No, Libertarians are NOT Compelled to Support Social Media Censorship

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Wanted for fraud

The controversy over social media companies allegedly censoring politically incorrect viewpoints doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.  It seems that every few weeks, we get a new round of accusations, denials, and think-pieces explaining why this sort of thing is perfectly okay and nobody has any right to object to it.

In the course of this conversation, there are two groups of people likely to pop up to implicitly defend the censorship of right-wing viewpoints on social media:

I’ll refer to the first group as the “Statist Gotchas.”  These are establishment Democrats and/or Republicans whose only real objective is to smear libertarianism.  Their intended purpose is to expose libertarians as unprincipled hypocrites, who cite freedom and liberty as the basis of their belief structure – but are actually motivated by pure selfishness (and probably racism).  Their argument typically goes something like:  “You libertarians constantly drone on and on about freedom.  You think corporations should be able to do whatever they want.  But whenever a corporation does something you don’t like, all you do is complain about it!  So much for your so-called values!”  These people are essentially trolling and are typically not worth responding to or engaging with, but I include a description of them here because their argument is incorrect in the same way and can be refuted in the same manner as those of the group below.

The second group shall be referred to as the “Especially Woke Libertarians.”  These are people who identify, at least partially on the occasional issue, as libertarian themselves.  They are typically reasonably intelligent and possess some understanding of libertarian political philosophy.  Their intent isn’t to smear libertarians as hypocritical (which would be self-defeating), but rather to enforce ideological purity – a noble goal that I myself participate in from time to time (including right now).  Their objection is something to the effect of:  “Twitter and Facebook are private companies and their networks are private property.  They have the right to discriminate against whomever they wish, censor content in whatever manner they deem appropriate, etc.  If you don’t like their policies, you are free to use a different website, or start your own social network and compete with them.”

That statement, taken in isolation, is correct.  In a private property society, individuals and groups would have every right to set up social networks that operate according to whatever principles the owners deem appropriate.  They have no positive obligation to provide a forum for all individuals, or to allow the equal expression of all ideas.

However, this argument completely and totally ignores a critical component of this debate.  The companies in question have repeatedly made public claims that they do not engage in content-based discrimination.  If this claim is incorrect, if they are, in fact, engaging in such discrimination, then they are guilty of fraudulently misrepresenting the nature of their product.  As far as I know, there is not a single belief system, including private property libertarianism, that condones or endorses outright fraud.  Fraud is an act of aggression, and should be called out and punished accordingly.

Let us use an analogy.  Recently, Volkswagen was accused of cheating on emissions testing for their diesel engines, such that the engines appeared to emit low emissions on tests, but would emit much higher quantities in day to day driving.  They claimed to be offering low-emissions engines but were actually offering high-emissions engines.  This would seem to be a cut-and-dry case of fraud and was publicly decried as such.  Throughout all of the discussion of this scandal, I don’t recall any Exceptionally Woke Libertarians loudly declaring, “ACTUALLY, Volkswagen is a private company and they have the right to sell whatever type of engine they want!”  Because everyone understood that the violation of the law (and more importantly, of the non-aggression principle) was not the creation of the engines in and of themselves, but the misrepresentation of how the engines actually performed.

Social networks now find themselves in a similar situation.  Much like Volkswagen, they have promised the public a certain product – that is, a social network free from politically-biased censorship.  By making that public declaration, they have themselves voluntarily incurred a positive obligation to deliver such a product.  If they cannot, or choose not to, deliver said product, they must publicly recant their promises to do so.  But their continued policy of promising an objective product while delivering a heavily biased one is outright fraud, plain and simple.  Libertarians have no obligation to defend fraudulent practices.

In fact, I would go even farther.  I would say that libertarians have an obligation to explicitly reject such practices.  To do otherwise is to play directly into the hands of the Statist Gotchas, who regularly insist that, were libertarians to have their way, evil corporations would be selling us all exploding toasters and meat tainted with rat poison.  The typical libertarian response to such arguments is, “No way!  That wouldn’t happen, because fraud would still be punished!  It would not be permissible for companies to promise untainted meat, but sell tainted meat.  Even in the absence of state authority, consumers would rise up and refuse to purchase products from any company or individual who tried to pull off such a dastardly scheme!”  And yet, in the case of social media, we see the Exceptionally Woke Libertarians doing the exact opposite.  They turn their nose and ignore fraudulent corporate practices, without realizing that such behavior essentially proves correct one of the primary statist objections to a free society.  Why should anyone believe that those who refuse to denounce a fraudulent social network would denounce fraudulent meat?  Do the EWLs really believe that private companies can do “whatever they want?” up to and including fraud?

Both statists and libertarians who focus on the supposed rights of private companies are deliberately obfuscating the issue at hand.  Social networks have a right to discriminate, but they do not have a right to fraudulently misrepresent the nature of their product.  They do not have the right to promise one thing and deliver another.  Such acts are fraud, and are illegal under current US law, as well as clear violations of the non-aggression principle.  There is no excuse for condoning such behavior, and I call on libertarians of all stripes to join me in publicly rejecting such practices as illegal, unethical, and immoral.

 

Answering common objections to the allegation of fraud on the part of social media companies:

When I’ve made these arguments in the past, I have received two common objections – which I will deal with here.

 

Objection #1:  To accuse these companies of committing fraud, you must adequately prove that they are, in fact, discriminating against certain viewpoints.  What evidence do you have to make such an accusation?

Response:  I do not claim to possess sufficient evidence to file a criminal or civil complaint against any particular social network, but that is irrelevant to my greater argument.  I am responding specifically to the notion that these companies have the right to discriminate.  Given that they have made public claims of non-discrimination, this is no longer true.  By making such claims, they have waived that right.  We can argue over whether they actually are or are not discriminating, but that is a separate argument entirely.  Making the case that the companies are not discriminating is an entirely different argument from suggesting that they are entitled, under libertarian philosophy, to discriminate.  That would only be true if they did not make any public statements promising a discrimination-free service.

 

Objection #2:  Mainstream social networks, even with discrimination, are highly successful.  Nothing is stopping you or anyone else from offering a “free-speech social network” and competing with them.  To the extent that such networks have already been tried, they have largely failed.  The market has spoken.

Response:  A market-based test requires competition within the bounds of the non-aggression principle.  Fraud is an act of aggression.  It may be that “free-speech” based social networks have failed largely because mainstream social networks fraudulently proclaim themselves to be tolerant of free speech, and thus, the public does not recognize the need for a niche alternative.  It is difficult for a legitimate product to compete with a fraudulent one.  Much like how Volkswagen received an unfair advantage by cheating on emissions tests, mainstream social networks achieve an unfair advantage by committing fraud as it regards their censorship policies.  If the public understood the true nature of the services being offered, they might very well turn to alternatives in greater number, and the incentive for entrepreneurs to invest in creating such networks would dramatically increase.  Given the fraudulent nature of existing products, it is not correct to conclude that a fair “market test” has already been conducted.

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How To Talk To Your Friends About Tax Cuts

The following conversation is a rough approximation of one I just recently had with a few of my co-workers:

Them: Do we make enough money that we will benefit from these tax cuts? Or are we getting screwed like everyone else?
Me: Do you itemize?
Them: No.
Me: Everyone who doesn’t itemize is going to benefit from this.
Them: What? Really? That can’t be right. Let me Google that. Oh damn you’re right. I wonder why nobody talked about that?

In case you think I’m making this up, feel free to consult The Washington Post, who provides this friendly chart, showing you approximately how much of a tax cut you’ll be getting.  It varies from state to state – generally better results for red states, and less favorable results for blue states, due to the elimination of the state and local income tax deduction.  But (and I really can’t emphasize this enough), that only matters if you itemize.

 Using California as a blue-state example, let’s take a look at the breakdown of who gets a tax break and who doesn’t.  Sure looks like a lot of green on that chart, doesn’t it?  And that’s for single people, for married couples with two children, the chart is entirely green.  But getting back to our point about itemization, let’s focus in on that very bottom row, for people taking the standard deduction, yet again, it’s entirely green.

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Who actually itemizes their tax returns?  The Tax Foundation provides a useful summary.  Only 30% of tax returns are itemized, so two out of every three people are essentially guaranteed to be getting a tax cut here.  And itemization, of course, becomes increasingly common the more money you make – meaning that the wealthy are far more likely to be harmed by changes that penalize itemization.  This graph provides a nice summary:

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To summarize, the GOP tax bill provides tax cuts for virtually everyone who does not itemize, which is a group that mostly includes low income people.  It occasionally, but rarely, will lead to tax increases for people who itemize, a group that mostly includes high-income people.  This general pattern holds true across all states and demographics.  Be sure to make this clear to your friends and family.  They have largely been sold a bill of goods about this plan which claims it’s all about huge tax cuts for the rich with nothing of substance for the lower or middle class.  This is patently false.

To answer my co-worker’s final question:  “Why hasn’t anyone talked about that?” I’d suggest that the answer is twofold.  The left is dishonest – left-wing politicians and their paid shills in the mainstream media have intentionally and deliberately lied about this bill in their obsession with trying to tear down Trump.  And the right is stupid – they’ve spent all their time talking about “job growth” that’s supposed to happen from the corporate tax reduction, trying to defend unpopular trickle-down economics rather than focusing on the one major huge win from this legislation – the doubling of the standard deduction.

In any case, the facts are clear.  People who do not itemize (which are typically lower-income people) are getting a tax cut.  Period.  Now go out there and make sure everyone understands this.

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Lower Taxes Are Good – Even If the Deficit Rises

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Avoidable

Treasury’s Tax Reform Analysis Confirms Republicans Don’t Give a Damn About the Deficit – Hit & Run : Reason.com

The fine folks over at Reason want you to know that they’re super concerned that the GOP tax plan making its way through Congress might… brace yourselves everyone… raise the deficit! 

Oh no!  Not the deficit!  That sounds really bad!  Surely all proper libertarians can therefore agree that this is terrible legislation which must be opposed!

…But just for fun, let’s stop and think about this for a second.  What is the deficit exactly?  It represents the amount the government must borrow to finance operations when the revenues produced from taxation are less than the expenses required for various spending programs.  The equation then, would be:  Spending – Taxes = Deficit.  Since there are two variables, there are then two ways the deficit could be increased, by raising spending, or by lowering taxes.  Everyone onboard so far?

Libertarians believe taxes are bad [citation needed].  But they do not, necessarily, believe that spending is inherently bad.  Spending is bad because the source of the spending is typically taxation, which is theft.  If Bill Gates voluntarily donated a billion dollars to a centralized agency to spend funding various social programs, there is no valid libertarian criticism.  It would be a voluntary act of charity which harms no one.  In fact, this sort of logic is the very foundation of much of libertarian theory as to how society wouldn’t collapse without the state.  It’s the non-voluntary aspect of taxation which makes the system immoral, not the spending aspect.

So, if taxation (theft) decreases, this is a morally good outcome.  Even if spending remains constant.  Because taxes are inherently immoral in a way that spending is not.  There is no libertarian reason to complain about lower taxes resulting in a higher deficit.

But wait!  If the government lowers taxes without cutting spending (or receiving voluntary donations from billionaires), they’ll just inflate the money supply!  We’ll still have to pay the inflation tax!

 Now we get into a slightly more coherent and nuanced criticism – often made elsewhere, but notably absent from the Reason piece linked above.  It is correct that if governments cannot raise the funds needed to finance their spending via taxation or donation, they will end up monetizing the debt and printing money, leading to inflation.  Which results in a simple question – would you rather pay a straight up income tax now, or pay the inflation tax later?

And the obvious answer is that you’d much rather pay the inflation tax later. 

 This is not just a matter of opinion; one option is clearly superior to the other.  Even putting aside the time value of money (income tax is stolen from you immediately, before you even receive the money, while debt monetization is a process that typically takes several years to fully materialize – and money today is more valuable than money in the future), there’s a pretty major and obvious way that inflation is a better outcome than income taxes:  Inflation is reasonably easy to avoid.

If you’re anyone who earns an income, it’s virtually impossible to legally avoid the income tax (and difficult to avoid it illegally).  But there are a whole lot of ways to avoid inflation!  I’ll bet libertarians have even heard of some of them!  For example, did you know that it’s possible to exchange your federal reserve notes for various inflation-resistant assets such as:

 

 

 

 

What’s that?  Reason is aware of all of these things and has written about them before?  Well that’s weird.  Given that they acknowledge that there are several different types of assets one can own to immunize themselves against government money-printing, they should be far less concerned about inflation than about the unavoidable income tax, should they not?

And yet here they are, pitching a fit over an increased deficit, even though it means the total amount of theft in society is going to go down.  One is hard-pressed to think of any logical reason to take this particular position other than the same tired anti-Trump virtue signaling we’ve come to expect from the official arbiters of approved opinion.  Any organization that is unwilling to celebrate lower taxes is, quite simply, undeserving of the label “libertarian.”

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Because I Got High (Obama Remix)

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This Is Not The “Libertarian Moment” You’re Looking For

hdzwzq71-300x300You’ve heard it a million times by now… Trump and Hillary have record-breaking negative favorability ratings.  They are both facing significant opposition from forces within their own parties who solemnly vow that they will never support them.  One is facing a civil trial for allegedly defrauding customers in a huckster sales-pitch “educational” program, the other is fearing a potential federal indictment for mishandling classified information.

Surely this is it – the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  With such unpopular mainstream candidates, this is finally the chance for a third-party, if not to win the election, then at least to steal a significant share of the vote, make a real impact, and signal to disenfranchised citizens across the country that they are no longer beholden to a corrupt two-party system.  The libertarian party is especially well-positioned to cash-in, as it has some awareness and credibility (particularly among young people) and is the only third party to have ballot access in all 50 states.  Gary Johnson is already polling at ten percent!  How could we ever have a better opportunity than this?  It’s everything we could possibly have hoped for!

Too bad there’s no chance it’s going to amount to anything.

I am officially predicting that the Gary Johnson (recently selected as the libertarian nominee) will receive less than 2% of the popular vote in November.  (As a frame of reference, he got 0.99% of the vote in 2012).

There are several reasons why the libertarian party generally and Johnson specifically are doomed to failure-as-usual.  First, let’s deal with the “likeability” factor.  Polls on favorability are generally treated as a proxy for how much the candidate is personally liked by voters – not necessarily a measure of “how much do you agree with the candidate’s positions.”  Given that Hillary essentially admits she wants “more of the same” from the Obama days, and that many of Trump’s “extreme” positions (preventing immigration through physical barriers, using torture, targeting non-combatants in military strikes, granting preferred immigration status to certain groups over certain other groups) are in fact already current policy (even if people don’t realize it), it would seem that negative judgments about the candidates are rooted mainly in personality and/or character – rather than on their stated policies.  In other words, people hate Trump and Hillary personally, but they don’t particularly hate the policies that either candidate advocates for.

But what about the #NeverTrump conservatives and the BernieBros?  They have spelled out detailed objections to the actual policies advocated by the candidates of the party with which they normally identify.  The neocons attack Trump for not being a “real conservative”.  They hate that he isn’t sufficiently pro-war, pro-life, or pro-gender exclusive bathrooms.  Meanwhile, the main policy objection to Hillary from Bernie supporters is that she is a puppet of establishment interests headquartered on Wall Street.  She doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage high enough, she doesn’t want to raise taxes high enough, and she isn’t going to create enough new entitlement programs.  Basically, conservatives hate Trump for not being conservative enough, and liberals hate Hillary for not being liberal enough.

Enter the libertarian!  Fiscally conservative and socially liberal!  Something for everyone to love, right?  Maybe – but more importantly, also something for everyone to hate.  Why would a social conservative who hates Trump for being too liberal support someone who is pro-choice, pro-drug legalization, and was ahead of even Obama on the gay marriage bandwagon?  Why would young millennial socialists support a candidate who, last time around, campaigned on the basis of having vetoed countless bills for new spending programs and who advocates a fair tax system (aka, tax cuts for the rich, tax increases for the poor)?  In both cases, voting for Johnson would require them to compromise on some of their most deeply held principles… and if they were willing to do that, they’d go ahead and just vote for Trump or Hillary.  The whole point of a third-party protest vote is that you don’t have to compromise your core beliefs.

Let’s also address the polls supposedly so favorable to Johnson.  As far as I can tell, the polls where Johnson does as well as ten percent are “three way match-up” polls where respondents are presented three choices and three choices only:  Hillary, Trump, and Johnson.  Unfortunately, no actual voter will be presented with this choice come November.  Technically speaking, they will be presented with two choices.  The first choice is whether to even bother voting at all.  Given the spectacular failure of third parties (leading to the popular notion that voting for one is “throwing your vote away”) – the most logical decision for someone who hates both Trump and Hillary is to stay home entirely and just pass on voting altogether.  But even those who value the act of voting and desire to “make their voice heard,” will be presented with a different set of options.  The ballot they actually see will include Trump, Hillary, Johnson, numerous other third party candidates (likely to include candidates from the Green Party and Constitution Party who will be much more in line with the beliefs and preferences of socialists and neocons), and a write-in spot.  If you want to vote for someone other than Trump or Hillary, you will have several options in addition to Johnson.  It would seem as if ten percent represents his absolute ceiling in the most favorable of conditions:  that all of the people who really hate Trump/Hillary actually show up to vote, and that he wins nearly 100% of those votes.  Call me crazy, but I just don’t see that as terribly realistic.

While on a superficial level conditions may appear right for this to be the election where a third-party challenger finally shows legitimacy, further analysis indicates the opposite.  Most of the claimed justifications for libertarian success are simply hollow and fail to stand up to serious scrutiny.  Not only is Johnson a terrible representative for the ideas of libertarianism in general, but he will be a failure as a candidate as well.  Don’t believe the hype.

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So, Are All Men Naturally Rapists in Waiting, Or Not?

Exhibit 1:

Social Club at Harvard Rejects Calls to Admit Women, Citing Risk of Sexual Misconduct – The New York Times

A male-only club at Harvard is being pressured to admit female members.  They don’t want to do this.  One of the justifications they give for keeping the club gender-exclusive is that it might lead to increased sexual assaults.  The left strongly rejects this sentiment, characterizes it as victim-blaming, and states that separating the genders is “at odds with the aspirations of the 21st-century society.”

 

Exhibit 2:

Here’s Why Women Everywhere Will Delete Uber On April 19 – Dose – Stories Worth Sharing

A former Uber driver is launching a competing service – it’s just like Uber, only it caters to women only.  It will only employ female drivers and will only accept female customers.  The justification provided is that it enhances the safety and privacy of women and decreases the chances they will be sexually assaulted.  Their lawyer is quoted as saying “we are confident that our hiring of women drivers constitutes a bona fide occupational qualification, where doing so is necessary to uphold the privacy, safety and security of our drivers and riders.”  The left is applauding this service for providing much-needed relief from the obvious dangers of co-ed taxi cabs.

 

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So which is it, people?  Is the mixing of genders inherently dangerous, or isn’t it?  It’s almost as if there’s an obvious double standard in play, such that women should be allowed to have their own gender-exclusive clubs, businesses, and services, but men should not.  That excluding women from a male only gathering is sexist and wrong, but excluding men from a female only gathering is progressive and in the best interests of public safety.  But no, that couldn’t possibly be the case – after all, the only thing these people want is gender equality, right?

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The Best Book on the Soviet Union I’ve Ever Read

51mxbky0yklBehind the Urals – John Scott

Typically when I read a book that is relevant to the interests of this blog, I simply write a brief mini-review in the “Reading List” section and call it a day.  But this book was so fascinating to me that I thought it deserved a post of its own.  It should be required reading for anyone who is interested in communism generally or the Soviet Union specifically.

The book is essentially a collection of the observations and musings of John Scott, an American of socialist leanings who, in the 1930s, confronted with the great depression in America and hearing so much about the wonderful revolution taking place in Russia, decided to learn a trade (welding) and emigrate to the Soviet Union.  He ended up assigned to Magnitogorsk, formerly a barren wasteland hardly suited to grazing the animals of nomadic tribes, destined to be converted to a center of production and industry by sheer force of brute manpower due to Stalin’s desire to have industrial production located far away from the western border (so that invading armies wouldn’t be able to disrupt industry).

What makes the story particularly interesting is how refreshingly honest and objective it is.  Scott obviously supports the ideals of socialism, and even seems to have a certain fondness for Stalin himself.  And yet, this doesn’t prevent him from describing the situation exactly as it was.  He details the astoundingly low standard of living faced by most of the workers.  He acknowledges how unfair and counterproductive it was for the communists to disenfranchise the kulaks (formerly wealthy peasants who were stripped of their possessions and treated essentially as prisoners following the revolution).  He details the chilling effect of the political purges of the late 1930s and the overall callous disregard for the value of human life.

But following these descriptions, there is usually something of an afterthought.  A hint of justification for the crimes and misdeeds of the Soviet regime.  Scott discusses how despite all of the hardship, there was a certain sense of accomplishment and camaraderie among the workers.  He describes returning to America and being astounded by the significantly higher standard of living, but still feeling a bit sad for his friends and family who seemed to fear losing it all at a moment’s notice (as opposed to the Russian worker, who had little to fear because they had already been through so much hardship).  While my instinct is to castigate the author whenever he goes in to one of his “Yes it was bad, but think of the difficulty of what they had to accomplish!” sections, I hesitate to do so, because I think his story and his analysis speak to a deeper part of the human psyche that is often left unexplored.

Generally speaking, I believe that human beings are incredibly flexible and mentally adaptable to their circumstances.  Despite how most of us read of various terrible historical scenarios and say to ourselves, “I could never stand something like that!” I’m quite certain that if we were forced into such an environment, the vast majority of us would eventually adapt and get along well enough.  We would accept our circumstances for what they are, and learn to do the best we could within them, finding success and happiness where we can, savoring the “little things” in life, etc.  This adaptability of the human spirit has potentially broad significance towards political theory in terms of just how much the government can get away with.  The Soviet experiment (along with other oppressive regimes around the globe) was a giant test of exactly this sort of theory.  Even though their daily life included things that to us seem like unimaginable hardships, the average Russian was essentially a normal person, just wanting to work, make some money, raise a family, and enjoy life.  Scott’s book goes a long way towards emphasizing and reminding us of the universal humanity we all possess.

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