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Home > Libertarian Objections
Objection to 'Explaining Liberal Principles'
by Bob Powell, 5/20/08
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I've got to say ... "I love this stuff!" ... that is, arguments from "conservatives" on why liberals are so wrong ... and in this case even "depraved."

I actually have some sympathy for them because at one time I also knew nothing of systems thinking or system dynamics. My training in physics was about analyzing the parts to understand behavior. I knew nothing about emergent properties.

For the record: Systems thinking is seeking to understand system behavior by examining "the whole," instead of by analyzing the parts. Now this doesn't mean that lots of behaviors can't be understood by analyzing the parts; they can be. It's just that often they can't and we must examine "the whole" to understand what's happening.

Here's a commentary I came across on a blog by Michael Mort who objects to what I've written at Explaining Liberal Principles. His real name? I don't know. But "Dr. Death" (he, too, has a Ph.D. in a technical field) is perfectly appropriate considering what real "conservatives" have brought to the United States ... the death of our economy, the middle class, and the U.S. Constitution.

Oh wait ... that's right; conservatives supported Mr. Bush for years and got him selected, but now they tell us that he's "not really a conservative." But he's exactly conservative ... achieving the inevitable result of "conservative" policies taken to their logical conclusion. What we've got now is what Reagan would have been with a Republican Congress: more authoritarian government, a busted fiscal budget, an exploding "trade" deficit, a devalued dollar, a broken military, a violated Constitution, and a violent disregard for international law.

Anyway, here goes. His text is in this color. His quotes from Explaining Liberal Principles are indented in green. My comments are double-indented in black.

From Monday, February 11, 2008
The Liberal Principle of Government

First, I want to point you to the video of Newt Gingrich's speech at CPAC. When you have 40 minutes to devote to intelligent talk about what this country's political leaders should be doing, and what you should be doing to enable the election of the correct leaders, listen to it:

Excellent start. So evidently Newt enlightens both of us. It's actually Newt who woke me up.

After being a registered Republican for 18 years in Colorado (i.e., basically being ignorant and asleep), I began listening to what Gingrich and others were saying. I just hadn't been paying attention being in a highly technical, high pressure job in the semiconductor industry. I didn't know the difference between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and liberals. 

Anyway, it was one of Newt's lies that woke me: I heard him explain, I think it was in 1994, that Republican plans would not cut Medicare and that the Democrats were lying when they said it was a cut. So I thought how can it be both ways? Someone is misrepresenting the situation at least by selective use of facts.

It turns out that the Medicare budget overall would indeed increase. But because more elderly would enter the program and because those already enrolled would age, the average cost per person would increase. But Medicare funding wouldn't be enough to keep up with that increased cost. Therefore, individuals of a given age would experience a cut.

Now what's more relevant? What the individual experiences or what's happening with the overall program? For "conservatives," who believe that it's always the individual that's paramount, one would think it would be the former. But no; that's only when that principle serves them. That's when I began to realize that Newt, Republicans, and "conservatives" have no allegiance to the truth.

Further down his page Dr. Mort continues with his exposition on what I wrote at Explaining Liberal Principles ...

Okay, I'm going to give you two more quotes to show you the depth of depravity of liberal "logical thinking" when it comes to principles. In this supposedly logical treatise, titled "Explaining Liberal Principles," the author says:

OKaaay ... so right away we know what we think of each other. Excellent. Immediately we know this is going to be fun. Not only is what I've written "supposedly logical," it's also "depraved." Depravity: Moral corruption or degradation.

He continues with an excerpt from what I wrote.

Liberals must convey to voters that we understand the complexity of the world and that we have logical and workable solutions to their problems. We must convey that we have logical and principled reasoning for when governmental solutions are required. We must convey the complex in simple, principled ways that connect with people lives.

My purpose here is to briefly explain the ideological extremes, why our systems are failing, why conservative ideology doesn't work, and why only a liberal approach can properly address the problems in our society.

Yes! I thought. Finally I'm going to learn what these people think they stand for. But then comes a long rambling essay about the ills of communism, fascism, and conservatism, without a single principle evoked. Oh, there is a section in this article called ""Principles to guide when government involvement is required." But read it. Eight paragraphs are listed, with items like "Moderate market instabilities," "Overcome adverse selection," and "Take advantage of positive externalities." Huh? There is no coherent, understandable, unifying principle that can match the simple conservative principle that "humans are responsible for their own decision and government's role is to protect their right to succeed or fail on their own decisions."

So that's it. It's got to be "simple." No wonder he writes, "Huh?"

No complexity allowed. It's either black or white. Simplistic conservative ideology is the whole truth.

No real world effects allowed. Adverse selection? Forget it, even though George Akerlof, Michael Spence, and Joseph Stiglitz were awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics for their understanding of the adverse selection dynamic in markets with asymmetric information.

And that's exactly the root of the problem: "either-or" thinking in a complex "both-and" world. "Government bad, privatized good. Always and ever. Amen." Systems effects must be ignored.

The liberal principle: Take into account systems effects when designing government policies, because the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. If we don't, individually-logical decisions can lead to system failures that, of course, affect most, if not all, individuals. Sometimes government is necessary; systems principles tell us when. Government must balance the individual and common good so that people can be truly free to achieve their potential.

Keep in mind that "balancing" is the most difficult of the techniques of discipline. See Scott Peck on discipline in The Road Less Traveled, referenced in Escaping The Crisis Syndrome.

Of course, those who are ignorant of systems effects, and/or deny they exist, cannot possibly take them into account.

Now here is the real deal. Here is the reason liberals do not articulate their principles: They are afraid to. To prove this to you, I'm going to quote again from the last article I cited above:

...their [Conservatives'] message is simple and easy to communicate: "Get government off your back; the less government, the better." Economic conservatives praise "free market" virtues. If a problem persists, it's that there's too much government intervention. So simple. So neat. So flawed.

The second way is that they make this message convincing by using the technique George Orwell described: repeat the simple and false so often that voters believe it. Simple. Effective. Tried and true. Communists and Nazis have used it. Hey, it works.

But false simplicity is also their weakness because their simple solutions are leading our society to ruin. While a simple solution may work, finding the correct "simple solution" is not always simple. And, heresy of heresies, the correct solution may require collective, rather than individual action. That's because individually logical actions can often lead to system failure.

See that he says that the idea of too much government being a problem is "flawed" without any support for this accusation. But he gets to the crux of liberal thinking in the last line. Read that last line again: "individually logical actions can often lead to system failure." Again, this bold statement is not supported by any logic of its own. But worse, look what it implies as a summary of this passage: Individuals cannot be trusted to make decisions that work for the good of the whole. In other words, democracy does not work. This is the way liberals think. This is their true principle, buried under mountains of gobbledygook. They don't trust individuals to make choices that they, the liberals, deem to be appropriate. So the liberals must rely on a managed society, one run by their elite leaders in government.

But it's not that "individuals cannot be trusted," it's that my "bold statement" is fact. The Trade Deficit and the Fallacy of Composition explains this in the context of what's called "free trade." Yes, individually logical decisions can be collectively irrational. We must understand that it's not always the decisions of individuals that determines their fates.

It's those "gobbledygook" effects of dynamics resulting from delays that cause "market instabilities," from "adverse selection," from "negative externalities," and from "positive externalities" that cannot, must not, be taken into account. Put your blinders on ... nothing to see here ... move along. Those ignorant of, or in denial of, systems effects cannot possibly understand. See Command and Control on the challenge of doing it right.

And, by the way, what we have now is exactly a "managed society "run by elite leaders in government." See for example There's no 'free market' for Labor for an example of "government run amok." But it's not exactly government. The Federal Reserve is actually privatized government; that's the "conservative" ideal. And that privatization created a Fed that's virtually unaccountable to the voters and has created the havoc of bubble after bubble in our economy.

Democracy with an uneducated citizenry does not work. Public education must include systems thinking so citizens understand how the world really works. That's a major reason why, along with taking advantage of positive externalities and avoiding the tyranny of financial NPV calculations that devalue future returns, that we need public education. For a general overview of systems structures, see The Archetypes, Generic Structures & Examples. On economics see The Invisible Hand and Invisible Hand Drops Ball & Economics 101.

Liberals hate the simple conservative message of individual freedom because liberals want government to be in control of everyone's life. That's why they don't come up with a simple, easy to understand list of their principles. If they articulated this plainly, they'd never get elected!

This "liberals want government to be in control of everyone's life" is the greatest lie proffered by "libertarians" and economic "conservatives" about liberals. Anyone who recognizes the need for any government beyond protecting private property is accused of wanting government to control everything. That's black-and-white, either-or thinking.

But "freedom" is more complicated than "individual freedom." True freedom is about more than the ability to take action; it's more accurately about the ability to take effective action. See On Freedom where I explain that "Libertarians and economic conservatives would rather have someone who wants to exit a room be free to run into walls than be truly free and able to find the door." A primer on systems effects is The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.

Let's finally tell the truth: The liberal principle of government is that effective government must overrule individual freedom wherever the people who run the government feel that they need to.

Hardly. That government policies must take into account systems effects is not at all the same as "overruling individual freedom ... whenever the people who run the government feel that they need to." This blatant ignorance is tragic. It's why this kind of so-called "conservative" influence on policy must be marginalized.

A friend sent me this quote:

"Do I favour economic conservatism?  I do, for economic conservatism is but the moral belief that actions should benefit the common good."  - Ben Franklin

That's pretty radical along the lines of that "in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare" thing. Note that Union, Justice, Tranquility, and Welfare are capitalized ... that was the way the writers of the Constitution conveyed emphasis. Union, Justice, general Welfare, and Tranquility are about the whole, not the parts.

The word "defence" is, surprisingly, not capitalized, though that's the main, often the only, "conservative" focus.

The real truth: Conservatives do not believe in democracy or the principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Never did. Never will.*

* See Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000 - 2008 by Mark Crispin Miller (listen to this interview with him at 36:30 minutes into this podcast**) and Witness to a Crime: A Citizens' Audit of an American Election by Richard Hayes Phillips.

What I would modify about Franklin's statement is that conservatism must balance the individual and common good so that people can be truly free to achieve their potential.

Franklin's principled concern "for the benefit of the common good" is certainly not what economic "conservatives" stand for today. On economics they're the same as libertarians.

They believe that individuals acting in their own self-interest will always benefit the common good (the whole). That's not true. They don't even believe there is such a thing as a "commons" or collective. That's not true. In fact, they believe There's No Collective or Social Reality.

That's why I call them, "insane."


*Segments of the interviews with authors on the Seder on Sundays 05/25/08 "book show" podcast (1 hr 50 min):
Christine Wicker - The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: the Surprising Crisis Inside the Church
Joel Kovel - The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
Mark Crispin Miller - Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008
Ha-Joon Chang - Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism
Robert Auerbach - Deception and Abuse at the Fed: Henry B. Gonzalez Battles Alan Greenspan's Bank

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"Fallacy of the Commons"
The Commons: What Tragedy? by Wilton D. Alston
Problems: A Society's or An Individual's?
Command and Control
Libertarian Quotes
There's No Collective or Social Reality
Objection to 'Explaining Liberal Principles'