Saturday, January 12, 2008

Michael Kinsley shows lack of intelligence in Mass Media

Michael Kinsley wrote an article in the Washington Post today titled The Church Doctrines of Pope Ron Paul What's wrong with libertarianism? where he tries to explain why libertarianism is a flawed political ideology. The lack of reasoning displayed in his article shows that writers for the big media companies that reach millions of people each day are not necessarily very intelligent or have a good understanding of the world, and this bodes poorly for the world who largely depend on these writers to form their collective opinions and guide nations' policies.

Here I'll break down Kinsley's arguments and try to demonstrate why they're duplicitous and totally irrational:

First he discusses national defense:

So what is wrong with the libertarian case for extremely limited government? Economics 101 teaches some of the basic justifications for government interference in the economy. Some things, such as the cost of national defense, are "public goods." We can't each decide for ourselves how much defense we want. We have to decide that together.

Almost all libertarians believe that one of the few proper functions of government is national defense. What Kinsley is doing here is misrepresenting libertarian views in a manner that makes it seem like an impractical political ideology while giving himself an easy but illusionary position to attack.

Next he discusses externalities and pollution:

Libertarians also have a tendency to see too many issues in terms of property rights (just as liberals, they would counter, tend to see everything in terms of discrimination and equal protection). Pollution, libertarians say, is simply theft: you are stealing my clean air. Settle it in court. This is a really terrible idea: inexpert judges, lawyers and juries using the most elaborate and expensive decision-making process known to humankind -- litigation -- to make inconsistent decisions in different cases. And usually there is no one "right" answer: There is a spectrum of acceptable answers, involving tradeoffs (dirty air versus fewer jobs, etc.) that ought to be made democratically -- that is, through government.

Wow, where to start off. Kinsley just infuses his own pre-conceptions into his intrepretation of the facts without challenging himself to see if his conceptions bear the scrutiny of objective analysis.

First off, Kinsley is wrong to contrast 'liberals' with libertarians by suggesting that liberals view every thing in terms of 'equal protection' while libertarians view every thing in terms of 'property rights'. For libertarians, equal protection and property rights are inter-related: they are all part of our basic natural rights to our life and liberty, which by extension includes a right to our property. Kinsley is playing fast and loose with the facts to simplify and pigeon-hole libertarianism and present it as a narrow-sighted political ideology.

Kinsley then makes the argument that litigation is not a good solution for stopping pollution because "inexpert judges, lawyers and juries ... make inconsistent decisions in different cases". First off, politicians are just as 'inexpert' as judges, the difference being that when a judge asks for expert testimony, he/she is guided by only one thing: the desire to achieve justice, while a politician, conscious of campaign donors and electibility, inevitably lets political considerations cloud his/her judgement on which experts to consult and which expert testimeny to accept when making a judgement.

Second off, litigation is NOT inconsistent, as common law, which is the dominant form of law in the anglo world, dictates that all judgements use prior rulings as a precedent.

Through 500 years of litigative history, the court system in existance today has been refined and developed to become the most objective and impartial source for creating judgements we have. What is wrong with this?

Kinsley then criticizes litigation on democratic grounds: i.e. decisions on pollution should be decided democratically and not by a court. In reality, juries are far more democratic a forum than elections, as they focus a random sampling of citizens on one subject, and give them the opportunity to view the facts in an impartial manner. The democratic election process on the other hand has millions of people vote in one representative every few years, and then that representative decides on thousands of different issues on behalf of his/her constituents. That representative is guided not just by a desire to have justice, but also to get re-elected, to attract rich individuals as campaign donors, etc. Juries seem far more democratic and direct than this.

Kinsley next goes on to criticize the most extreme fringe libertarian positions, such as privatizing and removing all regulations on roads and highways, something that most libertarians don't believe in, rather than deal with the mainstream libertarian positions that are much stronger and more compelling.

The next argument Kinsley makes is that the government banning unpasteurized milk is a positive for society:

Libertarians would say that if most people want pasteurized milk, the market will supply it. Firms will emerge to certify that milk has been pasteurized. These firms will compete, keeping them honest.

So yes, a Rube Goldberg contraption of capitalism could replace a straightforward government regulation. But what if you aren't interested in turning your grocery shopping into an ideological adventure? All that is lost by letting the government take care of it is the right of a few idiots to be idiots. That right deserves respect. But not much.

He claims that "all that is lost by letting the government" ban things like unpasteurized milk is "the right of a few idiots to be idiots". Wrong. Government can be very very wrong at times. There are times when government creates a ban that prevents people from accessing or doing something that is vital for their survival and well-being.

The best example of this medical licensure. The government bans people from providing certain medical services unless the individual providing the service has a medical license. Medical licensure prevents people who are facing life-threatening illnesses and have no health insurance from getting much cheaper medical care from someone who may have four years, rather than eight years of medical schooling.

Some Americans end up flying to India to receive much cheaper medical care from medical practitioners who are not qualified enough to receive a medical license in the United States yet are able to save their lives. Without medical licensure, the plane ticket to India would not be necessary and many more people would be able to access cheaper medical care in the United States when their financial situation does not give them any other options.

This kind of big brother government regulation drives prices up and results in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people dying unnecessarily each year.

Finally, Kinsley attacks the very foundation of a free society with the most commonly used arguments used by proponents of socialism:

Libertarians ask: By what justification does the government concern itself with inequality -- financial or otherwise -- in the first place? They are nearly alone in asking this question. Even conservatives claim a great concern for equality of opportunity, while opposing opportunity of result. And the reasons seem obvious: some degree of material equality as a necessary basis for political equality; the huge role of luck in getting each of us to our relative stations in life; etc.

What Kinsley totally ignores, while focusing on equality and such trivialities as the role of luck in determining our material station, is morality. By what moral right does one person have to use coercion: the threat of prison sentences/fines, to force a rich individual to give his/her resources to a poor individual. Coercion against an innocent individual --and yes, even the richest greediest son of a bitch is still innocent as long as he has not violated the rights of any one else-- is never justified, no matter what.

If we make the argument that a little evil against an innocent person is justified for the greater good, then we are no better than the ancients who sacrificed children to the Gods in exchange for a bountiful harvest.

Of particular note is Kinsley's suggestion that since some people are rich due to luck, coercion against them to redistribute their wealth somehow becomes more justified. This highlights the striking immaturity and inconsideration inherent in Kinsley's thinking and the total absence of moral foundations underlying his political positions.

Kinsley's other suggestion -that coercive wealth redistribution is needed due to his axiom, "material equality as a necessary basis for political equality"- again fails under a cursory review of its underlying premises.

That resources are necessary for an individual to exercise their political or legal rights, and that wealth disparity between the rich and the poor poses potential problems for equal exercise of political/legal rights is obvious, but one need only look again to the court process to see that this reality in no way necessitates such a drastic employment of coercion as proponents of socialism so recklessly advocate. The court process deals with the potential effects of wealth disparity on equal justice through a multitude of ways; public defendants, paid juries to socialize the cost of deliberation, class action lawsuits, etc.

The court process takes a measured, surgical approach in minimizing the role wealth plays in the impartiality of the judgments that individuals receive, because it is honest in its goal of seeking to provide impartial justice. Proponents of socialism meanwhile operate in an intellectual and moral desert and use problems such as inequality of political/legal rights merely as a superficial cover under which to try to dispel the importance of protecting individuals' right to be free from coercion, in order to create leeway for their grand socialist schemes.

Those like Kinsley see the world as a dark place, where dark measures are often the lesser of two evils and therefore justifiable. They are wrong. The world has the potential to be a great and prosperous place, with ever increasing wealth and happiness. The rejection of coercion and injustice is a prerequisite for achieving this potential and eliminating the lesser, and the greater of the evils.

It is very unfortunate that many of those who have been given the reigns to public opinion by the mass media, as in the example Michael Kinsley, do not understand that the foundation for a free and prosperous society is providing equal protection under the law, for every individual.

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