More on Why I’m not a Libertarian — Or, When Belief in “the Market” is just risible, sad, and disgusting

1. Sitting in peculiarly busy traffic in downtown Baltimore this afternoon, I read, on the news monitor wrapped around a trashily modern glass building, a headline from the Baltimore Sun that informed me that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has proposed a bill to create a new government agency “that could stop lenders from offering mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers.”

Now, first, I’m wholly uncomfortable with adding yet another resources-sucking, power-grabbing, liberty-quashing entity to the behemoth known as the gummint. I love the ultimate sentence of the article: “Consumer protection is part of the Fed’s mandate, but Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agency has been “asleep at the switch.”” So our answer is more gummint. Hmm, yep, I do agree with the libertarians here

However, the libertarian counter-argument, which, I confess, immediately flashed through my mind whilst I waited to move ahead in traffic, is equally absurd, to wit, that the market — properly unencumbered, of course — is the check on “mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers” and a whole host of other yucky things. When corporations become as gargantuan as many of those at the center of our current economic perturbations are, they really exist beyond the controls of the market — sometimes because of the intervention of government, sometimes because they’re just “too good.” They’ve done so well that they outpace competitors to the point that no natural regulation hinders them. At this point, they fall asleep at the wheel, so to speak. Viva Distributism! Long live the small!

2. Though not a libertarian, I’m often sympathetic to many of their causes, I supported Dr. Paul quite passionately, I think that Young Americans for Liberty are doing some great work, and I wrote for the debut issue of Young American Revolution — as part of the conservative contingent of their Old Right coalition, of course. This post, regarding President Moloch’s desire to “shield” science from politics, on YAL’s Web-log, however, utterly terrifies me. Chet Butterworth writes,

Tabling the ethics of human embryo research for the moment, the only ethical way for any scientific decisions to be made is by the market. The market is unbiased and efficient. The market can determine the worthiness of the research and if it considers it worthy the market can produce it better. Through the market the only people who want stem cell research and do not care about any human embryo ethical questions pay. While people like myself do not.

One of the problems admitted by economic theory is the absence of perfect information. Sarah Palin rightly took flack for her brushing off of fruit fly research whilst on the campaign trail. (I’m not interested in debating the merits of such research here; rather, I seek merely to note that she obviously made her comment with no knowledge of why this research occurs.) If the lack of perfect knowledge is even remotely problematic in matters of everyday economic transactions, are we really willing to leave scientific research — the benefits of which often remain unknown until long into the processes — to the whims of people who lack any and all awareness of, let alone training and education in, particle physics, molecular biology, or gene therapy. (Yes, that’s my uncle in the Telegraph.) Maybe it hurts my “libertarian street cred,” but I’d rather have a living uncle than a realm of scientific research guided by the invisible hand.

The market is a good thing. But it’s also a tool of relativism. Matters of life and death seem, to me, to be beyond the very mere matters of supply and demand.

Elsewhere: Mark minces no words.


G.F. Will, Michael Pollan, and Tom Vilsack: “Do No Harm”

George F. Will has a nice column in today’s Post about American agriculture policy, Michael Pollan’s warnings in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and the ascent of Iowa’s Tom Vilsack to the Department of Agriculture.

WASHINGTON — Tom Vilsack, Iowa’s former governor, calls his “the most important department in government,” noting that the Agriculture Department serves education through school nutrition programs and serves diplomacy by trying to wean Afghanistan from a poppy-based (meaning heroin-based) economy. But Vilsack’s department matters most because of the health costs of the American diet. If Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics and, in a sense, Iowa.


Vilsack’s department is entwined with the food industry that produces a food supply unhealthily simplified by the dominance of a few staples such as corn. This diet, Pollan says, has made many Americans both overfed and undernourished.

Hippocrates enjoined doctors: “Do no harm.” He also said something germane to a nation that is harming itself with its knives and forks: “Let food be thy medicine.” That should be carved in stone over the entrance to Vilsack’s very important department.

Will is hardly a “crunchy” conservative or ardent localist, but his willingness to look beyond the mainstream of conservatism, to embrace policies and ideas that simply make sense, and have roots reaching deeper than Reagan, is always appreciated, and I’m quite happy to see as widely read and respected a national conservative columnist as he spreading this message.

More Culture11 goodness!

Joe Carter offers a thoughtful, lucid, important disagreement with Mr Suderman’s post on the GOP’s platform plank respective stem-cell research.

First of all, there is no real need for embryo-destructive research. Last November, scientists discovered how to create embryonic-type stem cells that can be produced directly from ordinary human skin cells, without first creating or destroying human embryos.

[ . . . ]

Second, if corporations asked the government (or even private investors) to fund research into hydrogen-fueled cars by over-hyping their potential while denigrating the alternatives (i.e., electric cars), the watchdogs in the media would be writing Pulitzer-winning exposes. Yet embryonic stem cell research, which currently consists of bad science and even worse ethics, is given a pass. The hype and outright dishonesty surrounding the support of this research instead of adult stem cell research is scandalous . . . .

Boy-howdy, I love Culture11!

Prognosis dire, Novak retires

May the Lord protect and keep him.

Slaughtering cows, messing with a good thing, rather than encouraging personal responsibility

First, allow me to make some-thing perfectly clear: I love meat. I generally eat it five, if not six, days weekly (I have taken up the penance of fasting there-from on Fridays.), usually in the form of steak. However, I sympathize, completely, with the culinarily conservative, earth-friendly, crunchy attitude toward raising (rather than manufacturing) natural, organic meat (even if my buying habits rarely, presently, reflect this). Not only do I dis-dain factory farming practices; I, also, have a problem with wasting food, because I love food, sicken a bit at the thought of an animal’s dying, only for its death to be de-meaned in such a sad way, and recognize that food that could be feeding the millions, if not billions, of severely hungry and starving people across the world, ends up in a land-fill some-where. Finally, I rather loathe the nanny state and any attempts to curtail, say, health problems, that rely on methods other than encouraging personal responsibility.

All of this being so, that this article in to-day’s Washington Post frustrates me ought not to surprise the reader.

LA PLATA, Argentina — The quest for the perfect hamburger, as any ambitious barbecuer knows, is an exact science. And science is all about trial and error.

“How many hamburgers have we made?” says Noemi Zaritzky, head of Argentina’s Center for Research and Development in Food Cryotechnology. “In total, you mean?”

She’s stumped. . .

[. . .]

They explain the basics: 40 hamburgers for each formulation. Hundreds of formulations to test microbiological reactions, oxidation, texture, taste . . .

“A lot of burgers,” summarizes Silvina Andrés, a biochemist who helped lead the project.

The result is a lean beef burger that is low-fat, low-sodium and juicy, without saturated fat, and that tastes — according to limited consumer tests — as though it probably shouldn’t be good for you.

Essentially, what the scientists have done is take the beef fat out of the meat and replace it with a combination of substitutes less likely to clog arteries. Those substitutes include high oleic sunflower oil and fats from seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which many studies suggest benefit cardiovascular health. They also added phytosterols to the mix — a byproduct of soybeans that can lower the body’s cholesterol absorption.

[. . .]

The average Argentine in 2006 consumed more than 140 pounds of beef, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. None of the other nationalities studied consumed even half that amount, with the exception of Americans, who consumed an average of 97 pounds.

Argentines have one of the highest levels of heart disease in the world, according to the American Heart Association.

[. . .]

In a boxy building about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, more than 100 researchers in white coats mill around test tubes, big-bellied flasks and centrifuges, working on food-related science projects that are funded in part by the Argentine government.

Really, why not tell Argentines to eat less hamburger and to exercise more, stop wasting their tax dollars, stop messing with this delicious, perfect every-man’s cut of meat, and halt the need-less slaughter of the number of cows sufficient to supply forty hamburgers for each of hundreds of formulations? Long live paternalism, eh?

So help me God, if I have children someday, my wife and I will raise them ourselves

We won’t let someone else.

Simultaneously awesome and sad

Introducing the Manatees. Seriously, this is awesome. But it really troubles me; we need to be discouraging, rather than encouraging, obesity. I love baseball and, despite the scandals of recent years, look forward to another year of heartbreak: Eamus Catuli!.