Vices and more vices

by on December 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Lately a few people have been linking to 2006 posts on the vices of various political philosophies.  If you are curious, here is my post on the libertarian vice.  Here is my post on the liberal vice.  Here is my post on the conservative vice.  I still like these posts.

Since I have written these posts, several additional acts of vice have been committed.

1 Ray Lopez December 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I quickly read through them. Let me summarize your arguments with one-liners: Libertarian vice: they refuse to see that governments sometimes do get things right (e.g., US interstate highway). Liberal vice: trying to help some people will make more people worse. Conservative vice: they shift goalposts in arguments.

2 Brian December 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm

That is hardly the worst vice for conservatives. For me, it would be a coalition tied together by thread. Consider, let’s support markets and economic freedom….except when it gets in the way of everything else.

Secondly, I am not convinced that your read of it…. “shifting goalposts” = using meritocratic arguments to reassign marginal products is a correct read because if that were the case, then Tyler should have used the more simple language to describe what he was trying to say.

3 Ray Lopez December 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

See 3rd paragraph: “Or consider domestic policy. Policy X does not make a dent in the poverty rate, and this is pointed out by a critic. A conservative might respond: “But if those people would live by Confucian or Korean family values, they would do just fine.””

4 Brian December 21, 2012 at 11:43 am

Ray, I actually didn’t really disagree with you. My point was more sarcasm in that Tyler unnecessarily shrouded a simple point behind almost purposefully obscure language.

5 dan1111 December 21, 2012 at 4:11 am

“Consider, let’s support markets and economic freedom….except when it gets in the way of everything else.”

A classic line of attack is to take a superficial understanding of your opponent’s argument, then claim your opponent is inconsistent because not everything they do fits in with your caricature of their position.

i.e. “If conservatives believe in small government, then why do they want to (fund the military/restrict abortion/etc.)?”

But a philosophy of limited government does not mean one thinks the government should do nothing. Nor does belief in “markets and economic freedom” mean that conservatives should oppose any market restriction or regulation, or support every liberal policy that you think looks like a market. This type of argument says more about the one making it than anyone else.

Of course conservative politicians–as all politicians–are inconsistent and compromise their principles sometimes. And of course the conservative movement consists of various groups that don’t all agree on everything. But they are hardly “a coalition tied together by thread”, certainly not uniquely so. One could easily make an argument that the Democratic coalition is more fragile.

6 bellisaurius December 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm

So, what’s the populist vice?

7 Doug December 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Regarding all arguments above a complexity threshold as nothing more than mental acrobatics that do little more than distract from the actual truth. Call it Occam’s “overly sharp” razor.

Of course we have a trillion dollar institutional complex that sucks up the brightest minds called the “university system.” This system doles out its rewards based on two incentives: 1) try to demonstrate how clever you are, and 2) do it in such a way that it rationalizes a pre-existing set of conventional, fashionable, and orthodox ideas. So it’s no surprise that simply filtering ideas by complexity tends to be a pretty good heuristic in our society. Most people don’t need to trudge through every Slavoj Zizek wannabe to realize that they’re all full of crap.

On the other hand this defeaning noise of BS drowns out the signal of actually well-constructed complex ideas. Most voters don’t have the cognitive capacity to go through the steps showing that a tax on imports is to a first approximation equivalent to a tax on exports. So when they hear stuff like this they lump it in with all the other counter-intuitive crap they’ve heard intelligent and educated people tell them. Like when Paul Krugman says that the government increasing spending will somehow lower the deficit through the magical fiscal multiplier.

8 bellisaurius December 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I like it, doug. It sounds pretty close to my experience with it,and explains why there are so few intellectuals attempting to present it well (not that I agree with many of their positions, but I hate to see anybody’s arguments get pushed aside ‘because it’s silly’ or some other dersive, unconsidered counter).

9 Thor December 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm


Excellent contribution

10 Millian December 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Smart populists get low-intelligence supporters angry, thereby reducing general trust, which is the foundation of prosperous societies.

11 DocMerlin December 20, 2012 at 8:46 pm

No, you have the cart leading the horse. Good behavior causes trust. Trust does’t cause good behavior.

12 pyroseed13 December 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I suspect that most libertarians would respond to their vice by saying, “But how do we know that without government that the market would not have performed even better at doing x!” I imagine this type of reasoning would quickly wear thin on their liberal opponents, since the libertarian claim is not specifically “that markets do better” but that “government always perform badly.”

I think us libertarians need to accept that since the tradeoff we face in many policy issues is not always between “the market and government” but between “efficient government and inefficient government.” While I would prefer that the market do many of things that our government currently does, I’m all for policies that make government more efficient. Libertarians might worry that this would weaken the support for full-scale privatization in the long-run, but I think this would have the effect of making people more receptive towards markets. Call it “market nudging.”

13 derek December 20, 2012 at 8:39 pm

The best way to make government more efficient is to give them less money. The best way is to accomplish that is to charge the electorate for the implementation of anything they ask for. Ie., no borrowing. Oddly enough I think most libertarians would go along with that. Except that it rarely happens, and if it does, government inevitably falls back into the old ways of borrow and spend.

So maybe they are right after all.

14 Andreas Moser December 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Another libertarian vice is to believe that they are responsible for everything in which they were successful in their life, when in fact they benefited greatly from the country already in place when they were born, from publicly funded schools, roads, universities, police, fire departments and so on:
It is no surprise that there are not many libertarians in the Sahel.

15 msgkings December 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm


16 dan1111 December 21, 2012 at 4:31 am

This strikes me as a gross misunderstanding of the libertarian argument. As if libertarians are ignorant of the benefits of education, transportation, safety services, etc.!

Your argument seems to be that, because government HAS provided these things, then government MUST provide them or they wouldn’t exist. But this is obviously not true. The libertarian believes many of those services would be better provided privately. The fact that I have received benefit from a public school education in no way prevents me from arguing that another form of education would be even better. Nor does my making such an argument suggest that I am ignorant of the benefit I received from my own education.

A reductio ad absurdum of your argument would be that a slave shouldn’t argue for freedom–to do so is to ignore the food and shelter that the master provided for years.

17 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:45 am

In most cases of course, government came in and copied the first instances of these things from others. I see government innovation as mostly of the cargo cult variety. I’d be sincerely interested in examples of honest-to-goodness government-derived innovations. To me, things like NIH don’t even count because they hide their failures and simply funding something, even if you expand it, that already existed is not an example of what I’m talking about. Even if we get something like light-rail, it will primarily be due to the private actors solving the technological problems that would make current versions non-break-even.

18 Doug December 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

A liberal vice is to assume that the fact that because people derive benefits from their civilization’s overall level of development that it somehow justifies massive welfare programs for that encourage sloth, promiscuity, illegitimate children, irresponsible behavior and crime. All of course with a giant cut for the mafia that enables it.

19 dead serious December 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Non sequiturs galore. Try again.

20 Millian December 20, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Not really. This is an example of status quo bias.

21 Ray Lopez December 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm

An argument–that any Libertarian would love–for open borders.

22 Thor December 20, 2012 at 4:53 pm

The liberal equivalent is that everyone was raised by a village … and that their successes are things to be ashamed of, and to be repented (in the appropriate ways).

The liberal / progressive problem with responsibility cuts all ways.

23 Willitts December 21, 2012 at 12:24 am

Liberal vices: classifying publicly provided private goods as public goods, ignoring voluntary provision of public goods, overstating the benefits of public goods, understating the costs of public goods, and ignoring inefficient provision of public goods by government.

24 Andrew' December 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

“when in fact they benefited greatly from”

Begs the question. And also argues against any change. A sneakily conservative premise.

25 lords of lies December 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

libertardian vice: refusal to fully apprehend externalities brought about by differences in capacity and predilection between human groups.

eh, that can be shortened for more punch.

libertardian vice: spergitude.

26 Careless December 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm

That has to be absolutely the least “spergy” part of libertarians. Aspies are quite aware that people are different.

27 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:47 am

“externalities brought about by differences in capacity and predilection between human groups.”

Examples? I don’t mean proof, I just want to understand what you mean.

28 Ryan December 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm

It seemed that the vice was a refusal to acknowledge evidence that contradicted ideology.

29 Alex' December 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

that’s more of a general human vice, isn’t it?

30 Urso December 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

My favorite comment on those threads is a liberal who posted on the “conservative vice” thread something to the effect of “no, conservatives’ true vice is that they are all evil liars who want to see people suffer!”

31 kebko December 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Most of the time, a more effective government would be a simpler, smaller, more focused government. So, I think it is possible for a libertarian to fully incorporate liberal goals, but to appear as though they are being led by the libertarian vice. There is a lot of room for this perceptual error in financial regulations and many industrial regulations.

32 kebko December 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Or, another example would be a libertarian idea of a guaranteed income in place of the welfare infrastructure, which could be more generous than the liberal alternative, yet still unsatisfying to non-libertarians.

33 Flaneur December 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Tyler–forget virtue and vice. As a proponent of neurodiversity, which style of thinking do you find most consistent with the autism spectrum?

34 jean-louis salvignol December 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Listening to my son Victor, autism is an amplifier of sensations, a compactor of time – which is furthermore the same thing.

35 Flaneur December 21, 2012 at 8:24 am

Listening to my son, autism is not so much an amplifier of sensations, but an inability to process them in the moment, He also has an an exquisite memory, more consistent with an expanded time/space.

Still curious about which political school is most consistent with the austistic style of thinking.

36 jean-louis salvignol December 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

Incredible memory: memory of situations, memory of places (like an integrated gps ), memory of gags in movies after a single vision…
Ability to create power relationships by testing other very quickly and very finely.
The difference with politicians is huge, because the emission is hard while the reception is immediate. This applies to Victor at last, without being able to generalize.

37 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:51 am

Referring back to the Flynn effect and the cost of IQ, I’d imagine a hunter-gatherer would require the senses and the pattern recognition to be running on all cylinders. You wouldn’t always need precision, just a sixth-sense to steer far clear of danger.

38 JWatts December 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I thought the Libertarian Vice post was pretty good, but both the Conservative and Liberal Vice posts seemed to miss the nail.

The Conservative Vice:
Using meritocratic arguments to reassign marginal products

I don’t really see that as anything other than a core human vice. Certainly plenty of Liberals are guilty of it. Generally, I’d refer to it as rationalization.

The Liberal Vice:
“Trying too hard to limit risk will increase the number of global people who are just outright screwed over.”

I think that’s true, but isn’t the way I’d say it.

Liberal’s don’t trust the judgement of the common man and would prefer top down rules over freedom of choice.

39 bellisaurius December 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm

The concept of how each leaning worries about the decision of the common man sounds pretty fruitful for thinking. My two cents:

Conservatives fear the common man is unable to control his physical urges, and thereby create instability
Liberal fear the common man is unable to fend for himself, and suffer as a result
Libertarians fear the common man wishes to shackle him.
Populists fear the common man wishes to take advantage of him.

40 JWatts December 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

“Conservatives fear the common man is unable to control his physical urges, and thereby create instability Liberal fear the common man is unable to fend for himself”

The current gun control debate doesn’t really support this. Conservatives don’t fear uncontrollable physical urges of the common man. They generally take the Libertarian point of view that the value of the common man having access to firearms outweighs the costs.

And while you could say that “Liberals do fear the common man is unable to fend for himself”, you can just as easily say that, Liberals fear the common man is unable to control his self when he has access to a gun.

41 Alex' December 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm

It’s impossible to come up with one blind spot that explains all of an ideology’s quirks and weaknesses. Ideology is by definition not rational, and even attempts to divide conservatives and liberals by irrational moods (ala Haidt) have holes in them.

Regardless, it was good and thought provoking attempt.

42 Sbard December 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm

I think that beyond what you’re getting at, another big part of the disagreements between sides seems to be that conservatives and libertarians tend to be more deontological in their morals/ethics, while liberals tend to be more consequentialist/utilitarian and frequently end up talking past each other in debates (see the recent discussions of gun control proposals).

43 Dismalist December 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Liberals consequentialist or utilitarian? You must be joking.

44 Alex' December 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm

To an extent, yeah. Liberals are more into technocracy and social engineering. Like Bloomberg trying to tax sugary drinks or gun control. Liberals look at the number of gun deaths by law abiding citizens to rampaging criminals and compare it to the number of gun deaths due to stupid arguments or domestic disputes and conclude that even if the former rises a bit, it’s not nearly enough to justify the latter. Conservatives and libertarians will say that regardless of the stats, I have my right to protect my family.

Of course liberals have ideological blinders, but they try to argue from a Rawlsian consequentialist view, even if they can’t predict the consequences as well as they hoped.

45 Sbard December 21, 2012 at 12:49 am

Note the frequency of “If it saves one life…” (consequentialist) type arguments on the pro gun-control side versus the “What part of “shall not be infringed” don’t you understand?” (deontological) arguments on the other.

46 Bruce Cleaver December 21, 2012 at 6:12 am

DItto what Sbard said. Note this highlights the indeterminacy problem with consequentialist thinking: “If it saves just one life…” via banning guns, it can also be shown that possessing guns has “saved just one life” in many cases too.

47 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:54 am

How do you predict the consequences?

For example, there was just a huge mass shooting at a gun show…no there wasn’t.

48 Willitts December 21, 2012 at 12:40 am

Couldn’t the liberal vice of limiting risk, at a more elemental level, be a preoccupation with the illusion of control? The leftist tendencies of central planning and regulations evince a utopian vision of a magical formula for human decision making.

The conservative vice, in contrast, is a lack of trust in surrendering control. Change must be an orderly process that preserves the natural order that has developed – disturbing the pond lest one scare the fish. It sees the game as a set of unflinching rules and the field as only slowly developing. Sort of like baseball.

I noticed that Tyler wrote the most and was more insightful about his own ideology. That’s rather rare because I think we are usually blind to our blind spots. But I think conservatives understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives. It’s a shame that so much of liberal intellect is awash in a chaotic sea of swirling emotions.

49 Ryan December 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Who are these “few people” and what did they have to say?

50 Yog Sothoth December 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I love these posts. The more I think about them the more thoughtful I find them. Very nice Tyler.

51 CG December 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm

The liberal vice and the libertarian vice are opposites of one another:

Liberalism understates the degree to which we actually affect our own well-being. E.g. there is an unwillingness to place any blame on the poor themselves for their own condition; conversely, an individual’s success is usually attributed to factors outside of that individual’s control.

Libertarianism overstates the degree to which we are capable of affecting our own well-being. E.g. it often overlooks the importance of chance and environment in dictating outcomes, e.g. natural ability, family status/wealth, etc.

52 Ray Lopez December 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Rawl’s veil of ignorance comes to mind, and those experiments where people won’t bet big since they fear losing, though the bet is rigged in their favor. That’s why insurance is so popular in the West, and explains why liberalism is so popular in the modern West. As a society progresses, people don’t want to take risk anymore. Society stagnates, then grows soft, decays, and out of the ashes liaise-fair Libertarian economics is reborn after a brief Dark Ages. Same as it ever was.

53 alphao December 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

There are two sides to the risk coin. Libertarianism promotes a large upside for risky endeavors. Liberalism/bankruptcy law/universal health care/etc. mitigate the downside for starting risk endeavors. They both promote risk taking, but do so in different ways.

54 Ray Lopez December 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm

But I would argue that with a large safety net the kind of risk taking is more along the lines of rent seeking than generating entrepreneurial wealth. Give a man a fish; teach a man to fish… @alphao– Roman Republic–>Empire–>Byzantium

55 derek December 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm

That is the theory anyways. Is there any empirical evidence that a social safety net encourages entrepreneurship?

Maybe it’s the other way around. An electorate that votes itself a wide safety net is displaying it’s risk aversion that would be evidenced in other spheres. Canadians have more insurance than Americans (or did) for example, even at the time when the Canadian safety net was quite a bit wider than the US one.

56 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:57 am

It seems that the overseers of the risk mitigation laws often demand behavior modification.

57 Alex' December 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Makes sense. When has it happened before?

58 Stan December 20, 2012 at 9:05 pm

The vice of all 3: that one narrow set of principles can be applied to every situation

59 msgkings December 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Like this one too

60 Willitts December 21, 2012 at 12:55 am

Well they wouldn’t be called “principles” if they weren’t meant to be broadly applied. Heuristic inefficiencies?

I suppose you mean failure to recognize that reality is more complex than simple rules, however useful, can be satisfactorily applied. Perhaps also a tolerance to live with the dissatisfaction of one’s own principles even when you recognize them as having missed the mark.

“There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.”

I always judge an ideology by the nation it would create and tolerate if it had total power to implement it politically – not a world of their fantasies, but the actual world we would get. I am what I am because I believe the other ideologies wouldn’t enjoy living in the nation they would create. Note I did not say world, because there are exogenous forces with which any viable nation must contend. What surprises me most is the diversity of nations we tolerate in our world, from Sweden to Singapore to Somalia to Saudi Arabia to North Korea. Quite remarkable what wars have led us to tolerate.

61 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:29 am

The world is far too complex for politicians to apply what they think is pragmatism.

62 Kevin December 20, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Where does ‘faking one’s economics degree’ fall?

63 Andrew' December 22, 2012 at 6:58 am

“He finished his masters degree there, but the business school – Incae – discovered he’d lied in his application and informed the government”

So much for human capital accumulation theory…

64 William December 21, 2012 at 5:08 am

Great post, but can’t resist a nit-pick. Assume you meant the Aswan high dam. The Americans studied this project and predicted it would disrupt agriculture downstream and would silt up quickly. They refused to finance it. The Russians did. The result was lower agricultural yields, a massive snake infestation along the entire Nile, increased reliance on fertilizers, and yes it silted up quickly (how they solved this problem I don’t know, they still get a low of power from the dam).

65 David E December 21, 2012 at 10:14 am

Libertarian vice – not taking risk seriously (e.g. drug legalization, cutting the US military by 50%)
Liberal vice – comparing reality of how private markets behave with ideal of how governments behave + (See Arnold Kling) seeing all conflict as powerless vs powerful
Conservative vice – not caring about incremental change if current situation doesn’t adversely effect them (e.g. Buckley’s resistance to civil rights), and over reliance on force (e.g. military, police)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: