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Saturday, May 1, 2010

President Obama: "Government Is Us"

Memo to Gordon Howie et al., from the President of the United States:

What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.

— President Barack Hussein Obama, graduation address, University of Michigan, 2010.05.01.

My sentiments exactly. Yours?


  1. Then they should go and get real jobs and let others in there that have some common sense and know what the hell they're doing.

  2. The opposite of my sentiments exactly.

    In our democracy, the government is not "us." The government is 51% of "us" using force and the threat of force to impose their will over the other 49% of "us."

    If you want an institution that represents "us", consider the free market--the system of voluntary exchanges that takes place in a society. Not everybody votes, but essentially everybody trades. In government and politics, there are always winners and losers. The winners' wills are represented, the losers' aren't. But in all of the trades that comprise the free market, both parties benefit. Everybody is a winner, and everybody's wills are represented.

    So because government and the free market are mutually exclusive, I will declare that all of government is inherently bad, however it may "trouble" the president.

  3. I believe the gov't is us, as Obama said. However, he, Pelosi, and Reid think the gov't is them. They do not listen to the will of "us," they just force thru what they want by hook and crook, mostly crook, in order to expand the power and extent of them/gov't at the expense of the liberty of "us."

  4. "Government and the free market are mutually exclusive"--this is a remarkably ignorant statement. Our government has put in place the entire infrastructure that makes it possible for business to function--including transportation, energy, financial services, education, and of course public safety and defense. Good Lord, think for two seconds before you say things. Business is thoroughly dependent on government.

    This doesn't even get into the obvious issue that businesses are autocratic and unaccountable to the communities in which they operate (except to the extent that someone can "vote with their dollars" but you go ahead and try getting groceries in Madison from somewhere other than Sunshine, for instance), while democratic government by definition must be responsive or face the consequences. You might not like the outcome of every election, but you at least have the opportunity to have a voice in the process.

    Brett Hoffman

  5. This is a great thread for those that have not read it: http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/app/blogs/politicalblog/?p=5396

  6. Nonnie would rather have a government where legislation is decided by polls , instead of, by elected representatives.

  7. We don't have representative government. Sanctioned corruption by special interest lobbying and campaign financing has seriously deteriorated our faith. Nonnie is over the top as usual, but a person is right to be jaded. I'm disappointed Barry would talk fairy tale rather than address how off course we are from being a fair republic.

  8. Mr. Hoffman, just because you don't agree with a statement does not mean it is "ignorant."

    It is true that the free market would likely not function very well without the services you mention: transportation, public safety services, education, and the like. It is also true that, currently, our government provides these services.

    But it is not true that we need the government to provide these services. The free market is perfectly capable of producing them by itself. And it would, if the government hadn't forcibly established monopolies for itself in these areas. As I said, the government and the free market are mutually exclusive.

    So your statement "business is thoroughly dependent on government," is false. Business may be dependent on the services which government currently provides, but that does not amount to the same thing.

    I'm afraid don't understand how the autocratic nature of businesses makes them any less responsive to the community than government, or why "voting with your dollars" doesn't work.
    The moment Sunshine foods in Madison begins doing something the community doesn't like or providing services its customers aren't satisfied with, it will begin to lose business. Customers might decide to drive to Sioux Falls or another town for groceries. An entrepreneur, seeing the poor service Sunshine has begun to provide, might see the opportunity for profit and open his/her own competing business. The community might decide they get a better deal when they grow their own food and trade amongst themselves. The community might decide that the groceries are a rip-off and that their money is best spent on other things, and purchase as little as possible. The less responsive Sunshine is to the community, the more business it loses. A business must be responsive to the community, or else it ceases to exist. And, I think you will find, Sunshine foods is quite good at giving the community of Madison what it wants--quality groceries at a reasonable price.

    On the other hand, a democratic government has far less of an incentive to be responsive to the community. They only have to be responsive to 51% of the voting population--actually, they don't even have to do that--they just have to piss off fewer people than the other political party/candidate does. It makes no difference whether they satisfy 51% of the people, 75% of the people, or 100% of the people.

    So it seems to me that "voting with your dollars" is a far more effective method of satisfying as many people as possible in a society than "voting with your vote."

    I appreciate your kind suggestion that I "think for two seconds" before posting. My advice to you is to perhaps think a little bit longer than two seconds, much too short a period of time to reach a reasonable conclusion about these sort of matters.

  9. I agree Cori, the government is us and our elected representatives are acting like us, and there is the problem.

    Later in the speech, the President says something much better, "The practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship." A more correct statement can not be made. Listening is about paying attention to what people say, not what you think they are saying. Listening is having some respect for someone's views even when you disagree with you. Listening is a willingness to accept that someone else might be right.

    Listening is not name calling or insulting comments.

    Our elected representatives are just like us. When we disagree with someone or can not logically disagree with them, it is easier to dismiss their thinking or call them names.

    If we want government to be better we have to be better. There is truth in every belief, but you have to listen to find it.
    Joseph G Thompson

  10. John: Maybe it is a fairy tale, it has plenty of faults. but it is fairy tale that I still believe in.

  11. The government is not "us". The us he refers to is the entirety of the citizens of the United States. Government is just a small subset of that that has been lent limited power over us to protect our rights and act in our interests.
    The statement that the government is us is just pretty rhetoric to justify the government's actions that are neither limited nor in the interest of a large number of people.
    I would agree that the government is not inherently bad. It is not a threatening foreign enemy, but it is power over "us" which if not restrained is inherently a threat.
    We are not a pure democracy, which is nothing more than unrestrained mob rule. We are a constitutional republic. The president should either overcome his ignorance or begin to respect that difference, and the restraints on his power it implies.

  12. Richard, you overstate the case for the free market's responsiveness. Sunshine (like any participant in the free market) need not be responsive to the entire community. Sunshine need only appease just enough of the market to be profitable. If Sunshine can make more money appeasing a minority who drink heavily than a larger minority who have children and want a larger assortment of nutritious children's products, Sunshine will expand its liquor selection. As Brett aptly observes, Sunshine will also conduct no public vote or discussion to better determine what needs or desires to meet.

    The free market produces winners and losers—it includes and excludes—in at least the same degree as democratic majority-rule politics. I used to want to believe that the free market was superior because it could run everything on its own, that everything would work out fine without my having to make any conscious effort. Then I realized making society work is harder than that. The polis doesn't run on magic. The American free market depends on government, on public resources, and on contracts and regulations determined by democratic processes and enforced by a government for which we are responsible.

  13. Roger. It is still "us" that does the lending, and you can't lend what you don't own. It is still "us" with the power in this nation. Sure we have to clear a lot of fog to get to it. but we still have the power to change our government.Even change the constitution.

  14. Our government proves over and over it is marginally functional at best, which is nothing to brag about. Who is eager to associate with something we don't see as working? Our top grads haven't been going in to civil service. They've been going to Wall Street to make the big bucks. Clearly it's time for change, but at higher levels it's equally unclear "we" are capable of it in any sustained way. Even though Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are decent people and the Democrats as a whole care more about making things fair for the everyday person, I'm certainly not holding my breath.

  15. The arguments over how limited government should be are nothing new, they have been around since the beginning. Voter Apathy, marginally functioning government, corruption, injustice, and all the other maladies are not unique to our generation. Yet somehow with this flawed system, we have managed to raise this nation to the largest economic power with the most world influence and enough liberty to make it the nation that everyone wants to live in. Our system needs constant vigilance, but it is the greatest success story of all time.

  16. Hear, Hear Barry Smith. You just said it all!
    Joseph G Thompson

  17. Oh how national pride gets in the way of realism. During our country's buildup we had it easy with vast natural resources to exploit, which we did enthusiastically. Today, still with much cheaper energy than western Europe we are falling behind in many categories of quality of life. We are a dream very much unfulfilled.

  18. JohnSD,
    Agree, however the greatness of America is that the dream of America continues to grow.

    The dream was realized with the Revolution, it was realized with the freeing of the slaves, it was realized with women getting the right to vote, it was realized with social security, it was realized with the civil rights bill, it was realized with medicare and medicade, and it was realized with the election of a non-white President and the emergence of woman in national politics.

    The greatest thing about America and her people, is that when a generation reaches its "great America", America realizes there is more to be done.

    The turmoil today is caused by Americans debating(for lack of a better word)the path and objective of the next level of greatness.

    I am not ate up with national pride, I am ate up with national love and with the realism that there is no better place in the world than the United States,politically and socially.

    The United States will always be a dream unfulfilled and we should be greatful to our Founding Fathers for creating a nation full of dreamers, so that people, will always search for a better America.
    Joseph G Thompson

  19. Here Here Joseph . Now you have said it all!
    Patriotism equals national love not national pride.

  20. Mr Twichard's commentary brings to mind the ridicules thought of free market fire departments. It seems to me this would be the perfect recipe for an upswing in arson :' )

  21. Mr. Heidelberger,
    While it is true Sunshine need only "appease enough of the market to be profitable" to remain in existence, a businessman wants to do much more than simply stay in business. He wants to make his business as large and as profitable as possible--and to do this he must "appease" as much of the market as possible. If a businessman is faced with a choice between making 51% of people happy and making a little bit of money versus making 80% of people happy and making more money, he has a very strong economic incentive to take the latter option.

    A politician has no such incentive. If a politician is faced with a choice between being honest and getting 80% of the vote versus being dishonest, getting only 51% of the vote while lining his and his buddies' pockets, there is absolutely no economic incentive for him not to take the latter option.

    I'm afraid I'm confused by the situation you describe with Sunshine Foods. If the parents of Madison want a larger assortment of nutritious children's products, and the drunkards of Madison want a larger selection of liquor--why wouldn't Sunshine just expand both selections?

    I suppose a situation could arise where Sunshine foods had only limited shelf space and chose to decrease their existing selection of children's products to make room for more liquor--however this does not make them "losers" whose wills are entirely ignored, as in a democracy. Even in this situation their wills are still being represented. The fact that Sunshine is still selling any nutritious children's products at all shows this. Further, their wills are being represented proportionally to the strength of their will. If, for some reason, the parents of Madison started wanting even more badly to purchase a wide assortment of nutritious children's products, they would be willing to pay more money for them--and then Sunshine would begin finding it more profitable to cut its liquor selection in favor of children's products.

    Representing the intensity of wills like that is something a democratic system fails to do. If 51% of the population only kind of wants something, and the other 49% wants something else really really badly, a democracy still acts 100% according to the will of the 51%, and produces a sub-optimal solution. Yet another reason markets are closer to representing "us" and our complex wills and preferences, rather than democracy which boils each of us down to only a number and a vote.

    Last, I agree with you that the free market can't just magically run itself without any conscious effort--it takes a tremendous amount of conscious effort. But I don't see why the conscious effort has to be provided by government officials. Why can't it come from entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs are always on the look out to figure out ways to make society run smoother and to satisfy unmet desires (and to profit, at the same time.) Unlike government officials, who are generally very distant from the individual lives and businesses their laws govern and can't even begin to understand all their nuances and complexities, entrepreneurs are often well-acquainted experts in the fields they innovate in. It seems to me far wiser to entrust the job of managing society to entrepreneurs than to government officials.

  22. Mr. Smith,

    Free market fire departments would not necessarily increase arson. Likely, they would decrease arson.

    There are a variety of ways a free market fire department could operate. The way you are probably imagining is that a town would have a fire department, and whenever a fire occured the firemen would come to your house and charge you a fee to put out the fire. Now if fire departments operated like this, there would, as you point out, be an incentive for them to sneakily set fire to your house to make money.

    But another way a free market fire department could operate is by selling you "fire insurance." You pay them a certain fee each month, and in return they promise you that, if a fire should ever occur at your house, they will rush to put it out, investigate the cause of the fire, and pay a portion of the damages. This way, the fire department has an incentive to prevent arson rather than commit it, and also an incentive to put out the fire at your house as fast as possible. They would also have an incentive to prevent and prosecute arsonists, rather than encourage them.

    Now, in a free market the two models of fire departments would compete, and I would hazard a guess consumers would be more likely to trust and favor the second model of fire department (or something like it) over the first model, and the second model would prevail. And so it's safe to say that we wouldn't really have to worry about a free market in fire departments causing an increase in arson.

  23. Mr Twitchard. While your free market fire dept looks workable on paper. It fails to take into account the number of people who would throw caution to the wind and forgo purchasing the insurance. This would cause a dangerous situation for the community. Fires cause gas lines and propane tanks to explode. I like the fire protection that we have here in my town, I like knowing that any fire will be put out no matter what.

  24. Ah Mr Smith and Mr Twitchard,

    You are both right. The modern fire department started in many places with competitive, private fire departments. Because of the competiveness, problems arose for the communities they served. To solve the problem for the community(not the individual)community based fire departments soon took their place.

    So, private fire depts, referenced by Mr Twitchard, did work well for those who bought their services, but as Mr. Smith pointed out, because all did not buy their services the community was put at risk. Hence the demise of private fire dept in most places. Some may exist yet but I don't know of any.

    Joseph G Thompson

  25. Mr. Smith,
    Even if your neighbor decides to forgo purchasing fire insurance, the private fire department still will put out a fire that originates in his house because if they let it spread to your house, they will be liable for any damages. All that will happen is that they won't have to pay damages to your neighbor--the fool. So, no fear, all fires will be put out.

  26. Mr. Thompson,
    I'm afraid you might be mistaken about your fire department history. In America, there never were really fire departments owned and operated for profit by private businessmen.

    As you can read about here:
    what actually happened is that fire departments were initially operated by volunteers. As technology advanced and volunteer fire-fighting proved to be inadequate and less efficient than paid fire-fighting services would be, communities began looking for an alternative. Due to the involvement of government and political factors inside the volunteer fire departments, entrepreneurs/private businesses were never given a chance--and communities switched straight from volunteer fire departments to departments paid by the city.

    Being from the "Journal of Libertarian Studies" I suppose you're welcome to dismiss the article as incredible (noncredible? uncredible? You know what I mean..) and having an obvious free-market slant--it still was an interesting read though.

  27. Mr Twitchard,Your For profit fire dept would soon go broke as there would be no reason to purchase their insurance. A typical homeowners policy would cover any damages.Why buy fire insurance if the fire will be put out anyway?

  28. In a free market other insurance companies would rush to capitalize on this free service that your fire brigade is giving, by offering cut rate damage insurance. Your Fire brigade has no chance at success with this competition.

  29. Mr. Twitchard--you are right--I should not have said "ignorant" or accused you of being unthinking--that was overheated and unnecessary. However, your ideology is making you unable to see clearly. Describing your position as "silly season," as President Obama might, is being too generous--it's comedy hour.

    If you genuinely can't distinguish between an open democratic process and a Hobbesian hellscape, we're never going to get even close to eye to eye. We should work to make our process as responsive as possible and minimize the defects of majoritarian democracy, but the suggestions you appear to be in favor of are a recipe for disempowering people--the opposite of what I think you would say you want.

    Brett Hoffman

  30. It may be true that in the market I describe there is potential for free riders. However, this does not necessarily mean that the fire department will "go broke."

    It's may be true that if your neighbors are already paying a higher rate for fire extinguishing service, you have little incentive to pay it, too, because you'll get free service. However, if none of your neighbors are paying the higher rate, you do have a strong incentive to pay it. So the claim that the free enterprise fire department will go out of business is false. It will simply have to raise prices.

    There is still the problem (if you consider it a problem) of only some people paying for a service that many people benefit from. However, there are ways this can be addressed.

    Instead of offering more expensive fire coverage to only a few individuals in a neighborhood, the fire department could offer the coverage of entire neighborhoods and encourage the residents of the neighborhood to split the costs among themselves. While there would be the problem of the occasional holdout who would refuse to pay, there is incentive not to be a holdout. If a neighborhood-wide fire occurred, the holdout's home would be the last to be extinguished, making it more vulnerable to fire damage, and causing its fire insurance rate to go up. Additionally, to discourage holdouts, fire departments could "be jerks," and adopt a policy of only putting out fires in holdouts' homes enough so that they weren't a threat to the neighboring homes, and then standing there with their hoses as they watched the inside of the house be consumed in flame.

    Last, and probably most effective, to discourage holdouts, fire departments could adopt a policy of secrecy, and in their contracts require their customers not to disclose the fact that they were purchasing fire coverage. If competing fire insurance companies have no way of knowing whether a holdouts neighbors are purchasing fire coverage, they have no way of knowing whether to give the holdout a lower rate or not.

    Anyway, there are certainly many more possible solutions to the free rider problem in the fire department market--I'm not exactly qualified to tell you which one would be most successful or which one is the best. That would be the field of those ever-important entrepreneurs I was just mentioning to Mr. Heidelberger.

    Finally, I will mention that there do exist private fire departments in the United States, and they do operate more efficiently then their public sector counterparts. If you'd like, you can read about one here:
    (although again, that particular website does have an obvious free-market slant)

  31. Mr. Twitchard as I remember, your original premise was that the free market would produce better, more efficient fire protection services than the government.I can only conclude that you have argued yourself out of that premise.The free market fire dept scenario that you lay out is about as complex and inefficient as anything can get. If workable at all,the comparison to our government run and " private" ( the private systems can hardly be called "free market") run fire protection is laughable and barely warrants the time I am taking to punch these keys.

  32. Mr. Hoffman,

    I appreciate your honesty in describing your opinion of my views. I'm afraid I cannot see what is silly, illogical, or comedic about my position. If I am blinded by ideology, pray open my eyes so I can see! Point out specifically where the inconsistency is in what I have written. I'm young and impressionable. Convince me I'm wrong, while there's still time!

    As for "disempowering people," I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that--and I'm not sure I'm not in favor of it. I think each person belongs only to himself, and ought to have power only over himself and his own property. So in that sense, I would support the "disempowering" of the tyranny of the majority, to reempower the individual over himself... That's what I think my suggestions are a "recipe" for. If they're not, please explain to me how!

  33. Mr. Smith, my original premise was that markets better represent "us" than the government. Later I expanded this to include claims that a private fire department would not necessarily lead to an "upswing in arson" and also could avoid "going broke" due to the free rider problem. In short, I've argued that a free market fire department could function, but not yet really argued that a free market fire department would function "more efficiently" than a government one. However, since I do believe that to be the case, I will proceed to do so.

    I'm afraid I must disagree with you that the scenario I have outlined here is "complex and inefficient."

    Firstly (and I may babble a bit here), just because something may be complex, it doesn't necessarily follow that it will be inefficient. Take the human brain, for instance--a remarkably efficient piece of equipment--and so complex that modern neuroscience can only begin to scratch the surface of its mysteries. Now take the modern computer--a piece of electronics relatively simple compared to the brain. Yet, as you can read here, the brain is so vastly more efficient that a computer with the processing power of the brain "would need its own power plant with megawatts of power, and a heat sink the size of a city." This is not in spite of, but because of its complexity.

    Now, when it comes to economic organization, the simplest system would be communism. Instead of millions of competing private businesses, you have only one organization: the government collects and distributes all of the goods in a society. Very simple.
    Yet, as economists Mises and Hayek explained the reason that communism failed was precisely because it was so simple. Humans are not simple. Humans are complex creatures, with complex values and preferences. A central government can't even come close to calculating how to most efficiently satisfy them through central planning--it is only the complexities and intricacies of the market and the price system that can.

    So yes, a market solution is often more complex than a government solution, but this does not mean that it less efficient.

    Secondly, I just flat out disagree with you that the scenario I've outlined for you is all that complicated. It's pretty simple--I can describe it in less than 75 words: I'm a fire department/insurance company. You're a customer. You pay me money every year. I promise to put out any fires and pay you damages from them. You promise not to tell anybody about it so I don't have to worry about free riders. If a fire happens at your neighbors' and they aren't my customer, I will be a jerk and not extinguish it entirely-- only enough to prevent spreading to your house.

    Again, private systems evidently do exist in reality and off of paper and can, in fact, operate more efficiently than government system. I'm sorry that you find this laughable. Thank you for taking some of your precious time to punch those keys, I am grateful to you for the discussion.

  34. Mr Twitc....(sorry I could only get halfway through your name on this one) :' )

  35. Mr Twitchard If you can consider, exhausting the patience of an old man, a victory. You may go ahead and claim yourself victorious in this argument :' )

  36. It is a stalemate only. Which, I'm afraid, makes me look rather foolish.

    Someday I'll learn to make the same points with less argument.

    Thanks again :-).

  37. Pleasure to see the discussion so spirited, civil, and challenging. A few words before I go to bed:

    Richard, I must agree with Barry on fire departments. You are able to muster the intellect to describe a potentially functional free market system. That system also scares me as much as private health insurance. Right now, I have a wonderful fire protection service, funded by tax dollars and manned mostly by volunteers. I can rest assured that my socialist fire department will respond to any fire anywhere. It serves every citizen equally, no questions asked, no premiums or secrecy clauses required. In this case, simple and socialist works better.

    As for representation, I find disturbing the notion that my will should get greater consideration because I have more money. Ultimately, that's where corporations go (check those charters and legal obligations to shareholders). Entrepreneurs may consider the general welfare, but they don't have to. When an entrepreneur chooses not to consider the general welfare (as I will contend the local grocery store has with its expanded liquor store), I do not have the same recourse as I do when the government fails to fulfill its duty to the general welfare. I can run for office to take the helm of the government myself; there are no elections for Sunshine manager, no public campaign and debates. Value and power is determined strictly by money... and that's not an optimal system.

    I agree that entrepreneurs and the free market can achieve great things (airplanes, laptop computers, Star Trek XI). But I maintain that we as a society can also achieve great things by agreeing to work together and using government as our agent of action (free K-12 education for all comers, roads, Internet). As the government, we certainly have an obligation to refrain from wielding the government club where it is not the best solution. But we mustn't forget that we have this club (we are this club!), and that for some problems, our collective club is the most direct, efficient, and just solution. The challenge is to figure out which situation is which.

  38. Interesting discussion. Two points to add to the mix.
    (1) There is a constant, alternative "free-market" system in this country (and others), known as organized crime. They, too, offer private fire insurance: pay them, and you won't have any fires. Unless, of course, you tick them off for some other reason, and then you will still have a fire. If you're lucky.
    (2) regarding Sunshine Foods liquor expansion, back when they first put the liquor department in the middle of the store, instead of where they've currently moved it, I put together a petition (with over 200 local signatures), asking them to move it to its current location (I had a variety of reasons, which I won't list here). Not only would they NOT move it, but when I tried to express my (and other people's) displeasure through a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, that letter was rejected, because the editor thought it might be "damaging". In other words, freedom of speech in our newspaper is allowed only if you don't criticize one of their advertisers.
    Welcome to two of the many real world complications of theoretical systems.
    Eve Fisher

  39. Eve, Good post. I have always said that the government is the least threat to freedom of speech in this nation, very few people have freedom of speech, the fear of reprisal, even from one's own family, many times is the biggest threat to speech.

  40. Mr. Heidelberger,

    There are a few reasons to be skeptical that a "simple and socialist" fire department works better. Though it provides an equal service to every citizen, it also, through taxation, forces every citizen to pay an equal price. This is problematic, because the service it provides is not equally as valuable to every citizen. Some citizens' homes may be constructed so as to be a very low risk for fires. Others may be riskier. Inevitably, this means that at whatever price the government sets, it will be ripping off some citizens and forcing them to pay far more for their fire service than it is worth to them, while offering other citizens a complete steal. This is neither equality, nor an optimal solution. This situation does not arise in a free market, because a citizen will only choose to purchase fire service if he finds it more valuable to him than the money he is charged for it.

    Next, regarding your concern that wealthy people have proportionally more influence in a market system. Firstly, our representative democracy which you favor over a free market system is not entirely innocent of this itself. Can't hardly go a day in it without hearing something about the evil "special interest groups" in Washington. More locally, you yourself keep me well informed about the political influence of wealthy corporations such as TransCanada (and, earlier, Hyperion.)

    Second, although it is true that a market system gives more influence to wealthy people, it is a different kind of influence. A democratic government operates through use of coercive influence. Essentially all sources of government funding and all government mandates require the threat of imprisonment in order to be effective. On the other hand, a business in the free market operates through use of cooperative influence. If a business in the free market wants something of you, it can only get it by offering something in exchange in an attempt to get you to agree to give it to them. But if you say no, no trade will take place. The choice is still entirely yours.

    In other words, a democracy (or any government) is what gives the wealthy power over the less wealthy. In a free market system, everybody ultimately is governed by their own will.

    It is true the wealthy in a free market society will have greater power over material objects and greater cooperative influence than the less wealthy will--but this is desirable. In a free market, the only way an entrepreneur can make money is to give other people what they want, or, to use your phrase, to "consider the general welfare." And so, in a free market, those with the strongest tendencies to produce what other people want will gain the most influence, and with that influence, the means to continue producing more of what other people want. And so, the concentration of cooperative influence in the hands of the wealthy is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is very definition of an "optimal system." (Assuming your goal is to allocate the resources of society in order to satisfy the preferences of the people as much as possible.)

    As for the liquor situation in Madison--both Mr. Heidelberger and Ms. Fisher--consider that, well, some people in Madison apparently like liquor...their preferences are part of the "general welfare" just like yours. Though I understand your concern (and probably approve of drinking even less than you folks), the managers of Sunshine have calculated that the general welfare is best served by them expanding as they have. It could be their calculation is in error--in that case they will make less money and lose influence--and hopefully they will correct their mistake. If not, feel free to take your business elsewhere--or maybe start a business of your own! They will be forced to change or fail.

    Wow. I didn't realize blogger had a 4096 character limit for comments... I cut some stuff. This is enough.

  41. Ms. Fisher, I'm afraid I just don't understand precisely what you're getting at about organized crime.

    Ms. Fisher and Mr. Smith,
    As for freedom of speech, I think the difference between you and me is that when you think of a "freedom" you are thinking of it in terms of "the opportunity or potential for somebody to do a certain action." In that view, a newspaper or society failing to provide you with the opportunity to publish your views would indeed be a violation of your freedom of speech.

    But when I think of freedom, and the meaning I think makes more sense, is that freedom is "the absence of coercion or restraint," in which case the newspaper did not deny you freedom of speech. They didn't restrain you or coerce you into not publishing your views, they just didn't accommodate you.

    In essence, your view of freedom places an obligation on other people to do something for you--whereas my view only places an obligation on other people not to do something to you.

    The reason I think my view makes more sense is because if freedom of speech or freedom of the press meant that everybody else had an obligation to publish whatever anybody wanted to say, the newspaper business would soon become very unprofitable, newspapers would become very boring, and nobody would want to do it.

    I suppose it's just another manifestation of the age-old struggle of negative rights vs. positive rights.

  42. Barry, we were never promised freedom from the consequences of our speech nor promised resources to make our speech heard. So no, the government is still the greatest threat to our freedoms.

    The idea of a private market fire department is a reasonable one. I think there are a variety of other forces that would come into play if such a market developed somewhere. I personally would imagine this to be more like homeowner's association. Everyone within a risk area would get together and sign an agreement to put up a contract for fire protection. Whenever any member sold and moved, the buyer would need to join the association before the previous owner could sell to them.
    This is only half the argument though, as the original thesis was about the federal government, not your own community. How many of us would feel safer if all the fire departments were funded and run by the federal government?

    Cory: "When an entrepreneur chooses not to consider the general welfare" Well, in a free country he doesn't have to, but that is fine. You look at capitalism as an expression of greed. It is not. Capitalism, when functioning, uses the greed that is part of human nature and bends it to the most optimal benefit of society. The motive of the entrepreneur may be money, but to achieve it he must provide more good to society than his competitor. Private fire companies would need to improve their capabilities and efficiency to keep and gain contracts. Government funded fire departments just need to have political clout to get more benefits and pay, but they aren't going anywhere.

  43. Roger What you have described is private fire protection as it now exists in many parts of the country. It is a far cry from following any free market principles.
    I feel pretty safe with the Federal Government funding and running the national defense, so I suppose I would feel just as safe if they were running fire protection, however I think it is much more practical and responsive to the community, that it is funded and operated on the local level, whether it is local government or a private system.

  44. Roger In my comment about speech , I mentioned nothing of promises, and I wholeheartedly disagree with you on the notion that the government is the largest threat to our freedoms.In reality the different societal conditions in which we all exist restrain our individual freedoms much more than the government does.

  45. Eve, excellent examples. I didn't know about that petition! Your experience with both Sunshine and the newspaper demonstrate that the free market does not respect the popular will the government is obligated to. Richard, I think Eve recognizes as well as I that the newspaper, as a private enterprise, has no obligation to print our content. And that's just the problem: it doesn't have an obligation to us. The private newspaper is free to favor the big money interests over the common citizen... and as long as the big dollars come from advertising and not subscriptions, we have little power to change that. We can't impose a positive obligation on the newspaper; we can exert positive obligations on and through our government.

    Also, Richard, your concern about being ripped off because fire protection is more valuable to some people than others seems misplaced. Is it really such a crime that we all pay taxes but that some people receive more sevice than others? By that thinking, I could say private insurance is a rip-off: I've paid thousands of dollars, but I haven't been to the hospital.

    Do you really want a toll system for fire protection, and for every other government service? Is it really just to say to people we'll protect you from fire, fraud, and flood if you have money? I probably paid more sales and property tax last year than thousands of South Dakotans, but I don't feel ripped off that the police provided me no direct service last year while they did rescue some poor people from fights and domestic abuse situations.

    Better yet, look at it this way: The richer you are, the more you have benefited from government. You benefit even more from the roads that allow you to ship your goods and services. You benefit from the mostly free education provided to your employees. You benefit from the enforcement of contracts with your increasing number of business partners. You benefit even more from police protection of your vast property. Government isn't a rip-off; government makes the free market possible.

  46. I guess my question is then, why do we have the right to impose our common wills over the newspaper? The newspaper owner bought the press, it's his property. Not ours.

    Newspapers can only stay in business by printing what other people want. In that sense, they always reflect the common will. Sunshine wants the newspaper to print things that are favorable to Sunshine. Ms. Fisher wanted the newspaper to print things unfavorable to Sunshine. In this case the will of Sunshine prevailed, because it is willing to sacrifice a lot more than Ms. Fisher is. I'll bet you that the issue was important enough to Ms. Fisher that she was willing to shell out a few hundred bucks for an advertisement against Sunshine, the newspaper would have printed it.

    I'm afraid your comparison of my thinking to the private insurance company doesn't quite cut to the heart of the argument. A private insurance company never forces anybody to pay for a service that is less valuable to them than the money they pay for it. A government-run fire department (or insurance company, or police service) does through taxation. It's not a rip-off because some people value it more than others--only because government sets one price and forces everyone to pay it.

    As for not protecting poor people from fire, fraud, and flood--there is reason to believe that private companies in these areas, as I have already shown with fire departments, would have incentives to extend (limited) free service to non-customers, which would include those who cannot afford to pay for protection.

    And even if that is not enough, is our society really so greedy and stingy that when we saw the poor people being robbed and cheated, we wouldn't do something about it and donate our money to charitable organizations to pay for their protection? It seems to me unlikely. And I'm afraid a democracy full of greedy people isn't going to be any kinder to the poor than a free society full of greedy people would be.

    I don't see how it is "better yet" that rich people would benefit more from government. In that case it's at the expense of the poor people. Either way, somebody's getting ripped off.

    Also, roads and education aren't "free". It takes tax money to fund them. I also doubt businesses probably don't benefit by having their eventual workers subjected to 13 years of "free" compulsory government mind-conditioning. While you may support compulsory education for other, cultural reasons, it is pretty obvious businesses would do better if their workers were allowed to use this part of their lives to perhaps acquire knowledge and experience about the field in which they are going to be working.

    Mr. Beranek,

    Thank you for mentioning the homeowner's association type thing. That's seems like a much neater and efficient model to me. If we were fire department entrepreneurs in a free market, your model would win :-).

  47. "We can't impose a positive obligation on the newspaper"
    **does Cory wish we could?**
    Who is it to say what a positive obligation should be for a private company? Such a positive obligation is a very short road to government propaganda and even worse favoritism than advertisers. Do you think that just because they are non-profit that NPR shows no favoritism? You're remark cuts to the lie of the primacy of the common good. The only true common good is something that benefits everybody. What is actually being preached by the practitioners of that religion is a good determined by the majority and at the cost of anyone else and enforced with the power of government.
    Would you rather have freedom of the press and speech or a media shaped according to the moral beliefs of a majority you may not be a part of? This is the reason we are not a populist democracy, because America was created to protect individual rights against the threats of tyranny, whether it comes from a king or a mob.

  48. Cory: The government is not obligated to listen to popular will, it is obligated to follow and uphold the constitution. Following popular will is just a way to get re-elected. In fact government would be better off if the possibility of re-election was denied to politicians. If we excised career politicians then we would be one small step closer to the government being 'us'

  49. Sunshine sacrificing more? Richard, you have a tendency to see only the half of the equation that makes your free market philosophy look good. "Sacrifice" implies loss without gain. Sunshine gives money only to get something more in return. Buying ads is not "sacrifice." Arguably Eve sacrificed more through her self expression: she risked losing standing in the community. She risked upsetting the moneyed powers. And she got no positive results from them.

    I am not seeking to impose a positive obligation on the newspaper. I am not questioning the newspaper's property rights. I am saying it is exactly those property rights that make the free market less capable of actively protecting the rights of citizens, especially of minorities, than the government, which is us.

    And if Roger doesn't like populist democracy, then he should be all the more wary of the free market, which under Richard's interpretation does respond reflexively and amorally to the desires and whims of the buying public. We get second-rate crap on television because that's what the majority of viewers are willing to settle for.

    And we can excise career politicians by acting on the principle that the government is us, taking a more active role in civic affairs, voting the incumbents out, and running for office ourselves. We get career politicians when we adopt Richard's excessive faith in the free market and take our hands off the wheel.

  50. I will concede "sacrifice" was certainly not the best word for what I mean. "Give up more in exchange" would have been better.

    Maybe you think that Eve did sacrifice or 'give up more in exchange' than Sunshine did. And you are perfectly entitled to make that judgment. However, you don't happen to print a newspaper. The people who do print a newspaper weighed the money they would receive from Sunshine Foods (which earned that money through efficient management, hard work, taking risks, and giving other people what they want) and determined it to be worth more than the sacrifice of self-expression that Eve made. In short, Sunshine provided people with what they want. Eve, in this case, did not. Again, the market favors people who give other people what they want--giving those people the means to produce even more of what other people want.

    Unless you think society should not seek to give as many people as much of what they want as possible--the market makes the best choices. Democracy only gives as many people as much of what the majority wants them to have, which is not the same thing and far less desirable.

    Which specific "rights of citizens" is the free market less capable of protecting than democracy?

    You say that the market responds "reflexively and amorally to the desires and whims of the buying public"... but sometimes those desires and whims are of a moral nature. You might as well say that a democracy responds "reflexively and amorally to the desires and whims of the majority." Also, you might consider what is playing on television to be "second-rate crap," (and I agree--I abstain from television) but many members of the American public must not consider it to be "second-rate crap" or else they wouldn't continue paying for it. The market is us.

    I don't see how "excessive" faith in the free market leads to career politicians. If we give more power to the market, we take power away from the government. Less power in the government means less economic incentive for greedy career politicians to go into government, leaving only moral incentive for honest people who truly want to serve to run for office. We don't take our hands off the wheel. We take the tyranny of the majority's hands off the wheel and put our hands back on. The market is us.

  51. "that make the free market less capable of actively protecting the rights of citizens, especially of minorities, than the government, which is us."

    You are right, the government is more capable of protecting rights. That is the moral justification of government after all. However you make a grave mistake in equating the provision of benefits with the protection of rights, and another error by speaking of the capability, just another word for power after all, of the government and assuming the government has the virtue to use it that way. You show naivete. The government is not just more capable of defending our freedom, it is also far more capable of destroying our rights than the market is. If you were correct in calling the government 'us', by doing so you simply reinforce the fallible nature of the government's virtue. If the government was us, then the idea of limiting its power becomes even more imperative. A government restrained can be stopped when its corruption manifests itself (as people are flawed and the government is a reflection of the people, it too must possess flawed morality) If we make the mistake of trusting it just because it is 'us' than we find ourselves in the same trap as many members of humanity, destroyed by our own weaknesses.

    The government is not us, but if it were why should we trust it?

  52. I can't resist adding a couple of things to this thread. I think it's important to remember that both Sunshine Foods and the Madison Daily Leader are the only game in town - in other words, monopolies. No other grocery store, no other newspaper in Madison. So, Sunshine has us over a barrel, especially if for whatever reason you are not able or cannot afford to drive to Sioux Falls or Brookings to go shopping. I've talked to a lot of people in town who would LOVE to have another grocery store - ain't gonna happen. (I don't want to get into rumors, so we won't get into the discussion of why.) So we get to settle for what we are provided by the monopoly in charge. Which means they don't have to listen to their customers nearly as much as this thread has assumed they do because, when it comes to the elderly, the poor, and the average person in quick need of a gallon of milk, they're the only game in town. (This is also the case, by the way, with many things in South Dakota.) So, when you want to protest a monopoly's practices, using "public" forum (like a letter to the editor), but that forum is actually also a monopoly, dependent upon the other monopoly for income, you're not going to have much luck. I wasn't surprised when my letter to the editor wasn't published: it confirmed what I already knew about MDL content: nothing that hurt an advertiser, or the otherwise rich/powerful of Madison, appears. So, in our free market society of Madison, not everybody is a winner, and, in many cases, our only option (before the Internet, blogging, etc.) for our wills to be represented is through the public sector, i.e., government.
    Eve Fisher

  53. Ms. Fisher,
    I'm afraid I must question how strong your will or the will of the people of Madison is/was against the liquor situation with Sunshine foods. Obviously, their desire not to go to a store like that was less important than the extra $10 worth of gas and 2.5 hours it would take each time to shop in Sioux Falls or Brookings.

    I'm also not sure that the problem you have with a market system is that "your will is not represented." Because it is. Sunshine stocks more of the things you and people with similar tastes like to buy because it knows you will buy them. It seems to me that the only problem you might have with a market system is that it doesn't allow you to impose your will on other people or businesses. You are not a 'winner' in the market system only in the sense that you don't get to force other people and other businesses to do exactly what you want them to.

    I suppose I'll concede that everybody is not a 'winner' in the market system, in that sense. But why question is, then, why ought they be? The store doesn't belong to you or to the majority, it belongs to the owner. It is true that, if he is wise and wants to remain in business, the owner of Sunshine should (and will, and does) choose to let you have some say in the goings on of his store--but I fail to see why you, or the majority, are entitled to anything.

  54. Solidarity is indispensable; boycott.

  55. Richard, you exhibit cynicism par excellence when you countenance a business choosing profit over respect for self-expression. You also answer your own request for examples of rights better protected by our efforts through government than by laissez-faire capitalism: self-expression. Neither Jon Hunter nor I have any obligation under free market rules to publish anyone else's ideas. I can choose to delete comments and exclude individuals. Your right to express yourself and participate in the conversation here depends entirely on my goodwill. My goodwill and my rational response to market forces are a much thinner guarantee of making your voice heard than the First Amendment and our courts.

    Other rights better protected by us through government than by market forces:

    --Life (insurance companies have little motivation to cover the sick and injured)
    --Education (for all its flaws, the public K-12 system has no large-scale private rival)
    --Travel (private toll roads mean only the rich ride)
    --Civic participation (I cannot participate in the decision-making processes of Madison's monopoly businesses as directly as I can participate in the decision-making processes of our local government).

    I don't think "the market is us" and "the government is us" have to be mutually exclusive statements. But the former is less directly empowering than the latter. The former says, "just produce and consume what you want, and everything will work itself out." The latter says, "Life's not that simple. Be responsible. Participate. Protect and serve each other." A good free market provides numerous benfits. Good government puts those benefits and the processes by which we will secure them in writing and makes us all directly responsible for the common good.

    And working from your words, Richard, the market isn't really us, not as much as the government is. Sunshine, the Daily Leader, and the other businesses in town don't belong to me or to the majority. They provide goods and services that I might find beneficial at their pleasure. They might choose to marginalize me or Eve Fisher or anyone else on a whim (or, just as bad, on a determined desire to placate a few moneyed interests). The local market offers me no guarantees. We all "own" the government, even those of us in the minority on any given vote.

  56. The monopolistic power of either the grocery store or the newspaper is rather limited. The majority of people around Madison can easily access the numerous stores in Sioux Falls or Brooking. Sunshine's monopoly power is limited to having the sole local convenience. They can get away with a little more than they could when there were two stores, but they cannot disregard their customers the way a true monopoly could. Even the elderly would likely be able to find ways to get groceries elsewhere if Sunshine became too expensive or obnoxious. Likewise MDL has monopoly power only over local printed news, anything of broader importance has many competitors and Madison itself has other forms of local news in radio and on the internet. Eve's main point is true though. Monopoly power makes market forces dysfunctional and promotes stagnation and abuse. MDL can disregard opinions of local interest it finds inconvenient because they have nothing to lose in doing so.

    The premise of monopolistic power defeating the benefit of a free market is true, but the typical progressive conclusion is not. The government deciding to provide groceries because Sunshine wasn't acting in the public interest would not be an improvement. The public interest is served best by active competition in the free market. Instead of replacing market entities with public ones, the government's role is to enable an environment that produces competition. The Progressive movement down the path to monopolistic socialized health care failed the government's true responsibility to fix the conditions that prevent upstart insurers from entering the market, and where customers have no price information for health services until after the fact.
    Cory is wrong in the things he believes the government is better at providing. Private health care already does better than public and has the advantage of sustainability. Transportation provided by a functional free market would not be toll roads everywhere (where is your imagination Cory??) Home-schooled students already show greater success than the k-12 system. Vouchers and charter schools given the opportunity could educate better than a public school monopoly, not cripple the state budget, and not indoctrinate children against the will of their parents.
    True, Civic participation in local governmental decisions is done better by the government. But that is just a redundant statement anyway. The free market doesn't make decisions to force others to obey rules, that is the purview of government.

  57. Roger ,

    “The free market doesn't make decisions to force others to obey rules “ Nonsense

    Under free market rules , any business can make any decision that they want regardless of anything. They may not stay in business long if they make the wrong decisions, but in an unfettered free market Sunshine may decide that folks in wheelchairs slow things down too much to the point that they are unprofitable and banned. Maybe women with small children will be banned from bringing children to the store or some of the more obvious discriminatory practices that would occur. Sunshine could make any rule that they wanted and if you wanted to shop in Madison you would have to obey the rules and in some cases obeying the rules would mean that you were excluded. The government protects society from these rules and controls the free market so that it is a benefit to society as a whole not just a subset of owners.

    Unfettered Free Markets = Social Darwinism

  58. Mr. Heidelberger, I conceptualize 'rights' differently than you.

    To me the right to life means only that other people are forbidden from killing you--not that you are entitled to force other people to pay for the means to prolong your life. The right to education (if there is one) means only that other people are forbidden from using force to prevent you from pursuing an education--not that you are entitled to force other people to pay for and provide you with one. The right to travel means that other people are forbidden from using force to prevent you from traveling--not that you are entitled to force other people to pay for the means of transportation for you.

    Government is no doubt better at protecting your concept of rights than the market. My stance is simply that sort of 'right' ought not be protected at all, because every time I force somebody else to provide me with something I have a 'right' to, I am inevitably violating that person's right to liberty and property.

    You're right that "the market is us" is less 'empowering' than "the government is us". But keep in mind that when the government 'empowers' a person, inevitably it 'disempowers' a different person. When you empower me to make somebody else pay for my education, you disempower that person from doing what he wants with the fruits of his labor. So it is a bad thing that the government is more empowering. Power over other people turns us all into slavemasters and slaves. Be ought to have power only over ourselves.

    Perhaps the market "isn't" really us--but it certainly represents us better than the government. Even though Sunshine and the MDL can choose to marginalize you or Ms. Fisher, or choose which goods or services to provide 'on a whim,' so could our elected government officials. But the market has a 'weeding-out' process, and those businesses which choose courses of action that do not represent the desires of their customers will shrink in size or cease to exist. Democracy has a 'weeding-out' process too, but the market's is better because, as I pointed out above, it has the price mechanism to represent the intensity of our wills--which democracy lacks.

  59. Richard, again, I find your story incomplete. You portray my conceptualization of rights as entailing my ability to force to you pay for something for me. You use what sound like exclusive singular pronouns. I agree that if all I were doing was coming to your house, pointing a gun at your head, and saying, "Richard! Give me money so I can buy myself a pizza!" then I'd be overstepping any claim to rights.

    But nowhere here am I claiming a right to appropriate your property for my private use. I do claim that to secure rights, we justly appropriate a portion of your property and a portion of mine for the benefit of you, me, and everyone else. We aren't paying for roads, schools, or health care for one person; we pay for roads, schools, and health care that are available for everyone's use. That's another important part of understanding that government is not them; government is us.

    The social contract -- any step to secure liberty beyond the state of nature -- is built on the basis of not just the negative rights you rightly prize (the "leave me alone" rights) but also positive obligations (pay your taxes so government can pay cops and judges to secure those rights). A government that recognizes the right of all citizens to participate in establishing the range of those positive obligations provides better liberty than a free market that operates purely on negative rights and citizens' ability to obtain money to participate.

  60. It would still be overstepping your claim to rights if you came over to my house with a few buddies, pointed a gun at my head and said "Richard! Chip in money so I can buy pizza for all of us." Even if you let me vote on what the toppings of the pizza were. That's democracy.

    The "social contract" is a fraud. In order for a "contract" to be legitimately enforceable, it has to be entered voluntarily. I, for one, don't recall ever agreeing to such a contract. And don't tell me that I tacitly accept the contract by choosing to remain in America, either. The US Federal government has little more legitimate claim to all the land that comprises America than I do. It simply assumed jurisdiction on June 21, 1788, when the Constitution was ratified by New Hampshire, the last required state. 577 delegates voted against ratification of the Constitution. Many more Americans voted against the 1071 delegates who did. These people never voluntarily agreed to subject their persons, property, and land to the terms of any 'social contract.' There is no "contract."

  61. Stating that the government is created and obligated to protect our rights but forbidding that same government the means to fulfill that obligation truly the creation of nothing of any consequence at all. The social contract is a sham, but it not because the people involved didn't consent to it in unanimity. It is a sham because it has twisted the purpose of government from protecting individual rights above all else to the purpose of benefiting society. I earned the milk and cheese and tasty toppings. It doesn't matter if people are starving in the street, you and your friends can't come into my house and threaten to shackle me and imprison me if I don't help those in need. If I allow my neighbor to suffer for my own greed than I may lack morals and deserve your contempt, and I will answer for it in the hereafter, but using the power of government to try to create utopia is nothing more than glorified tyranny.
    Your examples of a police force to enforce our laws is a legitimate demand of everyone's resources because there is no other way government can execute its obligations. What it is not is an example of positive rights. There is no justification for the oppression of the social contract.


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