Monday, January 17, 2011

Matthew Ygelesias is soft on Classical Liberalism

Today he wrote both

"I recognize that many people disagree with this agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own."


"I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest."

I understand that "derived" is the 600 pound weasel which can make any argument valid, but I don't think that Yglesias has read Mill recently and/or completely.
Many of Mill's views were so far right that no US elected official defends them anymore (I believe that David Duke still holds elective office). I commented off the top of my head, then checked my memories which were not exact mainly because I thought I had read stuff from "Reflections on Representative Governement" in "On Liberty."

My comment

I ... think you slipped up in your reply. You say no one is to your left and your thought is based on the thought of JD Mill. This does not imply that no one is to the left of JS Mill, but it totally miss states where Mill's writings would place him if he were reincarnated. Many of his views would be ultra ultra right today. For example, he supported a poll tax on the grounds that to be able to vote on spending without being taxed is to be given a license to pick other peoples' pockets (I am quoting "On Liberty" from memory). Margaret Thatcher decieded to follow the very explicit detailed instructions of JS Mill. That was the time she went too far and lost the confidence of the Tory Parliamentary party and so the parliament and so became a baroness. Too far right for Margeret Thatcher to get away with and very explicitly advocated by JS Mill are consistent.

update: I added this quote after posting my comment

"Those who pay no taxes, disposing by their votes of other people's money, have every motive to be lavish and none to economize. As far as money matters are concerned, any power of voting possessed by them is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government, a severance of the power of control from the interest in its beneficial exercise. It amounts to allowing them to put their hands into other people's pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one, which, in the great towns of the United States, is known to have produced a scale of local taxation onerous beyond example, and wholly borne by the wealthier classes. That representation should be coextensive with taxation, not stopping short of it, but also not going beyond it, is in accordance with the theory of British institutions. But to reconcile this, as a condition annexed to the representation, with universality, it is essential, as it is on many other accounts desirable, that taxation, in a visible shape, should descend to the poorest class. In this country, and in most others, there is probably no laboring family which does not contribute to the indirect taxes, by the purchase of tea, coffee, sugar, not to mention narcotics or stimulants. But this mode of defraying a share of the public expenses is hardly felt: the payer, unless a person of education and reflection, does not identify his interest with a low scale of public expenditure as closely as when money for its support is demanded directly from himself; and even supposing him to do so, he would doubtless take care that, however lavish an expenditure he might, by his vote, assist in imposing upon the government, it should not be defrayed by any additional taxes on the articles which he himself consumes. It would be better that a direct tax, in the simple form of a capitation, should be levied on every grown person in the community; or that every such person should be admitted an elector on allowing himself to be rated extra ordinem to the assessed taxes; or that a small annual payment, rising and falling with the gross expenditure of the country, should be required from every registered elector, that so every one might feel that the money which he assisted in voting was partly his own, and that he was interested in keeping down its amount."

Mill's proposal is explicitly forbidden by the
He also opposed the secret ballot. He said that, in the past, he supported it so people couldn't be intimidated by their employers, but that people were getting too uppity so open voting was better. The excessive uppityness was in the 19th century. This again is very very explicitly stated in "On Liberty".

Oh Nemisis. I decided to check my recollections and it is very explicitly state in "Reflections of Represenative Government" a book which I must have read but I don't remember when. I quote one of the inspirations of your insuperable leftism (search for ballot)

It may unquestionably be the fact, that if we attempt, by publicity, to make the voter responsible to the public for his vote, he will practically be made responsible for it to some powerful individual, whose interest is more opposed to the general interest of the community than that of the voter himself would be, if, by the shield of secrecy, he were released from responsibility altogether. When this is the condition, in a high degree, of a large proportion of the voters, the ballot may be the smaller evil.


But in the more advanced states of modern Europe, and especially in this country, the power of coercing voters has declined and is declining; and bad voting is now less to be apprehended from the influences to which the voter is subject at the hands of others, than from the sinister interests and discreditable feelings which belong to himself, either individually or as a member of a class.

Finally he opposed one person one vote. He thought people with advanced degrees should have extra votes. He said this would make it clear that they were (we are) the "very elite" of the nation. He objected that ordinary people in the USA "(provided they are white)" do not acknoweldge that anyone is their better.

nemesis again. Again it is in Reflections on Representative Govenment and the attempted quote is not correct. This time search for "white skin"

"I do not look upon equal voting as among the things which are good in themselves, provided they can be guarded against inconveniences. I look upon it as only relatively good; less objectionable than inequality of privilege grounded on irrelevant or adventitious circumstances, but in principle wrong, because recognizing a wrong standard, and exercising a bad influence on the voter's mind. It is not useful, but hurtful, that the constitution of the country should declare ignorance to be entitled to as much political power as knowledge. The national institutions should place all things that they are concerned with before the mind of the citizen in the light in which it is for his good that he should regard them; and as it is for his good that he should think that every one is entitled to some influence, but the better and wiser to more than others, it is important that this conviction should be professed by the state, and embodied in the national institutions. Such things constitute the spirit of the institutions of a country;
The American institutions have imprinted strongly on the American mind that any one man (with a white skin) is as good as any other; and it is felt that this false creed is nearly connected with some of the more unfavorable points in American character. It is not small mischief that the constitution of any country should sanction this creed; for the belief in it, whether express or tacit, is almost as detrimental to moral and intellectual excellence any effect which most forms of government can produce. "

Mill wrote a long time ago. His views were very progressive in his time, but many of them are absurdly reactionary now.

Your efforts to reassure your readers that you are a leftist just like Milton Friedman and JS Mill are not reassuring to this reader. I will just assume that you are not familiar with Friedmans massive opus and that, the passage of so many years has dulled your memory of what Mill actually wrote. I admit I read him when I was an undergraduate taking Rawls's course on Justice Pass Fail (I passed) and, sigh, many many many more years have passed since I was an undergraduate than since you were an undergraduate. But I think my quotes from memory are substantially accurate.

update: I checked them and I had forgotten in which book I read them rounghly 3 decades ago (sorry). I now suspect that you never read "Reflections on Representative Government" and apologise for questioning you memory.

Note that throughout Mill describes the 19th century USA as way to left wing.

I know you used the weasel phrase "recognizably derived from " but if your views actually were recognizably derived from Mills's, then there would be a whole lot of people genuinely to your left.

By the way, you write no one is to your left. This is odd, since you have also listed people to your left on one of your blogs (not this blog). You definitely once wrote that, in a meaningful way, Billmon is to your left. This occured when you were discussing the fact that in a test your ideology web page you came out a centrist (some time ago). You argued that the test was invalid and they called you centrist because you are consequentialist. I can't find the post (or the blog).

This is not the first time that Yglesias has shown alarming sympathy for a classical liberal. He also recently claimed

After all, if you assume Milton Friedman’s argument for a negative income tax were being made in good faith the main difference between Friedman and a contemporary American liberal is that Friedman was strongly anti-paternalist.

My comment on that one is that numbers matter

Huh ?!?!? You are not being quantitative. Just to be hypothetical, if Milton Friedman had advocated a negative income tax with maximum benefit of $1 per year, then he would be quite different from a contemporary liberal totally aside from paternalism. To know what he thought of welfare, you have to know what dollar amounts he had in mind and what the dollar was worth then.

His root and branch opposition to regulation was not just a matter of rejecting paternalism. Some regulation can't be understood as paternalistic. Anti-trust regulation is not based on paternalism. Anti-pollution regulation certainly isn't.

I think that Atrios and DeLong and Krugman better get on the phone (or skype or whatever) STAT and give Mr Yglesias a talking to.

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