Libertarians Lack Compassion?

Aha. I ran across this interview with Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) and loved what he said about Libertarians and compassion.  He has some great points here, especially about no one, Liberal, Libertarian or Conservative, being evil, simply being groups that disagree about how to solve the same problems. I’ve written it out here, but watching it is really worth it.

 

 

Here is the Penn Jillette transcript starting at 3 minute 40 secs:

…But I think the biggest misconception I find about Libertarians is that there’s a lack of compassion. And I think that…there is as much compassion among libertarians as there is among liberals. It’s not what the problems are, it’s how to solve them.

EVERYBODY wants clean, safe energy. Some people think nuclear’s the way to go; some people think coal’s the way to go, some people think wind’s the way to go, and there’s always balances on that:

Libertarians tend to put freedom as a goal in itself and also a way to obtain other goals.

Liberals tend to put security as a goal in itself and a way to obtain other goals.

Ahhh I think the biggest misconception is that libertarians – I guess the cliché would be – don’t care about the crack babies.  I just think you can deal with people in trouble using compassion.

One of the things that bothers me about statism is that they take away my compassion. When you take money from me by force, run it thru the government to help other people, I think there’s less compassion that me being able to do something.

What I say about Libertarians versus Liberals is:

I will gladly help you build the library. I will not use a gun to get someone else to join us in helping to build that library. I want credit, you know, I want credit for helping. I want to feel like I’m helping, and giving money to the government does not seem like the best way to help, and forcing other people to give money to the government seems immoral to me.

I think that if I want to cure cancer, I should work on curing cancer. You can’t force other people to give money to cure cancer – then you’re not really helping, or you’re helping in a way that I don’t think is right.

So the question on healthcare was not if you saw someone lying in the street who needed help, would you run over and bandage them. The question is really if you saw someone suffering in the street, would you run, get a policeman, have that policemen find a doctor, have that doctor forced by everybody around to take a vote and then come in and help.

But I think that it’s forgotten that what everybody’s trying to do is help the people that need it.

Everybody’s trying that.  I will say that about every political group.

And I think that I would love to see the people using the word wrong more, and using the word evil less. Obama is a really good guy, a really smart guy, and every moment, every second of every day is spent trying to do what’s best. I disagree with him. But there’s no sense that he’s evil.

And this is something I’ll say that a lot of people will freak out at:

I think the same is true for George W Bush. I think every second he was trying as hard as he could to do what was best. I disagreed with him very, very intently….

To be able to say “you’re wrong and here are the reasons” is respect. To say “you’re evil” is antihuman.   Cause the people that I‘ve met in my life who are truly bad and truly evil, is such a small number. I mean, if you take the 6 billion people on the planet and round off the numbers, about 6 billion are good. 

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The Myth of Liberal Compassion (David Limbaugh) – sort of gets to the point

I ran across a column by David Limbaugh from August called: The Myth of Liberal Compassion which was of course interesting to me, as that’s a big part of what sparked my blog here!

Once you wade through all the ‘Obama this, Obama that, I blame Obama’ noise and B.S., I think David Limbaugh has a point.  He basically says that Liberals are seen as compassionate, but when you look at the results of their policies, they are not helping the people they say they do.  I agree. 

David Limbaugh writes in his article: 

At some point, Obama and his fellow liberals need to be judged for the effects of their policies, not the grandiosity of their self-congratulatory rhetoric.

I’d say ALL politicians ‘need to be judged for the effects of their policies, not the grandiosity of their self-congratulatory rhetoric,’ not just liberals and Obama.

Intent matters more than outcomes in politics…It’s unfortunate that they can all use rhetoric and dress up bad results and government failures in big words…and get away with it and not have any significant consequences.

Aside: Sort of the heart of the problem – reading this book LeaderShift which suggests the 3 branches of government only work if a fourth branch exists – informed, actively engaged citizens holding the branches of government to account!

Anyway, It seems clear to me that routing charity and efforts to help those less fortunate through the government is misguided and not the best solution. Once we bureaucratize helping others and create government entities to manage it, private and local charity and efforts are starved out.

Private alternatives are more efficient, more innovative, able to adapt to particular societal changes, able to address individual situations, able to look at whether poverty is caused by misfortune or through consistent bad choices (situations that require different solutions and aid)…Private alternatives require less money/resources and are more effective.

I suggest that we wake up and stop this craziness of thinking that government is a nobler alternative, somehow not prone to human conditions of self interest, greed, bad incentives. I vote for a patchwork of voluntary, private sector organizations who can innovate, require much less in terms of funds compared to government alternatives which invariably become inefficient (you can’t kill anything off, end any programs, so it becomes costlier and costlier, and they stick around even if they stop working well)

This is a topic I’m very interested in – the paradigm says government is good, liberals are compassionate. Private sector is brutal, conservatives are selfish. This leaves no room at all for real solutions to helping people get out of poverty traps and thrive. Calling them lazy and dumb and dependent won’t get you very far either, if you want to change the default mindset and implement alternatives. Right now, any reform or voluntary alternatives that don’t fit the paradigm are ignored/dismissed/overlooked.

https://freemarketcompassion.com/2013/08/01/where-are-the-truly-compassionate-solutions-for-helping-others/

Note to David Limbaugh: aren’t you tired of blaming Obama for all problems… Obama this, Obama that. It’s a much bigger problem than one man and started ages ago, before he was born. Right now our paradigm is flawed and needs fixin.’

Three objections to free market solutions

Mark Pennington’s book cover

I’m reading Mark Pennington’s book Robust Political Economy, and he sums up in his conclusion 3 main objections to Classical Liberalism, (which is essentially a belief in the ‘free markets’ and a minimal state). This is something that any libertarian leaning person should understand!

Here is my paraphrased, layman’s term interpretation of what he’s written (p. 264)

The three main reason people dismiss Classical Liberalism are

1. the crazy idea that people make rational decisions in the free market and get to optimal outcomes that way (invisible hand, or the idea that individual actions and choices in a voluntary market benefit everyone.

2. Classical Liberals are so individualistic they dismiss “the communal identifications that shape human lives,” or individuals’ need for connection with other human beings and being part of a wider community or group.

3. Classical Liberalism doesn’t care about or solve problems of social justice and the unequal distribution of power and social status.

Mark Pennington’s book is essentially a collection of arguments seeking to show that none of these stand up to scrutiny.

Looking at the free market and compassion, I’ll keep all 3 in mind. When it come to efforts to help people out of poverty, I see these common arguments:

1. Voluntary solutions aren’t enough – people wouldn’t give enough; they’d be selfish. There wouldn’t be enough help. There would be an undersupply of help. 

2. Private welfare organizations and safety nets are gone – if we were to ‘privatize’ the welfare state, the mutual aid societies, the churches, the grassroots organizations and extended families, they just wouldn’t be there to fill the gap.  There’s an undersupply of alternatives; It’s too late to change it.

3. Everyone should help their neighbor, and making it mandatory through government action is the moral thing to do…

I’ll start with that!

Compassion in the early 1800’s United States – responsibility on both sides

I’m still going on Marvin Olasky’s book and get this – in the early 1800s, compassion and helping others was very much seen as an individual responsibility and everyone’s responsibility! Imagine that.  And those in need also had to take action to help themselves.

“It was important for the better-off to know the poor individually, and to understand their distinct characters.”

It’s worth noting that in these days, communities were smaller, and people KNEW each other.  He also talks about how the sermon at church was the primary means of mass communication, and “the need to offer personal help and hospitality became a frequent subject of sermons” in colonial days.

“Congregationalist and Presbyterian sermons regularly noted that faith without works of compassion was dead. (p.7, Ch 1)”

So it was a societal expectation, back then given that most everyone practiced religion, that you had to help others if you could.

Here’s what he says:

1. If someone got sick or had a tragedy happen to their family, other people in the community would look after them completely. They’d give their time doing chores or cooking meals. They’d take in orphaned children and help women who were widowed.

2. “Decent Living” was a prerequisite to being helped!  This meant that a) you had to be a moral person (not a drunk, abuser, thief, etc.) AND that b) you had to work if you could. If someone was seen as lazy and not willing to help themselves, they wouldn’t keep giving them aid.

“The able-bodied could readily find jobs in a growing agricultural economy; when they chose not to, it was considered perfectly appropriate to pressure them to change their minds.”

Aha. Makes sense. We don’t really differentiate at ALL nowadays between a) people who are poor or struggling due to tragedies or due to being born into bad circumstances and b) people who are poor due to their own inaction and/or consistent bad choices, or due to not wanting to work.

Wow, it’s probably heresy to even write down that the second category exists. Funny isn’t it?

I’ve done a fair amount of self-development courses over my lifetime: did Landmark Education, have been to Byron Katie’s workshops, listened to Anthony Robbins, even in my teens went to SuperCamp down in LA., as my parents wanted to help me see the possibilities for my life…ALL of these different approaches remind you that YOU and no one else is responsible for your life.  You can’t control external circumstances all the time (i.e. whether your husband has a subarachnoid hemorrhage when your son is 11 months old and won’t be able to work for the rest of his life). They tell you to focus on what you CAN do, what you can control -your own goals, motivations, actions, outlook.

So when I see non-profits with a goal ‘to end poverty in the world’…my first thought is always you can’t rid of all poverty!  You can’t stop or prevent the poverty that comes from being able to sit on the couch all day, watching TV or surfing the web and not taking any action.  I could choose to stop going to work, just watch movies and play with my kids all day.  I’d eventually get fired, lose my job…I could make our family poor in about 6 months; probably less, if I bought a lot of stuff online, took out some credit cards…Individual choice of course impacts whether someone is poor or not.

Most of the dialogue around fighting poverty doesn’t ever mention this, does it?  But labeling people as lazy or irresponsible and writing them off is judgmental, self-righteous, and unproductive.  I can imagine that in the 1800’s, you could get labeled as a ‘good-for-nothing’ and then be in big doo doo. We COULD, however, ensure that people are active participants in turning their lives around, that they build a growth/empowered mindset, and that there are consequences for their choices. That sounds like a good idea.

One recent example where the charity organization DOES require people to show individual responsibility:  Homeboy Industries, led by Father Boyle, in Los Angeles.  I’ve read his book, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion.  If former gang members want to turn their lives around, Homeboy Industries requires them to make commitments in exchange.  If they are late or don’t show up to work X times (I can’t remember the exact number) they will be let go. And they have to attend life skills classes too.  Homeboy Industries requires that they are active contributors in turning their situations around. (I think I’ve recalled the details correctly; apologies if it’s not 100 accurate, though.) I was lucky enough to hear Father Boyle talk a few years ago at an IABC Los Angeles event.)Father Boyle is a Jesuit priest, by the way, for those of you who now distrust and dismiss Christianity as a force for good.

Thoughts? What other orgs are out there where they have recipients actively participate?  Habitat for Humanity, certainly.

Where are the truly compassionate solutions for helping others.

I’m reading Marvin Olasky’s book called The Tragedy of American Compassion, which Steve Forbes’ and Elizabeth Ames’ new book referenced! I’d never heard of it, since in 1992 I was graduating from university and busy with so many things. I’ve been asking and asking (everyone who’ll listen) my ‘compassion and the free market’ questions, but never heard about it. And here’s a book that’s exactly what I wanted to find!

So my next few posts will be related to what I’m learning and reading.

The first idea I see in the introduction:

“Americans in urban areas a century ago faced many of the problems we faced today, and they came up with truly compassionate solutions. We may not realize this, because only two kinds of books on the overall history of poverty-fighting in America are now available (emphasis added).  A few of the books argue that the free market itself solves all problems of poverty. The more conventional approach stresses government intervention to restructure economic relations. But neither kind emphasizes the crucial role of truly compassionate individuals and groups in the long fight against poverty.”

Aha! Already getting somewhere…

This is what I’ve been asking anyone who’ll listen to my spiel!  Why do we have this unspoken assumption nowadays that government is the place for compassion and helping others when it does it so badly and wastes an unbelievable amount of resources running a bad system? Why do we do this when we know codifying welfare kills innovation, other solutions, and inevitably the system will not be able to adapt an change as society and technology advances?

And why do the free-marketers not lay claim to all the voluntary compassionate activities and showcase them as alternatives to the welfare state? Why do they dismiss individual and voluntary groups working to help others – these are activities happening in the FREE market, whether for profit, non profit. Tom’s Shoes? The Salvation Army? United Way? Santa Barbara FoodBank? Jodi House? Millions of others? They certainly are not mandated, coerced governmental activities.  They are freely done and are organizations and people coming together to assist others. Yes, they’re being choked and starved out as government takes over, but clearly there is compassion and the will to help others showing in communities, still.

I went to FreedomFest this year (which was fantastic) and asked as many people as I could why Free Marketers don’t ever address the voluntary ways people and communities help one another and talk about the free market as providing better solutions to ending poverty. Well the answer: they ignore it as the best way to cure poverty is free markets where people can voluntarily exchange – this creates  value and more prosperity by far than other other system, and far more value than wealth transfers and charity…

Yes, true…I agree! But this doesn’t matter when you’re looking at suffering in the face. We need to talk about how one person who sees homeless people sleeping on the streets should/could help them. Saying ‘more prosperity and freer markets will cure this’, is not going to work. (I’m thinking of Arthur Brooks here – read his bit about how reason and the theoretical will never win an emotional argument).

So it’s time for someone to look a bit harder at to whether the possibilities that exist in the free market might work better than the centrally planned, blanket, non-compassionate, well-intentioned-but-with-massive-unintended-consequences, easily abused programs we have now…

Compassion and the Private Sector

Compassion & the Free Market

Proposal for creating/sparking a non-profit grassroots organization promoting the private sector as the best arena for solving social problems.

Goal:

 

Create and grow a new branch of the free-market movement that explores, showcases and celebrates private sector ideas and solutions for social problems and the ways in which people and organizations voluntarily demonstrate compassion, create community, and help others constantly.  Change perspectives on compassion and the free market – to be measured by counting participants, followers, and people who respond to outreach efforts (measure likes, audience, reach, shares, donations, press, interviews). Aim for 50,000 year one.

 

Background:

 

Government is widely and mistakenly seen as a benevolent provider of compassion and also as the only means in which to help those in need. The paradigm that “government is good and the free market is bad” is widespread and damaging.

Viable solutions and tangible results are overlooked, and often wither and die despite being valuable to society. There is a lack of awareness that the private sector encompasses individuals, non-profits, for-profits, and social enterprises, all of which regularly contribute resources towards solving and reducing social problems. This lack of understanding results in many people endangering the innovation, freedom and creativity needed to address social problems. Codification in a government function dooms us to a slow rate of change, de-humanization of charity, waste, and the same types of failure that existing in the free market, only longer lasting and more damaging. (cite Mark Pennington)

To date, ”pro-market” organizations and people have battled to communicate the message that the free market provides more well-being to everyone and is the best structure to ensure all citizens prosper. Many organizations are advocating a reduction in the functions handled by government and its growing presence in all aspects of life.

However, their standard arguments do not penetrate most people’s minds, as they fail to get past the  belief that somehow government is the only conduit for ‘good intentions.’ Benevolent intent behind new bills and pieces of legislation trumps reason every time, (cite Arthur Brooks). They tend to focus on government’s inefficiency, its coercive nature, discussing whether a particular bill will actually do what it is intended to do, etc. Alternatively, they will approve of people’s freedom to shape their own destinies on an individual level and leave it at that. They rarely showcase or promote free market alternatives to a particular issue in question, but instead reject government as a solution and leave the alternative at ‘the free market will sort it out.’

 

“Economic freedom produces unimaginable material prosperity, but it’s also the only economic form that encourages individuals to freely pursue their destinies, develop the character of self-responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

— Congressman Paul Ryan

“Only free enterprise encourages and allows each of us to define our destiny and earn our success.  Only free enterprise encourages true fairness based on merit and opportunity. And free enterprise is the only system that can lift up the vulnerable and those who have fallen on hard times by the millions—by rewarding entrepreneurship and encouraging charity.”

 

—  Arthur Brooks

I believe that most of us who live beyond survival mode, those with enough resources for food, shelter, and basic security, are compassionate by nature to others. Both Paul Ryan and Arthur Brooks above mention community and helping others, but don’t go so far as to contrast what is seen in the voluntary part of society to that which is legislated or run by government.

 

I believe human beings have a moral and instinctive desire to help our fellow man. Fellow man may mean family, colleagues, peers, the local community, people in other countries. But in any case, evidence is widespread that human beings who prosper at some level voluntarily do contribute to their wider community. Very few of us are true individualists, able and willing to live entirely for our own benefit. These examples, existing all around us are the area that requires study, encouragement, publicity, and attribution to individuals acting freely, ergo as part of what we call the free market.

 

Supporting community, charity, compassion and helping others is something that lives and breathes and thrives in the free market in millions of ways every day. The free market means the part of our society where individuals voluntarily create and exchange.

 

Examples of Free Market solutions to explore, showcase and celebrate as part of private sector:

–       Toms Shoes – social enterprise that has embedded into its for profit company a core goal of helping poor children around the world in a practical way – providing shoes. Voluntary exchange, voluntarily created organization. Buying a pair of their shoes is also a contribution.

–       Beito – From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State – historical analysis of how some current social need functions of government (i.e. unemployment benefits) were handled successfully by the private sector.

–       Churches, Synagogues, Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary, Girl Scouts, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, corporations (Starbucks gave $250,000 to Oklahoma tornado relief last month), religious organizations…

–       Non-profits such as Care International, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services –offering  microloans through village savings groups (Mutual Aid societies of modern day? ) that create sustainable cycle and fund more loans (social enterprise)

 

ACTIVITIES:

  1. Spark conversation, dialogue, and discussion on the ways individuals and groups of individuals (through non-profits, social enterprise, for profits) are helping to address social problems and have alternatives to government codified programs.
  2. Create and disseminate materials and a structure for others interested in this topic to use to start discussion groups, meet ups, grassroots organizations, pages.
  3. Create a way for people to contribute content, stories and examples of free market compassion that can be shared and explored as examples of innovation and results.
  4. Create and expand this premise into a body of work that can be published on this topic – Compassion and the Free Market
  5. Tap into grassroots for engaging, innovative content – video, audio, humor – crowdsource effectively messages that will resonate with people.

 

Required

  1. I am looking for people interested in working on a team to develop and expand this premise and also look for and possibly counter objections. Also looking to determine the best for-profit parallel organization to create a sustainable income stream beyond donations
  2. I need a research assistant who can verify sources, examples, stories and ensure our work has integrity and doesn’t become simply another blind belief system.
  3. $200,000 – funds for 12 months for initial research, outreach, organization. 2 people…

 

 

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.”
― Horace Mann

 

“Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.”
~Hubert Humphrey

 

“Why are the Agreeable Anti-Market?”  – Bryan Caplan blog post http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/07/why_are_the_agr.html

 

Humans – naturally happier when they help others?

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/were-only-human/real-good-for-free-the-paradox-of-leisure-time.html#comment-7003

 

Helping those in Need – Arthur Brooks

http://arthurbrooks.aei.org/learn/earned-success/

 

Liberals and Markets – Bryan Caplan

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/03/liberals_and_ma.html

 

“Homeless to Harvard” – a community came together to provide for a high school student, outside of government. Example of human nature and compassion

http://www.cato.org/blog/homeless-harvard

 

Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Amity Shlaes – historical analysis of Calvin Coolidge as president and prosperity from reducing government

http://iwf.org/modern-feminist/2790812/Portrait-of-a-Modern-Feminist:-Amity-Shlaes

 

THE COSTS OF PUBLIC INCOME REDISTRIBUTION

AND PRIVATE CHARITY

http://mises.org/journals/jls/21_2/21_2_1.pdf

Poverty Relief – government programs vs. private

Mark Pennington.  Robust Political Economy

My notes on reading the part on Poverty Relief –

Universal system of poverty relief vs a mosaic combining private mutual aid societies and charity.

Common objections against private sector –

won’t be enough charity and help. People won’t voluntarily help.

Won’t be the right kind of help – community – people fund their local community, not poorest that need most help. people/communities who need help may not be good at getting it (I’m thinking Mountain View PTA here vs. other schools, Malcolm Gladwell’s bit about middle class teaching their kids to get what they want and Oppenheimer example).

People won’t help themselves. People forced to pay social security for example, won’ t have discipline on their own to do it privately (will spend it, not save for old age).

Moving welfare aid back to private sector – Steve DeCanio’s thought:  it’s too late; no savings, no family ties, bad schools, people not used to looking after themselves and won’t be capable of doing it.  A lot of what helped people in the past no longer there.

Is poverty alleviation a collective good? with a small number of causes? Or an individual condition that takes individual action to alleviate? Is a “War on Poverty” a damaging paradigm that de-emphasizes individual effort?

Voluntaristic form of collective action = less susceptible to moral hazard. Gov’t schemes – you get vested interests needing status quo,  and supressing innovation

gov’t vs private anti-poverty schemes.

1. countries with no gov programs do not necessarily have more poverty:

Hong Kong (no gov’t) – same as Sweden (high gov’t relief)

Sweden (high gov’t relief) has less poverty than France (comparable gov’t relief)

“A voluntarist approach combining mutual aid, one-to-one assistance and donations to charitable bodies would enable a plurality of actors, each with specialized knowledge, to tailor their poverty alleviation efforts to specific individual contexts” p 164

universal solutions stifle innovation and macdonaldize the issue. Like healthcare. (Alternatives to status quo very difficult to test and even more difficult to take hold. Would Kahn Academy, Lynda.com, Tom’s Shoes,  ever have been possible through gov’t?)