Hypothetical Hospitals

Kelli Goff at The Daily Beast asks the question:

I’m injured in a plane or car crash. There is one hospital located in the town in which the crash has taken place. Do you believe the hospital has a right to refuse to treat me on the basis of race, and that the government has no moral or legal imperative to require the hospital to treat me?

It is a powerful hypothetical, but one wholly contradictory to her own worldview, if she bothered to examine the issue critically. That worldview which meets its every encounter with limited government or libertarian philosophy with the rejoinder that says “your philosophy sounds great, and probably works as an academic exercise, but it just doesn’t work in the real world.” Well Kelli, if we’re dealing in “real world” empiricism, I might ask the same of your hypothetical: who, in the real world, would ever deny treatment to a plane crash victim on the basis of race, in 2014 America? For one, we have federal laws that require hospitals and physicians to deny no one access to emergency care, and these are not race-based but comprehensive statutes already on the books. More important is the impossible to measure yet difficult to argue with reality that an overwhelming majority of Americans of every race, creed or religion would not hesitate to treat a wounded victim in an emergency.

Libertarians understand that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We accept that ideological principle must cater to the world as it is, not as we wish it was. Thus, we accept the necessity of the Civil Rights Act, especially in the real world of 1965. But whether through evolution of general human understanding and tolerance, or through federal intervention to prevent institutional racism, the real world of 2014 is not that of 1965. Yet that does not mean the libertarian project of this century aims to dismantle the CRA. It does mean however, that the social realities of today have improved and therefore the tendency to suggest that worst case scenarios would be imminent as a result of libertarian policy is unhelpful.

Accepting real world realities means libertarians wish to unwind the federal government’s involvement in civil society at the margins first. Every libertarian trains his eye on reducing the bureaucracy’s influence over education, for example, long before he lands (if he ever does) in the realm of undoing all federal involvement in society. Medicaid is an awful program rife with waste, replete with fraud, and provides no measurable gain in health or general well-being when compared to those in similar economic strata who do not participate in the program. Still, libertarian efforts to block grant this money back to the states are efforts to allow more flexibility and thus provide greater service at less cost, rather than an attempt to destroy the program in full or to literally take benefits from those most in need. Goff’s hypothetical is of a piece with the unwelcome habit of scaremongering; claiming the absolute worst possible outcomes would necessarily flow from pragmatic, nee real world libertarian prescriptions.

By always assuming the worst in the abstract, critics miss the obvious and tangible good that would flow immediately from many libertarian reforms. On the drug war, sentencing disparities, economic opportunity and educational choice, libertarians have been at the vanguard of these lonely efforts to buck the status quo and improve the lots of African-Americans. Unlike our self-anointed altruists of the left, whose prescriptions are paternalistic in their insistence that only the enlightened bureaucracy can solve your problems (i.e. “we’re smarter than you, let us plan your path out of poverty from remote Washington D.C.”), we mean to empower black Americans through more choice. Lower taxes and fewer one-size-fits-all central plans on healthcare and education. No more public monopolies on services but an extension of services through local competition and an eradication of public union thuggery. Ultimately, libertarians believe that black Americans have been promised endless aid in the form of other people’s money and that this has utterly failed to lift large swathes of blacks out of poverty. Why not try something different?

If ever given the opportunity, libertarian ideas can show the skeptics how our policy positions do not begin from the philosophical extreme of the ideology. Even it was our goal, anarchy wouldn’t be achievable overnight. And anarchy isn’t really our goal, not in the real world. So can we stop posing hypothetical gotchas against libertarianism that insist we operate from such rigid dogma? Politics is the art of the possible, even for libertarians.

The answer Kelli is, of course you would be treated. The question you should be asking is will my children be better off stuck in the public monopoly on education run by selfish, ‘me first’ union reps, or would competition and choice mean a world of advancement and fulfillment for the black community?

It’s not an easy question to demagogue, which is why it isn’t often asked.

 

Two Cheers for Bob Scheer

Among the many problems with critiques of libertarianism from both right and left is the degree to which they confuse principle and pragmatism within the disparate and diffuse arena of libertarian thought. Virtually every hit piece on Rand Paul or libertarianism coming from the likes of Jen Rubin, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Free Beacon or other such neoconservative bastions takes the most extreme characterization of non-interventionism and posits that radical isolationism is the norm because libertarian allegiance to the non-aggression principle leads inexorably to a principled and committed stance to never, under any circumstances, use force. Never mind that Rand Paul believes fervently in free trade and global diplomacy and cooperation, qualities that should automatically inoculate one from the “isolationist” slur. He frequently cites how national defense is explicitly framed as the primary duty of the federal government, thus he would not hesitate to use force in a constitutional manner (where Congress regains primacy in the decision).

Paul’s foreign policy sounds more realist and pragmatic than non-interventionist, and it is far from “isolationist.” It’s difficult to imagine a Rand Paul presidency converting us to the Swiss or Icelandic model of foreign engagement, postures which would indeed be isolationist. The even-keel Paul suddenly abandoning his George Kennan infused realism for an erratic, withdrawal-at-all-costs, “leave us alone” retrenchment seems as likely as his giving us the final installment in an Iraq War trilogy. Still, the isolationist pejorative persists because the forces arrayed against Paul on the right stand in rabid opposition to him, simply because he dares to criticize their worldview. It is much easier to slander libertarians as isolationist and equate them with leftists than to actually engage with the criticisms and perhaps be forced into some painful soul-searching. In this regard, neocons mirror progressives, in that their reticence to acknowledge real failures in their foreign policy mirrors the left’s reluctance to acknowledge failures in their war on poverty, the welfare state, economics or healthcare. People hate credible challenges to their ideological dogma, which is why elements of left and right are lashing out at Rand Paul, the bearer of bad news.

Right now the attacks from the right are more noxious and unhinged than the average panicked screed from the left. But the left is no less in error in its critique of libertarianism when it states emphatically that a philosophical hypothetical about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Paul’s position on abortion (as if he’s going to be eager to federally ban the practice as POTUS; much more likely he would adopt a state’s rights/federalism stance) will, ipso facto, automatically disqualify him with 100% of the Obama coalition. But can the left really be that confident that the whole bloc of Obama millennials is going to catch the fever for Hillary the same way they did for Obama? Listen to Robert Scheer’s hour long paean to libertarian consistency in fighting crony capitalism in which he declares proudly that Rand Paul would have to be his choice against Hillary Clinton. So we’ve got a principled democratic socialist sounding off on the consistent, principled, laudable positions of Rand Paul and libertarians, and doing so in the context of Paul’s raucous reception from millennials at Berkeley. But we’re supposed to accept the smug liberal wisdom that insists Paul’s attraction to young people is all just a a mirage, because abortion. Please.

In the process of assuring the Bay Area radio audience that he was not a libertarian but a committed liberal who believes in “throwing money at the problem” and “leveling the playing field,” Scheer regaled his skeptical host and listeners with as robust a defense of libertarianism that you are likely to ever hear from someone on the left. He celebrates their consistent contempt for corporatist privilege, applauds the consistent belief in avoiding imperial temptations such as “nation building,” and even pushes back on the naive leftist assertion that libertarians are in bed with the “1 percent” and favor accelerating inequality by pointing out that it was in fact Bill Clinton’s affinity for crony capitalism, the notorious Wall St-Washington D.C. revolving door and the left’s coziness with the Federal Reserve that are chiefly responsible for growing inequality. I don’t necessarily agree with Scheer’s diagnosis, particularly regarding his claim that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was the high crime of the century, but he is surely correct to highlight that nowhere are libertarian policy prescriptions to blame for the economic turmoil of the past decade. I most certainly would not agree with Scheer’s antidote to the so-called inequality “crisis” either, as only stable economic growth in the private economy can enhance prosperity for all (though of course not uniformly; thus even with growth, you will always have “income inequality,” which shouldn’t even be “a thing” in our modern lexicon), but it is beyond refreshing to hear someone on the left instructing fellow travelers to train their ire at the bipartisan duopoly of cronies responsible for the rigged (and ongoing) Big Business-Big Government tryst, not at the libertarians who, Scheer recognizes, are not to be lamented but lauded for adhering to principle in earnest and with consistency.

Scheer also makes a crucial point in this interview about the need for the modern left to come to terms with totalitarian socialism. Though I would argue with him that there really isn’t that much of a difference between democratic and totalitarian socialism, as any system oriented around central planning and expert maintenance of an economy is ultimately going to end in tyranny, whether it begins with democratic elections or not. Managed economies are confused societies, and confused societies are chaotic and prone to corruption, abuse and authoritarianism. Still, how encouraging to actually hear a socialist suggesting that not enough socialists have come to grips with the most abhorrent socialist outcomes? I get the feeling that Mr. Scheer is uncomfortably aware of his own ideology’s shortcomings when it comes to the actual administration of government; that it is impossible to ignore that socialist regimes inevitably abuse the power they seek to consolidate.

So two cheers for Robert Scheer, who deserves the maximum number of cheers this libertarian is capable of bestowing on a self-described democratic socialist. Perhaps one day he might even discard the socialist label and come all the way over to the libertarian reservation, where liberty is exalted, where government and collectivism are scorned, and where the mutton is nice and lean

Here is an interesting interview Scheer did with Reason a while back: