Help me win arguments with libertarians
November 12, 2012 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me win an argument with a libertarian: my friends are smart and libertarian and I am smart and a bleeding heart liberal (for example, I believe that if a government has the ability to provide health care to its citizens, it should do so). Give me short reads to help my arguments.

Two very good friends of mine are libertarians, and we had our first heavy political discussion. The heart of our differences is that I believe that a functioning government should take steps to improve the day-to-day lives of its citizens, and they do not, either because the government cannot do so in practice or because that view of government is incompatible with freedom and personal liberty. I sense that they also believe in an originalist view of the constitution, but we saved that argument for another day.

Where can I read up on things that will help me bolster my arguments on issues like "health care for all is a good thing" and "if the government does not provide a safety net, private charity will not pick up the slack." I'm not going to read through an entire text book -- cogent MetaFilter posts, blog posts, or other quick reads are preferred.
posted by craven_morhead to Law & Government (50 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Critiques of Libertarianism has a bunch of short articles.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:55 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the crux of it from a libertarian standpoint is whether emergency care should be provided without reference to the patient's ability to pay. If they think that hospitals can be "forced" to provide that kind of care to people, then the simple next step is to look at whether that system is efficient or whether the stitch in time, so to speak, of prophylactic treatment before a patient gets to the emergency room is economically efficient or not. (Hint: in large part, it is.)

If, however, your friends want to live in a society where hospitals can turn bleeding people away who have failed a credit check, then ultimately you don't have a lot of room to agree about what society should look like on this issue.
posted by gauche at 12:55 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is one of my favorite articles about the Canadian healthcare system and how it benefits all of society, including making good business sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2012

I am a Libertarian, and I want to try and help you answer your question... but R. Bunny, I take exception to your characterization. I do not want to turn this into a debate, but being a L doesn't mean at all that you don't believe in charity. The reasons for even being a L vary from person to person. My standpoint is, I could give so much more to charity than I already do if I didn't have a government inefficiently trying to do it for me.

As to the OP's question, why try to win anything? Discuss and present cogent ideas, but don't try to win anything, because it's so subjective and besides... how will you ever be proven right? Are you running for president? Libertarians are open-minded by nature (most of us anyway). You'd be surprised what a good, well-researched opinion will do.
posted by brownrd at 12:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding RB. This is arguing religion, you can never win...unless you're presenting in front of disinterested third parties.

I think the strongest argument to be had for things like universal health care is that in many "socialized" countries, the day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year expenses of the average person are roughly the same (from what I've read, no citations at hand readily) as those of the average middle-class or upper-middle-class person here in the states. What they pay in slightly higher taxes they more than make up for in savings that here in the states goes to private parties. However, their societies also gain a safety net for the least fortunate as well as protecting that same middle-class from catastrophic expenses, like an uncovered medical condition.
posted by maxwelton at 12:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your goal is to somehow WIN an argument with a libertarian friend it might in the long run simply be easier to either not argue about politics with them at all, or to get new friends. It is unusual for zealots to be swayed by logic.
posted by elizardbits at 12:59 PM on November 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

I have once won an argument with a libertarian...only ONCE (out of...dozens of hours-long, pointless arguments) and it made the person break down into tears and admit a lot of very heavy personal circumstances leading to their worldview. Does that sound like fun to you? Because it wasn't. It was a fucking nightmare.

My advice is just say to your friends, "You believe in a world where people mind their own, I believe in a world where we all help each other" or something like that and then leave it alone, seriously.

Brought to you by the Society For Just Fucking Leave It Alone Seriously
posted by SassHat at 1:03 PM on November 12, 2012 [29 favorites]

Logic is not the issue, persuading someone of the moral bankruptcy of their position is.
posted by thelonius at 1:04 PM on November 12, 2012

Mod note: Comment removed; try and be more constructive if you want to contribute productively to this as an AskMe thread rather than a soapbox.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:04 PM on November 12, 2012

If they are persuadable, your best tack would be to show examples of where socialized medicine has been implemented without significantly increasing costs or degrading access to healthcare. The central tenet of non-religious libertarianism is that government tends to screw up the things it tries to fix, which can be argued against with data showing government not screwing up.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, this is equivalent to a religious disagreement. You might be able to understand their chain of reasoning, and even agree than B follows from A, and C follows from B (and they likewise with you), but you will disagree on the things you take as axiomatic.

Barney Frank once said something like "Government is how we do things together." I thought this was brilliant—unpretentious, insightful, and clarifying. Underneath that is the idea that government is "us." I think your libertarian friends probably feel that government is "them," and a whole host of consequences shake out of that basic difference.
posted by adamrice at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Though it may be a bit of an odd choice, I'd suggest (as I would to basically anyone/everyone on the left of the political spectrum) reading Deer Hunting With Jesus. While not all of it may apply to your Libertarian friends, insofar as Libertarians tend to be Republicans with college educations, it might give you some insight into why your views don't resonate as well with them as you think they should.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm also in the camp of "don't bother". People will believe what that choose to and until that creates sufficient conflict with me or mine, I don't engage.

Anecdotal story: a close friend of mine was visiting her sister and her sister basically made her cry with badgering political arguments. The next time I was visiting her sister with my friend, in a vengeful mood I returned the favor. I cut up every logical fallacy and returned them with either facts or better crafted fallacies and didn't relent until she broke down in tears. And in the end I'm embarrassed at the result: both of them have emotional black eyes over politics and for what? So I could say I won? So I could get vengeance? Not worth it. The only positive outcome from this is that I just keep my mouth shut for the most part.

If people are firmly libertarian (or any other political or religious bent, for that matter), I find it better to just respond to bait with a non-committed "oh yeah?" or "no kidding?" or "I hadn't thought about it that way" and if I get asked a direct question I'll either redirect of respond with a slight laughing "you can't possibly be interested what I think."
posted by plinth at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are different types of libertarians. I'm assuming your friends are not social libertarians, who do believe in public goods, but are... um, strict/Randian libertarians? (I'm nto sure of the terminology here.) I know a few people like that and it's almost impossible to argue with them logically, because (like almost anybody who truly has faith in some idea, possibly including you and your bleeding heart liberalism) their worldview validates their lives.

But the key thing that most Randian libertarians ignore is the eternality of transactions (e.g. greenhouse gasses, poor health of low income workers, etc.). They have a very simplified/naive view about the market cost/value of things. And it's actually very simple to see why some of the assumptions are flawed (though every model has flawed assumptions), but because it's tied to validating their lives, they will not want to change.

Tl;dr: It's not hard to logically persuade someone that libertarian (the Randian version) does not work in reality. But almost always you need to be able to persuade them emotionally, and that's either not the point of the discussion or too much hassle.
posted by ethidda at 1:17 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The article 'Going Dutch' by Russell Shorto from 2009, is a great starting point for a heated argument. It describes the role of the government in Dutch society. (Almost seems nostalgic, compared to the times we are facing with our fresh left/right coalition government.)
posted by ouke at 1:21 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: I was a libertarian until I figured out that not all people are equally intelligent. Too many libertarian ideas depend upon all humans being equally rational actors. Sorry, but not everyone is equally smart and makes rational decisions.

My primary question is, are you interested in winning an argument or are you interested in being right? These are not always the same thing. You don't necessarily need to be converted to libertarianism but maybe, just maybe, your friends might be able to change your mind on an issue or two. For example, there are some assumptions in, "I believe that a functioning government should take steps to improve the day-to-day lives of its citizens, and they do not." Maybe they believe that government improves day-to-day life by not interfering in their lives.

First, it always helps to see where you and your friends have common ground. Since they are libertarians and you are self-described as a "bleeding heart liberal", you probably have much common ground in social issues. For example, you could say, "I want government out of my bedroom" and they would likely say, "yes!". If you say, "my body is mine and government can keep its hands off" and they would probably say, "we rejoice that we are of one mind about that!" . In turn, your friends will say, "my money is mine and government can keep its hands off" and then you will say, "...".

Thus, their confusion. They do not understand why the principle behind "government out of my bedroom" or "government off my body" does not equally apply to their private financial transactions. Do you understand why you think the privacy concerns regarding abortions should not equally apply to financial matters? If not, you need to develop that logical progression and once you have done so, you need to be able to articulate those reasons. Your friends will ask you, and you will agree, that it would be wrong for you to stick a gun in their face and demand that they give their property to someone else. Their next question will be why should it then be permissible for government to do the same thing. Your job is to determine what your answer will be.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only time I've had productive arguments with libertarians that didn't end with both of us hating each other was when we took the opportunity to explain and clarify our own positions and not treat the other side like some sort of malicious idiot. This can be enlightening.

I've never managed to convince them of anything, unless it's to convince them that I might actually have a rational point to make.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be a libertarian and today I am in favor of socialized medicine. When I was a libertarian it was because I incorrectly presumed that everyone could make rational choices for themselves (and their families). I believed that it wasn't the job of government to make winners and losers.

I came around because it is empirically obvious that some fraction of society will not be rational and that the cost to society to let them slip through the cracks into abject poverty (you know, just deserts for their choices) is a greater cost than a safety net.
posted by dgran at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a libertarian, but I'll totally help you argue with libertarians in a safe/sane way, if only because these things can go horrifically bad otherwise.

Your best bet is to tackle the portion of the argument that is objectively provable. You say your friends think the government cannot do so in practice. If you believe that it can, that is probably your best point of entry. You are extremely unlikely to be able to win in a "moral/value" type discussion, because you're coming from different places. But things like "Can a government logistically do this" are things that can be argued.

When people argue politics from a values perspective - "this is bad for Liberty" "this is bad for Freedom" it is really hard a) for anyone to win, and b) for people to stay friends afterwards.
posted by corb at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I always win arguments with Libertarians by using facts. Brush up on some stats for tax rates in different countries,the cost of health care in the US vs potential life times savings for the median income (you can't pay for prolonged cancer treatment even if you used your entire life time earnings for it currently in the US unless you're in like the top 5% of earners).. stuff like that.

Nothing like cold hard math to win an argument.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2012

Critiques of Libertarianism Linked above does do things like referring to Ayn Rand as an "Ayatollah"

I know they are trying to be funny but much of it comes off as extremely dismissive.

Whenever I want to argue about politics (less and less these days) I find it most helpful to learn about my opponents point of view from a Pro or Neutral source. Rather than a source that will simply reinforce my beliefs. I suggest pro libertarian literature. I find it fascinating as it mirrors so much of the former left's anarchist roots. Lot of common ground there.

There are times when you will just have to agree to disagree because you are both smart well read people who have come to different positions. I normally would say this is an argument settled by voting....Unfortunately because you are extremely liberal and they are libertarian, neither of you really have anyone to vote for.
posted by French Fry at 1:33 PM on November 12, 2012

My husband is a Libertarian. His beliefs are rooted in his conviction that while the government can do these things, it is not its job. I doubt any amount of literature can sway him because it's not about who has the better argument. It's about a fundamental view of how government should work.
posted by Leezie at 1:36 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Start by recognizing your common ground. This site may be helpful for you: Bleeding Heart Libertarians.
posted by googly at 1:37 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Am I my brother's keeper?
Yes: the X family is suffering because they have lost their home. Society should help them. It is for the good of us all.
No. I am my own keeper. I am not responsible for the troubles of any one but my self and family.

Which society do you prefer...
On health care: life expectancy is dropping yearly in the US because we have poor health care system. If you have outstanding health care, does it much matter to you that so many in your town do not? Is that the society you prefer?
posted by Postroad at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For those of you recommending "don't bother," feel free to cut that out. Our first debate helped clarify my stance on a number of issues that are important to me, and I think it had the same effect on my friends. We can have these debates without putting our friendship in jeopardy and without calling each other dirty names. So, let's start from the premise that I want to bother.

Also, wanting to "win" may be a bit of an exaggeration. Let's move forward from the standpoint that I do not expect them to jump and say "THE SCALES HAVE FALLEN FROM MY EYES AND I CAN SEE AND I AM VOTING DEMOCRAT," but I'd like more ammunition to make them say "that's a good point, I never thought of it that way."

Thanks for your suggestions so far.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:41 PM on November 12, 2012

Many libertarians believe in natural property rights. The Myth of Ownership by Nagel and Murphy is an excellent rejoinder. It should demolish your friends' views on freedom and personal liberty. Property and money are societal constructs, so society can decide on a method of distribution.

One of the best responses to libertarians, I find, is to point out extreme inequality in starting positions. That baby who born in the ghetto? He didn't choose to be born there and denied opportunities. Why would we want to build a society that does not help babies in need? There are multiple things a libertarian might say in response, depending on the sort of libertarian they are. you need to see what direction your friends take. In any case, it's a good argumentative starting place.
posted by painquale at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: Libertarianism in a Nutshell by Stephen Frug
posted by goethean at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2012

If, however, your friends want to live in a society where hospitals can turn bleeding people away who have failed a credit check, then ultimately you don't have a lot of room to agree about what society should look like on this issue.

Well I think libertarians generally do want to live in a society where hospitals are allowed to choose who they treat.

But if you change it from "bleeding people" to "people with communicable diseases", then withholding treatment based on ability or willingness to pay creates a breeding ground for pathogens, which is very likely to harm some who are able and willing to pay for their own treatment. I think that discussion will go a lot further than one that basically boils down to whose ethics are right or wrong.
posted by aubilenon at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like more ammunition to make them say "that's a good point, I never thought of it that way."

Really, the best you can do with a libertarian is understand why the heck they believe what they believe and what their premises are. Odds are they already understand what you believe. I think they have thought of it "that way", and they reject it.
posted by deanc at 2:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are your friends libertarians, or propertarians? Ask your friends: should a person be allowed to sell themselves permanently in to slavery? If they say yes, then they are propertarians. This line of thought has a number of interesting consequences, namely, why shouldn't people be the property of their parents?

If your friends are not propertarians, then ask them which is the greater restriction on freedom: the State that prevents unfair dismissal, or the Corporation that requires you to submit to invasive sexual acts or be fired? Find out which is the better way to maximise freedom in a society, and why?
posted by kithrater at 2:40 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who has long identified as a libertarian but is now more of the bleeding-heart mold per googly's link, here are some questions you might ask and avenues you might pursue:

- What is the end of "freedom and personal liberty"? Human flourishing? Individual autonomy? Can you find some empirical evidence showing that limited or discrete forms of state intervention maximize those true ends more effectively than strict libertarianism?

- Do they believe in no state? A night-watchman state? Public systems of courts? What do they consider the relevant differences between the minimal aspects of government that they endorse and those that they decry? If taxation for a minimal state is legitimate to them, you may have found a toehold.

- What about the children? Cliche, but seriously, libertarianism presupposes autonomous, self-owning rational actors. Children, not so much. What forms of state intervention would they endorse to preserve the ability of underage persons to attain status as mature citizens?

- Do they care about non-governmental forms of coercion, such as systematic racism and sexism in civil society? History is not great on showing the power of the invisible hand to correct "irrational" discrimination.

- How do they deal with externalities and public goods?

Don't listen to the people who are telling you this is a lost cause or that you are essentially entering a religious debate. Many libertarians self-identify as people with a strong respect for science, data, and facts. You are most likely to succeed by showing them evidence for your position and being respectful of those premises where you have common ground. Minds can change: otherwise I'd still be listening to Objectivist radio programs.
posted by amber_dale at 2:44 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm interested in following this thread and am disappointed by the number of people advising OP not to debate with his libertarian friends, or to share their experience with how difficult it can be to debate with libertarians. The question was not "I am torn on whether or not I should debate with my friends - should I?" OP is very clearly looking for resources that support his left-leaning worldview.

With that, I highly recommend David Simon's Frank Porter Graham Lecture at UNC. It is essentially about the failures of raw, unencumbered capitalism, and how it's triumph over the laboring class - mixed with the political marginalization of socialist ideas, ideas about how we're all part of the same social compact - have made us all worth less as Americans.
posted by windbox at 2:46 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: How about trying to find common ground? You'll probably find something for everyone at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, which is currently running a seminar on left-libertarianism. Seeking evidence to support unjustified views you already hold is not really honest argument anyways. (I'm not accusing you—I do it, too!)
posted by ecmendenhall at 2:49 PM on November 12, 2012

Ask them if they've noticed that "The Great Fire of ..." isn't such a common expression these days. Ask them if they expect local fire halls to conduct bake sales or would they rather we give back funding of the fire departments to the insurance companies? Should we going to abolish the tyranny of municipal building/fire codes?

I've found that most libertarians won't feel like anything is going wrong as long as they themselves are doing ok and dead bodies aren't piled up in the streets like cordwood.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:06 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many libertarians self-identify as people with a strong respect for science, data, and facts.

Sure. That doesn't mean that they are. Most teenage Objectivists will say the same thing and most of us who were teenaged Objectivists probably think our teenaged selves needed to be kicked.

I think in order to have this debate you can't talk about health care specifically. You have to get down to fundamentals. Why is the role of a government? Why? Why can't it be less than that? Why can't it be more than that? Do you believe that this will lead to a society that is objectively better? By what measurement (if, for example, maximizing freedom is good, are we talking about the total freedom, average freedom, median freedom, maximizing the least free, minimizing differences of freedom between citizens, etc. And how do you measure freedom, anyway?)?

None of this is actually about health care, because I don't think you can have any sort of real discussion about it without clarifying where you are starting from.

To digress slightly, whenever I find myself in the position of talking about the US's health care system I always try to step back and say "Here are what I consider the problems to be. I want these fixed. Any solution that does not go a substantial way towards fixing these problems is, for me, a non-solution". There's no point in explaining why the free-market won't take care of the legions of uninsured people if you are talking to someone who doesn't think that that's a bad thing.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:10 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: Also, you should first figure out the terms of your disagreement. If your friends base their political beliefs on deeply held moral views about rights and coercion, arguing the finer points of universal healthcare or the welfare state just won't work. This is a big divide even among libertarians, and can make arguments very frustrating.

I was never totally convinced by the rights-based Mises-Rothbard-Rand view, but here are some ideas that moved me away from agreeing with many of its conclusions to something more like "liberaltarianism."

Robert Nozick's defense of the minimal state in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He argues that a minimal state can and will arise from voluntary agreements between individuals living in anarchy without violating anyone's rights.

Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan on the welfare state. Hayek supported a universal basic income. Friedman and Buchanan defended the social safety net.

Karl Popper. You can get pretty far by arguing that we just don't know what policies are best beyond the error-correcting institutions of the open society, and can only find out by trying lots of different things and correcting lots of mistakes. Of course, you have to be willing to admit that you don't know either.

Evolutionary economics. Impersonal exchange is really important, but so are cooperation and altruism. Most libertarians know this (it's the basis for defending mutual aid in place of the state), but are sometimes used to reflexively defending self-interest.

For less theoretical stuff, just about everything by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson.
posted by ecmendenhall at 5:13 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Another small clarification: I gave the health care example just to shed a bit of light on where I'm coming from, but so far the discourse has been much more fundamental -- we're not debating the finer points of how Obamacare should work; we're debating whether the government should have a role in health care, whether the department of education should exist, etc.

The suggestions of questions to ask in order to get to the root of their worldview (and mine, for that matter) are also helpful; feel free to keep those coming. Thanks.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:00 PM on November 12, 2012

After update: good root of worldview questions for both of you to start with:

Do you believe in the liberty to self-harm? If so, why? If not, why not?
Do you believe that the liberty of one individual can ever be curtailed for the good of another? If so, where do those limits fall?
Do you believe that inaction is the same as action? If so, why? If not, why not? This one is particularly key to a lot of beliefs - for many, the difference between, say, letting someone else die of starvation and killing them directly is enormous. For others, not so much.
Do you believe that people have the liberty to create privilege? Maintain it? Do you believe people have the right to exclude others? If so, why? If not, why not?
posted by corb at 6:23 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: I find this argument very persuasive. Richard Chappell at Philosophy, et cetera. has a number of good posts on libertarianism.
posted by painquale at 6:27 PM on November 12, 2012

I am a libertarian and spend a lot of time talking about politics, ethics, and morality with liberals and leftists. I don't know that outside reading is going to be extremely helpful at this point (although I second the recommendation of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog). I think it's probably more important to find out more about why your friends believe what they do, as several in the thread have suggested.

My own suggestions:

How much of your friends' beliefs are consequentialist (i.e. the belief that non-libertarian government interventions won't work in practice) and how much are deontological (i.e., the belief that even if the interventions "work" they are normatively bad?)

How do your friends resolve conflicts between the two. What if there were a non-libertarian program that worked in practice? Would it still be bad?

You might also ask your friends about whether there are any government programs they do support, and if so why?

And what about coercion by non-governmental actors? Labor unions? Corporations? Political parties? Parents?

Does it matter if any of the above are given special powers by the state?
posted by willbaude at 7:56 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Libertarians do not think government is how we do things together. They think it's how powerful people oppress others.

I have a good friend who is quite practiced at breaking down Libertarian arguments. One of his strategems is to look more closely at this. Libertarians fear concentrations of power because the powerful can then oppress others. But they make a serious mistake in only attending to public concentrations of power.

They fail to take into account that private concentrations of power are equally - no, more - threatening to individual freedom. Corporations, magnates and warlords offer you no vote and no representation, abide by law only inasmuch as we demand. The only power that can stand between, or up to, a global multinational - or a coalition of them - and protect individual interests is a government.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

When I've had this discussion with my libertarian-leaning friends I usually mention that the vast majority of reforms that have helped black people, gay people, and women have occurred at the federal level.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:01 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask them if they expect local fire halls to conduct bake sales or would they rather we give back funding of the fire departments to the insurance companies?

This is probably not a very compelling argument, as there are vast swaths of the US -- basically everything outside urban areas -- that are protected by small fire departments, many of which are funded in significant part by donations and other fund-raising activities (charitable gaming, in many cases). These places aren't miserable Bartertown-esque hellholes, by and large.

As objections to Libertarianism go that's not an especially strong one; it borders on being a softball, honestly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just popped in to say that the budget for the NYFD is $1.6 billion per year. That's a lot of donations and other fund-raising activities.

I'd ask how do you replace public agencies (like police and fire) that are privatized? If people can't pay, does their house burn down? If they pay insurance, how is that different from a tax? Are you going to fire are all of the former public employees (firemen) because they were part of the government? If you're not going to fire them, then why privatize them in the first place?

I just don't understand how the whole thing could possibly work. I'd ask for it to be explained to me.
posted by cnc at 4:02 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad was chief of a small town volunteer fire department and I guess I've always just assumed that in every other North American town, the operating costs came from municipal taxes, with big ticket expenditures supplemented by provincial (or state) contributions. I do remember lottery money going towards a new fire truck but that was a government run lottery. You're saying that in the states, there are fire departments funded largely by some kind of privately run charitable gaming? Where the government plays no role in the licensing and isn't responsible for the equitable and transparent distribution of the proceeds?
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:50 PM on November 13, 2012

Sorry for participating in derail. In many small towns the fire dept. is staffed partly or completely by volunteers and fundraising pays for some or all of equipment. Usually there are federal and state funds available for equipment and training as well, though, because it is pretty much still impossible to afford those things on voluntary donations and fundraising events.

As with all charitable fundraising in the US, the nonprofits who run the companies are accountable to the state and, if they run gaming, must abide by state gaming regulations.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on November 13, 2012

"Also, wanting to "win" may be a bit of an exaggeration. Let's move forward from the standpoint that I do not expect them to jump and say "THE SCALES HAVE FALLEN FROM MY EYES AND I CAN SEE AND I AM VOTING DEMOCRAT," but I'd like more ammunition to make them say "that's a good point, I never thought of it that way."

I would be totally honest and base explanations on my personal values: "I believe that a system of socialized medicine is preferable to a market-based system because it is unacceptable to me that people lose their homes because they lack insurance and have the misfortune to get a life threatening illness or into a serious accident without the foresight or means to save up in anticipation of such a thing happening. And I don't believe in that here in the greatest country in the world, we can't harness the power of American ingenuity to figure out how to make sure that doesn't happen anymore. We are better than this."

You probably won't change their minds, but that doesn't sound like your goal anyway. This might be food for thought for them, though.
posted by deliciae at 1:42 AM on November 14, 2012

They fail to take into account that private concentrations of power are equally - no, more - threatening to individual freedom.

I don't think that they fail to take it into account (at least, not the ones I've talked to), they just believe it can't happen.

There seems to be this assumption that the free market simply won't let private concentrations of power get that big and that you can always deal with (for example) companies with horrible businesses practices by taking your business elsewhere. Monopolies? Can't happen in a free market. They just can't. Lalalalalalalala I can't hear you.

They are polluting? That's a violation of your (or someone's) property rights. Take it up with the legal system. Sue them enough and they'll stop doing it.

As for warlords, well, what they are doing is illegal. Again, take it up with the legal system.

One of the puzzling aspects of US libertarianism seems to be an incredibly faith in the ability of the legal system to resolve almost any dispute (civil or ciminal) and right any wrong, while simultaneously believing that the government is incapable of doing anything right.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2012

One of the puzzling aspects of US libertarianism seems to be an incredibly faith in the ability of the legal system to resolve almost any dispute (civil or ciminal) and right any wrong, while simultaneously believing that the government is incapable of doing anything right.

And that that legal system won't be bought by corporate power.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on November 14, 2012

Response by poster: Argument/Discussion Round 2 went well; everybody is still friends. Most of it was spent ferriting out their distinction between "exerting force" on someone, which is bad, and plain 'ol "affecting" them, which is beyond the proper reach of the government. They are not anarchists, and agree that it is good to have a government around to keep us from exerting force on each other, but that's about it. We also dug into natural rights for a while; the idea of property tainted by the original use of force had them chewing on that issue for a while. Good times were had by all.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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