Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Go Pats! (and something on Libertarians)


I regret dropping that introductory philosophy course in college as I surmise we are descending into a rather classical argument about where the limits of individual rights and liberty end, and inter-individual responsibilities begin. Thomas Burke v Karl Marx maybe?

The element of the libertarian ideal (if I understand it correctly) that I have the most trouble with is that the individual's actions are somehow mystically disconnected from their consequences for others. If I, for instance employ a 10 year old to clean our toilets (an idea resurrected by the current Republican front runner for the Presidency), that 10 year old's welfare, health, longevity and future prospects are all affected. And no sane person would argue that a 10 year old ever has a choice in such matters should they be unfortunate enough to be compelled to clean toilets.

Or to use a less absurd, and much more controversial example, the individual mandate to purchase health insurance at the center of Obamacare so reviled by a majority of Americans represents an incontrovertible limitation upon individual economic liberty. Yet its absence allows anyone without insurance to impose the costs of their "liberty" upon the rest of us every time they present themselves to the healthcare system demanding  treatment. That event occurs thousands of times across the country every day. No ER may refuse to treat a patient.

I can of course think of an endless series of these annoying (and self serving) examples.  But summed together they reinforce my notion that we are all in this together, whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. Most Americans alas don't wan't to acknowlege it, as they continue to demand an ever growing array of government services. all the while refusing to pay for them.

As far as licensing (of doctors, hairdressers etc), that's a fascinating story on its own. It has been elegantly argued that licensing, by restricting competition, benefits those who hold the license as much or more than it protects the welfare of those who use the licensee's services. Your beloved sister and I are delighted to belong to highest paid profession in the land, but there is no rational reason I can think of that our salaries should be multiples of our counterparts in medicine across the  industrialized world. We are the fortunate participants in a system gamed for us. 

Sorry about your Broncos. As coach Fox pointed out, one can't be +3 against Brady and hope to prevail. Hope we see you again in Foxboro in the post season

Happy Holidays to you and yours 


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tebow!. And the Market.


I haven't forgotten this, but things interrupted.

"Kindly help me with one idea though. I don't get this notion of economic liberty. My son Jack, now six months out of college and looking for a job, knows he must work at some point if he is to have any kind of life. He is not free of that powerful constraint. For the folks in our cardiology practice the constraints of economic life even less room for any choice. So I hope you'll be patient and try again. From where I sit this idea of liberty seems restricted to those of us who can afford it"

The liberty I referred to was mostly from a consumer's perspective, but it applies equally well to employment. Your son Gabe is free to pursue any career he would like, except in cases were we, as a society, deliberately exclude him. For instance, no one can start up a cardiology practice without certain licenses. (Whether or not that is desirable is a completely different question). That is tremendous freedom. No one is telling him what to do, which in my lexicon, is freedom. Of course, prospective employers have the same freedom. So he, like all of us, face risks that the path we pursue will not be achievable. 

You make a curious point, "he must work at some point if he is to have any kind of life. He is not free of that powerful constraint." Well, of course not. But in any society, no matter the economic organization, he is not free of that constraint. Even at Walden's Pond, Thoureau had to work for his living. Fish did not magically jump into his fire, nor fruit and vegetables drop off the tree and march to his site. The question isn't that we have to work, the question is how we are going to manage the allocation of scarce resources and how we are going to the changing needs and demands of consumers. I personally think a command and control system has a long and unfortunate record of hurting people, particularly the poor and unpowerful. 

The other question is what do we as a society do for those who need help. My answer is as simple as yours. We help them.

Your cardiology partners (?) do face significant restraints. But we all do, from the day we are born. You may argue their constraints are greater than average. And they may be, but I think that is impossible to determine in the aggregate and can only be determined specifically. But again, we all have constraints. It is unlikely I would ever be able to join the NBA, or NFL as a player. That constraint has grown over time. So I misspoke by speaking of liberty without speaking of constraints as well.

One more thing.

Pats v Broncos today. Go Tebow.!