Michael Shermer - Science, Skepticism and Libertarianism

May 22, 2009

Michael Shermer is one of the most well-known skeptics in America, working for decades to advance the scientific outlook in society. He is a contributing editor and monthly columnist for Scientific American, and is the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech. Since his founding of the Skeptics Society in Southern California and Skeptic magazine, he has appeared widely on TV and radio on shows such as 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Oprah, Unsolved Mysteries, and many more. He is the author of many books, including Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, and Why People Believe Weird Things.  His most recent book is The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Michael Shermer discusses skepticism and its possible relationship to libertarianism. He argues that what some organizations define as "humanism" are actually positions that have nothing to do with humanism, but with Marxism and social democracy. He talks about why he has begun speaking out more about libertarianism as a leader in the skeptical movement. He admits that he may be more of a moderate libertarian than some others who defend that political and economic perspective. He talks about tensions within libertarianism as regards national defense, and what he sees as the need for national armies after 9-11. He explains which came first for him: libertarianism or skepticism, and talks about the influence of Ayn Rand on his intellectual development. He argues that Ayn Rand is still relevant even if her view of human nature (that people are basically selfish and that there is no such thing as altruism) upon which her economic theories are based is not born out by recent developments in cognitive and evolutionary psychology. He talks about Adam Smith, and how this year is the 250th anniversary of  his first book, A Theory of Moral Sentiments, which presents his views regarding people's natural propensity for empathy and sympathy.  He defends free market capitalism despite what some consider recent wholesale failures of the market, and criticizes Alan Greenspan's betrayal of free market ideals. He attacks the current economic system which engages in corporate welfare and "economic tribalism" for being "capitalist in profits but socialist in losses." Other topics he touches on include the gold standard, tax revolt anarchism, income redistribution, and how he would prefer religion and the private sector to help the poor as opposed the government providing for the welfare of the economically disadvantaged. He defends the growing disparity between the super rich and the very poor, and the position that most poor people in the West deserve their lot in life due to their own bad decisions. He talks about his book The Mind of the Market and why people believe weird things about money. He explores the implications of the burgeoning fields of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics for his libertarian position. He describes the basic elements of evolutionary economics, a field he has pioneered. And he defends the position that skepticism should not remain apolitical — instead, he argues that skeptics should apply their skepticism to religion and God, pseudoscience and the paranormal, and also economics and politics. 

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Skepticblog - Michael Shermer

Related Episodes

Paul Kurtz - Science and the Limits of the New Skepticism
April 24, 2009

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

A point made during the podcast I want to respond to: the idea that Northern Europe is “high tax”. Some countries are, some aren’t.

Take the United Kingdom. We have a tax wedge of 31.5%. The US tax wedge is 29.5%. What’s the difference between the countries? Well, for that extra 2%, we have a system of national healthcare that provides cradle-to-grave medical coverage and heavily subsidised dental coverage. Prescription medicine costs very little compared to the US. We have a pretty good train system - not as good as in some other European countries, but good enough. We have dramatically lower university fees - when I went to university, I paid about £1,100 a year in fees - most private colleges in the US would charge $20-30k per year. The fees have gone up and are now about £4k a year, but that’s a flat rate across the country - if you are some bright spark going to Cambridge to study physics, you pay the same as someone going to a polytechnic to study marketing.

Am I dramatically less free in the UK than I would be in the US? Economically, no. Socially? Hard to say. Our laws regarding drink are a bit more civilised as we haven’t had MADD and the feds force a drinking limit of 21 on us. As for pot? Well, “personal use” and police prioritising harder drugs means the average pot user doesn’t end up in jail. And, well, flights and trains to Amsterdam are cheap. If your chosen vice is cigarettes or saturated fats, life is getting harder. The huge amount of CCTV in London irritates me, and the anti-terror stuff went from silly to shocking with the de Menezes killing and stuff like this.

What keeps me from libertarianism? Simple. Climate change. All the “Obama is a socialist, I’m off to hoard guns in Nebraska” stuff is silly when you consider the fact that my (currently hypothetical) children or grand-children could witness the start of the next century with London, New York, Mumbai and Tokyo - some of our most important global cities - underwater. Call me an old Romantic, but I find the idea of a few million people becoming climate refugees coupled with the destruction of some of our important cultural landmarks - the Empire State Building, the British Museum, St. Paul’s and so on - quite an important issue. And it’s something libertarians have shirked because, well, “global warming is just part of a socialist conspiracy” or whatever. The big problem climate change poses is not higher taxes: it’s that if we don’t do anything, we wave goodbye to civilisation.

The other reason I am not a libertarian is just the experience of the market not working in practice: there are always practical limitations which inhibit competition. I’d really love some competition in the British train travel market. It doesn’t exist though. Practically, only one company can run the trains in a particular region. I can’t suddenly decide tomorrow that I don’t like my local train company, so I’ll use a different train company. There is one train company in my area. Is this some socialist innovation? No, this is the “privatisation” given to us by Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s Conservatives. They privatised British Telecom from being a state-run monopoly into being a privately-run monopoly - it’s only now, twenty years later, that small amounts of competition are being injected into the market. The government privatised these industries, but they didn’t “marketise” them. But I don’t see how the train system could ever be ‘marketised’.

What has the government ever done for me? Well, schooled me, allowed me to go to university, given me cheap transport, libraries, museums, a mostly-just court system, police bound by law and regulation, free legal representation if I’m arrested, hospitals, doctors and dentists. Not to mention things like plumbing, electricity and infrastructure that keeps society running, a group of people who will come and rescue me from emergencies and accidents and so on. And they do minor things like pay for fundamental scientific research that saves lives. That seems well worth 31.5%.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 2:58am by Tom Morris Comment #1

Tom Morris: Couldn’t have said it better myself. If we in the US are approaching European levels of taxation, I want European levels of social benefits. Instead, our hard-earned tax money goes to the military and corporate welfare (Shermer and I agree on that). Here’s a humorous article about how one American learned to love the Dutch welfare state: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03european-t.html

However, the larger issue is that Shermer’s quaint and provincial libertarianism really harms the perception of him as an objective observer—and harms the burgeoning skeptical movement as well. Actually, in my view, the takeover of skepticism by libertarians is one reason why the skeptical movement is failing to gain traction in mainstream culture.

The worst offenders—Penn & Teller, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, and Shermer—ruin the credibility of skepticism by flying the flag of their political bias so clearly. After all, Penn & Teller are not only libertarians, they are actually activists for the Libertarian Party! Believe me, Ron Paul is not who we want as the public face of skepticism.

So, libertarians: please keep your faith in so-called “free markets” to yourself, for the sake of the skeptical movement. Skepticism is about so much more than rationalizing personal greed, the raison d’être of libertarianism. Let’s stick to the objective science and not descend to that lowest form of human discourse: political punditry.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 7:17am by MemeInjector3000 Comment #2

I agree with MemeInjector and Tom.
As we see in the US a shift away from the family values/religion crowd which is equated with it’s nearest power center-Republicanism.
I see an opportunity for Libertarianism to fill the gap by latching on to the Neo-Values/skepticism crowd Niche-Libertarianism.(in otherwords, humanism centers may be ripe for soapboxing, amongst many other group/types-such as Ex Republicans/Wealthy)
Other than that-it looks like the Core values are the same! Keep your hands off of MY profits!
Sheremer states a wide array of variation of Libertarianism- ie For strong National defense,or Isolationists Minor Defense Expenditure.
With wide variations such as these, how would libertarianism ever try to solidify themselves ideologically, in the framework of Less government.(which seems to be the only real purpose of libertarianism).
Ideas such as libertarianism can only flourish in a place like the US. Europe would be out of the question, as these populations are concreted in solidly with the benefits of Govt. Socialization. Likewise it would never work in poor nations, or it is, but under another guise- say Imperialistic Pressures.
No-it can only flourish in the US. A place already rampantly Hyper-capitalized, where the population is well gentrified, and under control. One reason for this is the US has the largest population of prisoners in the world-I think both in size, and per-capita.(One or both, but regardless the numbers are astronomical comparitively) I wonder what Libertarianism thinks of this example of Liberty- and the consequences that would directly effect libertarianism, if these prison populations were suddenly given their “Liberties”?
The US, ripe for ideas of libertarianism- where people may be swayed to these platforms by small token ideas of better liberties-such as less strict laws, and more property rights. Whereas these laws will have no discernible effects on the commoners, the idea of even less restrictions on Corporate Giants, and aspiring Capitalists would be highly spoiling.Environment, Food and Drug laws, Regulations of advertisement, greed, zoning laws etc etc etc ad-infinitum.
Of course,there must always be some government, no matter how small. Where do we draw the line right now between Corporations and Government? It’s pretty flippin hazy! As a matter of fact, I would say that Corporations already control more government, than the other way around. So how would Libertarianism ever dream of reducing corporate influence on Government?
For example- How important is reforming health care in this country? I was made to understand it was important, through the news, talking with my peers, listening to politicians Since LBJ, and my own personal beliefs, not withstanding the current Presidents declarations. So, I would say that it is an important issue. And yet look at the stonewalling, the hemming and hawing in the halls of the Policy makers, and lawmakers(not to mention previous failed attempts) How important an issue is this? What kind of real traction is it getting? Would I be correct in saying private Corporations are exerting any influence on the matter? Hmmmnnn? Yeah, maybe a little!!! That’s just one example- current and looming. There are countless other examples.
Finally, was Shermer there briefly about to touch upon the benefits of religion? AS A PLACATER FOR THE MASSES WHO MAKE THE WRONG CHOICES. A kind of smoke screen for those who get a smaller dose of Liberty????!!!!!
Was he also making a connection between Corporations and Egalitarianism? Really?

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 7:58am by VYAZMA Comment #3

A point made during the podcast I want to respond to: the idea that Northern Europe is “high tax”. Some countries are, some aren’t.

Take the United Kingdom. We have a tax wedge of 31.5%. The US tax wedge is 29.5%. What’s the difference between the countries? Well, for that extra 2%...That seems well worth 31.5%.

I strongly disagree with Mr. Shermer’s view that poor people are in their circumstances entirely because of the decisions they’ve made in their lives.  As a self-proclaimed skeptic, I would think that the fact that the single best predictor of one’s personal wealth is that of one’s parents’ wealth would be enough for him to reject this.  One does not prefer to be born into poor circumstances; not only because it’s unpleasant at the time, it also makes future success less likely.  It is, as Warren Buffet says, the ovarian lottery.  (a side note, Warren Buffet is HOT).

However, I have to disagree with Tom Morris’ description of taxes in Europe vs the United States.  The marginal tax rates I have are slightly different, but the big story isn’t the marginal rate - it’s the (adjusted) salary to which it’s applied.  Here are some examples of marginal tax rates and the associated tax bracket (converted to USD using today’s Oanda rates) (and I apologize for this dive into geeky tax details):

United States: 
USD 82,000 - 28%
USD 171,000 - 33%
USD 372,000 - 35%

United Kingdom
GBP 37,000 / 1.62 = USD 61,111 - 40%

Australia
AUD 80,000 / 1.24 = USD 64,516 - 38%
AUD 180,000 / 1.24 = USD 145,161 - 45%

France
EUR 69,505 / 1.40 = USD 45,360 - 40%

Germany
EUR 52,000 / 1.40 = USD 37,142 - 42%
EUR 250,000 / 1.40 = USD 178,571 - 45%

As you can see, the highest marginal tax rates for Americans do not kick in until much higher salaries than in other countries, and these do not include Social Security contributions which are also much lower for Americans than for other nationalities. 

This, combined with the fact that the US is a fairly low-cost location for goods and services, housing and automobiles, would suggest that Americans are better off.  Three things that offset this seeming wealth are medical costs, education costs, and pension/social security. 

- As we’ve all heard recently, Americans pay much more out of pocket for our medical costs, whether for pregnancies, birth control, dental work, cancer treatments, etc.  The vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to a catastrophic illness or medical condition. 

- Americans with advanced degrees often end up with USD 50,000 to USD 100,000 in debt when they are in their early 20’s; and spend the first 15 years of their working lives paying off this debt (unless they are fortunate enough to have parents who can foot the bill). 

- As American companies have moved from defined benefit pension plans (the payment is guaranteed, company bears the risk of it’s funding) to defined contribution plans (company makes provision for contributions but no guarantees on payments, employee bears risk of sufficient funds for retirement), increasing proportions of salary have to be set aside for ever increasing numbers of retirement years.  Both the US and other countries’ Social Security systems are defined benefit plans; the other countries’ plans are simply more generous.

It is worth noting that tax rates in Europe and other countries as well as their social plans are currently trending down - tax rates are decreasing, the salaries they are applied to are increasing.  Why?

If you look at the countries around the world with high taxes and correspondingly generous social plans, they tend to be countries that are ethnically homogeneous.  In other words, the closer our fellow citizens are to our respective kinship groups, the more likely we are to be generous via government programs.  My take is that as globalization increases the mix of ethnic groups in all countries, the natural inclination for all of us is to shift from delivering this “kinship generosity” publically and move to private familial and kinship group support, aka tribalism.

So, what effect does tribalism have on social ‘tranquility?’  In a study done in India several years ago, they found that cities where people of different faiths were integrated at the local level (school board, fire departments) did not experience the outbreaks of severe rioting that occurred in cities where people were separated along the lines of faith.

For this reason, even those who are primarily focused on their own security can find good reasons to support public approaches that tend to mitigate the concentration of wealth, health, and security.  For the rest of us (who probably just have a more sensitive empathic response module), it’s just another good reason to do what seems obviously the right thing.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 9:03am by Samantha Clemens Comment #4

Libertarianism is the most ridiculous political philosophy ever devised. They’re basically conservatives who want to smoke dope with their hookers. Ron Paul is pro-life, after all. Fuck those three-piece suit CATO INSTITUTE assholes. People don’t seem to realise that no true socialist country has ever existed in the modern world, with maybe the exception of Israel’s collectives. They’ve all been pretty much state capitalism regimes, with the party boss acting as the CEO. Human beings lived in socialist, non-profit groupings for most of their pre-historic existence. People made goods and services according to need, not money or profit. With the exception of lack of technology, they probably lived better than we do today. I’m not saying that’s a situation we could return to in the modern world. But, it does reveal what true wealth is, which are goods and services, and not high finance. People talk about stocks, profits, dividents, deficits like they were actual physical objects. The profit motive should be used like a fine tool and not a blunt instrument. Corporate capitalism must be taken apart. We need to return to a country where small companies and a democratic government dominate the economy. I think people like Bill Maher are better examples of humanism than Mr. Shermer.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 10:21am by thoughtsurfer Comment #5

Science and politics don’t mix for the most part. Ultimately libertarianism is a subjective value. You can use science to confirm or refute the intended effects of a particular policy but the values that cause us to support a policy can not be confirmed by science. The best we can do is refute inaccurate descriptions about the way people are, and reality is which may effect values we believe we ought to have.

My personal belief is that it is in our long term interest to have a moderate sized government that insures people have an equal opportunity in the free market. We need government to provide certain services that private institutions should not be involved in like defense, prisons, roads ... etc. I think radical deregulation would be damaging to the economy, society, and personal choice.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 11:31am by Some Guy Comment #6

Great episode.
It is disappointing, but not unexpected, to see the silly straw men arguments and ridiculous caricatures of libertarianism on display in the comments. It’s not unexpected because so many people seem to react this way when they get a button pushed - and for most “scientific skeptical people”, its the politics button.
Something about online disinhibition and anonymity probably contributes to this.

You would think skeptics would remember that skepticism is a method, not a position, and that they should fully investigate something before developing an opinion about it. Well, once politics comes up, people just become irrational, it seems. I would expect better from skeptics, but I’ve just too much experience with this to be surprised at this reaction.

What I do know is that this podcast will help more people be exposed to ideas of liberty and self determination. Those content to sputter on about profits and evil corporations are not those reachable by DJ’s interview with Dr Shermer. But many people looking for an internally and externally consistent worldview based in science, reason, compassion for others, and individual freedom may come to appreciate this podcast and see how well libertarianism and a skeptical scientific worldview can fit together. That is, if they take the time to actually investigate the relevant positions and actually think about the issues.

Now back to the straw men, silly caricatures, and unwillingness to really read or investigate a position before developing an opinion about it. Perhaps I can start:
“Libertarians are selfish evil people who just want to be free to shoot guns and do drugs while working for THE EVIL CORPORATIONS who will take away your children while laughing at people who die in the street because they have no healthcare!!! And OMG Ron Paul!!!!”
Discuss.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 12:04pm by VeggieRonin Comment #7

Well Veggieronin, I would say most are under the impression that Libertarianism, is another word for Laizze-Faire. How does this Libertarian Party differ in any way from what has been tried in this country since the beginning?
And are you aware of the current trend that people are calling for more government regulation and more social-democracy?
Yes people want more regulation of the Financial and health care industries. And they want the government to come in and make legislative, and judicial decisions for them, ranging from marriage to employment rights.
How are you going to answer my question concerning the benefits of Libertarianism? By quoting Ayn Rand, or Friedman, or Shermer?
We’ve heard all this before, from the Right wing GOP, and Fiscal Conservatives. It’s nothing new.
I guess it means the commoner can water his lawn anytime he wants, and marijuana will be legalized. Other than that FMC can continue to pollute, and in the future, The corporations will directly levy taxes, not having a need for any wasteful governmental middle-men.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 12:41pm by VYAZMA Comment #8

VYAZMA-
I have no intention of making an argument for libertarianism in a comment thread on a forum. Least of all to someone who obviously has not attempted to parse the issues here and has nothing more than the most superficial understanding of the issues. This is exactly the situation I like to avoid as a skeptic - I like to fully investigate and think about something while addressing the argument in its strongest form before developing an opinion about it and deciding whether or not I agree with it or not. Or whether it fits my outlook on life. There are places where people who actually want to research the issues involved can go and read, think and reflect, and then decide for themselves if libertarian positions make sense for them in their worldview. Places like the libertarian party website, the Cato institute, the Advocates for Self Government, etc.

I don’t happen to believe in the ridiculous “Left Wing-Right Wing” dichotomy and I think most of us in the world don’t have a nice happy home in one particular party all the time. I also have found personally that being a libertarian and a skeptic with a scientific worldview is an extremely internally and externally consistent worldview, and one that allowed me to mesh together a worldview based on principle and not opinion. I’m sure others have managed to do so as well - and when they did it was the result of actually investigating the relevant issues and thinking about them, rather than spouting nonsense on an internet forum as an anonymous commenter.

I encourage those interested in libertarian positions to actually think and read and reflect before judging. Like a skeptic should do for all issues.
Or I guess one can just say they’ve heard it before, boil down all issues to a few hot-button words, associate the ideas with a group you already don’t like, and burn a few strawmen on a forum.
How many logical fallacies is that at once, anyway?

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 2:39pm by VeggieRonin Comment #9

Well Veggie, seeing as how Libertarianism has come up on this forum before, I took the time to check out the Libertarian’s Website, a few weeks ago. I like the part where it says “So send in your membership dues and you can be a Card Carrying Libertarian”. It really said that!! That was neat.
I’ve discussed some issues with various libertarians I meet through work. Plus I just listened to Shermer and his take on libertarianism.
If you have the time, why don’t you give us your take on how Libertarianism, or the Libertarian Party can improve Govt.
One of the most peculiar things I remember about the last election was how fervently convinced the various Libertarians I meet were convinced R.Paul was going to win. Even in the face of daunting odds.
Not that I don’t agree with some of the tenants of what Libertarianism espouses, I just feel it all boils down to snake oil, once any party gains the Reins Of Power. Especially a party who tries to concentrate on the relationship between corporations and govt. As if they will somehow be separate from one another-like church and state.
Please, extrapolate on the benefits of Libertarianism.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:05pm by VYAZMA Comment #10

VYAZMA-
I have no intention of making an argument for libertarianism in a comment thread on a forum. Least of all to someone who obviously has not attempted to parse the issues here and has nothing more than the most superficial understanding of the issues.

Your previous post proves my point above. I have lurked this forum before on issues and read contributions from various commenters, including you. No dice. I don’t engage with “pec” from the Science-based Medicine blog either. Same reason.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:11pm by VeggieRonin Comment #11

VYAZMA-
I have no intention of making an argument for libertarianism in a comment thread on a forum. Least of all to someone who obviously has not attempted to parse the issues here and has nothing more than the most superficial understanding of the issues.

Your previous post proves my point above. I have lurked this forum before on issues and read contributions from various commenters, including you. No dice. I don’t engage with “pec” from the Science-based Medicine blog either. Same reason.

It seems you have found the ultimate rational and object worldview. Everyone else is ignorant and irrational you are superior. I wish I could be morally and intellectually superior to other people, and not just some irrational reactionary jerk sputtering ad hominem. Alas I am a typical non-libertarian moron.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:25pm by Some Guy Comment #12

VYAZMA-
I have no intention of making an argument for libertarianism in a comment thread on a forum. Least of all to someone who obviously has not attempted to parse the issues here and has nothing more than the most superficial understanding of the issues.

Your previous post proves my point above. I have lurked this forum before on issues and read contributions from various commenters, including you. No dice. I don’t engage with “pec” from the Science-based Medicine blog either. Same reason.

What’s “pec”?

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:25pm by VYAZMA Comment #13

Folks, let’s try to dial the attacks down here a bit. Focus on the issues and not each other.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:36pm by dougsmith Comment #14

Hello Dan. Who said I was superior? Who said I was objective? Who said everyone else was irrational? Who said I was morally or intellectually superior to anyone?
I’ve made no such claims.
Whose posts are you reading?

I said everyone should read the issues in depth and decide for themselves. I said I found a worldview that worked for me through reflection and consideration. I said others have done the same - through thinking and reflection and considering the issues in depth.
Evidently you feel that line of argument merits your post above. I’m flabbergasted and honestly unsure of how to respond.

I think its a testimony to how crazy people get about politics, and the utter futility of arguing politics on internet forums, that such bland and inclusive posts as mine have already been so unbelievably distorted and misunderstood.  Perhaps I should bow out now before the inferring gets any crazier than it already has.

I renew my basic message that people should investigate anything in detail - including things like politics and economics - before developing an opinion. They should view arguments in their strongest form and decide whether or not they fit with their personal beliefs through reflection and consideration. Including libertarianism.
It’s a crazy thought, I know.

ps thanks Doug

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 3:47pm by VeggieRonin Comment #15

Libertarianism is an absolutists position and is antithetical to the ethos of skepticism. Having been attracted to libertarianism by my high school economics teacher and then having read anarchist literature, libertarianism, to me, seems to be a perversion of anarchism. The mystical invisible hand and other such machinations of libertarian thought is akin to that of religion, meaning that it takes a leap of faith to accept it. That said, libertarianism, by its nature, is detrimental to the skeptic and moreover the secular movement in the U.S.

Posted on Jul 03, 2009 at 11:29pm by PeterR Comment #16

It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows.  Ron Paul would appear to fit only within a party of his dedicated followers, not any existing one which might have a “seed” in the actual runnings.  Personally, I expect the U.S. to self destruct from within any time now.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 7:52am by gray1 Comment #17

Peter-
That’s the kind of insightful analysis we’re known for as skeptics, completely agreed. I knew this one guy who said he was a ___, then I found out that this guy was kind of crazy, therefore all ____’s are crazy. Yay skepticism!
As a libertarian and a skeptic, I am a crazy absolutist who worships at the altar of the market - just like that other crazy unreasonable absolutist Libertarian, Michael Shermer.
[/sarcasm]

More so-called “skeptics” and their deep reflective analysis of the relevant issues.
When any political issue comes up, I swear people just switch off their brain and start rooting for their team. Go team Red! Go team Blue! I’m not a ____, they are crazy!

We’ve got our nutjobs in the libertarian movement, that’s for sure. So do the Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Communists. I guess it’s easier to make a sweeping statement than actually think about the issues individually. Does EVERY Republican agree with Bill O’Reilly 100% of the time? Does EVERY Democrat agree with Keith Olbermann 100% of the time? Libertarians are no different.
For those of you who haven’t already made up your mind, feel free to actually read the positions of libertarians and understand them. Then ask yourself if they make sense for you. If they don’t, advocate against them with reasoned arguments. If they do, consider that point of view more charitably.

Well, off to do more crazy absolutist things. That’s required for a libertarian you know. We MUST be super crazy and unreasonable. It’s in the club charter.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 10:22am by VeggieRonin Comment #18

The idea that politics should mix with science is plain wrong and that is what Shermer was arguing for. The idea that politics should mix with the skeptics movement is wrong also. The reason is that people tow the line of their political party.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 11:25am by Some Guy Comment #19

Great episode.

You would think skeptics would remember that skepticism is a method, not a position, and that they should fully investigate something before developing an opinion about it. Well, once politics comes up, people just become irrational, it seems. I would expect better from skeptics, but I’ve just too much experience with this to be surprised at this reaction. ...

Those content to sputter on about profits and evil corporations are not those reachable by DJ’s interview with Dr Shermer. But many people looking for an internally and externally consistent worldview based in science, reason, compassion for others, and individual freedom may come to appreciate this podcast and see how well libertarianism and a skeptical scientific worldview can fit together. That is, if they take the time to actually investigate the relevant positions and actually think about the issues. ...

Who said everyone else was irrational?

Well, once politics comes up, people just become irrational, it seems.

I don’t think libertarianism is based in science and reason any more than any other political movement. As I said before values are subjective and ultimately you can not justify them in such a way as to make them have a truth value.  You must assume maximizing the libertarian definition of liberty ought to be the way people live.  I do not agree with the fundamental axioms of libertarianism or it’s cousin objectivism (Which actually claims to be objective morality!).

I watch the news and read the paper, I have changed my political views a lot.  You basically accused everyone who disagrees with you as being irrational, and ignorant. Is it hard to believe rational people don’t agree on something subjective. I can make plenty of different arguments against libertarianism but they won’t matter because they will ultimately appeal to different values than yours.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 11:56am by Some Guy Comment #20

As others have pointed out, Shermer appears oblivious to a somewhat obvious shortcoming of his philosophy: Children.
Yes, if he (or any parent) fails to properly plan for his child’s education, his child will suffer. In such a case, the child did not make a choice. The child has done nothing to deserve the consequences of such negligence. Similarly, the child of a billionaire that inherits wealth and power, has done nothing to earn that power.

The other less obvious oversight has to do with the perspective on taxes and what Shermer and others see as nothing more than a re-distribution of wealth. First of all, nearly all of our taxes in the U.S. are spent on defense and infrastructure ... not exclusive ‘redistribution’ to others. Moreover, why shouldn’t people pay for the cost of protecting their own wealth proportional to the amount of wealth they need to protect? Why shouldn’t people be paying a proportional cost of running the society that enabled them to acquire and continues to enable them to maintain such wealth? So, for example, in the United States, where roughly 20% of the population own slightly more 80% of the wealth, what could be more fair that to have the 20% be paying 80% of the taxes? That’s not redistribution of wealth. That’s paying relative to value.

Another, less obvious point, is that the society we inherit, comes in no small part as the result of people who have sacrificed their lives and livelihood for the greater good. On what basis then does anyone assume that everything they achieve in life is exclusively the result of their own productivity, and not at all enabled by the society that they have inherited? How does a society, whose existence requires the sacrifice of so many people, prevent some people from freeloading?

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 2:16pm by Riley Comment #21

Michael Shermer seemed to agree with this: We make choices and people get what they deserve.

Well sure we make choices but as a skeptic he ought to realise that the choices we make depend upon what circumstances we happen to be in and so it’s our good or bad fortune what happens to us as a result of our choices, not what we deserve.

Michael Shermer, as a skeptic, remains every bit as deluded as those he challenges.

And his particular delusion, that we have free will ( the incompatibilist variety), is far more serious than the God delusion or other various delusions.

Wake up Michael, or cut the crap about your taking a skeptical, rational view.

Stephen

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 2:50pm by StephenLawrence Comment #22

Yeah I’m sure this will be a growing trend, as hordes of “Rugged Individualism” morons, jump ship from the GOP, because of the fetid taste left in their mouths from years of “family values”, and religious inculcation, that they finally got tired of- ohh and wow a convenient way for these bozos to latch onto the whole “skepticism thing”. Meanwhile treading onward sucking up all resources in their paths, and making “all the right choices”!
I love to witness live, as it happens, revisionism!

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 3:03pm by VYAZMA Comment #23

Michael Shermer and Penn Jillette are pissing off a lot of freethinkers and humanists. I think they probably know that. They’re causing this reaction because they’re trying to equate the way people should live with the objective reality of whether big foot exists. Stephen Gould once said that you can’t passively read values and morals from nature, that’s the function of the humanistic part of your mind. A lot of public policy decisions do come down to values. Ghandi thought Indian independence was more important than the stability given by British rule. I think the assurance of health care is more important than the chance of people having to wait for some services. It’s just a matter of persuading enough voters of the same view.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 3:23pm by thoughtsurfer Comment #24

It’s funny Humanism gets dragged into this. Somehow, along with skepticism, and Neo-World view attitudes(some of which are concurrent with entities like Libertarianism) people can latch onto Humanist as another “thing to belong to”.
I just read the posts in the coincidentally ressurected thread almost identical to this one in name and substance.
It almost seems as if elements of CFI, and any other Organizations want to broaden the definition of Humanism to include what I stated above. Loosely slung terms like ” anyone subscribing to democratic ideals” ” people concerned with the logical advancement of mankind”. etc etc…
This breeds Literatis like Shermer who can Usher in the New Humanism, and the New Skepticism.
I was always under the impression that War would be something a Humanist would not consider. Absolutely no justification, whatsoever. And yet Shermer justifies 2 completely dysfunctional wars( let alone any “altruistic war”( sarcasm))on the basis of 9-11.
How knee-jerk, how reactionary, and short sighted.
9-11 is long gone, yet these 2 wars drag on, raping the country of resources, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent any 9-12.
I guess I’m an old school humanist. Like I said, revisionism is necessary to control minds and influence people.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 3:37pm by VYAZMA Comment #25

You basically accused everyone who disagrees with you as being irrational, and ignorant. Is it hard to believe rational people don’t agree on something subjective. I can make plenty of different arguments against libertarianism but they won’t matter because they will ultimately appeal to different values than yours.

No, you “basically” inferred that, and I corrected you. I accused no one of anything.

You’re right about making arguments against libertarianism and us having different values - that’s what I’m calling for, individual thought and reflection and a marketplace of ideas. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a skeptic, how could I?

Glad to see the topic moving forward in some way.

Posted on Jul 04, 2009 at 9:41pm by VeggieRonin Comment #26

Libertarianism is an absolutists position and is antithetical to the ethos of skepticism. Having been attracted to libertarianism by my high school economics teacher and then having read anarchist literature, libertarianism, to me, seems to be a perversion of anarchism. The mystical invisible hand and other such machinations of libertarian thought is akin to that of religion, meaning that it takes a leap of faith to accept it. That said, libertarianism, by its nature, is detrimental to the skeptic and moreover the secular movement in the U.S.

I thought the interview was nicely done, covering a lot of ground and D.J. steering things out of ramblings.

I didn’t interpret the references to libertarianism the same way as PeterR—the point was repeatedly made in the interview that “libertarianism” is not as simple as defining “atheism”; Schermer seems to be a pragmatic libertarian who is interested in minimum government intervention and maximum liberty for the individual—as is practical.

D.J. mentions some well-known skeptics who support some libertarian perspectives.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 1:29pm by Jackson Comment #27

I strongly disagree with Mr. Shermer’s view that poor people are in their circumstances entirely because of the decisions they’ve made in their lives.  As a self-proclaimed skeptic, I would think that the fact that the single best predictor of one’s personal wealth is that of one’s parents’ wealth would be enough for him to reject this.  One does not prefer to be born into poor circumstances; not only because it’s unpleasant at the time, it also makes future success less likely.  It is, as Warren Buffet says, the ovarian lottery.  (a side note, Warren Buffet is HOT).

——————
Is it the greatest predictor?  If so (and it may very well be), who is to say that THAT is not a function of familial choices that actually wind up mattering?  As an individual, I believe it is my right and my duty to pass on the very best to my children and I try to do so.  Nothing burns me more (yes, as a “libertarian”) than seeing all these ridiculous social welfare programs, that take my money (meaning, ultimately, from my children) to give to others who choose not to provide for their children, or conversely, had children they could not provide for.

Cash benefits, EBT cards (food stamps), “moderately priced dwellings” (as they have in almost all ex-burbs), busing, and a host of other, sometimes obscure programs, CONTINUALLY, rob the rest of us who made good choices, not only of our OWN individual rights to our property, but robs our children to provide for other people’s children.  So what if my children do better than I did, and my “wealth” is a great predictor of such?  Obviously, many of us, like myself and my siblings, do better than our parents, who in my case were poor white southerners (who happened to have done better than their parents).  That’s part of our individual choices. 

Many people, indeed, I would argue the majority, are where they are, because of choices they personally made, or their parents did.  If you think that is wrong, then you can find a random guy on the street and pay his child support.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Then why is it ok to force me to pay for single moms and their children? 

Your argument essentially is, it’s not just the person (who was once a child), but their PARENTS’ fault.  And how can we control for so many other factors, which are taboo to mention among many secular humanists….some people (parents) have bad situations because they lack the intelligence and foresight to make better choices.  Their children not only suffer from this inability to be future-oriented, the children themselves have some of the same traits, whether inherited or learned through the personal culture of their family. 

Does anyone think that a child of welfare on average, will do better or the same as a child of an intact family where parents DON’T invest in wide-screen TVs, or homes or cars they cannot afford, but instead, college? Or small businesses?  To argue that the state should be involved in providing “for the children” to me, has no logical end.  Then provide what? for ANY child, any amount?  Is there no responsibility for the parent who had the child?  To continually point to “the children” for the sake of forced outcomes is to say we are all hostages to some random person who has a child they cannot take care of.  Again, do you want to pay Child Support for all the children in the United States? (funny how we want to hunt men down for CS, but have no problem funding thru our /income taxes, a host of programs that are Child Support by their very nature, merely paid to the mothers, in most cases). 

All the evidence, anecdotal as it may be, shows they won’t.  All the evidence shows that for example, in the Asian/Asian-American communities, better choices are made, saving money and academics are stressed, and the children are products of this.  (there are always statistical outliers, but on the whole they do well).  Should they be punished under state-sanctioned “altruism” to provide for MY children if I decide that studying isn’t that important, but instead, shuttling my kids off to the mall every other night, buying them cell phones at age 14, and teaching them that “esteem” is the most important thing?

The world doesn’t work that way, and the new arrivals to the US prove it, just as many of our ancestors who thrived in the US prior to the social welfare state (in ALL it’s various forms).

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 1:58pm by UlsterScots432 Comment #28

Ulster Scots, didn’t you say that you worked for some Civic entity? State, or federal? Law Enforcement? Investigations?
I hate having to pay my taxes knowing lot’s of the money is going to that Bloated Trough you feed from.
In fact, I know my money is going to better serve a mother and her child, than to keep dumping billions into the Giant, overlapping, redundant, pork-filled, Law Enforcement/Justice complex.
Of course, if all off the social welfare was cut-off, that would probably be more reason to justify The Police State, as crime would surely sky-rocket.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 2:14pm by VYAZMA Comment #29

sure do !  And I agree, and that is why I work for one (of the many) that specifically target “waste, fraud and abuse”.  Certainly not perfect, and I cringe sometimes at the things I see, and I also happen to believe a lot of what goes on in law enforcement (and it’s sometimes ugly sister, the court system) is complete bullshit. 

Are we in agreement that it is time to END THE DRUG WAR?  Are we in agreement to STOP ENFORCING seat belt laws? Are we in agreement that unless someone is defrauding someone, or committing an act of violence, the “state” really shouldn’t be involved in our lives?

Can we then agree that you have no desire to pay for my children’s education? Medical coverage?  And that you vehemently refuse to pay my internet/cable bill each month? 

While we are at it, let’s get rid of corporate welfare, EBT cards, Headstart, and “DARE”.  I’m all for it brother !

Or….do you perhaps disagree?  Ok, here’s what we can do, you can get out your checkbook and stroke a check to support those single moms and all those poor children, or those poor companies that need bail-outs, etc.

Sound like a plan?  You can do with your money as you wish, and I will do as I wish.  You can smoke all the pot in your home or at your bilingual job, that your gay boss owns, and take care of your children…and the state can stay the fuck out of it all ! 

So what was anyone’s problem with libertarianism?  What is it liberals really want from us?  I know what conservatives want, our SOULS :).  Our “morality”, our eternity… good morals and all that stuff.  What do liberals actually want?  Because whatever you want, you can have it, just do it voluntarily, is all I ask, and leave me out of it.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 2:25pm by UlsterScots432 Comment #30

Well US432, I must say, I wasn’t prepared for that answer. Yeah I’d like to see alot of that crap go away. I’m sure the Social Welfare system is far from perfect as well.
You made alot of sense to me right there. It’s just my particular views politically, I can’t see the system going away. So if all the money is going down the tubes for all the other BS reasons, then we might as well spend some of it on compassionate issues.
I mean me personally, I do like the idea of supporting the needy, the downtrodden. Regardless of how they became that way.
Couldn’t you, as a libertarian, see that if zillions of dollars were saved in other areas of the economy/budget, then the small amount of money that went to social welfare, wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket? Not saying that all avenues of reform and betterment shouldn’t also be used to reduce poverty, and decay- that needs to be done too.
Also with “Liberty”, a liberty that does after all manifest itself from the state(state being population, and resources, both owned and plundered). I see a kind of disparity, between corporations, being able to get a larger share of liberty. You understand this don’t you, someone else mentioned it above. It is a real concept. For example a larger entity, by default is going to get a larger share of any state help in the way of security, and let’s face it, politically motivated “boosts”.(permits, endorsements etc…). Perhaps that is offset by the larger taxes they pay…I don’t know…but it damn well better be!
Hey, thanks for making me take a second look at Libertarianism, and you..yourself. Sorry, if I come across as a Left-wing radical, but that’s what I will remain until I see “improvements for all people”. Have a good night!

P.S. Just out of curiosity, would you say you were a rare bird, in the “system”? Are there more government employees like yourself?

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 3:18pm by VYAZMA Comment #31

While I generally side with the liberals (mostly on social issues), I’m more of an economic moderate.  At the same time, Libertarianism just seems like an extreme belief in markets.  It’s really hard for me to take that position seriously.

It was interesting to hear that Shermer thinks that the current US’ economic problems was due to too much market regulation.  I guess people interpret reality in line with their own preexisting beliefs.  (And to think that he accuses Greenspan of being ‘not enough’ of a free-market believer!)  It reminds me of those communists who complain that the failure of communist states is due to the fact that no one actually practices “true” communism.

It seems to me that the Bernie Madoff and mortgage crisis problems are problems that would most certainly exist under a libertarian market system.  The Bernie Madoff situation was just a big pyramid scheme.  Hedge Funds are largely unregulated—and that means no one really knew what was going on inside.  How exactly, would Libertarianism solve that problem?  And the mortgage crisis was about mortgage companies giving people mortgages which they weren’t qualified for, then selling it off in blocks without honestly revealing the risk involved with those borrowers.  In some cases, they didn’t have any idea what the risk was themselves because they didn’t even attempt to verify the borrowers’ income or assets.  The whole system was one where everyone profited by lying or ignoring reality, and then selling-off those problems to someone else without disclosing the real risk.  Again, Libertarianism would not solve this problem because it’s in the original mortgage lender’s interest to hide risks involved.  The Libertarian “hands off” approach to regulating anything is a problem.

Both of these are economic issues that happened because of a lack of information.  In both cases, people had strong financial incentives to not tell other people the information.  A market can only function well when all parties have access to real information about the transaction taking place.  When you sell a used car, you have an information advantage over the buyer—you KNOW what kinds of problem the car has, they don’t.  This is why used-car dealers got a bad reputation - because they would lie about the quality of the used car.  In many cases, we simply cannot accept the answer that the market will correct itself.  That’s a bit like saying “kids will learn not to play in the street when they get hit by a car”.  Yes, that’s true, but that hardly the best way to stop kids from playing in the street.  Further, the only way those sellers are going to disclose risks are if they are forced (by law) to do so.  They already have a strong financial incentive to not release information.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 3:51pm by tinyfrog Comment #32

While I generally side with the liberals (mostly on social issues), I’m more of an economic moderate.  At the same time, Libertarianism just seems like an extreme belief in markets.  It’s really hard for me to take that position seriously.

It was interesting to hear that Shermer thinks that the current US’ economic problems was due to too much market regulation.  I guess people interpret reality in line with their own preexisting beliefs.  (And to think that he accuses Greenspan of being ‘not enough’ of a free-market believer!)  It reminds me of those communists who complain that the failure of communist states is due to the fact that no one actually practices “true” communism.

Government policies (both failed regulation and deregulation) contributed to the problem.
See, for example the Government Policies section on wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_mortgage_crisis

The whole thing is complicated, but the goal of increasing home ownership was part of the problem.

Wikipedia also mentions the policies of central banks and mortgage-backed securities.
I would agree with you that anyone who says the current US economic problems have a ‘simple’ cause is probably wrong.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 4:47pm by Jackson Comment #33

At one point Shermer shrugs “life isn’t fair” only to follow it a few seconds later agreeing with with DJ that “people get what they deserve”.

He doesn’t seem to have much in the way of empathy or understanding for the actual range of human experience. Makes me think of a kid who has grown up in gated communities and country clubs.

Would applying the adjective ‘clueless’ be erring too much on the side of charity?

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 4:48pm by Balak Comment #34

At one point Shermer shrugs “life isn’t fair” only to follow it a few seconds later agreeing with with DJ that “people get what they deserve”.

He doesn’t seem to have much in the way of empathy or understanding for the actual range of human experience. Makes me think of a kid who has grown up in gated communities and country clubs.

Would applying the adjective ‘clueless’ be erring too much on the side of charity?

I thought this was odd too.  It is true that “life isn’t fair” [ Time article quoting John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter] but it really isn’t clear what this 2nd phrase was supposed to mean….

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 5:02pm by Jackson Comment #35

Obviously an agenda is being pushed here by “Solid Endorsement Figures”, faster than the pieces can be put together. At least for the sideline observers.
It wouldn’t surprise me that people involved with Organizations which are able to reach out to intellectuals, would be willing to promote political parties/figures. Intellectuals who perhaps are tired of the same old 2 parties. Understandably so!!
I hope this libertarianism grows. The 2 parties of Pepsi and Coke could sure use a jostling. In this case it is no longer a case of ” Better the Devil You Know…”
At first I expressed wariness about the fundamentals of Libertarian market Ideals- but what the hey! How could anything get worse?
Put the Market ideals right into the Congress, and the White House Run, let in some more competition for voters.

Posted on Jul 05, 2009 at 6:24pm by VYAZMA Comment #36

I understand that this was a political discussion, but I found it disappointing to hear a couple of what sounded like Fox News talking points regarding Obama quotes - the first about wealth being ‘spread around’, and the second about ‘talking to terrorists’. I was waiting for Shermer to say Obama was ‘palling round with terrorists’!

Obama never said ‘talking is now the only course we can ever take to deal with terrorists’. And Reagan’s ‘trickle down’ theory of money could also be described as ‘spreading around’ wealth.

Shermer’s discussion of charities also jarred with me. His line about secular failures to help in disasters like Katrina sounded very like Dinesh D’Souza’s “where are the atheists in a crisis” nonsense.

Shermer goes on to say that charitable giving is a more efficient system than the state could manage and also that religious people give more to charities. This has a number of problems:
• I’d like to know if this includes Conservatives supporting abstinence-only initiatives, or charities that distribute bibles, or churches that tell their congregations how to vote. If it does, then I don’t see this as being valuable, or worthy of being counted as charitable donations.
• What if charities are biased to certain areas? eg ignoring areas of need because they don’t jive with the morals of the charity.
• Didn’t charitable giving actually FALL during Reagan’s government, despite taxes going down?
• I’d argue that Katrina’s impact was worsened by government not taking care of its citizens properly. More investment in infrastructure beforehand might have seemed like ‘socialism’ and against libertarian values, but it would have saved money in the long run. It’s an argument against small government always being cheaper.

I also don’t buy Shermer’s special pleading for the military. Why is the government the most efficient way of protecting the country, but not the most efficient for looking after the nation’s health? When discussing Western Europe, neither DJ nor Shermer mentioned that most of that area has lower infant mortality rates than America, and better longevity rates too. Nationalised health has a large cost, but isn’t lower infant mortality worth anything?

Shermer is against taxes paying for health care, education etc, but he thinks no-one should have a choice in paying for the military through taxes. He may say the latter is essential in a fight against terrorism, but doesn’t it all come down to protecting the citizens? What’s the difference between him saying people have choices and me saying ‘Well I live in the country, I’m under no terrorist threat, why should I pay to protect people who choose to live in terrorist target cities?’

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 3:45am by Andrew Ryan Comment #37

I’ve had trouble promoting NYC Skeptics events to some freethinkers because they’d heard rumors of Shermer’s politics.  Disappointed to find the rumors confirmed.

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 10:17am by josh_karpf Comment #38

France
EUR 69,505 / 1.40 = USD 45,360 - 40%

Germany
EUR 52,000 / 1.40 = USD 37,142 - 42%
EUR 250,000 / 1.40 = USD 178,571 - 45%

You are dividing where you should be multiplying, so your USD figures are about half of what they should be.

Also, it is not so simple to compare tax rates across countries. There is income tax, there are payroll taxes, some parts of which may be payable by the employer…

(ETA: Then again, after reading the rest of the thread, confusing multiplication and division seems like a tiny mistake, hardly worth a mention…)

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 11:37am by shiraz Comment #39

Well, I already knew Shermer was a poor philosopher, now I know he’s a bad economist, too. I think as a good start he should be reading stuff by our new economics Nobel Prize winner. He might learn something.

Very sad to hear him talk about these things so confidently, about which he knows so little.

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 11:54am by dougsmith Comment #40

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QDv4sYwjO0

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 2:19pm by Pragmatic Naturalist Comment #41

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QDv4sYwjO0

:lol:

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 2:29pm by dougsmith Comment #42

Nice video, PN :-) .

As for Dr. Shermer, while I disagree with his politics, I think there is something positive to take from this.  It helps to dispel the notion of a monolithic skeptical community.

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 at 5:05pm by Hawkfan Comment #43

And to encourage the notion of a uselessly fragmented skeptical community.

Posted on Jul 08, 2009 at 6:22am by josh_karpf Comment #44

Not a pivotal point, but Shermer confused Rand’s position with psychological egoism. I know this drives Rand fans batty. They are quick (and often harsh) to point out that Rand advocated moral egoism, which is to say she abhorred personal sacrifice and lauded personal responsibility—which does seem rather akin to most modern libertarians.

Jordan

Posted on Jul 08, 2009 at 9:05am by Jordan Comment #45

Apparently political parties are much like organized religion in that they have a corruption half-life of approximately 3.7 years.

Posted on Jul 08, 2009 at 2:20pm by gray1 Comment #46

And to encourage the notion of a uselessly fragmented skeptical community.

I don’t necessarily agree with that.
What is required of one to be a member of the skeptical community?  The more that definition narrows, the smaller you shrink your group.  Republicans are finding out now that ideological purity can make it very difficult to accomplish anything.
Another point that this podcast reinforces for me is my position on political ideology.  There is no objective standard that one system is the best.  While I find that I don’t agree with this expression of libertarianism, I can’t say it’s “wrong” as there are no agreed upon rules of what is “right”.

Posted on Jul 08, 2009 at 4:15pm by Hawkfan Comment #47

And to encourage the notion of a uselessly fragmented skeptical community.

I don’t necessarily agree with that.
What is required of one to be a member of the skeptical community?  The more that definition narrows, the smaller you shrink your group.  Republicans are finding out now that ideological purity can make it very difficult to accomplish anything.
Another point that this podcast reinforces for me is my position on political ideology.  There is no objective standard that one system is the best.  While I find that I don’t agree with this expression of libertarianism, I can’t say it’s “wrong” as there are no agreed upon rules of what is “right”.

Yeah, I got a little of that too- concerning ideology(libertarianism,specifically). I do appreciate Josh’s point though, and I know where he is coming from.

Posted on Jul 08, 2009 at 4:36pm by VYAZMA Comment #48

I am coming a bit late to this discussion, but I mist say that I found this episode extremely disquieting.

My primary problem with libertarianism is an issue that this episode of PoI did not even touch on- the absolute impossibility of a truly libertarian philosophy to provide adequate protection for the environment. Of course, there are many other problems with libertarianism as well, most of which have already been discussed here. However, to me, the obvious incompatibility between truly laissez-faire markets plus entirely privatized land ownership versus preservation of endangered animals and habitats makes libertarianism an untenable philosophy. What land developer is going to hold back the bulldozers to protect an endangered rat? What sheep herder is going to pull the lambs off the range to preserve sage grouse habitat? Nor is there any evidence that resource-extractive industries will ever curb themselves just to forward the common good…if we could trust them to do so, then the environmental laws we now have would never have been necessary!

I have presented this dilemma to many a libertarian, and no one yet has given a satisfactory answer. Many have said “You’re right; I’ll have to think about that…” withut offering any solution. Others have basically taken positions that “humans come first” and environmental issues take a back seat to any human desires and ability to turn a profit.

I am not willing to sacrifice old-growth forests, endangered species, clean water and clean air to anyone who can profit from them. And, to me, this means that libertarianism is a failure.

Posted on Jul 13, 2009 at 5:18pm by crisw Comment #49

I haven’t checked this thread since I posted, and just now saw the note about my arithmetic error in the tax information I had provided for the two Euro countries.  Quite right and thanks for pointing it out.  Below please find the original information which is corrected below:

United States: 
USD 82,000 - 28%
USD 171,000 - 33%
USD 372,000 - 35%

United Kingdom
GBP 37,000 / 1.62 = USD 61,111 - 40%

Australia
AUD 80,000 / 1.24 = USD 64,516 - 38%
AUD 180,000 / 1.24 = USD 145,161 - 45%

France
EUR 69,505 / 1.40 = USD 45,360 - 40%

Germany
EUR 52,000 / 1.40 = USD 37,142 - 42%
EUR 250,000 / 1.40 = USD 178,571 - 45%

France
EUR 69,505 / 1.40 = USD 45,360 - 40%
should be:
EUR 69,505 / .714 = USD 97,345 - 40%

Germany
EUR 52,000 / 1.40 = USD 37,142 - 42%
EUR 250,000 / 1.40 = USD 178,571 - 45%
should be:
EUR 52,000 .714 = USD 72,829 - 42%
EUR 250,000 / .714 = USD 350,140 - 45%

I do not believe that my mistake in arithmetic changes the point I was making about the income level at which point marginal tax rates kick in - they are still much higher in the US than in other countries.  If I add in the social security taxes (referred to as payroll taxes) the effect is even greater since Social Security maxes out in the US at lower incomes than in other locations (not so for Medicare, but it’s a much smaller percentage).  VAT’s exist in many of these countries which are often as high or higher than sales tax in the US. 

It’s a pity that the sharp-eyed individual who caught the error simply brushed of any commentary about the actual substance of the post.

Posted on Jul 24, 2009 at 8:22am by Samantha Clemens Comment #50

Probably because everyone knows that tables, graphs and charts can be used to show that an elephant can be suspended over a cliff with it’s tail tied to a dandelion.
Also there was direct comments concerning the rest of the post. They were right at the end.

Posted on Jul 24, 2009 at 8:28am by VYAZMA Comment #51

Probably because everyone knows that tables, graphs and charts can be used to show that an elephant can be suspended over a cliff with it’s tail tied to a dandelion.
Also there was direct comments concerning the rest of the post. They were right at the end.

I would be grateful if you could indicate the number of the comment where you have direct comments, as I’ve read through a couple of times and as far as I can tell, you simply dismissed the content.

Regarding the potential misuse of tables, graphs and charts; while it is true this this certainly occurs, they can also be helpful to illustrate a point with precision.  The key is, once again, to indicate what is erroneous about the information presented.  My goal here is to present correct information as well as present the conclusions I draw from the facts.  If we disagree about the conclusions, so be it.  If I am wrong about the facts, by all means, correct me (as you did with the arithmetic on the France and German examples). 

Thank you.

Posted on Jul 24, 2009 at 10:29am by Samantha Clemens Comment #52

Probably because everyone knows that tables, graphs and charts can be used to show that an elephant can be suspended over a cliff with it’s tail tied to a dandelion.
Also there was direct comments concerning the rest of the post. They were right at the end.

I would be grateful if you could indicate the number of the comment where you have direct comments, as I’ve read through a couple of times and as far as I can tell, you simply dismissed the content.

Regarding the potential misuse of tables, graphs and charts; while it is true this this certainly occurs, they can also be helpful to illustrate a point with precision.  The key is, once again, to indicate what is erroneous about the information presented.  My goal here is to present correct information as well as present the conclusions I draw from the facts.  If we disagree about the conclusions, so be it.  If I am wrong about the facts, by all means, correct me (as you did with the arithmetic on the France and German examples). 

Thank you.

I wasn’t the one who disputed your math(see#39). The charts you provided are in no way related to the original issue that Tom Morris brought up. His issue being a general comment on what one gets from his government, in relation to the taxes he pays.
Although you brought up figures showing that Tom was wrong about the Taxes he pays in his own country, due to adjustments, and various income brackets, and a reference to possible sales tax figures, your charts still didn’t even come close to showing what someone gets from their government in relation to the taxes they pay. Your charts only showed that Tom MIGHT have been mistaken in quoting what he pays in taxes.
Of course, who knows Tom’s personal story and exactly what taxes he pays? The point he brought up concerning a cost/benefit analysis of his taxes could very well(and probably is.) be true. Even making any adjustments with your figures, which are hard to compare against the US’s anyways. Here’s one reason why: In doing a cost benefit analysis of taxes paid by different nationalities, we would also have to figure in Energy expended, or man/hours worked in order to achieve a given income. This could vary widely from country to country. Another murky area we would have to dive into is discerning what exactly people consider to be benefits from their Governments regarding taxes.(HealthCare, Schools, Universities, good roads, Armies, Air Forces, sanitation, etc.)
But your charts did show that Tom may have been wrong in citing what The British Taxes are, compared to ours. Depending on what data, and figures one puts into the charts.

Posted on Jul 24, 2009 at 11:20am by VYAZMA Comment #53

I don’t necessarily have anything against libertarianism and Governments and central banks medalling in markets can certainly lead to bad results. I’m sure we haven’t seen the worst of those yet.

But the brand of libertarianism put forward by Michael Shermer is based on belief that people have Libertarian free will, that they get what they deserve.

There is no evidence for libertarian free will and we can’t even concieve of a way for it to be possible. So it’s likely impossible.

To believe in libertarian free will and be a skeptic is an oxymoron.

Stephen

Posted on Jul 24, 2009 at 11:37pm by StephenLawrence Comment #54

To believe in libertarian free will and be a skeptic is an oxymoron.

Stephen

Don’t you mean “....and be a Humanist…”!  That’s what I would have meant!

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 4:23am by VYAZMA Comment #55

I am coming a bit late to this discussion, but I mist say that I found this episode extremely disquieting.

My primary problem with libertarianism is an issue that this episode of PoI did not even touch on- the absolute impossibility of a truly libertarian philosophy to provide adequate protection for the environment. Of course, there are many other problems with libertarianism as well, most of which have already been discussed here. However, to me, the obvious incompatibility between truly laissez-faire markets plus entirely privatized land ownership versus preservation of endangered animals and habitats makes libertarianism an untenable philosophy. What land developer is going to hold back the bulldozers to protect an endangered rat? What sheep herder is going to pull the lambs off the range to preserve sage grouse habitat? Nor is there any evidence that resource-extractive industries will ever curb themselves just to forward the common good…if we could trust them to do so, then the environmental laws we now have would never have been necessary!

I have presented this dilemma to many a libertarian, and no one yet has given a satisfactory answer. Many have said “You’re right; I’ll have to think about that…” withut offering any solution. Others have basically taken positions that “humans come first” and environmental issues take a back seat to any human desires and ability to turn a profit.

I am not willing to sacrifice old-growth forests, endangered species, clean water and clean air to anyone who can profit from them. And, to me, this means that libertarianism is a failure.

 

I wanted to reply to this post in particular because it focuses on a very important aspect of libertarianism: the environment.  First of all, I would like to say that you bring up some very good points and questions about how libertarianism deals with the issue of environment (clean air, clean water etc. etc.)  You claim to have hit a “dead end” when confronting libertarians on this topic.  First of all, are you familiar with Nobel-prize winner and economist, Milton Friedman?  If not, there are numerous videos on youtube in which he explains libertarianism very precisely.  One of which, he confronts the issue of dealing with the environment.  I believe all your questions will be answered by Milton Friedman himself.  Here is the link of part 1 of 4…..you can easily find the other 3 links from there.  Enjoy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PaN9M4WwHw

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 5:39am by tcm92678 Comment #56

I wanted to touch up quickly on the subject of ‘endangered species’.  99% of all species that have ever lived are no longer around.  They are extinct.  This is a part of nature.  Nature dictates when animals come and go.  Isn’t it arrogant of us humans, to meddle and interfere with mother nature’s plans by attempting to save endangered animals from extinction? How do we expect to save the whales, koalas, polar bears and thousands of other plants & animals when we can’t even take care of ourselves?  I don’t think it is even possible for us to save every single endangered species from extinction.  For those who claim that these species are endangered because of human interference, isn’t human interference an essential part of nature’s plan itself? Isn’t this a part of the Darwinian’s ‘survival of the fittest?’  Regardless of human activity, there is an average of 25 plant/animal species that become extinct every day.  This is the course of nature.  Let nature take its course.  There is nothing wrong with the earth, nature, and the way it operates.  Our planet is a wonderful, self-sustaining ecosystem and if it decides that a certain species has to go, it has to go.  Nature will dictate the formation of new species, how long they will thrive and when they will become extinct.  Although we like to think very highly of ourselves, there will come a time when nature calls for our final demise.  When we look at history, I think everyone knows the ultimate outcome to the man vs. nature battle.

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 6:03am by tcm92678 Comment #57

Mankind represents a species having a glorious history of attempting to make itself extinct.  I find it difficult to rationalize the distruction of so many of this planet’s species and habitats in the interest of someone’s “profit”.  The same arguement saying that so many animials go extinct every day anyway (so why bother)  predicts that we should be happy to look forward to ultimately becoming nothing but ashes floating over a concrete jungle. 

On the far side of dillusions, however, old growth forests are not protected by trendies who make their statements by boycotting paper (which actually comes from tree farming) or simply yelling “global warming” over the continuing cutting down of rain forests (since sugar cane also captures carbon).  It’s the continuing loss of genetic diversity much of which hasn’t even been recognized yet that means the ultimate death of this planet.  Potato famine, anyone?

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 12:17pm by gray1 Comment #58

Dr. Michael Shermer is also cited here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 12:33pm by gray1 Comment #59

I clicked on your link and have found the definition,” What Darwin meant was “better adapted for immediate, local environment” by differential preservation of organisms that are better adapted to live in changing environments. The concept is not tautological as it contains an independent criterion of fitness.[4]” 

I strongly agree with both your points that: 1. mankind has a history of self-destruction 2. you find it difficult to rationalize the destruction of species for the purpose of profit.  I do not condone nor do I condemn the latter, but I guess that has something to do with my ‘passive-observer’ mentality. 

I liked the ironic comparisons you made.  Definitely true as well.

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 at 1:59pm by tcm92678 Comment #60

To believe in libertarian free will and be a skeptic is an oxymoron.

Stephen

Don’t you mean “....and be a Humanist…”!  That’s what I would have meant!

No.

Stephen

Posted on Jul 26, 2009 at 1:49am by StephenLawrence Comment #61

In doing a cost benefit analysis of taxes paid by different nationalities, we would also have to figure in Energy expended, or man/hours worked in order to achieve a given income. This could vary widely from country to country.

Indeed. I work for a UK company and get 5 weeks holiday a year. My brother works for a US company and gets 2 or 3 weeks holiday. I know that in France the difference is even greater. Some people might not accept a higher tax level in exchange for an extra month in holiday, but you have to at least factor in that difference when comparing America with France.

Plus, Samantha, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that confusing the tax threshold in several countries by a factor of two makes no difference at all to your point.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 4:30am by Andrew Ryan Comment #62

For those who claim that these species are endangered because of human interference, isn’t human interference an essential part of nature’s plan itself?

What on earth do you mean by ‘nature’s plan’? Nature doesn’t have a plan - you seem to be confusing the comforting metaphor of ‘mother nature’ with a real-life God-figure who has everything figured out for the planet. If it’s ‘arrogant’ to interfere with nature, does that mean you refuse to take modern medicines when you get sick?

Arrogant would be thinking we can just wipe out hundreds of species a day - which is what is happening now. Not just arrogant, but stupid too, as it affects us. The people who say that extinction is natural are usually the first to get upset about the idea of their own species’ extinction.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 4:36am by Andrew Ryan Comment #63

To believe in libertarian free will and be a skeptic is an oxymoron.

Stephen

Don’t you mean “....and be a Humanist…”!  That’s what I would have meant!

No.

Stephen

Of course you can make that kind of assumptions when you just replace every term with your own interpretation. But I do not think that counts as a relevant argument. I have been a libertarian for years now and I have not ever discussed with anyone something so ridiculous as “libertarian free will”.

It’s anti skeptical to claim there is just one way to look at things and that’s my way. It’s everything I stand against as a skeptic.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 6:29am by Eero T. Eloranta Comment #64

To believe in libertarian free will and be a skeptic is an oxymoron.

Stephen

Don’t you mean “....and be a Humanist…”!  That’s what I would have meant!

No.

Stephen

Of course you can make that kind of assumptions when you just replace every term with your own interpretation. But I do not think that counts as a relevant argument. I have been a libertarian for years now and I have not ever discussed with anyone something so ridiculous as “libertarian free will”.

It’s anti skeptical to claim there is just one way to look at things and that’s my way. It’s everything I stand against as a skeptic.

But you do not justify your libertarian views on people deserving what happens to them as a result of the choices they make.

In the podcast, I’m pretty sure Michael Shermer was.

Stephen

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 6:48am by StephenLawrence Comment #65

The whole concept that some people (and apparently not others) somehow “deserve” to either be harmed by others and/or to have some misfortune enacted upon them by fate/nature/god/human action is totally stupid (for lack of any better word).  This compares to some idiotic preacher saying that AIDS is God’s judgement against homosexuals while ignoring the same such suffering in others inclusive of innocent children and infants.  I guess he’d have to say those infants were “cursed”, in which case I’d have to tell him that I’m looking for a God other than his.

On a side note, how do proponents of predestiny rationalize infant and child mortality?  Are such things not a test of our collective “choices” which is certainly guaged somehow within our own psyche if not actually judged by any god.  Perhaps I simply overestimate people and conscience varies more widely than I fear, or did I mean to say intelligence?

Oh, back to Libertarianism… do they really propose to in most cases “let the chips fall where they may”?

In my view, Ron Paul is no Libertarian, his message indicates he’s a Conservative and a Constitutionalist, both of which are full of “rules”.  That the Libertarian party actually chose him to fly their banner shows that their own idealism went out the window and amounts to at least as much compromise as that found within our mainstream parties.  It didn’t work.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 8:31am by gray1 Comment #66

Dear Gray1

Libertarianism is not an ideology that is “against the rules”. In a fact the whole concept lies on strict law and order. The whole idea is based on a society ruled by law and justice as opposed to a neo con or a socialistic model. They are authoritarian and based on a rule of power.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 2:34pm by Eero T. Eloranta Comment #67

What on earth do you mean by ‘nature’s plan’? Nature doesn’t have a plan - you seem to be confusing the comforting metaphor of ‘mother nature’ with a real-life God-figure who has everything figured out for the planet. If it’s ‘arrogant’ to interfere with nature, does that mean you refuse to take modern medicines when you get sick?

Arrogant would be thinking we can just wipe out hundreds of species a day - which is what is happening now. Not just arrogant, but stupid too, as it affects us. The people who say that extinction is natural are usually the first to get upset about the idea of their own species’ extinction.


I agree, that nature doesn’t have a plan and that everything is a random occurrence.  I am not at all a believer of an intervening, almighty-god, who has a personal relationship with each individual.  Next, I would like to ask how taking medicine interferes with nature.  The act of taking in vitamin C from fruits(oranges) for example, is a nature’s way of preventing scurvy. 

Next, the extinction of species, is in fact, a natural phenomenon.  The earth is about 3.2billion yrs. old; humans have been around for about 200,000 yrs.  Extinction of species have taken effect long before the arrival of mankind here on earth.  So, if we take humans out of the equation, extinction still occurs.  The bottom line is that extinction is a natural process and we must face reality and accept it.  By the way, I do accept this and I am not upset about realizing that one day, human beings may become extinct.

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 3:18pm by tcm92678 Comment #68

Dear Gray1

Libertarianism is not an ideology that is “against the rules”. In a fact the whole concept lies on strict law and order. The whole idea is based on a society ruled by law and justice as opposed to a neo con or a socialistic model. They are authoritarian and based on a rule of power.

Could we have some clairification on the “authoritarian and rule of power” part?  Perhaps even just the “rule of power” since we know too much about “authoritarian” which doesn’t exactly convey a connotation of warmth, freedom and fuzziness like “Libertarian” does.  Come to think of it, “rule of power” doesn’t either.  In fact this is all beginning to sound more like National Socialism which also sounds rather innocuous until we realize it’s also known as Nazism.  I thought Libertarians were just basically just a bunch of fun loving would-be pot smokers.  How could I be so wrong?

Posted on Jul 27, 2009 at 8:01pm by gray1 Comment #69

Dear Gray1

Libertarianism is not an ideology that is “against the rules”. In a fact the whole concept lies on strict law and order. The whole idea is based on a society ruled by law and justice as opposed to a neo con or a socialistic model. They are authoritarian and based on a rule of power.

Could we have some clairification on the “authoritarian and rule of power” part?  Perhaps even just the “rule of power” since we know too much about “authoritarian” which doesn’t exactly convey a connotation of warmth, freedom and fuzziness like “Libertarian” does.  Come to think of it, “rule of power” doesn’t either.  In fact this is all beginning to sound more like National Socialism which also sounds rather innocuous until we realize it’s also known as Nazism.  I thought Libertarians were just basically just a bunch of fun loving would-be pot smokers.  How could I be so wrong?

I’m not sure what you mean. With authoritarianism and rule of power I was of course referring to neo cons and socialists.

I would not associate any political ideology with drug abuse.

Posted on Jul 28, 2009 at 12:21am by Eero T. Eloranta Comment #70

Next, the extinction of species, is in fact, a natural phenomenon.  The earth is about 3.2billion yrs. old; humans have been around for about 200,000 yrs.  Extinction of species have taken effect long before the arrival of mankind here on earth. 

You miss the point. Man has caused extinction to rocket to a rate that isn’t ‘natural’, or sustainable, and that also threatens us.

If you want to argue that anything man does or causes is by definition ‘natural’ then you’re rendering the term somewhat meaningless. What would NOT come under your definition of ‘natural’ in this sense? Similarly, what do you mean by ‘interfering with nature’? This phrase also becomes meaningless if you define anything we do as ‘part of nature’. It’s ‘natural’ for people to get cancer. That doesn’t mean it is not something we try to prevent. You could say that ‘it is natural for us to stop cancer’. Well then why isn’t it natural for us to try to stop extinction? If your argument then falls down to ‘natural is what we’ve done in the past’, then you could say it’s natural for us to keep slaves.

Personally, I leave apart this concept of natural when I’m discussing what is wise, moral or advisable. The ‘it’s natural/unnatural’ argument is the kind of thing I expect from fundamentalist Christians trying to argue against homosexuality.

Posted on Jul 28, 2009 at 2:59am by Andrew Ryan Comment #71

I’m not sure what you mean. With authoritarianism and rule of power I was of course referring to neo cons and socialists.

I would not associate any political ideology with drug abuse.

All political parties seek power, that is their whole purpose.

Ok, my mistake, Libertarians are too warm and fuzzy.  I like that, but unfortunately they have no power to change anything.  I suggest they continue along local lines until a block can be built up within the Congress. 
My problem with neocons and socialists is that they are both basically new world order adherents of “the whole world must be just like us” even if it takes bombs and guns to make it happen.

The U.S. recently seems bent upon wild cycles of throwing power back and forth between those two ideologies which is sure to shake things totally apart in short order.  How did we go all the way from Bush to Obama in one election cycle? Such is madness pure and simple.

The drug use thing is apparently just a side benefit the Libertarians offer, but I’d be very happy to see a major change in the “war on drugs” which we’re losing so badly from anyone.

Posted on Jul 28, 2009 at 7:11am by gray1 Comment #72

Shermer says

“Life isn’t fair”

The statement is an “is”, but not an “ought”.  To conflate the two is a fallacy.  Just because it is an empirical fact that “life isn’t fair” doesn’t mean that we not ought to try to make it as fair as possible for as many people as possible.

“Life isn’t fair” is always a popular and happy phrase for people who have done well in life’s lottery, attributing it all to one’s own effort, and are contemptuous of those who have not done so well in life’s lottery.

Posted on Aug 24, 2009 at 5:07pm by Sheldon Comment #73

Sorry I so late to this one. I found that Mr Shermer goes to far in his libertarianism, capitalism and free market reliance. As with much in life a little of some things is good but too much is bad.

My thought process was through an example.

- In a wealthy nation (UK for me, US for others) we should have a “right to clean water”
- We know that if we leave it to the free market two things will happen. Not everyone will get clean water as they will not be able to afford it. The free market does not guarantee supply. Secondly, not all the water will be clean as, in a search for profits, businesses will take shortcuts and not produce clean water. Mass poisoning follows and the “free market” demand will stop buying their water.
- This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that some markets MUST be regulated. If they are regulated, who is the regulator? The question often leads to 2 outcomes - government or self-regulation. In the UK water is a bit of both.
- Finally, if in society we find that there are lots of regulations needed in lots of important markets (it should be easy to come up with examples based on the one above), then is it more “efficient” and “effective” to self regulate or to centrally regulate. The answer is government not industry. Not just because of “economies of scale” in regulation but also because we have finally linked a “citizens rights to clean water” with a “representative body regulating”. There is no link in the libertarian purist mind and this is always where they fail.

My belief is that free markets are highly efficient and productive, but it is pure fantasy to expect free markets to satisfy the demands of citizens in the social contract with society and the state. You need government to regulate and you need good men to be in government. Then you don’t have a problem.

Posted on Nov 26, 2009 at 5:55am by afd Comment #74