What trains? An insult to fascists . . .


XKCD cartoon on difficulty of dealing with fascists in jurisdictions where Godwin's Law applies

XKCD cartoon on difficulty of dealing with fascists in jurisdictions where Godwin's Law applies

Earlier today I stumbled on this claim that Godwin’s Law has been suspended:

3. Godwin’s Law

Made obsolete by the Neocons.
Thanks to the Neocons, Godwin’s law is now obsolete.

And then Jim made me smile with this one, in comments down below that really need to be lifted up a bit to higher visibility:

The Anarcho-Libertarianism advocated by the Tea Party and much of the modern GOP is far, far more dangerous. You see, say what you will about the Fascists…but they make the trains run on time. Under the Anarcho-Libertarians, there either ARE no trains…or they operate when and where the privatized rail companies please…and without such pesky intrusions or encumbrances like safety checks. Who needs safe tracks anyway? Let the buyer beware, right? Sure…the market will solve everything. If one trainload of passengers (or toxic waste) derails…not to worry! The free market fairies will sprinkle their magic free market dust all over the wreckage and next time…it won’t happen. Probably. Maybe. Well…what do you expect? We can’t have gub’mint involved, can we?

And of course, the screaming irony here behind trains and fascism and anarcho-conservatism and Scott Walker is that he queered the deal on high speed rail to begin with. Who needs thousands of new jobs in this humming economy?

Yeah, I know. I am all over the place on this one. But I really do agree with you. Equating Governor Walker with a stupid and evil form of governance like fascism is just plain wrong.

And an insult to fascists.

Of course, Leo Strauss’s reductio ad hitlerum does not mean that, anyone’s noting that an idea’s having been shared by Hitler does not make it bad, also does not make the idea good.

Yeah, I tracked the cartoon down — it is, indeed, from XKCD.

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21 Responses to What trains? An insult to fascists . . .

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    In your example of the Cuyahoga, you say “tragedy of the commons run amuck,” but that misses the point I’m making, which is that we should look for opportunities to reduce the number of true commons, precisely to reduce the number of such tragedies. I find it mildly astonishing that so many people worry about tragedies of the commons, but insist upon keeping as much land as possible in the condition of a common pool resource.

    Perhaps before Teddy Roosevelt such an argument might have had a great deal of appeal, but I think the near-century of stewardship under the National Park Service for the “crown jewels” of the great parks. The ride has had some huge bumps along the way — but management of the public lands in the National Forests certainly has been superior to the management under private and state rubrics prior to 1908. I can give you chapter and verse of the evils of the Bureau of Land Management — but that agency has never created a Dust Bowl.

    The tragedy of the commons comes from no one’s having management duties, but everyone having rights to use, without thought to perpetuation and renewal of the resources. Federal land management laws today create a situation vastly superior to the old colonial commons, particularly with regard to preservation for future generations.

    We are a democratic republic, a unique one for all the ages. Our development of a wiser land ethic on the great commons of the national forests, prairies, deserts, waters and parks, is a great achievement, which we should not gainsay.

    In a democratic republic, nothing “inevitably works.” Freedom and wise management require constant vigilance, constant attention, and constant work to determine the best path of stewardship, and follow that path.

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  2. James Hanley says:

    I’m not trying to pitch an argument for ending all government regulation. I’m trying to point out that reliance on it hasn’t always worked that well, so the faith that many people put in “there oughta be a law” is not really validated.

    In your example of the Cuyahoga, you say “tragedy of the commons run amuck,” but that misses the point I’m making, which is that we should look for opportunities to reduce the number of true commons, precisely to reduce the number of such tragedies. I find it mildly astonishing that so many people worry about tragedies of the commons, but insist upon keeping as much land as possible in the condition of a common pool resource.

    And overall my real point is that, while your critiques of the imperfections of the common law approach are (while somewhat overstated) generally valid. But in contrast to this you put up “REGULATION” as indisputably superior, without addressing its weaknesses. That’s the nirvana fallacy. As a political economist, that fallacy is my number one enemy. The assumption that regulation is inevitably superior and inevitably works, and the hesitance to take as close a look at it as one does for alternatives, is a huge failure in public discourse.

    The proper debate isn’t between regulation and no regulation of environmental resources, but of what kind of social arrangements best protect them. Political Scientist Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics a couple of years ago for her decades long work detailing how both lack of regulatory structures and top-down regulation frequently fail to perform as well as more organic and locally developed social regulatory structures.

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Before you say, “private property rights in rivers, that’s crazy,” let’s work it through. In some streams in Britain, the fishing rights are privately owned by fishing clubs. If you screw with the fishing by polluting the river, they have a legal claim. It doesn’t depend on government being responsive, so it’s a more powerful regulatory device to control bad corporate behavior.

    Common law nuisance should be able to handle a lot of these problems — but in practice, can’t, when corporate interests overwhelm and flood the system to paralysis. Laws against “waste” that protect your property from damage caused by the flood caused by your neighbor’s intemperate cutting down all of his own trees, simply cannot work to the degree we need them to work in today’s world.

    One lawyer told me a nuisance suit couldn’t have cleaned up the Cuyahoga River because each neighbor on the river had an interest in polluting it and denying responsibility for the damage. “Tragedy of the Commons” run amok. You’d think that’s not possible at some end of the chain, but then there’s the issue of offense. To sue in nuisance you need to have enough money to hire a good lawyer. In many of these cases you need to have enough money to hire an army of lawyers to fight the army the corporate polluters will bring out.

    That still leaves out there the issue of how any private interest could combat something like the industry-wide campaign to convince everyone that scientists could not agree that tobacco use posed health hazards. For most common law, property rights don’t help — few smokers owned property damaged by cigarettes — voiding the powerful tool of nuisance. Proving proximate cause in tort was virtually impossible.

    Similarly, the fight for adequate worker compensation for injury was constantly frustrated by the reality that the injured workers usually had a family that needed to eat. Any worker who sued needed an income to pay a lawyer and to make up for being blackballed from employment. Doctors who treated injured workers were blackballed by local companies.

    The ability of major corporations to subvert all the institutions that protected people in ancient times make a big government not only necessary, but often preferable. Who could stand up to the Standard Oil Trust but a powerful federal government? In fact, there is some doubt that big government is powerful enough these days — remember the last two rounds of trust busting, against Microsoft and Exxon-Mobil? How well did those turn out?

    There are many other places where, I’m convinced, government regulation or management is probably inherently superior: National parks, national wild lands, wild rivers, safe and effective medicines, broadcasting, and maybe more.

    Hypothetically, use of private rights should play a bigger role in controlling our lives from harmful excesses by anyone. In reality, private rights are too often trampled.

    Too often we lose sight of these facts. The best government is good government. It is not enough to ask how to get government out of our lives — it’s not even appropriate. More often the question these days should be, “What is the best policy, the best for everyone concerned and future generations.” Private property rights and a laissez-faire economy and government cannot do the job, today.

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  4. James Hanley says:

    Nick,

    Grant a property right in clean drinking water.

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  5. Nick K says:

    James writes:
    Before you say, “private property rights in rivers, that’s crazy,” let’s work it through. In some streams in Britain, the fishing rights are privately owned by fishing clubs. If you screw with the fishing by polluting the river, they have a legal claim. It doesn’t depend on government being responsive, so it’s a more powerful regulatory device to control bad corporate behavior.

    And if said mining corporation buys the rights and then does what it wants even if 50,000 people down river get sick off it?

    Yeah again…you’re in effect arguing “Well since laws against murder don’t stop people killing each other we should get rid of the laws.”

    Whereas the right answer is to better enforce the laws.

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  6. James Hanley says:

    Nick,

    Who’s arguing for allowing people to blow the tops off mountains and dump the waste in streams? In fact that’s what’s happening right now in West Virginia, so whatever laws we have against it aren’t working.

    The problem there is the classic case of “everybody’s business is nobody’s business.” Government is regulating that behavior, so it can make exceptions whenever the corporation involved persuades it to.

    A libertarian would say we should create property rights in the stream, then it’s not everybody’s business, and a government that’s responding to the most political pressure, but real live specific individuals who are directly harmed and have a strong legal claim.

    Before you say, “private property rights in rivers, that’s crazy,” let’s work it through. In some streams in Britain, the fishing rights are privately owned by fishing clubs. If you screw with the fishing by polluting the river, they have a legal claim. It doesn’t depend on government being responsive, so it’s a more powerful regulatory device to control bad corporate behavior.

    Notice that still requires governments–governments grant property rights and government courts enforce them. So it’s not an argument for anarchy. It’s an argument for empowering citizens, as opposed to creating a system in which we have to be more or less passive and hope government takes notice of our concerns.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be more vigorous in enforcement of my property rights than anyone at any level of government will be.

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  7. Nick K says:

    James, it doesn’t mean we reward their unethical behavior either. Blowing up a mountain and dumping the waste in the river below that is the source of drinking water for tens of thousands of people is unethical too. But we should allow it because? Or we should get rid of the law banning it because we should trust companies not to do it?” Sorry, I dislike anarchy thank you.

    And arguing “Well regulations haven’t stopped this behavior” is very much like arguing “Crimes against murder hasn’t stopped people from killing each other so we should we get rid of the law making murder a crime.”

    It’s a crime to walk into a store and hold it up with a gun. That those crimes happen doesn’t mean we get rid of the law.

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  8. James Hanley says:

    Nick,

    with all due respect…with names like Enron, Bernie Madoff, Koch Brothers, BP, Halliburton, and my personal favorite “Custer Battles”…..you’ll forgive me if I don’t think if given a open field the companies wouldn’t go back to practices that remind us of what was depicted in the Jungle.

    Yeah, regulation’s done a great job, hasn’t it? I mean, this stuff happens, whether you regulate or not. There’s an assumption that it happens less when you regulate, but there was also an assumption that people wouldn’t be drinking once we outlawed alcohol, and we all know how well that worked out.

    I’m not arguing for a system where there are no repercussions for people who commit fraud. I’m a firm believer in a justice system that enforces contracts and provides compensation for those who are defrauded. And I don’t personally know any libertarians who don’t agree with that.

    As to the Koch brothers, it’s their company, they can do as they want as long as they don’t defraud anyone. If I own a small business, say an ice cream shop, and realize that if I lay off an employee I can still keep the place running and transfer those wages into my own pocket, I don’t see any problem with that. And I don’t think scaling it up matters anyway for the ethics of it. And if the Koch brothers did it at a time of high demand, what does that matter? They have no duty to meet others demands, only to satisfy their contracts. If they found themselves unable to meet demand they only hurt themselves and helped their competitors.

    I think laying people off is sometimes a bad business decision, but I don’t think it’s either ethical or unethical–I just don’t think those concepts apply, as long as there’s no fraud occurring. (Which isn’t to say the Kochs have never committed fraud–from what I’ve been told, they may have done so, but that’s a separate issue from layoffs and bonuses.)

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  9. James Hanley says:

    Jim,

    Sorry for using the wrong nomenclature. My careless reading. I agree with you on much of that comment. I’m a very moderate and pragmatic libertarian.

    I love Consumer Reports, and yes, UL does still exist, along with a variety of other private sector standard setters, like Snell, Ansi, and Greenseal.

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  10. Nick K says:

    From:
    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/26/main-street-tax-cheats/

    For the education of David and Morgan:

    Today, hundreds of thousands of people comprising a Main Street Movement — a coalition of students, the retired, union workers, public employees, and other middle class Americans — are in the streets, demonstrating against brutal cuts to public services and crackdowns on organized labor being pushed by conservative politicians. These lawmakers that are attacking collective bargaining and cutting necessary services like college tuition aid and health benefits for public workers claim that they have no choice but than to take these actions because both state and federal governments are in debt.

    But it wasn’t teachers, fire fighters, policemen, and college students that caused the economic recession that has devastated government budgets — it was Wall Street. And as middle class workers are being asked to sacrifice, the rich continue to rig the system, dodging taxes and avoiding paying their fair share.

    In an interview with In These Times, Carl Gibson, the founder of US Uncut, which is organizing some of today’s UK-inspired massive demonstrations against tax dodgers, explains that while ordinary Americans are being asked to sacrifice, major corporations continue to use the rigged tax code to avoid paying any federal taxes at all. As he says, if you have “one dollar” in your wallet, you’re paying more than the “combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America“:

    [Gibson] explains, “I have one dollar in my wallet. That’s more than the combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America. That means somebody is gaming the system.”

    Indeed, as politicians are asking ordinary Americans to sacrifice their education, their health, their labor rights, and their wellbeing to tackle budget deficits, some of the world’s richest multinational corporations are getting away with shirking their responsibility and paying nothing. ThinkProgress has assembled a short but far from comprehensive list of these tax dodgers — corporations which have rigged the tax system to their advantage so they can reap huge profits and avoid paying taxes:

    - BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. “Oh, yeah, this happens all the time,” said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. “If you go out and try to make money and you don’t do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?” asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank’s top executives received pay “ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million.”

    - BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn’t “pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes” between 2008 and 2010.

    - CITIGROUP: Citigroup’s deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. “John Havens, the head of Citigroup’s investment bank, is expected to be the bank’s highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million.”

    - EXXON-MOBIL: The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Although Exxon-Mobil paid $15 billion in taxes in 2009, not a penny of those taxes went to the American Treasury. This was the same year that the company overtook Wal-Mart in the Fortune 500. Meanwhile the total compensation of Exxon-Mobil’s CEO the same year was over $29,000,000.

    - GENERAL ELECTRIC: In 2009, General Electric — the world’s largest corporation — filed more than 7,000 tax returns and still paid nothing to U.S. government. They managed to do this by a tax code that essentially subsidizes companies for losing profits and allows them to set up tax havens overseas. That same year GE CEO Jeffery Immelt — who recently scored a spot on a White House economic advisory board — “earned total compensation of $9.89 million.” In 2002, Immelt displayed his lack of economic patriotism, saying, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China….I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to 5 billion.”

    - WELLS FARGO: Despite being the fourth largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo was able to escape paying federal taxes by writing all of its losses off after its acquisition of Wachovia. Yet in 2009 the chief executive of Wells Fargo also saw his compensation “more than double” as he earned “a salary of $5.6 million paid in cash and stock and stock awards of more than $13 million

    Gee…I wonder how much we could lower taxes on the middle class if these companies and executives were forced to pay taxes. I wonder how much we could cut the defecit if these companies and people were forced to pay taxes. I wonder how much infrastructure we could invest in if these companies and people were forced to pay taxes.

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  11. Nick K says:

    James, with all due respect…with names like Enron, Bernie Madoff, Koch Brothers, BP, Halliburton, and my personal favorite “Custer Battles”…..you’ll forgive me if I don’t think if given a open field the companies wouldn’t go back to practices that remind us of what was depicted in the Jungle.

    Considering that the Koch brothers gave themselves an $11 billion dollar bonus while laying off several thousand workers at a period of high demand for the industry those jobs were making….

    We should trust to the better angels of businesses why?

    Sorry, there needs to be a yoke on them.

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  12. Jim says:

    Hi James!

    Wow…you have some great thoughts, a really useful perspective and bring some intellect to bear on this. Thanks. We actually agree, I think, that competition is a good thing. When it comes between choosing an ice box, I’ll always opt for the one that Consumer Reports and Underwriters Laboratories (do they still exist?) did not give a bad safety report to. Good catch.

    I think the problem comes, however, when there is collusion. If both makers of ice boxes decide to game the system, grease the wheels and make dangerous products on the cheap — consumers are screwed. For all his flaws…and I am no fan…Ralph Nader made that abundantly clear decades ago. Things improved, but then the deregulation orgy began.

    The cry of the libertarian — the more intelligent ones anyway (the Tea Partiers are not) — seems to be that privatization is a panacea. In some instances, I have no doubt that privatizing works. Does it really matter if the people fixing our highways work FOR the government or private contractors who won government contracts? I honestly don’t care, as long as they are paid truly just wages and are kept safe on the work site. (And, of course, it’s also up to motorists to help with this. At least as far as this particular example goes.)

    Many other privatization experiments like charter schools and privately run prisons have proven to be a fiasco. When the only substantive accountability is that consumers will get angry and choose a different vendor…then no progress has been made. The next vendor may be worse. Or perhaps better for awhile…then worse. Such seems to be the case here in Indiana, where our Governor — praised as prescient and innovative — basically sold the entire Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Italian consortium. Workers were fired, tolls were raised dramatically, safety has declined and repair work is quite hit or miss now. Long haul truckers are now making every effort to avoid the toll road. A consumer choice, to be sure, but hardly an optimal one for them or for the upkeep of the toll road. It wasn’t perfect when it was state-run. But it was substantially better than it is now. And more Hoosiers are out of work.

    I hear some libertarians suggest privatization of the FAA, National Parks, the FCC and even NASA. I agree with them when they say “government cannot be trusted”. I really do. But I have yet to be shown any substantive evidence that the private sector can be trusted more. In fact, I would have to say the bottom line is always telling. With the private sector, the bottom line is always profit. Not a bad motivator per se, if there is true competition and no collusion. But with government, at least the bottom line is always re-election.

    As to labels, I want to admit I am using the terms “anarcho-libertarian” and “anarcho-conservative” (not “anarcho-capitalist”) to describe the current Tea Party movement and the overall Republican Party. I know it’s imperfect. But I really do think Fascist is unfair, because I see nothing resembling the sort of Italian, German or Spanish states of the 1930′s where entire industries were nationalized. Plus, the term is about as overused as “Marxist” or “Communist” is when conservatives describe my side of the debate. None of these terms fit. But then does “conservative” fit? Not particularly. Historically, we can call people like Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Ike, Nixon and Gerry Ford conservatives. But what came after 1981 seems more hellbent on destruction of government than simply ensuring good, limited government. “Slay the beast”, they say.

    So nomenclature is my struggle. I think the consumate Libertarian or contemporary conservative paradise is Somalia. Granted, true and intelligent libertarians wouldn’t care for the extreme religious intolerance. But no taxes, complete faith in individuals to decide which and how many firearms and explosives to own, no public health, education or environmental safety standards…

    All that screams, “Anarchy” to me. So I setlled on “Anarcho-Libertarian” and “Anarcho-Conservative”. But I’m open to suggestions.

    Cheers!

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  13. James Hanley says:

    Ed,

    I think there’s a fundamental, but not commonly recognized, problem in using the era of industrialization prior to the Depression as our standard model of what businesses do in the absence of regulation, insofar as how they treat their employees. That was an era of wide open immigration, creating a vast surplus of labor. That works to businesses’ advantage. If labor is scarce, businesses have to treat their employees better. That’s not just theory–there’s actual real-world evidence for it. For example, in the 1990s when the unemployment rate in South Dakota was less than 1%, the state and federal minimum wages were wholly meaningless–the market determined starting wage for burger flippers was more than a dollar above the legal minimum wage. So if in the industrialization era we hadn’t had such wide-open immigration (think of Sinclair’s The Jungle, with lines of job applicants stretching around the block), it’s doubtful businesses could have been so callous. I’m not saying there’s no place for government regulation here–I’m just saying that the industrialization era wasn’t a normal era because of a government policy of allowing vast immigration to create a labor surplus, so it’s not really as great a point of comparison for what businesses “normally” would do in the absence of regulation.

    As to securities firms hiding information, that supports my argument that one of the things government does well is to help make information more readily available, which is crucial to markets functioning well. If there are no effective market mechanisms to make that type of information readily available–and there may not be–then definitely government has a role. Whether that outweighs government’s perverse regulations is less certain, but taken on its own it’s definitely a legitimate regulatory arena.

    As to selling cocaine, I assume that consumers had, or would have acquired over time, information on cocaine’s dangers. The government in that case didn’t magically know something the general public didn’t, so far as I can tell. So pharmacies could only have successfully continued selling it if the public still wanted it. I’m very much an anti-paternalist. I don’t believe in protecting people from themselves, so I don’t see a government ban on that as something to praise. Government ensuring there was clear information so that consumers were making an informed choice, sure. But a ban? No. We may have a fundamental disagreement there, but paternalistic legislation certainly isn’t an indisputably good thing.

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  14. Ed Darrell says:

    Government basically has two good contributions to make to markets: providing a legal system for resolving disputes and helping to create openness of information (the theory of perfect markets requires the assumption of perfect information). Much of those gains are offset by governments creating barriers to entry by potential competitors, creating wealth-transfers to subsidize businesses, and protecting bad businesses from the consequences of their behavior.

    I am unconvinced that worksites would have improved worker safety in the absence of the union movement, say from 1870 through 1930, when the U.S. lost more people to industrial accidents than all the wars put together to that time (and some time after).

    I am not persuaded drugstores would have stopped or reduced sales of cocaine in the absence of federal regulation.

    There’s not a good case to be made that the major meat packing houses would have improved worker safety and food sanitation after the publication of The Jungle, absent new laws and regulations from the federal government.

    There is evidence investment and securities firms would have done more to hide information from stock-buyers after 1929, had not new laws and the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission forced them to get a bit more honest.

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  15. James Hanley says:

    Jim,

    I get that your “greater than 50% chance of dying” was tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, but the underlying issue is still relevant.

    What people forget about is that in a free market there is competition between firms, which imposes discipline on them. If there is indeed but one game in town, as Nick suggests, then we’re in trouble, because monopolies, not having competition, aren’t subject to the discipline of competition. But monopolies don’t tend to arise in unregulated markets (most monopolies only exist because government bans competition).

    Fat cats ultimately can’t make money by cutting safety for customers, because customers will choose the competitor who provides more safety (unless they willingly choose the less safe option because they value a lower fare over the increased safety, in which case that’s their free choice, and not an evil action by the fat cat).

    As to examples like Sego mine, that’s not actually the free market at work. Those mining companies control the West Virginia state government, including the courts. They are protected by law in a way they would’t be in an anarcho-capitalist state. (In an anarcho-capitalist state they’d be killed by angry survivors of dead miners!)

    I’m not an anarcho-capitalist myself, but I think most people misunderstand what’s bad about anarcho-capitalism. It’s not that fat cat businessmen would get rich by screwing over poor helpless consumers–consumers are actually pretty smart about avoiding people who screw them over, and spread the word to their friends and family (that’s why people always ask advice about which mechanics to use and which contractors to hire, and then stick to the ones who’ve proven trustworthy).

    The real problem with anarcho-capitalism is that power abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of government someone will attempt to create and consolidate political power. We’d end up with warring tribal lords, like Afghanistan or Somalia. A social structure sans government is not a stable equilibrium, so we need to create and cling to the least dangerous government we can manage to create.

    But the economic side of things? No, that’s not the major concern. Government basically has two good contributions to make to markets: providing a legal system for resolving disputes and helping to create openness of information (the theory of perfect markets requires the assumption of perfect information). Much of those gains are offset by governments creating barriers to entry by potential competitors, creating wealth-transfers to subsidize businesses, and protecting bad businesses from the consequences of their behavior.

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  16. James Hanley says:

    Nick,

    Why would it be the only game in town? If it was killing lots of passengers, there’d be a great economic opportunity to be made in providing safer transportation.

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  17. Jim says:

    Hi James!

    I was being glib, of course! :-)

    The overarching point is that the free market — without the restraint of government — is just as likely to bollocks the whole mess as the government — without the restraint of the free market.

    When people ask me if I am a Capitalist or a Socialist, I usually say, “Yes.” Sounds absurd, but if you think about it…there are places considered capitalist where things run pretty smoothly (the U.S. until about seven or eight years ago; probably Australia or South Africa, Singapore and Thailand come to mind. I’ve heard some say Switzerland is capitalist and others insist it’s more socialist.) Then there are places considered to be predominantly socialist where things run pretty well. (Canada, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand and Denmark merit mention.)

    To be sure…we can think of places where there is (or has been) extreme socialism run amok. Historically, extreme fascist and uber-capitalist countries have been oppressive and repressive too.

    And there is the whole point, really. This is where the conversation MUST go if America is to both remain the America of the founders’ vision AND successful. Capitalism works well. But only when restrained by the best socialistic impulses. Want competetion in the free market? Me too. But the more we slouch toward extreme capitalism (anarcho-libertarianism), the more likely the free market will be corrupted and polluted by corporate self interest and greed.

    Socialism works well, too. But only when restrained by the best and most honorable impulses of capitalism. This is why socialism in Denmark or Norway is hugely successful. Not so much in Cuba.

    It’s about balance, sanity, restraint and common sense. This country was once a proudly capitalist land where the most noble impulses of socialism usually succeeded in sanding off the rough edges. Until Ronald Reagan. On his watch, the all-out orgy began. And it has snowballed to such an extent that today, the Gipper himself is starting to look like a less-than-convinced capitalist…if not a closet socialist. The extreme right is good at nothing, if not moving goalposts. Today, Dwight Eisenhower is a raving red by Tea Party standards.

    And yet, what did we get on Ike’s watch? A nation that taxed the fabulously rich at 91%. And continued to make money, hand over fist. We rebuilt Europe and Japan, built an interstate highway system that was the envy of the world, embarked on an ambitious space program, spent unprecedented amounts of money on schools and scientific/medical research, fought a war in Korea and much more. All the while, ordinary working Americans enjoyed an exceptional and enviable standard of living. And it continued with very few hiccups until the Carter-Reagan era. To some extent, sure…the chickens of Vietnam, the space race, an energy crisis and the Great Society came home to roost. I’ll not pretend it was all roses. But the fix was not an end to social helping programs (which then and now account for very little of the overall budget) or releasing a couple million mental patients into the care of states or no one in particular. And certainly not cutting taxes on those most able to afford them…thereby passing the expense of society on to those who can least afford them.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization”. Now THAT is a Republican. We need more of his like. And fewer Glenn Becks.

    I’m glad we have competition. Rail, which got this whole discussion started, certainly has benefitted from capitalism and competition. But you know as well as I do, that unless the government requires safety inspections (of the rails themselves and some of the cargo they carry), some fat cat is going to see his big chance to save a buck. Just like the operators of the Sego Mine in West Virginia. And the BP Oil platform. 40 people dead, total. Each of their epitaphs might well read…

    “Here lies an American worker: victim of deregulation.”

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  18. Nick K says:

    James writes:
    How would a railroad company that killed more than half its passengers manage to stay in business and make money?

    Because it would be the only game in town.

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  19. James Hanley says:

    I’m amused that anyone actually believes that in an anarcho-capitalist “state” (for lack of a better word), you’d have less than a 50-50 chance of surviving a train ride.

    How would a railroad company that killed more than half its passengers manage to stay in business and make money?

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  20. Nick K says:

    Jim writes:
    . Various aspects of Fascism are alive and well in U.S., though probably not so much the impulse toward the takeover of certain industries.

    Really? How about the bent of allowing corporations to takeover the government…

    Because last time I checked, that’s fascist.

    Like

  21. Jim says:

    Thanks for the kudos, Ed.

    I really don’t like Fascism. And I’m really not sufficiently schooled on all its tenets. I know only this for sure..

    1. Fascism does call for government control of some industries, but it is nothing like Socialism. So the right is chasing its tail when they equate the two.

    2. Various aspects of Fascism are alive and well in U.S., though probably not so much the impulse toward the takeover of certain industries. I am thinking more along the lines of union-busting, playing around with church-state marriage and dictating to individuals about their private sexual and reproductive decisions.

    3. Hitler was not a Socialist.

    4. And as much as Fascism and Communism scare me, Anarcho-Libertarianism scares me more. When I get on a train, I demand at least a 50/50 chance of arriving alive at Union Station.

    Cheers!

    Jim

    Like

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