Debunking Dave Rubin on JRE (#1131): Deregulation, Libertarianism & Trump


Dave Rubin recently appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience, and—as is his specialty—he made a bunch of foolish, unjustified arguments that I'm going to break down and debunk in this video. Specifically, we're going focus on the net effect of the Trump administration, the role of government, and deregulation in areas like construction and the environment.

Let's start off with some praise that he offered for the state of the country under Donald Trump.


"Trump is cutting a ton of regulation and doing a lot of state's rights stuff. The economy is doing really well. Do you have any sense that we're going to get in some intractable war in the Middle East to nation build? I don't think under his watch. There may be some level of some peace now in the North Korean peninsula. . . . But don't you think things are basically going pretty well right now? . . . Remove the Twitter hysteria . . . In terms of what's happening in the country right now—black and latino unemployment all time low, economy's chugging along—like, the basic things that matter for a society are working. That's pretty good!"


Wow! What a shockingly ignorant series of statements. By the way, does anybody remember—right after the election—Dave Rubin saying he was going to be the first one to hold Trump's feet to the fire? If by hold his feet to the fire you meant stick his balls in your mouth, then yeah, dude, you're doing a great job of that.


"Do you have any sense that we're going to get in some intractable war in the Middle East [under Trump] to nation build?"


Dude, the United States is presently involved in at least 7 different wars—and I don't see Trump making any Herculean efforts to stop the drone strikes and bring the troops home. As we read in a article, "Under Trump, the United States has dropped about 20,650 bombs through July 31, [2017]." And the organization AirWars reports that "In [Donald Trump's] first 7 months as President, we tracked 1,196 alleged incidents in which we assess at least 2,819-4,529 civilians died." We spend more on military than the next 7 highest-spending nations combined—and this spending has only increased under Trump. Any portrayal of Trump as some sort of foreign policy dove is pure fantasy.


"Trump is cutting a ton of regulation and doing a lot of state's rights stuff."


Trump is cutting a ton of regulation, and Dave frames it like that's necessarily a good thing. How about his slashing of key environmental regulations? What person who's not a coal or oil executive could possibly support such policies? Let's just look at a few examples from National Geographic.


"President Trump signs a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 'Stream Protection Rule.' That rule, finalized shortly before President Obama left office, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways.

. . . EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the U.S. government would revisit the Obama administration's fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks—the first step in a rollback of one of the U.S.'s biggest efforts to curb carbon emissions. . . . Under Obama-era policy, cars and light-duty trucks would be required to have average fuel efficiencies equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025.

. . . In its FY2019 budget and addendum, the Trump administration has proposed sweeping rollbacks to U.S. programs designed to study and mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as cuts to research on renewable energy.

. . . the Trump EPA has dropped 'once in, always in' (OIAI), a Clinton-era EPA policy that aimed to lock in reductions of hazardous air pollution from industrial sources."


Yeah! Take that, burdensome regulation! The Trump administration has also eliminated financial regulations that were put in place to minimize the risk of economic collapse? As CNBC reports,


"President Donald Trump on Thursday is set to sign into law the most significant rollbacks to financial regulations since the financial crisis. . . . [The legislation] removes certain checks on financial institutions designed to help spot future crises, among other changes."


"He also signed a memorandum that paves the way for reversing a policy, known as the fiduciary rule, that requires brokers to act in a client’s best interest, rather than seek the highest profits for themselves, when providing retirement advice."


This idea that libertarians have that less regulation is synonymous with better policy is simply not accurate. These regulatory rollbacks under Trump will increase water pollution, air pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions, cut research on clean energy, and make it more likely that an economic collapse will occur. These are not policy changes that we should be gushing about.

I'm open to the idea that certain regulations are needlessly excessive and should be eliminated, but this careless approach that libertarians take—oh, excuse me, that classical liberals take—where they just advocate the broad-spectrum cutting of unnamed, unspecified regulations is lazy thinking and foolish policy. If Dave Rubin could name, off the top of his head, 3 specific regulations presently on the books that we should eliminate, I would be genuinely impressed.

"Let's cut regulations"—What about regulations on meat factories? Should we just let them have whatever cleanliness and safety standards they care enough to implement? How will the majesty of the free market alleviate my food poisoning or E. coli infection?

What about regulations on the quality of drinking water? Should we also eliminate these and hope that the water is somehow magically purified by the invisible hand of the market? How about pharmaceutical regulations? Let's just let any company sell anything they like and make whatever claims they choose to without any sort of standards or verification process? Sounds like a fucking terrible idea!


"But don't you think things are basically going pretty well right now? . . . Remove the Twitter hysteria . . . In terms of what's happening in the country right now—black and latino unemployment all time low, economy's chugging along—like, the basic things that matter for a society are working. That's pretty good!"


He's basically just regurgitating Fox News talking points right here. Black and latino unemployment is very low—are Trump's policies necessarily responsible for this? And how many of these jobs pay meager wages and offer no benefits? Unemployment is such an inadequate metric because it doesn't capture the quality of these jobs. It's also worth noting that since the 1970s, productivity has been steadily increasing, but throughout this same period, wage growth has been largely stagnant—for almost 50 years.

"The economy's chugging along", Dave tells us—yeah, it is true that the stock market is doing great. And the richest 10% of Americans own 84% of all stocks, so this is largely an indicator of how upper-class investments are doing. Meanwhile, 40% of Americans would not be able to afford an unexpected $400 expense.

Dave's ignorance is on full display when he claims that "The basic things that matter for a society are working." We spend almost twice the OECD average on health care in the United States. Millions lack access to health care in this country—a trend that's only increasing under Trump. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 45,000 Americans die each year due to their lack of health coverage.

The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our infrastructure a D+. Hundreds of thousands of Americans get arrested and oftentimes jailed for victimless drug crimes—a trend that Trump and Jeff Sessions are accelerating. Net neutrality just got repealed under Donald Trump. We have an extremely corrupt political system—something that the Trump administration of Wall Street banking executives and billionaires sure as hell won't put a stop to.

The list of serious problems this country is facing is virtually endless. To say that under Trump, "the basic things that matter for a society are working" is a stunningly ignorant statement. This guy must be talking about a different country than the one that I live in, because if not, he is completely fucking clueless.

I want to take a closer look at what kind of a society we would live in if we went along with Dave Rubin's deregulatory vision. In the context of talking about why government regulation is unnecessary, he cites the example of building codes, and Joe Rogan does a great job of completely shutting him down here. It's kind of a long exchange—and I'll be jumping in from time to time to provide my brilliant, world-famous commentary—but it's worth showing in its entirety to see just how poorly Dave handles counter-arguments made against his position. On top of that, I think Joe just makes some very solid points here.


"Dave: Everything you're building here right now, do you want the government to tell you how to do all these things, and all the regulations that you gotta have your electric thing this far from this...?

Joe: Regulations like that for construction are important, though. You do have to make sure that people don't do stupid shit. Make sure you don't have a power line that's near a water line.

Dave: But I would put most of that on the builders, though: They wanna build things that are good.

Joe: Oh, that's not true! Listen, people cut corners all the time. You have to have regulations when it comes to construction methods or people are gonna get fucked. 

Dave: They cut corners when there are regulations anyway.

Joe: They do, they would cut a lot more if there weren't regulations. You go to third world countries and look at construction methods, they're fucking dangerous. That's why schools collapse on kids in foreign countries sometimes.

Dave: I'm not telling you that I'm against all regulation, period."


Let me just pause here to point out that building codes were his chosen example of where government regulation is unnecessary. Joe Rogan points out that these particular regulations are actually very important, and he's like, "Ahh, I'm not against all regulation!" Yeah, but 30 seconds ago you just made pretty damn clear that this specific set of regulations is one that you're opposed to, so which one is it? 


"Dave: . . . Intellectually, I like that argument, because I think you can make a very sound argument that competition would force people to do better work. If you're a plumber, you have a vested interest in doing the best plumbing job you can so that people will rate you on Yelp so that you will get more work. You don't have a vested interest in cutting corners. Now you might, right? You're gonna push it as much as you can to save as much time and energy and money as you can. But once you go over that edge, yeah, you don't wanna be known as the guy that, uh, you tighten something too much and flooded the house.

Joe: You're thinking logically, though. When people fuck things up and short things and do things terribly, they're not thinking logically.

Dave: But I don't think it's the government that they're like, 'Ah, the government gave me this regulation so that's why I'm gonna do it right.'"


Are you kidding me? Is he seriously arguing that regulations don't motivate good building practices? 'Ah, the government gave me this regulation so that's why I'm gonna do it right.' Yeah, because if you don't, you could lose your license, you'll have to pay stiff fines, you might even go to jail. This is a pretty clear and powerful incentive to do things by the book. 

And who needs regulation when the consumers can just depend upon Yelp reviews? YELP REVIEWS! Can you believe you're hearing this shit? This is a serious political philosophy that this man is espousing right now. Let's humor him and hop inside the clown car with him by exploring the logistics of how a system like this would work.

If, instead of certifying electricians, we instead just relied on Yelp reviews, wouldn't this massively bias the system in favor of established electricians and against newcomers? If you decide that you want to get into this business, and you haven't yet had any clients who have rated you on Yelp, if Yelp reviews are the metric by which we assess the quality of an electrician, why would anybody hire the guy with no reviews?

In a system where electricians recieve certification which demonstrates that they're knowledgeable about the National Electric Code and similiar such regulations, even if they have no Yelp reviews, their certification is a guarantee of some level of competency, so people just getting into this business won't have that insurmountable barrier of zero Yelp reviews.

And could you think of any more ridiculous of a system than this? Let's depend upon Yelp reviews? Because, ya know, those are just notoriously accurate to a very high degree of precision. What would prevent businesses from gaming the system and paying people to put up fake reviews to inflate their apparent proficiency? 

And how far would we take this mentality? Why just stop at plumbers and electricians? Why not do the same for brain surgeons? "Well, sir, looks like you have a brain tumor and we need to operate immediately. I guess now would be the best time to check Yelp to see who's the best person to cut your skull open and remove portions of your brain." Could you imagine living in such an absurd world? 


“Dave: But I don't think it's the government that they're like, 'Ah, the government gave me this regulation so that's why I'm gonna do it right.'

Joe: Well, if they didn't have any regulations, there'd be no incentive whatsoever to do it right. 

Dave: No, there would be an incentive!

Joe: If they knew there were no inspectors, no one was gonna check their stuff and make sure that their stuff was up to code... Listen, man, I was in construction my whole life. My dad was an architect. I've been in construction since I was a little kid. You fuckin' need regulations. These guys, a lot of people that are in construction, they'll do whatever the fuck they can to make money, and it's not good for the people that have the house because they might have that house for 5, 10 years before that problem manifests itself. The people who are establishing these codes are licensed builders or people that have been involved in construction for a long fuckin' time and they know what's safe and what's not safe. That's why those codes exist. It exists to protect the consumers. 

You can't just protect the consumers through the marketplace, because it takes a long times for these problems to become a real issue. And these problems could potentially damage everybody in the neighborhood: it's not just gonna affect the person on this one lot, like if a fire starts, it burns all the houses in the neighborhood, or if a flood happens, and it floods everyone downhill. It's a real problem, and you have to be real careful with construction.

Dave: Absolutely, I get it. And my dad wasn't in construction so I'm not privy to all of that little stuff. But I genuinely believe that, at a general level, people have a vested interest in—especially now, because of phones and apps and Yelp and all of that—doing good work because that's how you will get more work. 

Joe: I agree.

Dave: You're never gonna remove the people who will do shoddy, shitty malicious shit.

Joe: But you can keep them at bay with regulation. Educated regulation. 

Dave: So this is where I'd say you can have some regulation.

Joe: Educated regulation: People who actually understand what's going on, and make sure someone doesn't do something stupid with a powerline, or someone do something stupid with the way they constructed main beams where they're just subject to collapse. That's important, because most people buying a house don't know what the fuck they're looking for. Most people getting a house built, they have no idea about construction methods. They need someone to inspect things and make sure that it's up to code. That's why code exists. It's very important.

Dave: Yeah. So I'm not totally with you on that. I think most of it—probably 90% of it—would be: Who has the most vested interest to build a good house? It's the builder, because he wants more work. He doesn't want the house to collapse, because then he'll be out of work."


People have an incentive in doing good work, and that's why we shouldn't worry about these problems—here we see how childishly naive and idealistic libertarianism is. "Remove all regulation and businesses will still provide safe, clean, great-quality services and products because that will boost their reputation in the community!" This is a fairy-tale right here, where everybody holds hands and skips off into the sunset trying to produce the best-quality product that they possibly can. This is straight out of Ayn Rand comic book or something. 

Remove all regulation and businesses will cut costs in every way that they can to maximize profits. Sure, they need to meet some minimal standards so people aren't immediately outraged at the terrible job they've done, but compared to what's guaranteed under regulation, the end-result will without a doubt be sub-standard.

In a system without regulation, you could build a house that won't immediately fall over, and thus, will appear, on the surface, to be acceptable to its residents. And they might even leave a positive review on Yelp! Yet if there are no regulations on how to build this house, perhaps five years down the line when a mild earthquake hits, the house will collapse and kill you—something that wouldn't have happened if there were regulations the builder was forced to adhere to. But since problems like this take years to materialize, this is several years where this company could have been constructing similarly shoddy houses, leaving dozens, perhaps hundreds of people in unsafe living conditions—all while these people mistakenly believed that the company was providing good-quality housing. 

And it's also not so binary, like either the builder wants the house to collapse or he doesn't. You could build a house that won't collapse, that's sturdy enough to stay standing, but that's still a shitty house. For example, you could skimp on the insulation to save money and it could be freezing during the winter and brutally hot during the summer. So he's being way too simplistic in his thinking here.


"Joe: But I'm telling you, man. These guys are jerkoffs! There's a lot of them that are jerkoffs!

Dave: So construction may be a specific thing.

Joe: It's a dangerous thing, too, because it's where you sleep, it's where your kids sleep. I think there's a lot of idealistic notions about deregulation and some consumer protection has to be put in place because people don't have the time to spend all this time researching construction methods and making sure everything's done correctly and be there and make sure that the joists are a certain width and they have a certain amount of support—all that stuff has to be done by people who understand code.

Dave: Assuming that the government regulators understand code correctly and aren't just on the take or basically just taking money and signing off on things."


Really, dude? This is what you're reduced to? Calling into question the competency of these inspectors? Seems like a last-ditch effort to salvage his position.

And notice that when it comes to government employees, he understands perfectly well that people might do a shitty job. But with private businesses? Generally speaking, there's nothing to worry about, thanks to magic of competition. Ok, well when it comes to government employees, how about the magic of: your ass gets fired if you don't do your job correctly? How's that for incentive?


"Joe: No, they inspect things, man. Have you ever had a construction project done?

Dave: Yeah, well I got my house last year, and we had to go through all the inspections and had several guys come back.

Joe: But you didn't build it, right?

Dave: We didn't build it, no.

Joe: There's a big difference between an insurance inspector and a code inspector. Code inspectors are very different. When you're having a house built—and I've had construction projects where I had to explain to people and go through it with builders—they're making sure that house doesn't fuckin' fall on you. That the powerlines are done correctly, that all the electricity's done correctly, the pipes are laid in correctly, your septic system or your sewage system is done correctly.

Dave: Do you think that could be privatized, then? 

Joe: The regulations? How would it?

Dave: You could have companies that they're job would be to inspect.

Joe: But they wouldn't have the threat of law to enforce these things. If someone is building something and they're not up to code, they lose their license and they can't build. If you privatized it, what's the incentive for them to follow the guidelines? 

Dave: Yeah, so this is where I'm not telling you that I'm calling for all this. I just think, intellectually, it's just an interesting space to argue something, because I think the more that you can give to people to freely do what they think is right, I think generally they will. Again, I get it, there's gonna be some real shitty construction people out there."


"I'm not calling for this; I just think it's intellectually interesting!" Really? Because it seems like everywhere you go these days, you advocate across-the-board deregulation—and, again, this was your chosen example of where regulation is unnecessary. You're the one that brought this up in the first place. "I'm not actually calling for this deregulation that I was advocating just five minutes ago!" Well it sure as hell seems like that's what you were doing, and frankly, it looks to me like you're just walking back your position because you got your ass handed to you in this exchange.

Props to Joe for not giving a single inch during this discussion. He wasn't just like "Oh, ok I see where you're coming from and that's an interesting perspective." No, he was like "Listen, man, this is a stupid idea and here's why." 

I heard absolutely no convincing rebuttals from Dave. It's just pure idealistic gullibility: They'll build things the way that they're currently required to build them purely out of the goodness of their hearts and purely because it will enhance their business reputation! If you're naive enough to actually believe this, I suspect that a house might have already fallen onto your head.

How ironic that if we actually transitioned our society into this libertarian fantasyland, credulous people like Dave would be the first ones to get fucked by some asshole construction worker cutting corners to save money. "Inspect the house to see if it's safe? Why even bother, because presumably your rational self-interest motivated you to build the safest, highest-quality house that it's possible to build! Now take this check and get the fuck outta here!" 

Notice also that there seems to be a contradiction here when he floats the idea of privatizing building inspections. If it truly is the case that rational self-interest would motivate companies to build great-quality homes, why would we even need inspections? By conceding that inspectors would still be necessary, is he also not conceding that rational self-interest actually wouldn't lead to the glorious outcomes that he imagines?

Dave frankly strikes me as somebody who hasn't spent five minutes thinking through the logistics and ramifications of his ideas. The only thing more poorly constructed than this guy's arguments would be our homes in his libertarian dystopia!

There's another exchange on environmental regulation where, once again, Dave Rubin comes out looking foolish.


"Dave: You wanna have money so that your family can live in a house that you can afford and you can send your kids to good schools and all of those things. That's all rational self-interest. If, at the same time, you were running a nuclear power plant, and you were Mr. Burns and you were dumping in the river ["dumping in the river" sounds like the perfect description of Dave Rubin talking about politics], well that's actually no longer rational self-interest because now you're polluting the very environment that you live in."


What's with this idea that everybody is operating with rational self-interest? Plenty of people believe and do things that I would argue are far from rational or in their best interest: eating yourself into a state of morbid obesity, smoking a pack a day, believing that the Bible is the infallible word of God, or attending a Dave Rubin event and claiming that you had a great time! You must have a very high opinion of people to believe that we're all walking around in a state of cool rationality.

What if your "rational self-interest" tells you to pollute the river to maximize profits and just to not go near the river to avoid the toxins? I can guarantee you that the executives of fracking companies are not drinking tall glasses of the groundwater they pollute—and if companies are willing to do things like this with regulations restricting them, how much worse would things be eliminated all regulations? There is no possible world where we get rid of regulations and the environment is better off as a result.


"Joe: So who takes care of that? Who regulates that? Is that where the government comes in?

Dave: So those guys, I don't wanna speak for them...

Joe: Well who gets you in trouble, in your opinion, if you're this deregulation guy? Who goes after you when you dump shit into the river?

Dave: So I'm not saying there should be no regulation. I just was saying that, generally, I like this line of thinking. There has to be some regulation, I agree."


The same pattern rears it's ugly head: He cites an example of deregulation, then when challenged on it, he's like "I'm not actually calling for this kind of deregulation; I'm not against all regulations"—then why bring this up as an example in the first place? Why lay out this position if you don't actually believe it? Why not put on the table for us specific examples of regulation that you are opposed to? It's seems like he's talking out of both sides of his mouth here—and perhaps that's the result of swimming in one-too-many polluted rivers? 

You know, I might add this tactic to my debating toolbook to throw my opponents off every now and then. "Wouldn't things be much better if we reinstated Stalinism?", "That's a terrible idea!", "Well, I'm not actually advocating this. I just think it's an interesting idea, intellectually!"


"Joe: So that's where the regulation comes in? When you pollute the environment?

Dave: Yeah, I would say there has to be some. But I've had some interesting people on—conservatives—who are doing environmental stuff from a conservative perspective. That there's ways to make money actually in green stuff, in green products. . . .

Joe: But what's the solution if someone pollutes? . . . 

Dave: So what those guys would argue, as I said before, is that ultimately, especially now because of technology—so like, every time someone cuts regulation, I've heard Bill Maher say this a lot, they're gonna start polluting the river immediately—that implies that these businessmen whatever industry that they're in, that they're immediately gonna be like 'Ha! The regulation's gone, start polluting the water!' 

We live in a time now where everyone's walking around with an iPhone, where maybe 50 years ago you could've got away with a lot of bad shit: coal miners that were breathing all kinds of horrible shit that nobody was ever gonna find out about, where now everybody is walking around with Snapchat and Instragram and blah blah blah. So a lot of this stuff would be exposed more, so that all of the things that we've been talking about for the last couple of hours—about people getting involved—a lot of the things, I think, would start self-regulating."


Once again, this is extremely naive nonsense right here. He doubts the idea that businesses will immediately start polluting waterways if we remove regulations. What if doing so could save them millions of dollars? Needing to carefully capture, transport, and safely dispose of toxic waste is a time-consuming and expensive process; if you could just dump these toxins into the river, you could save an enormous amount of money. So without regulation, what would stop these companies from doing precisely this? According to Dave Rubin, social media will save the day.

Really? So how is that process going to work? Somebody posts a picture of pollution, we all engage in a mass boycott, and eventually pressure that company to change? How many mass fish dieoffs will take place before that? How many people will get cancer from swimming in that river before they remedy their ways? How bad would things need to become, how complete must the environmental destruction be, for there to be enough outrage and a large enough boycott that the company is pressured into stopping the pollution? Why allow so much needless damage to take place when we can just prevent it altogether through regulation?

This process of public regulation through social media outrage is so incredibly unrealistic and impractical that I can hardly believe a single serious person thinks that things would work out this way. He frames it as if pollution of the waterways will be clearly visible to the public, as if there's going to be some large pipe cartoonishly dumping bright green liquid into the river from 10 feet above the waterline with a bright yellow sign next to it featuring a skull and cross bones and the words "DANGER: POISON!" in all caps. What if the pollution pipe is simply submerged under the river and it's not visible to the public, and thus, can't be posted on Twitter or Snapchat? 

If several factories are densely populating the shoreline, how are you going to pinpoint the source of pollution in the first place? And who is going to take it upon themselves to determine that the liquid coming out of this pipe is even toxic? Are private citizens just going to paddle over there in a canoe on their day off, take samples, run it through a private laboratory in their garage, and post the findings on Twitter—crossing their fingers and hoping that their Tweet happens to go viral enough to spark a mass boycott? There is just no way that the environment would be adequately protected without regulation, and any thought to the contrary is, quite literally, a pipe dream.


"Dave: But again—then I won't say it again—I'm not for just deregulating everything. I just think there's probably better ways to do it than just having the government come in and say this is what you gotta do and now figure it out, because the government isn't that good at most things."


There's probably better ways than just having the government come in? Really? What are these better ways. Get specific. Just vaguely stating that you think there are probably better ways is not even remotely convincing to anybody. "I think there are better ways", ok, and I think there are not, so if all we're doing is surmising vaguely without elaborating, I guess we're at a standstill! 

I can point to real-world example after example of government regulation effectively reducing pollution and protecting the environment; all the libertarian can do is tell me about how he thinks things might work out in his fantasy world. Who but a fool would be willing to take the massive risk of putting the global environment completely in jeopardy while we deregulate and hope for the best on the basis of unsubstantiated, evidence-free libertarian conjecture? This would be one of the single-most moronic public-policy decisions in world history—and that is not an exaggeration.


"Joe: Yeah, I know what you're saying there. But I do think that obviously there has to be laws in place, specifically laws in place that protect people from someone doing something that's gonna damage all the other people in the community.

Dave: Well, by the way, you can do that. The government's supposed to protect your life and your property. That's a very simple libertarian thing. So that's a good argument there for why you could have some level of regulation.

Joe: Specifically, in terms of someone polluting rivers, I don't think it's good enough to Snapchat about it; I think people should be locked up and go to jail. If they find out that someone's dumping toxic waste into the river because it's too expensive to process it and get it removed and put in some place where it's safe, that's a crime.

Dave: Yeah, well I'm all for finding those people and having the companies fire them and all those things. As far as putting them in jail? I don't know...

Joe: Lock 'em up! Get 'em off the streets!"


Damn, son. Joe kicked some ass in this exchange! Probably my favorite quote from the entire podcast is when Joe said: "I don't think it's good enough to Snapchat about it; I think people should be locked up and go to jail." That right there is a perfect distillation of the differing attitudes that libertarians and non-libertarians have towards protecting the environment.