Are There Libertarians Who Worry About Corporate Power?

NYT has an incisive piece on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s feud with the legislature. Among other things, Scott has been criticized for abandoning the state’s planned prescription monitoring program, which he sees as Big Government intrusion into the private lives of citizens. About seven Floridians a day are dying of pharmaceutical overdose; this Peabody-winning documentary on the OxyContin Express is an unsparing look at the situation.

What I don’t get (and I mean that without any sarcasm — I literally do not understand) about politicians such as Governor Scott and his Tea Party allies is why they are only concerned about governmental incursions on freedom and not those that stem from the private sector. There is no question that government can deprive people of freedom, but certainly privately owned companies can and do the same. If we stopped all regulation of, for example, dumping chemicals into drinking water the private sector would gain freedom but everyone who drank the contaminated water and died would lose all freedom.

Does anyone know of a libertarian writer/thinker who takes the possiblity of private sector incursions on freedom as seriously as those wrought by government?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

64 thoughts on “Are There Libertarians Who Worry About Corporate Power?”

  1. It’s not that libertarians don’t take those incursions seriously–it’s that they don’t take seriously the idea that there can be non-forcible and non-fraudulent forms of coercion and constraint, and they think that markets are nearly-universally the best mechanisms for distributing resources, opportunities, and goods. Which is another way of saying that they take very seriously the private-sector incursions that these two positions don’t define out of existence.

  2. I’d add that we see a lot of problems with large corporations being enabled by large government. Regulatory capture, government and business cooperating to screw over creditors… But mainly, suppose you come across somebody bleeding to death from a torn femoral artery. What do you do, treat their shingles first?

  3. Given the daily mortality figures cited in the post, I’m not sure which way Brett’s analogy is supposed to, er, cut.

  4. What I don’t get is why they are only concerned about governmental incursions on freedom and not those that stem from the private sector.

    Gold fish.
    Bowl.
    The water they swim in.

    And that water/culture is “government is the problem.” Its been their mantra for so long…
    If instead the water/culture for the last 30 years had been “private sector incursions are the problem” then they’d chant differently.

    The consequences are really kind of funny…
    There are thousands of libertarians who have willfully entrusted Zuckerburg with sensitive life data.
    Would they give the same information willingly to a government site? No. The water they swim in tells them to trust the former and cast aspersion on the latter.
    Which just goes to show you what you already know: There is a zucker born every second and a Zuckerburg to fleece him….

    Keith,
    Goldfish are only as smart as the dirty water they swim in.
    Why should you expect libertarians to rise above their particular swamp of thoughts?

  5. Libertarians who have the time to write about public policy full time have large corporations as their paymasters, especially the worst corporations like big tobacco and big coal.

    It is a fringe ideology that few intelligent Americans really believe, but there is a lot of money out there for cynics and fringe zealots. And of course, in writing about public policy on the retainer of the Koch brothers (like the people at the Cato Institute and Reason Mag) you are going to be all in favor of letting the Koch brothers pollute the nation’s air and water as much as they please.

  6. Ayn Rand took medicare! Libertarians who become involved in public decision-making in the first place belie their beloved ideology! Hermits are the only pure libertarians out there (somewhere). ZZ’s observation rings relevant.

  7. “Does anyone know of a libertarian writer/thinker [with actual influence on today’s Republicans] who takes the possiblity of private sector incursions on freedom as seriously as those wrought by government?” No, no one does.

  8. The only interest libertarians have in regulatory capture is when corporate interests conflict. Regulatory capture is a key goal of libertarians in most contexts.

    Libertarianism, in practice, is an authoritarian philosophy designed to concentrate power in the hands of oligarchs. Government is the enemy to the extent that it might promote egalitarianism.

    Libertarians, as a wise man once said, are Republicans who want to be able to get stoned.

  9. Murray Rothbard? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Rothbard

    But of course, to cite Rothbard does not mean much, does it? I mean, his influence is…what? Although he was one of the founders of the Cato Institute, his anti-corporate position was quickly pushed out of the way, which is of course the way the world works. He also ended up hanging with two guys who strike me as rather soft about the subject of anti-Semitism, Lew Rockwell and Pat Buchanan–not a good place for nice Jewish boy from the Bronx to end up…:-)

    And what were his prescriptions in actually dealing with corporate power? Just get rid of the government of course.

    And of course, he died in 1995…

  10. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: “Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, or of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories, be confined to the owner of the property in question or to those who are willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. In such instances we must find some substitute for the regulation by the price mechanism. But the fact that we have to resort to the substitution of direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created, does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function.”

  11. I am often surprised how much time the writers here spend heaping disdain on “Libertarians” and “Libertarianism”.

    Seriously, why does “Libertarian” seem to be used by the writers here in the same way that many Republicans (including the “Tea Partiers”) use “Liberal” or “Socialist”?

  12. Bleeding Heart Libertarianism is one new, high-profile example.

    Brink Lindsey over at Reason Magazine suggests that the political ‘Right is wrong’ and that “Libertarians need to disengage from Republicans and conservatives once and for all.” Other regulars disagree.

    Roderick T Long and especially Kevin Carson are perennial and vehement libertarian sceptics of the proposition that modern corporate capitalism or its institutions resemble those of a free market in anything other than cant. They therefore often consider the question of whether typical oligarchic abuses are ‘statist’ or ‘private’ about as seriously as I might consider the question of whether you punched my nose with a Mickey Mouse sock puppet, a Donald Duck sock puppet, or your naked fist. This leads to a different perspective on what genuinely private behaviours are problematic, and how free people might deal with them.

    I am not half so prominent as any of the above, but I certainly object to both private and public infringements of freedom – and, what’s more, to non-coercive ones as well as coercive ones. Not as much, and not subject to the same defences; yet if somebody through perfectly legal and civil means is trying to sell some crappy bill of goods like – say – that women morally ought to defer to male leadership, then for me debunking it is as much a part of libertarianism as is defending Bill Seller’s right not to be arrested for talking crap in the first place.

  13. I know there are some libertarians who recognize that the limited-liability corporation is an artificial creation of the state, and would do away with such corporations. If every investor in a business knew that he or she could be personally on the hook for the torts of that business, it would tend to make companies more liability-averse and therefore more pollution-averse. Of course, in such an environment, it would be harder to raise capital for any enterprise, not just a polluting one.

  14. Seth,
    Hayek was not a libertarian. He didn’t want to be called a conservative either, although pre-Buckley conservatives were generally somewhat anti-corporate.

    Maurice,
    You nailed it. The ultra-libertarian mind finds “private power” an oxymoron. They do not understand how intermediating institutions can exist. A very few of them take issue with corporate charters and limited liability, but that’s about as good as you’re gonna get.

    Keith,
    The bloggers at Unqualified Offerings call themselves libertarians. I would call them Millian liberals–they’re too nuanced to be modern libertarians. But since they do call themselves libertarians, it’s worth pointing out that they do appreciate the existence of intermediating institutions, private power, and the like. And there are some modern libertarians who care more about personal liberty as they do about deregulation. You know the usual suspects, Julian Sanchez, Radley Balko, and the like.

  15. No Keith, because to admit that a corporation had the power to do bad things or create negative externalities would be to admit a place for government to regulate markets or correct these externalities. It is like arguing with snake handlers; why bother?

  16. “It is a fringe ideology that few intelligent Americans really believe,…”

    that is going to DESTROY LIFE AS WE KNOW IT! Otherwise, why spend so much time and energy on critiquing a fringe ideology.

    The left has more in common with libertarians than they do with conservatives, but they seem to hold libertarians in as great or greater disregard. The big difference between the left and libertarians is that the left sees government as a necessary good with a few evil aspects whereas libertarians see government as a necessary evil with with a good aspects.

  17. Suppose you come across somebody allegedly bleeding to death from a torn femoral artery as diagnosed by a charlatan, but who really merely has a torn hangnail. What do you do, treat their cancer first or the hangnail first?

  18. I find your not-understanding the motivations and worldview of Governor Rick Scott vastly more mysterious than the apparent blindspot of libertarian philosophers, regarding the threat private power poses to personal freedom. Forget the intellectual window-dressing of libertarian rhetoric for a moment, and focus on the worldview it represents, regarding opportunities for business success.

    If you are running a business, and you need to make more money in that business, what do you do? You increase revenues and cut costs. Your biggest cost is probably your payroll, so cutting wages probably looks like a good route. You’ve got to hold down wages, to ensure your own success as a businessman; it’s very much a zero-sum game on the ground, and you may well feel quite hostile to any among your employees, who resist. Sure, they can quit, and good riddance, but don’t they understand that their excessive demands could jeopardize their jobs?

    Experience as a business person will make many business people hostile to the interests of wage-earners.

    Success as a business person may well require a narrow focus on the needs and constraints facing a particular business. And, actual “success” may well be achieved by breaking unions, dominating and underpaying employees and evading the restraints of government regulation. The guy, whose chemical company, prospers and pays him a bonus, because they “saved money” by dumping toxic chemicals in the storm sewer does not, normally, develop a political penchant for supporting government public works projects, like sewers.

    Rick Scott’s business experience led him to appreciate the value of lying, cheating and fraud as a corporate business strategy. That’s a matter of public record. There’s no mystery about where he’s coming from, and it’s certainly not a college seminar in libertarian political philosophy. What may be more mysterious is why a majority of voters imagine such an authoritarian is a good candidate for Governor, although maybe that’s a problem of alternatives.

  19. If people were dying from OxyContin use because a corporation had told them it was aspirin, I would be the first to join you in excoriating said corporation. My understanding, however, is that they have usually taken it voluntarily, knowing full well what it was–and also that the latest research showed some pretty underwhelming results for prescription drug monitoring.

  20. I’m a progressive and a liberal, and I really do not have a problem with conservatives, traditionalists or, even, frank authoritarians, for the most part. I understand that my own point of view is just a point of view, a product of experience and temperament, a limited perspective and not the revealed Truth. Even if I’m inclined by temperament to want to try the new design, I recognize, in reality, with limited knowledge, there are trade-offs; on balance, sticking a while longer with what is known and proven — the conservative position — might be a wiser course than the progressive position, of moving ahead and bearing the costs of new mistakes. In political conflict with an honest conservative, I’d say that there’s a good chance that compromise policy might actually be superior to what either of us would choose, individually. Vested interests have legitimate claims, and High Principle can be mistaken or overreach.

    I am, by contrast, extremely hostile to conservative libertarianism. I think it is nothing more than PR for plutocracy, a thin rationalization for corporate predation, a rhetorical and philosophical framework for disguising reprehensible desiderata, and a set of rationalizations for irresponsible and destructive political strategies and tactics. It is a means of combining liberal sanctimoniousness about good intentions (“I’m for ‘freedom’ “) with a completely unrestrained authoritarian, even kleptocratic agenda. As in Gov Rick Scott’s case, the agenda is to further and expand the scam-economy, to build “economic growth” on pervasive corporate predation, fraud and pollution. There’s a lot of prattling on about the positive-sum game of free exchange in the absence of government, but, in reality, what that means, is a negative-sum game, which happens to benefit one party in vast disproportion. Free market exchange, in the absence of effective government, predictably enough becomes highway robbery and, then, neo-feudalism. To engage in political compromise with these zombies is to invite in the wrecking crew.

  21. Megan,
    Would you sell some poison to a suicidal person, who wishes to ingest the poison voluntarily, knowing full well what it was? (Since we’re on moral discourse mode here, let’s assume away any laws against assisted suicide.)
    Next step: how much of a marketing budget are you willing to devote to such sales? (Let’s assume that such sales are lucrative.) A lobbying budget?
    Final step: Put yourself in the position of a dependent child of said suicidal person.

  22. Well, Libertarianism a-la-Nozick is a moral philosophy holding that an outcome is morally justified if and only if it results from free uncoerced action. Government regularly employs coercion through taxation and other rules and regulations, and these are deemed immoral. Business does not have this kind of power, and is therefore unlikely to violate Libertarian morality.

    I am not sure what percentage of the people offering up Libertarian views in politics are honest, but honest Libertarians exist, and some of them are smart and thoughtful people.

    Also, there is no reason why Libertarians should lack compassion to the poor and needy. Some may, but others do not. Compassionate Libertarians would object to government enforced redistribution, but they would encourage private charity. Social Darwinism and other such vile ideas have nothing to do with (honest) Libertarianism.

  23. Also, dumping dangerous chemicals is imposing harm on others who did not freely choose to accept this harm. It is therefore unambiguously immoral from a Libertarian perspective.

    Of course, government regulation to prevent this may do so at the cost of limiting people’s freedom. A Libertarian would take this cost seriously, would make every effort to select the least intrusive intervention, and would accept it only if the limitation to freedom that it imposes is less than the damage it alleviates. But at the end he or she may well opt for such legislation.

    Libertarians may also be sensitive to externalities. Consider a worker knowingly accepting the risk of injury for higher pay. This is, in principle, OK, but in a welfare state the injured worker would become a liability on the taxpayer. The transaction therefore involves the taxpayer as a third party who did not accede to the contract, and is therefore immoral. This was, by the way, the situation with AIG selling credit default swaps, and similar transactions, which are immoral precisely because they damage third parties, including taxpayers.

  24. Guy,
    I don’t quite follow on the damage-to-the-taxpayers externalities. I thought that taxpayers wouldn’t be harmed by externalities in a libertarian state, because such a state would have no mandatory workers’ comp or bailouts. Am I missing something?

  25. Megan: On the effectiveness of prescription monitoring programs, I am going to assume that you believe, as I do, in the collective judgment expressed through aggregate consumer behavior in markets. From that point of view, the fact that drug addicted people in Kentucky, West Virginia and other states with prescription monitoring programs are willing to endure the travel and time costs of going to Florida, which has no such monitoring program, to purchase their desired product is informative, is it not?.

    mitchell, Gray and others: Thank you for the specific sources to consult — I will look at them, this is an area of extreme ignorance for me and I appreciate the leads.

  26. Guy,

    an outcome is morally justified if and only if it results from free uncoerced action.

    The word “uncoerced” is doing a lot of work there. Is an addict who takes a physically harmful drug engaging in “uncoerced” action?

    Is there any way, other than by unanimous agreement, for a community of any size to set up a system of taxation for common purposes, or even rules for things like public health and safety?

  27. What I don’t get . . . about politicians such as Governor Scott and his Tea Party allies is why they are only concerned about governmental incursions on freedom and not those that stem from the private sector.

    It’s been said in various forms upthread, but you really are giving them a lot of credit for actually being concerned, as opposed to simply using “freedom” as a rhetorical cudgel to beat on their political opponents. Since businesses are not their political opponents, they are not concerned with what businesses do.

  28. Scrooge, you are right that an ideal Libertarian state would not have taxpayer externalities, certainly in the worker example. My point was that in the real world in which there are welfare payments there is a purely Libertarian argument for protecting people against there own actions (as opposed to the more standard paternalistic argument).

    Bernard Yomtov, you are right that the word “uncoerced” does an awful lot of work. But then no moral system gives you clear cut answers in all situations. You always need to exercise judgment, and different people who in principle accept the same ideas may nonetheless disagree in particular situations.

    Libertarians should have no problem with taxation if there is unanimous agreement. Also, some public services can easily be offered only to the people who want them (e.g. private health insurance). Where there is a real problem is that some services cannot be so offered. For example, if you have police on the streets then everyone benefits, so you are bound to have free-riders who choose not to pay for police, but nonetheless benefit from it.

  29. Guy,

    if you have police on the streets then everyone benefits, so you are bound to have free-riders who choose not to pay for police, but nonetheless benefit from it.

    So aren’t they then stealing from those who do pay? So it looks like you run into what libertarians would consider rights violations whether you impose taxes through some non-unanimous system or not.

    Above you talk about workers taking on hazardous jobs for a wage premium. But that assumes a lot: that they know and understand the risks, and have reasonable alternatives. If not, there really is no reason they should be able to command extra pay, or decide if they are willing to take the risk. In that case they can accurately be said to be coerced by the employer in the sense that the alternative to doing what the employer wants is very unpleasant. That is what coercion means after all, unless you limit it to the use of physical force.

  30. Guy,
    Gotcha. Your line of discourse often figures in motorcycle helmet laws:

    LARGE BEARDED LIBERTARIAN: I’ve got a right not to wear a helmet.
    SCRAWNIER TAXPAYING LIBERTARIAN: Fine by me. As long as you agree to die by the side of the roadway if you don’t have adequate insurance.

  31. Bernard Yomtov,

    Your argument about stealing may be used as a Libertarian justification for taxation with unanimous consent, though obviously only in limited circumstances. Once you consider real-world issues the distance between thoughtful Libertarians and Liberals is not quite as big as it may initially appear.

    I don’t agree though with your view of the worker’s situation. If the worker has few other choices then he may be poor, or lacking in capacity (in the sense of Sen), but I wouldn’t say he is coerced. Personally I don’t like the paternalistic argument that taking up the job cannot be to the worker’s benefit, and that is should therefore be forbidden. I do accept though the argument that no person in a civilized society should be in a position that he has so few choices, and that the government is justified in using taxation to rectify this situation. But a Libertarian would say that it is simply not the role of government to even consider such questions (though it may be a case for private charity).

  32. I’m a libertarian, and I worry about corporate power, but I am even more worried about the collusion of corporations and government. One of the virtues of a competitive marketplace is the discipline it imposes on corporate power. Consumers and workers have greater ability to go elsewhere if they don’t like how a corporation acts, but it’s much harder to free oneself of an oppressive government policy.

    The problem with governmental interventions to curb corporate power is that all too often it is corporate power that ends up controlling the government, and the more power government has, the more corporations will be willing to invest to influence how government acts. It’s bad enough when corporations are irresponsible and this results in various problems, such as environmental pollution, but even worse when the government subsidizes such harm or immunizes corporations from liability. It’s bad enough if corporations have market power in a given sector of the economy, but even worse when they use government regulations to cartelize an industry and suppress competition. And so on.

    JHA

  33. Guy: an outcome is morally justified if and only if it results from free uncoerced action

    This seems like a variant on the central, cheap trick of libertarian reasoning: a counterfactual null. Coercion is always a strategic option. It is only by institutionalizing the threat of coercion in government, that we can achieve any thing like a residual “free uncoerced action” among non-governmental agents. It is a fundamental failure of analysis not to see that.

    It seems to me that libertarianism is nothing more than an elaborate hypnotic trance induction, followed by a series of logically incoherent suggestions to the unconscious in favor of the very rich and very powerful. That that is what Koch and Company pay for isn’t surprising; that anyone else takes it seriously, is.

  34. Charles WT wrote:

    The left has more in common with libertarians than they do with conservatives, but they seem to hold libertarians in as great or greater disregard. The big difference between the left and libertarians is that the left sees government as a necessary good with a few evil aspects whereas libertarians see government as a necessary evil with with a good aspects.

    *golf clap*

    I also wonder why so much time and energy is wasted on fringe ideologies.

  35. >Does anyone know of a libertarian writer/thinker who takes the possiblity of private sector incursions on freedom as seriously as those wrought by government?

    Noam Chomsky. Or do you allow the right a monopoly on the term?

  36. “Does anyone know of a libertarian writer/thinker who takes the possiblity of private sector incursions on freedom as seriously as those wrought by government?”

    Why did you ask this question? In what manner do you imagine that its answer might be useful or informative?

  37. Better than Chomsky are Roderick Long, Kevin Carson, Charles “Radgeek” Johnson, Gary Chartier and others in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left.
    Full disclosure: I haven’t read Chomsky and have no idea what I’m talking about, but I assume writers I like are better than ones I’m indifferent toward out of ignorance. 🙂

    Also, what Megan said. And I would give the most effective means toward accomplishing the ends of Scrooge’s hypothetical person. If you want the argument for that, check out Sister Y at “The View From Hell”.

  38. If every investor in a business knew that he or she could be personally on the hook for the torts of that business, it would tend to make companies more liability-averse and therefore more pollution-averse. Of course, in such an environment, it would be harder to raise capital for any enterprise, not just a polluting one.

    What a ringing endorsement of capitalism.

  39. I have often wondered this very same thing, especially because most/all of the libertarians I know, including myself when I was one, had a conscious admiration for the function of the three branches of government acting to check each others’ power. It seems obvious to me that anyone wary of the accumulated power of institutions should see the benefit of having a government with a sufficiently robust regulatory power to counterbalance corporations, for basically the very same reasons that we want written-in-stone limitations on government power.

    Wishing that the government would just get out of the way and let corporations do their thing seems analagous to wishing congress or the courts would get out of the way and let the executive do his thing. There may be a reason both kinds of thinking often show up in the same people.

  40. “Guy: an outcome is morally justified if and only if it results from free uncoerced action

    This seems like a variant on the central, cheap trick of libertarian reasoning: a counterfactual null. “

    The central, cheap trick of liberal reasoning: Establish that coercion is acceptable in some extreme case, (You can hotwire a car to get a dying person to the emergency room.) and assume that, having established that, ANY coercion you feel like imposing, (You start hotwiring cars to drive to the grocery store.) is thus acceptable.

  41. Guy,

    I don’t agree though with your view of the worker’s situation. If the worker has few other choices then he may be poor, or lacking in capacity (in the sense of Sen), but I wouldn’t say he is coerced. Personally I don’t like the paternalistic argument that taking up the job cannot be to the worker’s benefit, and that is should therefore be forbidden.

    I think he is coerced in the sense of having only much worse choices. We are coerced into paying taxes because if we don’t bad things will happen to us. The same applies to the worker. I understand that we can’t identify the source of the coercion, but from the worker’s point of view, that doesn’t really matter.

    I don’t think the proper course is to prevent him from taking the job. Rather it is to establish rules about worker safety, to enable workers to band together to negotiate over conditions of employment, and to see to it that, as you put it, “no person in a civilized society should be in a position that he has so few choices…”

    Someone will soon show up to argue that safety regulations may mean the difference between a job and no job. Well, they may, rarely. But they may also mean the difference between life and death. And remember, though it conflicts with libertarian asumptions, the fact is that workers are often unaware of the risks of their job. Indeed, it may be impossible to know the risks. Have you made sure the wiring in your workplace is safe? Do you check the emergency exits when you arrive in the morning?

  42. (Keith): “What I don’t get (and I mean that without any sarcasm — I literally do not understand) about politicians such as Governor Scott and his Tea Party allies is why they…

    “They” meaning “politicians such as Governor Scott and his Tea Party allies”
    (Keith): “…are only concerned about governmental incursions on freedom and not those that stem from the private sector. There is no question that government can deprive people of freedom, but certainly privately owned companies can and do the same. If we stopped all regulation of, for example, dumping chemicals into drinking water the private sector would gain freedom but everyone who drank the contaminated water and died would lose all freedom. Does anyone know of a libertarian writer/thinker…

    A new “they”, related to the first “they” in some unexplained way.

    (Keith): “…who takes the possiblity of private sector incursions on freedom as seriously as those wrought by government?

    I recommend Milton Friedman’s __Capitalism and Freedom__ and Hayek’s __The Road to Serfdom__ and __The Constitution of Liberty__. Most libertarians will accept a role for organized violence (the State) in assigning title, enforcing contracts, and suppressing competition in the extortion business. Pollution control does not cause most free marketeers any more problems than control of violent crime. Poison one cup of coffee and it’s assault. Poison a river and it’s a mass assault. What’s the problem?

    If most libertarians devote more attention to a critique of State action than to a critique of (non-State) corporate behavior, it’s likely because they see the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in their neighborhood (the government) as the source of more preventable misery than non-government organizations. Where competition fails, either a) the State would fail as well or b) the State has suppressed competition in favor of selected organizations.

  43. Megan “…and also that the latest research showed some pretty underwhelming results for prescription drug monitoring.”

    Megan, there’s a long list of examples at Balloon-juice, Inverse Square, Susan of Texas and Fire Megan McArdle of what your cites of ‘research’ mean.

  44. Jonathan Adler,

    I’m a libertarian, and I worry about corporate power, but I am even more worried about the collusion of corporations and government.

    Are you at all troubled by the fact that Citizens United increases corporate influence on government?

    It’s bad enough when corporations are irresponsible and this results in various problems, such as environmental pollution, but even worse when the government subsidizes such harm or immunizes corporations from liability.

    I don’t understand this. Liability is not a natural phenomenon. It is imposed by government. If you drive recklessly, and hit me, I need government – courts, sheriffs, etc. – to make you pay the cost of your negligence. So while immunizing corporations from liability is indeed a bad idea, it’s the situation that would prevail absent various laws. You can’t say government is bad because it sometimes immunizes corporations, when all corporations – or businesses, I guess, since corps are government creations – would be immune without government to hold them accountable.

  45. Brett Bellmore:

    The central, cheap trick of liberal reasoning: Establish that coercion is acceptable in some extreme case, (You can hotwire a car to get a dying person to the emergency room.) and assume that, having established that, ANY coercion you feel like imposing, (You start hotwiring cars to drive to the grocery store.) is thus acceptable.

    Mo betta Brett Bellmore:

    As distinguished from the central, cheap trick of conservative reasoning: Establish that coercion is acceptable in some extreme case, (You can torture an Arab to get the info where he hid the ticking nuclear bomb.) and assume that, having established that, ANY torture you feel like imposing, (You start torturing to drive the truth out of domestic commies.) is thus acceptable.

  46. “The left has more in common with libertarians than they do with conservatives, but they seem to hold libertarians in as great or greater disregard.”

    A lot of libertarians have gotten in bed with the Republican Party. In principle, a libertarian could have said that limiting the growth of government spending was the most important issue and voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election, but I’m not aware of any libertarians who did so. When I look at the political causes funded by the Koch brothers, I don’t see any particular reason to be grateful that the Koch brothers are libertarians rather than conservatives.

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