Tag Archives: Matt Steinglass

The Ballad Of Daisy And Jay, Part Two

Chrystia Freeland at The Atlantic:

If you happened to be watching NBC on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious. There, on the set of Meet the Press, the host, David Gregory, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become “very distorted.” In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a “significant recovery”; the rest of the economy, by contrast—including small businesses and “a very significant amount of the labor force”—was stuck and still struggling. What we were seeing, he argued, was not a single economy at all, but rather “fundamentally two separate types of economy,” increasingly distinct and divergent.

This diagnosis, though alarming, was hardly unique: drawing attention to the divide between the wealthy and everyone else has long been standard fare on the left. (The idea of “two Americas” was a central theme of John Edwards’s 2004 and 2008 presidential runs.) What made the argument striking in this instance was that it was being offered by none other than the former five-term Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: iconic libertarian, preeminent defender of the free market, and (at least until recently) the nation’s foremost devotee of Ayn Rand. When the high priest of capitalism himself is declaring the growth in economic inequality a national crisis, something has gone very, very wrong.

This widening gap between the rich and non-rich has been evident for years. In a 2005 report to investors, for instance, three analysts at Citigroup advised that “the World is dividing into two blocs—the Plutonomy and the rest”:

In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the U.S. consumer” or “the UK consumer”, or indeed the “Russian consumer”. There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie.

Before the recession, it was relatively easy to ignore this concentration of wealth among an elite few. The wondrous inventions of the modern economy—Google, Amazon, the iPhone—broadly improved the lives of middle-class consumers, even as they made a tiny subset of entrepreneurs hugely wealthy. And the less-wondrous inventions—particularly the explosion of subprime credit—helped mask the rise of income inequality for many of those whose earnings were stagnant.

But the financial crisis and its long, dismal aftermath have changed all that. A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves.

Kevin Drum:

The super rich, she writes, “are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home.” Thus the fury of the financial elite at the suggestion that perhaps they were responsible for the crash of 2008 or that they owe it to the rest of the country to do anything about it:

When I asked one of Wall Street’s most successful investment-bank CEOs if he felt guilty for his firm’s role in creating the financial crisis, he told me with evident sincerity that he did not. The real culprit, he explained, was his feckless cousin, who owned three cars and a home he could not afford.

….A Wall Street investor who is a passionate Democrat recounted to me his bitter exchange with a Democratic leader in Congress who is involved in the tax-reform effort. “Screw you,” he told the lawmaker. “Even if you change the legislation, the government won’t get a single penny more from me in taxes. I’ll put my money into my foundation and spend it on good causes. My money isn’t going to be wasted in your deficit sinkhole.”

I don’t know if this attitude is truly new. Maybe not as much as Freeland suggests. Still, it certainly feels as if America is dominated more and more by an elite class that cares less and less about the public good because they don’t really feel like they have a stake in the public good anymore: they’ve never served in the Army or the Peace Corps, their kids never come within yelling distance of public schools, they donate their money exclusively to their own churches and their own global foundations, and they whine constantly about taxes even though their incomes have skyrocketed and tax rates have fallen dramatically over the past several decades. To them, taxes aren’t part of a social contract, they’re just pure welfare: they don’t care about education or infrastructure or unemployment or healthcare because they don’t have to. Within their own bubble, they don’t need to rely on the public versions of any of that stuff.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

The whole thing is very good, though I have a small quibble with this passage:

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition — and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly.

If “ambivalent” is code for disdain — passive or otherwise — then these nouveau riche aren’t so different from their predecessors; with few historical exceptions, the rich have always been ambivalent about the poor and less fortunate. Indeed, I wouldn’t be shocked if the presence of “meritocracy” (as if these people have no prior advantages) intensified feelings of disdain. After all, if you can succeed, why can’t these people (and as a corollary, “what right do they have to my wealth”)?

To be fair, disdain for the less fortunate is completely understandable as a response to visible disparities. On some level, we all know that our position is an accident of birth. For a lot of people, a sense of class superiority is a necessary part of the illusion that they are “deserving” of their good fortune.

Felix Salmon:

It’s not that these people are utterly bereft of noblesse oblige: Chrystia points out that “in this age of elites who delight in such phrases as outside the box and killer app, arguably the most coveted status symbol isn’t a yacht, a racehorse, or a knighthood; it’s a philanthropic foundation.” But those philanthropies don’t benefit the left-behind middle classes: they tend to follow a barbell distribution, with the money going either to the world’s poorest or else to well-endowed universities and cultural institutions. The US middle class is sneered at for being fat and lazy and unworthy of their wealth:

The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”

This mindset is dangerous, but it’s not clear how dangerous it is.

The real threat facing the super-elite, at home and abroad, isn’t modestly higher taxes, but rather the possibility that inchoate public rage could cohere into a more concrete populist agenda—that, for instance, middle-class Americans could conclude that the world economy isn’t working for them and decide that protectionism or truly punitive taxation is preferable to incremental measures such as the eventual repeal of the upper-bracket Bush tax cuts.

Mohamed El-Erian, the Pimco CEO, is a model member of the super-elite. But he is also a man whose father grew up in rural Egypt, and he has studied nations where the gaps between the rich and the poor have had violent resolutions. “For successful people to say the challenges faced by the lower end of the income distribution aren’t relevant to them is shortsighted,” he told me. Noting that “global labor and capital are doing better than their strictly national counterparts” in most Western industrialized nations, ElErian added, “I think this will lead to increasingly inward-looking social and political conditions. I worry that we risk ending up with very insular policies that will not do well in a global world. One of the big surprises of 2010 is that the protectionist dog didn’t bark. But that will come under pressure.”

If this is true, then the members of the super-elite should be falling over each other to pay more in taxes out of simple enlightened self-interest—rather than saying that a perfectly sensible tax hike is “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

But it seems to me that the inchoate anger of the masses shows no sign of cohering into anything at all, let alone protectionism, which seems to have been dying a slow death ever since the protests against Nafta. The Tea Party, which is the closest thing we have to a populist revolt, is bought and paid for by plutocrats and shows no protectionist tendencies whatsoever. If they keep on going on their present trajectory, they’re just as likely to continue unimpeded as they are to run into some kind of atavistic class warfare.

So I’m unconvinced that the plutocrats have any real incentive to restrain themselves, or to stop moaning around an Upper East Side dinner table that $20 million a year isn’t all that much—it’s really only $10 million a year, after taxes.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

Ms Freeland expresses the hope towards the end of her article that the global super-rich will at some point realise that in the long run, by refusing to pay the taxes that are needed to maintain the infrastructure of the countries they operate in or to educate the workers they expect to staff their businesses, they are courting a disastrous political reaction: protectionism, confiscatory taxes, or something worse and more violent. I’m not entirely sure the super-rich need fear such a reaction. Back in mid-2009, Barack Obama told the assembled plutocrats of Wall Street that they ought to be more grateful to him; he was “the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks.” The plutocrats smiled, and departed by helicopter. To the extent any pitchforks have been seen, they were applied to the Democrats’ behinds last November. Perhaps, rather than attempting to stand between Wall Street and any hypothetical pitchforks, Mr Obama should have gotten out of the way.

The other day I was on a Singapore Airlines flight in which every video feature on the inflight entertainment system was preceded by an advertisement for condominiums in a luxury beachfront apartment/shopping development with three canted, burnished-steel towers supporting a huge steel lintel with an artificial park on top, trees, lake, and all, 200+ metres up. It looked like the spoiler of some gigantic Formula 1 racecar. As the ad played, a chyron across the bottom of the screen repeated something along the following lines: “Republic of Singapore, zero capital gains tax, zero wealth tax, zero inheritance tax…” ad nauseum. I sort of think this is the world the super-wealthy are operating in, one in which every threat made by some puny government can be flicked away by the threat of moving to Singapore or some other principality slavishly devoted to wealth. Though given that I was watching this ad in economy class, it’s probably just some pathetic low-rent imitation of the real thing, which is in fact beyond the imagination of mere wage-earners like me. There’s a Victor Pelevin short story along these lines, in which a Russian neuro-physicist discovers that the possession of a certain quantity of dollars propels people’s consciousnesses into an alternative dimension; to all outward appearances such oligarchs seem to still function in our reality, but in fact they are experiencing a universe invisible and completely alien to us mortals. State security authorities promptly hook up a couple of money-nauts to a psychic imaging machine developed by the KGB and transfer billions of dollars to their accounts. It turns out that the universe, as they experience it, looks like a long corridor, lit with a faintly greenish light, with something unidentifiable just around the corner. It’s a strangely haunting, off-kilter story. As Ms Freeland says, the Russians always seem to be sharper at expressing these kinds of things.

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist:

It’s always a little amusing (and, to me, still a bit stunning) to read about the really rich and how rich they are and what that level of really richness allows the really rich to do. But the interesting policy questions continue to be, first, what are the sources of the wealth and, second, what distortions result from it. On the first, it seems to me that we should obviously think differently about money earned from superstar effects and money derived from access and rent-seeking. Rich growth wealthy from the invention of Google or bets against an unsustainable housing bubble are in a different category from those who happened to know the people doling out government contracts or mineral rights.

But the second issue is actually the more important, and it’s the one for which we currently lack a firm grasp. What does this concentration of wealth mean? We read Ms Freeland and other similar stories, and it’s clear that the rich have strong opinions. And they channel their vast resources in support of their opinions, and they build institutions and hobnob with policymakers and opinionmakers and rotate through administrations, and one eventually asks: is the mass of non-rich people being hoodwinked? Are the elite systematically bending the rules to favour themselves and undermine a modern society based on broad improvements in living standards?

Well, are they? I don’t know. Part of the problem assessing the impact of the shadowy world of global billionaires on public policy is that it’s so shadowy. It does seem like the circuit of elite elbow-rubbing events is designed, in part, to help align the worldview of politicians and journalists with that of the very rich. And if that’s the main route through which the elite wield influence, then we could be in trouble, given the extent to which the media world’s economic troubles are pushing it toward models based on support from moneyed patrons.

Daniel Drezner:

Fifteen years ago Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” to describe the kind of globalized elite that jetted off from global conference to global conference. His point was that Davos man was an exceedingly rare bird, and that nationalism, religion, language and culture were still the most potent forces binding groups together in the world.

It’s in this context that I read Chrystia Freeland’s new cover story in The Atlantic. It’s well worth the read, but like Kevin Drum, I’m not sure that the phenomenon Freeland is identifying is all that new.

Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced they’re as powerful as Freeland or Drum or Felix Salmon suggests. As Freeland pointed out, they fought a lot of the Obama administration’s first-half policies tooth and nail — and they actually lost a fair amount of the time. Indeed, nary a year ago some pundits were declaring the death of Davos man.

That said, there are three trends that are worth further consideration. First, as Freeland observes, the rich are now work much harder than they did a century ago. Second, more and more of the rich are coming from outside the OECD economies.

Third, the rich have attracted a lot of intellectual capital into their web. Indeed, the call for an economist code of ethics is based in no small part on the ways in which successful economists score moneymaking gigs as they move up the career ladder.

Again, I’m not sure if Freeland is right. I am sure that it’s an interesting argument however. So, in the interest of further research your humble middle-class blogger is headed off tonight to investigate the beliefs and activities of the super-rich from much closer than normal.

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“Norm!”

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Sarah Laskow at Capitol New York:

LONGTIME VILLAGERS OFTEN TALK ABOUT the change in their neighborhood as synonymous with the rise of bars and restaurants that create street traffic and noise unlike that in any other neighborhood. Words and phrases like rowdy, circus atmosphere, zoo are used to describe the street scene at night. When bar owners and nightlife operators argue that the East Village has always been a nightlife destination, they respond: Yes, but. Something’s different now.

Academics have a word for what the neighborhood has become: a nightscape. Bars and restaurants were once peripheral to the main drag’s primary economic drivers: supermarkets, coffeehouses, boutique shops, record stores. But in post-industrial cities, nightlife has grown into an industry in its own right. As in any industry, shop owners tend to cluster. A century ago, that meant the creation of a Garment District. Now it means the creation of a Party District.

There are a few of them of course. You’ll hear similar complaints about the Meatpacking District, about areas of Fifth Avenue or Smith Street in Brooklyn, or the side streets of the Flatiron District. But the Party District below 14th street east of Third Avenue is the largest, the densest, and still growing. To hear the people who live further up near the Stuyvesant Town end of the East Village talk, the Party District is spreading largely north, and somewhere around the summer of 2009, it wholly enveloped the stretch of Avenue A between the northwest corner of Tompkins Square Park and 14th Street.

Superdive, more than any other establishment, was the sign that the area has reached some sort of tipping point. There were already more bars in the area than there had been ever before, but none like Superdive. When Superdive opened, bright young things across the city talked about it. They also talked about keg service, the bar’s primary innovation. By calling in advance, customers could secure a keg of almost any beer imaginable: PorkS.L.A.p, Chimay, Allagash White, or any one of the hundreds of German, Czech, Belgian, or British beers on the 16-page keg menu prepared by “Kegmaster Matt.” A New York Press review noted that Superdive was “the stuff of frat-boy dreams—in a good way. We think.” Urban Daddy called it “a world of crazy—an all-out raucous, beautiful disaster of a bar.” It was rumored, briefly, that customers could pour their own well drinks.

In short order, party-seekers were lined up behind the bar’s velvet rope to get in. Positive reviews came rolling in on Yelp, and private parties booked the space, night after night. Upper Avenue A had had theme bars (one of Superdive’s predecessors at the space was Korova Milk Bar, which had a Clockwork Orange leitmotif lost on many of the patrons), and the original location of the neighborhoods most notorious gay bar, The Cock. Superdive was self-conscious, though. It promised not just beer or a dance floor, but an experience directly targeted at a crowd the East Village had perhaps hoped it hadn’t overtly been catering to: Not some group of characters out of an old Lou Reed song, so much as the group of characters you’d find on Bourbon Street, or worse, North Avenue in White Plains. There was some irony in the marketing of Superdive, but not much.

Matthew Yglesias:

Street noise is a very real issue in large swathes of Manhattan and I think it’s perfectly understandable that people prefer not to have lively nightlife scenes located directly outside their windows. So when I read Sarah Laskow’s long and excellent account of liquor license battles in the East Village, I’m not-unsympathetic to the incumbent residents’ concerns. But as she observes at the end, there’s a real cost to this attitude:

At the meeting with Kao, the locals gave him the same reason for opposing him that they had given Warren, when he wanted to open a burger bar in the space: according to the current license, the only type of business that should be selling liquor at 200 Ave. A is a bookshop. With rent set at $10,000 in the East Village Party District, that’s as unlikely as it sounds.

The broader issue, as she explains, is that cities are driven by agglomeration:

Academics have a word for what the neighborhood has become: a nightscape. Bars and restaurants were once peripheral to the main drag’s primary economic drivers: supermarkets, coffeehouses, boutique shops, record stores. But in post-industrial cities, nightlife has grown into an industry in its own right. As in any industry, shop owners tend to cluster. A century ago, that meant the creation of a Garment District. Now it means the creation of a Party District.

Basically the East Village really “wants” to be full of nightlife establishments just like Qiaotou, China wants button factories. Restricting the creation of new button factories in Qiatou will help incumbent button makers (and alleviate neighborhood concerns about factory smoot) but it’s hard to call a bar scene into existence that way. Similarly, making it hard to open a new bar in the East Village isn’t going to create a button factory. It’s going to create an underutilized space. That means somewhat more unemployment in the city, somewhat less tax revenue in the city, and thus at the margin higher tax rates and fewer social services for everyone.

Meanwhile, as a policy analyst living in a different city the right way to look at the neighborhood concerns is this. Will another bar on the block make living on that block worse? I have no reason to doubt it. But it’s not like there’s some excessive quantity of affordable housing in Manhattan. If a given block becomes less desirable to live on, that just means someone else will live there. In equilibrium, we’re looking at lower housing costs and higher employment rates.

Ryan Avent:

Matt is right that “nightlife”, like a lot of other industries, often clusters. People like to have options when they go out, and they like going where there are other people around, so watering holes that cluster together often find that they do better than they might outside of a nightlife cluster, despite the impact of increased competition within the cluster. And Matt is right to say that when you limit liquor licenses in an area, you cut off the potential gains of clustering to the consumer, you cut off the potential gains of clustering to the businesses, and you cut off the potential gains of competition to the consumer, since you effectively hand existing businesses a great deal of market power.

But I’m constantly reminded of another side of this equation whenever I’m in London. London, like cities and towns across the British Isles, is filled with pubs. They vary in type, quality, and clientele. I was very lucky this time around to find a near-perfect gastropub just a five minute walk from my flat. It was quiet and well-maintained with a great menu, and while there were always people there, there was also always a free seat. Kids were welcome during the day, as were dogs. Every time I went I thought to myself how great it would be to have such a place close by back in Washington. And every time I thought that, I immediately reminded myself that such a place, back in Washington, would be perpetually packed and fairly unpleasant. In the Washington area, you can’t have a place that’s both really good and quiet in a neighborhood-y sort of way.

That’s largely because it’s very difficult to open new bars. And the result is a pernicious feedback loop. With too few bars around, most good bars are typically crowded. This crowdedness alienates neighbors, and it also has a selecting effect on the types of people who choose to go to bars — those interested in a loud, rowdy environment, who will often tend to be loud and rowdy. This alienates neighbors even more, leading to tighter restrictions still and exacerbating the problem.

Megan McArdle:

I don’t want to push this argument too far–London has a sizeable population of obnoxious drunks, many of whom decide to get into fistfights outside their local pub.  (An editor at the Economist who had recently moved to the United States was asked how he had enjoyed his first New Year’s in New York.  “It made me quite homesick,” he replied.  “All those drunks throwing up in the subway were like a breath of London.”)

But it is true that London also has more quiet pubs New York–and New York, in turn, has more of them (outside of the East Village) than DC does.  And this does make bars and cafes noticeably more unpleasant for the neighbors, as well as the customers.  Which in turn causes residents to fight like hell to keep out any business that might attract a late-night crowd.

One possible solution is upzoning–neighborhood bars aren’t so obnoxious when you’re ten floors above them. But of course, the local residents tend to fight that as well.

Matthew Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

I think these observations are all apt, but I’m also wondering why a comparison of pub quality in these three places would focus primarily on regulatory or economic issues rather than that diffuse and confusing beast we call culture. I can think of two reasons why people tend to write disproportionately about economic and regulatory reasons for these kinds of problems. First, they’re concrete. You can investigate the regulatory issues surrounding licensing businesses in your area pretty easily, and those rules are discrete and public and clear. Then you can analyze the expected results. Second, problems with regulatory and eocnomic origins are amenable to solution. Change the regulations and you might in principle have solved the problem, even if in this case nobody can figure out quite how to do that.

But what strikes me overwhelmingly about the difference between bars/pubs in London, New York and Washington is that these three cities have completely different nightlife cultures. Those cultures are irreducible to the regulatory environment or to economic behaviour. The regulatory environment in London doesn’t do much to explain why, when you walk through Southwark on a winter’s evening at 6:30pm with the thermometer tipping 0 degrees centigrade, you see crowds of men and women in long dark coats standing on the sidewalk sipping pints of bitter. It doesn’t explain the fact that up until 1990 there basically wasn’t a decent atmospheric bar with good food in Washington, DC, or not one that would be recognised as such by someone from New York or London. It doesn’t explain the fact that even though breweries are allowed to own pubs in England, and are prevented from doing so in America, most pubs in London that are bought up by breweries or conglomerates have retained their individual characters and atmospheres, while in America they would almost certainly be swept under by company-wide branding campaigns. It doesn’t even explain why bars in Washington have gotten so much better over the past 15 years that when I go back, I barely recognise the place.

Andrew Sullivan

McArdle responds to Steinglass:

One can argue about whether our posts should reflect more on culture, but I can tell you why they do focus on regulatory issues:  we all live in DC.  And in DC, regulatory decisions are very clearly driving what the bar culture looks like.

The gentrification boom in DC has hit up against a limited supply of bars–and neighborhood commissions that are very resistant to quickly opening more of them.  The result is that no bar stays un-crowded for long; if it’s any good at all, it’s soon overwhelmed with a tidal wave of people fleeing the standing-room-only crowds at all the other bars.  The bars aren’t like this because most people in DC want to spend their Friday nights packed like cheap sardines; the bars are like this because there are so few of them in the areas where people under 35 live, that the only people who can bear to be in them are the people who will tolerate any conditions, including those of veal calves, if only they can endure them while holding a drink.
This is a new development in the areas of DC where, as it happens, Matthew Yglesias, Ryan Avent and I, all like to go out of an evening.  When I moved to DC a scant three and a half years ago, there were enough bars where you could enjoy a Thursday night seated in the company of friends. Then came January 2009, when I held a birthday get-together at a previously local place on 11th street.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much getting together; more than half the people were turned away because of overcrowding.  Several bars had been shut down in Adams Morgan because the weren’t serving enough food to comply with their tavern licenses; the result was that Adams Morgan relocated to U Street.
Since then, this pattern has been repeated over and over; any bar that opens is pleasant for a month or so, then completely, miserably jammed.

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Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Middle East, New Media

Shave And A Haircut, Two Bits And A Whole Lot Of Red Tape

Karl Smith:

For example, in most jurisdictions cutting hair at home can legally be done with a vacuum cleaner but cutting it for pay requires schooling, examination and a licensing fee.

Matthew Yglesias:

The way I’ve been getting my hair cut for the past six months or so is that I bought a pair of hair clippers and I do it myself. I normally trim about twice a week, and this lets me keep the hair short at an acceptable cost. Once I screwed it up, then my hair looked funny for like a day until I figured out how to fix it.Meanwhile, meet the District of Columbia Board of Barber and Cosmetology:

The DC Board of Barber and Cosmetology (Board) regulates the practice of barbering and cosmetology while working diligently to raise the standards of practice; ensure quality service; establish accepted codes of ethical behavior, and protects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and visitors of the District of Columbia by upholding the city’s Barber and Cosmetology laws and regulations. The Barber and Cosmetology license law (pdf) is defined in the Barber and Cosmetology Municipal Regulations, which took effect on May 2001.

The Board consists of eleven members appointed by the Mayor. The Board consist of three (3) barbers, three (3) cosmetologists, threes (3) specialists, all license and practicing for at least three (3) years. There are two (2) members (non-license) representing consumers. Six members of the Board constitute a quorum.

Regulation of this sort seems totally unnecessary. People don’t die of bad haircuts, and since hairstyle is a quintessential matter of taste there’s absolutely no reason to think consumers can’t figure out for themselves who has a decent reputation as a cutter of hair. You can cut your own hair perfectly safely in your own house, and if you screw it up all that happens is you need to find a real professional to fix it. But what’s more, even if regulation were somehow a good idea, the composition of the board couldn’t possibly serve a legitimate consumer protection function. It’s overwhelmingly composed of people from the industry whose incentive is to limit competition and raise prices.

Don Suber:

Congratulations, Matthew Yglesias, you have just discovered what my economics professors used to call Barriers To Entry, in much the same way Charlton Heston discovered the secret ingredient for soylent green.

All those business lobbyists in Washington? They are not there to stop legislation. They are there to write legislation. Of course BP endorsed tougher regulations on oil drilling. It helps their side businesses in alternative energy and keeps wildcatters from drilling for oil.

Those tough regulations on Wall Street? Goldman Sachs wrote them. Hey, it paid Obama a million bucks for that seat at the table.

When I get time, I will explain why Bill Gates and other billionaire liberals create tax-free — er, non-profit — foundations. A hint: John D. Rockefeller V was born a millionaire.

James Joyner:

Matt Yglesias figures that, since he’s able to cut his own hair, it’s silly to license barbers.

His commenters point out to him, fairly rudely, that people who handle straight razors probably ought to have some training and prospect of inspection from the authorities for health reasons.  And that beauticians, who handle dyes and other chemicals, really need to be regulated.   Apparently, they’ve explained this to him once or twice before, and hence their irritation.

Mostly, I think the commenters are right.  While the free market would probably regulate simple barber shops — as opposed to beauty shops — with reasonable efficiency, we’d hate to have barbers routinely cutting people with infected implements.   Let’s just say that the signaling mechanisms for that sort of thing are too slow for comfort.

Further, in terms of arguing by analogy, if Matt is an unlicensed barber, I’m an unlicensed taxi driver and restaurateur.  The idea that because people can be trusted to do something for themselves, they should therefore be allowed to do the same things for the public on a professional basis is rather thin.

Kevin Drum:

You’ll be unsurprised to know that I don’t have a lot to add on this subject. But I did get into a conversation about this with my haircutter once, and she pointed out that there’s more to this business than you might think. It’s true that clipping hair — which is the only side of the business that Matt and I ever see — isn’t especially dangerous. But for more complicated jobs, hair professionals handle a lot of dangerous chemicals and they need to know how to use these properly to insure that they don’t do some serious damage to their customers. That, apparently, is part of what they teach you at cosmetology school.

That’s what she said, anyway. Alternatively, maybe it’s all just a big scam. After all, plenty of women give themselves home perms and seem to survive the experience. Hair professionals should feel free to school us in comments.

Alex Massie:

Matt’s critics say that anyone using sharp objects or chemicals such as peroxide needs to be regulated and inspected. This, my friends, is a reminder that the American mania for credentialism (cf journalism) frequently travels well into the realm of the absurd.

Happily, this sceptered isle is a freer place entirely. No surprise then that the British Hairdressing Council is not happy. From their FAQ:

But surely everyone must be qualified before being allowed to practise?
Alas, not so; in fact, quite the opposite. Here in Britain, anyone is free to practise as a hairdresser without registration, without qualification, even without proper training. In short, hairdressing is totally unregulated.So is there no yardstick by which to judge hairdressers?

Yes, there is. In 1964, Parliament passed the Hairdressers Registration Act to give status to hairdressers and assurance to consumers. Under the Act, the Hairdressing Council (HC) was created to establish and maintain a register of qualified hairdressers. Hence, every State Registered Hairdresser (SRH) is officially recognised as qualified to practise hairdressing on the public.

Are most hairdressers registered?

Sadly, they are not. The 1964 law left registration a voluntary option. Only about ten per cent of hairdressers have ever exercised their right to a place on the official register. At the same time, with the industry unregulated, many unregistered operators might not be eligible for inclusion on the register.

Where does this leave the consumer?

In a far from ideal position. Choosing a practitioner in any unregulated industry is tricky; in an industry where part of the human person is being treated, it truly can be a lottery. While many consumers no doubt chance upon good stylists, others stray into the hands of incompetent operators and have experiences ranging from overpriced and unsatisfactory services to damaged hair and even injured scalp and facial tissue.

Surely all hairdressers are accountable for their professional actions? Isn’t this the role of the Hairdressing Council?

Had registration been mandatory, the Hairdressing Council would indeed regulate hairdressing much as the Medical and Dental Councils, for instance, regulate their sectors. However, so long as the Act remains voluntary, the HC has jurisdiction over SRHs only – complaints against whom are very few and far between.

Something must be done! To be sure…

If it can, why won’t Parliament take action?
Action by government ministers, rather than back bench MPs, is what’s needed. For the record, ministers are requested, regularly, to amend the Act. This campaign for a tightening of the law, spearheaded by the Hairdressing Council, is supported by the industry trade bodies, consumer groups, much of the media and, not least, consumers. A great many individual MPs also support the regulation of hairdressing.
And where does government stand on the regulation of hairdressing?
To begin, a few facts: First, no government is going to commit parliamentary time to bringing in legislation it feels to be unnecessary*. Second, no government is going to introduce what it regards as unnecessary regulation. Third, regulation, of pretty well any sort, is increasingly viewed at best with suspicion and at worst with contempt by business interests, including many salon owners.
Fourth, governments tend to be wary of introducing laws viewed unfavourably by large or significant sections of the community. 
As to the stances adopted by recent governments on hairdressing regulation, when in power the Conservatives refused, consistently, to contemplate action. Their argument, repeated many times, was that “market forces are a sufficient regulator”. The current Labour government has listened to and acknowledged the merits of the case for regulation but has, at least so far, declined to act on the matter.
Have other measures been tried, through ordinary MPs in Parliament to bring in regulation?
Since the voluntary registration law was introduced in 1964, initiatives such as Early Day Motions, Ten Minute Rule Bills, Ministerial Questions and Private Members’ Bills have all been tried by helpful and supportive MPs. But lacking government support, none of these has succeeded. However, be sure efforts will continue.

I’m sure they shall! Somehow, however, the country has survived an unregulated hairdressing and barber-shop industry all these years and may yet, with god’s providence, do so in the future.Mind you, Sweeney Todd was a Londoner…

*If only this were true…

More Yglesias:

A number of people, including many commenters here and even alleged conservative James Joyner think you should need a professional license to become a barber because you might hurt someone with a straight razor. Uh huh. At best this would be an argument for regulating people who do shaves with a straight razor, which would be considerably narrower than current comprehensive regulation of hair stylists.

Meanwhile, though “torts and the free market will take care of it” isn’t the answer to everything, it’s surely the answer to some things. Getting some kind of training before you shave a dude with a straight razor is obviously desirable in terms of strict self-interest. If you screw it up in a serious way, you’ll face serious personal consequences and the only way to make money doing it—and we’re talking about a very modest sum of money—is to do it properly. People also ought to try to think twice about whether their views are being driven by pure status quo bias. Barbers are totally unregulated in the United Kingdom, is there some social crisis resulting from this? Barber regulations differ from state to state, are the stricter states experiencing some kind of important public health gains?

Last you really do need to look at how these things play out in practice. If you just assume optimal implementation of regulation, then regulation always looks good. But as I noted in the initial post the way this works in practice is the boards are dominated by incumbent practitioners looking to limit supply. One result is that in Michigan (and perhaps elsewhere) it’s hard for ex-convicts to get barber licenses which harms the public interest not only by raising the cost of haircuts, but by preventing people from making a legitimate living. States generally don’t grant reciprocity to other states’ licensing boards, which limits supply even though no rational person worries about state-to-state variance in barber licensing when they move to a New Place. In New Jersey, you need to take the straight razor shaving test to cut women’s hair because they’re thinking up arbitrary ways to incrementally raise the barrier to entry.

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

It’s worth noting that Barack Obama, back when he was a state senator in Illinois, pushed against some of this when it came to jail sentences and prohibitions on getting regulatory licenses:

Town Hall Meetings: On August 15 and 16, 2003 the North Lawndale Employment Network sponsored the annual Town Hall meeting for Congressman Danny Davis at Malcolm X College in Chicago. Brenda Palms Barber was one of the distinguished speakers for the Congressman’s opening address. Ms. Barber and Anthony Burton participated on a panel with State Senator Barack Obama and State Representative Constance Howard to discuss the federally funded Going Home program and several new laws that were passed by the state lawmakers. The lawmakers introduced to the audience several bills that had been passed, including one that would change some of the expungement laws in the State of Illinois and one bill that would allow formerly incarcerated individuals to seek regulatory licenses in several fields including barbering, nail technicians, cosmetology and dead animal removal. Under this bill, the formerly incarcerated individual would have the opportunity to seek a license once they have served their time in prison and have been given a certificate of good standing by the State of Illinois. NLEN also set up a booth at the Town Hall meeting to highlight its program and accomplishments.

Back then if you had a jail record you couldn’t receive most regulatory licenses. So if you were trying to escape from a life of crime, or even if you were tagged with a minor crime during a wayward period in your life, you would automatically have a wide variety of occupations immediately shut off from you. You couldn’t be a barber for instance. (You also probably couldn’t be a licensed fortune teller.) Whatever the idea behind this, in practice it’s going to take people at the edges and shut off a number of crucial options to them. I don’t know if this exists in most states, but it’s an obvious way to begin to push back against the worst excesses of license overkill.

So beyond just being a hassle these licenses can be a major form of explicit job segregation and can have major distributional problems associated with them.

UPDATE: Doug J.

Jonathan Adler

UPDATE #2: More Yglesias

Conor Friedersdorf here and here

Kevin Drum

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

UPDATE #3: Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

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Filed under Economics, Go Meta

James Joyner Did The Joke Already: David Weigel To Be Replaced By David Petraeus

Betsy Rothstein at Fishbowl DC:

FishbowlDC has obtained e-mails written by WaPo‘s conservative-beat blogger Dave Weigel, that the scribe sent to JournoList, a listserv for liberal journalists. (Read up on JournoList with Yahoo! News’s Michael Calderone‘s 2009 story that he wrote for Politico).

Seems Weigel doesn’t like (and that would be putting it mildly) at least some of the conservatives he covers. Poor Drudge – Weigel wants him to light himself on fire.

Weigel’s Words:

•”This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

•”Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

•”I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

•”It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”

Weigel says he “happy to comment” to FishbowlDC but it seems he’s tied up on the phone. Will bring you his remarks as soon as he provides them.

David Weigel:

Below the fold are quotes from me e-mailing the list that day — quotes that I’m told a gossip Web site will post today. I apologize for much of what I wrote, and apologize to readers.

– “This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

I apologize to Matt Drudge for this — I was incredibly frustrated with the amount of hate mail I was getting and lashed out. If he wants to link to this post with some headline accusing me of wishing death on him, I suppose he can do so. But I don’t wish that. I was tired, angry, and hyperbolic, and I’m sorry.

– “Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

I stand by this — I was offended by the way that item was written. I do apologize for reacting like this against the entire Washington Examiner, as my gripe was with one reporter, and the person who gave them this item was apologizing to me.

– “I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

I stand by that reaction but apologize for belittling Byron York.

– “It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”

I stand by this, although I apologize if people find the word “Paultard” offensive. It was a neologism coined during the 2008 campaign to describe fanatical supporters of Paul — I used it in this case to convey how Fox covered those supporters in 2008.

Jonathan Strong at Daily Caller:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously said he hoped President Obama would “fail” in January, 2009. Almost a year later, when Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, Washington Post reporter David Weigel had a wish of his own. “I hope he fails,” Weigel cracked to fellow liberal reporters on the “Journolist” email list-serv.

“Too soon?” he wondered.

Weigel was hired this spring by the Post to cover the conservative movement. Almost from the beginning there have been complaints that his coverage betrays a personal animus toward conservatives.  E-mails obtained by the Daily Caller suggest those complaints have merit.

“Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes–how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?” Weigel lamented in one February email.

In other posts, Weigel describes conservatives as using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” According to Weigel, their motives include “racism” and protecting “white privilege,” and for some of the top conservatives in D.C., a nihilistic thirst for power.

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

After making a number of disparaging comments about elements of the Right — including Ron Paul supporters, gay marriage opponents, and fellow blogger Matt Drudge — on a private listserv called “Journolist,” Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has reportedly resigned this morning.

UPDATE: Early word is that Weigel will be heading to the Huffington Post.

UPDATE II: The HuffPo talk now seems premature. Weigel was seen at the blog’s DC offices today, but it was apparently a social call.

Also, Daily Caller has a bunch of new e-mails from Weigel, disparaging everybody from Rush Limbaugh to Newt Gingrich. I hadn’t seen these yet because the DC‘s servers had been down for much of the morning.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The liberal blogger Dave Weigel, who was hired by The Post to cover the conservative movement, has resigned, after advising Matt Drudge on a semi-public forum for leftish commentators to set himself on fire. Put aside the controversy over whether the Post, which was advised by its star blogger, Ezra Klein (who once advised parties unknown, via his Twitter account, to “fuck tim russert. fuck him with a spiky acid-tipped dick”) that Weigel would do an excellent and balanced job of reporting on conservatives, even understood that it was hiring a liberal, and not a conservative (Ben Smith has more on this aspect of the controversy), the issue in the newsroom today is, How did the Post come to this?

“How could we destroy our standards by hiring a guy stupid enough to write about people that way in a public forum?” one of my friends at the Post asked me when we spoke earlier today. “I’m not suggesting that many people on the paper don’t lean left, but there’s leaning left, and then there’s behaving like an idiot.”

I gave my friend the answer he already knew: The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic responds to Goldberg:

Mr. Goldberg and I are in agreement that Mr. Weigel showed poor judgment in emails he sent to a listserv for liberal Washington DC journalists. The indiscretion is something that most journalists I know would guard against, and I also found objectionable his suggestion that links should be withheld from The Washington Examiner as retaliation for a mean-spirited item written by one of its gossip columnists. Links ought to be afforded on the basis of merit, full stop.

But the main “stupidity” on display here is that Mr. Weigel trusted the members of an avowedly private forum to keep his rants off-the-record, as advertised. In others words, he trusted his colleagues too much, and that isn’t a flaw that should disqualify someone from being a reporter, nor should the fact that they have strong, occasionally intemperate opinions, as do we all.

Do we really want to establish a standard whereby the worthiness of a journalist is measured by whether or not he has controversial opinions? Or how adept he is at concealing those opinions?

Let me put this another way. There is no opinion Jeffrey Goldberg could offer on an e-mail listserv that would change my high opinion of the magazine stories he has produced over many years. His work is the only standard by which I judge him, and so long as he writes at the level to which I am accustom, I’ll read him regardless. Obviously that isn’t the standard that high profile media corporations use when hiring reporters and writers, and Mr. Goldberg and I probably both feel a responsibility to our various employers to maintain some hard to define level of discretion when writing for public or even semi-private consumption.

I’ll defend to death, however, the proposition that the work of a journalist should be the only standard by which he is measured. Mr. Weigel’s work is superb: he breaks news, his foremost loyalty is to the facts, and he reliably treats fairly even folks with whom he very much disagrees. The conservatives he covers are the biggest losers here. As Ben Boychuck wrote on Twitter, “I find you insufferable, but indispensable. Sorry you resigned. I’ll read you wherever you land, you magnificent bastard.” That should be the reaction of someone who finds what Mr. Weigel wrote to be distasteful.

Let’s examine the implications of the standard that The Washington Post is actually employing here, and that most newspaper companies would also employ.

— In the excerpt above, Mr. Goldberg quotes an anonymous Washington Post staffer who, it should be noted, spoke disparagingly of his or her own newspaper in a conversation with a journalist from a competing media company. This source disparaged Dave Weigel, The Post, and the people responsible for hiring him, anonymously. In other words, this source’s very actions imply that he or she knows The Washington Post would look unfavorably on the public airing of this opinion, but decided that lack of discretion isn’t the problem so much as being stupid enough to get caught. Do journalists really want to help establish a standard whereby “stupidity” equals transparency?

— Firing Dave Weigel incentivizes more digging into the personal opinions of journalists, and validates the idea that they should be judged on the basis of those opinions, rather than the content of their work. What’s next? E-mails sent to a few people and leaked? Opinions offered at a bar over beers and surreptitiously recorded? Can I reiterate how glad I am to have moved away from Washington DC? (You should hear what I say about De Beers in private!)

— Mr. Goldberg suggests that this episode might “lead to the re-imposition of some level of standards” at The Washington Post, suggesting that the newspaper’s problem is that it employs people like Ezra Klein and Dave Weigel, who’ve exercised poor judgment in writing intended for a private audience. I submit that seeing these two staffers — who are intellectually honest and talented, whatever their flaws — as the problem at The Post is to miss the Mark Theissen for the trees.

Oops, Freudian slip. What I mean to say is that The Washington Post publishes many talented writers at the tops of their games — Gene Weingarten, I’d give half of what I own if I could clone you — but its most egregious flaw is confusing what actually consists of inexcusably poor judgment. To be more specific, by firing Dave Weigel, and continuing to employ columnists like Marc Thiessen, the Post is saying that it is inexcusably poor judgment to utter honestly held, intemperate opinions if they wind up being made public, but it is perfectly acceptable to write an intellectually dishonest, error-filled book on the subject of your main expertise, and to publish columns of the same quality.

Mr. Goldberg and I agree that Dave Weigel showed poor judgment, but by holding him up as the poster child for declining standards at The Washington Post, as opposed to other more deserving targets, the inescapable message is that the quality of a journalist’s actual work for publication matters less than the public image he is able to project. As far as I know, Mr. Thiessen has never said anything intemperate on a semi-private listserv. Apparently that is what’s required if he’s to resign his column — that’s the consequence of a weird standard whereby firings at a newspaper are utterly unconnected to single word actually published in its pages.

More Goldberg:

A couple of people I know and respect have told me that my criticism of Dave Weigel is misplaced; that he tries harder than I thought to be a fair reporter; that he makes mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. And they’ve provided me with examples of his good reporting. So maybe I’ve made a mistake myself by blogging too fast and too thoughtlessly on this issue. On the other hand, I was repulsed — really repulsed — by his invitation to Matt Drudge to kill himself. I despise violent keyboard-cowboyism, and not only because I’ve received various invitations over the years to kill myself, or let myself be killed, because I’m a supporter of Israel, or because I support the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam, or because I supported the invasion of Iraq (mainly because I’m a supporter of Israel, actually).In any case, I wanted to say this now, and with any luck I’ll return to this subject later.

Ross Douthat:

Set aside the fact that Weigel — who’s actually a left-tilting libertarian rather than a liberal partisan — really is a good reporter, good enough and fair enough to have a number of conservative bloggers rallying to his defense, or at least speaking well of his reporting. The more important point is that no journalistic standard was violated by firing off intemperate e-mails to what’s supposed to be a private e-mail list. Maybe Weigel should have known better than to trust the people on JournoList, and I can certainly understand why once the e-mails were leaked, his ability to cover the conservative movement would be compromised, and a parting of the ways with The Post might seem necessary. But if hitting “send” on pungent e-mails that you assume will be kept private is a breach of journalistic ethics, then there isn’t an ethical journalist in the English-speaking world.  The real story here isn’t Weigel’s public embarrassment — it’s the shame of FishbowlDC for publishing private correspondence, and the disgrace of JournoList for harboring at least one would-be career wrecker. The only decent response is to disband the email list — and to his credit, its founder is doing exactly that.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Somebody on Journo-List didn’t like Dave Weigel and decided to publish his most furious and incendiary remarks that he thought — unwisely — that he was expressing in confidence. (At least I hope these were his most furious and incendiary remarks; what could top these? “I’m going to deafen David Brooks with a vuvuzela”?) So what else is on there that, if revealed, could make life difficult for Ezra Klein or Jeffrey Toobin or Paul Krugman or Ben Smith or Mike Allen? Or is the idea that as long as they stay in line, they’ll never have some remark they regret publicized to the world? Did Journo-List evolve into a massive blackmail scheme that ensures no one inside the club will ever speak ill of another member?

Liz Mair

Bruce Bartlett:

Apparently, Dave Weigel has been forced out over some utterly trivial e-mail rants that were published by some shameless idiot. Speculation is that the Post didn’t want a thinking conservative who cared more about facts than the party line, but would rather have some whack-job Glenn Beck wannabe representing the conservative position on the Post web site. I am canceling have canceled my subscription to the Post.

Ezra Klein:

I began Journolist in February of 2007. It was an idea born from disagreement. Weeks, or maybe months, earlier, I had criticized Time’s Joe Klein over some comments he made about the Iraq War. He e-mailed a long and searching reply, and the subsequent conversation was educational for us both. Taking the conversation out of the public eye made us less defensive, less interested in scoring points. I learned about his position, and why he held it, in ways that I wouldn’t have if our argument had remained in front of an audience.

The experience crystallized an idea I’d been kicking around for some time. I was on all sorts of e-mail lists, but none that quite got at the daily work of my job: Following policy and political trends in both the expert community and the media. But I always knew how much I was missing. There were only so many phone calls I could make in a day. There were only so many times when I knew the right question to ask. By not thinking of the right person to interview, or not asking the right question when I got them on the phone, or not intuiting that an economist would have a terrific take on the election, I was leaving insights on the table.

That was the theory behind Journolist: An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another. The eventual irony of the list was that it came to be viewed as a secretive conspiracy, when in fact it was always a fractious and freewheeling conversation meant to open the closed relationship between a reporter and his source to a wider audience.

At the beginning, I set two rules for the membership. The first was the easy one: No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join. The second was the hard one: The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left. I didn’t like that rule, but I thought it necessary: There would be no free conversation in a forum where people had clear incentives to embarrass each other. A bipartisan list would be a more formal debating society. Plus, as Liz Mair notes, there were plenty of conservative list servs, and I knew of military list servs, and health-care policy list servs, and feminist list servs. Most of these projects limited membership to facilitate a particular sort of conversation. It didn’t strike me as a big deal to follow their example.

But over the years, Journolist grew, and as it grew, its relative exclusivity became more infamous, and its conversations became porous. The leaks never bothered me, though. What I didn’t expect was that a member of the list, or someone given access by a member of the list, would trawl through the archives to assemble a dossier of quotes from one particular member and then release them to an interested media outlet to embarrass him. But that’s what happened to David Weigel. Private e-mails were twisted into a public story.

[…]

It was ironic, in a way, that it would be the Daily Caller that published e-mails from Journolist. A few weeks ago, its editor, Tucker Carlson, asked if he could join the list. After asking other members, I said no, that the rules had worked so far to protect people, and the members weren’t comfortable changing them. He tried to change my mind, and I offered, instead, to partner with Carlson to start a bipartisan list serv. That didn’t interest him.

In any case, Journolist is done now. I’ll delete the group soon after this post goes live. That’s not because Journolist was a bad idea, or anyone on it did anything wrong. It was a wonderful, chaotic, educational discussion. I’m proud of having started it, grateful to have participated in it, and I have no doubt that someone else will re-form it, with many of the same members, and keep it going. Hopefully, it will lose some of its mystique in the process, and be understood more for what it is: One of many e-mail lists where people talk about things they’re interested in. But insofar as the current version of Journolist has seen its archives become a weapon, and insofar as people’s careers are now at stake, it has to die.

As for Dave, I’m heartbroken that he resigned from The Post. Dave is an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend. When this is done, there will be a different name on his paychecks, but he will still be an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend.

James Joyner:

It’s a shame that Dave, who most agree is a rising star, had to pay such a high price for some indiscreet emails, especially since a fellow journalist violated his confidentiality.   One suspects, and I certainly hope, that he’ll land on his feet soon.  My guess is that Reason or the Washington Independent, both of which are much more openly ideological publications than WaPo, will happily take him back.

You know who would be a good replacement for him at the Right Now blog?  David Petraeus.

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez at Megan McArdle’s place

Philip Klein at The American Spectator

Tyler Cowen

James Wolcott

Foster Kamer at The Village Voice

Weigel himself at Big Government

Greg Sargent responds to Goldberg

Goldberg responds to Sargent

Matt Welch at Reason

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

UPDATE #2: Greg Marx at Columbia Journalism Review

Andy Barr at Politico

UPDATE #3: David Carr at NYT

Matthew Yglesias

Digby

UPDATE #4: Weigel in Esquire

Charles Johnson at LGF

3 Comments

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The Decline And Fall Or Turn The Lights Down Real Low

Michael Auslin at American Enterprise Institute:

Decisions by the governments of Japan and Great Britain and the passage of the bankrupting health care bill in the US spell the coming end of America’s overseas basing and ability to project power. Should these trends continue, the US military will lose its European and Asian strategic anchors, hastening America’s eventual withdrawal from its global commitments and leaving the world a far more uncertain and unstable place.

The first strike comes from Asia. For the past six months, the new government of Japan has sought to revise a 2006 agreement to relocate a Marine Corps Air Station from one part of Okinawa to a less populated area.

Though the agreement was reached only after a decade of intense negotiations and with Democratic and Republican Administrations alike, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government has instead suggested numerous alternative sites for the base, most of which were rejected during the previous negotiations and none of which would allow the same type of training and operations necessary for the Marine Corps’ air wing.

Now, American officials are privately wondering whether the ruling Democratic Party of Japan wants to allow the US the same level of access to bases in Japan, without which America would be incapable of providing regional security guarantees and serving as a force for stability in Asia amidst the growth of China’s military capacity and North Korea’s continuing nuclear developments. Indeed, the former head of the Democratic Party of Japan has publicly mused whether the US 7th Fleet is sufficient for alliance purposes, thus raising the specter of the withdrawal of US Marines and Air Force from Japan.

On the other side of the globe, a special House of Commons foreign affairs committee this week has concluded that Great Britain must learn to say no to Washington and exercise more independence, or risk further harm to the UK’s image abroad. Most worrying, the committee recommends a “comprehensive review” of current arrangements for the U.S. use of British military facilities at home and abroad, singling out such strategically crucial bases as Diego Garcia.

Reacting to reports of the CIA’s use of such bases for rendition purposes in the war on terror, the committee is calling on the government to drop the term “special relationship” to describe the US-UK bond and to more realistically recognize the “ever-evolving” nature of the relationship, which observers can safely interpret as putting greater distance between Whitehall and the White House.

The final strike in this geopolitical puzzle comes from Washington, D.C., where both Republican- and Democratic-run governments have blown up America’s budget to unsustainable levels, all but ensuring that US defense budgets will decline in coming years.

Greg Scoblete:

So who is guilty of moral weakness and short-sightedness: the Japanese, the British, or the Americans? All of the above?

It’s one thing to worry if the U.S. was unilaterally unplugging itself from alliances over the objections of its partners, but at least in the cases Auslin cites, that’s not the issue. The U.S. is harranging Japan to keep the base deal on track, while a democratically elected government, responding to the desire of its people, is objecting. In Britain, neither the current Labour government nor David Cameron’s Tories are talking about seriously undermining strategic ties with the United States.

Auslin sites the success of a 60 year American strategy to keep the peace globally, but isn’t this the fruits of such peace? Independent-yet-friendly democracies seeking a little more freedom of movement seems to me a far cry from countries seeking “non-aligned” status or worse, becoming clients of a competitive power.

Furthermore, I’m not sure why Auslin would suggest that “foreign governments will expand their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies in order to fund their own military expansions.” As Auslin notes, the U.S. is able to fund a globe-spanning military without undue burden, surely these other large economies can fund militaries sufficient to meet their (less grandiose) security needs.

I do agree with Auslin that we’re looking at a potentially less stable international environment, but that’s mostly due to the rise of China and more powerful states in Asia. And China is rising regardless of the percentage of GDP we allot to defense and entitlements. If defense analysts think this is going to overturn the peaceful workings of global trade, then it seems to me they should spend more of their time arguing against nation building in the hinterlands of land-locked Afghanistan than on health-care. The former pulls resources directly away from the mission of militarily containing China (unless providing security so that Chinese mining concerns in Afghanistan can reap billions in profit is a super-sophisticated form of stealth containment), while the later exterts a longer-term budget strain which may or may not impact defense outlays.

And while those who believe in “global fraternity” are surely romantics, I would argue that those who believe in a durable global hegemony are equally starry eyed.

Daniel Larison:

What provoked this vision of the “dimming of our age”? The British Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s report pronouncing the “special relationship” dead and the continued resistance by the DPJ government in Japan to the location of a Marine air station in Okinawa. Oh, and health care. It is telling that the foreign examples Auslin provides are the results of national backlashes against perceived excessive identification with or dependence on U.S. power. Britain walked in lockstep with the United States before and during the war in Iraq, and it was badly burned by the experience. Japan has tolerated a continued military presence on Okinawa despite a history of abuses suffered by the civilian population. Some of our best allies feel used or put-upon, and their complaints stem from precisely the sort of overbearing hegemonist attitude that tends to treat many of our allies more like satrapies rather than treating them as sovereign, independent states with their own interests.

So some of the countries that theoretically benefit most from the American ability to “to uphold peace and intervene around the globe” want to adjust their relationships with the U.S. so that their national interests are better served. Britain and Japan are not proposing to scrap their alliances with America, nor are they necessarily declaring their opposition to America’s active role in their parts of the world, but they do seem to be saying that they should give more thought to how often their security and foreign policies line up closely with our own. Instead of taking advantage of the potential for increased burden-sharing these moves represent and instead of encouraging allies to tap into their own resources to provide for their defense, we hear laments foretelling the “dimming of our age.”

As for the so-called “romantic belief in global fraternity,” which very few people actually hold, there have been no greater romantics than the idealists who have deluded themselves and many of us that the interests of the rest of the world and the interests of the United States frequently converge. American hegemonists have been fairly certain that democratization and globalization advance American power, and so they have tried to encourage both on the unfounded assumptions that economic interdependence and democracy will tend to prevent conflict and will lead other governments to align with Washington. As both emerging-market democracies and long-established industrialized democratic powers have been showing us in recent years, neither democratization nor globalization magnifies American power, but instead has tended to create more increasingly powerful centers of resistance to Washington’s policies. In a way, that is a credit to past successes of U.S. policy: American power provided the protection and shelter to permit war-ravaged nations to rebuild and become capable of providing for their own needs and defense. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave us the chance to end our abnormal and untraditional global role, and Washington failed to seize the opportunity. We are now at a point when we can still disentangle ourselves from many places around the world largely on our own terms and when we can shift the burdens for regional security to the regional powers and institutions that are capable of taking them up, but there seems to be no political will and no imagination needed to make this happen.

Reihan Salam:

As a critic of cosmopolitanism, it’s very possible that Larison wouldn’t see the end of what we might call the Second Globalization Era, after the First Globalization Era that stretched from the late nineteenth century through the Great Depression, as a great tragedy.

But for those of us who believe that global trade flows, the free flow of capital, relatively free migration, and market-friendly governments are a good thing, Auslin raises an important question, namely whether the fact that much of metropolitan Europe and East Asia “free-rides” on American military power creates benefits that outweigh the costs. Perhaps the security competition that would result from a U.S. grand strategy that focused on offshore balancing rather than the more active and interventionist posture of the present would prove manageable. Military budgets would swell slightly, but new collective security arrangements would emerge to keep the peace at reasonable costs. Or perhaps the security competition would spark dangerous spirals of aggression and counter-aggression. It’s difficult to tell, though I tend to think that the former scenario is somewhat more likely.

Let’s assume a middle series projection in which military budgets do indeed increase, and, as Auslin suggests, states pursue more activist economic policies — including aggressive capital controls and migration controls — to finance this military expansion. Is this a friendlier world for classical liberals than one in which the benevolent global hegemony of the U.S. persists, or rather efforts to extend BGH persist?

Again, I’m not sure. I do think that such a world would prove somewhat less prosperous and more dangerous at the margin, though I can also imagine a comparatively freer United States flourishing in this environment. So really, much depends on your preferences and how you weigh American lives relative to the lives of foreigners in the regions where conflicts might intensify. Alternatively, much depends on how you weigh the relative risks. The status quo, as Larison would remind us, is far from risk-free.

Larison responds later:

One of the reasons I didn’t originally address these concerns is that I don’t find these to be the likely consequences of China’s continued rise, Russian resurgence in its own neighborhood and Iranian membership in the nuclear club. Why will global trade flows be stressed? China is heavily dependent on its export trade to sustain economic growth at home. It has no incentive to disrupt or “stress” trade flows or to embark on policies abroad that would lead to this. At present we see increasing economic integration of Taiwan with the mainland, and the Hatoyama government has held out the possibility, however remote it is at the moment, of forming an East Asian economic community modeled on the European Union. China is investing in (and exploiting) markets all over the world in states where Western companies typically do not go or where they are not allowed to go. So why will the free flow of capital be constrained if China continues to increase its military power? Are we not instead seeing increased trade carried out by and among the BRIC nations? Aren’t emerging-market countries, including China, engaging in noticeable economic innovation?

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

I’m with Mr Larison here. I’ve written on this before, but I’ll say it again: “the fact that much of metropolitan Europe and East Asia ‘free-rides’ on American military power”, as Mr Salam puts it, seems to me to be a non-fact. Which countries in East Asia does Mr Salam believe spend too little on their own defence? South Korea, with 600,000 men under arms, currently ramping spending up to 3% of GDP despite declining North Korean capabilities? Taiwan, which has also raised defence spending to 3% of GDP and just finished buying $6 billion worth of arms from America? How much need Thailand spend to ensure victory in its border dispute with Cambodia? What is the threat to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, or (apart from tussles with China over undersea mineral rights in the Yellow Sea) Japan? True, Vietnam is buying Russian submarines with a view to denying Chinese superiority in the South China Sea. And perhaps the Philippines could stand to beef up its military to put down insurgents in Mindanao. But what do either of these have to do with “free-riding on American military power”?

The claim fails for the same reasons with regard to Europe: 1. The major European powers spend a healthy 2%-plus of GDP on defence, and 2. No major European country faces any serious military threat. In fact, I don’t believe the phrase “free-riding on American military power” describes any actual countries in the world in the year 2010.

This is not to say that rising Chinese power will not lead to rising defence expenditures on the part of other regional countries in coming years. But even here, I’m baffled by Mr Auslin’s call for more American defence spending for fear that otherwise “foreign governments will expand their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies in order to fund their own military expansions.” Assume this were true, and that you are the sort of person who thinks of laws and taxes in terms of “governments expanding their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies.” Why in that case would it be a good idea for America’s government to expand its regulatory and confiscatory powers against its domestic economy, in order to forestall other countries from doing so? Or does Mr Auslin think that other countries’ militaries are funded by taxes, while America’s is funded by magic?

More Larison:

It is the lack of serious threats that needs to be emphasized. Suppose that Russia becomes even more assertive in post-Soviet space. Is this going to trigger a significant European arms build-up? It seems unlikely. It is European governments that have been consistently trying to block moves that would appear provocative to Russia. The Germans in particular are far more interested in building a constructive trading relationship with Russia than they are interested in feuding over political influence on Russia’s periphery. In the last decade, Washington has not been providing protection against a growing Russian threat to Europe, but has instead been trying to goad Russia with continued NATO expansion that most other members of NATO didn’t want and refused to accept. On the whole, American hawks have made a habit of perceiving threats to Europe that most Europeans do not see. Then they congratulate the U.S. for shielding Europe from these threats, marvel at European weakness in the face of said threats, and demand European gratitude and deference to U.S. initiatives on account of the protection we provide. This tends to color hawks’ views of everything else.

We see this again with the fear of an Iranian bomb. Most of the other major and rising powers in the region do not regard Iran’s nuclear program as a problem, much less a threat, and even important U.S. allies such as Turkey and India are far more interested in trade with Iran than they are in isolating or punishing it for a program Iran is actually entitled to have. On the whole, Iran’s neighbors do not see why the region should be subjected to another destabilizing conflict that has no realistic chance of halting Iran’s nuclear program in any case.

From the American perspective, it would seem to make fiscal and strategic sense to encourage allies to assume additional responsibilities for regional security. Auslin exaggerated the extent to which America was “hollowing out” its military capabilities, but Americans should welcome the prospect of wealthy allies providing for even more of their own defense. How and when allied states choose to do this will largely be up to them, but it should not be regarded as a calamity for them or the U.S. when it happens. Greater allied burden-sharing will reduce or eliminate the need for American military presence in many parts of the world, and that could help to trim the budget and it could help to keep the U.S. out of long, expensive military campaigns.

Salam responds to Steinglass:

Sigh.

Note that I put “free-riding” is scare quotes. That, of course, is a subtlety that’s easy to miss. I was suggesting that free-riding isn’t the perfect term, but it is useful. Given the way Steinglass approaches issues relating to health systems, public finances, etc., I can’t be too surprised by his reaction. But I am disappointed.

Do I believe that European and East Asian countries are spending “too little” on defense? No, I don’t. I’m not sure if that’s a meaningful concept. Military expenditures are a kind of self-insurance against an anarchic international environment. Choosing the “right” level of self-insurance is a thorny question that doesn’t have a clear answer. This is an environment with more than one imaginable equilibrium. The idea that a state can spend the right amount reflects a planner’s delusion. I tend to think that there is a complex political economy story behind the size of our defense budget. If we ran our defense budget like a lean multinational firm, it would look very different. Political and security imperatives play a big role, as do the PR and lobbying arms of for-profit firms.

The notion that there is free-riding going on doesn’t imply that it’s necessarily a bad thing: this is a core premise advanced by William Wohlforth and others who believe in “the stability of a unipolar world.” “Free-riding” in this vein is a feature, not a bug.

Many of these countries could spend less, e.g., if they consolidated domestic defense industries, outsourced more military functions, etc. I am suggesting that, in the absence of U.S. security guarantees, many of them might be inclined to spend more, not least because of the security competition that might emerge in this counterfactual world. How odd to imagine that U.S. security guarantees could evaporate and have zero effect on the global security environment, and the emergence of threats. This is a very strong version of the William Appleman Williams thesis recently revived by Andrew Bacevich. I’m not sure that Bacevich would believe that an offshore balancing strategy on the part of the U.S. would have zero effect on the global security environment. But who knows? My guess is that it could (a) improve it or (b) make it worse, and that in either case it would do so unevenly. That is, even in a more secure post-American world, some countries would perceive elevated security risks.

UPDATE: Michael Auslin responds

Larison responds

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You Already Know The Words To That Old Janis Joplin Song

David Boaz at Reason:

For many libertarians, “the road to serfdom” is not just the title of a great book but also the window through which they see the world. We’re losing our freedom, year after year, they think. They (we) quote Thomas Jefferson: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” We read books with titles like Freedom in Chains, Lost Rights, The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans, and yes, The Road to Serfdom.

The Cato Institute’s boilerplate description of itself used to include the line, “Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded.” Until Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn’t seem quite that way to black people.

And he was right. American public policy has changed in many ways since the American Revolution, sometimes in a libertarian direction, sometimes not.

[…]

Has there ever been a golden age of liberty? No, and there never will be. There will always be people who want to live their lives in peace, and there will always be people who want to exploit them or impose their own ideas on others. If we look at the long term—from a past that includes despotism, feudalism, absolutism, fascism, and communism—we’re clearly better off. When we look at our own country’s history—contrasting 2010 with 1776 or 1910 or 1950 or whatever—the story is less clear. We suffer under a lot of regulations and restrictions that our ancestors didn’t face.

But in 1776 black Americans were held in chattel slavery, and married women had no legal existence except as agents of their husbands. In 1910 and even 1950, blacks still suffered under the legal bonds of Jim Crow—and we all faced confiscatory tax rates throughout the postwar period.

I am particularly struck by libertarians and conservatives who celebrate the freedom of early America, and deplore our decline from those halcyon days, without bothering to mention the existence of slavery. Take R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., longtime editor of the American Spectator. In Policy Review (Summer 1987, not online), he wrote:

Let us flee to a favored utopia. For me that would be the late 18th Century but with air conditioning….With both feet firmly planted on the soil of my American domain, and young American flag fluttering above, tobacco in the field, I would relish the freedom.

I take it Mr. Tyrrell dreams of being a slave-owner. Because as he certainly knows, most of the people in those tobacco fields were slaves.

Take a more recent example, from a libertarian. Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation writes about the decline of freedom in America:

First of all, let’s talk about the economic system that existed in the United States from the inception of the nation to the latter part of the 19th century. The principles are simple to enumerate: No income taxation (except during the Civil War), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, economic regulations, licensure laws, drug laws, immigration controls, or coercive transfer programs, such as farm subsidies and education grants.

There was no federal department of labor, agriculture, commerce, education, energy, health and human services, or homeland security.

Then he writes:

Why did early Americans consider themselves free? The answer is rooted in the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. As Thomas Jefferson observed in that document, people have been endowed by their Creator with certain fundamental and inherent rights. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But wait. Did “early Americans consider themselves free”? White Americans probably did. But what about black Americans, and especially the 90 percent of black Americans who were slaves? Slaves made up about 19 percent of the American population from 1790 to 1810, dropping to 14 percent by 1860. (In that period the number of slaves grew from 700,000 to about 4 million, but the rest of the population was growing even more rapidly.) Did Mr. Hornberger really forget that 4 million Americans were held in bondage when he waxed eloquent about how free America was until the late 19th century? I know he isn’t indifferent to the crime of slavery. But too many of us who extol the Founders and deplore the growth of the American state forget that that state held millions of people in chains. (I note that I’m not concerned here with self-proclaimed libertarians who join neo-Confederate organizations or claim that southerners established a new country and fought a devastating war for some reason other than the slavery on which their social and economic system rested; I just want to address libertarians who hate slavery but seem to overlook its magnitude in their historical analysis.)

Will Wilkinson:

What Boaz calls “thoughtless and ahistorical exhortations of our glorious libertarian past” is a central element of the fusionist conception of traditional American identity. But it’s just wrong. I call the syndrome of questionable conservative cultural assumptions and habits of thought that continue to pervade the libertarian movement the “fusionist hangover.” I say it’s time to sober up.

Eugene Volokh

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway:

Does that mean that the infringements of liberty and encroachment of the state that we see today is acceptable ? Of course not, but it does mean that we need to recognize that the idyllic American past never really existed and that the fight for liberty is a fight for the future, not the dead past.

Roy Edroso:

at Reason David Boaz suggests (albeit gently) that maybe America wasn’t more free, in the way libertarians like to think about it, back when it was full of slaves. The Perfesser reads Boaz’ piece, and is much more concerned with the tragic loss of American liberties under Jimmy Carter.

Also funny: the Hit & Run commenters to the story. I especially liked the guy who says the Donner Party was “perfectly libertarian” because “they were free to make a bad decision, made it, and suffered the consequences.” I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Mori Dinauer at Tapped:

Boaz points out the obvious omissions to this false nostalgia, women and slaves, and wisely asks of his fellow libertarians to have a little historical perspective: “Libertarians have not opposed those appeals for freedom, but too often we (or our forebears) paid too little attention to them. And one of the ways we do that is by saying ‘Americans used to be free, but now we’re not’ — which is a historical argument that doesn’t ring true to an awful lot of Jewish, black, female, and gay Americans.” It’s all well and good to have a conversation about whether taxation and the federal bureaucracy are infringing on freedom. But compared to the struggle to simply gain equal recognition as human beings — there’s simply no contest.

Jacob Hornberger at Reason:

Boaz raises another point that needs addressing: He attempts to diminish the significance of what our American forebears achieved.

It is true that the principles of liberty on which our ancestors founded the U.S. government were not applied to everyone, especially slaves; and there were, of course, other exceptions and infringements on freedom, such as tariffs and denying women the right to vote.

But should those exceptions and infringements prevent us from appreciating and honoring the fact that our ancestors brought into existence the freest, most prosperous, and most charitable society in history?

I don’t think so. I believe that it is impossible to overstate the significance of what our American ancestors accomplished in terms of a free society.

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Will Wilkinson responds:

Nope. Sorry.

How about the female half of the population? By 1880 coverture laws, which basically denied married women any meaningful property rights, were still in place in many states. (Coverture laws persisted in some states until the 1920s.) And there were  plenty of further paternalistic regulations on the sort of work women were allowed to undertake. Of course, women in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.

Slavery was gone in 1880, but systematic state-enforced racial apartheid was going strong. The economic and political rights of blacks were severely curtailed under the various antebellum state Black Codes and then under the Jim Crow laws. What formal rights Southern blacks did have were often denied in fact by extralegal enforcement of racist norms by lynch mobs and other campaigns of terror.

By 1880, most of the the U.S.’s imperialist efforts to secure North American territory against the claims of competing European imperial powers were complete. But the government’s campaign of murder, theft, and segregation against native populations continued.

One could go on and on in this vein in gruesome detail. But this is enough to establish the point: 1880’s America was a society in which well more than half the population was systematically and often brutally denied basic liberty rights. If that’s golden, I’d hate to see bronze.

It’s just plain wrongheaded to cast the libertarian project as the project of restoring lost liberties. Most people never had the liberties backward-looking libertarians would like to restore. I know the rhetoric of restoration can be very seductive, especially in a country unusually full (for a wealthy liberal democracy) of patriotic traditionalists. But restoration is a conservative project and liberty is a fundamentally progressive cause.

Boaz responds at Cato:

I am a great admirer of the Founders, as I write on many occasions. When I talk about the progress we’ve made in expanding freedom for blacks, women, gays, and other once-excluded groups of people, I often say that we have “extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to more and more people.” I love and respect those promises, I appreciate the extent to which the Founders made good on them immediately, and I am glad that they have indeed been extended.

I share Hornberger’s commitment to a world with no income tax, no alphabet soup agencies, no central banking, no drug laws, and so on. I’m just not sure that the world of 1880 — much less the world of 1850 — is actually more free, on balance, for Americans as a whole, than today’s world. But that’s a reasonable argument, and I am happy to engage Hornberger and others in it.

Of course, the world is full of unreasonable arguments, too. In case anyone’s been reading some of them in the Reason comments or elsewhere on the Web, let me make just a few comments: I did not “attack” or “malign” Jacob Hornberger; I criticized an article he wrote. In fact, I took pains to call him one of the “libertarians who hate slavery” in distinction to some self-styled libertarians who sound like neo-Confederates. I did not say that “we have to accept” the Civil War, anti-discrimination laws, the income tax, or anything else as the price of abolishing slavery; I just said that we shouldn’t overlook the crime of slavery when we write paeans to 19th-century freedom, and that on the whole we may very well be freer today than in antebellum America. I did not say that “it was necessary to reduce everyone’s freedom drastically before we can morally allow anyone to have more freedom than another.” Here’s a tip: If you’re shocked by what someone says my article said, please read the article.

OK, that’s all for this topic. I have a D.C. power-elite meeting to go to, and then a Georgetown cocktail party.

Arnold Kling:

I would rather live with the group-status configurations that we have today than with those that prevailed in 1880. For that matter, I would rather live with the plumbing and dentistry that we have today than that which prevailed in 1880. But it’s a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back in the days of Jim Crow or women’s subservience. Just as it is a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back to using outhouses and having our teeth pulled without anesthetic.

If what you really, really care about are group-status issues, and you really, really think that those battles should be fought politically rather than culturally, and if you are really, really scared of where you think some older Americans stand on those group-status issues, then you can end up where Will Wilkinson is–deeply frightened of the Tea Party movement in spite of its libertarian focus. In that case, your plan is to slip something into the ruling intellectuals’ drink to make them amenable to your free-market seductions.

Wilkinson responds to Kling:

What I really, really care about is liberty. If the culture and the law denies liberty to some groups, then I think we ought to fight culturally and politically to win equal freedom for the members of those groups. If people have been denied liberty on the basis of group membership, caring about liberty then entails caring about the “group status issues” standing behind historical oppression.

I am not scared of the fact that older Americans are more racist, sexist, and homophobic that younger Americans. I regard this as a hopeful sign that historic inequalities in status and freedom are on their way out. And I’m not frightened of the Tea Party movement (which is not especially old.) In fact, I hope it helps deliver divided government by helping Republicans win a bunch of seats. I just don’t think it’s very substantively libertarian. It is a populist movement centered on a certain conservative conception of traditional American identity. Libertarian rhetoric is definitely part of that, but rhetoric is rhetoric.

By contrasting the Tea Party with “ruling intellectuals,” Arnold seems to recognize that it is as a populist movement, and he seems to prefer it for that reason. But, contrary to what Arnold implies, a distaste for conservative identity politics and a disinclination to see much real libertarian potential in the Tea Party does not leave the libertarian with no alternative but to “slip something into the ruling intellectuals’ drink to make them amenable to your free-market seductions.” One thing a libertarian might do is to publicly set forth persuasive arguments that over time shifts the balance of both elite and popular opinion. Why Arnold thinks that straightforward persuasion is possible only through some kind of subterfuge or seduction eludes me.

It is true, though, that you’re more likely to be taken seriously by “ruling intellectuals,” and lots of other people besides, if you acknowledge that the rights and liberties of women and historically persecuted minorities really do count. And rightly so. But I have the sense that Arnold thinks that this is not rightly so, and that a libertarian would only acknowledge this sort of “group status issue” strategically, as a way of sucking up to elites so that they will be more likely to listen to your free-market ideas. Please tell me I’m wrong Arnold.

John Holbo:

Obviously Kling and Hornberger could not have done a better job of proving Boaz’ original point. It’s tempting to accuse them of just not caring about liberty for anyone except white men. How else could they miss this stuff? But I doubt that’s it. (Anyway, aren’t they Jewish? It’s hard for me to imagine men named Kling and Hornberger seriously believe they, personally, would be made more free by being transported back to the late 19th Century.) It seems to me the most probable explanation of this truly bizarre blind spot – it really is bizarre and there’s no other word for it – is a sort of strange entrapment in the conservative ‘restoration’ narrative, but perhaps induced by Hayekian rather than conservative rhetoric. If the 20th Century was the Road To Serfdom, it can hardly have been a long march to increased freedom. If progressives and liberals are the authoritarian enemy, it can hardly be that their victories have, on the whole, made us more free. Since the 20th Century was when the bad stuff really got going, how can it NOT be appropriate to be thoroughly nostalgic for the 1880’s as a Lost Golden Age?

I guess I’ll leave it at that. Libertarians really ought to know better than to try to argue against the utterly obvious points Boaz made in that post. That’s just basic intellectual hygiene, surely.

Orestes Brownson at FrumForm:

Fair enough; one can easily see that ending slavery certainly ought to have been a libertarian end.  However, it was accomplished with stunningly anti-libertarian means (not that I’m complaining; I’m not a libertarian), and by a political coalition — the Republican coalition — that held no other libertarian ends.

Look, the Republican party was anti-free trade, for “corporate welfare” to railroads, for a national bank, for expansive executive powers, and wanted to use the federal government’s powers to ban marriages not between one man and one woman during the polygamy controversy.  Once the Civil War was over, they pretty much got what they wanted.

So, some liberties and alleged liberties went by the wayside, to create a greater liberty.  ”A new birth of freedom,” even.  But what I don’t see among a lot of libertarians today is the same willingness to make tactical compromises to accomplish their greater ends.

Mark Kleiman:

The main occupation of the U.S. Army between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Spanish-American war was “Indian fighting,” or, as we call it today, “ethnic cleansing.” Of course Wilkinson blames it all on “the government,” as if much of the work hadn’t been done by free individuals exercising their right to keep and bear arms in defense of the private property they were engaged in stealing.

But even if we look only at heterosexual males of European descent, and even if we agree to treasure such rights as the right to grow up without schooling and to be free of employment discrimination against eight-year-olds, the right to consume adulterated food and drugs, and the right to starve to death if incapacitated from earning a living by misfortune, disease, or old age, in one respect the 1880s were much less free than, say, the 1950s. In 1880 any attempt to form a labor union was treated by the courts as a criminal conspiracy. It was also likely to be met with extra-legal violence by the Pinkertons (and sometimes the national guard). Today, however, the right of workers to organize is an internationally-recognized human right (except in El Salvador and Libertarianland).

In practice, the right to unionize has been under siege from union-busing consultants, aided by capital mobility and a complaisant NLRB. But even post-Reagan, American workers remain free, in principle, to try to bargain collectively with their employers. This is not, of course, a right that libertarians cherish; Brink Lindsey lists the collapse of private-sector unions as a gain for liberty. But the utter helplessness of a railway worker, textile operator, or coal miner of the 1880s (who enjoyed, thanks the the “fellow sevant” doctrine, the right to be injured at work without receiving compensation) in the face of the tyranny of the boss and the foreman is not a condition to which all of us aspire to return.

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative:

Which model provides a better starting point? Should a libertarian prefer a decentralized republic along broadly Jeffersonian lines, but without slavery and government discrimination (though this may mean tolerating private discrimination) or a large and centralized rights-enforcing government akin to the New Deal state but with an emphasis on personal liberties instead of redistribution? And of these two models, is one more inclined than the other to decay into its illiberal form? That is, would slavery or segregation re-emerge in a restored Jeffersonian republic more readily than redistribution and other evils would arise in a purified New Deal state?

It seems to me that the tutelary ambit of the modern progressive state logically inclines toward providing for the basic material necessities of its wards as well as for the protection of their rights, and to ensure provision of needs and protection of rights a great educational apparatus may be desirable. The freedom of the tutelary state is the freedom of a free-range dairy cow: in exchange for care and protection, you pay your taxes and may frolic in the fields as much as you please. It’s a timid sort of freedom, but it is freedom of a kind.

An alternative based on the older American tradition, by contrast, need not logically lead to a slave-state; indeed, most of the Founders recognized that slavery was inconsistent with the principles of their system. That system, even in its most benign form, would not be purely libertarian, of course: there too state schools would be desired to inculcate proper values into republican citizens. Private discrimination would be permissible, and if states or localities adopted unfair or unjust laws, one would have little recourse to federal remedies. But you could move to a different jurisdiction more in keeping with your ideas of liberty. It’s an uneven but robust freedom.

This is what libertarians who laud the old America have in mind. Why slander them as being ignorant of slavery, when liberaltarians do not want to be slandered as social democrats? If the socio-political order that libertarians like Hornberger desire really does naturally incline toward the sorts of injustices Boaz names, then make that case and argue against the model on those grounds. But I don’t think Boaz even believes that, let alone that he can present a convincing argument for it. On the other hand, those who believe that the modern state naturally tilts toward social democracy or worse have frequently and cogently made their case –not least in that “great book” Boaz mentions in his first paragraph, The Road to Serfdom.

Jason Kuznicki at The League:

We can only think to ask such a question if we radically discount the experiences of nearly all other people in society. And this violates one of the fundamental formulations of libertarian political thought, the law of equal freedom:

Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

Language issues aside, under a standard like this, it’s impossible to justify, for example, the fact that marital rape was never a crime in the nineteenth century. Or that women surrendered all of their property, present and future, to their husbands at marriage. Or that women at marriage couldn’t have a legal place of residence separate from their husbands. Or that children were presumed in law to belong solely to the husband, and never to the wife. Or that (contra Bryan Caplan) contracts between husband and wife were typically invalid under law, so one couldn’t escape the shackles by contracting around them with a well-intentioned husband. Or that cohabitation without marriage — another attempt to escape the bind — was plain illegal. Or that divorce was exceptionally hard to obtain.

To put it bluntly, the white men of 1880 were for the most part brutes and tyrants. Even if they didn’t want to be, the law forced them. They either claimed, or had foisted upon them, all kinds of “freedoms” that intrinsically infringed on other people. And I’m not even talking about what they did to blacks in the South or Asians in the West, though I easily could.

I certainly wouldn’t want everyone today to be in the same position that white men had in 1880. Putting them there would require that we find some rather large population for them to personally oppress, to rape, to steal property from, and to hold in permanent thrall.

Neither slave nor master has any place at all in utopia.

Bryan Caplan:

I largely agree with David Boaz’s recent attack on libertarian nostaglia.  While many Americans were freer in the Gilded Age than they are today, plenty were not.  But precisely who belongs on the list of people who have more libertarian freedom in 2010 than they did in 1880?

Boaz mentions “Jews, blacks, women, and gay people.”  For blacks, his case is obvious and overwhelming: Slavery was finally over, but blacks still suffered from both Jim Crow and private racist brutality.  The case for gays is similarly strong: If you were openly gay in 1880, you probably would have been prosecuted under the sodomy laws – and lived in fear of private violence even if the law left you alone.  However, it’s hard to see why Jews belong on the “freer than they used to be” side of the ledger; 19th-century America not only had legal religious toleration, but as far as I’m aware, pogroms and other private anti-Semitic violence were virtually absent.

It’s when we get to women, though, that things get interesting.  Women are more than half the population.  If they’re freer today than they were in the Gilded Age, we can truly say that most people in America are freer today than they were before the rise of the welfare state.  On reflection, though, this is a very big if.

Without a doubt, women lived much harder lives in 1880 than they do today.  So did men.  In those days, almost everyone endured long hours of back-breaking toil.  But of course the standard libertarian take on this is that while freedom causes prosperity in the long-run, prosperity and freedom aren’t the same.

In what ways, then, were American women in 1880 less free than men?  Most non-libertarians will naturally answer that women couldn’t vote.  But from a libertarian point of view, voting is at most instrumentally valuable.  Will Wilkinson seems aware of this when he writes:

[W]omen in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.
Yet the fact that women were unable to vote in defense of their “basic liberty rights” doesn’t show that American political system denied them these rights.  Did it?

Caplan responds to critics. More Caplan and more Caplan. And even more Caplan

Will Wilkinson:

Kerry Howley sensibly suggests that we approach the question of how much “libertarian freedom” women enjoyed in the late 19th century by looking to see what a libertarian woman of that era had to say about it.

Kerry suggests this passage from Voltairine de Cleyre’s Sex Slavery (1890):

He beheld every married woman what she is, a bonded slave, who takes her master’s name, her master’s bread, her master’s commands, and serves her master’s passion; who passes through the ordeal of pregnancy and the throes of travail at his dictation, not at her desire; who can control no property, not even her own body, without his consent, and from whose straining arms the children she bears may be torn at his pleasure, or willed away while they are yet unborn.

I would not characterize this as an illustration of one form “libertarian freedom” might take. But Bryan Caplan might persist in arguing that women were in some sense free to opt out of this sort tyrannical arrangement. If de Cleyre could opt out, other women could as well, right? I don’t think it’s that easy. Bryan is unjustifiably ignoring the developmental prerequisites for autonomous or robustly voluntary choice. One way to deny an individual the ability to choose really freely is to raise her in a way that constantly cultivates and reinforces a set of preferences and expectations that fit comfortably within a social and legal order of paternalistic control and systematic inequality of status and rights.

One time-honored criticism of paternalism is that it infantilizes adults and leaves them unprepared to make wise choices on their own behalf, thereby reinforcing paternalistic laws and norms by making them seem necessary. I wonder if Bryan thinks this is an ineffective criticism of paternalism? I take it that he would be unwilling to endorse slavery even if slaves could be conditioned from childhood to consent to their chains?

John Holbo on Caplan:

Having made one non-libertarian-related post, I can now say, with a good conscience, that Bryan Caplan has responded to his critics. It is a wonder to behold.

I will make two notes. (No doubt you yourself will come to have your own favorite moments.) First, a lot of the trouble here obviously rotates around the issue of systematic social oppression. Caplan barrels straight through like so: “there’s a fundamental human right to non-violently pressure and refuse to associate with others.” That hardly speaks to real concerns about violence. But beyond that Caplan doesn’t notice that, even if he’s right about this fundamental human right, he’s no longer even defending the proposition that women were more free in the 1880’s, never mind successfully defending it. He’s defending the proposition that there is a fundamental right, which can be exercised, systematically, to make women much less free, that was better protected in the 1880’s. So if women value this libertarian right more than freedom, they might rationally prefer that sort of society. But even so, they should hardly regard themselves as more free, for enjoying this right. Rather, they should regard themselves as (rationally) sacrificing liberty, a lesser value, for love of libertarianism, a higher value and separate jar of pickles altogether

DJW at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

Tyler Cowen:

Bryan Caplan set off a debate which has spread to many corners of the blogosphere.  I have no interest in recapping and evaluating the whole thing but I’d like to make a simple but neglected point: negative liberty and positive liberty are not separable.

Here is one simple scenario.  Let’s say the government tells me I have to buy and place a five-foot ceramic grizzly bear statue on my front lawn.  How bad an act of coercion is that?  If I have an upper-middle class income, it’s an inconvenience and an aesthetic blight but no great tragedy.  If I have a Haitian per capita income, it is a very bad act of coercion and it will impinge on my life prospects severely.  I either give up some food or they send me to jail.

In other words, even theories of negative liberty — purely libertarian theories where only negative liberty seems to matter — require standards for degrees of coercion.  Those standards will very often depend on how much wealth the victims of the coercion have and they will depend on a more general concept of positive liberty.  Negative liberty standards can’t help but seep into a concern with consequences.

Fast forward to said debate.  When people are poor, apparently small interventions can be quite crushing and quite coercive.  To cite the “smaller” interventions of 1880 doesn’t much convince me.  The real impact of the depredations against women was very, very large, even from some “small interventions” (and I don’t think they were all small).

(Also, I would not in this case take the *legal* oppressions to be a stand-alone or exogenous variable, separable from more general societal attitudes.  There were various male desires to oppress women, which took a mix of legal and non-legal forms.  Asking how bad the “government-only” restrictions were is an odd division of the problem, since the governmental and non-governmental restrictions were an integrated package which worked together in non-linear fashion.)

Every negative liberty theorist is a positive liberty theorist in disguise and this comes out once they start citing degress of outrage, degrees of harm, degrees of coercion, and the like.

UPDATE: More Holbo

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