The Poverty Of Class Analysis

Some leftists and libertarians like to portray life as a class struggle, between rich and poor, management and workers, white collar and blue collar. Unions are championed as representing the little guy, businesses merely the interests of the wealthy. But as Megan McArdle points out,

The people being hurt by the strike, unfortunately, are mostly people who make less than the transit workers do. Small businesses are being gutted by this; the last few days before Christmas is the busiest time of the year for most retail establishments, and their customers can't get to them. One of the news shows had small businessmen complaining that this was going to bankrupt them, and I've no doubt that it's true for at least some of New York's retail stores, which often operate on a shoestring.

Meanwhile, poor workers, who tend to work hourly, are losing salary that they can ill-afford.

There are lots of little guys, and lots of groups of little guys, and different unions represent different little guys, and most little guys don't have any union to represent them. Some little guys are bigger than other little guys. Any special benefit that any particular union garners for one set of little guys comes at the detriment not just from businesses, but also from other little guys. Usually the other little guys, should they get uppity and try to compete with the big little guys, are labeled "scabs" and threatened with violence while the big fat cat little guys reap special privilege. Similarly, when a company manages to pass legislation that protects its own goods from competition, it comes at the burden of not just poor consumers who have to pay higher prices, but also at the expense of every other company large and small, that has to compete in an unfair marketplace. It ain't about big guys vs little guys.

In democracies, classes don't fight each other, organized groups do. Concentrated interests, regardless of "class", have far more incentive to engage in political activism than do dispersed ones.

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"You know, David Friedman

"You know, David Friedman uses efficiency analysis often."

And he's circumspect about it's limitations. Compare what he says about efficiency to what you say. You can't meaningfully agree with him without understanding what he says.

I know Friedman's feelings

I know Friedman's feelings on it, and I agree with them. There is no discrepancy between our two positions.

For instance, compare Friedman's:

A second reason to use practical rather than ethical arguments is that I know a great deal more about what works than about what is just. This is in part a matter of specialization; I have spent more time studying economics than moral philosophy. But I do not think that is all it is. One reason I have spent more time studying economics is that I think more is known about the consequences of institutions than about what is or is not just--that economics is a much better developed science than moral philosophy.

To my statement here, from the suicide thread you linked to:

What I’ve said is, economically, such curtailment would be justified. I think that’s an argument for the action, and it may be a sufficient argument. Utilitarianism does have its share of problems, and it doesn’t perfectly map my sense of the moral universe. I just don’t know of a better theory.

To wit, both Friedman and I see economic analysis as useful means of working out what we "ought" to choose as law, though neither of us think it is sufficient in and of itself. Nor have either of us made any claim to the contrary, at least not in recent years.

You are attempting a strawman. You took Wilde's post above and somehow read into it a willingness to criminalize striking, when no such thing was said. And you seem more than willing to kick me out of the libertarian tent for suggesting that laws against suicide could be justified on economic grounds. (David Friedman has argued a military draft would be allowable in certain situations: feel free to question his libertarianism as well.)

If your point is that we are not libertarians, then the claim is false, since I doubt a single one of us disagree with a single position of the libertarian party platform. If your point is that in order to be a true libertarian, one must value freedom and freedom only, then very few people who identify as libertarians are true libertarians---and if true, that point is not interesting. If you have had another point, it's unclear what it was.

This discussion is over.

"There is no discrepancy

"There is no discrepancy between our two positions."

You were holding economics as normative, he knows better. That's why you'll never elicit anything like this from Friedman:

Kennedy: It seems you’ve effectively answered my question about outlawing homosexual relationships. To be consistent you must think it’s a good idea to outlaw homosexuality if enough people are sufficiently distressed by it.

Scheule: Of course.

This application of supposed economic *principle* isn't "well within mainstream libertarianism".

"You took Wilde’s post above and somehow read into it a willingness to criminalize striking, when no such thing was said."

The willingness to criminalize stiking was by Berg, as he told you. What I was originally noting about Wilde's post is that Catallarchs were vigorous in their defense of oil companies that raised prices but offered no defense of strikers for the same offense.

"Utilitarianism does have

"Utilitarianism does have its share of problems, and it doesn’t perfectly map my sense of the moral universe."

And so how will your "sense of the moral universe" stand up against shiny new power tools like Kaldor-Hicks efficiency?

JTK, I'm not sure what

JTK,

I'm not sure what exactly you're trying to accomplish in this thread, but all I see are strawman attacks and poor argumentation.

1) Somehow you take away a normative message from my post which made positive assertions about striking workers harming others who have an even lower position on the socioeconomic ladder than them. I was making the, I thought, relatively simple point that it's inaccurate to describe unions as representing monolithic bunch of "little guys", and you took away something else entirely. I put forth an "is" and you took away an "ought", that I am somehow against "freedom of contract"; not completely surprising, but inaccurate.

2) You write "I’m wondering why oil companies get a vigorous defense here when charged with price gouging, but strikers don’t." This is one of the worst sorts of arguments to make against a blog, especially one that's not part of the MSM. You're saying that by not blogging for something, we must have a view against it. Bull. This blog is a hobby. When I wrote this post, I was in the middle of a 3-week period of working long, stressful hours without a single day off. My co-bloggers similarly all either work for a living or go to school (except one who's retired and his preferred topic is economic theory, not moral philosophy). We can't blog about every story, nor do we owe it to you or anyone else to blog about every single thing that happens. Sin by omission is a terrible argument.

3) You ask "Any libertarians left on this blog?" after Brandon makes the argument that a contract should be enforceable with penalties. I'm quite surprised that arguing for the enforceability of contracts kicks you out of the libertarian ghetto these days, and I bet that 99% of other self-described libertarians would be similarly surprised.

4) You're throwing around the term "specific performance" without a full understanding of it. Contracts arise out of agreements to performance or an exchange of promise. The point of preferring the contracts be enforceable is to create some measure of assurance that the parties will carry out the terms of the contract. Should one side or the fail to live up to the terms, awarding of "remedies" by a court may include remission of the contract, monetary damages, or specific performance. Specific performance is usually not awarded as it is generally not feasible for the court to ensure adequate performance. If a string quartet breaks a contract to play at a wedding, it's not practical for the court to compel them to play. The court would have to send an officer to monitor the performance, and the quartet may give a poor performance on purpose. Thus, it makes more sense that they would be ordered to pay monetary damages to the aggrieved party. Sometimes it does make sense to compel specific performance if the terms of the contract refer to the exchange of a unique item, like a one-of-a-kind jewel or the Mona Lisa.

Not awarding remedies would render contracts meaningless. Reputational effects are usually not sufficient without strong information-gathering mechanisms. They may have been enough in hunter-gatherer villages, but are lacking in large, complex societies without enterprises that gather information like credit bureaus.

Lack of compelling specific performance does not mean lack of remedies. Fining and jailing people for living up to contracted terms is not somehow "unlibertarian". As just one example, CEOs get jailed for failing to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities. It may well be the case that the striking workers no longer have a contract. If so, point that out, rather than asking if there are any libertarians left on this blog.

5) After making these weak arguments on the topic of this post, you proceeded to bring back the suicide discussion as one more example of how we're not living up to True Libertarianism(TM). Scott's suicide question was a mere question; he never said that he supported laws against suicide. He merely asked a question. Even if laws against suicide were somehow "efficient", it does not follow that anyone should support them. Efficiency is one way to analyze a law; it's not the only way. Similarly, individual liberty is one value that most of us hold to strongly, but it's not the only value. The world is not black and white.

6) Despite what you claim, Scott's views are a heck of a lot closer to Friedman's than yours. He wrote an entire book about the economic analysis of law, including a section entitled "How to add people up", a section dealing with how to arrive at a numerical figure for the monetary value of a life, and an analysis of laws against seduction. You should read it sometime.

What most disturbing is the general antagonism to deviation from the One True Path of deontological libertarianism and the criticism of any sort of inquiry. Asking a question is not an offense. Despite what you may think, not all questions of political philosophy have been answered. Libertarian thought didn't start with Rand or Spooner, and it won't end with them either. It's a lot bigger, broader, richer, and more robust than both. If asking a mere question renders one Notalibertarian, feel free to stop calling me one. I got enough of that from my school teachers. I wish to have no part in something so shallow and anti-intellectual. Ideas, even bad ones, are not something to be feared.

What the heck is a “policy

What the heck is a “policy prescription"? Did you guys go to medical school?

You don't know what a policy prescription is?

Not all of us went to

Not all of us went to medical school, Dr. Wilde.

Wilde, "1) Somehow you take

Wilde,

"1) Somehow you take away a normative message from my post which made positive assertions about striking workers harming others who have an even lower position on the socioeconomic ladder than them."

No, I didn't.

"2) ...We can’t blog about every story, nor..."

...can a single supposed libertarian here acknowledge that workers ought to be free to strike even when the matter is brought to their attention. I find that noteworthy.

"3) You ask “Any libertarians left on this blog?” after Brandon makes the argument that a contract should be enforceable with penalties."

He argued for outlawing strikes in the public sector, which is in fact the case in this example. I see the striking workers, I see the law, but where's the contract?

"4) ...Fining and jailing people for living up to contracted terms is not somehow “unlibertarian".

Again, what contract?

"5) ...He merely asked a question. Even if laws against suicide were somehow “efficient", it does not follow that anyone should support them."

Have you read his comments in that thread?

"6) Despite what you claim, Scott’s views are a heck of a lot closer to Friedman’s than yours. "

Like Friedman, I don't conflate the positive and the normative.

"What most disturbing is the general antagonism to deviation from the One True Path of deontological libertarianism and the criticism of any sort of inquiry."

That charge is refuted by the fact that I'm far less critical of Friedman because he is far more circumspect about the limitations of his arguments.

You don’t know what a

You don’t know what a policy prescription is?

Somehow I don't think the point is worth debating...

If a string quartet breaks a contract to play at a wedding, it’s not practical for the court to compel them to play.

Bugger practicality, it's not moral to force specific performance of a service. People are not slaves to your will no matter what promises they made to you. The reason specific performance is OK to ensure with the Mona Lisa is that it's an object, not a person, and was transferred to the buyer once an exchange of consideration took place.

the general antagonism to deviation from the One True Path of deontological libertarianism and the criticism of any sort of inquiry.

By the same token, you guys seem awfully paranoid about attacks from non-consequentialists. Just because someone questions your usage of "efficiency" in analyzing a problem doesn't make them part of the Rothbardian-conspiracy-to-overthrow-the-consequentialists or something. Although, maybe if it was Lew Rockwell doing it your ad hominem might be applicable.

I see the striking workers,

I see the striking workers, I see the law, but where’s the contract?

Maybe it was an implicit contract. You know, to be the slaves of the MTA or something. :juggle:

He argued for outlawing

He argued for outlawing strikes in the public sector, which is in fact the case in this example. I see the striking workers, I see the law, but where’s the contract?

Consider the following scenarios:

1. The legislature passes a law requiring all government employees to sign a contract, as a condition of employment, promising that they will not strike.

2. The legislature passes a law forbidding public employees from striking. All public employees are informed of this law before they are hired.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you'd have an objection to the first. I don't think the government should be running a subway any more than you do, but as long as it does, the legislature has the authority and responsibility to manage it properly.

And I don't see any functional difference between these two scenarios. If the anti-strike law didn't exist, the transit authority could accomplish the same thing with contracts. As a matter of principle, I'd prefer the first scenario. But since the difference seems to be purely symbolic, I can live with the second.

Of course, if we're talking about private businesses, it's a different story altogether. I would oppose a law imposing a blanket ban on strikes by private employees, because the government doesn't have the authority to set policy for private businesses.