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September 26, 2005

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Here in California, land of electrical energy generation deregulation, we were told that our electricity rates were too high because the Public Utility Commission (PUC) forced the electrical utilities to build very expensive nuclear power plants in the 1980s. So we deregulated and let the free market fix the problem. The market first didn’t do anything until we had rolling blackouts created by the deregulated energy companies shutting down their power plants to negotiate higher rates. Then they forced the state to negotiate long term contracts at very high prices, making our very high electrical rates (which was the problem we were suppose to be fixing) even higher. All the new power plants build by the free market to meet our needs use natural gas. Now that natural gas prices are going through the roof, look for the electrical generation companies to declare bankruptcy to get out of the long-term contracts with the state, so they can raise the prices even higher.

Isn’t the free market wonderful?

Energy companies 'negotiating' with the state on price controls? Doesn't sound like the free market to me.
Doesn't sound that way to Professor of Economics, George Reisman, either:
http://www.mises.org/freemarket_detail.asp?control=347

Scott s:
> Energy companies 'negotiating' with the state on price controls?
> Doesn't sound like the free market to me.

In 2000 the Public Utility Commision (PUC) encouraged PGE and Southern California Edison (SCE), the distribution companies that owned the lines and sold electricity to consumers, to enter into more long term contracts with generation companies. The generation companies wanted prices that were too high in the opinion of PGE and SCE (not the state or the PUC) for long term contracts, and they thought the price would stay low through the winter of 2000-2001 because demand is always very low in the winter. Surprise! The generating companies shut down a bunch of their plants for "preventive maintenance" in December 2000, and we had rolling blackouts at the lowest demand time of year! The spot market prices went sky high, and the generating companies discovered how easy it was to manipulate the market by just keep plants shut down. We now know from FERC investigations that these companies were deliberately shutting down power pants that did not require maintenance in order to create shortages and drive up the price.

Eventually, PGE was forced into bankruptcy and SCE came very close to bankruptcy. The state was forced to take over buying electricity for PGE and SCE, and ended up picking up the tab.

> Doesn't sound that way to Professor of Economics, George Reisman, either:

This link is to some libertarian think tank, and Prof Reisman does not seem to know s..t about the California energy market.

The truth is that in the 1970’s the PUC forecasted electrical demand growth in California, and with oil prices going up rapidly, got PGE and SCE to build a number of nuclear power plants. Those plants turned out to be much more expensive to build then expected, and the demand for the electricity did not materialize. The excess supply of expensive generating capacity at PGE and SCE forced electric rates to be high.

There were no more generating plants build after the 1980s because there was an excess of generating capacity in California. By the mid 90s the PUC was again forecasting that more generating capacity would be needed, and PGE and SCE resisted building it because they said the PUC forecast was bad. They convinced the legislature that the free market could do a better job of forecasting electricity demand and building cost effective plants to meet the need. Some small nuclear plants were shut down, because at the time they were not cost effective to operate, and power could be bought for much less elsewhere.

When deregulation started, there seemed to be no interest in building new plants for several years until the generating companies, who had bought the old PGE and SCE plants discovered they could drive prices through the roof just by shutting plants down.

The problem we were told with the old regulated system was that the PUC could not correctly forecast the demand for electricity, resulting in too much generating capacity. The free market would fix that we were told, but the free market can only bring down prices if there is excess generating capacity, and nobody wants to build a power plant unless prices are very high. Now we have even higher prices.

One of the claims was that new power plants could be build that would be much cheaper to operate then the existing plants, and these plants would be built, even if there was a surplus because their cost of operation would be so much lower. It hasn’t happened. When we had rolling blackouts there was a lot of interest in building new plants, and a number got built. Now that we are not having blackouts, everyone has lost interest in building any new plants.

The truth is in the 1970s the PUC forecast of demand was wrong, and we build too many power plants. In the early 1990s the PUC forecast was right, and we deregulated instead of building more power plants, and the free market didn’t start building plants until we had rolling blackouts.

mikeca, the reliance on natural gas for electricity has absolutely nothing to do with the free market, it's government policies which make all other forms of electricity generation prohibitively expensive from a regulatory viewpoint.

Californians are into the environment, so they really didn't want any electricity generating plants in their state at all. Serves them right.

During the California electricity crisis, the power companies were forced by law to sell electricity below their costs of production until they went bankrupt. I don't see how that makes any kind of sense at all.

I'm rather tired of the free market getting the blame for government-created problems. Before the free market can cause a problem, you have to *have* a free market. The so-called deregulation in California overlooked the obvious government price controls and environmental restrictions that remained in place, ensuring that the market was "free" in name only.

> the reliance on natural gas for electricity has absolutely nothing to do with the free market

It has everything to do with the free market. In the 1980s and 1990s natural gas looked like the cheap, clean way to generate electricity, because the price of natural gas was low. So everyone wanted to build natural gas power plants. All those natural gas power plants have increased the demand for natural gas, so now the price of natural gas is going up. That is the way the free market works. Basic law of supply and demand.

> Californians are into the environment, so they really didn't
> want any electricity generating plants in their state at all.
> Serves them right.

This is an urban legend. It is just not true. California built too many power plants in the 1970s and 80s and simply didn’t need more power plants. In the early 1990s the PUC tried to push PGE and SCE to start building more power plants and they refused because they did not think the demand would justify it. They got the legislature to de-regulate the generation market instead.

> During the California electricity crisis, the power companies were
> forced by law to sell electricity below their costs of production until
> they went bankrupt. I don't see how that makes any kind of sense at all.

At the time of de-regulation, the old power companies, PGE and SCE, were forced to sell off some of their generation plants, but they kept the nuclear and hydroelectric plants. PGE and SCE were supposed to become the distribution companies that owned all the power lines. They bought electricity from the generation companies and they could sell it to consumers. There were also suppose to be other companies which would buy electricity from generation companies and sell it to consumers, paying PGE and SCE for the use of their lines, but this never happened. Until PGE and SCE were completely out of the generation business, their rates were fixed at what was believed to be above the natural price so that PGE and SCE could collect excess profits to pay them back for the money they lost building nuclear power pants which people believed could not compete in the de-regulated market.

When the spot market price went sky high, PGE and SCE rates to consumers were still fixed because they had not completely gotten out of the generation business. PGE and SCE had agreed to these fixed rates, expecting prices to go down. The state could have allowed them to raise prices, but was afraid of the political consequences. The whole de-regulation plan had been sold to consumers on the promise it would lead to lower rates. PGE, which did go bankrupt, was a subsidiary of generation company that didn’t go bankrupt and was in fact making lots of money. There was a long legal struggle over asset transfers between PGE and its parent company.

The problem with electricity deregulation is you can never have a really free open market. Electricity cannot be stored. It has to be generated when it is consumed. For that to happen, there has to be planning, co-ordination and regulation.

Therein lies the glory of hydrogen production ("storing" excess electricity in hydrogen...), if they can ever get a good conversion rate.

HS, it's tempting to say that the government will destroy everything it touches, but that's not true for two reasons. First, it's going to touch everything, no matter what. The free market is very much so a structure built off a skeleton of regulations, infrastructure, and government initiatives. Second, so many of those initiatives have been successful in the past. There's the manhattan project, the apollo program, and the last time we decided to attack oil consumption.

Unlike the manhattan project, we really don't need to be geniuses to figure this one out. We drastically reduced oil consumption in the 70's and 80's, and European countries and Japan are demonstrating that you can have a first world living standard without excessive oil consumption. Less money for highways, more for mass transit, sustainable zoning, research grants, higher mileage standards, and if we're feeling really determined gas taxes: simple stuff like this will favorably alter our consumption, if the government makes it a clear priority.

And oil consumption is definitely not a matter of the market. It is a national security issue, and it is the root of our efforts (and costs) to keep the ME stable, and could potentially screw us over in innumerable scenarios. Thus, along with consumption already landing in the government zone of regulation (and economic security), it also lands in the purely government zone of national security.

Finally, we as consumers would much rather be part of an effort than victims of an economic trend. Your solution would have the nation as a whole sit back and drive their hummers until high prices beat them over to more efficient cars, and then perhaps mass transit. People don't like to do that. Already constituents are making it very clear that they aren't happy with the high prices, and there will be hell to pay for the representative who says, "don't worry, the market will fix it". The government will, and has, take action against the problem, and, as demonstrated by the recent energy bill, calls for tapping the oil reserve, and environmtal relaxations, it won't necessarily be positive. It is better direct the inevitable than try and tell constituents that the government cannot solve all their problems. Besides, if framed correctly, this could very well become a national battle, a domestic "war on oil" to put the mullahs out of business. Friedman was right on when he said that 9/11 was a golden opportunity to unbridle our patriotism on this huge challenge, although Katrina and Iraq still provide similar opportunities.

Thus, oil consumption lies within the three government spheres of regulation, economic security, and national security, as well as being an inevitable victim of politics. All of this on top of its clearly detrimintable effects and readily available solution. It would be a project of titanic proportions, but it's very doable, if critics would merely face reality and buckle down to the problem at hand.

Who knew government had so many zones, and that oil is now national security? Hey, I like eggs too, can we arbitrarily put them under the 'zone' of national security, thus justifying all sorts of interventionism (foreign and domestic) so that I can get eggs cheaper than the rest of the world? Much like electricity, eggs don't store well - which apparently is another reason we need government regulation. When all you have is a hammer (of government), funny how everything looks like a nail.

It's also interesting to see that the free market is built on government intervention. Orwell was so right about the future...doublespeak is the way to go.

The market is all about consumers making choices--the government is all about controlling, limiting, and restricting those choices. People are not victims of economic trends: they *cause* the economic trends.
"National security" and nationalism in general are just more excuses for regulating citizens.
It's true, a free market can only exist if individual rights are protected, but there's every indication that government can't even do that very well, especially when it's interfering in all sorts of areas where it shouldn't be, like education, healthcare, and drug prohibition.
In short, I say, "Bah, humbug." I guess I've just been in a bad mood lately, but really, if "the people" are the government, then you pro-gov people are your own worst enemies, in addition to being a danger to the rest of us.

When this nation was founded, everyone was in a fervently anti-government mood (having just escaped an oppressive one), so naturally they created a notoriously ineffective government under the articles of confederation. There's a reason that didn't last long. Under that system we could not negotiate with other countries, settle transtate disputes, or raise taxes. That may seem like a good thing, but we ended up with the Brits camping out in Ohio, Spain closing off the Mississippi, and British goods flooding the country, even while they closed their markets to our own primarily agricultural exports. After the constitution was drafted, along with our bill or rights, we gained diplomatic victories, tax revenues to settle our war debts, and economic policies that put us on the road to where we are now. Our manufacturing power-house was built off government intervention, tariffs to be precise. Same with the internet. Any more history you failed to learn?

Or lets look at it from another angle. If you don't trust our government, would you rather have the esteemed governments of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela controlling our oil policy? They do control the resource. An aggressive attack on oil consumption would simply replace a foreign product with various domestically produced ones, freeing us from the troubles of the Middle East, among others.

Then there's the argument that oil consumption (atleast it's maintenance) is a product or our government's policies. We consume 19.65 mbd, and only produce 7.8 mbd. To cover that gap we have to import from increasingly volatile nations. Due to the economic importance of oil, we not only have to maintain a 700 mb reserve, but maintain stability in those nations, two huge costs to the national government. This is on top of oil consumption being made largely possible by an excellent infrastructure, also built at huge cost to the government. Thus oil-consumption is really a habit that's being maintained at a minimum 100$ billion a year cost (Iraq alone's 70, on top of further military expenditures, then there's the recent 200+ bil. highway bill... it's definitely an approx. min.). Would you care to outline our government's egg related costs? Or would you instead advocate abandoning our highways, oil reserve, and foreign stabilization efforts? As previously stated, government inaction is just not an option.

Mike, did the Great Depression have no victims? Would you have had the government remain aloof? Was national security not used to limit freedoms during WWII? Again, would you have had the government just leave us (& the Nazis), alone? Finally, if you're of the belief that the government has no obligation to educate our children, then there's really no persuading you on this point. Perhaps you should move someplace with a government that don't do anything, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There you don't have to worry about taxes, or public education, not even voting, you (or the market) can build yourself some infrastructure, and if you have a big enough gun, your rights will remain protected. Or perhaps I'm mis-interpreting your (assumedly) anti-government position. Please expand if that is the case.

It's funny that when one argues that the federal government should stick to the powers enumerated in the Constitution, one is considered anti-government.
The least the lovers of big government should do is push to get amendments passed so that all the intervention and oppression and interference in free living (for our own good, of course) that occurs now, would be legal.

Excellent, haven't dealt with one point and ignores that since our nation's inception the very people that wrote the constitution "meddled" with the free market (and the justices defended that). Elsewise what was the first national bank all about? And land purchases? And subsequent infrastructure projects?

To be fair, since the beginning there have also been people like you (Jefferson), who have argued for near non-existant government, but they never stuck to those ideas upon gaining power anyway, leaving our government with a hand in the market since day one.

Does this then mean that you are indeed for no public education, infrastructure, and protecting our oil interests (Iraq, strategic reserve, various other ME projects)? And eggs do store quite well for some time if stored in a refrigerator, and can be produced in small, manageable, low-cost quantities, very much so unlike electricity (produced in huge quantities, requires huge investment, must be consumed immediately). Very bad analogy.

I think it's time you descend from the theoretical and start dealing with the real world.

Electricity does not have to be produced in huge quantities or require a huge investment--that's merely a matter of economics of scale. And the fact that it has to be consumed immediately still doesn't mean the market can't handle it.
The facts of the "real world" just stress the ever greater necessity of realizing what's wrong with giving people power over other people through government: politics, corruption, greed, cynicism, all the worst values of humanity really come into play. Admittedly, changing that won't be easy, but the first step is in recognizing the problem, instead of pretending it doesn't exist or is necessarily inevitable.
Yes, these bad values also come into play in the free market, but given its decentralized nature, they are rarely able to spread very far or interfere too greatly. Any comparison to Enron, Worldcom, or the California energy "deregulation" needs to understand how much government was involved in those situations and admit just how little the "free market" had to do with them.
Call me what you will, but I think ideals are still worth striving for, even if they're never actually achieved in the "real world".

Oh, absolutely. Always strive for perfection, that is our country's best strength. It seems your solution is to eliminate the government, or 80-90% of it, instead of reforming it. There are incredibly corrupt parts of our government, but you don't make a patient well again by shooting him, even if that does effectively kill the disease.

First, the government is too integral to our way of life to eliminate. Second, for the most part, the government's done a really good job, and it's successes vastly outnumber it's failures. We should eliminate the failures, but not at cost of its successes.

So far as recognizing the problem, you have yet to offer any viable discussion of a government initiative to eliminate oil consumption, except to say that the government's too corrupt to do anything.

To produce electricity at an economically competitive rate means building a 500$+ million plant. That's a pretty big investment, and that's going to make alot of electricity. Until electricty storage tech. becomes feasible (hydrogen, hopefully), someone's going to have to coordinate things. And eggs (your major counter-argument) remain entirely irrelevant.

It requires quite an investment to start building cars, or making computer chips, that's no reason to have government involved and no justification for some overseer to "coordinate things". The market supplies demand, when there is money to be made. And the best (most efficient) way to see those demands met is letting people find ways to profit.
It's all just talking past one another, since we must accept on faith that electricity is unlike every other commodity out there, incapable of being supplied to customers without a leviathan with no incentive for efficiency (profit motive) overseeing it all.
It's not the government's job to promote (or demand) a reduction in oil consumption; that bugaboo will arise soon enough when supply decreases and/or demand increases enough so that prices rise. And they will rise to a point that alternative energy sources become viable. That you may have to 'suffer' with $5/gallon (or higher) prices doesn't mean you can demand "someone do something" - especially when that someone is the person with the biggest guns and that something involves violation of liberty or intrusive foreign policy or all sorts of things this government you live under is not allowed to do, courtesy of the Constitution.
Of course, I don't expect this to have much impact on someone who actually believes:

"Second, for the most part, the government's done a really good job, and it's successes vastly outnumber it's failures. We should eliminate the failures, but not at cost of its successes."

If your banker or insurance agent had the same track record as government, you'd have them fired and then sue for damages.

When people have power over other people, they tend to abuse it to get things that they couldn't get otherwise, or perhaps just couldn't get as easily. This abuse doesn't happen automatically, but like a river current, it's easier to go with the flow than to swim against it.
The nature of this abuse takes various forms. When it comes to the marketplace, this abuse is usually about limiting or restricting a company's competition: a utility company that gets the local franchise, a company that gets government subsidies, regulations that favor large, established companies over smaller companies, etc.
This is not to say that it's always done deliberately--often the worst cases of government abuse are done with the best of intentions--but without economic feedback, they can't really measure how well they're doing. People get that warm, fuzzy feeling because government is doing something, regardless of the actual results.
The fact that our politicians are democratically elected modifies the situation somewhat, but doesn't change the basic situation of people having power over other people. The current may not be as strong, but it's still flowing the same way. Besides, while we vote on the politicians, we don't normally vote on the laws and regulations the politicians pass, nor do we vote on the bureaucrats who implement said laws. Representative democracy is not the same as direct democracy, though they have similar flaws.
Yes, our government generally gets the job done, but the overlooked point is that they usually provide second-rate or unnecessary services, that is, services that the market can handle quite easily: education, mail service, or retirement funds, for example.

I know of no examples of a successful private education format that works for an entire nation (of a good size, 10 mil.+). Please feel free to provide some examples before turning the vast majority of our children out on the streets so you don't have to pay as much taxes. The other two could be plausible, but still, tread carefully. Of course the government has flaws, but, as you said, it "generally gets the job done".

Scott aint so reasonable.
"If your banker or insurance agent had the same track record as government, you'd have them fired and then sue for damages."

Hmmm.... let's look at a few gov. success stories: WWI, Great Depression, WWII, Highway System, Cold War, Regulations that allow you to sue that bank and insurance agent, liberties that allow you to fire him, and a free market that allows to you to hire him in the first place.

Yes, I actually believe that our government has, over the long haul, done us more good than bad, and continues to do so, and beg you to produce some logical theory that might show we'd be better off without these last 200+ years.

"that something involves violation of liberty or intrusive foreign policy"
Yes, due to our dependency on oil, it has been within our best interests to put a huge emphasis on stabilizing the ME, as well as 100$'s of billions sunk into other initiatives aimed at facilitating your consumption.

I propose changing the solution to one that is more cost effective and hinders, instead of facilitates, production. You propose inaction, or no solution, except to leave it in the domain of the markets, where it's never been to begin with.

Of course, all this talk is useless in the first place if your goal is to destroy our government. We better decide that before moving on to whether it should modify its policies in relation to oil consumption, and then, ultimately, deciding what those modifications should be.

If you think the government helped get us out of the Great Depression, instead of helping to greatly instigate it in the first place, you might want to start there before claiming that the government allows for the free market and provides for liberty.
I'm also not clear on why the Cold war is a "success". Expending large amounts of money on an arms race, making friends with Saddam (and others), etc etc - that the Soviet Union crumbled from the inevitable result of communist planning (hmm, kind of like your belief in how oil should be handled) is good, but I'm not sure we should be patting the back of Uncle Sam. Of course, you may be of the belief that the ends justify the means, in which case it doesn't matter the injustice that occurs, so long as the proper conclusion is reached.

Another misconception, is that government regulations allow us to sue the banker and insurance agent. All that is required is a legal/police system - one that recognizes contracts and is able to enforce them. Our welfare/warfare state is not necessary for this to happen, and neither is an expansive tax rate. A government much like one that actually followed the US Constitution would do that job very well. Which has been the point from the beginning. None of this intervention is legal - but unfortunately it doesn't stop the populists and opportunists from claiming that without all this control our children would be living in the streets and anarchy would reign.
Theft is illegal and armed robbery is highly immoral. Except of course when government does it. Then people clamor for more.

Do you consider the U.S.'s mediocre educational results to be a "success"? The point, however, is that a monolithic, one-size-fits-all system is unnecessary and doomed to be plagued by bureacracy and politics. What's more important to one's education: the Pledge of Allegiance or solving quadratic equations? Creationism or Standard Essay Organization? Of course, the American system is more of a hybrid system--most public education is still handled by the state and local governments, while the fed only provides a small part of it. Still, the flexibility and diversity needed can only be provided by a decentralized, market-based system where the consumers, i.e. parents, get to decide what kind of education their children receive. "Throwing them on the streets" is a misleading catchphrase intended to scare people, but is hardly appropriate to the argument. Where do kids go now when they're suspended from the public school system? If they're lucky, their parents can put them in a private school or home school them, otherwise they're "on the streets", or possibly in a lackluster public "alternative" education program.
Most of your examples of government "success" stories are anything but. WWI and WWII are about the biggest testimonies to government failure you could ask for. No such wars could have happened without government, its nationalistic fervor, and political structures. The results of WWI especially led directly into WWII.
The Cold War? The Soviet Union would have dissolved decades ago if the U.S. hadn't helped them survive through loans and subsidies, perhaps even as early as the 1920's soon after being formed. The U.S. perpetuated the threat (although perhaps unintentionally) of antagonism and war with the USSR.
The Great Depression? Let's see. The Federal Reserve was created in 1913. One of the actions of the early Fed was to ease the gold reserve requirements for banks and to encourage easy credit. The resulting credit expansion led to the artificial boom of the 1920s (The Roaring 20s), but it was unsustainable and eventually had to contract again, which led to the depression of the 30s. The government's dealing with the depression was woefully inadequate, with several bad decisions, and it took WWII to get us out of it.
Interstate Highway System? This was essentially a subsidy for the automobile, and led (along with some stupid rate regulations) to the decline of the passenger rail system and encouraged more people to buy cars, which naturally has led to oil dependence, pollution, traffic problems, and the suburbanization of the cities. While one might say that it hasn't been all bad, it must be admitted that our transportation systems and even our cities would look different today if the government hadn't encouraged auto travel.
Unfortunately, problems caused by governemnt regulation tend to lead to more government regulation, and not to understanding and dealing with the root causes of the problem. The automobile industry in the U.S. is probably the most regulated industry still (barely) in operation. U.S. manufacturers don't make money by selling cars anymore, but by financing them. Throw in silly things like the tariffs on foreign cars in the late 70s, the artificial 'energy crisis' and price controls of the early 70s, and the bailout of Chrysler in the 80s, and it should be obvious that the heavy hand of government regulation has severely distorted our transportation systems and created problems that would have been minor or nonexistent otherwise.
Yes, in theory, if government has any legitimate justification, it's to provide laws and regulations to protect people from coercion and fraud. Being able to sue over violated contracts is also useful. But the reality is that much of our regulation is not about coercion and fraud, but preventing noncoercive trade to occur, or forcing people to engage in unfavorable trade that they wouldn't normally engage in. Partial regulation tends to create a distorted market and thus incentives to do things that create unintended consequences. Total regulation, of course, tends to lead to tyranny, abuse, and corruption.
Is government itself good and legitimate? No government is legitimate if it engages in coercion or fraud against its citizens. And if a government is unable to provide legitimate services without coercion, such as involuntary taxation, then government itself is fundamentally immoral and ought to be destroyed. That last point *is* still open, by the way, I know of some people who argue for a broader, less traditional definition of "government", but I know which way I'm leaning on the question.

Well, we now atleast know where we stand.

To begin with, the government is not perfect. That is a fact I am willing to accept. I don't expect to achieve perfection, I only expect that we strive for perfection.

Since the issue is already fundamental, I'll make it a little more basic. Government is inevitable. Why? Because with an effective, centralized government, a society can and will abuse any society with a less effective government. An example? Europe's Imperialism. Or tariffs and other techniques continually utilized to give one market the edge over another. In a darwinian fashion, those societies that did not adap were wiped away or marginalized until there were enough effective governments that they balanced eachother. Atleast enough to prevent most harmful forms of abuse (major wars), although the most effective ones continue to do their utmost to give their respective markets (and thus their citizenry), the competitive edge.

Thus government, in the sense of an organization that can make war and protect its society from the abuses of other governments, is necessary because it has proven itself so effective. The most effective governments have also proven themselves to be those that protect the liberties of their peoples and open themselves up to self-critique, thus continuously evolving, as ours has done.

Now, within that frame, you may still protest that a strict adherence constitution to the constitution will provide a more effective government, perhaps because it allows for freer markets and more liberties, thus more productivity, but I still disagree.

Our constitution was not god-given. It was written by men who were doing their best to do something that had never before been attempted. There had been, to that date, two republics (Rome & Greece), each of them on a much smaller scale, each of them fatally flawed. Faced with a task not everbody was sure could be surmounted, our founders purposely made the constitution vague and flexible on many important points, so as to allow experience to "fill in the blanks". It was a brilliant solution, and evolution has brought about a very effective, if far from perfect, government that protects our liberties while fending off others.

To abbreviate, you will have to do more than say that our constitution would not approve of our current state, because it would approve. Indeed, one of its most prominent framers, and our first president, Washington, was already calling for expanded government by the end of his first term. In his final address to congress, he called for a navy, legislation to encourage the manufacturing sector, subsidies to encourage improved agricultural techniques, a national military academy, a national university, and increased salaries for bureaucrats (to compel the recruitment of the most able). Madison, arguably the most important framer, later legislated the second national bank into being, the precursor for the federal reserve.

Thus, on the most fundamental of levels, this government is the best we've got, although we can do better.

So far as less fundamental reform goes, I would fire almost all of our politicians right now, because I believe they are doing a lazy job, but I blame it on the nature of the politicians and not the nature of the institution.

You have given me a very long list of perceived governmental failures, and yet I would invite you to look at reality: here we sit, with technology and an economy unrivaled in the history of mankind, in an incredibly safe environment, with services ranging from clean water to a police, medical, & fire service, to the internet all at our fingertips, in a society of unprecendented and unrivaled wealth, and able to discuss and speak of anything we wish, indeed, do almost anything we wish so long as it harms no other (and abides to the restrictions of a very tolerant culture), and yet you decry the foundation upon which this society has flourished as "immoral" and say it "ought to be destroyed" because it has evolved with us. In effect, your long list of failures really has no meaning until you can provide a solution, an alternative. No other society has fared any better under the circumstances, atleast in the long run.

There are many specific areas in which we have lapsed, stumbled, and continue to struggle, but on the whole, our government has provided and continues to provide our society with the neccessary structures and protection for it to flourish.

I invite you to show me any other form, any other foundation that has proven itself more able and dynamic in providing any human society with such effective government.

William, you're such a reasonable person, but at some point, we have to take a hard look at what we have and draw a line at certain points, at least if we expect to continue to improve and make progress.
Undoubtably, we live in a time of unprecedented productivity, comfort, wealth and relative freedom. And yet, it's not clear to me how much government had to do with that situation. People in liberal democracies clearly are better off than most people in other countries. But these self-same liberal democracies engage in endless plans to interfere with our productivity and freedom, as well as the productivity and freedom of non-liberal democratic nations. In the short term, it's quite easy to be cynical about the whole mess called government.
In the long term, a certain amount of optimism does seem called for. Ever since the Renaissance and the flourishing of various human arts, there has been the clear development of the political philosophy known now as Classical Liberalism, and the growing importance of human rights, individual freedom, limited government, democratic voting, and all that idealistic stuff that most people today still hold vaguely to.
But in spite of what Francis Fukuyama thinks, liberal democracies are not some kind of ultimate form of government, and "The End of History" is nowhere near to being upon us. The Classical Liberal tradition was brought on by thinkers as diverse as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Emmanual Kant, and others who all believed in the same general things, but for very different, even contradictory reasons. Modern political views reflect this mishmash of contradictions and the resulting political clashes that occur today, especially as the result of new technologies.
We have to be able to look at liberal democracies clearly, and say yes, this part of it is right, but this part over here is wrong, and needs to be changed or abolished. I see the principles of libertarianism as just such a philosophical scalpel for saying what's right and what's wrong with current governments. Obviously, this is in one sense a very harsh view to "reasonable" people. But like cancer, you have to get all the bad out, or it just grows back, worse than ever.
200-plus years is a long time for a government to run without radical changes, takeovers, or disruptions, so yes, the United States must have done some things right. But any session of Congress, any newspaper, any major election, shows that they don't know or understand what's been done right and what hasn't. The Roman Empire fell, not through conquest but from internal decay. So did the Soviet Union, and so will the United States if we don't make changes major enough to clear the cancer.
Yes, the ultimate trump card is the very thing that libertarians usually decry: the initiation of force. Gain enough power and might indeed makes right, and the mighty oaks are destroyed while the willows bend. Humans are amazingly adaptable to corruption and decay. But the human race will not progress under such conditions, it will merely struggle for the basic necessities.
Human rights must be protected for humans to progress, but the point that libertarians make is simply this: there is a difference between initiating force and using force defensively. Initiating force is where the line is drawn. Governments as we known them have all initiated force to some degree. Should we sit back and watch government after government topple over due to conquest and decay, or shall we point out once again what is wrong and say this is the line we should not cross?
Is government an organization that has a monopoly on the use of force in a geographic region? If so, then it is fundamentally immoral and must be destroyed. Or is government simply the organization or organizations that provide rights-protection? If the latter, then government is not fundamentally immoral, and current governments are simply falling short of the goal. Recognizing the goal is, of course, the first step towards achieving that goal.
Anarcho-capitalists have come up with various views and visions about how rights-protection can be handled without initiating force, but the market is indeed varied and diverse. The actual implementation will depend greatly upon individuals deciding specifically for themselves what is important to them and how much they value rights protection, and thus, difficult to figure out specifically how millions of people will choose.
But even a cursory application of the libertarian principle should point out how many things government should not do, like education, healthcare, postal service, retirement plans, welfare, foreign aid etc. For those things to be legitimate functions of government is to require a radically different definition, and I think most people simply haven't thought about government like that. "Gee, you mean they'll give my kid a free education? Great!" Except that it's not free, it's not great, and it tends to cost more than it would if we had a predominantly private school system with little or no government involvement. "Gee, you mean the government will pay me money when I retire? Wonderful!" Except they still have to get that money from somewhere, income distribution, and the government's also busy steadily deflating that money so that it can buy less than before. If government is simply an agency for forcefully redistributing wealth, then who the heck is gonna protect our rights? Who wants to be productive if somebody is just going to come along and take a big chunk of it away from you? Why does being a government agent make theft okay? Isn't government more than just a protection racket?
Is this a flaw of government in general, or just a flaw in democratic forms of government? You tell me.

Michael - Excellent job.

I have only one thing to add, which is to address William's claim that Washington was a closet big government fan. It so happens the latest issue of Liberty magazine has Washington's farewall address printed in full. The first thing one notices is how eloquent and intelligent the speech is - all without the benefit of public education(!). The second thing I noticed is this:

"The Constitution which at any time exists, til changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all."

Which only means - if you want the nanny state to protect your interests and sing you to sleep at night, then change the government the right (legal) way. Do not try to claim that the Interstate Commerce clause means jack-booted thugs can stop people from growing marijuana for personal use. Or that government can set price controls on goods that some feel they have a right to buy at a cheaper than market price (to use but two amongst an avalanche of examples of government abuse of power).

I know the Constitution was written by men, and not handed down from on high. And like Michael I question even the necessity or morality of government at all. But insofar as any hope for true freedom is a pipe dream in my lifetime, my pragmatic nature would love it if our government went back to actually following the principles for which it is Constitutionally bound to obey. That's a great start.

Your discussion is the only reason I still come here.

I have already addressed the necessity of government in length, and will not do so further until I receive a substanstive rebuttal.

The farewell address surely is a great document. I too actually have had the pleasure of reading it recently, but you should look into its backround before interpreting it in such a fashion. To begin with, one of Washington's great skills was to recognize his shortfallings. Thus when he wanted to make such an eloquent document as the farewell address, he turned to his better educated and versed friends to do the actual writing. The ideas certainly were all his (as demonstrated by his endless corrections), but, as actually stated within the address, Madison made the first draft and Alexander Hamilton wrote most of the final product.

His emphasis on the sacred nature of the constitution derives from the still fragile state of the government back then. Partisanship was just then emerging, and nobody knew how to deal with it. There was a great fear that the minority might take up arms to further their cause, or that regions may secede, for many still thought of themselves primarily as "Virginians" or "New Englanders" rather than as "Americans". There was even a scheme for New England to secede after Jefferson took power. To summate, the farewell address was primarily aimed at the populace, and its primary purpose was to urge that we think like a nation, a notion hard to comprehend from a modern perspective. It also included other pieces of advice, like avoiding international politics, but his final address to the congress contains much more details as to the actual running of the government, and those policies clearly showed a vision for a more effective, if larger, central government. Washington had seen the land west of the Appalachians, and he knew that was where America's destiny lay. Indeed, he would often refer to the United States not as a Republic, but as an Empire. He saw our society's potential, both geographically and ideologically, and saw foreign entanglements, partisanship, and a government which couldn't get things done as mere impediments to that potential.

As it has happened, partisanship may have been for the most part harmless and useful in the advancement of better government, but otherwise Washington was dead on. We have now realized that great potential and more, and a great deal of that realization has been due to a government which has been able to adapt and be effective in changing circumstances, an ability I see as entirely reconcilable with our constitution.

As for the government's ability to regulate marijuana use, the way the constitution stands now (more importantly the interpretation of the constitution), they can do that. That does not mean they should, but they certainly can until the majority decides it does not want to have that ability and amends the constitution to state otherwise (or, less likely, the supreme court re-interprets the constitution).

There, I believe, lays our primary difference. I believe that my welfare lays with societies welfare, and that welfare is best promoted, over the long term, by the will of the majority. Preserving that welfare entails many individual sacrifices, but they will continue to go to causes society perceives as productive so long as the majority rules. You seem to believe that your welfare lies with your welfare, and any sacrifices forced upon you that yield you no direct benefit are morally reprehensible and should be resisted. This is a view I will not debate until you accept it, but it would explain most of our differences.

Alternatively,you may merely think society's interests are best satisfied through certain reforms of the government. I may agree with some of those reforms, but we really cannot have a substantive discussion of them until our goals are clear. If your goal is to remake the world in such a way that no-one may ever force upon you an involuntary sacrifice, then that, and not specific reforms, should be the subject of this discussion.

If your means of accomplishing those reforms, or perhaps your worldview, do not entail working through the will of the majority (thus working to persuade others to your viewpoint to accomplish your goals), then, once again, we have larger disagreements than the nature of education.

Are you willing to allow others to force upon you involuntary sacrifices? And thus are you willing to put our society's welfare before your own? And finally, do you respect the will of the majority? I, personally, am, willing, and do. Not until I know your answers can we have a productive discussion about the government.

Again the Catch-22. Why does one need to respect the "will of the majority" if they're simply going to force the minority to do what they want?
More importantly, it sounds like you believe that government is whatever the majority wants it to be, even if that results in conflicting and contradictory goals. Surely, even if you don't support the libertarian principle of non-initiation of force, you can see that protection of rights is in conflict with compulsory education, government welfare, and wealth distribution conflict with rights-protection?
At that point, we're faced with a philosophical dilemma. Is there an objective reality that at some point overrules human will and consciousness, or is consciousness supreme in shaping reality? If the former, then contradictory goals are unsustainable. Something has to eventually give, although there's nothing that says which way it has to give. Only if consciousness is supreme over reality can actual paradoxes continue unabated.

Thus you do not respect the will of the majority, are not willing to make involuntary sacrifices, and thus do not place your own welfare with society's, or are very bad at articulating your views.

This belief, that one's supreme interests lay only with oneself, is simply wrong. By embracing the market as your model for society, you embrace greed as the only rule for human society, and renounce affection and passion, equally potent forces. These are the forces that are effectively harnessed in the government. Affection, rooted in the common causes and sympathies of the human race, is manifested through care for fellow beings, and is potentially harnessed through public education and welfare to satiate that need and motivate those public servants. Yes, teachers can very well derive motivation from other causes than money, same with other bureaucrats, not that they necessarily do (our government is not yet perfect). Passion is just as important. The human enthusiasm most commonly revealed by a sport or competition, is harnessed in nationalism and combined with affection to produce a most powerful motivator. The want to protect fellow man, and ultimately your society and culture, allows one, and thus society, to do feats unimaginable in a purely greed driven society. It is these forces that undermined the Soviets, passion for ones nation, and it is these forces that tore down the corrupt, and greed driven, Romans. Remember how they replaced their republican armies with paid mercenaries? Remember how Christianity so easily undermined their culture? That's what the market will do for a nation. To revoke these forces, the forces that have driven history and conquerors, the most powerful of forces, is to doom your society, for another one will take them up, and will use them to crush you.

This is not to say greed has a place, it is only to say that greed is not all there is. One must also respect affection for common man and passion, for lack of better articulation. To keep these in balance, and use them to their fullest power, it is necessary to organize as a society, to form a government, and assent to involuntary sacrifice at the behest of the majority, lest we renounce two-thirds of those forces that make us human.

It is also necessary and advantageous, to a society and the members of a society, to give and protect generous rights, but that does not entail lack of involuntary sacrifices. Take compulsory education. Lack thereof may do no harm to oneself, if your family is of sufficient wealth or you aspire to nothing, but the majority of the time, a good education is essential to ones well being. Thus, for the majority of peoples in a society, education is a good thing, serving to increase productivity, knowledge, and the economy, making it in society's best interests. Should private schools be available? Yes, although oft-times it has been proven that societies fall in to disrepair when the elite are no longer subject to the circumstances of the rest of society. Should anyone be denied an education, or allowed to go without one? No.

Will the majority abuse the minority? It happened at the inception of our nation, but with the right to vote firmly imbedded and the checks and balances of our system, that possibility has been ruled out, for the majority is always aware that its position is a fragile one, and that any time it may become the minority. Contradicting goals, also, should not be a problem, so long as all participants are foremost concerned with the welfare of society, which is mostly the case. You, it would seem, are the inevitable exception.

Geez, there are so many underlying assumptions to deal with, that it's no wonder we have trouble reaching agreement.
How does an individual make an involuntary sacrifice? If it's involuntary, then it's being made for them, against their will. Certainly people have been known to make sacrifices, but never "involuntary".
I believe that society as a whole would be better off by adopting the libertarian non-aggression principle, although I also believe that I, personally, would be better off, too. I don't see a problem as you apparently do in being "selfishly" concerned with my own needs as long as I am not initiating force or fraud against others. In a marketplace where force or fraud is not initiated, the only way to make a profit is to provide a product or service that other people value, that is, to serve other people. See? No conflict.
The problems occur when coercion is used, and are compounded when the government decides to "fix" the problem by more coercion, instead of simply putting a stop to the coercion that's causing the problems. The result tends to be more, unintended problems, and is usually the excuse for more government intervention. California's so-called electric deregulation is a case in point.
No, profit and commerce is not all there is in life. Passion, compassion, friendship, love, and many other things are not economic and do not have a price tag. But I am truly baffled by people who equate compassion with government coercion, or think that passion is only possible with government support.
Education--"Without government, only the wealthy would be educated"? We could also say without government, only the wealthy would have shoes, cars, computers, or anything else you care to name, and you would be equally as wrong. Education is just another service, and without public education, there would be the Henry Fords and Sam Waltons out there making profits by providing education to the poor, and I'd be willing to bet anything they'd get a better education than they're getting today. How could that be possible? Because most people already recognize the value in education, it doesn't have to be forced upon them. Public education fails to adequately provide for the needs of the public because the direct connection between consumer and provider has been severed through the public system.
It is by allowing and legitimizing coercion through government that the welfare of society has been hurt. By allowing involuntary sacrifices, you're allowing some people to have power over other people, which allows for abuse, corruption, bias, favoritism, special interest groups, and other such things.
The vote is not really that powerful of a limiter on government. We don't have direct democracy, but rather some form of representative democracy, so any particular wrongdoing a representative may engage in usually isn't enough to get them elected out of office. They generally have to be consistenly off-base or have a really big scandal of some kind. This is especially true given the restrictions on third parties in this country. The voters' choices have been severely limited.
Even at the state and local level, voters only occasionally get to vote on particular items and issues, and the real power there is in who gets to decide what the voters are voting on. You either vote for or against a tax, for example, it's not choose among five or six different tax ratios or plans. Also, when casting a political vote, one doesn't have to be (and in many cases cannot be) fully aware of the economic consequences of the vote, whereas in the marketplace, one is almost always aware of the economic consequences, the trade-offs being made for one choice instead of another. Thus, it's difficult for the voter to see which way tryly favors the welfare of society at large (assuming that most voters are foremost concerned with the welfare of society). While how the individual voter casts his vote may be "rational" given the situation of electoral politics, it's not rational if one is truly concerned with the welfare of society. The power of the vote is valuable to society only where people legitimize coercion over other people. Where the goal is to minimize coercion and protect rights, then voting becomes much less significant, because there is little to actually vote on.

In any event, it's clear that you and I have very different ideas about government, electoral politics, and education, and will probably have to agree to disagree on these matters.

Once again, your plan, though reasonable, is fatally flawed, for it entirely neglects the welfare of society, and thus ultimately your own welfare. Perhaps this is an irreconcilable point of contest but I will endeavor once more to persuade.

To begin with, a point of agreement. I do not believe our voting system sufficiently representative, and would support reform to make easier the existence of third parties. For instance, a run-off system for president and reform in the electoral college. I do believe our system such that we can instigate such reform within the system. Always aspire to perfection.

But I have already conceded that there is much to improve in our govenrment. Your point is that we should not have a government at all, or atleast one capable of inflicting involunary sacrifices upon its society. Involuntary sacrifice is the sort that you are forced to make, and is central to the welfare of society and the nature of this discussion. Such sacrifices are irrefutably essential to the welfare of society. Take for instance the ability to draft, and other war-time measures. Without the ability to inflict such involuntary sacrifice, is it not clear that society would most certainly have crumbled several times in the past in the face of other societies that could inflict such measures?

Education is another valid example. To begin with, not everybody in our society can afford school. School is not a necessity like shoes or a shirt. Nor is it cheap. The cost of school is comprable to buying one cheap car a year. The fact alone that not everyone has a car should alert you to their inability to afford school. Furthermore, families that have children are already under financial stress, so they do not even have the financial abilities of the average American. Finally, that added financial stress is a great incentive, in absence of school, to put ones child to work to pay off those costs and perhaps improve the family's financial position, but at cost of society's and their long term interests. To disagree on these points is to disagree with reality. There simply is no society or market that has spawned universal private education, and when left to their own means in the past, kids ended up working (there are a plethora of examples, but I doubt you contest the fact). To use a real example in American society, college education too has proven its worth to individuals, if not essential to society. There is no government program to provide universal-college education, and there are a great many people who would like to go to college but cannot, for many reasons similar to the above. Has ours, the most dynamic market in the world, provided them with a solution, a cheap, affordable, yet high-quality college education? Can we expect any better with the rest of education? Education is essential to society's well-being, and there is no private means to providing universal education.

Thus there lie two areas essential to society's welfare where there simply is no replacement for the government's role. But then there is another, the unique situation that arisen over the last two-hundred years in which industrialization has demonstrated the divisiveness of capitalism. There can be no denying that, for the most part, success breeds success in the market world. More capital leads to the ability to borrow more capital leads to the ability to produce more capital and so on. Likewise, for the most part, failure leads to failure. Less capital leads to forsaking long-term interests (such as education), leads to less influence leads to scraping along at the bottom, unless someone were to give an outside hand. The market, left to its own devices, breeds divisions in which those with the capital can abuse those without the capital, without crossing the line of no-initiation. Is a factory initiating anything by staing that it won't pay more than 1$ an hour? The machines are theirs, but if they're the only factory in town, or they scheme with the other factories, there's nothing those lacking capital can do about it. This situation, one that arose across the world with industrialization in the 19th century, is extremely dangerous for society. Not only is it screwing the majority of the populace, it is also creating a large portion of society that will take up arms to change a system that they have no faith in. Therein lie the origins of communism and the revolutions of 1848. Government regulation and welfare keep the situation in balance, providing a safety net at the bottom of the economic ladder by cleaving a few rungs off the top. It is situations such as this where government once again proves itself irreplaceable in maintaining the welfare of society.

Protection from the abuse of other societies, providing services essential to society that the market cannot provide, and keeping the market balanced. These are but a few situations where I have yet to see, much less hear, a viable alternative to the government and these are but a few situations that once again prove your libertarian theories to be out of touch with reality. The only problems lie in the means, not the goal.

I'm going to go by your examples for illustration of the "welfare of society", instead of tackling that nebulous phrase head-on.
The ability to draft? Theoretically, of course, it ensures that a nation has the necessary army to protect itself, but it also ensures that the government can deploy unwilling forces in any part of the world, for any reason. If a nation is worth defending, don't you think that its citizens would *want* to protect it, and would willingly join the armed forces to do so? Consider the differences between WWII and Vietman, for example. How good is an unwilling and demoralized soldier at fighting, anyway?
Education again. When you consider how the market has brought prices down in so many other areas, surely it should be obvious that the cost of education itself would also be brought down by entrepreneurs. People like John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and Sam Walton made huge fortunes by dramatically lowering the costs of their goods so that poorer people could afford to buy them. Of course, the cost of the automobile is higher today than it needs to be in large part due to the extensive regulation of the auto industry in America. Even so, the number of people who use public transportation is surprisingly low. Most Americans, even much of the poor, do, in fact, have cars. But I digress on a tangent.
The cost of education would come down, especially once educators were directly responsible to parents and students, and not to politicians and bureaucrats. With today's technology, it's inconceivable to me that inexpensive alternatives couldn't be developed through cable, satellite, internet, or even with CD-R's and dvd's. And this in addition to or in conjuntion with brick-and-mortar school buildings and teachers. There is much room for development and innovation in the educational system.
As for the college level, while there is no universal college education, there is quite an extensive array of public colleges and universities, as well as government grants and loans for college. The results have been rather ambiguous. Many college students coming out of public high schools have to take remedial courses to learn what they should have already learned, which puts an additional burden on the colleges. And then you have the increased number of college graduates who are finding it difficult to put their degrees to use. Universal college would either dumb down the colleges and universities or it would devalue the worth of a college degree, and simply create an additional educational hurdle on people trying to get jobs, and more chances to not become productive workers.
In short, education is only beneficial to society if one actually learns something and it is something worthwhile.

"The market, left to its own devices, breeds divisions in which those with the capital can abuse those without the capital, without crossing the line of no-initiation. Is a factory initiating anything by staing that it won't pay more than 1$ an hour? The machines are theirs, but if they're the only factory in town, or they scheme with the other factories, there's nothing those lacking capital can do about it."

I don't buy this. Capital is worthless without the labor to put it to use. Failure on the part of a particular company or even an industry is a sign that change is needed. A company could be badly run or a particular service or product may longer be needed or desired. this may cause certain dislocations of *both* capital and labor (so why should one be considered good but the other bad?), but it makes no sense to continue, say, making horse buggies when automobiles become popular and affordable, or mechanical adding machines when electronic calculators and computers come around.
As for "abusing" labor, this generally happens where, as you suggest, labor's options are limited. But what are the reasons for the limited options? Licensing, zoning, and other restrictions on competing businesses? Perhaps the very reason the town is small and dying is because there are no other factories, and thus, people have few choices but to leave for other towns or cities.
In any case, the employer's ability to abuse labor is severly limited or restricted without the use of coercion. If there is any real division between capital and labor, it exists primarily out of cultural habits and stereotypes.
The current system is, of course, a mixture of capitalist and anti-capitalist measures. Corporations and large companies can generally seek and get special interest legislation that protects them from competition to the detriment of the welfare of society, but they can mainly do that because we, the people, have not reined in the power of government. I'd also like to see more develop for employee ownership and stock options in their companies, a change in the clear-cut employer-employee relationship. But again, that's more a matter of social and cultural mores than anything else.
"Safety Net" - don't get me started on that--the government's so-called safety net generally ends up cutting a few rungs off the bottom of the ladder and changing the formation of the rungs on the top, but not cutting them off. Between the "welfare queens" and those who fall through the cracks, I have to wonder how many are really being "saved". But I guess Ted Turner can rely on those farm subsidies if his corporate interests ever go belly up. ;-)
I might agree that government should provide services essential to society that the market cannot provide, if only I could think of such a service. I don't agree that education is such a service. Coercion in the educational system has created problems and unintended consequences just as it has in other markets that the government has interfered in.
We do seem to have similar goals, but apparently not much agreement on the means.

Sorry for the late response, I do not believe you're yet a lost cause.

I am sorry, but until you out right say you are of a different opinion, regardless of the facts, I cannot allow you that opinion. So long as you try and bank that opinion with misrepresented facts, I must attack that opinion.

You are allowed your own set of opinions, but not your own set of facts.

"If a nation is worth defending, don't you think that its citizens would *want* to protect it"

"How good is an unwilling and demoralized soldier at fighting, anyway?"

This is a worthless piece of logic, because it neglects the very nature of warfare and nationalism. Was Nazi Germany worth defending? No. Did they muster millions who fought fanaticly? Yes. Army recruitment is not a mere choice on behalf of a government's citizens, rather it is the result of the culture and climate, often created by propaganda and the government, which will then enthrall that nation's citizens towards some goal. In democratic governments, that goal is for the most part in the best interest of the society, but that is beside the point. The point is that many governments not worth saving have used the tool of the draft, supported with propaganda and other weapons, to victor over governments without such power over their society. Another example, Soviet Russia's hordes that beat back the Nazi's, not so much out of love for their country, but through the ruthless tactics utilized by its government over its people. Would Soviet Russia had stopped there had the United States not been able to field millions in Europe and fight the spread of communism in Korea, and, less successfully, in Vietnam? No.

So, once again, the draft, an involuntary sacrifice to the betterment of society, is an indispensable weapon to defend society from other governments, and defense is an irreplaceable service provided by the government.

If given the proper powers and administration, demoralized soldiers should never be a large-scale issue in a well made army.

Education, once again you're unwilling to face the facts: there is NO EXAMPLE of an affordable, quality, large-scale (any scale), market-provided education. Your synopsis of college, an area free of a universal government plan, was that the current (gov. provided) options are failing. So this would be an IDEAL area for some capitalist to pick up the slack, lower prices, and make a fortune, but NO such capitalist has appeared. Yet you would blindly trust that such a capitalist would take up the much larger task of highschool education.

"But what are the reasons for the limited options?"
When I made the reference to limited options, I was not talking about the current situation in the US, I was talking about the genesis of industrialization, when industry was free of all that government regulation that you purport to be the source of all ruin. If, as a member of labor, you were to try and do something crazy, like demand a wage increase, or organize a union to enforce those demands, there was nothing keeping the factory from firing you, and banding up with all the other factories to black-list you. It happened, and it was abuse like that prompted society to act through government to make such regulatory statutes as protected labor. Once again, this is but one minor example of the huge role the government has played in taming and equalizing the inheritently unequal relationship between labor and capital.

"the government's so-called safety net generally ends up cutting a few rungs off the bottom of the ladder"
Thankyou. That's all I needed to hear. Yes, the rich are getting a few perks, yes, the safety net has some holes, but we're NOT perfect, and if we have indeed succeeded in eliminating those bottom rungs, than the safety net has been a success. Do you feel no obligation to help your fellow man? Do you feel no gratification that through your small sacrifice to society, millions are saved from destitution and poverty, and provided with hope and opportunity? Yes, the system is not perfect, but execution is not the issue, the issue here is whether or not society should look out for its less fortunate, and the resounding answer is yes, because it is better for those less fortunate and society (I believe I've been over communist revolutions?). In this statement you have already assented to the success of our safety net, so, like education, can you provide any examples of successful societies without any safety nets?

So, education, social safety net, defense, these are but a few of the many services essential to society's welfare that only government can provide. These particular ones are listed because they have all been thoroughly defended by facts, none of them refuted by more than logic and theories.

Before moving on to a last service irrefutable through logic and fact, let me say something quickly about logical theories. Like your libertarian paradise, communism was, for a long time, a logical theory, invented those aware of the problems but preferring to fantasize about human nature rather than take it head on. Communism made a lot of sense on paper and in theory, motivating educated elite to implement it, with dismal failures when confronted cold reality. This is why I demand some measure of facts and evidence to substantiate your theories. Without such evidence, they are more likely to great harm than any good.

The final example I will give of an indispensable service provided by governments for the greater welfare of society: immigration. Without the government, what is to keep a company from simply pumping immigrants from point a to point b. It may screw over the society in point b, but so long as they're making money off the immigrants, what other than government intervention would keep the company from continuing the operation? I trust you can fill in the factual details, although I'd be glad to if you challenge this service.

Thus is how I judge your libertarian ideal. If you admit this as a "belief", for it is nothing more until you can substantiate it with something more than logic and theories, as something you will hold regardless of facts, I can respect that, much as I respect a religious sect. Yet until the evidence is forthcoming, I cannot respect any attempt on your part to impart this belief to others or government policy, for this would bring harm to society, and thus me and those I care for.

Just a short response to some of your comments. The case of Nazi Germany and their armies is a different situation, because they weren't recruiting soldiers to defend Germany, they were drafting them to attack other countries. The question is whether or not the draft was necessary for the U.S. to recruit soldiers to fight against Germany. Defense, not offense.

Education: no, I don't expect A capitalist to step in and provide education. Instead, I expect many people to step in and provide it. Indeed, besides the already existing private schools, there's an increasing home schooling movement and a variety of educational materials available outside of the public school system.
If private schooling is not exploding to replace the public system, it's at least partly explained by the tax system that pays for public schools: If you want to put your child in private school or homeschool them, you have to pay extra money for it, you don't get your tax money credited back to you. Wealthier people can afford that--it's the poor that have a harder time with it.

You misunderstand what I meant about the bottom rungs being cut off. Without those bottom rungs, the poor find it difficult or impossible to even start climbing. If the minimum wage makes it harder for the young and the unskilled to get jobs and start careers, then they're certainly not going to find it easy to get high-paying jobs.
Should society help the less fortunate? That's the wrong question. Are we helping the less fortunate by stealing from some in society to give to others in society? That's a better question to ask. Like many people, you conflate "society" with "government", but they're not the same thing at all. There's nothing compassionate about spending other people's money, and it ignores the unintended consequences of the coercion involved. Force companies to pay higher wages, for example, and the cost-shifting and loss of productivity ends up hurting all of society, and the poor the most of all.
So it's not a matter of whether we should help the less fortunate, but rather what's the best way to help the less fortunate.
I'm not sure what you're referring to about immigration--the assertion is too vague for me to deal with. Are you talking about immigrant labor?
The point about logical theories is of interest. In essence, logical theories are 'a priori' systems, largely considered insular. But all such systems are based upon axiomatic premises. Obviously, the premises need to be true in order for the logical system to be true.
I'm not sure that I would consider Communism a logical system, but assuming that it is, its premises have been challenged many times over as being flawed. The Labor Theory of Value, for example, has serious problems that undermine most of the economics of Communism.
If you're looking for a comprehensive underpinning of libertarianism, Ayn Rand tried to present very fundamental metaphysical axioms with Objectivism and built up epistemology, ethics, esthetics, and political theory based upon that metaphysics.
If that's too much, then libertarianism as merely a political philosophy is premised on the idea that the initiation of force and fraud is wrong and has undesirable consequences. If the coercion of murder, robbery, and rape is wrong, then why is the coercion by government supposed to be right? Again, a distinction must be made between initiating force and defensive force. It's not wrong, for example, to use force to stop a robber, or to recover stolen property.
Facts rarely speak for themselves. You want to say that the coercion of the draft, the government welfare system or the public education system is justified by the results, but the results only provide a historical record of what actually happened, not what could or would have happened without such coercion. Your conception that libertarianism would bring harm to society is thus merely an assumption in itself, and could only be justified if you thought no better results were possible by any other system. You've already granted the imperfections of the current system, so do you really think that a little tinkering with the current system is all that needs to be done? Or do we really need to go back and reconsider the fundamentals that our system is based on?

And since this blog post was originally about energy, here's another article about California's electricity and Proposition 80: The Myth of Electricity Deregulation

http://www.mises.org/story/1954

"The question is whether or not the draft was necessary for the U.S. to recruit soldiers to fight against Germany. Defense, not offense"

I agree, that is the question, and the fact that other, worse, governments are and have used the draft to great effect makes it an indispensable tool in that defense. Whether or not to defend is irrelevant, war is an inevitable fact for any nation, and the draft is an indispensable tool for winning. But it's not like that's the only involuntary sacrifice forced upon citizens so that we can defend our society from hostiles. For as much as 49% of the nation, any taxes, and thus any purchased weapons, ranging from nukes to guns, all represent involuntary sacrifices. I simply don't see any evidence that our society (all of humanity, for that matter, we effectively keep order in the world) can maintain its standard of living and welfare without such tools in defense. Thus yes, that is the question, here's my answer and its support, perhaps you could give me yours?

Your educational defense is that you expect many as opposed to one capitalist to save the day. I never pinned the responsibility on an individual, merely the market, which has simply failed to provide universal quality education ANYWHERE. My point that it is an irreplaceable government service stands unchallenged.

"So it's not a matter of whether we should help the less fortunate, but rather what's the best way to help the less fortunate."

Thankyou, we have agreement on this point. The fact that you admit an obligation to help the less fortunate is all that is necessary. Now provide a factually and statistically supported alternative and I'll entertain it. The notion that we would do the poor more good by simply doing nothing is ridiculous until given some support, especially seeing the many historical examples provided that demonstrate miserable and hopeless conditions for the poor before government intervention.

The notion that the government is arbitrarily stealing from one member of society and handing the money to another is also ridiculous. That taxes constitute an involuntary sacrifice I give, although a sacrifice given knowingly to the majority of society for the betterment of society, and thus entirely different from rape or robbery. Yet welfare/taxes are set up in such a way that it takes but a small portion from those that are benefitting most from our system (our free market & the institutions that support it), and puts it into programs that ensure that those who are getting screwed (ie bad credit, 3 children, & your lifelong industry just got outsourced to China) continue to have opportunities and continue to have faith in the system. If they lose faith in the system, then they will work to destroy it. Although culture, not economics, is at the root of the current French riots, the same is essentially occuring. They have lost faith in the system, and thus see no harm in creating mayhem. In essence, the government levies taxes for various forms of welfare so as to maintain the system which has served the taxed so well. The same is also true for the world. The US puts the most effort forth (military aid, economic aid, humanitarian aid) to maintain the increasingly global market because the global market benefits us the most.

Immigration is an irreplaceable government service. Why? Because in a perfect, unregulated market, there would be nothing keeping companies from say, for instance, transporting unlimited Mexicans, Chinese, and Asians, in effect the world's poor, into our society. This would make fortunes for the companies doing the transportation, but do you think this would benefit the society? Think this would benefit you?

On paper, philosophically, and logically pure communism made alot of sense upon its introduction (1848). They just lacked any real supporting evidence. Millions died before it was resoundingly proven wrong. See why I want some evidence for libertarianism?

Interesting that none of the arguments you listed for Ayn Rand include examples or facts.

I'll take improvements on the current system, I'll admit it could be fundamentally wrong, but currently it's working pretty damm well, and I'm not going to support an alternative with no supporting evidence. This is almost like evolution vs. intelligent design. Evolotion isn't perfect, but it still beats anything that intelligent design has put forth (drop the metaphor if you believe in ID, I don't want to argue that).

Thus, whereas they have been discussed, the services stand unrefuted, but more importantly, the core points still stand unchallenged. The government is essential to maintaining the welfare of society, through defense, through welfare, and especially for countering other governments. How would the free market handle those services? Can you provide any examples of a free market (entirely "free" of any gov. interference would be best, but I'll take mostly free) providing these services? Until you can, I will continue to view your ideology as having no more factual base than a religion.

Again, the facts in themselves don't prove your position. Thus, putting the burden of proof on me, while it may seem reasonable to you, isn't entirely justified.

FROM MUTUAL AID TO WELFARE STATE: FRATERNAL SOCIETIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES, 1890–1967.

http://www.mises.org/journals/qjae/pdf/qjae4_4_6.pdf

Is it just me, or does TypePad seem to be having some problems?

1. The listed services may only be provided by the government.

2. The government may only be effective by imposing involuntary sacrifices. They should be minimized, but they are necessary.

3. The listed services are essential to society's welfare.

4. Society's welfare is essential to your welfare.


These are my points in my defense of government and refutation of your brand of libertarianism. Here's their proven/disproven status:

1. The first one is proven because the government is providing named services and you have failed to provide any factual alternatives. In effect, the government is not perfect, but it is the best we have.

2. The second one has also been proven through demonstration of services, well all power that is exercised by the will of the majority, that, once again, cannot and have not been provided through consensus.

3. We have not debated the third point, primarily because it is moot that education and defense are essential to society's welfare. It will remain moot until challenged.

4. The same stands in respect to the final point, one must have some assumptions upon which to build discussion, but we can go more to more basic ones if you wish to challenge.


hehe, We've really hijacked the services of this blog, and although I feel the discussion is concluding, we can move the conversation if you feel you actually have something more to bring to the table.


The link didn't work, for some reason my firefox does work with pdf's, and internet explorer's just incooperative.

I've think we've reached a hiatus on this, short of trotting out tons of data. I merely repeat my point that the historical facts can't make your arguments for you. Government has and does provide certain services, but you haven't shown that *only* the government can provide such services. Your second point isn't proven, either, unless you specifically define government as an agency that exists by imposing voluntary sacrifices.

I don't know what *only* means, but that's not what I claim. Anyone can try and provide these services, but the govenment is the best provider. Simply said, you have failed to provide one factual example of a superior alternative.

Furthermore, even if you provided one superior service, that would not necessarily disprove the necessity of government. So long as the superior solution can be implemented in the current atmosphere, the viability of government would remain.

I always remain open to specific, factually based, and superior, solutions. I believe there are alot of them, in fact know there are a lot of them, but even that does not disprove the necessity of government. In effect, if you want improvement, lobby for specific, but strong reform, instead of trying to change everything all at once. That is how it has happened in the past, will happen, and is how you will earn people's, or atleast my, support.

Advocating immediate abolition of government is just plain crazy. Any abolition of government seems crazy, illogical, and dangerous to me. Yet abolition of a specific service, or reform, is something I and the public can accept. Of course you've still failed to provide any areas, but that is really the best way to approach this potentially monumental subject.

You said:
1. The listed services may only be provided by the government.

To go back to education, for example, clearly, the government is not the only way to provide for education. Sure, you've qualified it, that only government can provide universal education, but given the quality of education in the U.S., this sounds like you prefer universal second-rate education to quality education.

I'm pretty sure that I never advocated the immediate abolition of government. I wouldn't expect that to happen overnight--I'm arguing for the direction to go in.
Sure, I'm arguing for the total privatization of education. Would it make more sense if I were to argue for vouchers or tax credits and hide the fact that I want to go farther than that? Perhaps it would be more palatable to people, but it wouldn't be very honest, now would it?

I prefer second rate education to no education, even though, seeing the nature of democracy and our society, that second rate education is in a state of constant improvement. It needs reform, because the current system does not work for current times, but not abolition, for it still does vast more good than bad.

Yet that's not the point. The point is, given your proof, the alternative is no education. There is no example of effective, private, universal education, and I'm not going to screw over even 1% (although the number would be much higher) of our nation's children just because they didn't have rich parents and I don't want to pay property taxes. Furthermore, denying children the opportunity to education is denying them a chance at life, leading to lost hope in the system leading to what France is reaping right now; a whole class of people who have been screwed by the system and thus do not feel the need to obey its rules. In effect, saved property taxes today will be spent police, prison, and welfare taxes tommorrow, not to mention the lost economic potential in those without education. Universal education is essential. The government is currently the best option, and until you provide a better, I'm going to keep it.

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