Matt Bruenig Uses Advanced Name Calling (Framing) Against Conservatives

Matt has used liberal framing to categorize three different conservative argumentative techniques. Effectively, it’s an elaborate game of name calling. And nothing more.

Instead, he ignores all of history, all of the development of thought in philosophy, law, and government in order to reduce his argument to one of simplistic ideology and emotions. Which makes no sense, in particular, because conservatives if anything, are driven by history and use it in daily life — rather than relying on liberal’s primitive animalistic liberal approval and disapproval cues.

The dispute between conservatives and liberals can be summarized in this quote from Matt:

The only reason someone does not have enough money to support a child is because of government policies to enact a certain kind of economy. You have to first argue why those policies should be the policies we choose. You never do that. You just assume that the default policy set is a marginal productivity policy set. But that’s not the default set. It is 1 among 100 other policy sets. You still fail to put forward an argument for that set.

Thats the whole problem isn’t it? But a) CAN an economy accomplish this (Looks like no. Not over more than a few generations.) b) Will a society capable of doing so persist (looks like no, and it also looks like the reason that all other urbanized civilizations have died) c) therefore why should those of us who are productive support the breeding of those who are unproductive?

It’s a simple question. Why is it that one person has more right to bear children than another person has the right to consume the product of his efforts? This is the fundamental problem between the frameworks. There is no other point of reasoning.

And any other approach is dishonest.

Especially ‘name calling’.

His full article is included at the bottom of this post. (With a few other comments from others thrown in.)

A desert is a place without water, and lots of sand. A dessert is a thing you eat after dinner. 🙂 Your ‘just desserts’ are what you achieve based upon your character and your labor.

Conservatives seeks to concentrate capital in the hands of those who will best innovate with it. Since innovation is the source of all prosperity, because innovation causes the decrease in prices, and innovation requires the concentration of capital behind those best demonstrably able to innovate.

The argument is that less able, more impulsive, more hedonistic people have higher (shorter) time preferences, and are unable or unwilling to delay gratification in order to achieve what conservatives have achieved. Why should a conservative do without, when he had to sacrifice to get something? Why should some people work harder and longer with more discipline than others if only to have to give it away?

The competing arguments are that instead of superior ability and discipline, conservatives have superior advantages. The problem is producing some data that supports it.

If instead, you want to say that we must accomodate the inferior, then the exchange must be that the inferior should not be allowed to breed in exchange for redistribution.

Why should you have what another person has? Why should he do with less, and have less to experiment with, because the proles feel privileged to reproduce like cockroaches?

It’s not a complicated argument.

all a conservative asks, is ‘what will you give me in exchange’. A progressive asks is ‘give it to me without anything in exchange.’

We have made it culturally impolitic to state the inferiority of proletarians. But that does not mean we actually believe they are equal. Property is the only means by which we can have liberty. And liberty is incompatible with equality. Because we are marginally indifferent. We are unequal in ability. And for every 15 points of IQ we are dramatically unequal in ability in the modern world. The superior are practically superior in every way, and as such, the produce more, and are of more value to society than the inferiors.

That we should have charity to the inferiors is not a question. The question is why we permit them to breed if they cannot support themselves.

Why should we sacrifice so that others can fulfill their wants without compensation in return?


In the end. The point I am making is that you’re correctly articulating EMOTIONAL REACTIONARY arguments but not the CAUSAL arguments that give rise to them. And I’m supplying them: Conservatism is a reaction to the status quo. The status quo conservatives feel affectation for is the aristocratic manorial system with classical liberal institutions. It is an agrarian system where there is little difference between most people that are not reducible to behavioral traits. It may or may not be applicable to the industrial era. We do not know. I have very little confidence in the progressive social democratic model (redistributive socialism) because a comparative analysis of world institutions across history demonstrates the uniqueness of the western model, and the unique ability of the western model to produce innovations that improve the quality of life of all human beings. The problem is, that that western model also includes an implicitly eugenic system. And I am not sure that we shouldn’t consider it carefully. Even if it offends our sensibilities.

THe world contains a finite set of resources after all. And our defeat of malthusian forces is a product of harnessing fossile fuels, not a product of our intellect.

I will take your second sentence to mean that I am correctly explaining what conservative philosophical frameworks actually say, but that you think there are other motivations beside the intellectual ones conservatives provide. My post is not trying to talk about what actually motivates conservatives. I know for instance, many self-identified conservatives are secretly (or not so secretly) motivated by racism for instance.

Nonetheless, these are the intellectual arguments they put forward. – Matt

(actually they’re a liberal FRAMING of the arguments put forward.)

Well, technically I’m saying you’re correctly categorizing three types of conservative arguments, but creating your own labels (framing) in order to obscure the underlying aristocratic (conservative) theory so that you can demonize it as an emotional and selfish rather than rational and social construct, and then claim that you’ve provided an insight simply by failing to use established terms. In other words you’re employing a ‘shifty argument’.

Those three categories have been historically discussed in the literature as:
1) Market Competition — instead of political competition
2) Rule of Law (evolving through common law) — rather than rule by political decree,
3) Meritocracy: Meritocratic Service Of Society Through The Voluntary Market — rather than political corruption by political decree.

You’re missing four more categories of argument:

4) Balance of Powers (competition between houses of government), and balance between ethical institutions (the church which teaches manners, ethics, morals and myths) and property institutions (the state which adjudicates disputes and ‘discovers’ laws ).

5) Institutional Balance of Class Powers (multiple houses as in the British and pre 1911 US model that allow classes to cooperate) (We artificially call this ‘enfranchisement’ or ‘suffrage’ today.)

6) Social innovation by adopting demonstrated success rather than political experimentation that externalizes failure. (ie: conservatism is scientific)

7) Property is an individual possession which we grant to the government to wisely use for the common good, versus property is communal and ‘lent out’ for utilitarian purposes to individuals for use in achieving the common good.

8) The nuclear family which creates the smallest possible collaborative economic unit for the purpose of raising children, while at the same time undermining both tribal and extended family ties and inbreeding. — (I missed this one, so it’s included here only as reference for the future.)

The conservative does not abandon the poor. He just does not support failure. We all need insurance. We do not need to support living an impulsive life at others expense. We understand that there are material differences in intellectual, emotional, and physical ability. And that all people should be protected from suffering through charity. But that does not mean we should desire equality of outcomes – in fact, that would be a perverse incentive.

It is true that conservatives like progressives resort to nonsense arguments. But there is nothing virtuous about either party in that regard. It might be argued that conservatives have been right about all the big questions since Burke invented Conservatism in response to the horrors and bloodshed of the French Revolution. It can also be argued that the privileged hide behind conservatism (slavery) when it suits them. But there is no way of arguing that the entire socialistic program was based upon faulty concepts of man and economics and have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

We are once again are proving conservatives right – that we are in the early stages of the abandonment of the ponzi scheme of the european welfare state. Just as conservatives have warned. Humans under capitalism do not breed in an ever expanding intergenerational pyramid.

So, no I do not think you’re honestly or correctly positioning the conservative argument. I think you’re conducting a dishonest argument through typical progressive framing. Nothing more.

Well done, Curt, you have revealed all conservatives as cold hearted Darwinists. You fool! That wasn’t to be revealed until NEXT DECADE! Seriously, though, Doolittle has DONE little other than feed a false stereotype. This makes me immediately suspicious of where his (if it is even a male) true intentions. The basic difference between conservatives and liberals involves immediate gratification, and is an emotion versus logic argument, which is why it will never end, but also never be resolved. – RTP

?? I’m all over the internet. I use my real name. I belong to two (three) libertarian organizations. I don’t hide or cower. Just use Google for goodness sake.

BTW: Aside from using an ad hominem, you are using amateurish language in your posting. The technical terminology in economics is “Time Preference”. The behavioral terminology is “Impulsiveness” or “impulsivity”. The psychological terminology is Gratification -delayed or instantaneous”. For background see Banfield’s “The Unheavenly City” and “The Unheavenly City Revisited”. See Fussell’s “Class” for fun. Banfield was the first (I think) to demonstrate that the urban poor were poor because they have a higher (shorter) time preference. We have since learned that they also have lower IQ’s. And conservatives have said for centuries, that the purpose of civic virtues is to compensate for lower IQ’s and to train the impulsive to have longer (lower) time preferences. We can see that the lower classes are abandoning the civic virtues. (Murray) We can see that not only have physical labors (farming) but now manufacturing and construction are disappearing as reliable means of obtaining an income, and that the lower classes are unable to learn the abstract tools and concepts which in turn is leading to the concentration of wealth in the more intelligent and better educated. We can see that as women enter the work force they are breeding less. We can see that the upper classes are forming a caste. And that the lower classes are forming at least one if not two castes.

The question is, what are we going to do about it? We can adopt the conservative strategy and encourage the impulsive to adopt virtues. Or we can adopt the progressive strategy to subsidize the impulsive and their overbreeding. (As the british have done.) One way we end up with a communal society. the other way we end up with castes.

Adam S.
i enjoyed this post and then Curt’s comment was the masterstroke that made me love the internet all over again

Thanks adam.
Although I will tell you that most conservative intellectuals do not play on blogs. They look for positions in think tanks and magazines (and conservatism is not a verbal system anyway). But my feeling is that magazines preach to the choir, and most conservative arguments are sentimental rather than rational. So I want to fix that. In any way that I can. And blogs are a good way to try.

I have been a social worker for 20 yrs. and can tell you not only from my clients and training but also from growing up in poverty – the dependency argument is false and only applies to the middle class, rich and the corporate world who receive many more and undeserved entitlements. – Maria

I don’t think the question is whether we need safety nets as a means of insuring each other against accidents. I think the question is whether you FEEL people have a right to breed children that they cannot afford to support.

There is no good reason we need more children in this world. So you FEEL people have that right, then that’s OK. But your feeling ends when someone else’s pocketbook becomes involved.

Of course the only fly in the ointment with your argument is that the proletarians produce everything. A proletarian drilled the oil to make the plastic that another proletarian made into the keyboard that that was delivered to your house by another proletarian that allowed you to type out this great admission of ignorance that you produced a week ago. The car you drive, the sidewalks you walk upon, the planes you fly in… all are produced by the working class. You don’t have a clue of a clue.

As far as equality goes the American founders placed it right alongside of liberty. Not because they thought all people had equal abilities but because all people, in order to have liberty, must be equals in the eyes of the law and the government that is based upon those laws. The billionaire and the street person, when dealing with the government must be treated equally, using the same rules and same procedures. In order to guarantee liberty the State has to be an impartial arbiter of justice, ignoring class, ignoring the inequality of achievement of individuals and dispensing justice equally to the rich and poor. – fishskicanoe

RE: Proletarians produce everything.
But this isn’t true is it? Look at world unemployment. Even in this recession, unemployment is almost an entirely proletarian problem.
Overpopulation. Energy consumption. Pollution. Peak oil. Social security. These are all proletarian problems. The upper classes (middle and up) are barely replacing themselves.

We all know this is what conservatives are thinking but its a tactical error to come out and say it! I will be using your comment to illustrate the real beliefs of conservatives to the people I know who support right wing parties. – GM

It’s not a tactical error. It’s the truth.
If you tell conservatives that the reason the aristocratic social model succeeded in producing the world we live in in part because it suppressed the birth rates of the lower classes and increased average IQ by doing so, and they’re offended by that, then you have a convert.

I mean, do we all wnat to argue in pseudo moralistic nonsensical terms forever? Or do we want to find a way to solve the issue?

All political differences come down to this one problem: the difference in male and female mating strategies, and the different social orders that the two strategies would favor compared to the OUTCOMES of the two strategies, and which OUTCOMES we would favor.

So, why is it that a woman has the right to bear children she cannot support, and afford to educate?

I think the world would be better off if we had honest discourse.

They cannot support their children because they do not have high enough incomes to do so. Why not? You say because they are not productive enough. Even if we somehow pretend that people are paid according to their marginal productivity, the whole line of analysis is still question-begging.

There is no fundamental rule of the universe that individual compensation must be what their productivity is. A system that distributes income on that basis is one invented by government policies. That still leaves the question then: Why adopt Policy Set X (that distributes income according to productivity) over Policy Set Y?

An intentional decision was made to implement one set of policies over another. The dispute is about which policy set to enact. All of your analysis proceeds on the question-begging assumption that Policy Set X is somehow the way things have to be. But they don’t. Your job is to actually give a justification for Policy Set X, not to just assume it exists and then talk about some of the impacts of it (for instance, that it creates such poverty among large swaths of the population that they do not have enough money to raise their kids).

That is a consequence of the decision to pick Policy Set X over Policy Set Y. It is not a consequence of the nature of the universe, but of government policy selection. You still need to make an argument *for* Policy Set X if you want to avoid question-begging. – Matt Bruenig

They cannot support their children because they are not productive enough to support their children. I do not need to make an argument why people are paid anything. The market proves it. People are paid for their value to others.

I’ve articulated the causal difference. That is, that conservatives want a meritocratic society based on performance and progressives want a society that is not. It’s not complicated.


I did not see these replies until running through my Google alerts today. So I apologize for the delayed response.

1) The conservative sentiment (it’s only a sentiment as it is poorly articulated, even by Kirk or Oakeshott) is in support of the aristocratic social order reinforced by the classical liberal institutional model. I am simply explaining that causal relation.

2) In the second paragraph you mention, I’m articulating it in utilitarian rather than moral language. But that utilitarianism is in effect the strategy embedded in the aristocratic model.

3) The solution I’m suggesting is to ask for exchanges, rather than become either reticent, or the victim of encroaching totalitarianism. We must ask for retention of freedoms in exchange for redistribution. I do not know why that is controversial.

4) Whether you agree that the underclasses should trade something in exchange for breeding children that they cannot support is simply a choice. Under the manorial system only the fit could obtain access to land. Without access to land, one could not produce, without production, one could not obtain a wife, without a wife, one could not breed (easily). The entire western cultural corpus is based upon this one unstated but obvious necessity: the need to obtain productive resources, to demonstrate your character in order to obtain them, and late marriage that allowed women to participate in the work force. (More than that. but that will do.) So, I am simply applying the concepts that were the source of our traditions to the current time period, and and articulating those concepts in current terms. CONSERVATISM IS BY DEFINITION SOCIAL DARWINISM in the sense that it is behaviorally meritocratic and genetically meritocratic. (Albiet the market is a lottery and it must be in order to function.) The weather and starvation now do not accomplish what they have in ages past. The point we have to deal with is that under the manorial system we have improved the ‘human capital’ both in classical and medieval times. Since 1850 it looks like we have reduced average european IQ by 5 points. In other words, we’ve taken european descendants from rough parity to ashkenazim and asians to 1/3 of a standard deviation lower. And why does this matter? It matters because the norms it is possible to instill in a population, and therefore the institutions it is possible for a population to operate under, are governed by the distribution of (verbal) IQ in a population. SO if you want your freedom, you have to respect certain realities – physical laws so to speak.

Nothing I’ve said here hasn’t been said before in one way or another. The problem is that we are still plagued by the Nazi memory instead of looking at the problem rationally.

I do not particularly care which solution we choose. I would prefer that we broke the country up into smaller nations with more similar cultural interests and continued with the american experiment.

But as a historian of aristocratic philosophy, I’m articulating in clearer language, WHY conservatives have these ideas — because they are a the habituated remnants of an historical strategy that was eminently successful compared to the three other global traditions. And furthermore, I’m articulating the concepts in conservatism as a defense by the upper classes against the lower classes. I’m acknowledging that societies are bi-modal, and I”m acknowledging that the two cultures that produced the industrial revolution (greece and england) were both aristocratic manorial cultures with a competition between multiple institutions rather than a central government.

And that is the secret to the west: the manorial system, competition, and a balance of powers. The fact that this system is NOT dysgenic may be an accident. But it worked.

Knowing that all other models have failed. What does one do?


The three big conservative philosophical frameworks

Conservatives are pretty shifty in arguments. One moment they appear to be concerned about the poor and how taxes will ultimately hurt them and kill their jobs. The other moment they seem to think the poor don’t deserve anything anyways. Most folks — no matter their political leanings — do not consciously think about the philosophical frameworks that the justifications for their opinions tend to fall in. Although rigid frameworks are probably a bit reductive, they can be useful tools to understand what exactly people are saying. The following three conservative philosophical frameworks can account for almost all of the conservative rhetoric and arguments out there these days. I offer them here to hopefully help those who want to understand and better analyze conservative justifications.

Utilitarian arguments used to be much more prominent among conservative political thinkers. Economists especially relied upon the idea of subjective utility and growth to argue that unrestrained free markets were the way to go. The way this argument works is probably familiar to most. Because low-tax, low-regulation markets generate economic growth while allowing individuals to choose for themselves what to purchase, utility is supposed to be ultimately maximized by conservative economic policies. Milton Friedman, probably the most famous libertarian of the 20th century, was the most prominent advocate of this way of thinking. When asked whether redistribution should be pursued, Friedman’s response was almost never about who deserved what income or the violence of taxation; instead, it was about how taxing the rich would ultimately hurt the poor, undermining the whole purpose of the project.

The closest resemblance to this kind of reasoning these days has to be the right-wing rhetoric surrounding “job creators.” Doing anything mildly redistributive through the government is claimed to reduce overall employment, thus hurting the poor. There is a lot to be said in response to this kind of viewpoint, and obviously I am not very moved by it. But for the purpose of this post, just note how the argument works. The problem with moves towards redistribution is not so much that it takes from the productive and gives to the parasites or that the process of redistributive taxation is intolerably forceful or aggressive. Instead, the problem is that it will reduce utility because of the negative economic impacts that follow.

While this framework is still around of course, conservatives — especially younger conservatives — have shifted away from it and towards other other philosophical approaches. It has its obvious flaws. The most glaring flaw is that comparatively speaking, strong social democratic countries appear to have generated the best overall utility of any political system implemented thus far. They serve as an empirical check on the idea that redistributive taxes and well-run universal state services are a drag on overall welfare. There are also of course more theoretical objections to the idea that redistribution is always somehow utility-destroying. After all, taking a dollar from a rich person and giving it to a poor person should almost always increase overall utility if done efficiently.

Procedural Justice
Conservatives who are a bit scared of making the utility argument — as they should be because it is probably the weakest one they have — often fall back on a procedural justice framework to justify their viewpoint. Procedural justice theories rely on the idea that a just economy and political system is one that follows just processes. So long as just processes are followed, whatever outcome that results is necessarily just. The conservative/libertarian thinkers most prominent in this camp are Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, and the super-bizarre internet sensation Stefan Molyneux.

The conservative procedural justice account can get pretty complicated at times, but most have probably run into the basic elements of it from time to time. The account emphasizes free exchange, free association, and voluntary agreements. Advocates of it drone on about self-ownership and non-aggression, two qualities that they think libertarian economic processes possess. When someone complains about their terribly low wages and work conditions, these are the guys who retort back “but you voluntarily agreed to work there didn’t you?” Taxation is called theft, aggression, and slavery because it is not consented to.

I think this account is probably the strangest one, mainly because as far as I can tell the 19th century anarchist philosophers successfully beat back all the libertarian procedural justice arguments that are now popping back up again. But without getting too involved in that whole discussion, I just hope here to emphasize the way the framework works. The procedural justice position is not concerned with utility and it is not concerned even with giving people what they deserve necessarily. It is only concerned with following just processes even if those processes result in widespread misery.

Desert Theory
Desert theory has to be the most American of the conservative political theories. It is at the root of the ideology of the American Dream. According to desert theory, we want to design the economy and political apparatus in a way that gives people what they deserve. What do they deserve? Well, conservative constructions of desert theory are generally based upon productivity: you should be paid equivalent to the amount of value you add to the economy.

The most famous proponent of desert theory among American conservatives is of course Ayn Rand. In her philosophy, the super-rich basically make everything in the world and they deserve everything they get and probably even more. Paul Ryan, the much-praised House Republican from Wisconsin, is reported to be a huge fan of Rand’s work, possibly explaining his atrocious budget plan which was clearly Rand-inspired.

The problems with this approach are numerous and the word “privilege” probably goes the furthest in counteracting this idea. One’s race, class, gender, family, and all sorts of other non-meritocratic things have enormous impacts on how well one does in life. Once this is conceded, the whole desert theory approach becomes very vacuous very fast. Nonetheless, the framework persists in one form or another. When people talk about welfare mothers living off the dole, they typically have in mind some sort of desert theory of justice. When they talk about how rich people work hard and how poor people are lazy, they typically have in mind a desert theory of justice. On the desert view, our aim should be giving people what they deserve from their hard work, not maximizing utility or necessarily following just processes.

As far as I can tell, these three frameworks encompass about 99% of what comes out of the mouths of conservatives in one form or another. Either they are concerned about utility, just processes, or just desert. Often of course, they jump from one to the other right in the middle of a discussion if they find themselves pinned down. But, now that you know these frameworks, you can at least identify when those jumps are happening and begin to better understand what exactly the conservatives are trying to get across when they argue.

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