vermont and Florida, racist doesn’t apply because there aren’t a handful of blacks in all of Vermont and I live in an area of Florida where the black population is rural, small, churchgoing and hardworking. It’s the black kids from the cities that come here to stay with their retired grandparents that cause the trouble in the black community and they don’t like their kids being tainted by city ways.

BTW – you’re the one arguing like a lefty. Instead of answering the question, you’re attacking the questioner! 

Harry Eagar said...

Racist tropes are racist tropes even in Vermont.

It's entirely possible one reason the underclass isn't rising is Reaganomics.

Less politically, the job base of the urban working class has been exported. Great for the shareholders, not so hot for the laborers.

I understand, erp, that you grew up in a social-economic elite and have never ventured out in your life to see how people live. Your misunderstanding of the rural black population of Florida is profound.

erp said...

Harry, racial tropes??? Really, you can’t be serious and your take on my background is, like everything else upon which you opine, 180 degrees off.

I very much doubt you know anything about rural Vermont, but as we lived in a small town there for 15 years and I did a lot of volunteer work in a rural one room school house and was on the board of directors of several local and state charities, I do.

As for rural Florida, all I know is what my black friends in the community tell me and what I hear from people who work in the schools. There are a lot of affluent black professionals, mostly school teachers and health care workers, who have retired in this area from northern cities and a significant number of them have grandchildren living with them sent here by their parents to get them away from bad influences up north. Unfortunately, they are bringing their bad habits with them.

Clovis e Adri said...


The way you tell, it is like no one ever got better after spending some time in welfare.

So every one case you've seen has been a failure after another? Not one single successful case?

erp said...

Clovis, why don't you tell me of a program that was successful. You're young and energetic and so positive you know it must work because that's what your experts like Michael Moore and Paul Krugman say and they must know a lot more than we do.

Clovis e Adri said...

Sarcasm so soon, Erp?

I did ask for your personal experience in honest terms. Since you look to be paying attention to families in welfare condition, the logical question was to ask for your personal statistics: 100% of them never evolved to better conditions? 80% of them? 50%? 0%?

From my "young and energetic and so positive" point of view, welfare programs can be successful if they achieve the balance between not allowing people going to degrading poverty, but also not giving them comfortable positions that would hinder their drive to do better by themselves.

I know little about US welfare programs, but the idea of free cellphones and free rentals in good "section 8" houses (something I only learned about here in the blog by you, Erp), look to be not the best balance I alluded above.

BTW, this is another cultural aspect that hinders our communication. When I talk about welfare, I do not think we have the same image about what it means.

erp said...

Welfare has become a bribe to get votes. Pure and simple. The elites/fascists want to destroy us to gain power. Hyperbole? I wish.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "So every one case you've seen has been a failure after another?"

J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter) is a welfare success story and such a success it makes up for quite a few failures.

But it's really part of my "Who? And When?" post. What erp is focused on (a bit excessively, in my opinion) is Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and similar programs. Ramped up heavily in the 1960s as part of the War on Poverty, the incentives AGAINST marriage were strong: "the AFDC program tended to treat households with a cohabiting male who was not the natural father of the children much more leniently than those with a resident spouse or father of the children. This feature created a clear disincentive for marriage and also a clear incentive for divorce, because women who married face the reduction or loss of their AFDC benefits."

There's a high correlation between single parent families and both poverty and crime. Many people, myself included, believe that making it less painful via welfare (AFDC) to conceive out of wedlock alleviated short term pain at the expense of creating a large and permanent underclass stuck in poverty and reliant on welfare programs. As a recent LA Times (most conservatives consider it a "liberal" paper, but I consider it pretty centered) article describes, "In Washington, D.C., and 10 particularly generous states — Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Hampshire and California — these seven programs provide a mother with two young children an annual benefit worth more than $35,000 a year" and states "Poor people aren't stupid. If they can get more from the government than they can from a job, they aren't going to work."

AFDC was later replaced with TANF which is much more restrictive on benefits, but the damage had already been done.

So it helped people then at the expense of everybody now.

erp said...

Bret, well said, but that's not all of it by a long shot. There's the disabilities scam with people collecting SSI and people teaching their children how to behave so the can be classified as mentally disabled, etc. Then Obama's new initiative to integrate neighborhoods economically IOW build welfare housing everywhere.

The reason I'm obsessing on welfare is because it's wrecking our country and I don't mean only financially.

Peter said...

...which is much more restrictive on benefits, but the damage had already been done.

There's the rub, the implication being presumably that that the existence of welfare is the only, or at least the principle, cause of single parent families and chronic individual poverty. Get rid of welfare and everyone will live like The Waltons. As much as I believe Moynahan was saying something important and the gods of necessity can bolster shaky marriages, this straight line causation is leaving too many puzzles. If true, wealthy people should have higher rates of single family households, but they don't. In erp's pre-welfare Arcadia, poor families presumably only stayed together because they couldn't afford not to, which strikes me as the most outrageous example of patronizing objectification I've ever encountered. The poor aren't herds of dumb animals who respond predictably to behavioral manipulation from above. Honest architects of social services should admit many of their sunny predictions proved to be naive and stillborn. Shouldn't libertarians be wary of similar simplicities?

There is a whole range of complex economic and cultural factors at play here, some in conflict with one another. For example, if you really want to solidify the state of American marriages, rather than celebrate a cultural atomistic utopia of individuals taught to pursue their self-defined freedoms and choices, inspired by celebrities who did just that very publically, you might want to encourage more people to head to the nearest church and get down on their knees.

Facts can be tedious and statistics sleep-inducing, but if this discussion is ever going to get beyond erp's and Harry's warring thunderous universals, perhaps a little on-the-ground reality might be injected at some point. These stats seem to hint that everybody is right and wrong in almost equal measure. Damn, but life is confusing.

erp said...

Peter: It's your assumption, not mine, that families stayed together because they couldn't afford not to. Again, I'm not saying that being poor before welfare was a utopia, but I am quoting aog again: compared to what? Compared to today's reality, the pre-welfare state was better in every way and your statistics be damned. You know very well that numbers don't tell the story. Kids aren't being taken care of, schools are providing their main nourishment, not because their parent(s) don't have the money (it's provided to them by us), but because it's being used for other things like drugs, booze, tattoos, etc.

Yes, life is hard, especially on the youngest among us. I know it's much easier to go along to get along with the crowd, but really is it okay with you to compare statistics and say yes, we are helping our fellows when in fact we are condemning them to sub-human status.

You still haven't answered why you think the people in the pictures were worse off than Detroit or Philadelphia or Chicago projects where living is as dangerous as Kabul. Where toddlers are out on the streets in the middle of night in the line of fire between the denizens of the jungle (I'll throw that trope in for Harry's collection).

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "...perhaps a little on-the-ground reality might be injected at some point. These stats seem to hint that everybody is right and wrong in almost equal measure."

Okay, I read the report. Which stats refute the possibility of AFDC correlating with the rise in poor single parent families?

Peter wrote: "... you might want to encourage more people to head to the nearest church and get down on their knees."

I don't disagree with that. I generally encourage people, my daughters included, to affiliate themselves with non-fanatical religious organizations. I also believe that the only realistic possibility of reducing government support for the poor is to have religious organizations step in and take over at least some part of it. I also believe it would be far more effective.

erp said...

Bret, not only religious groups, but other clubs like the Kiwanas, Rotary, Lions, etc. also used to do charity work. I've been out of it for a long time since retiring, but anything at the local level is always more effective than coming from on high (unless of course it's the big guy in the sky).

Our local free medical clinic was co-opted and forced into the bureaucracy and that's how it's done now. People simply cannot afford to be drawn into law suits, etc. when donating their time and expertise.

Too bad. It cost absolutely nothing. Everything was donated by people who wanted to contribute including the facilities, computers, paper, etc. The support from every area of the community was extraordinary.

The patients were treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness. I've never had so many people say "God Bless You" to me in my life. When it closed for the day, I'd sit in my car until my eyes cleared enough for me to drive.

Clovis e Adri said...


I did read your links, but not yet Peter's. If I believe that LA times piece, I can only conclude that the balance in your welfare system is in the wrong side.

I recognize this as a complex subject. It is not so easy to explain why welfare works well in some palces (e.g. IMHO, Germany), and not so well in others. It is not related only to each welfare specific rules, but also to local culture and other hard to grasp factors. I offer you one example: even in a small country like Switzerland, you can clearly see different welfare use patterns, with the German speaking side adhering far less to it then the French speaking one - even though the rules for access to welfare are identical.

But one thing is not complex at all: if the welfare program eclipses most of the common jobs that poor people usually are eligible to, you are no longer practicing welfare, but subsidizing home sitting.

On the role of marriage and parenting, I find this a very complicated subject and second Peter's take on this.

Bret said...


It is hard to believe that Krugman and the LA Times are writing about the same thing, isn't it. Usually, I find the LA Times left of center, but I doubt many conservatives would complain about that particular article. From my observations, reality is somewhere between Krugman and the LA Times article, though closer to LA Times than Krugman.

The problem with welfare statistics is they are inherently incomplete. For example, in my younger days I hung out with some obsessive surfers who would not bother going to work when the surf was good. As a result, they lost lots of jobs. Sometimes they qualified for unemployment insurance, some of them qualified for food stamps and other assistance. They all seemed to have adequate beer and bong money, they all were tan, good looking, fit, and healthy. They just didn't much want to work and public assistance fit their lifestyle requirements quite well.

The question is this: how would they look different statistically than someone who was really trying hard and just temporarily needed a break in the form of government assistance? How can Krugman tell the difference?

On the other hand, those are the only welfare recipients I've known (except for two musicians), and clearly not everybody is a surf bum or a musician.

So how do I know what percentage of the welfare recipients are just gaming the system like that? I don't! My point though, is that nobody does. We can only guess, and I think that Krugman thinks that welfare recipients overall are more deserving on average than they probably are. He obviously disagrees, but I have a hunch the good professor hasn't closely observed all that many welfare recipients.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Beyond that, note that Krugman gives at least a little data for AFDC, which is helpful to his claim, but not bigger programs like foodstamps and Medicare, which is not.

I point and laugh at him because he's reduced to the standard emo-ploy. That is, if you disagree with me it must because you are evil - there are evidently a lot of wealthy people in America who consider anyone who isn’t wealthy a loser. "Evidently"? Based on what? Krugman's lack of actual argument?

Clovis e Adri said...


Sorry, but I am at loss to the fact that you did not meet anyone else who could make good use of welfare.

In those 2 weeks I've spent in Florida last month, I was many times approached in supermarket parkings by black teenagers trying to sell me some little snacks for 9 dollars, in order to help programw against poverty, drugs and I don't know what else.

I may have misread the situation, but they sure looked like poor. And it sure looked like quite a lot with the same situation I experienced so many times here in Brazil.

If I can spot this kind of poverty in 2 weeks in your country, how can you not have seen it in a lifetime?

Harry Eagar said...

Clovis, you were being scammed. That was just an elaborated form of begging. No 'programs' were involved.

You can make a good living in America as a beggar.

erp's accounts are delusional. There were never any general private charity enterprises that reached everyone.

Even now, when public programs are available to all who qualify (subject to diminishing funding), large fractions of the poor do not apply.

This alone disproves that gaming is an important, far less the primary goal of people on public assistance.

What it does demonstrate is that the righting, Christian tactic of shaming the poor has deeply penetrated the American psyche. (America is sometimes described as a guilt society in contrast to others, such as Japan, which are shame societies. As you can see from these comment threads, America enjoys the worst of both social attitudes. It is no accident.)

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "I am at loss to the fact that you did not meet anyone else who could make good use of welfare."

I very likely have seen many and may well have met some others that could make good use of welfare. Generally, just seeing or meeting someone doesn't provide enough information to know that someone is impoverished enough to need assistance or be receiving assistance. How would you be able to tell? For example, I'm known to wear ratty old jeans and a t-shirt riddle with holes when I go out, and with my beard I could possibly be mistaken for homeless (especially if I'm also dirty because I've been working on the house or something).

I knew the folks I was describing in my previous comment and knew they were getting food stamps.

erp said...

Harry: do you ever listen to yourself? Local charities are no good because they don't reach everybody in need and huge bureaucracies don't reach everybody in need either, but are vastly better -- because???

Clovis: You may not believe it, but most of what you know is simply wrong and you naturally cannot make leaps of "logic" by what you interpret as need by kids looking for handouts in parking lots.

Personally, I only contribute to charities I know are genuine like the local library, the local humane society, local churches and other charities that collect food and clothing for the needy and stay away from organized charities that skim off over 90% of contributions for themselves.

I'd never think of judging all of Brazil from pictures of teeming slums in Rio and hovels (bringing to mind the tar paper shacks of Harry's youth) where people live. My son was recently in Brazil on business and he reports fabulous hotels, restaurants and beaches where he was taken by his hosts. That's probably no more the norm than the pictures of slums.

Clovis e Adri said...

At no moment I've said I am judging your whole country based on a few parking lot experiences.

I am quite aware it was most probably a scam. It was, nonetheless, a repeated situation of kids asking for money, while spending their afternoon in parking lots below a scorching sun and heat.

I appreciate you are exercizing very careful judgment here.

I did add a "I may have misread the situation" remark to show I am aware of my lack of more complete information.

Still, I can tell you that an earmark of poverty is the presence of kids asking for money in the streets. I do not think they would be there, had their family an income of 30k per year on welfare. And, even though it was a situation in another country and culture, I believe there are a few universal things you can read in a kid's face - I think I have experienced such situations too many times before in Brazil, and more than once (and in different cities) in Florida to be reading it all wrong.

I bring it here, Bret, not to point the fact itself, but to point out that, truly, I am not assured you or many others here are watching your own surrounds with curiosity enough. It is not only Krugmann, the good professor, that may lack experience with people in poverty conditions.

BTW, Erp, I am not talking about you, you look to have experience on the matter. But you did not answer my questions on your statistics, and your lack of analytical answers - everything is resumed in simplistic answers and in declarations of how I am a know nothing young deluded person - makes it hard to grasp much.

erp said...

Clovis you are right my answers are simplistic, but they are no less correct than your reliance on charts, tables, statistics, etc. that various experts can point to as proof their theories are correct.

Kids in hot parking lots asking for money doesn't mean their families aren't collecting more than 35K. It means the money isn't being allocated as you and I would. Children's needs first, our need for drugs, booze, etc. very far down the list.

This is why I don't think welfare is good for anybody. Kids used to work odd jobs for spending money, but now that's considered beneath them. Why should they work in the hot sun when in a few hours, they can collect enough from soft-hearted shoppers to meet their immediate needs. Ask some of those able-bodied teenage boys if they'd like to earn some money cleaning up your yard or shoveling snow (up north) and they'll shake their heads in disbelief, no way man.

Harry Eagar said...

Not true, my mother in Florida hires kids like that to help in her garden. They are glad for the work.

ero, assistance from the public fisc is open to all; it is not the fault of the leftists that the rightists have successfully shamed so many into refusing to use it.

It is telling that you have recently adopted the 'custodial care' meme. Is Drudge selling that this week?

Custodial care is exactly what public welfare was set up to avoid. Your precious private charity was the system that demanded that recipients toe the line of the sex perverts in, eg, the church.

Unless, of course, girls in trouble did the decent thing and threw themselves in the river.

The world of private charity was hateful and demeaning.

Clovis e Adri said...


Sorry, but don't you think you may be overstating things here? How can you possibly believe every one of those kids has a family of drugged and alcoholic parents, without even talking to the kids?

You just look to take by default that poor people are *always* the worst kind of people. Ironically, you give us that after AOG's above cynical remark over Krugman's talk of "a lot of wealthy people in America who consider anyone who isn’t wealthy a loser".

erp said...

Harry: ever the drama queen!

Actually I first heard the phrase "custodial care" about 25 years ago. It came from a Canadian man with whom we had struck up a conversation at a scenic outlook along the highway while driving up to Lake Louise. A trip I highly recommend for the utter beauty of it BTW.

Make all the snarky remarks about me you like if it makes you feel better. It gives me a chuckle and confirms, as if I needed it, that you lefties have no arguments other than name calling. I suggest you look up custodial care. It means keeping people under one's control whether by incarcerating them or putting them on the dole and I presume your referencing Drudge is pejorative. ;-)

You mother obviously lives in an area of a higher class of indigents than do I. Pity that because I sure could use a couple of strong boys to help me clean up my yard. Thank God or as John McCain would say, Allahu Akbar, we don't have any snow to shovel in my part of Florida.

Nowadays children are being saved from the need to throw themselves in the river because they are being murdered with great abandon in our formerly great cities, at Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and/or are killing themselves, pregnant or not, with drugs and other unsavory pursuits.

Clovis: How can you know they aren't? Did you talk to any of the poor beggar kids who approached you? I have.

In areas where most of the residents are on welfare, the schools provide most of the children's meals even on weekends and holidays.

That's one pretty significant hint they aren't getting fed at home.

There's also a brisk trade in EBT credit cards and Obama phones. So much chicanery in the name of compassion. It truly is sickening.

Clovis e Adri said...


Clovis: How can you know they aren't? Did you talk to any of the poor beggar kids who approached you? I have.

I did. I am no "soft-hearted shopper", but the third time I was approached I decided to do a procedure I've done many times before: to give money and buy the right of some questions.

I usually ask their age, if they are going to school, if their parents know they are there, etc. The conservation with the boy was loosely something like that:

Me: So, what is your name?
Boy: (Gave his name)
Me: How old are you?
Boy: Thirteen.
Me: So, how come you are here now and not in school?
Boy: No school today.
Me: Oh, right, this is August, I guess you are in holidays. But will you be here in school time?
Boy: No.
Me: And where are you from?
Boy: Cocoa [I was in Cocoa Beach that week, mainly to be nearby Kennedy Space Center, which I visited many times]
Me: So you were born here?
Boy: No, in [say a city's name I don't understand].
Me: Where is it? Florida?
Boy: Yes.
Me: So you are from Florida, you've never been out of Florida?
Boy: No.
Me: And your family lives here too?
Boy: Yes.
Me: So, I am just coming back from Kennedy Space Center, do your know it there?
Boy: Hmm, no.
Me: Do you knoe what is it?
Boy: No.
Me: It is this place they launch satellites from, you know, spaceships and all that, pretty amazing. You've never been there?
Boy: No.
Me: But, look, they have great things there, you can touch a spaceship, you know those shuttles like Atlantis, they are there now, don't you want see it?
Boy: [Looks surprised by the question] Yeah, I guess.
Me: Why don't you go there?
Boy: [Silent, no answer].
Me: [After I give him the money for a few really overprices snacks] Look, I come from another country, I really think it is amazong all this technology you have here. Spaceships and all that. This is a great country, you are really lucky to be in America, the place I am from few people would have the chances you'll have in life just because you are born here. Are you going wel in school?
Boy: [Unconvincigly] So so.
Me: So, let me give you this advice: go and study the hardest you can, because this is a great country and with all this technology and stuff you have here, you can do great things in life, believe me, few people in the world have all this chances, study really hard boy!
Boy: [Looking relieved of me letting he go] Ok, ok.

You see Erp, when I was a kid, it was stuff of dreams to get near one of those space shuttles. I've realized this dream for myself, not by becoming an astronaut, but by saving money to go to your country and get an arm of distance from it. It was one of these experiences I will take to my grave with great pride.

Form my point of view, it is utterly sad that boy is 20 min. from it all, and may never get to see it. Or that Americans like AOG barely give a damn to it all nowadays. Maybe you are indeed in decadence, but the blame is all on yourselves.

erp said...

Clovis: Your conversation with the 13 year old boy tells us nothing except that you were enamored of space when you were his age. You learned nothing about him or his situation.

We here have been saying the schools are propaganda machines for fascism, not places where children learn about science or anything else that doesn't move the narrative forward.

aog and the rest of us give a very big damn and try to do our best to convince people like you who can vote here that what they're doing is damning half the population to the slave status of ignorance and dependence.

Harry Eagar said...

Clovis, your experience was very typical of America's poor.

When I lived in Norfolk, there was an area near the coal docks called Lambert'sPoint, cut off from the rest of the city by railyards, but there were a few hundred poor blacks living there.

A friend of mine went in as a VISTA volunteer in the late '60s and found out that the children there had never been outside their neighborhood.

Clovis e Adri said...


I did learn more than you recognize.

I did not think it would be fit to ask him if his mother was addicted to drugs, of if he had a father, or if he wanted to clean my garden for a few cheap coins.

But I could see he had clean clothes and looked well fed, signal he is being cared for at some level - in Brazil you can easily see if the kid is sleeping in the streets by that.

I see strong indications he goes to a very, very weak school.

He did not fit the profile of a city-gangsta-rap kid, as was confirmed by the fact he always lived in Florida and in no big metropolis.

Upon checking on Wikitravel (I always read up the places I go to), I remember his city of Cocoa (not Cocoa Beach) was linked to black migration since old times, so he may well be in a well stablished community (where usually people care for themselves).

Another signal of the above is that his friend, who kept some distance away trying so sell his own snacks, was always paying attention to us, probably out of concern for his buddy - drugged kids do not usually display that care.

I did have experience, in past, of voluntary work in our "favelas" with kids who very much fit your prejudices Erp (coming from drugged families, no father, sometimes sleeping in the streets).

If I had to bet, I would say that kid probably has a poor family with a few problems, but drugs are not among them. Family problems apart, he is really being failed by the educational system, that has been providing for him some education that should ashame citizens who boast so proudly of living in the best country of the universe.

erp said...

Clovis: You're right we should be ashamed of allowing union thuggery to take over our schools. The school that boy goes to probably spends more per student than schools in more prosperous areas because they spend money on security, theft, etc. and teachers may get the equivalent of combat pay for working there.

It's not a lack of money that makes bad schools here in the land of the formerly free and the home of the formerly brave.

You ignore my statements that schools are mainly propaganda factories where kids are taught leftwingery aka fascism. Hyperbole?? Only mildly.

Kids learn a lot more from actions than books learning. They see their elders freeloading off tax payers and see no reason why they should work for ... a few coins. You must be watching the same shows about capitalists beating and whipping the poor as Harry. The he going rate for yard work here is $15/hr.

Hint: It may not have been brotherly love that prompted the other boy's concern. He might have been watching your conversation to make sure you weren't an undercover cop since begging is against the law and the store has probably had complaints from customers about kids bothering them.

erp said...

Clovis: I forgot to say this in my last comment.

I hope your use of the word, prejudice, is another example of your use of inappropriate synonyms.

If it isn't, this really is my last reply to you.

My only prejudices are against stupidity, rudeness, lying and taking advantage of others for one's own gain.

Annoying Old Guy said...


The kid goes to a government run school. Given how important everyone says education is, what does that say about the government's ability to deliver such critical services?

My response to this kind of shame is to vigorously oppose the policies that created it. Yours is apparently to say "let's do the same to health care".

Clovis e Adri said...


Now you've got me curious. Are you proposing we extinguish public schools? What other model you propose? Do you believe that, like private health care, only people who can afford it should have education?

Annoying Old Guy said...


Do you believe that, like private health care, only people who can afford it should have education?

You're attributing made up opinions to me again.

One answer would be that these kids aren't getting an education now. Better to spend nothing to get nothing than lots of money to get nothing.

You are also presuming, without evidence, that good education costs a lot of money. That's simply not true, it's a myth created to excuse government failure after such enormous spending. Many of the worst schools in the nation spend the most money.

My first policy would be to abolish all involvement in primary education at the federal level. That has made things worse at enormous cost. If you disagree with that, explain what actual benefits it brings.

Longer term, I am a strong proponent of a voucher system, as long as it's very weakly regulated. Otherwise it's just a thin veneer over the current, failed system.

erp said...

aog, apparently it's impossible for someone from the third world to believe that we elites aren't trying save a few coins by forcing kids into substandard schools and the only reason there is substandard health care for the poor is because we are greedily keeping it for ourselves.

It's not just that kids aren't learning anything in the schools, it's that they're being taught lies and propaganda.

Either Clovis agrees that the end result of worldwide fascism is a goal he favors, so agrees with the system or he cannot believe it to be true.

BTW- I took some physics courses way back when and I don't remember them ever covering political matters, so either Clovis isn't a physicist or he's just another political hack pretending to be a scientist while filling students' heads with a lot of nonsense.

In any case, I thank him for keeping me entertained at a time when I had too much serious stuff on mind and needed a diversion.

Clovis e Adri said...


You're attributing made up opinions to me again.
Not this time, please notice I've done questions, not affirmations.

You are also presuming, without evidence, that good education costs a lot of money.
Nope again, you will not find me saying that above.

My first policy would be to abolish all involvement in primary education at the federal level. That has made things worse at enormous cost. If you disagree with that, explain what actual benefits it brings.
As it would be your fist enactment after you get elected, what would be the second? I mean, right after this sudden change, probably a few million kids would be out of school. Any plans for that?

Longer term, I am a strong proponent of a voucher system, as long as it's very weakly regulated. Otherwise it's just a thin veneer over the current, failed system.
There again you display the very firm belief that free market solutions are optimal.

Interesting, though, this time we can check real experiences. I am out traveling right now, but when I come back I will look for references showing evidence on how the voucher system has also presented visible failures. I've had this conversation with many people of education departments, and the topic is quite interesting.

One thing I can add, though, is that - as with marriage - the idea that govt. and welfare are all to blame is very naive. There are really huge comportamental changes with parents and society, and many, many present failures of the educational system (public and private!) are traced back to it. I've read an interesting e-book on the experience of a young and smart teacher in your high schools (before he gave up), I just can not find the reference here (since I've deleted my amazon account). Give it to you soon.

Annoying Old Guy said...

you are presuming [...] good education costs a lot of money --- Nope again, you will not find me saying that above

It's implied by "only people who can afford it should have education?". If it were cheap, that wouldn't be a valid question.

right after this sudden change, probably a few million kids would be out of school.

Why would that happen?

I will look for references showing evidence on how the voucher system has also presented visible failures.

And the point of that would be what, exactly? Is your view that if a particular policy results in any failures, it is an unacceptable policy?

the idea that govt. and welfare are all to blame is very naive

Then it's a good thing I do not make such a claim.

Clovis e Adri said...


It's implied by "only people who can afford it should have education?". If it were cheap, that wouldn't be a valid question.
Cheap is relative. You can always have people still unable to pay for it.

Clovis: right after this sudden change, probably a few million kids would be out of school.
AOG: Why would that happen?
I answered in a hurry and got it all wrong. You said "My first policy would be to abolish all involvement in primary education at the federal level.". I reflexively interpreted that as you dismantling schools paid for with federal money. But I guess it does not make sense, the primary schools are not funded with federal money, right? So sorry, I do not get what you mean here.

Is your view that if a particular policy results in any failures, it is an unacceptable policy?
Of course not, but reasonable minds usually compare policies in order to select the better one.

Annoying Old Guy said...


Yes, the federal government provides little to no direct funding of primary schools.

Harry Eagar said...

Another view of school vouchers, this one grounded in reality:

Another view of private education, this one grounded in reality:

And then there is this, which blows the whole erp/Guy position out of the water:


Among blacks 25 and older, the percentage with a high school diploma or higher in 2010.

Percentage of blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2010.
1.5 million

Among blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2010.
2.9 million

Number of blacks enrolled in college in 2010, a 1.7 million increase since 1990.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Mr. Eagar;

LGF and Wonkette? Seriously? Those are too bizarre and loony for me to visit.

As for you stats, uh, what is your point, exactly? Do you think we could solve that problem by simply issuing a high school diploma and/or college degree at birth? If not, why not? Does this have any relevance for your data?

Beyond that, could you point out the economic benefits that have arrived along with those credentials? The head of the NAACP isn't seeing them.

Harry Eagar said...

Really? You never heard of links? I could have provided different sources. The antiscience tirade of the bishop got a lot of attention.

I'd have thought that one, at least, would have resonated with you.

No question in my mind that black Americans benefitted from the Great Society, but unevenly. (If you lived on Maui, you wouldn't doubt it either.) I was greatly impressed by Ken Auletta's 'The Underclass.' We have one in this country.

We always did; even in the heyday of the settlement of the Midwest when land was 'free,' capital was not, and 30% of the population of Iowa at statehood were landless proletarians. But the underclass was obscured by divisions of race and religion.

Now that the left (against furious right opposition) has swept a lot of that away, the classness of the underclass is harder to overlook, although (as this blog attests) it can be done.