Looking in the Mirror

by Don Boudreaux on September 23, 2009

in Cafe Conversation

George Mason University — my beloved home institution — is indeed a creation and ward of the State of Virginia.  Does this fact make me, true liberal that I am, a hypocrite?

Here’s my grappling with this reasonable question.

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{ 49 comments }

Dave September 23, 2009 at 11:21 pm

I don’t think any libertarian is obligated to pass up the best opportunities available to him or her in the current state of the world, no matter how they arise. An individual has to live in current landscape with limited power to change it significantly alone. As long as the libertarian does not ask for special treatment while advocating for a reduction in government interference, I see no hypocrisy even while that libertarian is making use of public goods, services, or jobs. This is particularly true if the government good, service, or job is crowding out private sector rivals.

Randy September 23, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Well done, Don.

I’ve had similar thoughts, particularly along the lines of political behavior being so deeply entrenched in society that there is no way around it without great sacrifice. But lately I’ve been leaning toward a simpler approach. They use me, so I use them. I don’t use my neighbors, friends, or fellow tradesmen, because they haven’t done anything to deserve it. But I use the political types every chance I get, because they do deserve it. An ethic of retribution, if you will.

kebko September 23, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I don’t think it’s reasonable to judge you on that standard. The alternative view would be that all public university professors would be morally required to have the view that public funding is optimal. How would that serve anybody’s purpose? Even in Soviet Russia, artists would slip unapproved subtexts through the censors. Don’t we all consider them heroes? Would we really say that they had a moral obligation to either toe the line on Soviet realism, or check themselved into a gulag?
I think the criticism is indefensible.

Anonymous September 23, 2009 at 11:40 pm

My view is simply that we are each responsible for our own actions, and not those of others, and someone who is a teacher is not engaged in aggression. If you were a narcotics officer or IRS agent, you would be a hypocrite because you’d be personally aggressing. By the same token, if you were a burglar or wife-beater, non-government employee status wouldn’t relieve you of the sin of hypocrisy.

If taking money that came from the government is enough to make you a hypocrite, then I need to explain where I think all the Federal Reserve Notes in my pocket originated. Since restitution is the remedy for theft, name the person to whom you should be repaying your salary (surely not the thief). You’re providing a valuable resource as a teacher AND homesteading assets whose previous owner cannot be determined.

Frankly, I’d say you are going the extra mile by draining the government of resources that might otherwise be used by them to enable more coercion: perhaps welfare and Social Security recipients should be praised the most for reducing government assets without providing services to it.

I’d better stop, since I’m beginning to feel like a hypocrite because I work in the private sector. :(

James September 23, 2009 at 11:47 pm

The accusation of hypocrisy doesn’t make sense. Are workers hypocrites if they work at non-union firms while favoring unions?

For the accusation of hypocrisy to stick, you would have to actually do those things which governments do that you find objectionable.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 9:44 am

I don’t think that’s the right analogy – they could aspire to work at unionized firms. What of the worker that enjoys the benefits of a union contract, but doesn’t support the union?

I’m personally not a fan of big labor, so there’s no additional message in there. I just think that’s the better example.

RE: “For the accusation of hypocrisy to stick, you would have to actually do those things which governments do that you find objectionable.”

Isn’t he though? He’s putting food on the table with other people’s taxes. Isn’t that exactly what he finds objectionable about government?

joenorton September 24, 2009 at 12:18 am

Good article Don. I am upset every time I commute on the (government run) train to school and I’m glad to see someone like yourself put a lot of thought into issues like these. It ain’t easy being libertarian in a government subsidized world.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 1:11 am

Should a person not become a doctor because only the state employs doctors (in some countries)? Should one not join the military because the employer is government? Should I pull my kids out of public school (and still be forced to pay for it) over my beliefs? Should one not be a police officer, even though there are private security jobs available? Should an American not accept Medicare when they turn 65 when there are virtually no alternatives unless they are exceedingly wealthy? I hear your frustrations. We have to do what we feel is best for ourselves and other people given our circumstances. It’s being realistic. It sucks, but the government threatens force on us if we do otherwise.

SteveO September 24, 2009 at 1:34 am

There are two different moral arguments here. When you have the choice when a decision is upon you, you have a moral imperative to exert your influence at that time (and I’m sure you do).

But when you arrive on the scene, and decisions have already been made, and institutions put in place, you do not have a moral imperative to cede ground to your opposition twice- once by happenstance, and a second voluntarily.

This would be like allowing the other team to take the rest of the field, because they had already gained some yardage before you got put into play.

Choose from the options on the table, and always fight to put more options on the table.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 1:36 am

Now wait just a gol’ darn minute…

“Compromise” is hardly the right word. Next time someone asks you why you are fraternizing with the enemy, just tell them: “Because the enemy doesn’t give me a choice.”

That’s it.

Why do I use public schools? The government gives me no choice. Oh, sure, they’re happy to have me pay for it and not show up, but that is not a choice for me NOT to participate. I am FORCED to participate. And I will with a clear conscience and solid conviction send my kids to public schools and argue that the forced arrangement is wrong and should end.

Same with Social Security, Medicare, roads, courts, customs, unemployment insurance, the US tax code, etc., etc., etc.

There is NO hypocrisy where there is NO choice.

There are many private organizations of which I disapprove even less vehemently than governments. Why don’t I fraternize with them the way I do all the time with governments? Because in those cases, I have a choice. And when I have a choice, I choose to act according to my conscience.

Don, you’re too good a man to demean the value of your extremely moral principles with such self doubt.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 9:46 am

But he does have a choice. There’s a private school with a great economics department right across the river from him.

I’ve never blamed him for this, personally – so in terms of the big picture I’m with you. But let’s not pretend he doesn’t have a choice. He’s got lot’s of choices within commuting distance.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 1:48 pm

“let’s not pretend he doesn’t have a choice”

Oh, I didn’t realize that the government gave him a choice of whether or not to participate. Do you have the address for the government office he must apply to to get his tax refund?

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Taxes? What are you talking about? He has a choice of where he works.

And he has the choice of where to live, for that matter. DC only has one public university. It’s not zero but it’s better than all the public universities in Virginia. If he doesn’t like the Jeffersonian tradition we have here of publicly supporting higher education, he has the choice to move to DC and teach at Georgetown or George Washington University.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I’m not saying Don made the wrong choice. In fact I’m saying just the opposite.I’m just saying that there are inconsistencies in the choice. Don himself says there are in the article, so it’s not that outrageous for me to say here.You have a fraternizing with the enemy analogy. It’s true – they don’t give him a choice on taxes. He still has a choice about whether or not to get even deeper in bed with “the enemy”, and he chose to. And he owns up to that, which is very admirable.

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 7:26 am

“He still has a choice about whether or not to get even deeper in bed with “the enemy”"

That is utter bunk. HE HAS A CHOICE about what is the best way to advance his values with the world in which he finds himself. He has determined that working at George Mason does that, and he has good reasons for thinking so.

Now, if his self doubt is because he thinks he could advance his values better by leaving GMU, that is a different issue. I only hope that he doesn’t think that to be the case on the grounds that the mere choice of working in a public institution (as opposed to the alternatives) is hypocritical–because it couldn’t possibly be hypocritical on those grounds.

If he is advancing his values, he is not advancing the enemy of his values. The enemy will be just as much the enemy no matter what institution he decides to attend, because it gets his and everyone’s resources no matter what he decides.

And for Don to think this is improved by moving to a private institution, is unusually naive for Don. How does he live by this reasoning? If he goes to a private institution, is he to refuse to teach Pell grant students? How about students funded by employers with government subsidies? What about the financial relief to his private institution caused by government funded research to his colleagues, or private research from subsidized companies? And what about his GMU students? Their families have been forced for years to fund GMU and now when those students try to recover a fraction of that confiscated wealth, Don up and leaves. Now if they want to study under him, they too must sacrifice more to the state by not recouping those family losses. And how does all that compare with the loss of his GMU colleagues?

The state PERMEATES higher education. There is no escape, and participation for a professor is not a choice. And the state doesn’t care what Don decides to do.

That’s why the only choice left to him is to pursue his values as best he can. He has determined that the GMU faculty are the way for him to do that. Since THAT is the reason for him attending GMU, and not so that he can soak up tax dollars, he is being true to his values and the furthest thing from hypocritical.

Jeff September 24, 2009 at 2:11 am

Don, I don’t think you’re a hypocrite for working at a state school. I think you’re right about how compromises we must make with state funded coercion in our lives. It’s a prudential matter.

So, why can’t this same question be raised in our previous subsidy discussion? Why can’t that be a compromise, support for protection, as a means to compromise with state funded coercion in our lives.

The state takes money from people and redistributes it to you as an educational and research subsidy. You could change jobs, even earning higher pay, but money is not necessarily the highest value. You prefer to stay put. You probably think that you can influence events more from your state subsidized department, influence events to eventually defund departments like yours. It’s seems paradoxical, but it’s seems prudent to me. You’re probably right about all that.

Can’t the same thing be true of people who take other kinds of subsidies? Why privilege one subsidy over another? The economic effects aren’t any different.

If there’s any hypocrisy it’s this: you want to take a subsidy but deny subsidies to others.

But even then, you’re no hypocrite. It’s a dispute over a practical proposal about where to draw the line. That’s why purely theoretical answers fail us.

Your essay is remarkable for it’s conversational style and honesty. I enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 2:17 am

Don,

Without bothering to read the comments below, let me rip into this.

The people who come here to sling the accusation that because GMU is a state institution you are a hypocrite are just plain full of crap and have no valid point. They are here to denigrate, cause discontent, disrupt, and cheapen the message you present about government intrusion. Screw ‘em, they are here out of jealousy of the success of the Cafe and your status in the national economic field.

What they can’t compete with, they denigrate. And, that , sir, says everything about them and nothing about you and Russ.

Furthermore, it does not matter who you contract with. Your employer presents terms, you look at them and either negotiate, or not, and the two of you, employer and you, come to agreement as to production from you and compensation from them.

There is no hypocrisy or denigration in that situation if you give every ounce of what you contracted to give, it matters not where they get the money to compensate you. I can not think of one single business, schools and governments included, that do not get their money “from the people.” We are all, you, Russ, me, and muirduck, paid by “the people” in the end. Kroger’s, GMU, Fred’s Sheet Metal Fabrication, the corporate government of the USA, they all get their money from the people. Is it hypocrisy to work for Kroger’s and to be open in your criticism about the lousy management while still giving your all and more in the performance of your job? Why would it be hypocrisy when the same conditions exist at GMU vis-a-vis the federal government, and your performance in honoring your contract?

Do you give value for your compensation, do you earn it. No other question be addressed or answered.

I submit that from my viewpoint as a reader and participator here on the Cafe that you do.

So fuck ‘em, go kick ass and never look back or hesitate. Pay no attention to the mental midgets that pass through.

Gil September 24, 2009 at 6:54 am

“Furthermore, it does not matter who you contract with. Your employer presents terms, you look at them and either negotiate, or not, and the two of you, employer and you, come to agreement as to production from you and compensation from them.”

What a piss poor piece of moral relativism. It’s akin to buying stolen goods from a thief then complain about the all robberies that occur in the local neighbourhood. The thief is getting positive feedback from his work and has incentive to continue doing what he does best. Suppose the robbers are eventually caught – will the buyer then complain he can’t buy cheap goods in street alleys? Suppose, vidyohs, a Libertarian party does get into the White House and proclaim they are going to get rid of virtually all taxes and will negate virtually all government contracts. Would you happy that Libertarian party decides that your military pension would cease to exist because the other party you contracted with is deemed invalid? That you are out of pocket just like a little old lady was on the old age pension or Don Boudreaux because the proverbial Libertarian party has shut down all public schools and universities? Would you take a bullet for the team?

louh September 24, 2009 at 3:20 am

The problem arises when you accept compensation for your work. I would have no problem with you or anyone else working on a public project in a pro bono capacity. But to justify accepting a lucrative salary based on convenience, need or personal aggrandizement may be hypocritical.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 4:26 am

“The problem arises when you accept compensation for your work.”

The only way there would be hypocrisy is if he advocated for the confiscatory system, which he obviously does not. The system not only takes his tax dollars without his choice, it also places itself in a competitive position with private institutions. It has created the system under which he must live. All he need do is live the best he can to further his values within the system imposed upon him, while never advocating for action that contradicts his values. That’s all he needs to do to avoid hypocrisy, and yet he does much much more.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 9:50 am

RE: “The only way there would be hypocrisy is if he advocated for the confiscatory system, which he obviously does not.”

But isn’t that convenient since he knows his paycheck comes from the confiscatory system? Particularly since there are private alternatives, and he made the conscious choice of Mason? I don’t think it’s quite so obvious that he doesn’t. Again, I don’t think I’ve ever leveled this particular criticism against Don. I agree it’s not a fair criticism. But I don’t think it’s as free of inconsistencies as you suggest either.

louh September 24, 2009 at 3:29 pm

If the best and brightest avoided the lure of  higher compensation and security at public institutions we might wake up one day and find the public institution being crowded out by the private alternative.

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 7:32 am

“If the best and brightest avoided the lure of higher compensation and security at public institutions we might wake up one day and find the public institution being crowded out by the private alternative.”

If that is the lure being followed. But in Don’s case, the lure has nothing to do with the nature of GMU’s funding. In Don’s case the lure is an environment that most helps him promote his liberal agenda. And you would have him sacrifice that agenda for WHAT gain exactly? Who wins more with that action, the state, or liberty?

louh September 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Liberty.

louh September 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm

If the best and brightest avoided the lure of  higher compensation and security at public institutions we might wake up one day and find the public institution being crowded out by the private alternative.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 3:53 am

How about giving up your tenure and that socialist, government supplied health insurance. That should help clear your conscience.

Jeff September 24, 2009 at 9:16 am

Don, there’s been some interesting commentary. some of it is unfair, to say the least. Alas, honesty rarely goes unpunished.

Some of it has been supportive. Unfortunately, I suspect some supporters didn’t even read your excellent essay before commenting. Some, well-meaning but sycophantic, reject your idea that “each libertarian must do his or her level best to decide where acceptable compromises with the State begin and where they end.” They reject your notion of “compromise.”

But, I agree with you. You yourself say you don’t have to accept a state subsidy at a state school. You could even make more money at a private school. I think you understand a difference your supporters don’t.

Using government services, which you’ve already paid for in taxes, and still arguing those services shouldn’t exist – that’s one thing. It’s not hypocritical. The money was taken by force. You had no choice. You’re just getting back what’s yours.

Working for the government institution, accepting a government subsidy to do it, that’s another matter. You do have a choice whether or not to do that. You are not getting back what’s yours. You are living off the taxpayer.

Nevertheless, I think your compromise (your word not mine), is the right one: “This compromise is even more acceptable when I reflect on the fact that the department of economics at George Mason University is by far the best department for the kind of economics I admire and I strive to do. I can best contribute to the scholarly endeavor and to the great cause of human freedom by serving on the GMU faculty of economics.” I think you’re right.

I also think you have a lot more integrity than some of your fanboys. I think some may have missed the most important lesson you could have taught them. Scholarship is not activism. Scholars must have a special kind of integrity. Feynman calls it bending over backwards to ensure you never say more than you mean, to honestly present the weaknesses in your findings, to avoiding rhetorical subterfuge.

I read a lot of academic economists. I don’t take many of them seriously. Few have practical experience of commerce and large-scale commercial negotiation. Anytime an economist says “the best way to do that is…,” I ask “have you done it reliably and successfully at that scale?” Invariably the answer is “no.”

I take you seriously because you don’t turn economics into a kind of religious apologetics. You get the praxis in praxeological. You get the difference between practical and technical knowledge. You bend over backwards to tell the truth. That makes you better. Better than some of your supporters, even.

Justin Kraus September 24, 2009 at 10:08 am

It is certainly impossible to step outside of our doors in the morning and not live a contradictory life. No one lives up to their principles and everyone must draw a pragmatic line somewhere. However Don, for what its worth (and thats not much) I think you should move to one of those private universities with bigger salaries and less contradictions. I am currently doing my PhD part-time and under my own funding precisely because I refuse to be part of an educational system that I find unacceptable. I am not without contradictions, my supervisor is at a university in Norway (I myself, an American, am doing research in South Korea), which does not charge tuition. However I must say the freedom I have gained by not seeking out scholarships or funds is unparalleled in comparison to friends of mine who are also doing their PhDs by means of begging to the usual patrons. While they are stuck teaching undergraduate classes and researching for their supervisors, I am out in the field full-time running down any interesting phenomenon that I come across. As a professor your situation is different than my own so I cannot imagine what chains (if any) accompany your subservience to a system with which you fundamentally disagree but my hunch is that they do exist. Am I wrong?

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 10:22 am

Great article. I don’t think I’ve ever leveled this criticism against you – and I know I wince when I see other people do it. I think it’s a cheap shot – largely for the reasons you talk about here. But at the same time, the fact that I don’t think it’s a valid criticism doesn’t mean I think it’s an entirely consistent position (and my impression is you don’t think so either – which is fine. We all hold inconsistent positions to some extent. Only the best of us acknowledge it).What I’m most concerned about is that this same critical line of thought often gets lobbed at other government employees. You’re willing to compromise on this because you see what GMU is doing as a good thing. For the record, I do too – I like the diversity of opinion. But a lot of people don’t like it. I’m curious how you would respond, not to someone that says “you’re a hypocrite” – that’s easy to address and I think you’ve done it well here – not to that, but to someone who says “I don’t think my tax dollars should be supporting the kind of economics that you teach”. Your “I’m willing to make this particular compromise” is valid as a reason for why you can live with working there. It seems to me to be far less valid to answer the more general question of applying your own logic to your department – whether the department itself should be the way it is.

Randy September 24, 2009 at 1:37 pm

DKuehn,

Interesting point, but turn it around. How would you respond to anyone who complained about the way their tax dollars were being spent? You’d tell them they are represented and beyond that they don’t have any say in the matter, right? To which they would question the logic of “representation” – point out that government is, very often, “they”, not “we”.

I mention this because I think the split is important. That is, I don’t think taking money from the political class is the same as taking money from my neighbors. With the split in place, from the perspective of us and them, the situation is that the political class steals money from me and my neighbors, and then I steal some of it back – and I encourage my neighbors to do the same.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Well for one thing I’m not the one suggesting that there is a problem with taxation for public purposes. So if someone were to turn it around on me there would be no inconsistency (granted, I work for a private firm – not a public institution).

It’s not simply that they’re represented – there are other protections in place about the use of the money that their representatives decide to collect for public purposes. The Constitution is a limiting document, not a blank check. But besides that, your argument hinges on the idea that there is a “political class” distinct from the people. Yes there is a class of people that manages the government. But the power of the state itself is a “we” not a “they”. You present the situation as a Robin Hood scenario because you imagine a Prince John where there is none. You think you are stealing back from the political classes, when I would simply assert that that would be stealing from my neighbors. Not that Don is stealing from my neighbors. I think he holds a legitimate position in a legitimate institution deserving of public support.

Randy September 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Daniel,

“The Constitution is a limiting document, not a blank check.”

The Constitution is no longer in effect, and the Progressive political class has written itself many trillions of dollars worth of checks.

“But the power of the state itself is a “we” not a “they”.

Correct in that the state is an organization designed to collect rent and so the political class that controls the state is certainly a “we”. But, not being a member of the political class, why would I define a group that takes my earnings against my will as a “we”? Certainly the political class wants me to believe that I am a member, but it is clearly not true.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Huh? If you’re not a member of a political class than it’s not a “we” it’s a “they”. My point is, while some political class may act as an agent of the people, it is the people that tax themselves and the people that appropriate that revenue for different purposes.

You’d like to think you would be stealing from a “they” but you’re not. The “they” just manages the day to day business… and sometimes they do so irresponsibly. But you’re stealing money from the “we” and it’s “we” who decide what to do with it (regardless of whether or not that decision is unanimous), not some “they” political class.

BoscoH September 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

not to that, but to someone who says “I don’t think my tax dollars should be supporting the kind of economics that you teach”.

If that someone is sincere, then she is on the same team as Don! But I’m guessing you don’t really believe she is sincere.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Why in the world would I assume they weren’t sincere?

I’m not sure what Don would say, that’s what I’m curious about. There is CLEARLY an inconsistency. Don recognizes it, and he even considers the “why aren’t you a hypocrite” question “reasonable” (in his words). But he answers the very easy version of the question – why he can live with himself. I’m just curious how he would respond to the harder version – where he is not the “hypocrite” (I use quotes because like I said, I don’t like people calling him that). He’s not just the “hypocrite”, he is the agent of the state in it’s coercive act.

BoscoH September 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm

OK, Daniel. She’s either insincere or doesn’t have all her marbles. I was being kind. Asking that to Don would be like asking Tyrell Owens why he isn’t in shape. It’s an invalid question, bordering on ironic if the questioner had the brains to intend it. Let me spell it out for you… If she disagrees that strongly with Don’s economics, then she’s probably a strong proponent of state funding of everything. So the bigger inconsistency is on her side, not Don’s. In set theoretic terms, “free market nutbaggery” is a subset of “everything”.

Now, let’s say she is a thoughtful statist and objects to Don because his views undermine her vision of the state (far more likely). That’s when it would be more convenient for Don to work for “FU” rather “GMU” :-) .

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 3:43 pm

What’s wrong with that question, BoscoH?Don’t assume: “If she disagrees that strongly with Don’s economics, then she’s probably a strong proponent of state funding of everything”There’s a lot about the Austrian program at GMU not to like, from it’s theory of the business cycle to Praxeaology which I believe they actually offer a class in. I think most people have liberal sensibilities when it comes to education, so hopefully no one would pose that question in real life. But there’s a lot of people that see the Austrian school as voodoo, and it’s conceivable they might pose such a question to Don even if they aren’t a “strong proponent of state funding of everything”, as you say.Besides, it’s not like Mason is the only economics program that is a proponent of the free market! What’s unique about Mason is how they get to that answer.

BoscoH September 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Don, you give the introspective view of this. It’s also worth considering the view from the outside. The hypocrisy critique is simple on its face. You can’t be against government because you are a beneficiary. But what business is it of the critic? He wouldn’t butt in and tell you what kind of car to drive or how many plies your toilet paper should be or what kind of light bulb you should be using, would he? Well, of course he would, because our critic is more informed and enlightened than you. Maybe he wouldn’t tell you what religion you should join (or not) or to whom you should be married. Most of our proverbial critics would give you those because they believe themselves sufficiently enlightened.

I’m sure our critic would never own a slave, and would probably cringe at any intellectual discussion that didn’t treat slavery as an absolute wrong. Examining the economics of slavery, or identifying beneficiaries who were the same race as the slaves is slippery slope material to our critic, would we all agree? I think we can safely conclude that our critic would be horrified at the prospect of you selling an extra kidney or your heirs parting out your organs for their financial gain upon your demise.

Could we safely assume that your critic would make snide remarks about you selling out to a corporation if you worked for one and did its bidding as a management level employee? I think so.

So, punchline, why does the critic expect you to align your ideas and principles to the state because you work for the state? It should be clear who the intolerant and hypocritical actor in this scenario is.

Guest September 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

The charge of hypocrisy is absurd. It’s an argument against conscientious objection. By their reasoning, would not all whistle blowers be called hypocrites? After all, whistle blowers work for the very institutions they decry…

Justin Kraus September 24, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Defending hypocrisy is not the way to go with this problem. Don is a hypocrite. So am I and so are most libertarians to the extent that they take benefits from a government with which they profoundly disagree. BUT that need not mean we all run away to some deserted island. It just means we need to recognize that all our lives, no matter what ideological positions we hold, are full of contradictions which we all must contend with as best we can. Doing so allows us to be more sophisticated in the way we understand the world, is more honest, and engenders a useful humility that discourages ideological arrogance.

Nate September 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm

That was an excellent article and very helpful to me.

Do you worry that the incentives of your workplace do not offer you the best possible environment for developing and maintaining your character? I work for a non-profit organization that is primarily funded by the U.S. government. I very much enjoy what I do and am always impressed by what we are able to achieve but I can also see that the funding structure provides what I consider to be perverse incentives and I fear it hinders my development in subtle, imperceptible ways with regards to both my skill and my work ethic. Sometimes I feel like looking for a less exciting job where I’m more accountable to individuals paying me out of their own pocket.

Randy September 24, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Daniel,

“…it is the people that tax themselves and the people that appropriate that revenue for different purposes…”

And my point is that there is no such thing as “the people”. There is a political class that collects rent and a class of everyone else who pays rent, and all the rest is propaganda. It has never been otherwise, and it never will be.

BoscoH September 24, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Oh, I get it now. She’s the professor living in a glass house. Don should ask her for eye bleach.

Daniel, it’s just not a great example. You get a B for trying.

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 11:11 am

RE: “That is utter bunk. HE HAS A CHOICE about what is the best way to advance his values with the world in which he finds himself. He has determined that working at George Mason does that, and he has good reasons for thinking so.”

Right… and he has a choice to get in bed with the enemy in order to do what is right, and as you say here – HE MADE THAT CHOICE.

Don’t get too defensive – I’m not saying Don made the wrong choice. I’m just saying we shouldn’t pretend there are no inconsistencies involved. You can make the right choice and still be inconsistent.

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 5:08 pm

“You can make the right choice and still be inconsistent.”

Only if your standard of “right” is irrational. And a standard which says you must exculpate yourself from an inescapable situation is irrational. A standard which leads you to sacrifice your values for an impossible standard is irrational.

“he has a choice to get in bed with the enemy in order to do what is right, and as you say here – HE MADE THAT CHOICE.”

He certainly DOES NOT have the choice to avoid the enemy–as I said in the post which you seem not to have read. So of course, he did not, and could not make that choice. Unless by “choice” you mean suicide. Perhaps you also think he has the choice to not “get in bed” with the Federal Reserve by choosing not to use Federal Reserve notes. Perhaps you think that to be right, he would need to do what he can to minimize his use of Federal Reserve notes and banks.

And of course your inconsistent standard is also self-destructive of the man and his values. If Don were to discard reason, and accept your standard, it would be to the advantage of his enemies. It is a standard designed to destroy the enemies of statism. As the state grows, the state’s opposition is forced to divert its energies trying to dodge all the tentacles of the state, and ultimately to concede that there is no place for them to fight back.

And so it is no surprise that you and others like you are the one’s urging him to accept this standard.

“Don’t get too defensive”

How is the usual frustration of unsuccessfully trying to get you to see the bleeding obvious “defensive”?

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm

RE: “Only if your standard of “right” is irrational.”

No, not only if your standard of “right” is irrational. You can make the right choice and be inconsistent if you place higher priority on certain values. Don places a higher priority on teaching a libertarian ethic than on avoiding all dependence on the state. In an imperfect world, these priorities help us make our decisions. Given those priorities it is right, it is rational, and it does incorporate some inconsistencies. Inconsistincies are part of life, vikingvista.

RE: “He certainly DOES NOT have the choice to avoid the enemy–as I said in the post which you seem not to have read.”

Of course he does. He could just choose not to teach. Or he could teach at the handful of colleges that don’t accept any federal aid. They’re out there. But he doesn’t because he places strong priority on being productive in his teaching – which I think is very laudable. GMU is a neat place. It’s the rare institution that doesn’t figure prominently in the community of economics departments, but because of the deliberate way the faculty has been crafted it makes a huge and disproportionate impact in certain sub-fields and certain media (blogging and popular economics education, for example). It’s a fine choice – but it’s not the only choice he had.

RE: “Unless by “choice” you mean suicide. ”

Wow… pretty melodramatic, don’t you think? In the very worst case scenario he could just not teach. But even if he wants to teach there are options. Or he could be a research fellow at a place like the Mises Institute, which would still afford him lots of opportunities to talk to students.

RE: “And so it is no surprise that you and others like you are the one’s urging him to accept this standard.”

Hahaha – how many times do I have to tell you I think he made the right choice? It’s not about being irrational. It’s about having priorities. Everybody has priorities. But keep on thinking this is a grand morality play between statists and libertarians.

RE: “How is the usual frustration of unsuccessfully trying to get you to see the bleeding obvious “defensive”?”

I meant defensive of Don. Which again is an admirable impulse. But he’s a big boy. I think he can take being told that he made the right choice, that it’s wrong for people to criticize him for making that choice, but that it involves some inconsistencies. I’m concerned that you think this is “bleeding obvious”. Don’t you have situations where two values you hold conflict sometimes? How do you make those decisions? By just pretending that they don’t conflict, or by accepting that you have to prioritize your values?

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 8:10 pm

“But he’s a big boy.”

The one thing in all that you have written that makes any sense; and a good enough reason for me to stop. I’m sure my disappointment is of no concern to him.

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Awww, too bad. Calling it quits before answering this?:

“Don’t you have situations where two values you hold conflict sometimes? How do you make those decisions? By just pretending that they don’t conflict, or by accepting that you have to prioritize your values?”

Anonymous September 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm

“Don’t you have situations where two values you hold conflict sometimes? How do you make those decisions? By just pretending that they don’t conflict, or by accepting that you have to prioritize your values?”

Conflicting values? Never. Do I need to prioritize values? Of course. All that means is that I value some things more than others, and can’t have everything I might want. Choosing a preferred value is not compromising values, nor does it ever involve inconsistencies. Nor do I ever value the impossible or irrational. I know what I value most, so my decisions regarding my highest values require no self-doubt.

In Don’s case, the value is the promotion of liberty. His decisions are made to that end, without regard to the incomprehensibly complex widespread state intrusions that exist in the world in which he must live. It is irrational for him to value the impossible navigation of those intrusions at the expense of his higher value–a higher value which is more likely to reduce those intrusions and make them navigable in the future.

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