Hopefully this can give you an idea on how to engage people in conversation. (See This
article of mine for my description of the Socratic Method)
Today a friend of a friend added me on Facebook and we started talking. At one point, she realized that "Oh God/you two are libertarians/libertarian bros".
I knew that she's a Social Democrat, so I decided to take her on. Here is our convo. While the results were inconclusive (since she bowed out after saying she was drunk), I think that it gives you an idea on what type of questions to ask when using the Socratic method.
Let's call her D
and me W
: So why are you a libertarian
the universe was formed with just the right conditions and right laws of physics for it to happen
I had no choice
Sad, isn't it
and it was destiny that we would chat
: You cannot out philosophize me
it was my wish to annoy [mutual friend]W
: so you think...
well, I'm a libertarian because I grew up anti-communist and becoming a libertarian was the logical thing for me to do
extending the logic
since then, I've read much more on the matter and have found that the evidence reinforced my views
now, we could talk about bias in selecting the evidence, but still
how about you - how did you decide to be whatever you consider yourself? (which would be....?)D
: I am a liberal, I guess
because I grew up in a very poor family
and I would not be here at college or have insurance if there was not government assistanceW
: liberal in what sense? Because there are liberals all over the place
and they're all differentD
I am a democrat
: well, that's obvious enough
since we're taking "liberal" in the modern American sense
but once again, Democrats come in all shapes and sizes
my interest is in what you think about the economy
about markets and regulation
about monetary policy (if you do even talk about it)
Of course, no easy answer like "smart regulation"
because I doubt anyone would say "dumb regulations" D
: Monetary policies do not really interest me
they figure into my political areas of interests, of course, but I care more about equality.W
: so "no" to monetary policy
how about markets and regulation?D
: I am for regulationsW
: well, of course
almost all people are
maybe I should have asked a more specific question
do you believe that some sort of mixed economy is in the best interest of the nation?
that is, market elements with government regulations to control the elements?D
W: So you believe that government regulations can be effective (at least in theory) in achieving the goal of egalitarianism?
that is, they work in the way that they were intended to work (if well-created)D
my question is - if the government controls are effective and egalitarian, why not do away with the market elements altogether and have full government control? After all, the market is volatile, unpredictable, and driven by greed
might as well slay the devil and just have efficient government rulesD
: Because power in just one person's hands, or a group of people's hands, is dangerous
W: the government is democratic, though
rule of the people
and we have checks and balancesD
Not really true
it is manipulable.W
but if we eliminate campaign donations by corporations
and limit them to sensible amounts by individuals
then we can achieve a more egalitarian, efficient outcome
plus, it's not like only one government official will have all the power
you create a bureaucracy with shared and competing powers
one section deals with transportation
another with food
: We eliminate campaign donors
then it is just people who can fund their own campaigns
which would still mean the rich of our society are rulingW
: or fund them publicly
give them all a certain amount of money
: So if all the stars aligned
then we would not need the things I am in favor of
is what this argument is coming down toW
: all the stars?
I'm not saying all the stars
I'm saying some very simple steps can be taken
the first being campaign finance reform
after that, simply have the government run the sectors of the economy
assuming that all the necessary bills were passed
and there were the political will to make it happen
that is, the Republicans were somehow magically submissiveD
: By your own sentiments
the government is democratic
and has checks and balances
so why hasn't this occurred yet?
Also wouldn't these reforms for campaign restrictions be against libertarian policy?
as it is restricting some aspect of the governmentW
: I'm discussing the matter within your own framework of thought
libertarian policy, in my opinion, does not care too much about campaign finance
that's another topic
I'm talking about your policies
as I said
assume that the government passed campaign finance reform
candidates are publicly funded, given airtime, equally, etc
elections are transparent
lawmakers create policy
bureaucrats flesh it out
and it gets enforced
so assume all that
do you think that the outcome would be efficient?
that is, would there be equality *and* prosperity?
(I say "and" because equality is all too easy to create - just take everyone's stuff and everyone's equal. The trick is to make everyone equally prosperous, not equally poor)D
: I do not know.
More people would be able to run for office, I guess.
but I feel it would still be dominated by the elite who have more access.
Elections are popularity contests.W
: wish it away
assume that when making choices there are no faces shown
no personal traits
policies passed through an agency that strips out exciting language
and just displays the policies
after all, that would be the optimal election, no?
I'm saying - given the best case scenario
do you think the government would be efficientD
: Philosophical thought experiments are all well and good
W: we have to perform them when deciding on policy
after all, we don't know the future
if the government can't behave even in this optimal, clinical setting I'm describing, then how can we believe it will perform outside of it?
so either you have to play by the rules and follow through on the thought experiment
or you have to give up on the hope of ever improving policy
because this whole conversation you've been giving me excellent reasons for why government *wouldn't* work
I can quote them
lack of democracy
lack of power of the small guy
too much access for the wealthyD
: I would like to talk about these perfect scenarios when they ariseW
: we have talked about issues that need to be fixed
and they need to be fixed before we can talk about the next step
and overall goal of less government intervention can be the goalW
: Hi Mr. RomneyD
: I do not think that is a fair comparison
I do not have binders full of womenW
: maybe you should get some
But once again, to get back on track
let me ask you another related question
you said that you think that having the government control everything would centralize power too much
the conclusion, then, is that introducing the market into the system actually decentralizes power
don't markets end up in monopolies?
and even if we regulate them, they still try to get as much power as possible *within* the regulations we set up
markets are greed - why would they decentralize power?D
: How did you end up at this conclusion from what I said
I believe there needs to be regulations in the market because people will abuse other people
and markets are made up of people
that is also why there needs to be an authority to make sure that people can fix their disputesW
: I asked: "why not do away with the market elements altogether and have full government control?"
You said: "power in just one person's hands, or a group of people's hands, is dangerous"
The necessary conclusion: "The market tends to (at least sometimes) *decentralize* power"
that is, to put power in the hands of more, rather than fewer peopleD
: I would rather have a full democracy
: rather than what
a mixed economy?D
: No I think we always need a mixed economyW
: going back to the previous question
you implied in your answer that markets can decentralize power
Your answer was that just government control would centralize power too much
the implication is that introducing some market elements decentralizes power
: You know I am drunk right?W
: I actually did not
your spelling was pretty good
[mutual friend]'s sucks atm
if you want, we can continue some other time D
: I do not think I am functioning well enough to go into this
I doubt I function well enough to get into it in the first place
Here is what my thinking was:
1) If government works so well at creating regulations, why not have full government control:
Case A: She replies "yeah, let's have total government control"
- My response: (Would have been as follows) - How can the government decide where to allocate resources?
Case B: She does not advocate total government control
- My response: Why can the government run part of the economy well, but not other parts? What is it that makes the market work? (and you really have to stress this - make your opponent
explain to you why markets work.) Why do they suddenly stop working at some point? And if the government can't control the rest of the economy well, why would it be able to control any part of the economy well?
2) In explaining why we shouldn't have total government control, she gave excellent examples of why government control (even in the best-case scenario) is bad.
My response: If the government is inefficient and corrupt even in the best case, why would it fare any better in the sub-optimal conditions that exist today?
3) At one point, she said that having the government control everything would centralize power too much.
My response: This implies that the market (to some extent) tends to decentralize power. But don't markets tend to monopolies (by your logic)? Aren't they run on greed? How can they decentralize power? (make them
answer this question, and then use their logic against their own argument). Why are they good at decentralizing power to some extent but bad at decentralizing it further?
These are the general ideas I had. In fact, this might not be a bad argumentation path for you to take with anyone you're talking with about libertarianism.
You might now wonder:
Why was my approach and my questioning correct (in my opinion)?
Notice that she knew I was a libertarian. Yet I didn't throw out a single libertarian talking point at her. Instead, I made her explore her own system of thinking. I mainly asked her questions. And when I didn't, I was just taking her own thinking to its logical conclusion.
I didn't once expose my own policies to scrutiny. I didn't employ natural rights. I didn't argue that markets are efficient (in fact, I tried to make her
argue that). I merely worked on deconstructing her own view.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of how to proceed with your own debates/discussions.