March 21, 2006

Elevator Talk

I am creating a new category for this and invite everybody to participate.

The phrase is a business cliche`. Your elevator talk is your answer to the question ":What does your company do?" It must be short and understandable enough to be shared on an elevator. I think our last company failed because we could never come up with the elevator talk, but that's another tale.

I have complained that my beliefs take long explanations and counter-intuitive understanding. But it is time for me to stop complaining and start writing. I want to craft an elevator speech for free market liberalism. When somebody gives me 2 minutes to explain where I stand, I am going to have a good pitch.

Here is my start. I am going to borrow heavily from Michael Strong and from the funny T-shirts at

The classical liberal ideas of Ludwig von Mises and FA Hayek have been tried several times in the last couple of centuries. These ideas have led whole continents out of poverty and created powerful economic engines of free, happy, and prosperous people. The nations created on these ideas have not attacked or subjugated their neighbors and have generally been good members of the world community.

The economic ideas of Karl Marx have been tried several times in the 20th Century as well. It is estimated that no fewer than 100 million people have died at the hands of these brutal regimes. Rich lands have been sent to poverty and good people have been given up to misery. These nations have made war with neighbors and the amount of state control required to enforce what is clearly not human nature has bred incredibly cruel police states.

In short, I believe in the empowerment of the individual to direct his or her life, and a society structured to allow personal freedom. Even though these societies have a clearly better record, our political leaders face every new problem with the first question being: "Should we employ a Marxist solution here or a Hayekian one?" Though there is a clear winner, we seem to have to have the argument every time.

Is this your floor? Take it easy.

Elevator Talk Posted by John Kranz at March 21, 2006 9:16 AM

JK it’s a great speech and an even better idea but…

I have two problems with it. The first is just a matter of timing. The most important concept is the one about personal freedom and it doesn’t even get a mention until the last paragraph. Get that concept dusted off and put it up front where it belongs! You could open the whole thing with, “I believe in the empowerment of the individual to direct his or her life, and a society structured to allow personal freedom.” Can you tell I was raised by an English teacher?

The second problem is philosophical (surprise). You are trying to defend individual freedoms on a collectivist basis. The reason we, “have the argument every time,” is that the majority of people including even you apparently have accepted the premise that the good or evil of a system is to be judged on a COLLECTIVE basis. This assumption allows any moonbat with an agenda to defend his policies on the, “my ideas are better for SOCIETY,” platform. Aka this time my Marxism will work. Your first paragraphs say that the classical liberal ideas result in better societies. This is true, but it is a by-product and not the reason why the ideas of Mises and Hayek are better.

Classical liberalism promotes individual freedom and that is the only standard of good that should be applied to governmental decisions.

Posted by: dagny at March 21, 2006 4:52 PM

Thanks for playing. Actually, I did not know you were ever an English teacher. I know you taught/teach horse riding -- what else counts?

I don't know whether a single talk will make you, jg and I all happy, it does seem a stretch. Your point about the primacy of individualism is well taken. I absolutely agree with you that that is the most important bit.

But (as somebody once said...)

The target audience for this is somebody who truly doesn't know where I stand or, more likely, a Boulder friend who has never met a GOP voter before and wants to examine me like a new biological specie. I feel that the appeal of class improvement through individualism is a powerful point in our favor.

The Boulderite thinks I vote for Republicans because I like the rich. And I do. While it may disturb you, I spend much time explaining how we are all better off under a freer government.

Posted by: jk at March 21, 2006 5:38 PM

I knew that I would have trouble explaining this one, maybe JG can help, but I am going to try again because it is very important. Someday I’m going to write a book. Really!

As soon as you use the, “class improvement,” argument, especially as a primary argument, you are cutting out your own philosophical underpinnings. You have conceded the argument that governments should do some things because they are best for society. If idea X is best because it makes society better then I can suggest any idea X and insist that it hasn’t been tried exactly my way and it will make society better. This devolves into a he said/she said debate about how much curtailment of freedom is justified in order to make society “better”. THIS is why we keep having the argument “every time.” Because EVERY Marxist really does believe that HIS idea will make society “better.”

Freedom must be defended on an individual basis because then the latest Marxist idea X can be specifically, rationally, consistently and objectively refuted in terms of the freedoms it removes from specific individuals. Indeed, only individuals can possess freedom. (A “free society” is mere shorthand for a group of free individuals. Society is not an entity, it is an abstraction!) Individualism cannot be defended on a collective basis. To attempt to do so is philosophical suicide.

One cannot defeat an opponent’s argument by adopting it himself.

P.S. I think you misunderstood: My mother and grandmother were English teachers, not I.

Posted by: dagny at March 22, 2006 1:52 AM

Yes, raised by English teachers, kind of like "raised by wolves." I did miss that. Your schooling paid off. Opening with individual empowerment is indeed stronger.

I do understand your philosophical point Dagny, and I promise to buy your book. I think we understand each other and still disagree. Your points are valid that we cannot make society's good a primary goal.

I contend, however, that the fact that classical liberalism has been so good for society so many times is a powerful selling point. Okay, so you shouldn't buy the red Porsche because it's sexy, but MAN is that car sexy!

Posted by: jk at March 22, 2006 9:42 AM

Wolves….English teachers, yes they are pretty similar, especially NEA teachers.

Actually, rational people CANNOT understand each other and still disagree on matters other than those relating to personal preference. That, however, is a different chapter in the book.

I think perhaps we don’t disagree here, based on your analogy. The good of society (and the look of the car) are wonderful by-products and there is no reason not to advertise them. However, as soon as you as you state that something should be done BECAUSE of the by-product you get cause and effect mixed up. If all you want is the sexy look, someone will sell you a sexy car without an engine. That’s what Marxism is, a sexy car (it sounds wonderful to new generations of college students every year) without an engine. It lacks the philosophical ideas (engine) that work in reality.

Please JK, do not sell your new friends in the elevators a car without the engine; not even the ones in Boulder.

Gee, I had fun with that analogy.

Posted by: dagny at March 24, 2006 11:02 AM

No JK, we can't make society's good ANY kind of goal. You see such an outcome as endorsement of individual liberty, but your friends in Boulder's elevators see it as something they could do "better" through central planning. That's dagny's point - as soon as you stipulate that "society" has values you've lost your footing to them epistemologically.

As for the red Porsche: good NED man, you DO buy it because it's sexy! Certainly not for its fuel economy or ability to carry groceries. Your willingness to deny the real motives for such a car reveals something. Remember this... Red Porsche = badonkadonk.

Posted by: johngalt at March 24, 2006 11:05 AM

Wow. I knew we would hit disagreement but the impasse is overwhelming. I flat out reject your (and Dagny's) assertion that societal good is not a selling point -- nor even a valid goal.

First, it hits me as a pragmatist. There is a political resistance to classical liberalism. People think that I vote Republican because I believe "screw everybody else, as long as I've got mine." There are benefits to that philosophy, but it is a hard sell. Pointing out that allowing us to prosper as individuals allows us to prosper best as a society is a powerful point.

Secondly, you espouse a position not even I can join. Sorry, but when jk is too left-wing and collectivist for you, you perhaps have a problem.

There are a lot of people who will have a tougher time prospering in hard america than soft america or France. I don't yearn for a society that has nothing more to offer them than "you should have been stronger or smarter." The fact that I think freedom and individual empowerment best serves them in the end is not just a seals pitch, it is also something I require to fight the fight. If it's all for me, I am less interested. If that makes me an altruist, I'll burn my Ayn Rand books and accept my lot in life.

Posted by: jk at March 25, 2006 1:02 PM

Nobody ever said it wasn't a valid goal, JK. But "societal" good is only an abstraction of widespread individual good. I really feel like a broken record here, but I think you're glossing over this important distinction.

For a change of pace, let's look at your example of the criticism of GOP voters supposed motivation of "screw everybody else, as long as I've got mine."

This missive is meant to impose guilt upon those to whom it's directed. Unless the gains you've made were the result of thievery you've got no cause to feel guilt. And yet you do, because "everybody else" has not made gains equal or greater than your own. Or at least, if you don't, your Boulder elevator friends do.

And why does a man feel this guilt? Because for all of his life and from virtually every source of influence on him, he was taught one absolute - selfishness is evil. I can absolutely understand your enthusiasm about this new-found argument in defense of liberty and capitalism, but I'm afraid it's destined to the same end as George H.W. Bush and Dagny Taggart's well-intentioned plans. "A million points of light" is just not that different philosophically from the "great society," and you can't persuade another by rational argument unless that person acknowledges the existence of reason.

Each of us has volunteered for a difficult assignment - to reform society into a halcyon of classical liberalism - albeit by different paths. I contend that my approach, if successful, will have the added quality of being sustainable. For once man accepts the premise that he is entitled to no claim upon the life of another, nor another upon his, he is forever released from the bonds of servitude to "society."
Until then we always have to have the argument: Marxist solution or Hayekian?

Posted by: johngalt at March 26, 2006 1:54 AM

Broken records, indeed. This post will fall off the page soon, and be swallowed in my SQL close-comments script in a couple days.

My record is stuck on the grove that you have to sell your beliefs to people. I don't bring up "screw everybody else" to shame anybody. I raise it as an example of a political pitch that won't sell. My elevator talk seeks a sales pitch.

Posted by: jk at March 27, 2006 10:12 AM

If the only (or the best) sales pitch for classical liberalism is a description of how good it is for, "society," our nation, formed on the concept of individual rights, is in worse shape than I had hoped.

Additionally if you think that,

"a society that has nothing more to offer them than "you should have been stronger or smarter."

is in keeping with our philosophy, you have seriously misunderstood us.

Posted by: dagny at March 27, 2006 8:01 PM

I dysphemise your philosophy on purpose, Dagny. I know that's not how you feel but I worry that that is exactly how it is sometimes perceived by those who don't understand. I use sales and marketing analogies because that's who I am and that's what I am trying to accomplish. I'm trying to sell classical liberalism to people who don't know they want it yet.

Hope I didn't step on any toes, but I will confess that the Philosophy vs. Politics argument gets me down. I look back on a big week since this was posted. We had French rioters demanding socialism, a stunning new immigration bill came out of the Senate Intelligence Committee last night, I'm discussing FISA warrants with a couple intelligent people who dislike this administration, and we didn't even get to the man in Afghanistan who was prosecuted for religious beliefs.

At the same time, we've been discussing why I want the right things for the wrong reason. I know it's important to you but it seems so academic to me. If I could sell people on classical liberalism because it ended global warming and removed stubborn soap scum from shower doors (both of which it would), I would do it.

Posted by: jk at March 28, 2006 8:56 AM | What do you think? [11]