Sunday, June 30, 2013

Supreme Court on DOMA: The Right Ruling for the Wrong Reason

The Supreme Court recently ruled on two landmark cases regarding gay marriage. This post is my reaction to the first and more important of those rulings, US vs. Windsor.; a later post will react to the second case, which was Hollingsworth vs. Perry.

In the case of US vs. Windsor, the Court ruled for Windsor, and struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act (aka DOMA) was a 1990’s act of Congress that defined marriage – for the purpose of all federal laws – as a union between one man and one woman, regardless of any state law which defined marriage differently. However, this week’s Court decision ruled this unconstitutional. The basis for this decision was the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment, which states “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The 5-4 majority argued that to withhold federal benefits from couples entitled to them under state law amounted to the deprivation of those couples’ liberty. Consequentially, the most meaningful parts of DOMA were struck down.

The practical implication of this ruling is that the federal government must now grant equal benefits to whichever marriages the states legally recognize. This paves the way for full marriage equality in the 12 states in which gay marriage is already legal, specifically Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota. Thanks to the outcome of the second case, California will soon join that list as well.

As a supporter of marriage equality, I was naturally pleased by the practical short term outcome of this decision. The fact of the matter is that many more homosexual couples will receive fair and equal treatment now than they would have previously, which means conditions were improved from an equality perspective. It’s easy for con-law enthusiasts like myself to get wrapped up in high-falutin’ theoretical concepts, but we shouldn’t let that blind us to the immediate consequences of political events where the rubber hits the road. In the short term, the consequences of this event are wonderful.

Additionally, I support the final ruling at which the court eventually arrived even as a matter of legal principle, because it returns a traditionally state power to the states. As I’ve written previously, federalism is a necessary and valuable feature of our constitution, and it’s important to limit the federal government to the specific powers it was granted. Defining marriage is certainly not within the federal government’s enumerated powers, and has traditionally been handled at the state level. It’s rare these days the Court tells Congress it can’t do something, so actual shrinkage of federal powers is ample cause for celebration.

Of course, it’s not that clear cut, because DOMA only defined marriage as it relates to eligibility for federal benefits. Those benefits are funded by taxpayers across the country, many of whom don’t want their tax dollars going to same sex couples. It’s even trickier for libertarians because we oppose giving special government benefits to any couples in the first place, and feel neither the state nor federal governments should define marriage at all. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep the governments’ roles in line with what the framers had in mind, and a national definition of marriage just seems inconsistent with the federalist system they devised. For as long as marriage licenses have been given out, they’ve been given out at the state level. Congress has never had a say in who was or wasn’t married – it’s simply not up to them. Their desire to distribute benefits selectively does not change that legal reality. If Congress really must use marriage as a determining factor for benefit eligibility, they have to accept the factually correct, legally binding, locally determined definition of what marriage is. So I think the court had solid constitutional justification for their ruling.

The trouble is, that’s not the justification the Court used. After echoing many of the sentiments I laid out above, Justice Kennedy stopped short of endorsing the supremacy of state’s rights in his majority opinion:

“Despite these considerations, it is unnecessary to decide whether this federal intrusion on state power is a violation of the Constitution because it disrupts the federal balance. The State’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance in this case quite apart from principles of federalism.”

So why did the majority separate the case from those principles? And if they weren’t going to use federalism as the basis for their decision, why did Kennedy initially spill so much ink extolling its relevance?

The answer is that the justices in the majority, the ones that most wanted to strike down DOMA, don’t generally agree with my interpretation of the constitution. In the modern political landscape, support for state’s rights comes almost exclusively from conservatives. The political left, by contrast, generally wants the federal government to reign supreme over the states, and the Supreme Court is no exception. This put Democratic appointees Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsberg and ultimately the swing-vote Kennedy in a sticky situation. On the one hand, they wanted to strike down this federal law, and return this particular power to the states. But on the other hand, they didn’t want to arm future conservative challenges to federal laws they liked (in fields like economics or education) with precedent that state’s rights were actually supreme. To obtain their desired outcomes across the board, the majority had to cite federalism to strengthen their case in this ruling, without tying themselves to it in future cases.

The way they did this was ingenious for them, but frustrating for people who actually care about states’ rights. Kennedy began his majority opinion by explaining much of what I explained above; “regulating domestic relations” has traditionally been a state function, and the federal government was breaching centuries of legal tradition by reaching into that realm. But instead of concluding that this is unconstitutional on face, Kennedy merely remarked that this was unusual, and then used that irregularity to justify a different way to strike down the law. He writes:

“‘[D]iscriminations of an unusual character especially suggest careful consideration to determine whether they are obnoxious to the constitutional provision.’…“DOMA’s unusual deviation from the usual tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage... is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of that class [gays and lesbians].”

Here we see how the majority was able to incorporate federalism into their opinion while simultaneously ignoring it. Certainly, federalism played a significant role in the courts reasoning. But as you can see in this excellent piece by Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy, the court ultimately used federalism only to justify a heightened standard of scrutiny on the law’s purpose. Analyzing Kennedy’s opinion, Somin observes:

“what he seems to be saying is that the Congress’ pursuit of purposes beyond the normal scope of federal authority in DOMA makes the law a “discrimination...of an unusual character” and justifies imposing tougher scrutiny under the Fifth Amendment… Kennedy suggests that the level of scrutiny is higher if discriminatory federal laws are intruding into areas generally left to the states.… Under Kennedy’s indirect approach, federalism turns out to be relevant, but only by the back door.”

To the majority, breaching federalism is relevant not because it actually matters on its own, but because it arouses suspicion that something else might be amiss. It appears federal power grabs only trouble them because they’re a warning sign that Congress may have bad intentions. In this case, since the judges determined the lawmakers’ intentions were not so nice, they struck down the law. But in other cases, should the lawmakers’ imagined intentions meet the justices’ subjective approval, the un-enumerated power might be constitutional after all. The federal government’s assumption of power to which it is not entitled, the majority implies, does not mandate that the court rule the law unconstitutional – it merely permits them to do so if they otherwise wanted to.

The rest of Justice Kennedy’s opinion explains in great detail why he and the four other justices wanted to strike down this law. He explains how DOMA’s differentiation between heterosexual and homosexual marriages “demeans” same-sex couples by placing them “in a second-tier marriage.” He opines that this imposes “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same sex marriages.” He laments that this “humiliates tens of thousands of children” raised by those couples, and “makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community”. He essentially delivers a therapeutic progressive rant about how unjust this law is to anyone as sensible and tolerant as himself.

Furthermore, he concludes that these effects he finds so unfair were not merely an unintentional, happenstance effect of DOMA, but were “the avowed purpose…of the law here in question”. This matters, he claims, because “[t]he principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency.”

These observations are 100% correct. Anyone sympathetic to the cause of gay rights should be inspired by such an eloquent and passionate explanation of what makes DOMA so wrong. But just because something is wrong does not mean it is unconstitutional. How does Kennedy bridge that gap? He concludes:

“What has been explained to this point should more than suffice to establish that the principle purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in lawful same-sex marriage. This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

Well…why, exactly?

Kennedy articulates well how DOMA contradicts the general spirit of equality most people envision as a constitutional ideal. But he never adequately explains how it contradicts the actual text of the 5th amendment. The Due Process clause to which Kennedy refers states “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” But how does the intent to demean a group of people, however unkind it may be, deprive that group of their liberty? Since when do people have a constitutional liberty not to feel demeaned?

Kennedy assures us that “the Fifth Amendment withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in the way this law does”, but I don’t see how. So far as I know, there is no precedent to support this (and even if there were, that wouldn’t mean the precedent were correct). Kennedy appears to create this new standard out of thin air because he feels degrading and demeaning people is wrong, and therefore wishes it were unconstitutional. The implications of this are unclear: must every law that differentiates between two groups of people now be checked to see if it degrades or demeans one of the groups?

Next he insists “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare Congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group.” But even if that bare Congressional desire were proven, where is the disparate treatment? To me, it seems DOMA treats homosexuals exactly the same as it treats heterosexuals – truly, the problem comes from its refusal to discriminate between the two. A gay man and a straight man can marry the exact same set of people, and receive the exact same legal benefits for doing so. They may have different preferences, of course, and those preferences might yield unequal benefits in practice. They may not choose to behave in the same way. But the ways in which they are legally permitted to behave are identical. From a legal perspective, they have the same privileges and the same rights (a man and a woman, by contrast, may not).

What the majority opinion boils down to is that impact of DOMA is really, really unfair, and the motivation for it was really really mean, so…let’s wave our hand, mutter something about the 5th amendment, and get rid of it. That’s insufficient in any case, but it was particularly inadequate in this case because there exist other, more reasonable legal avenues to justify striking down the law. The court passed on those arguments not because they were unsound, but because it did not want to publicly confess their soundness, in anticipation of future cases in which such arguments would be inconvenient to their worldview. Instead, they crafted a new standard that determines a law’s constitutionality not based on whether it’s actually listed in the constitution, but based on the Court’s subjective assessment of the law’s purpose, necessity, and impact.

To summarize, the ruling still did more harm than good. In this case, skimpy judicial logic wound up granting equality to millions of people. It would be heartless not to silently cheer that from the sidelines. But so long as the court insists on jumping through intellectual hoops to apply their preferred framework of “it’s constitutional if I like it”, I can’t give this ruling my full endorsement.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Threats, Predictions, and the Non-Aggression Principle

Perhaps the best summary of the libertarian moral outlook is something called the Non-Aggression Principle (or NAP), which holds that most fundamental wrong is the initiation of force on other people. Initiation is usually interpreted to mean "the use or threat" of force, to include instances of coercion in which no actual violence is physically wielded. This blog has written extensively about the implications of this outlook for government.

What I have not discussed is the implications of this outlook for religion. As a Christian man, I do not feel the NAP in any way contradicts my religious outlook. Other libertarians disagree, and today I encountered a new argument against Christianity from an anarchist atheist friend of mine on Facebook. He argued that telling children they would burn in hell for all eternity if they didn't behave in a certain way amounted to a threat of violence on other people, particularly on people as impressionable and innocent as children.

My first reaction was to roll my eyes - this man had become so consumed by complex theories on liberty that he'd forgotten the freedom of religion as one of the most basic. Normally, I wouldn't have given this conversation the time of day. But on second thought, I realized there was a larger issue at stake here than whether parents can teach the Bible to their children: namely, what counts as a threat? Since threats of physical violence are the only type of speech libertarians do not tolerate, it is essential to distinguish between threats and other types of speech. Clarifying what a libertarian legal code would mean in practice requires a definition of what is and isn't a threat. My response to that friend attempted to outline that definition by distinguishing it from a mere prediction of calamity:

"The following are examples of predictions:

"If y
ou play in traffic, you will get hit by a car."
"If you touch that hot stove, you will burn yourself."
"If you eat GMO's, you will be poisoned."
"If you sin, you will burn in hell for all eternity."

All of those predicted outcomes are scary, for a child or anyone else. But not all of them are guaranteed to happen. In fact, some of them are highly opinionated (some people think GMO's are just as healthy as regular food, and would predict differently - as of yet there is no objective answer to that question). But regardless of our certainty that outcome X will result from activity Y, people can still prognosticate about harms that may befall somebody, without being guilty of harming that person themselves.

The following are examples of threats:

"If you play in traffic, I will run you over with my car."
"If you touch that stove, I will dump the boiling water on your head."
"If you eat GMO's, I will poison you."
"If you sin, I will burn you alive."

These are not predictions, because they are not mere observations of cause and effect. Unlike the previous examples, the outcome resulting from the activity is entirely up to the person saying the sentence. I's not a remark about the likelihood of a negative outcome by other agents (real or imagined), but a promise that the speaker will actively bring that negative outcome to pass themselves. There is no such thing as a threat by proxy, because what makes a threat a threat is the involvement of the threatener. That what separates coercion from mere advice."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Government Not the Best Driver in Healthcare

About a month ago, Froma Harrop wrote an article titled “Why Consumers Can’t Drive Healthcare,” in which she argued against any health insurance model based on consumer choice. You can read her article here. Unlike some of the other articles I’ve been refuting recently (Michael Lind comes to mind), Harrop’s article is professional, well written, mostly logical, and respectful to her opponents, which I appreciate. I’ll try to be as polite in return – that’s how productive discourse is advanced, and it’s much more enjoyable for both writers and readers.

Some of you might not know what “consumer choice” means for health insurance, and Harrop kindly provides a nice summary. Most consumers would likely choose a high-deductible plan such as a health savings account:

“An HSA marries a high deductible (paid before insurance starts picking up the big bills) to a tax-favored savings account from which people can tap money for smaller medical expenses. What we most fear are medical "catastrophes" leading to bankruptcy or the inability to afford appropriate care. This kind of coverage protects against financial traumas. Meanwhile, asking consumers to dig into their pockets for routine care makes them more careful about spending.”

This is how insurance works in almost every other field of insurance. Home insurance protects our homes from catastrophic destruction – fires, tornadoes, sinkholes, stray Mythbusters cannonballs, etc. – but it usually doesn’t cover every-day fixer-uppers like a broken window, a leaky shower, or a faulty electrical outlet. Car insurance works the same way: it doesn’t cover a cracked mirror or a broken radio, but it does bail us out if we get in an expensive crash. This is what makes insurance affordable; if home insurance companies had to cover every clogged toilet and carpet stain, they’d have to charge much more for their services. It’s also what makes those small, everyday repairs affordable. Since the free market is allowed to set the prices for these things independently of the disaster risk, plumbers, mechanics, electricians, painters, and lawn care specialists can stay all stay in business on a pay-per-service basis, as can the Home Depot or other do-it-yourself providers.

Inversely, this is why Obamacare (as well as the Massachusetts plan it was based on) are both proving abysmal at containing healthcare prices. Instead of encouraging people to economize on their superfluous health expenditures, it forces everybody to be insured every minute health problem that could possibly arise. This expands demand by removing any incentive for cost consciousness on the little stuff, without providing for the expansion of supply (in fact, tightly limited AMA licensure quotas ensure doctors are limited – and well paid).

So, why can’t the home and car insurance models work for health insurance? Harrop writes:

"Here's the problem: You and I may nod in agreement over the merits of catastrophic coverage. We are informed, and our financial lives are organized. We make it our business to save for retirement. We budget for unforeseen expenses. We know not to rack up big balances on our credit cards.

Other, perhaps most, Americans don't do these things."

Translation: Americans – except the clever few who read my articles – are just too stupid to choose wisely about their own health. Bureaucrats, particularly those bureaucrats who agree with me, can choose better for them than they can choose for themselves. The only reason besides stupidity that somebody might conceivably choose to decline a health service, Harrop figures, is poverty:

“Or they would if they weren't supporting families on low-paying jobs. Loss of work, death of provider or punishing education costs might leave no budgetary room for a doctor's visit. If the choice were buying textbooks for your child or skipping a physical, which would you do?”

I might buy the textbooks. But contrary to what Harrop insinuates, there would be nothing wrong with that decision. As a healthy 20 year old who exercises regularly, most of my physicals are an inefficient use of time and money. And as John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis explains, this isn’t just true for me, but for the healthcare system at large:

“[there are] literally hundreds of studies from over the past 40 years that show preventive medical services usually increase medical spending ... Contrary to popular belief, checkups for children and adults do not save the health care system money."

If I were to skip a physical and use that same money for, say, some vitamins to round out my diet, it would not be irresponsible or reckless; it would be a rational cost-benefit analysis based on a sound risk assessment. This is exactly what happens in every other sector of the economy: scarcity requires us to rank our wants and needs, and allocate our resources accordingly. Consumers must make tradeoffs, and since each individual has unique circumstances and a unique budget, Pareto efficiency is maximized when we are permitted to make our own choices. Foregoing healthcare for something we value more dearly makes us wealthier and better off in our own estimation – which is the only estimation that matters.

The reason Harrop and her liberal counterparts are unable to accept this is that they’ve convinced themselves healthcare is a right. By this logic, any situation in which somebody somewhere wants healthcare, but doesn’t get it, is perceived as an intolerable injustice. That the person in question might want something else more than they want healthcare is dismissed as irrelevant. It appears the only rational decision Harrop feels people can make, indeed the only decision they should be legally permitted to make, is to buy all-inclusive mega-coverage for every stubbed toe and runny nose that could possibly befall them. Only then can the “right” to healthcare be ensured.

Unfortunately for liberals, rights are not merely things which it would be nice if everyone could have. Rights are things we already have inherently as human beings; life, liberty, etc. Anything which requires the efforts of other human beings to provide cannot meet that definition, and healthcare certainly takes time, money, research, technology, training and expertise to create. Healthcare is therefore not a right; it is a product and a service. Like most products and services, healthcare is scarce, which means not everybody can have as much of it as they like. That reality is unavoidable no matter what system we adopt; no matter how sad it makes us, the mathematical laws of supply and demand are not suspended when people get sick. And operating within this reality, it doesn’t make sense to buy every health service that any doctor, clinic, yoga instructor or mystic healing guru might offer.

Or maybe it does – for some people. That depends on our preferences and personal risk tolerance. Some people may feel safer and happier knowing they’re covered for everything, and that’s fine. The left just needs to learn that there’s a difference between disagreeing with those people and being “irresponsible.” Harrop continues:

“Yes, there are those who could easily afford health coverage and don't buy it, preferring to roll the dice that nothing awful will happen. If they lose, they're still let into the emergency room. The responsible ones will pay for their care.”

This is my favorite bad argument for the individual mandate, because it presupposes the necessity of another counterproductive government intervention. Yes, taxpayers do pay for the ER visits of uninsured people – but only because it was demanded by the very same politicians who now bemoan its consequences. Liberals cannot lament the moral necessity for taxpayers to cover ER visits in one decade, and then bitch about how much it costs to do so in the next!

With that said, I do agree with Harrop that this policy is unfair; smart people like her should not be made to subsidize care for someone who does a wheelie on his motorcycle without a helmet. But those costs are not imposed upon her by the cyclist; they’re imposed by the government. Saying otherwise is equivalent to blaming poor people for stealing from rich people by accepting welfare. If theft is occurring, it’s not the poor who are doing it; the government is doing it. We can’t ignore the middle man. It’s tragic when misfortune ruins lives, and I’d happily donate money to a private charity that helps those unlucky few. But I won’t enlist the state to force everyone else to do the same. If Harrop supports that practice, she cannot blame others for the injustices it causes.

Proponents of this policy also must articulate a distinction between health related disasters and any other kind of disaster. If I decide to forego home insurance and my house burns down, I’m shit out of luck (at least from a legal perspective). Why are health disasters any different? Americans are allowed to take chances with their homes, their cars, their belongings, their investments and most other things. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to take chances with their own bodies, too?

Once again, Harrop’s answer to this is that we just aren’t smart enough:

“Consumer-driven health care is still fee-for-service. Patients are the ones to decide when they are being sold too much or too expensive medicine. But how many of us can second-guess our doctor on what treatment we should have? Doing so may be wise, or it may be dangerous. Thing is, average, or even above-average, Americans probably don't know which."

This may be true today, but only because average Americans lack an incentive to be cost conscious. If we could save money by shopping around, Ronald Bailey explains, keeping doctors honest could be much easier than Harrop imagines:

“Once consumers are unleashed, the medical marketplace would be transformed. Most likely, a lot of routine care would be done through retail health centers located in shopping malls, drug store chains, and mega-stores. Such centers would not be staffed with physicians but with nurse practitioners or other qualified personnel. Consumers would generally pay for routine, everyday care directly out of their health savings accounts.
 Competition would also transform the medical information market, making it radically transparent. In fact, baby steps toward transparency have already begun. Angie's List now allows consumers to submit reports about their experiences with physicians. Sources of information for medical comparison shopping would proliferate, just as there are now dozens of publications devoted to comparing the features and prices of cars, computers, guns, and vacations. A core of savvy shoppers in the medical market will mean better price and quality comparisons for everyone.
 Wondering what shopping in a competitive medical market might be like? Check out the admittedly clunky California government's common surgeries and cost comparison website. Browsing reveals that the cost for heart valve replacement varies from $72,000 to $368,000, and the cost for angioplasty varies from $9,000 to $204,000. Other websites, such New Choice Health, enable consumers to go shopping for relatively routine procedures like colonoscopies, laparoscopic hernia repair, and MRI scans. Prices for colonoscopies in Washington, DC, for instance, vary from $580 to $1,386, hernia repair from $974 to $2,519, and abdominal MRIs from $936 to $1,960.
 Opponents of markets in health care worry that patients in extremis will be in no position to negotiate. Actually, the slow progress of the kind of chronic illnesses that are driving up health care costs—cancer, coronary artery disease—allow consumers time to shop around for suitable treatments. Prostate cancer patients can evaluate and choose between options like watchful waiting, various radiation therapies, surgery, and soon, a new biotech immunological treatment. Information gathering would take no more time than the current wait for a follow up appointment.”

I can give an anecdotal example of this possibility from my own family. I’m not sure if Harrop considers my father an “average” or “above average” American, but I do know he’s willing to overrule his doctors and make his own health decisions. Dad hurt his back a few weeks ago, and is now going to a chiropractor to ease his discomfort. However, since his deductible is high, he’s paying over $80 per visit out of pocket. This has made him cost conscious, and because he feels the chiropractor is recommending more sessions than he feels are necessary, he’s decided to skip some of the sessions to save money. He’s essentially calling her bluff; he knows how his back feels, he’s done the research online, and he thinks she’s stretching out his treatment to save money. It’s possible this will backfire and he will reinjure himself, just as it’s possible not replacing every valve your mechanic recommends will cause your engine to explode. But in both cases, it’s also possible to save money on unnecessary treatments by regulating one’s own expenditures. Weighing those odds should not be up to Froma Harrop. Nor should it be up to a bureaucrat with no stake in the outcome. It should be up to my father, because it’s his wallet and his back on the line.

Of course, consumers are not infallible decision makers in any market, and proponents of market-based solutions do not need to prove otherwise for healthcare. All we must do is demonstrate they make better decisions for themselves than the government can make for them (*see comment below). This shouldn’t be hard, because no government in history has ever been able to set prices well. Yet Obamacare will try, and Harrop specifically endorses this practice:

“Rather than charging a fee for every service, providers would be paid a set price to cover soup-to-nuts care for a particular condition. That would take away the financial incentive to overprescribe tests and office visits. And because doctors don't earn more if their care is substandard and the patient has to return, they have an incentive to do it right the first time.”

What Harrop omits is that fixing prices also skews incentives in all sorts of other ways. Severing prices from the forces of supply and demand inevitably creates inefficiencies in unforeseeable ways. For the sake of argument, though, I’ll try to foresee some anyway. Off the top of my head, here are just a few problems that might result from the system Harrop describes:

  1. If prices are fixed, there can be no competition between providers, which eliminates the only pressure to lower prices. From iPods to computers to Lasik eye surgery, competition drives prices down over time in every market-based industry, expanding access to those who were previously priced out of the market. But with fixed prices, this isn’t possible. This means that even if technological advancements are discovered or inefficiencies are corrected which lower the cost of providing healthcare, producers will reap the benefits rather than consumers.
  2. Patients don’t have big flashing signs which reveal what their “condition” is. Diagnosing this condition is sometimes half the battle, and doing so may require a battery of tests and procedures before any actual treatment is administered. Those tests and procedures are not free, so if doctors aren’t getting paid for them, they have an incentive to skimp on this portion.
  3. Even after diagnosis, patients oftentimes cannot be neatly categorized by condition. Sometimes, they have more than one condition, or a condition which leads to another condition, or a condition with complications that must be treated as independent symptoms. In such situations, the line between one condition and the other may be blurred, the price doctors are owed unclear, and the incentives doctors face skewed even more.
  4. Not everyone with the same condition costs the same to treat. The cost of “soup-to-nuts” care for a given condition may vary based on the individual; for example, maybe elderly or obese patients take longer to recover after a certain surgery, and so require more nights in the ICU than would a younger or healthier patient with the same condition.  This makes some patients more profitable to treat than others, and may render other patients not profitable at all, creating an incentive to deny those people care. By severing the link between provider cost and consumer price, policymakers inadvertently harm the costlier demographics.
  5. Speaking of obesity, some “conditions” are largely brought about by the patient’s own actions, and some “treatments” are really up to the patient to administer on themselves. Many conditions, like heart problems, artery blockages, nutrient deficiencies, or diabetes, the doctor can only instruct the patient to exercise and eat right. If the patient doesn’t do so, they wind up “having to return” for the same condition, not due to substandard care or any fault of the doctor, but just because they’re a fat fuck who can’t manage their own lifestyle. Offering a “soup-to-nuts” price for the treatment of these conditions makes the doctor’s time, resources and profit subject to the irresponsibility of the patient, which is hardly fair and once again creates an incentive to deny care. If doctors were paid per service, this problem wouldn’t exist.
  6. The price fixers will essentially just be guessing based on estimations, and when they inevitably guess incorrectly, resources will be reallocated in inefficient ways. Let’s say some bureaucrat overestimates how much it costs to treat syphilis, and underestimates how much it costs to treat chlamydia. To maximize profit, pharmaceutical companies would disproportionately invest their resources in syphilis treatments, even if the market was demanding more treatment for chlamydia. This would create artificial scarcity in the antibiotics designed to treat chlamydia, and unnecessary abundance in the treatments for syphilis.

In summary, consumers spending their own money are much more efficient cost cutters than bureaucrats with no stake in the game. That may mean people choose not to insure themselves against everything, and that’s okay. The man who chooses textbooks over a physical is not a moron who government must benevolently save from himself. Rather, he is making a rational decision based on his unique circumstances and preferences. The way to encourage him to buy health insurance is not to require it by law; it’s to offer health policies that look like an attractive, affordable proposition.

The plans we advocate are just that. What makes insurance worthwhile is the pooling of small but frightening risks, such that minute contributions from everyone can cover the monumental costs of an unlucky few. This gives participants peace of mind at an affordable price. But the price is only affordable so long as the company payouts are rare, and payouts are only rare so long as the risks they cover are tiny for each individual participant. The larger the likelihood that a thing will need to be paid for, the higher the price insurance companies must charge to cover it – and the more likely people will think that coverage is not worth the money. Oftentimes, they’ll be right.

A frustrated letter to Senator Rand Paul

In recent weeks Senator Rand Paul has emphatically stated his opposition to marijuana legalization, saying he would stop at mere decriminalization because marijuana users "lose IQ points" and lack motivation, and that he doesn't want to encourage people to "run around with no clothes on and smoke pot." Needless to say, this angered me, so I sent his office the following reply:

Senator Paul,

I am writing to express my concern regarding your opposition to marijuana legalization in recent statements. As an ardent libertarian, I feel the time is right for a libertarian-leaning candidate to take center stage, and I am excited by your rise to national prominence. At the same time, I also understand the need to tone it down on certain issues; there may be implications of libertarian ideology that the public is not yet willing to accept, and I have no problem with you focusing on the more popular components. Nor do I take issue with compromise in situations where your preferred solution is politically unlikely, so long as those compromises represent improvement over the status quo.

There is a difference, however, between selective emphasis, incremental compromise and outright betrayal of your pro-liberty base. Saying you want to keep private marijuana use illegal, not due to political infeasibility but just because you personally don’t like pot, falls under the latter.

Decriminalization is a good first step and an acceptable interim compromise, but ultimately it is not enough. Marijuana is safer than alcohol, healthier than tobacco, and less addictive than caffeine. It affects nobody but the user, which makes using it a personal choice. For an advocate of individual liberty to support anything less than the full and immediate legalization of that choice is hypocritical and immoral. Protecting people from themselves makes you into the same sort of “government bully” your book laments.

Besides, supporting all-out legalization is hardly a liability in the modern electoral climate. Over 50% of Americans supported legalization even before the Colorado and Washington votes; among those under 30, over two-thirds supported it. It may not seem like it when you’re surrounded by Senate busybodies, but socially tolerant, fiscally conservative positions can and will win in the near future. Marijuana legalization is right in line with that. More importantly, it will make us richer, safer, and freer than mere decriminalization ever could.

I'd really, really like to support you moving forward, but I can’t do it in good conscience if you turn your back on my ideals. As heartbroken as I’d be to vote 3rd party again in 2016, you’re not making it easier to justify voting Republican. Just know our support is not a given. I’ll be listening. Please don’t make me take your bumper sticker off my car.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Response to Barry Schwartz on the psychological detriment of choice

On the Psychological Detriment of Choice

This is part two of my rebuttal to the TED Talk put forth by Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore University on the subject of choice. If you need a refresher, you can watch his argument here. Part one of my response, which can be found here, discussed his argument about Paralysis and Opportunity Cost. This post will discuss his arguments about the psychological downsides of more choice, which I will divide into two types.

Imagined Alternatives and Buyer’s Remorse

Schwartz argues that when we have many options to choose from and we make a choice we’re not completely happy with, it’s easy for us to imagine how much happier we could have been had we chosen differently. “This regret subtracts from our satisfaction with the decision we made, even if it was a good decision,” he says.

This makes sense, because we do indeed have a tendency to second guess ourselves and to lose interest in a thing once we’ve attained it. As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” But I have three objections to this tendency being used to argue for less choice.

The first is that people want those choices anyway, and nobody has a right to take it from them. What arguing for “less choice” really entails is arguing for the restriction of that choice by an outside body, which can only be done by force. People would never willingly sacrifice those extra options; if they would, the problem would be solved, because they’d simply regulate themselves by not considering some of the options from the outset (or using one of the methods I discussed in my last post). It’s patronizing to tell people that you know better for them than they do – the  equivalent of saying “this is just too much for you to handle, so I’m going to keep it simple for you, stupid.” Maybe I’m thin-skinned, but that sentiment makes me angry on face. It’s just condescending, to such an extent that even if I knew having more choice might increase the odds that I’m disappointed, I’d still want to take that risk. The knowledge that I’m being treated like an child subtracts from my happiness much more than second guessing my mistakes does.

My second objection is to the idea that avoidable dissatisfaction is worse than the unavoidable kind. Mr. Schwartz argues that in a world where the outcome we get is beyond our control, people are happier, because they don’t blame themselves if things turn out poorly – it’s just “the system” at fault. He fails to mention that this theory should also work in reverse: we can’t feel as proud of accidental successes or happenstance pleasures, as we can of those we achieve by our own merit. But perhaps more importantly, this argument strikes me as terribly contradictory to the whole idea of America. Isn’t our destiny supposed to be up to us? Aren’t we not supposed to be stuck where we are in life? Don’t we want to give people an opportunity to change their lot, to take the reins and determine their own fate? They may not always succeed, and on rare occasions they may have lived better if it wasn’t up to them. But it should still be up to them!

“Choice is the essence of what I believe it is to be human.” - Liv Ullmann

History demonstrates that when people lack that freedom, they’re far from content. People with unavoidable dissatisfaction do not casually shrug it off because it’s not their fault. Rather, they demand that they be given the chance to sink or swim on their own merits. Whether that’s on bigger-picture things like getting a job, or comparably trivial things like buying jeans, I want that freedom. If something is bad in my life, I take solace in knowing it’s bad because I screwed up, rather than because somebody’s oppressing me. The first is a misstep; the second is an injustice.

This brings us to my third objection to this argument: this tendency to second guess ourselves can be avoided, or at least mitigated, by a healthy change in perspective. What Schwartz portrays as universal facts of human nature are actually highly variable (and perhaps alterable) questions of individual disposition. It is true that some people consumed with regret each time they do something dumb. Some people can’t get over their own imperfection and allow it to eat them up inside. The existence of superior alternatives may indeed drive these people crazy. But what Schwartz fails to see is that many people are not like that, because they’ve learned to get over it. They’ve learned to accept those everyday blunders as a part of life, and to just go with the flow. These people have the maturity, wisdom, and sense of perspective to live life in the present. They do the best they can and don’t look back. They are appreciative of life’s blessings. And they are like this not because they were born with this wisdom, but because they learned this important key to happiness along the way.

If Barry Schwartz truly wants to prevent people from regretting their poor decisions, that’s the message he should be using his TED Talk to spread. The culprit here is not choice, it’s neuroticism and jealousy. It’s the tendency of some (but by no means all) people to take what we have for granted. The solution to that problem is not to limit the choices of those with a healthy disposition. It’s to teach everyone else how to adopt that disposition.

The Escalation of Expectations

Schwartz’ final argument is somewhat related to his second. The more options we have, he notes, the happier we expect to be with whatever option we eventually choose. And this is bad, he suggests, because sometimes the raised expectations outpace the actual improvements which increased choice stands to bring us.

Schwartz uses his jeans story to demonstrate this possibility in action: because there were so many options to choose from, he expected that the jeans he wound up with would be more comfortable than they actually were. Although this is merely an anecdote, it makes sense and I’m sure it happens to lots of people. I have experienced it myself: one example was with a Madden 13 video game I purchased. I expected it to be awesome, only to find out that my favorite game mode – franchise mode – had been removed. This bummed me out for about a day. But unlike Mr. Schwartz, my eventual reaction when I caught myself raising my expectations beyond reason was not to complain about the system that “made” me ungrateful. It was to fix my head. I soon realized the game was still cooler than the Madden 11 version I’d been playing previously, even without franchise mode. I regained perspective, became thankful for the things I had, and made myself content with them. Instead of allowing myself to be disappointed when reality fell short of my imagination, I allowed myself to be pleased that reality had improved over what it was previously.

Choice itself is not the root problem and getting rid of choice is not the solution. A much more sensible solution is to find ways to lower expectations without decreasing wealth alongside it. Schwartz says that adding options to people’s lives “can’t help but raise their expectations”, again asserting this as an unchangeable fact of the human brain. Maybe that’s true to some extent. But we can certainly temper those expectations by teaching people to more fully appreciate the many blessings their lives already feature. Doing so would make us far happier than restricting our choices would, because our objective absolute wealth would not diminish alongside our expectations. It also wouldn’t restrict anybody’s rights in the process or make people feel oppressed.

Ultimately the professor’s analysis falls flat because it attempts to bite off more than it can chew. The question of “what is the secret to happiness?” is about far more than the choices we face. For the most part, happiness is itself a choice. Martha Washington once wisely noted that “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Besides, even if choice were the culprit, it’s far too late to get rid of it now, because those expectations have already risen thanks to prior exposure to a world with choice. If people are unhappy with an almost perfect pair of jeans, how much more unhappy would they be with the crappy, one-size-fits-all version of yesteryear? Unlike in “the good old days” people today already know more comfortable jeans are possible, so they’d practically revolt were they to be constrained once more.

Political Implications

This leads me to one more central problem with all three parts of Schwartz’ argument: he compares only the desirability of two end states, without examining the means required to attain those ends. Philosophically, this is fine, but when you try to translate this into policy – as Schwartz does – the morality and practicality of what government would have to actually do to bring about his desired world cannot be overlooked.

At 16:45 of his above video, Schwartz says that the “official dogma” of “choices enhance welfare, and more choice means more freedom, so more freedom means more welfare” is false, because:

“There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. There’s some magical amount. I don’t know what it is, but I’m pretty confident that we have long since passed the point where options improve our welfare…Everybody needs a fishbowl…The absence of some metaphorical fishbowl is a recipe for misery”

How does this apply to politics? Towards the end of the video, Schwartz references redistribution of wealth programs as a benevolent favor to wealthy people who can’t decide where to give their charity dollars, saying “Income redistribution will make everyone better off, not just poor people, because of how all this excess choice plays us.”

But this is an immoral (not to mention ineffectual) solution to an easily solvable problem. Perhaps Mitt Romney has set aside a portion of money to give to charity, but cannot decide, (or does not want to decide, or does not have time to decide) whether to give his money to a starving African orphan, or to a special needs kid with autism, or to an inner-city Philadelphia school district, or to support cancer research. Thankfully, he doesn’t need to: he can give his money to a charitable organization like Catholic World Relief or Mercy Corps to make that decision for him. Such groups are involved in all of those things at once, and are tasked with divvying up the money they receive in a way that will, in the opinion of their experts with boots on the ground, bring the greatest good to the greatest number. Not only is this more efficient than trusting government to make those decisions, but it’s morally superior because the transactions are strictly voluntary. Just as I described in Part I of my response, this is a choice that saves him from making choices. But other people are free to choose differently, and that's great because that maximizes their happiness too! Perhaps another rich guy prefers to bypass the big charities and give their money to the homeless man down the road, face-to-face, because that's what gives him the most pleasure. And others might prefer to invest all their money into a business, which could then give that homeless man a job. 

Centralized, wealth redistribution programs do not allow for this diversity. Government cannot find the universally preferable distribution of charity funds, because it does not exist; each person might rationally prefer to distribute differently. Nor can government find that "magical amount" of choice, or that optimal level of freedom to permit us, because those don't exist either. The ideal quantity of decision making autonomy is different for every person and every decision, and imposing it one-size fits all is the definition of oppression.

The question is not whether or not we should have a fishbowl, because we all have one by default – there are limits to what we’re capable of doing, processing and deciding between in a mere lifetime. Rather, the question is who gets to decide where the boundaries of our personal fishbowls lie? Us, or someone else? We each may have an optimum level of choice, but since it’s nowhere near the same for each person, I demand the right to set my own limits. I have no problem with Mr. Schwartz eliminating choices from his own life that I’d prefer to keep. If he doesn’t want to make his own investment decisions, he can hire a broker to make them for him. If he doesn’t care what type of jeans he gets, he can hire a stylist to buy them for him. He can place a metaphorical fishbowl around his own life – he’d just better not try to trap me in there with him.

In Defense of the Semicolon

Note: I recognize that stylistically, this is one of the worst pieces I've ever written; this is on purpose, because I wanted the challenge of including a semicolon in every single sentence.

While browsing Reddit the other day, I stumbled upon an interesting quote in the “Today I Learned” section; for your convenience, I’ve reproduced it below.

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Unfortunately, this quote is inaccurate; I used semicolons long before I went to college, and for good reason. I will confess that there are very few situations which necessarily require semicolons; in most cases, using a period to divide the idea into separate sentences will still be grammatically correct. And to be fair, I'm not a creative writer like Vonnegut was; perhaps semicolons are more useful in my genre of writing than they are in novels or short stories. But the fact remains that in persuasive writing, semicolons come in quite handy; the nuanced flexibility they provide can greatly enhance a writer’s style and effectiveness.

The art of persuasion involves more than the content of one’s argument; two people can present the exact same ideas, without doing so in an equally persuasive manner. Rather, effective rhetoric is all about using patterns of sound to reinforce the logical concepts one wishes to convey; using the correct emphasis helps the audience to follow and understand an argument more clearly. For spoken rhetoric, this comes rather naturally to us; when somebody is giving a persuasive speech, they can use all sorts of body language, voice inflection, and hand gestures to drive home the arguments they wish to communicate. But faceless words on paper lack this capacity; as such, controlling these sound patterns with mere symbols is quite the challenge. To meet this challenge, persuasive writers must develop a “voice”; they must manipulate how a sentence “sounds” when the reader silently pronounces it in their own head. This is task requires punctuation; writers need an arsenal of symbols capable of mimicking the way people communicate when speaking face to face.

But as we know, people don’t communicate with sound alone; they also communicate with the absence of sound. Pauses are a big part of our daily discourse, but not all pauses are used the same way; to emulate this periods, commas, dashes, parentheses, colons and semicolons each represent a unique type of pause. As such, semicolons diversify the writer’s voice; they allow him to better imitate the types of pauses persuasive speakers use to maximize their rhetorical effect.

Perhaps the reader of this persuasive piece is skeptical that so many different types of pauses are really necessary; wouldn’t it seem that there’s some overlap? Certainly, some types of verbal pauses are ambiguous; two people recording the same oral statements might not use the same punctuation in their transcriptions. Certainly, many of the semicolons I’ve used in this blog could be replaced with something else; I’m sure some of you are getting tired of the redundant overuse of these semicolons by now. However, there really are types of pauses which only a semicolon can accurately convey; specifically, semicolons enable the writer to link two related but independently expressed thoughts. Em-dashes - like the ones used here – can’t do this as effectively, because they merely demarcate a temporary break in the original thought; unlike semicolons, em-dashes tell the reader that the original sentence structure will resume after this short pause. The same goes for parentheses; although they also insert a pause in flow of the sentence (which can be useful for lots of other reasons), they merely intermingle related thoughts, instead of adjacently conjoining them. Regular colons also serve a handy purpose: specifying the identity of an aforementioned thing. But they can’t replace semicolons either; you cannot place a standalone sentence after a colon without capitalizing the first letter, but you can after a semicolon.

Semicolons also grant the writer the flexibility to articulate one idea in multiple ways without sounding redundant; a period, by contrast, divides the stream of thought by formally separating one idea from the next. This is particularly useful when giving examples; effective examples must be clearly tied to the thing they instantiate, without sounding like a choppy detour from the argument they support. In these situations, semicolons enable the author to both state an idea and exemplify it within the same sentence; by contrast, breaking the argument and the example into distinct sentences might damage the rhetorical flow of the argument.

However, I will caution that semicolons are not to be overused; effective writers must vary their sentence structure to keep the reader’s interest. That’s why most of you have probably given up reading this blog post by now; using semicolons in every sentence results in a terribly written piece. But if you are still reading, I hope you learned something from this bungled mess; used properly, semicolons serve a useful function in persuasive writing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some questions for Edward Snowden haters and NSA spying lovers

In all the hubbub surrounding the federal government’s most recent scandal, I’ve noticed that the people who are angriest at Edward Snowden for leaking federal secrets are generally the most supportive of the NSA’s spying policies. This strikes me as interesting, because it seems to me those positions are a little contradictory. Therefore, I have two questions for these people:

  1. You argue that if I have no wrongdoing to conceal from the government, I have nothing to fear from the government spying on my behavior. So let’s use this logic in reverse. If the federal government has no wrongdoing to conceal from the American people, why should they fear leaks? All surveillance does is inform the government of what we’re up to, and all Edward Snowden did was clue us in as to what the government is up to. If NSA spying is harmless and beneficial, why can’t we know about it? If the American people don’t get to keep secrets from the government, why does the government get to keep secrets from us?

  1. You argue that the American people can trust government officials with their sensitive, private information. And yet, you are simultaneously furious with Edward Snowden, a government official, for being untrustworthy with sensitive, private information. Can federal employees be trusted with our secrets, or can’t they?

Answering Michael Lind's question to libertarians

Michael Lind from Salon magazine wrote a ridiculous article the other week, so I’ve decided to ridicule it. The article, which you can readhere, is titled “The Question Libertarians Just Can’t Answer.” According to Lind, that question is “If your approach is so great, why hasn’t any country in the world ever tried it?”

That’s it? That’s the stumper, Mike? Of all the possible angles from which one might attack libertarianism, a grade-school logical fallacy is the best you can come up with? To quote Will from Good Will Hunting, “that’s a tough one – but I’ll take a shot.”

First off, the entire argument Lind derives from his question is a non-sequitur anyway. Even if we didn’t have an answer to why governments have so far been unreceptive to libertarianism, it does not follow that libertarianism is a bad idea. Many good ideas take a while to catch on (not just in governance, but also in art, technology, etc.). There was a time when none of the nations on earth had implemented the abolition of slavery. There was a time when no nation had an Air Force. There was a time when no government had legalized gay marriage. When Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on a church door in Wittenburg, not a single country had tried Protestantism before. This does not mean his concerns were invalid, or that challenging the Catholic Church’s immoral practices was a bad idea. Sometimes old problems are solved, and conditions improved, by adopting a new approach. But that can’t happen if the only ideas people are willing to consider are the ones which have already been tried. It amuses me that so-called progressives, the supposed champions of bold ideas designed to move society forward into the 21st century, now view “it hasn’t been done before” as a reason not to do something.

But just to humor him, I'll answer his question anyway. The short answer to to why no country has tried full-blown libertarianism is that powerful people are extremely reluctant to relinquish their power, such that they will ignore, dismiss, refuse to consider, or even attempt to silence any worldview which challenges that power. This is for at least three reasons:

  1. Power can be used to confer material benefits on the holder. In the olden days, this manifested itself as outright corruption: the transfer of money directly to a politician in exchange for voting or acting in a certain way. But in the modern world, you needn’t pass briefcases in smoke filled rooms to win political favors from government officials. Those with wealth or connections use government to protect their business and profit interests all the time. At first this was mere necessity – the government had become involved in so many things that companies needed lobbyists just to ensure their competition didn’t write all the rules. But today, those with enough sway to win this rigged game have found they rather like this shortcut, because it allows them to bypass the challenges of competition on an open market. Open market companies have to compete with China; politically involved companies get tariffs to keep Chinese goods out. Open market charities have to convince people to donate; politically authorized charities get taxpayer funding. Why risk failure when you can craft regulations or rewrite the rules to guarantee your success? Libertarianism would end all these special privileges and handouts, so it’s not good news for those with enough power and connections to get them.

    Of course, it would be great news for everybody else. Cronyism carries real costs for the majority of the population: higher taxes, higher prices on consumer goods, etc. But unfortunately for libertarians, these costs are dispersed among many, whereas the benefits bestowed by government are concentrated among a few. The brilliant Tom Woods elaborates on this principle here. It’d hard to get the average American riled up just because manufacturing goods cost an extra 25 cents. But those whose fortunes are built on big government have an enormous vested interest in its perpetuation, so they’re willing to put forth enormous effort into convincing people that small government would be chaos. Those in power have both an incentive and a means to oppose the implementation of libertarian ideas, and so far, they’ve succeeded.

  1. Power enables people to get their way. Oftentimes, people disagree. Sometimes these disagreements are fact-based, such that one party is right while the other is wrong. But other times, disagreements result from different worldviews, or from subjective moral opinions. It would be great if everyone was mature enough to accept those differences and get along, but the unfortunate reality is that many people are not. Like bickering siblings, many people who are confronted with beliefs or practices they dislike feel a natural inclination to impose their will on others. Government allows them to do this, because only government can use force to change the behaviors of other people. Don’t like Mexicans? Government can force them to leave the country. Don’t like drugs? Government can punish those who do. Don’t like greedy rich people? Government can force them to give to the poor. Those in power get to impose their personal worldview on everyone else, and that’s a tempting prospect. Libertarianism wouldn’t let them do that anymore, so in order to keep doing it, they must oppose libertarianism.

  1. Power carries a great deal of prestige, such that those who hold it often cling to it as a matter of personal pride. Those in a position of power are usually respected and venerated members of their community – much more respected than they were before their election. Additionally, rising to that position can be extremely difficult, requiring lengthy political campaigns or a long career of promotion through a competitive bureaucracy. The result is that once someone finally rises to the top of the political food chain, they often become intoxicated by their own importance, which influences the way they view the world.
Once a leader incorporates his or her right to hold their position as a part of their identity, their self-esteem requires that position to be honorable, important and necessary. Proud people are resistant to the notion that their services may not be required. No policeman likes to think that the laws they enforce are immoral. No tax collector likes the idea that no taxes need to be collected. No economist likes the thought that the economy might not need to be managed. No general wants to be told that the war he manages is counterproductive and unnecessary. Everyone wants to feel important, and nobody wants to view themselves as the problem. Since libertarians view government as the problem, members of government take it as an insult, and their defensiveness leads them to reject it. It is uncomfortable for people to consider the idea that their life’s work was for naught; rejecting that thought preemptively is much easier, because it avoids the cognitive dissonance that results from challenging perspectives.

This is also why no bureaucracy ever voluntarily cuts its own funding. When a government agency has a job opening, the applicants for that position are disproportionately likely to support that agency relative to the general population; those who disagree that the agency is necessary probably wouldn’t have applied for the position. This is called volunteer bias, and it’s a big part of the reason government is so hard to shrink. Any cuts to any part of government are protested vociferously by those in that part, because by the nature of their employment there, they’ve come to view that part as extremely important.

Those who view the state as an effective solution for society’s problems like to imagine that policy is formed by wise and benevolent leaders, motivated by nothing but selfless concern for their people’s wellbeing. This is na├»ve. The aforementioned truths demonstrate that personal biases often prevent governments from acting in accordance with what’s best for their subjects. Ultimately, governments consist of people, and people are frequently selfish, vain, greedy and mistake prone. The political left, of which Mr. Lind is a proud member, is the first to point this out in the private sector. But perplexingly, they seem convinced government officials are made of a different moral fiber than the rest of us. When wrongdoing is unearthed outside of government, they view it as proof that people are too evil to live without the protection of these caring few.  But when scandal after scandal emerges among those leaders, it is viewed as an unfortunate exception to the rule, rather than the rule of human nature itself. In order for our society to truly progress, progressives must learn that the people in government are every bit as vain, corruptible, dishonest, and self-interested as the people outside of it.

To be clear, libertarianism faces many challenging questions from many intelligent people. These people have valid reasons for skepticism. It is not a foolproof solution or a bulletproof ideology. But if the left is looking for some kingmaker argument to leave us stuttering all over ourselves, they’re going to have to do much better than this.