Social Policy and Freedom

Increases in social benefits can increase freedom.

As I consider Biden’s legislative agenda, and things like the American Family plan and the general debate about what constituted “infrastructure,” I am increasingly convinced that an expansive definition that looks at issues like caregiving as infrastructure is legitimate.

This thought was sparked specifically by Paul Krugman’s recent column, Good Luck to Republicans if Biden’s Family Plan Becomes Law, which specifically addresses the question of higher taxes and job creation (in response to Senator Tim Scott’s concern about “job-killing tax hikes”):

Many Americans would, I suspect, be surprised to learn that the truth is that many high-tax, high-benefit countries are quite successful at creating jobs. Take the case of France: Adults between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working years, are more likely to be employed in France than they are in America, mainly because Frenchwomen have a higher rate of paid employment than their American counterparts. The Nordic countries have an even larger employment advantage among women.

How can employment be so high in countries with lots of “job-killing” taxes? The answer is that taxes don’t visibly kill jobs — but lack of child care does. Parents in many rich countries are able to take paid work because they have access to safe, affordable child care; in the United States such care is prohibitively expensive for many, if they can get it at all. And the reason is that our government spends almost nothing on child care and pre-K; our outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. put us somewhat below Cyprus and Romania.

The American Family Plan would completely change this picture, providing free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds while limiting child care costs to no more than 7 percent of income for lower- and middle-income parents. If this raised employment of prime-age American women to French levels, it would add about 1.8 million jobs; if we went to Danish levels, we would add three million jobs.

I think the pandemic, which underscored the degree to which K-12 performs a child-card function that disproportionately affects women in the workplace, really brought this fact forward in the US. If your children have to be at home, work outside the home becomes impossible. It, therefore, stands to reason that universal preschool would help employment (as would greater access to elder care services). And, as is often the case, when we look abroad we find that we can learn what actually works and not just guess about it.

This links up to something I saw in passing yesterday about which I was unaware, that there was a government-funded effort for childcare during World War II to help working mothers because, well, the country needed women to work since so many men were off fighting the war. It is a simple illustration of the linkage of mothers in the workforce and the need for childcare (see the Atlantic piece for more details: Who Took Care of Rosie the Riveter’s Kids?).

All of this is to say that social programs, such as access to affordable, if not free, childcare, can very lead to more freedom of choice for citizens. This is a stark contrast to the way Republicans, in particular, talk about them.

I think this can also be linked to health care. Because most people can only afford health care when subsidized by their jobs, this hampers the choices that many people have. I know young people who would like to change jobs but are often limited in their choices because they have to make sure that the job has health insurance. I know people who have thought about starting a business but won’t because they cannot afford not to have health insurance. I know people who could otherwise retire but can’t because they are not yet Medicare eligible.

Indeed, it was Medicare eligibility that started me thinking about this a while back because it is striking how much more straight-up freedom of choice (retirement, trying something new, working part time, or whatever) one has once health insurance is not a major variable in decision-making. This means, by extension, that citizens in countries with universal health care do, in fact, have more net freedom than Americans because that constraint is not present.

And yet, more often than not, universal health care (and universal childcare) and other kinds of social policy are cast in American politics as threats to freedom and liberty (because taxes for the most part) when, in fact the existence of such policy would quite clearly increase net freedom of choice and control over our lives.

None of this is some major revelation, to be sure, but it is striking how little we seem to have this conversation in the United States. Instead, freedom becomes really abstract and is only concretized around matters of taxation.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Joe Biden, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Companies don’t hire people because they like employing as many people as possible out of altruism. Quite the contrary, their goal is to hire as few people as possible based on current market conditions.

    Thus, contrary to Republican dogma, lowering taxes on businesses is not going to create more jobs. If the company is at the right number of employees based on the current market, lower taxes don’t change that and any savings will just end up as profits. Likewise, when tax reductions only help the wealthy, they’re not going to start buying more and then alter the market balance. There’s simply not enough millionaires and billionaires in the country to make a difference.

    What does create more jobs? Giving more money to the middle and lower classes, which does get them spending more, forcing businesses to expand to serve the increased demand.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    Another way of looking at it: we often treat “freedom” and “liberty” as interchangeable, but they’re really two different concepts. “freedom” is having more available options and “liberty” is not having outside constraints. To some extent they correlate, but there are extremes where one has a lot of one, but almost none of the other. e.g. a person stranded alone on a deserted island is at completely liberty since there is literally no one there to force them to do anything at all, but they have no freedom as their only option will be subsistence living off the limited resources available.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    None of this is some major revelation, to be sure, but it is striking how little we seem to have this conversation in the United States.

    Striking. Yes.

    Instead, freedom becomes really abstract and is only concretized around matters of taxation.

    It’s almost as if many of these arguments are dishonest or naive.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    “freedom” is having more available options and “liberty” is not having outside constraints.

    Outside government constraints.

    The landlord and the employer are free to apply constraints. And others are free to starve and be homeless, except where we criminalize homelessness.

  5. Mimai says:

    And, as is often the case, when we look abroad we find that we can learn what actually works and not just guess about it.

    This jumped out to me. But instead vomiting a bunch of words on this thread, based on what I think you might be saying, perhaps it is better to ask you (imagine that!) to explain what you mean by “abroad” and “works.” If you don’t mind.

    1
  6. Mimai says:

    @Gustopher:

    “freedom” is having more available options and “liberty” is not having outside constraints.

    Can you say more about this? I ask because it doesn’t correspond to how I implicitly (and now explicitly) think of these.

  7. Kurtz says:

    This is what I meant when I made an offhand comment about juvenile views of the Enlightenment. Under that description I would place two broad, widespread views that underlie much of contemporary debate:

    Government action only restricts freedom;

    Unfettered markets are free markets

    There are others. But those two seem to capture a lot of the basis for political opinion. It’s not that the majority of people don’t make exceptions, it’s that they see those exceptions as proving the rule.

    To me, the best lens to view Enlightenment principles in terms of political economy involves two questions:

    How does a society maximize freedom?

    How does a society create a free market?

    That second question is of particular importance, because as events have unfolded it has become clear that markets placed out of government’s reach contain embedded power relations. My RW Libertarian friends don’t want to admit it, but even if we accept Hayek’s spontaneous order formulation about markets, it acknowledges an order which by definition limits liberty.

    The Constitution is an experiment in whether simply protecting liberty can produce general freedom. And to some extent, it has worked. But history also tells us that simply limiting government behavior produces a society in which private behavior becomes the primary vector for actions that limit the freedom of others.

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  8. Chip Daniels says:

    The Republican objections demonstrate how much the ostensibly neutral economic arguments are most often rooted in social arguments.

    Prior to the rise of feminism, evangelical Christians were neutral about abortion- it was mostly the Catholics who opposed it.
    But with the social changes of the 60s including feminism and the Sexual Revolution, abortion became a proxy battle for the social order.

    So too today day care is the proxy battle to enforce the social order they prefer.

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  9. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Perhaps this is indicative of difference in the priors you and I hold. I immediately grasped what I took @Gustopher to mean.

    I may very well have a different view from him, particularly in how the concept is extended. So I am curious how he answers this as well.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thus, contrary to Republican dogma, lowering taxes on businesses is not going to create more jobs.

    The Republicans who run for office know this. What they rely on is that people who vote for Republicans who run for office don’t.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: You seem to think that criminalizing homelessness won’t solve the problem. How could Austin, TX, be wrong on this?

  12. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    Damn, I meant to ping @Stormy Dragon: as well, as they made the initial assertion. Interested to hear from Gus and Storm (if I may) on this.

  13. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Damn! I trusted you, shame on me. I started my post before reading the previous comments, and ended up somewhat incorporating Stormy’s distinction into my post.

    I have a couple good ways to expand the conversation, but I want to let Stormy and Gus speak about it first.

    Aside: a lot of Libertarians like to use Isaiah Berlin’s positive/negative rights frame. I see some merit to it, but I think it’s too focused on the State at the expense of analyzing how private institutions can wield power in ways that encroach on rights.

  14. Gustopher says:

    @Mimai: There is a distinction between what you cannot do, and what you are legally forbidden from doing.

    I took Stormy as defining Freedom in relation to the former, and Liberty with the latter. It’s a not uncommon distinction and assignment of words that are near synonyms.

    Libertarians tend to focus on the latter, minimize government restrictions and maximize liberty. Including the liberty to deny service to black people, sell yourself into slavery, etc. (at the extremes).

    Freedom would be simply maximizing the choices for the most people.

    Obviously, if we want to maximize freedom for the masses, we have to restrict the liberty of the powerful.

    Minimum wage laws definitely restrict liberty — you can neither offer nor accept a lower wage. But, since money ends up being freedom (long digression skipped, but money increases your choices), minimum wage laws increase most people’s freedom (employer options are cut, and they might have to buy a smaller yacht).

    So, that’s where we were.

    Now let’s get to Bigoted Bakers. We’ve decided that the freedom of the gay couples is more important than the liberty of the bigots.

    I’m not sure that’s always the right choice, and if the bigots can show that there are a sufficient number of non-bigot bakers locally that the gay couple’s freedom is not significantly impacted by them being bigots, we should let them be bigots (with appropriate signage, proclaiming that they are bigots), and then let the market “reward” them.

    But, I think that would have required the bigots to have actually tried to create “separate and equal” institutions that were really equal. The bigots have no one but other bigots to blame for their loss of liberty.

    Bigot liberty is one of those things that I will entertain as a notion, but has a priority of about zero in my life. Totally willing to trade it for something that might increase freedom.

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  15. Kurtz says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    Absolutely.

    In my view, without a baseline standard of living that guarantees basic needs for all, economic incentive structures perform many of the functions that were the exclusive right of the State prior to the success of revolution spurred by philosophical and scientific discovery.

    Rather than present the risk of repression at the hands of the State, now the enforcement mechanism is a false choice: take one or more low-paying jobs or risk starvation and homelessness. Sure, it’s better than arbitrary imprisonment (a battle still being waged) but it’s hardly the essence of freedom.

    Pursuing one’s interest is the alleged goal of the free market and the mechanism by which it improves the human condition. If all one’s energy is devoted to subsistence, one cannot pursue one’s own interests to the fullest extent. It fails to meet the standards set by both deontological and consequentialist arguments for market-based social orders.

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  16. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    This is as I suspected. I frame it a little differently, but our conceptions are similar enough to be of the same lineage.

  17. @Stormy Dragon:

    What does create more jobs? Giving more money to the middle and lower classes, which does get them spending more, forcing businesses to expand to serve the increased demand.

    Yup. I meant to make that point in the OP, so I am glad you did.

    Indeed, if giving rich people and companies more money was going to lead to investment, interest rates wouldn’t be so low because those same companies and rich people would already be borrowing to invest and build. But they aren’t.

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  18. @Mimai:

    what you mean by “abroad” and “works.”

    I mean that we can find real-world examples of policy application if we look to other countries (i.e., abroad). We in the US tend to be incredibly myopic insofar as we ignore the rest of the world.

    There is plenty of empirical example of, say, universal health care our there but we don’t tend to want to learn from it.

    8
  19. Mimai says:

    @Gustopher: Thanks, this helps. The part about “having more available options” tripped me up initially. (my skipped digression to your skipped digression: fiat currency, Bitcoin, squirrel!) But I think we’re on the same page, ie, that a stable(ish) society requires that citizens give up some liberty in order to increase freedom.

    @Kurtz: My bad. Don’t trust, and verify.

  20. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Ok, thanks. It wasn’t clear to me if you were referring to something specific (eg, look at how Denmark does X…..we should do X like they do) or to the more general matter (ie, we can/should look beyond our borders to get some ideas about how to do X). Your response tells me it was the latter.

    1
  21. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Hahahaha. Of course it was my fault. I like to playfully blame people for my minor failures.

    1
  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Outside government constraints.

    No, people can end up having being constrained by parties other than the government. Most obvious example is crime: if I pull you into the all and give the classic “your money or your life” ultimatum, it would be odd to argue I haven’t interfered with your liberty because I’m not a government.

    Less blatantly, I’d argue there are situations where private actions that would not be considered constraints case by case can add up to a constraint. For example, would you argue that red-lining didn’t constrain minorities because the banks/landowners weren’t governments?

    3
  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mimai:

    One example I saw is to compare a neolithic tribesman wandering the plains vs. someone living in the Soviet Union. Which one is freer? On one hand the neolithic tribesman can say and do pretty much whatever he likes, and if some people don’t like it, he and the people who are okay with are free to just walk away and will likely never have to see them again. On the other hand, the person, even in the police state of the the Soviet Union, has far more options for what job they want, want hobbies they want to pursue, more free time to pursue them in, etc.

    The suggested solution to this paradox was that the concept of freedom was two different things, and the two examples were the extremes, with neolithic tribesman having a lot of Freedom A and no Freedom B, and the guy in the Soviet Union having a lot of Freedom B and no Freedom A.

  24. Mimai says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    This is where things start to fall apart for me. In large part it’s an issue of language. Latin vs. German. It’s also complicated by the different contexts in which the terms are used (eg, philosophy, theology, politics). And it’s complicated further by the fact that in some contexts, liberty is seen as falling under the broad umbrella of freedom. Ugh!

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mimai:

    I’m curious about this as well. Every time I read one of these pieces, I see “abroad” being bandied about in the sense of “they can do all of this, and they’re happier”, which isn’t inaccurate, but it does sidestep the reality that the tax base underpinning it is drastically different.

    I can speak to France, given that I pay French taxes. To put it simply, the level of taxation borne by French taxpayers to fund all of this, across every socio-economic level, would have Americans out in the street with torches and pitchforks. The differences that I see between the two is that these proposals here are regarded with a collective responsibility attitude, i.e. everybody takes a (substantial) tax hit, while in the US its more of a “tax the rich to pay for it, not me” attitude.

    Which is fine, just stop with the apples to oranges comparisons.

    1
  26. Kurtz says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Less blatantly, I’d argue there are situations where private actions that would not be considered constraints case by case can add up to a constraint. For example, would you argue that red-lining didn’t constrain minorities because the banks/landowners weren’t governments?

    On my initial read, I didn’t take this to be Gustopher’s position–it seemed to me that he was describing the general position of the US. My view aligns more closely with yours.

    I like the comparison of Neolithic person to Soviet person.

    One of the things about the GOP that irritates the shit out of me directly relates to this discussion.

    They don’t want the government to constrain behavior. Traditionally, the explanation was that the market solves social tension. If the behavior of a business or its principal is abhorrent enough to a broad segment of the population, then the bottom line suffers.

    But the GOP, almost completely from officials and pols down to rank and file voters bitch about cancel culture. Okay, exchanging ideas…I can accept that within the American tradition, even if I think it’s flawed.

    It’s the next step that causes a rise in blood pressure. The garment rending about people’s livelihoods being ruined by their speaking out.

    This position is an implicit admission that our putative inalienable natural liberties are mediated by market forces and thus can be abrogated by private forces. If one is dependent on their next paycheck to eat and have a roof over their head, then they are not free to exercise their rights!

    In the context of history, in some ways, Americans up until the early 20th century were closer to Neolithic person than 21st century American citizen. An ostracized American could find somewhere else to live. But the moment you privatize every bit of land, that disappears. As such, the most widespread constraint on freedom of choice lies within market relations, not top down policy-making.

  27. @HarvardLaw92: I am perplexed. Earlier this week you told me that you didn’t like me, did not respect academics, and that you were going to avoid my threads.

    Subsequently, you have commented on two of my posts, and in this case have engaged in part of the conversation that I was specifically referenced in (both in terms of what I said in OP and in terms of a direct question to me from one of the commenters).

    Serious, sincere question: have you decided to engage with me after all?

    In the spirit of comity, I will say that yes, for Americans to enjoy European levels of benefits, European levels of taxation may be needed. This is a legitimate issue for discussion.

    Although I think it is also true that there is room in the US budget to address at least some levels of benefits by spending less on, say, national defense.

    Nonetheless, there is a legitimate discussion to be had here.

    Regardless, the notion that one could look abroad to see various policies (and their costs) in action is not apples to oranges. In the US case, it is often more along the lines of “hey, we have apples and that is all that exists so I guess apples is all we have to choose from”–which is its own problem.

  28. Mimai says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    (I have mixed feelings about responding to this, given the proximity to a post by Kurtz.,..,I plead Swiss)

    I too get frustrated with the mindless invocation of “abroad” (mostly, referencing Nordic countries). Though I want to be clear that I don’t think Steven did this here.

    I don’t have a problem with looking elsewhere for ideas on social policy – indeed, given the poverty of our body politic these days, I welcome it. But when I see people referencing, say, Denmark and noting how their school/childcare/welfare/whatever system “works” (also frequently underspecified) and how we should merely apply it here… well, I tend to not have good thoughts about that person.

    It’s also, um, strange when such things are said by people who otherwise are very sensitive to cultural differences and are very cautious about applying broad principles or specific policies across different cultures.

  29. Kurtz says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I can speak to France, given that I pay French taxes. To put it simply, the level of taxation borne by French taxpayers to fund all of this, across every socio-economic level, would have Americans out in the street with torches and pitchforks. The differences that I see between the two is that these proposals here are regarded with a collective responsibility attitude, i.e. everybody takes a (substantial) tax hit, while in the US its more of a “tax the rich to pay for it, not me” attitude.

    Which is fine, just stop with the apples to oranges comparisons.

    This is a good point, and I think is the biggest source of tension between you and I. I have no problem with everyone being taxed appropriately. But the barrier is more than just the political culture that you point out.

    For example, when you say you’ve paid enough, I should be calmer and explain why that may be both true and untrue at the same time. On one hand, you are likely well beyond the threshold for top 1% of earners. But the gulf between you and the top 0.1% of earners is incredibly large. And more to the point, most of that latter group can only collect that income via various forms of economic rent and/or keeping wages as low as possible.

    On the other hand, if we were to raise taxes on the low income people who pay little on their income now, the social and economic effects would be catastrophic. An astonishingly large chunk of the population is one piece of bad luck away from homelessness and/or frozen economic mobility. Worse, much of that is generational to the point that if a betting market existed for each person born in the US, one could make a ton of money on futures with very little information about the child beyond household income and race.

    So if I support a politician that says, “tax the rich” it’s likely because there’s like 15-20% of the working population that literally cannot be taxed more without cutting off their access to basic needs. Remember when I said that your firms hiring practices were way down the list of my concerns? That’s true and it includes your income as well. I would say we should be heavily taxing wealth that accumulation via non-productive activity rather than partners at white shoe law firms.

    In short, the people who actually do the work of developing things and building shit should be paid more than they are. The people who only risk their money and those who earn money solely via ownership and previously accumulated wealth should be taxed more.

    I wanted to clarify my position to you, because yeah, I may veer into identity politics, but I would prefer to not have to touch that. The solution to that is fixing a broken economic system that has taken the liberalism out of classical liberalism.

    Though, as much as I was unfair to you a couple weeks ago, you were also unfair to me, because I don’t think you quite understand my positions. That’s understandable in some sense–you’re busy and I don’t expect you to read everything I’ve said. Despite my ideological positioning, I’m a lot more reasonable than you seem to think.

    So, I’m sorry for getting personal, I was out of line. But I’m not quite who you think I am either.

    1
  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I didn’t engage with you. I engaged with Minai. All I’ll say is that the prevailing attitude I’ve seen in the US has been centered around various iterations of the concept that somebody else should pay for it. Regardless of the proposal, there is always an explanation of how somebody else can afford to pay for it. I don’t think you can separate the two. If you want to discuss the system in France, for example, it’s important to discuss the whole system – the benefits and the costs, as well as who pays for it, otherwise it’s just an exercise in “cool things we should have that somebody else can afford to pay for”. I choose to pay higher taxes to France (and in doing so avoid paying US taxes despite the payable being lower) , in part, precisely because of the shared burden. It’s easier to stomach when the guy sweeping the streets has serious, meaningful skin in the game as well.

    Another term for national defense is “massive jobs program”. I’ll leave that one at that.

  31. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I would say the gunman is using their Liberty to deny you your Freedom. 😉

    I don’t see that as much different than the exploitive employer actually. No one wants to work for so little that they face food insecurity and the threat of homelessness. They do it because they have no better choice.

    We have laws against armed robbery and we have laws requiring the minimum wage for the same reason — the government is forbidding behavior that restricts the Freedoms of others.

    Less blatantly, I’d argue there are situations where private actions that would not be considered constraints case by case can add up to a constraint. For example, would you argue that red-lining didn’t constrain minorities because the banks/landowners weren’t governments?

    Of course it does. But what about the Whites that don’t want brown folks around? Will no one think of the bigots? Their choices are being constrained by banning red-lining.

    In order to protect the freedoms of the minorities, the poor and the powerless, the government has to curtail the liberties of others. And only the government gets to do that. And libertarians want as little of that as possible.

    Ok, if that’s not what you means by “Freedom” and “Liberty”, then what did you mean?

  32. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kurtz:

    On the other hand, if we were to raise taxes on the low income people who pay little on their income now, the social and economic effects would be catastrophic.

    I’m not sure that I buy that, unless it is within the context that nothing else changes – ie the US status quo with respect to governmental involvement in the provision of services remains unchanged. (and if that’s the case, why raise taxes in the first place?)

    A guy earning €50,000 here is going to get hit for an actual 18% in income tax, plus another 9.7% in social charges, and 20% VAT on basically everything he buys. There are other charges as well, but you get the point. Yet he’s actually pretty content and has a decent life, but only because the provision of services model is drastically different here. That’s why I made the comment – examining the model has to examine the whole model. It can’t be a “how do we get the benefits whole avoiding the cost sharing? ” IMO.

  33. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    I don’t have a problem with looking elsewhere for ideas on social policy – indeed, given the poverty of our body politic these days, I welcome it. But when I see people referencing, say, Denmark and noting how their school/childcare/welfare/whatever system “works” (also frequently underspecified) and how we should merely apply it here… well, I tend to not have good thoughts about that person.

    It’s also, um, strange when such things are said by people who otherwise are very sensitive to cultural differences and are very cautious about applying broad principles or specific policies across different cultures.

    I am quite sure I have been guilty of this to some extent. And I kind of agree with you that those arguments tend to be oversimplifications much of the time. At the same time, I’m not amenable to the argument that homogenous cultures have an easier time enacting effective social policies, I find that general argument also underspecified.

    But I floated one thing when I first started posting here and I still think I would be okay with it. A former poster one time said that immigrants were coming here to take advantage of our government’s largesse. Setting aside the veracity of that statement, my response is a grand bargain. If Republicans want to spend a ton of resources on serious border security and tight immigration quotas, I’ll go along with it under a few conditions:

    -A robust, real safety net, including quality universal healthcare coverage.
    -Amnesty and a path to citizenship for immigrants that have been here for a certain number of years–I would say three but would be okay with 5 or even 7.
    -Criminal justice reform that seriously lowers the prison population that engaged in non-violent offenses. Imprison people who hurt others or put others at risk, stop imprisoning those whose crimes were a personal choice that didn’t directly impact others.

    A lot of my posts address theory, because I am just more interested in that intellectually. And my arguments there are derived from a lot of work reading and thinking. But once we get down to practical politics, all of that shit goes out the window because it doesn’t get us anywhere. Then again, when things are going poorly–think, Summer of ’20 protests–I tend to say eff practical politics because I lose faith that anything substantive can be achieved within a system so flawed.

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  34. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    In order to protect the freedoms of the minorities, the poor and the powerless, the government has to curtail the liberties of others.

    This was my point; you seem to be trying to pick an argument with someone who agrees with you.

  35. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am perplexed. Earlier this week you [HL92] told me that you didn’t like me, did not respect academics, and that you were going to avoid my threads.

    Now I’m perplexed. Who wouldn’t like you? You’re like a cuddly professor, a learned teddy bear! Baffling.

    Unless you’re like Gloomy Bear

    Gloomy, an abandoned little bear, is rescued by Pitty (the little boy). At first, he is cute and cuddly, but becomes more wild as he grows up. Since bears do not become attached to people like dogs by nature, Gloomy attacks Pitty even though he is the owner.

    (Busy week at work, so I missed the idiot drama, and really shouldn’t be poking it, but I’m totally the person who pokes idiot drama)

    1
  36. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Not trying to pick an argument, just having trouble understanding what you meant by this:

    Another way of looking at it: we often treat “freedom” and “liberty” as interchangeable, but they’re really two different concepts. “freedom” is having more available options and “liberty” is not having outside constraints.

    Made harder by using words that get lots of definitions applied to them — most notably the libertarian definitions, since most people see them as synonyms.

  37. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    Re the part that irritates you, I don’t think this aces the ideological Turing test. B- maybe? Here’s my attempt to steelman the position in the form of fisking your comment. Note, I’m leaving aside the GOP because, well, the GOP. Here goes:

    They don’t want the government to constrain behavior. Traditionally, the explanation was that the market solves social tension. If the behavior of a business or its principal is abhorrent enough to a broad segment of the population, then the bottom line suffers.

    That is our starting point. That is, we want the assumption to be that people, via the consensual market, “constrain” each other’s behavior. But we accept that, in some instances, government must step in – we’re not anarchists!

    But the [XYZ], almost completely from officials and pols down to rank and file voters bitch about cancel culture. Okay, exchanging ideas…I can accept that within the American tradition, even if I think it’s flawed.

    Everyone complains about this. It all depends on whose ox is being gored. But to complain about it is not to reject the market. One man’s complaint is another man’s protest/advocacy!

    It’s the next step that causes a rise in blood pressure.

    Have you tried daily meditation. There are a bunch of apps. I learned about them on Parler (NB: couldn’t help it). If not, you might ask your doctor about lisinopril.

    The garment rending about people’s livelihoods being ruined by their speaking out. This position is an implicit admission that our putative inalienable natural liberties are mediated by market forces and thus can be abrogated by private forces. If one is dependent on their next paycheck to eat and have a roof over their head, then they are not free to exercise their rights!

    You yourself have acknowledged the distinction between positive and negative rights. You may not agree with our view on the supremacy (fellow XYZer, dude, try not to use that word) of negative rights, but it’s an entirely consistent position. Have you not read the Declaration of Independence? That is, we don’t expect the market to deliver these rights – they are natural after all – rather, we think that the market is the best way to actualize them.

    In the context of history, in some ways, Americans up until the early 20th century were closer to Neolithic person than 21st century American citizen. An ostracized American could find somewhere else to live. But the moment you privatize every bit of land, that disappears.

    This seems like a non sequitur. And regardless, we don’t advocate the privatization of every bit of land. Yes, we think that more land ought to be privatized – though we do have some internal disagreement on which land and how privatized – but that is not the same as your caricature.

    As such, the most widespread constraint on freedom of choice lies within market relations, not top down policy-making.

    Yes, and that is how it should be. As a starting point.

    Mimai here, that is reasonably close to the position of my thoughtful friends of that persuasion.

  38. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    At the same time, I’m not amenable to the argument that homogenous cultures have an easier time enacting effective social policies, I find that general argument also underspecified.

    I agree. Seems that underspecification is the norm…..for lots of reasons.

    To bring some specificity to the point about homogenous cultures, there’s a wealth of social science research showing that cultural homogeneity is positively correlated with social trust. Logic tells me that more social trust makes it easier to enact “effective” social policies (though I don’t know that literature very well).

    Now this does not close the book on the matter – there are other relevant considerations. But I do think it’s an important thing to grapple with when looking abroad for social policies to enact at home.

  39. Kurtz says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    That’s why I made the comment – examining the model has to examine the whole model. It can’t be a “how do we get the benefits whole avoiding the cost sharing? ” IMO.

    That’s my point though, dude. I’m not for give everyone healthcare and tax x people only. The whole system–revenue and outlays–is fucked up. Substantive work gets taxed at higher rates than rent-derived income. That’s one of the biggest problems IMO.

    This map shows the percentage of households in each county that spend more than 50% of their income in rent. (it requires moving the cursor over each county–the colors are actually increases and decreases between two datasets.)

    I can’t find the table version of it. I’ll look for it to find precise numbers, but the point here is pretty clear. It’s not the lowest 10% who don’t have enough income to pay more in taxes, it’s more like at least 15%.

    These are people who literally cannot be taxed more. And even if you think they could, it takes resources to acquire skills and training to raise one’s income. The higher the percentage of income that goes to month-to-month necessities, the less people can afford boots, much less fancy boots with straps.

    I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I can tell you that I am perfectly fine having everyone pay significant taxes. But that has to include people who currently get by paying a tiny percentage of their income, and that ain’t the bottom.

    You and I talk past one another because we’re both opinionated and can be aggressive. We also both seem to be, um, moody at times–put all those together and fireworks get lit. But I’m not nearly as unreasonable in my voting politics as my posts may imply, because here I am often teasing out theory rather than electoral politics. Yes, if I was building a system from the ground up, it would be a lot different, but if I took that literally, I wouldn’t participate in politics at all.

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  40. Mimai says:

    @Gustopher: You are very odd. In a very good way. I approve.

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  41. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Merging multiple concepts into one vaguer concept is a common way to make fallacious arguments less obvious because you can flip between multiple meanings to make something wrong seem right (e.g. “blueberry pies are made from apples” is obviously wrong in a way that “fruit pies are made from fruit” is not, even if blueberry pies and apples are specifically what’s under discussion). The right often use this technique to shunt discussions about expanding freedoms into ones about losing liberties because when the two come into conflict, focusing on what’s lost (taxes may go up) is better for them than focusing on what’s gained (people no longer dying for easily treatable conditions they can’t afford to get treated).

    If the specific words bother you, feel free to come up with others, my main thought is to be more specific to avoid “argument by ambiguity”.

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  42. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Now this does not close the book on the matter – there are other relevant considerations. But I do think it’s an important thing to grapple with when looking abroad for social policies to enact at home.

    Sure, that can be true. But the reasons for that should be a part of any discussion in the US, because regardless of that research, we live in a diverse society. There’s simply no avoiding that. If that means we have to implement policies a different way, that’s a different argument from just saying we can’t do it.

    At the very least, it’s counter-productive to have a political party and an insular section of the media ecosystem that actively undermines social trust. That prevents us from taking any steps. (It also puts context to HL’s claim above about tax rates causing torches and pitchforks. He’s correct, but it need not be inevitable.)

    One of my favorite books is Elull’s Propaganda. It speaks to the underspecification problem among other things. It doesn’t matter how hard a person works, learning in different domains has progressed to the point that even the most gifted person could only gain enough knowledge to become an expert in one or two areas.

    I’d add that even in that case, much of their work may ultimately be superceded in the future. They may ultimately be proven wrong, but their work was essential to finding something closer to correct.

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  43. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kurtz:

    Substantive work gets taxed at higher rates than rent-derived income. That’s one of the biggest problems IMO.

    Legit curious about the basis for this assertion. Something like 72% of all rental properties are owned by individual investors, with another 16% owned by LLCs or partnerships (according to HUD anyway). All of those folks are going to be taxed on rental income at the same marginal rates as the guy doing substantive work, because the tax system treats it as individual income. From the perspective of the IRS, it might as well be on a W2.

    I won’t argue about the affordability of rent in the US, but again, France is different. We have something called the indice de référence des loyers. In simple terms, government tells landlords “this is how much you can increase the rent by this year”. A great deal more is handled here at the national level, which allows for consistency and better planning (and better control, which people in the US do not like).

    Again, just a difference in systems, which is why I keep coming back to the “if we’re going to hold these models up as frameworks for where we want the US to go, then we need to examine the entire model. Personally, I think it’s a non-starter in the US because you’ll never get widespread buyin for collective responsibility, but stranger things have happened. The US psyche just isn’t wired for this.

  44. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    At the very least, it’s counter-productive to have a political party and an insular section of the media ecosystem that actively undermines social trust. That prevents us from taking any steps.

    Ha! It’s an understatement to call this an understatement. So maybe I should just say “I agree” and leave it at that.

    I’m not familiar with that book. Will give it a look, thanks.

  45. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    That’s a good steelman. Unfortunately my recreational activities here have left me in the position of being unable to respond tonight. I need to get some work done. I look forward to finding the space between the steel plates tomorrow in the open thread. Have a good night, my friend.

    P.S. My blood pressure is actually on the low end. 😉

  46. @Mimai:

    I too get frustrated with the mindless invocation of “abroad” (mostly, referencing Nordic countries). Though I want to be clear that I don’t think Steven did this here.

    Indeed, the point I was making in the post boils down to this: there is a whole world out there wherein a variety of things have been tried and therefore a lot of data out there to accumulate and analyze. So, instead of limiting analysis to what has happened in only one country (the US), we have other countries over time that can provide further information.

    Granted, conditions are not identical and that has to be accounted for. But empirical questions about specific policies can often be asked and answered by looking outside the borders and history of the United States.

    This is something Americans don’t do enough.

    And yes, as HL92 notes, a number of variables have to be taken into account in making those comparisons. But it is also true that using the complexity of the conversation as an excuse not to have it is also not advisable.

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  47. @Gustopher:

    Now I’m perplexed. Who wouldn’t like you?

    It’s been known to happen 😉

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