Matt Bruenig

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A prolific and philosophically astute policy analyst who has founded the People’s Policy Project. Formerly a contributor at Demos, a public policy organization.


People’s Policy Project [More...]
People’s Policy Project (3P) is a think tank founded in 2017 by Matt Bruenig. The primary mission of 3P is to publish ideas and analysis that assist in the development of an economic system that serves the many, not the few. Funded through Patreon, to avoid the compromises typically demanded by monied interests.
A Foundation, Not a Net
"A good welfare state is more than just a safety net. It's a foundation on top of which people can build their lives... Old-age pensions, paid family leave, child care benefits, public health insurance, and education..."
A Simple Fix for Our Massive Inequality Problem [More...]
"There’s a tried and tested way, within the system we have now, of giving everyone a share in the investment returns now hoarded by the wealthy. It’s called a social wealth fund, a pool of investment assets in some ways like the giant index or mutual funds already popular with retirement savings accounts or pension funds, but one owned collectively by society as a whole."
Capitalism is coercive and creates patterns of deprivation, as explained by libertarian blockquotes [More...]
"[...] even a gang of libertarian and libertarian-approved thinkers -- when properly arranged -- can be marshaled to make all the usual anti-capitalist points about coercion and poverty. This is not surprising as these points are exactly correct and even libertarians sometimes tell the truth."
Capitalism Whack-A-Mole [More...] (1 link)
"There is no general framework of morality or justice that supports laissez-faire capitalism. This is a problem of course for those who wish to argue on behalf of it. When you talk to such people, a familiar argumentative pattern emerges that I have come to call Capitalism Whack-A-Mole."
Child Poverty Across Political Traditions [More...]
Nations with social democratic institutions in the developed world have much less child poverty than nations with liberal market institutions.
Come See the Violence Inherent in the System [More...]
"The video is violent and repulsive, but only insofar as all property and contract enforcement is. The forceful removal of the passenger is not an extraordinary aberration from our civilized capitalist order. Rather, it is an example of the everyday violence (and threatened violence) that keeps that capitalist order running."
Desert Theory, Rehashed [More...]
The idea of "just deserts", so important to laissez-faire ideas, would not result from laissez-faire and in reality has significant problems..
Desert-Sacrifice-Utility Whack-a-Mole [More...]
Another common shifting of arguments to support capitalism is from desert justifications to sacrifice justifications to utility justifications. Each one can be shown to fail as a valid justification.
Do Nordic Countries Really Have Less Regulation? [More...]
"The truth is that nobody has found a good way to measure the substantive regulatory differences between the Nordics and the US."
Environmentalism poses a problem for libertarian ideology [More...]
"The short of is that environmentalists totally smash open the idea that property rights theories can really account for who is permitted to do what with the land that they own. Almost all uses of land will entail some infringement on some other piece of land that is owned by someone else. So how can that ever be permitted? No story about freedom and property rights can ever justify the pollution of the air or the burning of fuels because those things affect the freedom and property rights of others."
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers on Medicare-for-All [More...]
Mercatus coached authors of 3 supposed fact-checking articles to accept its misrepresentations of Medicare-forAll.
Fighting Poverty And Inequality The Proven Way [More...]
David Brooks suggest improving education to fight poverty and inequality. 40 years of history demonstrates that does not work. Transfer programs do work.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Libertarian Extraordinaire [More...]
"Is anyone in the libertarian community willing to denounce Hans-Hermann Hoppe as not one of them, and call him the lunatic he clearly is? Or is he still going to get an invite to the next convention?"
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Libertarian Theoretical Historian [More...]
A review of Hans-Hermann Hoppe's From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy. Hoppe seems to think a return to feudalism will result in libertarian utopia.
How a reductio ad absurdum works [More...]
Matt Bruenig points out "Libertarianism violates the NAP [non-aggression principle], as does every other theory that does not advocate the grab-what-you-can world."
How Capitalist Is Singapore Really? [More...]
"Singapore (and Norway, among others) shows that it is quite possible to collectively own the means of production while also using price systems to assist in the allocation of productive factors. This is what market socialists have been saying for a hundred years."
How Did Private Property Start? [More...]
"Libertarians tend to get flummoxed when confronted with this simple question... How does something that was once unowned become owned without nonconsensually destroying others’ liberty? It is impossible. This means that libertarian systems of thought literally cannot get off the ground."
How the Left Sees Liberty [More...]
Right notions of liberty explode upon contact with property. "... liberty is achieved when individuals have their economic well-being so strongly secured that they can pursue their personal projects without worrying themselves about the potential of falling into utter destitution. True liberty requires, as FDR famously noted, freedom from want." Even John Locke accepted this.
If fireproofing is a waste for the poor, it is also a waste for the rich [More...]
Matt Bruenig rips Megan McArdle a new one over a grotesque article about how fire regulations are dangerous.
Initial Appropriation: A Dialogue [More...]
Matt Bruenig explains the coercion involved in "initial appropriation". Much easier to read than Proudhon. He also ridicules the "mixing of labor" idea as being symbolic, rather than an actual description of a physical process.
Initial Property Continues to Vex Libertarians [More...]
"Perhaps the most interesting thing about libertarian thought is that it has no way of coherently justifying the initial acquisition of property. How does something that was once unowned become owned without non-consensually destroying others’ liberty? It is impossible. This means that libertarian systems of thought literally cannot get off the ground. They are stuck at time zero of hypothetical history with no way forward."
It isn’t your money [More...]
It might be your money if you lived under other institutions, rather than those of a taxing nation. But you don't.
It Matters How Rich the Rich Are [More...]
"[...] the poor can be made not-poor by reducing the wealth/income of the rich in order to increase the wealth/income of the poor. In that sense, then, the richness of the rich is a cause of the poorness of the poor."
Jason Kuznicki just makes things up sometimes [More...]
"Libertarians have built up this myth of John Locke and think he is one of them. But he isn’t. He is a good ole left-liberal. He wrote that the poor have a right to the surplus of the rich..." Wingnut welfare recipients like Jason Kuznicki try to argue otherwise.
John Locke Says Everything Belongs to Everyone [More...]
Locke straightforwardly claims that the poor have a right to the surplus property of the rich when they are in need.
Libertarians Are Huge Fans of Economic Coercion [More...]
"Hale showed that all economic regimes rely upon economic coercion, laissez-faire ones just as much as socialist ones."
Libertarians are Huge Fans of Initiating Force [More...]
Matt Bruenig points out the obvious: that initiation of force is a coded term referring to the libertarian theory of entitlement. If you don't buy libertarianism, it is obviously bullshit.
Market Incomes Will Always Produce Hideous Inequality [More...]
"Due to the fact that half of the population is locked out of market income, there simply is no path to low social inequality that does not rely heavily on the welfare state, aka taxes and transfers."
Matt Bruenig: How the property is coercive violence move functions in the debate [More...]
Because property is based on involuntary coercive violence, libertarians who would oppose taxation on those grounds would have to oppose property on the same grounds.
Matt Bruenig: The other move on property [More...]
If a libertarian admits property is based on involuntary coercive violence, they often seek to excuse it on the grounds that it is generally peaceful and we can live with it. But the same is true of taxation.
Nickel-and-dime socialism [More...]
The shock doctrine adoption of capitalism in Russia resulted in millions of early deaths. Increasing the socialism in a mixed economy can be done gently and gradually with social wealth funds, retaining thriving capitalism. Social wealth funds are already common worldwide, and can be greatly increased, primarily at the expense of the top .01%.
No violence but personal violence [More...]
"When I use the word violence in the context of discussing theories of property, I mean a specific thing by it: acting upon the bodies of others without their consent. This is as neutral a definition of “violence” as you will find. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of self-ownership. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of negative liberty, which is defined as freedom from external restraint."
On Piketty's Capital: What Is Wealth? [More...]
"For Piketty, wealth and capital are ultimately socially constructed categories. [...] The pioneer of this legal constructivist account of market valuation was legal realist Robert Hale. [...] Laws do not just affect valuation of assets. Laws are the very core of asset values."
One last, short note on redistribution -- I promise [More...]
A term that assumes that there is some original (or current) distribution that should be privileged. But since all distribution is socially determined and continually changing, it is really just a statement about dislike of change.
Pareto Fail [More...]
People who claim that they base their economic justice views on the idea of Pareto Improvements are trying to pull a fast one: four reasons are described.
Property and Conflict [More...]
"That private property is extremely anti-libertarian poses a problem for libertarians, who are notable for their near worship of private property institutions. One of the ways they have taken to getting around this is to talk about the necessity of private property institutions for the avoidance of conflict [...] libertarian institutions are neither necessary nor sufficient for conflict avoidance."
Real Life Capitalism Whack-A-Mole [More...]
"I taped a TV segment today with the Ayn Rand Institute’s Don Watkins about his book “Equal Is Unfair.” My sole goal going into the segment was to see if I could produce a Capitalism Whack-A-Mole in the wild."
Reclaiming John Locke from libertarians [More...]
"Locke does support the institution of private property ownership, but not in the absolute sense that libertarians do. He thinks that justice demands redistribution from the wealthy to the very needy and checks on the coercive power that property owners have."
Robert Nozick Agrees With Thomas Piketty [More...]
"As diehard a libertarian as Nozick was, even he found himself bothered by the prospect of "patrimonial capitalism" to borrow Piketty's phrase [....]" "Like all of his prior forays into the realm of philosophy, Mankiw has this one entirely wrong."
Salvaging Non-Aggression for Egalitarianism [More...]
"[...] we can say that we should only impose such institutions [property] if we do so in a way that essentially strikes a fair deal with those whose negative liberty we are destroying. This is, essentially, what Robert Nozick has in mind when he says that you can blow up people’s negative liberty so long as you do not worsen their welfare."
Should the state support anti-gay discrimination? [More...]
Why should the state provide services using public resources to businesses that discriminate? It could remove contract and property enforcement not to mention incorporation rights. In the past it has removed tax exempt status from discriminatory universities.
Social Wealth Fund for America [More...]
A proposal for a social wealth fund that would pay a universal basic dividend to all Americans each year from assets accumulated by government such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. Discusses the success of the Alaska Permanent Fund. The more assets that are accumulated, the more inequality and poverty would be reduced.
Some problems with this traditionalist stuff [More...]
"The traditionalist has a formula. They write on a three-by-five card “defer to the status quo norms and traditions.” Then they also secretly scribble on the back “except when doing so conflicts with laissez-faire capitalism.” But we can leave that last part aside."
Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian [More...]
"For Mill, who gets what is a social decision. The only thing that causes anyone to ever have entitlement over pieces of the world are the laws and institutions of society. It is police violence in concert with legal rules that actually demarcate what belongs to whom, and there is no demanded-by-the-universe way of orienting those institutions."
Take Away the Entire Welfare State From Employers [More...]
"The phrase "employer-provided welfare state" might seem to be a contradiction, but it's an apt description of what we have in this country. Employers don't just pay out cash incomes to workers, but are instead tasked -- whether by law or not -- with running complex social insurance schemes among their workforce."
That’s Just Capitalism [More...]
"To put it in the simplest terms: the libertarian populist says that rigged capitalism creates huge inequality, but the truth is that unrigged capitalism does the same thing."
The endless struggle for ownership of “economic freedom” [More...]
"But just because the right-wing has strangely captured the phrase in the last few decades, that does not mean it should be conceded over to them. The idea that extreme laissez-faire capitalism can be described as economic freedom is a very new one historically, and one for which there are very convincing reasons to reject."
The Lesson of Grab What You Can [More...]
"But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing."
The Libertarian Bizarro World [More...]
"If you are a libertarian who believes justice requires the following of a certain liberty-respecting process, you have to explain how anything can come to be owned in the first place. That initial move is, by any coherent account, the most violent extinction of personal liberty that there ever can be."
The myth of Big Government in the Redskins trademark case [More...]
"Government intervention is the engine that makes the economy what it is. Watching what happens when that intervention is occasionally removed, as in the Redskins trademark case, should make that as clear as day."
The Nordic Myths That Never Seem to Die [More...]
Conservatives (including libertarians) can't decide whether (a) Nordic countries are good because they are more capitalistic than the US or (b) Nordic countries are bad because they are more socialist than the US. They are completely wrong.
The Norwegian State Owns Most Of The Country’s Wealth [More...]
"There is little doubt that, in terms of state ownership at least, Norway is the most socialist country in the developed world and, not coincidentally, the happiest country in the world according to the UN’s 2017 World Happiness Report."
The Nozickian case for Rawls’ difference principle [More...]
"There is a very strong Nozickian case to be made for Rawls’ difference principle. Because the reality of scarcity causes the use of resources to necessarily infringe upon the liberty of others, it makes sense to say (as Nozick does) that you should only be able to undertake such use if it does not worsen the position of others."
NEW 9/10/2021: The Private Property and Personal Property Distinction [More...]
In beginner socialist circles, you see a strangely large amount of discussion about the difference between private property and personal property. This seems to be in significant part because certain kinds of people are partial to rhetoric like “abolish private property,” which they then need to walk back because that’s not actually what they want to do based on the normal way that those words are used.
The Public Really Can Own Everything [More...]
The genius of modern finance has been to create corporate ownership arrangements that allow basically anyone, including the government, to own shares of any company in any sector while being as involved (or uninvolved) as they want to be in steering the company. A federal social wealth fund, like the one I advocate, should be able to take advantage of modern shareholding institutions to expand public ownership into every aspect of the US economy.
The State Owns 76% of Norway’s Non-Home Wealth [More...]
"Norway at minimum proves that it is possible to mix high levels of state ownership with a high degree of prosperity. And no, this is not just about its oil: high levels of state ownership prevailed even before the oil fund began in 1996."
The Success Sequence Has Found Its Latest Mark [More...]
Bryan Caplan became another victim of the Success Sequence con. It's a just-so story about the origins and prevention of poverty that is unsupported by the facts.
The UBI Already Exists. It Is Just Unevenly Distributed. [More...]
"The UBI Sawicky describes requires $3.2 trillion [$10.000/year] while capital’s share [unearned income] is $5 trillion. It looks like the UBI already exists. It is just very unevenly distributed." Thus a UBI close to $16,000/year could be easily afforded.
The US Welfare State Cut Poverty by Two-Thirds in 2018 [More...]
"What these poverty gap figures show us is that the welfare state is perfectly capable of cutting poverty dramatically. We just need to make it bigger."
There is no such thing as redistribution [More...]
"There is no default distribution. All distributions are the consequence of any number of institutional design choices, none of which are commanded by the fabric of the universe."
Two Notions of Liberty [More...]
"... liberty is a sliding scale concept that, crucially, is related directly to how much money (or whatever you want to use as the stand in for resources/stuff) you have. This means poor people have the least liberty and rich people have the most liberty."
Understanding Claims About Basic Income and Inflation [More...]
A basic income (or any welfare state expansion) would only lead to inflation if it wasn't financed by taxes. As the example of Social Security shows.
Violence Vouchers: A Descriptive Account of Property [More...]
When a state upholds a system of property, all it is doing is issuing to owners a set of vouchers for violence against those who ignore property. Trade is similarly based on property and violence. Rents also are based on violence, ruling out just deserts and just processes arguments.
Violence, Property, Theft, and Entitlement [More...]
Libertarians do not actually care about force or coercion, but instead have strange ideas about entitlement (and then are happy to use force or coercion to protect their entitlement.)
Violently Destroying Liberty Is Important For Flourishing, Libertarian Argues [More...]
"Thus we can't ever actually be debating about whether we are for or against aggression or coercion. That's ridiculous. Folks on all sides of the debate are for using force that is consistent with their theory of what belongs to whom (called "defense") and against using force that is inconsistent with their theory of what belongs to whom (called "aggression")."
What a World Following the Non-Aggression Principle Looks Like [More...]
Matt Bruenig points out that the "grab-what-you-can world" where people freely expropriate other people’s possessions is the only one where nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body.
What do voluntary mean? [More...]
Matt Bruenig makes clear that following antidiscrimination rules for business is exactly as voluntary as following property rules for business. Because you have a choice of not being in that business. And if one violates self-ownership, so does the other.
What Does Sweden Teach Us About Fighting Inequality? [More...]
What is limited government? [More...]
"What we are really seeing in references to limited government is our old cultural-ideological friend: the assumption that laissez-faire institutions are somehow natural, default, and don’t involve the government making intentional distributive decisions that require a great deal of resources to enforce."
What would constitute an end to the race war? [More...]
"Whites coming out every day and asserting hugely disproportionate power over blacks through the proxy of wealth is not a cessation of conflict. It is renewed daily conflict, which can either be responded to or not."
Why Property Is Theft and Why It Matters [More...]
"The reason I bring up the fact that property is theft is because most actually-existing libertarian arguments are premised upon the idea that so-called laissez-faire capitalism is somehow voluntary and liberty-respecting. It is, of course, neither."
Why Social Wealth Funds Are Not Just Taxes [More...]
"Bringing the public in as one of the governors of the corporate sector (alongside remaining private investors and labor) is both good in itself from a small-d democratic perspective and also probably good instrumentally as a way to get the corporate sector more interested in sustainable, long-term value creation."
Workplace coercion and the capability approach [More...]
Procedural liberty fails because one person's liberty forcibly excludes others. Amartya Sen's Capability Approach is an alternative.
You Prevent Private Coercion With Labor Market Regulation [More...]
Megan McArdle calls a firing "private coercion." Matt Bruenig replies: "The legal framework that provides safeguards to protect individuals from private coercion is called labor and employment law. "


The short of is that environmentalists totally smash open the idea that property rights theories can really account for who is permitted to do what with the land that they own. Almost all uses of land will entail some infringement on some other piece of land that is owned by someone else. So how can that ever be permitted? No story about freedom and property rights can ever justify the pollution of the air or the burning of fuels because those things affect the freedom and property rights of others.
Matt Bruenig, "Environmentalism poses a problem for libertarian ideology"
The non-aggression stuff is the most hilarious stuff I have ever dealt with in all of philosophy. Defined neutrally to mean initiating force against other people, it generates the conclusion that basically no theories of economic justice satisfy the NAP. Defined with reference to a theory of entitlement (i.e. to include not violating “property rights”), it generates the conclusion that all theories of economic justice satisfy the NAP, at least internally. It’s a comical absurd mess. I can’t believe libertarians still pretend it does anything.
Matt Bruenig, "How a reductio ad absurdum works"
What’s amusing about libertarians and laissez-faire people (and the loose way certain economists talk) is that they will describe my choice to pay rent as non-coerced and voluntary while describing my choice to pay income taxes as coerced and involuntary. But there is no neutral construction of “coercion” that would ever support such a distinction. As Hale aptly demonstrates, coercion occurs when there are “background constraints on the universe of socially available choices from which an individual might ‘freely’ choose.”
Matt Bruenig, "Libertarians Are Huge Fans of Economic Coercion"
[...] it's clear that when the libertarians talk about not initiating force, they are using the word "initiation" in a very idiosyncratic way. They have packed into the word "initiation" their entire theory of who is entitled to what. What they actually mean by "initiation of force" is not some neutral notion of hauling off and physically attacking someone. Instead, the phrase "initiation of force" simply means "acting in a way that is inconsistent with the libertarian theory of entitlement, whether using force or not." And then "defensive force" simply means "violently attacking people in a way that is consistent with the libertarian theory of entitlement." This definitional move is transparently silly and ultimately reveals a blatant and undeniable circularity in libertarian procedural reasoning.
Matt Bruenig, "Libertarians are Huge Fans of Initiating Force"
That property violates the non-aggression principle is so obviously true that it is amusing anyone ever contends otherwise. The institution of property is the most statist, violent, aggressive, anti-libertarian, big government program in history. Through laws of one sort or another, people are violently restricted from nearly every single piece of the world around them. They do not consent to these restrictions, which are imposed from without, unilaterally and at the barrel of a gun. In the process, every shred of negative liberty and self-ownership is destroyed.
Matt Bruenig, "Salvaging Non-Aggression for Egalitarianism"
Libertarianism as it exists in the United States is basically a mid-20th century American philosophy, at least in origin. [...] basically none of the big old philosophical names can rightly be associated with this mid-20th century libertarianism.
Matt Bruenig, "Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian"
But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing. With Grab World as the actual blank slate starting point baseline, it's clear that all we are debating about is what set of liberty-infringing restrictions are the best ones (unless you actually advocate the Grab World).
Matt Bruenig, "The Lesson of Grab What You Can"
So the thing to look for when reading a libertarian theory of initial appropriation is how they choose to hilariously turn all of this on its head. All of a sudden, once someone unilaterally asserts ownership of something, moving about the world freely somehow gets recategorized as violating other people's liberty. Even worse, moving about the world freely is even recategorized as aggressively attacking someone!
Matt Bruenig, "The Libertarian Bizarro World"
The problem is that this homesteading action is outrageously un-libertarian. It involves a single actor unilaterally deciding to eliminate the previously existing access every other person had to some piece of the world, doing so without the consent of those dispossessed of their access, and through the use of violence (i.e. if you try to access the object they now claim to own, they physically push you off or worse).
Matt Bruenig, "The Nozickian case for Rawls’ difference principle"
My goal, in the immediate stage, is to force libertarians to stop pretending that things like non-aggression, coercion, and force initiation do anything in the debate. They don't. Since the words get their meaning from an underlying theory of entitlement, the debate is always and anywhere about theories of entitlement. It is not about aggression or coercion or force. All arguments that turn upon those concepts are vacuous and question-begging. All of them.
Matt Bruenig, "Violently Destroying Liberty Is Important For Flourishing, Libertarian Argues"