Posted by on May 23, 2017

I have done this before.  When I have an exchange with a reader that allows me to riff on some useful topics, I sometimes do the lazy thing and reproduce it as a blog post.  Below is a recent exchange with a former colleague and new reader, whom I anonymously thank for the stimulus.

(My response is edited to make me look more spontaneously smart, fluent and coherent than I truly am.  The section on “Regulation” is entirely new.)

The Original Email

Thanks Roger.  Good stuff.  I’m definitely to the left of you on at least some issues.  I don’t think Gorsuch is so hot (I love the arrogance of the term “originalist” like the “originalist” is a fucking mind reader), I believe there is a significant role for governments in regulating externalities especially when it comes to the environment (I assume as a libertarian you think that role is very limited?), the greatest threat to mankind is climate change and the greatest threat to the US is the debt and unfunded liabilities (which we probably agree on?).

As an aside, crony capitalism is running rampant and Democrats and Republicans are worse than complicit in its promotion.  And a lot of conservatives love government intervention when it helps their business or provides them a free service but they don’t like it so much when it’s helping someone else.  (I love the hypocrisy of older Fox News addicted Republicans feeding at the Medicare trough and bitching about government handouts to others.)

I do agree with you as you mentioned, the backlash against this Trump craziness could be an Elizabeth Warren/leftist democrat victory in 2020 which is just as destructive.  I also agree the government has lost the plot in the amount and sensibility of its regulation of business and that Trump is looney.

My Response

Here are my responses:

Gorsuch — Although I am no lawyer, it seems to me that we have to choose between three schools of thought: originalists, activists and deference.  Activists think that they should make laws on the basis of their own value judgments and their views of a “living” constitution — NFW.  Deference thinks that, in the absence of something very egregious (I think), they should defer to the rulemaking of the executive — again, NFW, which in the age of Trump I think should be obvious.  Maybe originalists cannot be perfect mind readers, but at least they start the process with the assumption that their job is to be the umpire and not a player, and that they are there to enforce the Constitution’s protections for the individual over the government (and also the protections for local government over an overreaching federal government).  Among the three schools, I think the choice is easy.

Environment — The government definitely has a role in protecting the environment — this is a classic “tragedy of the commons” that the private market cannot handle.  But it should do so intelligently.  The first thing is to use economic incentives (ie, carbon tax) instead of “command and control” regulations (as I mentioned in my climate change piece and as I discuss further in Bootleggers and Baptists in this blog).  It should also be recognized that the best way to control pollution is by enclosing the commons — there are no pollution problems with private property (nor problems of overuse, etc.).  What can be practically enclosed varies over time and we should be alert to new opportunities for enclosure (through, for example, changes in technology), because property rights, private contract (ie,“Coasian bargains”) and tort law are the best solutions.

Climate Change — Very briefly, as you have seen, I think that something should be done about climate change.  However, as is often true, the Left is definitely overstating the scientific case and misrepresenting the evidence on this issue.  I think that smarter arguments, based on a precautionary principle and geopolitical considerations, are the ones that I make here.  But the Left will never do this, because ad hominem is their favorite fallacy and they aren’t really happy unless they can demonize.

Crony Capitalism — We are in violent agreement.  However, the only solution to crony capitalism is to limit the government’s ability to grant favors through things like regulation and subsidies — this is the point that the Left will never see.  Also, Crony Capitalism is very bad, but so is Crony Unionism, which is destroying public schools, making it nearly impossible to eliminate the small percentage of cops who are violent thugs with badges, and bankrupting state and local governments.  See this blog.  The partnership between the Democratic Party and government unions is a disgrace and the biggest and most obvious conflict of interest in the country.

Hypocrisy of the Old — Yep: “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” is a real thing and terrible.  But note that this is not the only way that the government is screwing the young.  Entitlements, government debt, Obamacare, housing policy, labor laws — all of these are mostly left-wing conspiracies against the young.  See Between Two Generations here and the main article here.  All western countries are increasingly becoming gerontocracies, which is a major cause of lost economic dynamism.

Regulation – The economy is over-regulated and too frequently in the wrong way, that is, “command and control” regulations that are both inefficient and prone to cronyism.  Another very bad development, which is once again more practiced by the Democrats, is the use of regulation to “mandate” benefits for certain classes of people.  This allows the politicians to provide favors to preferred constituencies without having to bear the fiscal consequences of funding them directly.  This is total political cowardice and, as pointed out in this blog with respect to healthcare, it leads to reduced competition and higher prices for all.

After you’ve read this material, I think that you will see that we are on the same page for most things.  Which means: congratulations, you are a libertarian!  Enjoy your logical and hypocrisy-free life.

English Movies

English movies must always be approached with caution, particularly the ones that have been heavily praised in the UK.  There is an enormous home-team bias among the English reviewers.

But lately there have been two very good English films.  These are not for the mainstream, but I certainly enjoyed them.

The first is mixed comedy-drama entitled Their Finest.  This is the story of the making of a propaganda film during WWII about the evacuation of Dunkirk, focusing on the writers of the film.  But the real story is about the flowering of the female writer (played by Gemma Atherton) and the growing love between her and the acerbic, cynical male writer (played by Sam Claflin).  The dialog is very witty and the acting is spot on.

The second is a quirky comedy called Mindhorn.  This is the story of the star of a 1980s television detective series whose moribund career is revived when a suspected murderer, and obsessive fan, will only speak with him.  Mayhem and redemption ensue on the picturesque Isle of Man.  A taste for the bizarre is recommended.


Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom



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