Soccergirl, TAM 6, and me

By Phil Plait | July 14, 2008 2:32 pm

Picture of SoccergirlI was notified by MsInformation that Soccergirl — one of the most popular vloggers/podcasters on Earth — has put out her first TAM vid*. Guess who leads it off?

[gloat]

She has lots of fun and very odd clips in there — Vegas is an odd place– with some excerpts from my talk and a bunch of others, including my Man Crush George Hrab, who is awesome. Note: The vodcast has NSFW language and images, including one very short shot of SoccerGirl dancing in her undies.

I have to say that in many ways I agree with her about Penn, too: I do like him, he cracks me up, and I agree with him on some things… but then he’ll say something that’s pretty, um, surprising. But I’ll note that there were 900 people in the audience, and when he said we should abolish public schools the applause was clearly from only a few people. There are a number of strong libertarians who attend TAM, and one of these days I’ll get into a good scrap with them about government not being all bad. I for one like roads, bridges, a space program, and clean water. But that’s just me.

Anyway, SG has some funny clips of the TAM meeting in there, and it’s worth watching!

Comments (90)

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  1. Doc

    Abolish public schools? I knew that Libertarians could hold some strange ideas, but I didn’t think that any rational person could take it to such a stupid extreme.

    Allowing children to remain uneducated not only does serious harm to them and society by not helping them achieve their potential, it also leads to an underclass of smart but uneducated/undereducated people who can and will cause trouble for the upper classes.

    They’ve forgotten one of the big lessons of the French revolution: when the wealthy ignore the plight of the poor masses, they tend to lose their heads.

  2. Robbie

    Doc: “Allowing children to remain uneducated not only does serious harm to them and society by not helping them achieve their potential”

    Would you say these schools are working?

    I don’t think the goal of libertarians is to leave people uneducated either.

  3. Davidlpf

    Don’t abolish public schools, just put scientists in charges of what is taught in science classes.

  4. IBY

    Ja, they sometimes take things too extreme for my taste.

  5. Yep, Penn actually said it’s better to be uneducated than educated by your government.

  6. Robbie

    Jewel: “Yep, Penn actually said it’s better to be uneducated than educated by your government.”

    Given the current state of public education, I probably agree with him.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

  7. Wes

    I find Penn’s anti-public schooling stance to be almost as ludicrous as his repeated instances of falling for the BS coming from pro-industry denialists. His supposed “critical thinking” skills seem to go out the window when it comes to global warming, tobacco, and things like that. The BS! episodes about second hand smoke and the environment relied on sources like the American Enterprise Institute for their “information”. I mean, jeez, Penn. Penn bases your career on ripping on people who get bogus science from politically motivated sources, and then he quotes a “study” from the Heritage Foundation, which is not a scientific research organization at all, and does no experiments or research of any kind.

    I tend towards libertarianism myself, but not the extreme form Penn sometimes endorses. One thing about the extreme libertarians that irks me is their smug complacency. They buy into the self-gratifying myth of the wholly independent individual who does everything totally on his own and earns every penny solely by his own efforts (this person is of course mean themselves). It’s like they’re oblivious to the fact that humans are very much social organisms, and that the circumstances of any individuals life depend VERY heavily on the society in which he lives. But the radical libertarians seem to think that you can gut the entire infrastructure of the society you live in and still enjoy all the things–roads, bridges, schools, sewage, police, fire, safe medicine, etc–that make it possible to lounge around and be a libertarian in the first place. They kinda remind me of a 12 year old who’s mad at his parents and fantasizes about how great life would be if his parents were gone.

    Maybe having a spoiled, wealthy society creates extreme libertarians, kinda like how eliminating infectious diseases with vaccines makes the purpose for vaccines invisible to those who can’t be bothered to do a little research, which makes some ignorant people think they can get rid of vaccines and do just fine.

  8. Matt A

    Two ramblings:

    1. That’s one of the things that I don’t get about Penn (and I guess Teller). He’s seems to promote and almost encourage abject stupidity as much as much as he promotes skepticism and critical thought.

    I know a lot of it has to do with his stances on absolute total freedom and trusting people to generally do the right thing. Sometimes, though, it strikes me like a steer encouraging everyone to eat at the local steakhouse. Sooner or later it isn’t going to end well for your team.

    2. I made TAM 5 last year, my first, and noticed the sizable libertarian undercurrent in the crowd. While I understand libertarianism much better than I used to (thanks in part to Penn), I’m not completely sold on it. I wonder if future TAMs are going to morph into the Amazing Libertarian Meetings once Randi is gone from the scene.

    Matt A

  9. Jimmy_D

    Actually you can have roads, bridges, a space program, and clean water without the government providing them. The issue is who does it better.

  10. Matt A

    @Wes:

    GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!

    I’ve been wondering about much of what you posted as well, particularly the BS episodes like the one about secondhand smoke. IIRC, they interviewed a NYC radio host who went on at length about how 2nd hand smoke peril was fiction. I was watching and thinking “Uh, do you have any credentials other than a broadcast license?”

    Regarding extreme libertarianism, Penn described himself once or twice as an “anarcho-capitalist.” I did look it up on Wikipedia, but is something like that even considered libertarianism?

  11. Brian Gefrich

    If nothing else, I hung around for the surrealism.

  12. gopher65

    “But the radical libertarians seem to think that you can gut the entire infrastructure of the society you live in and still enjoy all the things–roads, bridges, schools, sewage, police, fire, safe medicine, etc–that make it possible to lounge around and be a libertarian in the first place.”

    Yeah exactly Wes. I often wonder if extremist libertarians would be willing to fork over money in order to get their house fire put out, or if they’d find it acceptable if a cop just stood there and let you get mugged because you didn’t have enough money on you to pay him to stop you from being stolen from!

    It seems to me that most extremist libertarians are rather on the rich side already, and have forgot how miserable it can be to be born into a giant hole of poverty and despair. Or maybe they never knew in the first place? It’s easy to spit on social programs when you’re already rich – or even middle class – but take it from someone who is poor: social programs, even with their many flaws, are helpful. I couldn’t have afforded to go to a private school. And when I needed to spend a few days in hospital last month… well, suffice to say that I spent the entire time being VERY grateful that I live in Canada instead of the US. If I were American that single visit would have put me so far into debt that I would have spent the rest of my life attempting to pay it off.

    I’ve met poor people in the US who were 20K in debt because they’d had the bad luck to have appendicitis. I’ve seen people who had to drop out of school because they couldn’t pay their medical bills. Now they will work as waitresses for the rest of their lives because they had a bit of bad luck.

    It surely is easy to be so cavalier about the existence of things like one-payer-healthcare when you have a giant bank account. Or even a medium bank account;).

  13. allen

    Now that a few internet psychiatrists have provided their diagnosis of Penn Gillette – after all, isn’t an antipathy towards the public education system in the DSM? – we have that notable scientist, when he’s on the clock, who wants to go a couple of rounds with a strawman – “one of these days I’ll get into a good scrap with them about government not being all bad.”

    Given the attitude on display so far it would seem that Penn Gillette’s remarks about the public education system aren’t all that far off the center of the political spectrum, just that they’re off in the wrong direction. If he’d uncorked a call for an end to all private and parochial schools that might have elicited a bit of nervousness but it wouldn’t have had anyone extruding comments about mental health.

    For a convention of skeptics there seems to be a definite air of worshipful faith about at least one subject.

  14. I was there for Penn and Teller’s Q&A, and to me, Penn’s response to the global warming question was much worthier than his suggestion for improving education. He was, it seems to me, rising above doctrinaire libertarianism and trying to come to a judgment unaffected by his personal distaste for Al Gore. (After all, rejecting climate science because you don’t like Al Gore is like buying into creationism because you don’t like Penn’s hairstyle.) The thing about abolishing the public school system, though, was just whack.

    What made it even better was that in the same Q&A, he complained about how Hearst had ruined the press through commercialization. Gee, might there be risks to letting a “free market” control the large-scale flow of information — particularly the classic risk that one guy in the market will always want all the freedom? Can what went wrong before, go wrong again? Let’s keep an eye on all the power-hungry autocrats, OK, not just the ones in Column A.

    I mean, yeah, a tyrannical government is not a good thing, and I don’t like my tax money going to fund wars of which I disapprove, etc., etc., but a dose or two of pragmatism might be helpful here. If we actually want to achieve change, maybe we should be talking in terms of reforming what we’ve got, rather than a completely impractical pipe-dream fueled by ideology to the extent that it and reality are only distant cousins.

    What Wes said reminds me of something Isaac Asimov once wrote.

    I doubt that Heinlein would call himself a conservative, of course. He always pictured himself as a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means: “I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve.” It’s easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.

    [I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), p. 311]

  15. I don’t want to really get into the libertarian thing too deeply, but we don’t think all government is all bad, that’s an oversimplification. Certainly the Catholic church has been responsible for some great things over the years, but does that qualify them to run your country?

    A bridge may be very useful, but it’s usefulness wouldn’t justify using slave labor to build it; we can all agree on that. Libertarians go one step further, in that we don’t believe its usefulness justifies paying for it with money taken from people who don’t necessarily want to be paying for it.

  16. If he’d uncorked a call for an end to all private and parochial schools that might have elicited a bit of nervousness but it wouldn’t have had anyone extruding comments about mental health.

    Um, it might have elicited such a comment from me. Find a prominent individual in the skeptical community who makes such a proposition, and we can look at the tone and context; odds are pretty good I’d disapprove. See, I find that simple fixes to complex problems often come from people in thrall to a particular ideology, so they’re a warning sign to watch out.

  17. I don’t want to really get into the libertarian thing too deeply, but we don’t think all government is all bad, that’s an oversimplification.

    See, that’s the problem. You may hold complex and nuanced views which are grounded in evidence to the fullest extent possible and which consequently merit a place on the table, but what happens when Penn doesn’t? I mean, he certainly does a good job of hiding whatever nuance he’s got. And what about the people who loathe government so much they invited Richard Hoagland to speak about conspiracies inside NASA? When somebody starts acting like a walking strawman, their beliefs deserve to be criticized; the worthier ideas espoused by people who adopt the same name do not constitute a shield.

  18. Slowly but Surly

    > … it’s better to be uneducated than educated by your government.

    I think this illustrates a key Libertarian idea – that the government should have as little power as practical. While eliminating publicly funded education is an extreme view, much of the posts on the BA blog decry the evils of politicizing education. Many believe the solution is to keep education publicly funded, but independent. Libertarians believe that this is impossible, that funding by the government will always lead to interference by the same.

    One example of this might be the federalization of standardized testing resulting in teaching the test. While I believe that my children are getting a pretty good education, I cringe when ‘testing season’ comes around.

    Personally I lean towards the idea that ‘public education is the worst form of education, excepting the alternatives.’ ;)

  19. Matt A

    Wes wrote:

    “If he’d uncorked a call for an end to all private and parochial schools that might have elicited a bit of nervousness but it wouldn’t have had anyone extruding comments about mental health.”

    From what I can tell, no one is questioning Penn’s mental health on this thread, just disagreeing with something he said and the reasoning behind it.

  20. Matt A

    UGH! That should be “Allen wrote”, not “Wes wrote”. Sorry.

  21. bjn

    Penn’s happy to use BS pseudo statistics to dismiss the current mass-extinction as just par for the course on a planet, where by some estimates 99.9% of all species have gone extinct over the history of life on the planet. That’s a BS number that glosses over the vast span of billions of years of speciation and extinction on the planet vs. a few thousand years at most for our current Holocene Extinction Event. His dismissive anti-science show on the Endangered Species Act set up a fake dichotomy between protecting species and protecting people. He’s happy to trot out strawmen arguments and I’m happy quit watching his shows.

    I hope the Sca… er Skeptologists upholds a higher standard.

  22. Jimmy_D, the past few years have shown quite clearly that a large part of the private sector cannot regulate itself at all. Look at airlines, the phone companies, Big Pharm, Big Oil, and the housing market. Some gov’t regulation would go a long way to making sure that the little guy doesn’t get bent over when corporate greed consumes industry.

    I like a semi-free market. I don’t like a completely regulated market, nor a totally free one. The Invisible Hand sometimes needs a very visible slap.

  23. Well, Penn has been a relatively frequent guest on Glenn Beck’s Radical Right Rant on CNN… Hmmm, I wonder…. Oh yeah, that’s the same show that the likes of Ben Stein, John Hagee, and Tim LaHaye frequent.

  24. TheManVersion

    I keep forgetting that libertarianism = anarchy. Silly me :)

    How do the countries with better schools (I think most of us can find an example or 30) do it? Are they also run by the government? If so, what are the governments doing differently? Maybe we could try that.

    I lean libertarian myself, but I don’t want a True Libertarian State than I want one controlled entirely by the Republicans or by the Democrats.

  25. aleph1=c

    As a Libertarian, I agree more with Jimmy_D and less with most of the other commenters here. As Phil said, the Invisible Hand sometimes needs a very visible slap. I think he’s right, but I also think the visible slaps would be less necessary if there was more information available for consumers and, by extension, more choices. Philosophically, extreme Libertarianism works only if there is complete information available.

    Truth be told, I’m actually a Libertarian because of their position on social isuues like recreational drugs and so forth. I don’t do drugs, but I would like to do it legally if I choose to do them. It’s really the principle of the thing, you see.

    It’s possible that Penn is on to something about education. I don’t know. I am a public school teacher, but I don’t think of my students as being educated by the government. If Penn hired me to teach his children privately, I would teach them pretty much the same thing I teach my public school students now. Yeah, sure, less testing.

    BTW, wasn’t this thread supposed to be about Soccer Girl in her undies? I gotta go.

  26. The Man Version, eh? I can guess who you are. :-)

    I don’t mean that libertarianism = anarchy. But extreme forms of it can be difficult to distinguish from such. Listening to some conversations at TAM and elsewhere, it appears that some folks who call themselves libertarians do seem to want to drown the gov’t in a bathtub.

  27. aleph1=c, yes, the social aspects of libertarianism appeal to my logical side; personal liberties and such. But like any “ism” you have to take things on a case-by-case basis.

  28. Nicole

    Wow, I was going to come in here all “libertarianism is not equal to anarchism!!” but then I read the comments and realize you all seem to have it covered. Carry on!

    Also most of the libertarians I know personally are more the middle-road nuanced type, not anarcho-capitalist like Penn. Or maybe it’s the difference between libertarian and Libertarian?

    Blech, I hate politics in general :-P

  29. Brian

    Blake: Thanks for that Asimov quote; I hadn’t heard it before.

  30. While I was somewhat annoyed at Penn’s stance on public schools, I was also annoyed about what he said about global warming. While I’m not entirely confident that I remember exactly what he said, he seemed to say that Al Gore’s documentary looked a lot like what the pseudo-science groups produce. I think this kind of message is particularly damaging because while people still have some doubt as to whether or not it’s really happening, they won’t do anything. I tend to think that a lot of people (particularly Conservatives) share this belief. How do we counter this? The scientists are the ones getting accused of pseudoscience!

    I do want to add that the clapping in the video for Penn’s comment seemed greater than it really was. There were a few hardy supporters, and perhaps some people following their herd mentality (someone else is clapping, so I have to as well!), but I didn’t feel that it was that well received.

  31. allen

    In the very first post Doc wrote:

    > Abolish public schools? I knew that Libertarians could hold some strange ideas, but I didn’t think that any rational person could take it to such a stupid extreme.

    So Doc’s not just an internet psychiatrist he’s also an internet psychometrician. His mom must be proud.

    But enough about the amatuers, this blog belongs to someone who’s paid to think like a scientist so let’s set up a little thought experiment:

    Let’s get two groups of parents, as nearly alike as possible in all important characteristics like education, socio-economic status and whatever else seems germane. One group will be required, under penalty of law, to educate their children. The other group will be free to educate or not educate their children as they see fit. What will the result be?

    I think it’s safe to assume that parents who are forced to send their kids to school will do so or it’s time to get a more intimidating staff of truant officers. But what of the second batch of parents? What percentage of kids will be sent off to school each morning at their parents unforced urging? Anyone care to guess just how necessary one of the pillars of the public education system actually is or is the preference rather to carefully leave the policy unexamined?

    > I don’t like a completely regulated market, nor a totally free one.

    The dissolution of the Soviet Union makes the former a pretty safe position to take but what’s your beef with the latter? Actually, what’s your *definition* of the latter. Free market bashers like to causally conflate the free market with anarchy as a means of lightening the burden of providing substance for their arguments.

  32. James Yates

    I agree with Penn much more then Plait when it comes to a few things. Such as when Phil says there needs to be more females, I feel that Penn was right to say there should be more Everyone, not just females (which is one of the few things that bothers me most about Phil). The same thing when Phil encourages the skeptics to be calm and qiuet when interveiwing loonys, Penn says if you are loud and obnoxious, be loud and obnoxious.

    On globel warming, Penn says he doesn’t know, and as Phil says “It is ok to now know.”

  33. James Yates: wow. You have grossly misinterpreted what I’m saying. I never said there shouldn’t be more everyone. I said I’d like to see more women, and they are highly under-represented at skeptical meetings. I’d like to see TAM be much, much bigger.

    Also, Penn said he didn’t know about GW because he hasn’t looked into it very well. I have done quite a bit of reading, and I have been convinced by the data that GW is real.

    As far as being loud and obnoxious, that’s fun and can rally the troops, but who gets screamed at by a skeptic and then says, “Wow, you’re right! What was I thinking?”

  34. allen, a totally free market is just that: free to do as it wants. No regulations, no government oversight. We don’t have that now, but what happens when the FDA turns a blind eye to the market? Rampant poisoning? How about the medical industry, or any of the other examples I specifically pointed out in the comment you quoted?

  35. James Yates

    Sorry Phil…
    Just a little angry when the entire site hates on Penn because he is a Libertarian..

  36. Robbie

    Phil Plait: “allen, a totally free market is just that: free to do as it wants. No regulations, no government oversight.”

    The players in the market would still have to follow the normal laws of society: don’t kill, cheat, steal, lie.

  37. Robbie

    Gopher65: “It seems to me that most extremist libertarians are rather on the rich side already, and have forgot how miserable it can be to be born into a giant hole of poverty and despair.”

    I find this statement to be an offensive stereotype. And I doubt you can back this up with any statistics at all.

  38. And on a slightly different point, I quite like federal and state parks. I don’t believe they would survive if privatized.

  39. Autumn

    Whenever someone says that the “market” should have no government regulation, my response is always two words (except this time, when a bunch of exposition comes first): Property law.
    With no government regulation one of the many things one would notice is that nobody would have knowledge of who owns what, as possesion is defined by the government. No contract would be binding, because there would be no contract law.
    Adam Smith only talked about the “invisible hand” after he had defined government as an essential part of the marketplace.
    (Okay, a bunch of stuff came after the two words as well. Sue me… unless you’re a libertarian, of course- sticks and stones and all that)

  40. quasidog

    I love Penn and Teller! I don’t even know what a Libertarian is. I would be an idiot however to believe everything they said just because they make me laugh my arse off. A true skeptic is skeptical of other skeptics so … if I find I disagree with something they say, I just ignore it and laugh at the rest of the show. After all it really is just comedy for skeptics isn’t it ?

  41. Robbie

    Michael Duchek: “And on a slightly different point, I quite like federal and state parks. I don’t believe they would survive if privatized.”

    A libertarian would prefer state parks to federal parks. If your state screws up it’s much easier to move to one whose laws you prefer.

    FYI, I went to a park today paid for by local private sponsors from the city I live in.

  42. Autumn

    Robbie,
    How are “cheat, steal, lie” defined when there is no regulation of the market? How can I “cheat” a supplier when my signature is not legally binding? How can any supplier offer to sell me items to which he has no legal ownership?

    Where do you live that “do not lie” is a socially upheld tradition, so understood that it is seldom attempted?
    The only reason that we know that these actions are widely seen as unacceptable, and have been for centuries, is because someone thought it neccessary to set them down as rules.

  43. Wes

    Extreme libertarians who oppose all market regulations are forgetting why our current system of government has worked so well so far: Checks and Balances.

    Guaranteeing freedom for everyone (not just a select few) requires putting checks on power. This applies to markets just as much as it does to governments. Either system, if left to run wild with no checks on how much power you can accumulate, will descend into either totalitarianism or anarchy. This is why we need anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws just as we need divided branches of government, an independent judiciary, and two houses of congress. All of these things limit the amount of power certain groups can attain for themselves.

    The way I see it, regulation is most necessary in the areas where it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect the average person to be knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision. Medical science, for instance, is extremely complex and can only be understood fully after years of training, of which the vast majority of us (myself included) are completely ignorant. In the absence of regulation, the very quacks and charlatans that Penn Jillette hates so much can thrive. This is because the average person simply lacks the know-how to gauge how reliable a medicine is.

    Another is environment, where most people simply don’t understand climate or ecology well enough to be able to predict what kind of affect Industry X will have on the very resources they depend on. Again I’m not trying to be insulting here–I don’t understand these things well enough either. I’m in the same boat.

    In areas where it is reasonable and fair to expect the average person to know enough to make an informed, free decision, I think regulation is not the right idea. Of course, public education greatly expands the sphere of knowledge for the average person, so in the interest of free markets and informed consumers, education is crucial.

    Also, a couple things: I don’t “hate Penn because he’s a libertarian”. 1.) I love Penn. I have three seasons of BS! on DVD, and plan to get more. I’ve watched every episode multiple times. I just disagree with him on certain important issues. 2.) It’s not libertarianism I oppose. I actually sympathize quite a bit with more moderate forms of libertarianism. It’s the “extreme” versions, such as anarcho-capitalism, that I can’t stand. Not because they’re “extreme” per se, but because they’re so divorced from actual economic reality. They’re ignorant, short-sighted, uncritical, and motivated more by selfishness and an irrational hatred of government than by evidence or reason. Penn, unfortunately, drifts towards the extreme end of libertarianism in some of his beliefs, and that irks me.

  44. Robbie

    Would the laws people normally have to follow in society somehow not apply in the so-called unregulated market? I don’t think any libertarians think people serving their economic self-interest should be allowed to break the law.

    I knew I should have clarified the part about not lying. I meant on contracts and such. That’s illegal for anyone to do.

  45. Nicole

    Autumn,

    Many libertarians hold that the only function of government is to protect individual liberties. Yes, that includes property law. Again, the distinction between small government and no government needs to be clear. That’s the problem with catch phrases like “free market.” The ideas are a bit more complex than bumper sticker slogans.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with bumper stickers ;-)

  46. Robbie

    Wes: “The way I see it, regulation is most necessary in the areas where it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect the average person to be knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision.”

    A libertarian, such as myself, would tell you that the politicians are not likely to have more knowledge than the average citizen, and their ignorance leads to misguided policies and the politicization of science and medicine. And when politicians pick advisers and regulators they are quite likely to pick the ones that agree with them and will do as they want (Phil has written all about this on this blog).

  47. Nicole

    Oh yeah, there’s a video with this post. Hey, great video! I like the juxtaposition of your talk with all the random Vegas-ness.

  48. Wes

    # Robbie Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Wes: “The way I see it, regulation is most necessary in the areas where it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect the average person to be knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision.”

    A libertarian, such as myself, would tell you that the politicians are not likely to have more knowledge than the average citizen, and their ignorance leads to misguided policies and the politicization of science and medicine. And when politicians pick advisers and regulators they are quite likely to pick the ones that agree with them and will do as they want (Phil has written all about this on this blog).

    And businesses don’t do exactly the same thing? Every time a new scientific discovery threatens some industry (Tobacco, oil, etc.) an enormous denialist campaign funded by consumer dollars emerges to create a cloud of nonsense to deny that the discovery is even real. Much of the phenomenon of politicians merely finding people who parrot their views is funded by lobbyists from the private sector. And who pays for this denialist lobby? The very consumers who will be screwed by it. And who voted for this lying politician? The very taxpayers who will be screwed by him.

    I did not say that every decision should be solely at the discretion of politicians alone. I said there should be checks and balances: rules devised to ensure that no particular group gains an inordinate amount of power over everyone else. It applies in politics and in the market.

  49. “A libertarian would prefer state parks to federal parks. If your state screws up it’s much easier to move to one whose laws you prefer.”

    Actually, they would privatize them. And as private property they would be worth more strip logged and developed into housing tracts.

    “Many libertarians hold that the only function of government is to protect individual liberties. Yes, that includes property law.”

    Actually, a libertarian candidate explained to me years ago that your property rights would be protected by civil law. If they screw up or occupy your property, you can sue them. Of course, if they have OJ’s legal team…

  50. Robbie

    Wes: “And businesses don’t do exactly the same thing?”

    Has anyone suggested that they don’t? Of course businesses do that, but allow me to totally plagiarize Milton Friedman: Is political self-interest somehow more noble than economic self-interest? I think you take a few things for granted. Just where will you find these angels that will organize society for us?

    That may actually be a direct quote from memory, but don’t quote me on that.

    Michael Duchek: “Actually, they would privatize them. And as private property they would be worth more strip logged and developed into housing tracts.”

    They probably would privatize them, but that’s not quite what I said. Anyway, even if they did, I think the situation you proposed is a little more complex than that. In a community it may be worth more for a company or group of them to build a park than strip logging the area. There are other economic factors involved.

  51. Nicole

    May I point out that the term “libertarian” relates to a wider set of political beliefs than some seem to realize. Just as all liberals or conservatives don’t agree on all issues, neither do libertarians. Please don’t pick the most extremist viewpoints and apply them to all libertarians. There are debates on the meaning of these issues in that community, too!

    We’ve been led to believe that Americans are so polarized politically. But you know what? It’s probably more of a continuum than the news media wants you to believe. Like with Pluto and the planets… there is a continuum of objects of different sizes, so to use polarizing definitions hides the true processes at work.

    Proud of my tie-in back to astronomy, I’m going to bed.

  52. Phil Plait: “Jimmy_D, the past few years have shown quite clearly that a large part of the private sector cannot regulate itself at all. Look at airlines, the phone companies, Big Pharm, Big Oil, and the housing market. Some gov’t regulation would go a long way to making sure that the little guy doesn’t get bent over when corporate greed consumes industry.”

    Phil – how are any of these working in a free market? The airlines are heavily regulated by the FAA and an airline cannot just start up and serve any market they choose. Virgin America is still waiting for government permission to operate in the states. The phone companies have been granted monopoly privileges and are regulated by each state’s Public Utilities Commission (or equivalent). Big Pharm is tightly regulated by the FDA, the regulatory burden is so high that the best way for a small startup to get a new drug to market is to be acquired by one of the established big Pharm companies. Big Oil is heavily subsidized and regulated by all levels of government.

    All of these industries have achieved regulatory capture.

    “I like a semi-free market. I don’t like a completely regulated market, nor a totally free one. The Invisible Hand sometimes needs a very visible slap.”

    The existing regulatory burden takes away the slap most of these companies need so very badly – dwindling market share from competent and affordable competitors. But with all the regulation you say they need (and they already have) they do not have to worry so much about any new competitors in their lines of business.

    Many, if not most, libertarians dislike big biz as much as big government. Big business relies on and requires Big Government.

  53. Robbie

    David Masten’s post: Cheer! I always enjoy when someone says something I think better than I can.

  54. Adrian Lopez

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Libertarianism is mostly a joke. Libertarians complain about the tyranny of government only to replace it with the tyranny of property owners. In a purely Libertarian society, people who can’t afford to own land are subject to the rules set by landowners, which frankly isn’t much better than being subject to the rules set by government, and is in some ways much worse.

    In Libertarian society, property owners need not allow free speech on their property, nor are they prevented from charging people a percentage of their gross earnings for the right to live on the property owner’s land. In fact…

    Imagine the United States is the landowner, and the people we currently call “land owners” are actually licensees. In that case, the property owner (that’s the government) gets to make the rules (the law), while the licensee (that’s you and me) gets to obey those rules and pay for the privilege (through taxes).

  55. Autumn

    Nicole,
    I was, in my clumsy way, making a point about your exact conclusion. Without a minimal amount of government intervention, the market would be as reliably committed to rules of decorum as the Mafia. Almost nobody actually asserts a market “free” from government interference, but I hear a whole lot of folks proposing exactly that; I haven’t heard that in these comments, but I have heard it from articulate adults. NB, I do live in the South of the USA, where complicated notions are generally frowned upon.
    As to the individual liberties thing, I believe that there are times when the individual should not be allowed to make marketplace decisions for himself. I do not believe that an individual should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery, or into indentured servitude, or into a contract which establishes the total dominion of a person or collective entity over the said individual. The market, on the other hand, would allow these things. Constitutional law would obviously step in in the extreme case of slavery. It is possible some civil law could come into play in the second case, but individuals had to fight and die for collective rights in order for the market to be forced to accept that such things as mandatory company-store/company-housing were in violation of basic human rights in regard to the third, and no civil or common law held that collective rights existed.

    Oh, and where would the Government meet? Would they rent out an Elks hall for Congress? Would the President crash on someone’s couch?
    On the other hand, laws concerning vagrancy would quickly be eased by the libertarian congress trying to find cab-fare to the session.

  56. aleph1=c

    The SoccerGirl video was mostly devoid of real content and actually a bit annoying. I first watched her after George Hrab went on and on about her in his Geologic Podcast. I thought the same thing then. It all makes sense now that I know he is in love with her. Conflict of interest?

    Even though it was good to see Phil so prominently featured, all that weird stuff could have been left out. Maybe I just don’t get it. Just to be fair, I should say my sample size is pretty small and I might be jumping to conclusions about her.

  57. aleph1=c

    I tried to submit this comment earlier, and I used a couple of Carlinisms. The comment seemed to not have been accepted. Censorship?

  58. stopgap

    “We don’t have that now, but what happens when the FDA turns a blind eye to the market? Rampant poisoning? How about the medical industry, or any of the other examples I specifically pointed out in the comment you quoted?”

    Yes, because the best business model is one that ends up poisoning the potential return customer.

  59. Autumn

    To Robbie, David Masten, et. al.,
    Yes, I am voicing my (rather unqualified) opinion about near-straw-men, but advocating the elimination of education for a significant part of the population (holy carp! I’m actually back on-topic!) is a rather extreme position to take, and is not one put forth by most libertarians. So if I’m attacking straw-men, remember that that is what was originally offered to me (I am always astounded that the “that that” construction can be grammatically correct, or I am just using bad grammer).

    Remember, though, that the market does only one thing; it sets the prices of goods and services arbitrarily close to the natural prices of goods and services. The market does not foster competition, or reward those who have great products. It sets prices. That is all it does.
    If every external cost was made evident to every person on Earth, the market would set costs at their natural level, and much regulation would disappear. Our dilemma is trying to hold the market accountable for externalities it has missed. To go back to the straw-man as an example, the market forbids the sale of nukes to folks. The only reason for this is one that may have been overlooked as an external cost, as it hs been overlooked by those less comitted to both governments and regulations than anyone here. To wit, the transfer of nuclear weapons. Even the possession of nukes by civilians is not something I have seen promulgated as a positive thing, but only because we all know of the external costs such a thing would entail.

    To make a semi-sober conclusion, we should rely on governments to not only provide a minimum regulatory presence to keep a peaceful market, but also to serve as the avenue citizens have to point out external costs, and to redress governments for their fair consideration.

    Wandering far afield (was I actually back on the topic of the post for a second?),

    Autumn

  60. Nicole said Please don’t pick the most extremist viewpoints and apply them to all libertarians.

    The problem with libertarianism is to many of us outsiders libertarianism = extremism. You could have almost said Please don’t pick the most extremist viewpoints and apply them to all communists. Rightly or wrongly just sayin’ you libertarians will have to do a lot of work to negate the negative impression we have.

  61. Autumn

    stopgap,
    If you have a business in which return customers are not vital to the bottom line, then there are any number of good business plans which involve poisoning your customers. Heck, if you have a product which is expected to last a while, selling an inferior product but killing off any bad word-of-mouth is totally aces.
    Or this scenario:
    You are a butcher who sells meat which is tainted by disease about once a year. Your competitiors are selling bad meat about twice a year. It is in your best interest to get cheaper meat, which will infect your customers about 1.5 times a year.

  62. Stopgap said Yes, because the best business model is one that ends up poisoning the potential return customer.
    I believe that Ford(?) seemed to think so. Some fault that caused fatalities was deemed by the bean counters to be cheaper to pay compo on than fix.

  63. stopgap

    Yes, libertarians are for the total abolishment of ventures that violate the non aggression principle. Public eduction is just one of many such ventures. Anything outside of that core philosophy is not considered libertarianism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle

  64. stopgap

    “I believe that Ford(?) seemed to think so. Some fault that caused fatalities was deemed by the bean counters to be cheaper to pay compo on than fix.”

    Just how well is Ford doing these days? Doesn’t look like that way of thinking ended up keeping them afloat. Obviously not the best business model.

  65. Thomas Siefert

    allen: “Phil encourages the skeptics to be calm and qiuet when interveiwing loonys, Penn says if you are loud and obnoxious, be loud and obnoxious”

    To defuse a bomb you need to be calm. :-)

  66. Autumn

    @ Thomas Siefert,
    I’M CALM LIKE A BOMB!

    Oh Rage Against the Machine, we hardly knew ye (before ye sold out for, what? Oh yeah, bunches and bunches of cash).

  67. stopgap said, Just how well is Ford doing these days? Doesn’t look like that way of thinking ended up keeping them afloat. Obviously not the best business model.

    Ford’s profits are up this year. BTW, their current profits (or not) bear no correlation to the dodgy practice previously mentioned. That is the problem.

  68. Ijon Tichy

    Right-libertarianism is a cult. There are good things to take away from almost every political philosophy, from conservatism to liberalism, from anarchism to fascism. But not right-libertarianism. What else but a cult would justify the existence of slavery? What else but a cult would reject human rights in favour of the more primitive concept of “natural” rights?

    By the way, a nice web site for Americans who would like to defend the institution of government against cultists (and boy, do Americans need to defend it, having strangled it almost out of existence over the past couple of decades, except for the military and anti-terrorist parts of it) is Government is Good“.

  69. Autumn

    stopgap,
    The business model you cite served the Ford company very well for a few decades before the demand for regulations requiring corporate transparancy became effective.

    To make it more clear: we, the people, have been forced to demand from businesses their financial records, and have paid in blood. We the people have been forced to demand from businesses the transparancy of their employment practices, and have paid in blood.
    We, the people, have demanded change, and it has never been effectively implimented through ordinary market channels.
    Every case of a furtherance of freedom of an individual has come by regulation of behavior of others.
    Now, this is not as revoloutionary a screed as you might expect.
    Aw, hell, yes it is.
    I’d get subtler, but I’m overdue for bed.

    All love to y’all, I’m just not up (literally)for the argument anymore. Thank you to all who actually read and responded, the best part about a free society will always be the arguments that we are allowed to have.
    Much love,
    Autumn

  70. Utakata

    …then there those off us skeptics who think that capitalism should be nuted and spaded, along with with your pets.

  71. QuasiDog Says said:

    “I don’t even know what a Libertarian is.”

    Librarians that decide to go into politics.

  72. Autumn: Yes, I am voicing my (rather unqualified) opinion about near-straw-men, but advocating the elimination of education for a significant part of the population (holy carp! I’m actually back on-topic!) is a rather extreme position to take, and is not one put forth by most libertarians.

    That is not what Penn said. ( I think the Twain quote was intended as hyperbole.) The data I have seen suggests that public, as in taxpayer funded, education and mandatory attendance laws did not produce any net benefit over strictly private, voluntary education. Literacy levels did not improve at any greater rate after the introduction of public schools. At least one study suggests that literacy rates actually went down after the introduction of public schools.

    I, as perhaps a very extreme example of libertarian, agree with Penn that public education should be abolished, because children deserve better, and I believe the evidence and economic theory support the notion that private education will do better for everyone. Yes, I realize that there will be families who will have difficulty affording a private school, but I’m not opposed to finding ways to help them out, even if it means (gulp!) a government transfer from the wealthy to the less fortunate.

  73. Sorry for the unterminated italics.

    Quick note to webmaster: Can you do a comment preview function? Thanks.

  74. Penn is very much like Jeremy Clarkson on the TV program Top Gear in this country. He has to spout something absurd every week to keep the media coverage of his show up. It means that any message he has is diluted with such rubbish that he ceases to be informative, just entertaining.

    Dave UK

  75. I know it’s been said here several times, but anybody who believes there’s anything worthwhile in our current public school system hasn’t set foot in a public school in a long time.

    I have as yet to meet anybody who really got a good education because of a public school education, rather than despite it.

    As for other alternatives, academically there’s no contest; virtually all other forms of schooling achieve superior academic results. People are left spouting nonsense about “social skills” as if the human race didn’t function before our current system was put in place.

    I wrote a blog about this recently:

    http://jessmills.blogspot.com/2008/07/i-guess-im-social-retard.html

    I have not heard Penn’s comments, but I can say both as a homeschooled individual and as a former public school teacher, the best thing we could do for the future of America is to burn every public school building to the ground and never inflict such mind-numbing idiocy on any child ever again.

    Not that I have strong feelings about this, or anything! lol…

    And yes, I know that 99% of you are aghast that anybody could think this way, and will immediately assume I’m naive, an anarchist, stupid, or crazy (or some combination of the above).

    Jess

  76. Dunc

    I find it amusing the the extreme Libertarians (with one or two notable exceptions) never point to the remarkable successes which their policies have achieved in Somalia. I wonder why that is?

  77. Al

    It’s not that laissez-faire capitalism hasn’t been tried: it worked so well that communism was widely hailed as a great idea…

  78. Doc

    allen,

    Nice ad hominem attack. You want my credentials? I’ve got a BA in Anthropology and an MS in Computer Science. I’ve also spent years studying biology, history, and electro-optics. Yes, my mother is proud of me, but that’s probably more related to how I’m raising my children. What’s your background?

    After your attack on me, you go on to set up a nice little straw man argument:

    “Let’s get two groups of parents, as nearly alike as possible in all important characteristics like education, socio-economic status and whatever else seems germane.”

    The problem with this premise is that all families are decidedly NOT nearly alike. By accident of birth, many (most?) are born into economic situations where they have no control and no real opportunity for advancement. As much as I’d like to believe that anyone can improve their situation through hard work, it simply isn’t true. Poverty is indeed a trap, and while a few who were caught in it have managed to escape it by work *AND* luck, most don’t.

    Take a good look at the homeless or at those living in slums and think about what it would truly take for them or their children to move into the middle class. The current systems of public education and health care improve the odds, but it’s still a bit of a long shot. Now think that one of those children might be the next Hawking, Asimov, Pasteur, etc. – but only if they survive to adulthood and can get enough of an education.

    The non-religious might say, “I’m very lucky not to be in such a trap.” The religious might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Neither statement seems to be part of the libertarian philosophy.

  79. Robbie

    Doc: “As much as I’d like to believe that anyone can improve their situation through hard work, it simply isn’t true. Poverty is indeed a trap, and while a few who were caught in it have managed to escape it by work *AND* luck, most don’t.”

    As far as I know, this is statistically not true. People frequently start in poverty and move up pretty consistently throughout their lives, with ups & downs in between. It is a very low percentage of people that start in poverty that stay there. I’ll try and find statistics when I have more time.

    Other forms of wealth should also be considered when measuring poverty. If you’re 60 and own your own home, but live on a low fixed income you will be listed as being in poverty, but your net worth is much higher.

  80. Doc

    Robbie,

    “As far as I know, this is statistically not true.”

    Really? I’d love to see those statistics. What is the percentage of families who were living below the poverty line and managed to rise above it?

    The data that I can find easily suggests otherwise. The National Poverty Center at the U of MI (see url below) seems to say that poverty rates overall dropped from 1950 to 1970, then fluctuated a bit, and has been rising steadily since 1980. Note that this only shows that the actions of the government were not causing an increase in poverty before 1970, and they were not causing a decrease in poverty after 1980.

    National Poverty Center
    http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the US start to increase defense spending in the 80s while cutting or freezing social programs? The recent increase in poverty rates (an increase of 5.4 million poor from 2000 to 2006) is even more substantial, and is concurrent with the Republican push to cut domestic spending.

    You’re right that I overstated my case. However, we currently we have mechanisms in place to provide a degree of assistance (e.g. public education) to the less fortunate. This is what allows some from the lower class to dig their way out. Removing them is a big step backwards, and only benefits those at the top (and if it ultimately leads to civil unrest, then even they won’t get much benefit).

  81. Neill Raper

    I completely agree that Penn goes overboard when it comes to politics. The frustrating thing is he admits (in the very same Q&A in fact) that he has a blind spot when it comes to politics, but he just won’t stop talking about it! It seems as though once he has identified that blind spot he should take steps to correct it as opposed to just spurting out things like “eliminate public schools tomorrow”.
    I will say that I completely disagree with Soccergirl on Michael Moore though. It has been proven that he facricates much of the content in his movies, messes with the timelines of events that he portrays, and just straight out lies to the people he interviews. The worst thing about it is that he does all this is make points that you could (mostly) make without these dishonest tactics.
    I’m glad some people are shining light on Penns nuttiness though.

  82. Neill Raper

    Doc,
    I think the statistics Robbie is reffering to focus not on the poverty rate (how many people are in poverty) but rather the specific people who are in poverty. As it turns out when you look at that the individuals they tend to go into poverty and within a year or two get out of it to be replaced by someone else. In this way poverty rates from year to year reflect different individuals. This would mean that poverty is not in fact a trap but rather a constantly changing group.
    Now for the disclaimer. I might not actually know what I am talking about as I got these statistics from a speaker at TAM 5 who writes for the libertarian magazine “Reason”.
    So yeah, take them with a grain of salt. And I do agree with most of your post, just thought I would nitpick a little.

  83. Andy Diamos

    I just recently started reading this blog. I was going to reply several times to this post, but Wes made exactly the point I was going to on each occasion :)

    As someone who recently exited the public education system, I can say that 75% of public education needs to be reworked, trimmed, or completely gutted, but the other 25% is absolutely crucial. Regardless of whether it’s idealistically better to materialize a world with no public schools, the best way to combat the problem right now, in my eyes, is to fix the 75% crap.

    Just to add: Love Penn most of the time and he was great at influencing me to become more skeptical. Irrational fear of the government is still irrational, however.

  84. Murff

    My children attend public schools in North Dakota, and they are extremely good. North Dakota really takes education seriously. I’m from Texas myself, and the difference I see are like night and day. My daughter is entering Highschool next month, and she is already past what was considered Algebra II when I was in school, a sophmore/junior level course. In middle school she had Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Algebra.

    Although I’m very proud of my daughter, don’t take this as a bragging post, I’m just trying to defend at least some of the public schools

  85. Muir Matteson

    Adrian Lopez said above that Libertarians are bad because they believe in property rights, and that one of those rights would be the denial of free speech to others on the property owner’s land.

    For instance, a Libertarian might say that if a Jesus freak wants to stand on your lawn with a megaphone and harangue passersby, you would have the right to call the police (yes, there would still be police) and have him removed. Why is that so bad? The guy with the megaphone would need to find a property owner who agrees with him, or failing that, buy his own property. You have a right to control what happens on your property.

    I wrote a post earlier that apparently the moderator of this blog did not agree with (I was saying that vouchers to help send kids to private schools would be beneficial). My post was not added to this discussion. That’s an example of a property owner exercising his right over free speech. He, or she, has every right to edit, control or ban my speech on this blog. If I don’t like it, I can start my own blog.

  86. I feel the need to mention that Muir Matteson’s view of free speech is pretty much how it works now and how it has always worked. The first amendment only stops the government from infringing upon free speech rights.

    A newspaper, for example, being privately owned, can refuse to print any letter to the editor they so desire. Most don’t, but they could. It is well within their rights.

    Likewise, if I invite you to my house and you start saying things I don’t like or find offensive, I am well within my rights to kick you out and call the police should you refuse to leave.

    Would Adrian Lopez change this? Would he (or she) make it so that I cannot remove people from my own property if I find they are becoming disruptive? Would I lose the right to control what happens in my own house? Would I be forced by the government to tolerate any slight, any disruption, any insult or annoyance in my own house in the name of a misunderstood idea of “free speech?”

    Say someone walks onto a black family’s lawn and begins to scream racist remarks and wave signs covered in racial slurs. If property owners could not deny “free speech” to people on their property, the family would be forced to endure this abuse, and any attempt to remove the racist jerk would be illegal. Is this what we want?

    The idea that ANYONE cannot limit speech is absurd and not at all in line with the Constitution. Simply looking at the way things work should tell you that.

  87. About public parks

    “They probably would privatize them, but that’s not quite what I said. Anyway, even if they did, I think the situation you proposed is a little more complex than that. In a community it may be worth more for a company or group of them to build a park than strip logging the area. There are other economic factors involved.”

    Actually, it’s quite simple. I can make a little money over a long term chargeing admission to, say, Prarie Creek State Park. Or I could liquidate it and make alot of money right now.

    And once you’ve built the Great Smokey Mountain Outlet Mall or the Half Dome Residnetial Retreat, there’s no going back.

  88. Clair

    @Nicole L != l

    Big difference, IMO.

    At least this race, the Libertarian Party doesn’t have the most laughable candidate. I definitely lean towards libertarian, but I realize libertarianism is utopian. I do have a practical streak — darn it all!

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