This is in response to this critique of libertarianism, called “The Non-Libertarian FAQ” which can be found at http://raikoth.net/libertarian.html
I've not seen anybody in a libertarian camp answer this long and well-written thread, so I'll do my best to go along and find areas where I disagree with it. You will have to follow along and read his points in order to understand what I'm addressing. This is by far the most logical and clear argument against libertarianism I've ever read, so it's quite a challenge, but I'll give it my best. Before I start, I'd like to say that I'm 100% sure that I've made several errors or forgotten to respond to certain points (or forgotten to acknowledge where I agree with the author) and I know I will have unintentionally misrepresented the author's point in any number of areas. If this becomes a living document, I will alter it as needed. The original author's quotes will be in italics.
I'll define my terms. When I say “libertarian,” I mean someone who is “a believer in a political doctrine that emphasizes individual liberty and a lack of governmental regulation and oversight both in matters of the economy ('free market') and in personal behavior where no one's rights are being violated or threatened.” This means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but I use the term to mean anarchists (specifically individualist anarchists), statist libertarians (those who DO want a centralized state, albeit with little power) and anywhere along that continuum. For disclosure, I myself am an individualist anarchist and am sympathetic to what is popularly known as anarcho-capitalism.
Not much to quibble with here, except let's be honest about our definitions. I understand that libertarians use the word “statist” as a pejorative and that can put people on the defensive, but please, please let's look at what words mean rather than this silly “tallist” comparison. It's not like libertarians have defined statists in a self serving “anti-choice” abortion kind of way. It's like trying to make a stand not to use the word “liberal” because it's been maligned. It's a cheesy way to avoid using real definitions. A statist is someone who has the “belief that the centralization of power in a state is the ideal or best way to organize humanity.” Now you can bemoan the use of language in this context, but I think it is clear that people who fall under that definition should call themselves statists or at least come up with an equivalent term. I use the word as a descriptor and will do so in this response, all the while keeping in mind that I think the word statist applies even to self-styled small government libertarians.
Section A. Economics
“Further, you won't make a trade unless you think it's the best possible trade you can make. If you knew you could make a better one, you'd hold out for that. So trades in a free market are not only better than nothing, they're also the best possible transaction you could make at that time.”
Not necessarily. If we would hold out for better deals on nearly everything we planned to trade for, then we would likely never purchase anything. Economics is not about making the best possible trade you can make, but lots of times is about just barely overcoming whatever internal barriers you have to not trading. If I prefer to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto V new for 60 dollars rather than waiting for it to go down in sale after some months and buying it used, it just shows a time preference for my trade that may or may not be seeking maximal outcomes. I may buy it new and have something come up that prevents me from playing it for awhile, rendering my time preference spurious and wasteful. I also know when I go to the store that even a slight amount of perusing my smartphone may yield me some coupons that lower the price of my about-to-be-purchased items. It's just the case that trades in a free market are trades that we are WILLING to make in the time, not the best possible one. The same is true with the author's next paragraph about labor. It may sound like nitpicking, but it's important to understand why and how people trade if you want to talk about the free market.
Some clever equivocation here about the functions and roles of HOAs or other contractual agreements as compared to governments. They are not “functionally identical” and even if they were, there is no HOA on Earth that could be remotely confused or equivocated with a government. This is like saying that a rock and a hammer are “functionally identical” for driving in a nail. Yeah, but not for much else.
Externalities clearly are a problem, though his example of wasps in a backyard is so trivial and easy to overcome (I'll get to that in a second). What are we to make of pollution? Pollution is a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution and we owe our standards of living to it. Now that it is so enmeshed in our modern lives, we probably have to accept some measure of pollution as a price to be paid for our high standard of living. This does not mean that we should not be seeking ways to minimize or even eliminate it, but it remains for now that we all contribute to the pollution of land and air that we do not own. This is unavoidable. How pollution affects people and potentially violates their property rights is an interesting discussion to have, and there is no good answer for it, either statist or nonstatist.
Then we get to wasps. Ah, the old argumentum ad waspum. Jeez, this one is kinda silly. There are so many common sense things that do currently get resolved (even in a statist society where chickenshit neighbors call the police instead of dealing with the issue) that this scenario just seems laughable. Yeah, MAYBE someone might one day move into a neighborhood and unleash wasps upon his neighbors, and MAYBE that person will refuse to mitigate the problems he's created after complaints and MAYBE there will have to be an appeal to an HOA and MAYBE there might have to be some enforcement agency (in a statist paradigm or not) that will have to forcibly remove the nest, but I don't find this point particularly powerful. Also, I'm sure the free market can provide Raid bug spray at a reasonable price.
I will get into this later. This section basically has to do with consumer ethics and boycotting. This is a huge point and I find it to be the most serious criticism of libertarianism, so I will dedicate a section later to it called ETHICAL CONSUMERS. This point will come up several times in his critique of libertarianism and I will continue to defray my main (and lengthy) response to it to the very end.
The fishing/filter example is also kind of silly, but it's important because people do have these fears and there certainly is a kind of game theory way that people could lose in a situation like this. Of course the best possible way to make sure that this doesn't happen would be for a person, firm or consortium of fishers to make a charter group and purchase the lake and create filtering rules. If there does need to be some public property like a lake, the people responsible for polluting it will be immediately identified and boycotted or ostracized. Also, the idea that every firm who sees itself at a slight disadvantage to a single competitor will immediately slash costs in the same detrimental way as the single person is ridiculous. If I were firm X and Bob removed his filters, the labor and cost needed to remove the filter and have it sitting around my factory would be far better spent with an ad in the local paper advertising Bob's skullduggery.
Now the ocean is my favorite thing on this planet, and as such I view overfishing and pollution of it to be a huge problem and take the author's criticism especially to heart. However, and this may be annoying to all, my belief is that there is not a yet a single effective means at preventing assholes from polluting and overfishing and as long as I've thought about it, I have not found a single future way of reducing these problems. It's not just that there is a solution waiting to be implemented, it's that I can't imagine one even waiting to be found. Of course I'm not arguing from ignorance and saying there CAN be no solutions, but I do not conceive of a way that either a statist or anti-statist paradigm could fix what is wrong with the oceans.
The ocean is an incredibly special case because of its vastness and its lack of ownership. There is simply nothing else like it. Because it's unowned and gigantic, the idea that any body can legislate and enforce these laws is insane to me. It would seem as though some huge UN-type legislation and a veritable cornucopia of enforcement agencies would be required to prevent cheating on fishing quotas. Also unrealistic to me is the idea of a quota system self-imposed by fishing companies. It seems to me the only way to even have a shot of making sure that oceans are not overfished is to have a way of private companies complying with standards that consumers demand and third party companies that verify compliance, IE ethical consumers (see ethical consumers section below.) This strikes most people is unlikely.
I understand little about the science behind global warming, other than I could probably explain a Schoolhouse Rock version of it to a 9 year-old. That being said, it is clear that there are possibly only two ways where there will be progress on reducing CO2 emissions: either by a large amount of countries coming up with some sort of regulation that damns growing industrial nations into poverty (or at least slows growth measurably) or by some technological revolution that allows new devices to be made carbon neutral or negative. I simply do not think the first will happen, nor do I think it is wise to tell 2.5 billion people in China and India that they will have to comply with these regulations. I am open, excited and hopeful for the second. Again, I could be completely off base here because of my lack of knowledge but I do not see a positive solution to this, state or no.
This is the ethical consumer section. Sounding like a broken record, I will address it in full later. Other than his doubts about ethical consumers, he makes an interesting case that if 51% of people don't like something a company is doing, they can get the government to curtail it. He will have to pardon my incredulity, but it is simply an assertion and an irrational one. It also suggests an interesting disconnect: he already thinks consumers can't (or won't) make ethical decisions about companies. Somehow these 51% who already cannot bankrupt a company by boycotting it (imagine a company losing 51% of revenue) will spend the extra time and effort the author suggests they wouldn't spend already to agitate politically. This has many, many problems. The first of which is, what if 51% of people are goddamn dumb and get pissed off at Company X for doing completely trivial and non-harmful action Y? Well, then the government (presumably) would stop Company X from doing Y. The implications of this are staggering, especially when considering how many people will sign petitions to ban dihydrogen monoxide (water). I shudder at the thought. Secondly, there is no guarantee whatsoever that a majority of people could get the government to do what they want. This is a trivially easy criticism.
So we have two possibilities. Either the majority of people don't care enough about world hunger to give a dollar a week to end it, or something else is going on.
That something else is a coordination problem. No one expects anyone else to donate a dollar a week, so they don't either. And although somebody could shout very loudly “Hey, let's all donate $1 a week to fight world hunger!” no one would expect anyone else to listen to that person, so they wouldn't either.
People obviously don't care enough about world hunger to solve the problem. The government obviously doesn't, since it routinely ships token amounts of food that it knows will be intercepted and sold on the black market by government members of that country who have access to it. There are no consequences to this behavior and modifying the programs does not seem to be a goal. If we take the highest estimate of $200 billion dollars a year, we know that the U.S. government does not care about helping end world hunger since it spends 3.7 trillion dollars on other things, including nearly $700 billion a year on the military. There is no problem of coordination, there is only the empirical problem that people do not want (except in the fantasy abstract) to solve world hunger.
This section is about worker/boss asymmetry. I differ from a lot of anarcho-capitalists in that I find management based companies (at least in the customer service companies I've had experience with) to be oppressive and dehumanizing in condition. I agree with the sentiment the author has and support labor unions in the abstract (as do most all libertarians, provided they are voluntary and do not unduly benefit from state power.) I regard the need to acquire money to live as a fact of nature and do not think that the concept of “wage slavery” is valid or instructive.
I also do not have any illusions that a large company values me as an employee and is in need of my extra special talents. This is probably different for high-skilled workers, but I will leave that aside. Management wants warm bodies to do jobs and warm bodies want jobs, so there will always be a market for it and it will probably always favor the companies over the employees. Like the author says, this creates quite a big of power in favor of companies and can cause many problems for unskilled workers, namely being “trapped” in crappy work conditions with no decent alternative.
Here's how to make that kind of company control less effective: make unskilled workers mobile from job to job and prevent them from being “stuck” in poor conditions. There are in my mind two huge obstacles to worker mobility: employer health insurance and lack of wages/savings to absorb a firing/laying off/quitting. I have never once in my life wanted health insurance from my workplace, lest I become dependent upon that health insurance and have to face the prospect of staying at a shitty and depressing job in order to keep that product. Nothing is more flexible than having your own health insurance independent of job and I've tried (unsuccessfully, probably for legal reasons) to bargain for higher wages instead of taking company health insurance.
Secondly, low wages and no savings prevent people from securing a better job by keeping them trapped in their suboptimal one for fear of missing bills. One way of solving this is reducing the tax and regulatory burden. The old adage about how much of the price of a dozen eggs taxes and regulation add to (taxes on land, chicken feed, income, employees, etc.) is true. With more disposable income comes more savings, therefore more transferability. Also if employers knew that the economic and personal climate were such that they could lose a good chunk of their workforce at any given time, maybe there would be more incentive to treat unskilled workers better (say, by decapitating rude and annoying customers who berate the employees).
The gist of this research, as it relates to the current topic, is that people don't always make the best choice according to their preferences. Sometimes they consistently make the easiest or the most superficially attractive choice instead. It may be best not to think of them as a "choice" at all, but as a reflexive reaction to certain circumstances, which often but not always conforms to rationality.
Okay, people are irrational. Ergo, state? By the way, you won't get any argument from me about the irrationality of people (sometimes myself included.) My anarchism is partially derived from my misanthropy, so that's not a big deal to me. But oh boy, here we go right into crazy town:
If people's decisions are not randomly irrational, but systematically irrational in predictable ways, that raises the possibility that people who are aware of these irrationalities may be able to do better than the average person in particular fields where the irrationalities are more common, raising the possibility that paternalism can sometimes be justified.
Ah, so the irrational masses that have predictably irrational beliefs, and ESPECIALLY uninformed and irrational beliefs about politics will elect sane, sober, informed and rational leaders to protect them from themselves. Uh.......k?
The argument here is that consumers really don't know safety and wouldn't without government. Blahblahblah section about ethical consumers below, blaaahhh.
His second point is kind of strange to me. Because, he says, in a free market large and established businesses like Wal-Mart can be trusted to sell safe products (though not two paragraphs earlier he mentions 4 unsafe products currently on shelves) that mom and pop stores WON'T be trusted and thus will tend to go out of business. This is crazy for three reasons:
- Author thinks that large corporations, in a way, can be trusted thus negating his fears about product safety.
- People routinely patronize/eat at local stores and restaurants that they know are not particularly clean or appealing. How would this change?
- The author, who thinks that people are generally irrational and undiscerning, will become rational and discerning when it comes to their safety choices.
Part B: Social Issues
If we think factors other than hard work and intelligence determining success are “unfair”, then most of Americans' life experiences are determined by “unfair” factors.
Yes. Unfairness is woven into the fabric of reality and disadvantaged people should be helped. There is no disagreement with that at all among libertarians. The central idea is HOW we should help disadvantaged people.
The little jab at trickle-down economics annoys me, because (though I can't be certain, I can guess) that the author might support the current economic policy which consists of the following: buying mortgage backed securities from banks, selling treasuries to banks, keeping interest rates artificially low and devaluing the dollar. What effect does this policy have? Firstly, inflation in an economy where wages are not growing at a commensurate level is really bad for the poor. Secondly, all these policies directly benefit the rich. Banks get toxic assets off their books and no repercussions for having taken them on in the first place, they get to make an enormous profit by lending commercially due to low interest rates, and they get straight up free money when it comes to treasuries. Finally, the lowering of interest rates makes it much more attractive to put money into the stock market where some real gains can be gotten. The top 10% of income earners hold 90% of stocks. So the economic policy can now be summed up as giving money to disproportionately rich people in hopes that one day it will reach poor people. Sounds familiar, huh?
While it is true that some libertarians and conservatives over-glorify the rich in the abstract, it is simply not the case that libertarians or anarcho-capitalists in general are staunch supporters of TODAY'S rich in particular. You will not have to look far to see criticisms of people who obtained or maintain their wealth through government handouts or favors (corporate welfare, as it's often called.) Of course we want to help the poor, and although I'm sure there are people who think the poor should just work harder, most libertarians and ancaps think that the largest impediment to the poor enjoying a good standard of living is the government. I won't rehash the arguments in full here, but suffice it to say, welfare programs (that many libertarians predicted decades ago would create a permanent underclass of unskilled people), shitty and unforgivably bad public schools and do-nothing feel good jobs (like Oregon's law requiring someone else to pump your gas) stifle the poor and prevent them from acquiring skills that are necessary to become moderately wealthy. That left-leaning people hold to the idea of public schools as they still are is simply a wholesale indictment of that part of their ideology. This cannot be repeated enough.
Secondly, and though I think you and I agree on this, the War on Drugs fucks poor (read: black) people big time. Not only would a non-violent legalized drug industry help create social mobility, but it would help the millions of people currently in jail who are not gaining skills and are a net drain on the system.
Thirdly, the welfare programs that more or less discourage fatherhood (and I would argue the encouraged disposability of males in general) have led to an epidemic of fatherless households among the poor. I will get my sources up later, but it is established that single motherhood is a strong negative predictor for social mobility and wealth generation, both for the child and the mother.
I'll talk about the morality of wealth transfer via taxes when you address it later.
If all of our success comes from external factors, then it is reasonable to ask that we "pay it forward" by trying to improve the external factors of others, turning them into better people who will be better able to seize the opportunities to succeed. This is a good deal of the justification for the liberal program of redistribution of wealth and government aid to the poor.
Yes, there is a good deal of justification for helping the poor for their unchosen misfortunes. No, there is no good reason to suggest that continually plying the poor with money and encouraging dependence rather than gaining skills is an effective way of helping them. Of course there is nothing wrong with ASKING rich people to pay it forward, but you're not really going to ask them for their money, are you?
If a poor person can't keep a job solely because she was lead-poisoned from birth until age 16, is it still fair to blame her for her failure? And is it still so unthinkable to take a little bit of money from everyone who was lucky enough to grow up in an area without lead poisoning, and use it to help her and detoxify her neighborhood?
He's talking about the tragedy of IQ loss from lead paint. I sympathize completely. We should all endear to help get these neighborhoods cleaned up. Does the government have a good track record of helping children or helping the environment in general? More on that later, but the answer is a big ol' fat NO.
Another predictor of IQ loss is heavy spanking of children. Of course, since nobody really cares about children in this country, this is not something that will be brought up. But “save the children” little causes pop up here and there and people sure do seem to love supporting them. Of course, they still spank their kids, send them to miserable public schools and see fit to mutilate the male gender's genitals, so this is another one of those times I agree with the author on the predictable irrationality of people. If we care about the suffering of children or poor outcomes, I have no clue why lead paint is his go-to example, but I take the point nonetheless.
He doesn't address the moral issue of taxation in this section, so I will wait until he does.
Boy, this guy is a great writer, but this section rustled my jimmies a bit. First, he compares income to movie tickets, explaining that if you have 3 movie tickets, you get much more utility out of them (being able to see 3 movies) than if you had 100 movie tickets (in which case you wouldn't be able to remotely come close to using them all.) Well this is just a shit analogy, I'm sorry to say. What if I had 100 tickets and could use 3 to watch my 3 favorite movies and turn the other 97 into something that could generate several hundred more movie tickets in the future, all the while creating economic value and possibly jobs along the way? Well, that's what investing is. The rich person does not leave his movie tickets sitting idle while How Stella Got Her Groove Back goes tragically unwatched, he invests them and provides capital for others to be more productive, expand, employ more people, etc. It just couldn't be much more incorrect as an analogy.
Secondly, there is something I find slimy about progressive taxes. You can read through this section (and any other argument for progressive taxes) and boil it all down to a simple principle: “we'll take it because you can spare it.” This is not a principle I find particularly ethical, and the attempt to dress it up in fancier trappings is off-putting.
The rest of section 6 is arguing against somewhat comical caricatures, so I will leave that to the people who actually believe them to defend.
Part C: Political Issues
He's gonna tell us about how government works well more often than we think. Something tells me I'm gonna have a thing or two to say about that.
His first example of government doing something right is simply a picture of a man on the moon. Quite an achievement, no doubt. When you have a relatively new agency with hot young studs from the private sector getting hired into the government, I'm sure you can accomplish a lot. Good thing NASA's been killing it with bold and ever successful missions the last ten years. Oh....
Cue all the things the government has done. This is annoying because it's an unfalsifiable claim. “The government invented/improved/spearheaded X and the private sector could not have.” Assertions one and all. One particularly egregious example of this is the Internet. Far from being totally created by the government, the history of the internet has a bit more nuance than that. Secondly, the ENTIRE FUCKING HISTORY of technology has been to increase ease and scope of communication. If you think that, absent this single program at one time sponsored by the government, we WOULDN'T have developed a worldwide communications system, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.
Continuing his list of proud government accomplishments, he anticipates my next objection well:
Inventing nuclear power and the game theory necessary to avoid destroying the world with it.
Well, that's rather like giving your infant a gun, letting him fire it a couple times, passing it around the neighborhood kids and then claiming a moral victory because now you've developed a way with the other parents to manage those kids with guns. Not too impressive to me. But it does raise another point: why is the government always lauded for accomplishments that (it is claimed) ONLY could have been done by government, yet never EVER criticized for the evils unleashed upon the world that are also ONLY possible because of government. I'm sure a warning system for typhoons is a good trade-off vis-a-vis nuclear bombs in Japan.
He's got some compelling sources here, so I'll refrain from commenting until I explore the issue further.
He's got some scattered examples of government success stories, that must prove it. I've got some scattered examples of private sector success stories, that must prove it. Oh shit, I think we've hit an impasse. I'll update this section later.
I've got to organize my sources better so I'm not talking out of my ass. Will get back to this. Needless to say, I'm not convinced that “government programs X, Y and Z have done well and come in under budget” is a persuasive general argument.
He does admit that correlation does not imply causation on some of these things, so he's a rational and even-handed thinker.
It is very tempting for libertarians, when faced with anything going well even in a tightly regulated area, to say “Well, that just shows even this tight regulations can't hide how great private industry is!” and when anything goes wrong even in a very loosely regulated area, to say “Well, that just shows how awful regulation is, that even a little of it can screw things up!” But this is unfair, and ignores that we do have some ways to disentangle cause and effect.
This is an important point because I see this all the time on both sides. Before data has come in, each side knows that government/no government is responsible. Good on him for bringing the criticism up for the statist side, too. Oh, wait....
Ah, automobile safety. I would love to talk about that another time, but I'd rather move along for now. These examples are not really germane to the overall discussion.
8. Health Care
His argument is that the government is more efficient and cost-effective at providing health care than the market is. I will not go into the entire health care argument, but there are many, many libertarianish thinkers who have talked about why health care is so expensive in the United States to begin with. About “death panels,” he very soberly and intelligently says:
The private system as it exists now in America also has bodies that make these kinds of rationing decisions. Health care rationing is not some sinister conspiracy but a reasonable response to limited resources.
Nice, this is some good economic thinking. I applaud the guy.
9. Prison Privatization
I am generally opposed to prisons as they exist currently, so you won't get much argument from me on this one. Of course, who currently creates the laws, sentences the prisoners, pays for the incarcerations and chooses the private prisons in which inmates are to be housed?
10. Gun Control
In response to the idea that gun control laws increase crime and help criminals, he says:
The statistics supporting this view seem relatively solid and I agree that attempts to ban or restrict access to guns are a bad idea.
Right on, super cool. He says some things about “common sense” gun laws which I won't quibble with here.
This is probably the most important issue to me, and surprisingly, this guy seems to get it a little bit. I think that Americans simply do not value education for themselves or for their kids. Why not? We have a system that graduates students who need remedial courses and who cannot fill out basic forms. We have a system that teaches English to kids for 12 years who then cannot spell or understand basic grammar rules. The biggest wholesale condemnation of our school system is that we look upon alternative learning methods with scorn and suspicion, and as a result, generally believe that there is only one model of education. This is dangerously stupid. If Americans looked at empirical education data the way they looked at BPA warnings in plastic water bottles, we'd all be much better off.
One thing I disagree with many libertarians on is the comparison of public vs private schools and the voucher program. While I freely admit that the current method of schooling is right for some kids, it most assuredly isn't for a huge percentage of kids and as such, libertarian hand-waving about “SEND YER KIDS TO PRIVATE SKOO!” strike me as more or less irritating squawks.
He and I also share an aversion to the idea of vouchers as a panacea for education. He brings up how some schools may just teach their own particular beliefs (religious and immigrant schools) and would not serve the students particularly well, then follows that by saying:
And there would be kids who succeeded in spite of all this, who made it through twelve years of constant brainwashing and ignorance, and somehow managed to become intelligent adults who could learn all the education they missed during their free time. But statistically, there wouldn't be very many of them..
Jesus Christ, that part hit me like a ton of bricks. This is how I feel about nearly every kid graduating public school.
He argues about how there should be someone to protect kids from their shitty parents. I agree, I just don't know who should be doing that. As he says, even social workers cannot be counted on to improve things reliably.
Children are basically slaves to their parents for the first ten to fifteen years of their lives, and parents have a special social permission to use force against their children.
Then he follows that up with:
And obviously the parent-child relationship is a healthy one in 99% of cases...
Ow. Boy, that doesn't compute at all. I must seriously ask this guy how he could possibly believe both things at once. I look at statists and generally see how they feel about children. If they talk about the disadvantaged in society, the plight of the downtrodden, the eternal jaw-clenching pain of poverty, etc but think that 99% of parent-child relationships are healthy, I know that they have not thought very hard about the subject. If you claim to be a force for the downtrodden and you don't have wholesale criticisms of the way children are raised in this country, you are basically the equivalent of claiming to be a pacifist while decapitating grandma. I will expand on this later, but for shorthand, my views about children in society are approximately the same as those of Stefan Molyneux, and he has a never-ending series of videos, podcasts and articles about the subject.
Part D: Moral Issues
Alright, this is the meat and potatoes. I live for this shit, so let's go.
Moral systems based only on avoiding force and respecting rights are incomplete, inelegant, counterintuitive, and usually riddled with logical fallacies...
I kind of agree. The Non-Aggression Principle (thou shalt not initiate force against non-consenting persons) is (to me) a shorthand and is not particularly helpful without adding some asterisks and provisos. I'll see if I can do that later on in this subject. He's gonna talk about consequentialism in a little bit, which is good, because (contrary to the claims in this article about the uniformity of libertarian views) this is an area of genuine libertarian debate and some of the most famous libertarian thinkers were very staunch consequentialists.
12. Moral Systems
I don't know any libertarians that argue that freedom is the one virtue that must be upheld above all others, but maybe they exist, so I'll sidestep that issue in case I'm wrong. The libertarian position is that although there are many good things to value (he lists happiness, health, prosperity, friends, family, love, etc), the best way to achieve those values is via freedom (or at the very least, that these things move towards a positive end of a scale in tandem.) They argue that only in situations of freedom can a lot of these values be expressed fully. This is not to say that without freedom, none of these values are possible. There is a fine-tuning that can be done.
I completely agree freedom is an extremely important good, maybe the most important. I don't agree it's an infinitely important good, so I'm willing to consider trade-offs that sacrifice a small amount of freedom for a large amount of something else I consider valuable. Even the simplest laws, like laws against stealing, are of this nature...
Sure. I guess it would depend on what you mean by freedom. Libertarians are often caricatured in this way, confronted by cackling assholes who say “IF YOU LUV FREEDOM SO MUCH, I HAVE THE FREEDOM TO TAKE YER SHIT!” This is an equivocation, and an incredibly unsophisticated way of looking at freedom (though libertarians in their sloganistic politics often make this caricature easy.)
Consider the argument "How can we have a holiday celebrating Martin Luther King? After all, he was a criminal!"
Technically, Martin Luther King was a criminal, in that he broke some laws against public protests that the racist South had quickly enacted to get rid of him. It's why he famously spent time in Birmingham Jail.
And although "criminal" is a very negative-sounding and emotionally charged word, in this case we have to step back from our immediate emotional reaction and notice that the ways in which Martin Luther King was a criminal don't make him a worse person.
And although "criminal" is a very negative-sounding and emotionally charged word, in this case we have to step back from our immediate emotional reaction and notice that the ways in which Martin Luther King was a criminal don't make him a worse person.
Then, just a bit later:
And calling taxation “theft” is exactly the same sort of trick. What's theft? It's taking something without permission. So it's true that taxation is theft, but if you just mean it involves taking without permission, then everyone from Lew Rockwell up to the head of the IRS already accepts that as a given.
This only sounds like an argument because the person who uses it is hoping people will let their automatic negative reaction to theft override their emotions, hoping they will equivocate from theft as "taking without permission" to "theft as a terrible act worthy only of criminals".
Nice try, but that's not gonna work. First, there's his incredibly soft definition of theft. “Taking something without permission” rather than, say, TO STEAL SOMETHING. “Taking something without permission” sounds innocent and almost accidental, like borrowing your brother's bike to ride to the store while he's having a nap.
Secondly, there is nothing wrong with being a traitor or a criminal because those are incredibly squishy and changing definitions/interpretations whereas theft is not. For example, being a traitor and a criminal in Nazi Germany are almost moral badges of honor. When is theft a badge of honor? Maybe in Robin Hood, but even then it's justified because the rich have unethically obtained that property, rendering their claim upon it void anyways. If you look at anybody claiming to justify theft, instead of claiming the traitor or criminal badge of honor and saying “YES I WILL STEAL THE PROPERTY THAT PERSON HAS A LEGITIMATE CLAIM TO AND BE HAPPY ABOUT IT,” the would-be thief almost always tries to say that the person whose property is about to be stolen has acquired it unjustly or for some other reason has had his claim upon it rendered void. Everyone stealing is in the business of trying to make it look like they aren't really stealing. So, unless I am missing something, theft as a concept cannot be pressed into the service of your point. It would seem that theft IS “a terrible act worthy only of criminals.”
Take cases like the fish farming, boycott, and charity scenarios above. There the use of force to solve the coordination problem meets an extraordinarily strict set of criteria: not only does it benefit the group as a whole, not only does it benefit every single individual in the group, but every single
individual in the group knows that it benefits them and endorses that benefit (eg would vote for it).
This is a completely unjustified implication. There are two HUGE HUGE HUGE fallacies at work here: that a given action could be taken to benefit every single person against their wills that they could not do themselves (not that this is impossible, but it just can't be asserted) and secondly that the government has motive, ability, ethical standards and a pattern of doing things like this. I mean, I suppose we could grant him a government that is wise, intelligent, prescient and aware of the peoples' needs (though he still thinks these benevolent leaders came into power either from the ether, or similarly, by the votes of the irrational and moronic electorate). I could grant him that major leap no problem. Could he grant me the leap that maybe they could organize it themselves without the overhead and slippery slope?
He also argues for paternalism. I have no problems with paternalism when it comes to private companies changing retirement plans or any of the other examples. I have no problem if Wal-Mart puts the fat-filled chocolate cake snacks on the top shelf so only the nimble and non-electric cartbound can obtain them. I have problems when the government does it.
All three of these sets of cases belie the idea that the use of force must on net have bad consequences.
You are a consequentialist. Hey, so am I. We should hang out. Anyways, the negative consequences of using force are that FORCE HAS BEEN USED AGAINST PEOPLE. It's like asking what the negative consequences of bad things are. Um.........bad? The consequences of force, especially government force like there is in almost every aspect of your life today is that we are a society that tolerates force being used as the first response to any problem instead of a peaceful solution. Force becomes a habit, and it becomes self-justifying. Look at any relationship around you, this could be one-on-one, group-on-other-group and tell me that almost a free license on force doesn't immediately remove the benevolence of the initiators. Why do you think George W. Bush and Barry Obomber aren't facing a Nuremburg trial for depleted uranium and white phosphorous gas use in Iraq, just as one of hundreds of examples? Those that claim to have the right to use force whenever they want will become insulated from responsibility and consequence. For a consequentialist, that's a bad bad thing. I will expand on this later (and other slippery slope arguments that I know you're not fond of) as I'd like to move on to more meat.
I love your justification for consequentialism. I've always thought it was strange that anyone would hold a belief about ethics that has nothing to do with the consequences of an action. It seems to me that people with the worst beliefs often act that way.
Killing and stealing both have bad consequences; in fact, that seems to be the essence of why they're wrong. Fires on Saturday and homosexuality don't hurt anybody else, but killing and stealing do.
I agree with you that killing and stealing have bad consequences. Only you seem to exempt states from this moral rule, huh?
The Non-Aggression Principle. Itshappening.gif!!!
This is where we get into some serious criticisms, and I like that this guy has gone through the NAP (my shorthand for Non-Aggression Principle) with a fine-toothed comb and studied it as a philosophical and logical concept. This is far and above most criticisms of the NAP I've ever seen and I sincerely applaud the dude for making it.
Here's my issue with the Non-Aggression Principle: it's fucking awesome and useful, but it is not as self-sustaining as libertarians tend to imagine it is. I will expand on this later, but let's get to his main criticisms.
First, once you disentangle it from the respect it gets as the Traditional Culturally Approved Ground Of Morality, the actual rational arguments for it as a principle are surprisingly weak. Second, in order to do anything practical with it you need such a mass of exceptions and counter-exceptions and stretches that one starts to wonder whether it's doing any philosophical work at all; it becomes a convenient hook upon which to hang our pre-existing prejudices rather than a useful principle for solving novel moral dilemmas.
I agree with a lot of this. Let me lay out my slightly nihilistic view of morality: I think every moral philosophy boils down to when you're willing to use violence against someone. Granted, I'm by no means a philosopher, just a dude who likes to read about morals from time to time, so by all means, let me know if I've mangled something horribly. We can disagree on everything in our philosophies, but where the rubber meets the road and where the thoughts meet the thighs is how we resolve our disputes. I say this land is mine since I homesteaded it and I find the homesteading principle of land use to be a fair and safe way to deal with questions of unmade labor. You say this land is everybody's land because land, being a scarce resource, shouldn't be the property of anyone. I say it's mine, you say it's yours. How do we resolve this? Either we debate our philosophies until one person agrees, you let me have my land, or you move in and put your shit on it. This is going to come to blows at some point if by some minor miracle, the first option doesn't happen. If I want to achieve optimal outcomes (consequences), I need a moral framework. Contrary to your claims, the NAP (at least for myself) is a completely consequentialist way of looking at what I view to be the down and dirty of every philosophy: violence and force. Of course, why do libertarians focus on force/violence so much? Is it because force and violence are just innately bad? Of course it isn't, it's because when it comes to well-being (the entire basis of morals,) nothing is more CONSEQUENTLY detrimental to it than violence.
You go on:
Third, when push comes to shove the Non-Aggression Principle just isn't strong enough to solve hard problems. It usually results in a bunch of people claiming conflicting rights and judges just having to go with whatever seems intuitively best to them.
Yes, but this is no special problem for the NAP compared to any other philosophy. Basically the criticism is that the one sentence philosophy doesn't cover everything. Well, yeah. Granted, you are right to make this criticism because certainly a lot of libertarians act as if this one sentence DOES cover everything.
I agree with you that we cannot derive all these natural property laws from some sort of is-ought situation. I know for certain that I own my body and I find the structure of property that works best (i.e. has the best consequences) is a private property situation and some ability to own land. I derive this from consequences, because, like you, I do not think you can derive these rights logically from any kind of first principle. So what do we do about someone who decides the consequences of private property and private ownership of land are NOT the best for the situation? Well, we either steer clear, or we fight over it. I should add here, that when I use the word “force,” I mean the ability to control, attack or constrain. So, yes when your neighbor trespasses on your property and snakes one of your apples, they've used force upon your property. There are gradations of force.
So, given that I find private property to be a just and consequentially awesome way of living, when am I willing to use force or violence? I'm willing to use force or violence in defense of someone using force or violence against me and/or my property (i.e. shit). I'd also use defensive and proportional (this is the key. No need to use a car battery and clamps on someone's nuts for taking an apple from my garden) force against someone who initiated force against a third party that could not defend themselves or their property. I also find theft is an initiation of force against my property and fraud is a DECEPTIVE initiation of force against my property. So with that, I give you my definition of the revised and proviso'd Non-Aggression Principle:
Because of my consequentialist views about property, land and self, I find it morally wrong (read: axiomatically having a negative consequence to well-being) to initiate force or fraud against nonconsenting persons, properties or land. Upon violation of this principle, the victim (insofar as it can be decided who the aggressor and the aggressee are) should have the right to protect his person, property or land in a proportional manner to that force and to seek proportionate recompense. I adopt the above as a system which will have the most positive consequences and negate the most negative ones.
That's super messy even corrected as well as I can, and even then there are still problems with that definition. For example, I haven't spelled out at all why I think my system of property is consequentially awesome, nor why I consider force or fraud to be moral violations (i.e. consequentially not awesome). I haven't spelled out whether or not my neighbor blasting his radio would be a violation of my property rights. I haven't spelled out why someone would deserve compensation upon being harmed, etc. Morality is messy as hell and even if you questioned me on what might constitute a breach of this, I might not be 100% consistent. So be it, morals are a work in progress.
Finding libertarians who can't agree on how the NAP translates to rare occasions or difficult and subjective questions about rights only condemns the idea that the NAP is simple, it doesn't condemn its correctness. I would think as a consequentialist, you would be used to that by now. The fact that deciding the consequences of something is hard or that even people who share your view might come out with different conclusions doesn't damage the idea of consequentialism generally, right? I mean, there's something called the Three Mile Island Effect. It goes something like this: A nuclear reactor had a partial meltdown in the late 70s. Was this a good thing? Well, your first response might be to say “of course not, think of all the radiation!” But, think about it longer. Maybe that partial meltdown scared so many people that it whipped up a frenzy of safety precautions that may have helped prevent similar things from happening in the future. Maybe those new safety measures were installed in ten newly built power plants across the world. So on balance, who knows whether or not the Three Mile Island incident was a bad thing?
Of course the NAP is difficult (despite some libertarian claims.) It can be incredibly hard to find out even who the initial aggressor was, whether a given response was proportional, etc. So, with all that, can you really blame sophisticated libertarians for going for the simple definition and skipping the asterisks until question time?
13. Rights and Heuristics
There's not much to quibble with here, and he explains how we should use heuristics (not perfect, but still awesome rules of thumb) to guide our moral thinking.
Currently, several trillion dollars are being spent to prevent terrorism. This seems to fall within the area of what libertarians would consider a legitimate duty of government, since terrorists are people who initiate force and threaten our safety and the government needs to stop this. However, terrorists only kill an average of a few dozen Americans per year.
Once again, you cannot press this point into the service you are trying to. Libertarians (at least statist ones) do support national defense as a legitimate use of state power, but I would be amazed to find a single libertarian who thinks that spending trillions of dollars is an effective or moral way to do so.
I'm gonna be honest. I hate this goddamn thought experiment and my first reaction to it is usually “are you fucking kidding me?” Firstly, it's so widely used and thought to be a nail in the coffin, though it's asserted out of thin goddamn air. It's right up there with “if you don't vote, you have no right to complain” on the scale of moronic things that pass for conventional wisdom. Second, it's so impractical and unlikely that it's not worth bringing up. What if, in a perfect Scandinavian-style American social democracy, a giraffe obtains a nuclear weapon, and mistaking it for a salt lick, detonates it in the San Diego Zoo? WHAT THEN, STATISTS?!!?!?!? CHECKMATE!!!
It's even worse than that, because the author takes the normal silly scenario and adds a whole Machiavellian scenario where the drug creator not only refuses to provide his drug, but becomes the leader of the entire society, screaming “you want implausible? I've got implausible! Take that, you fucking giraffe!”
Find some poor people in a country without government-funded welfare, and ask how that's working out for them.Private charity from the First World hasn't prevented the Rwandans, Ethiopians, or Haitians from dying of malnutrition or easily preventable disease.
Oh boy. First world countries have social safety nets for two reasons: people want them and people are willing and able to pay for them. In the absence of a state, do these two intense desires disappear?
Do not bring up Rwanda as a point against a free society. A government sanctioned and led murder of 800,000 people over ethnic groups trying to grab onto the wheel of power has nothing to do with what you're talking about. Secondly, I will reiterate my point that it is an empirical fact that large governments or large swaths of the people DO NOT care to solve problems in the third world.
Your calculations about what it would require to support the needs of the poor now of course would not work in a libertarian society. Again, I refer you to the several libertarian thinkers who have talked about the welfare state creating a permanent underclass of people. Also, if you allow me assumptions, if the libertarian argument is correct, prices will be lower, wages will be higher, health care will be more affordable and retirement savings plans will yield many times more money than Social Security does. This is in conjunction with a sane educational policy, an incentive to find work (since the able but unwilling will not be able to get welfare in the way they do today) would obviate a lot of these problems. This is not an overnight process and it would come as a surprise to nobody that if the state scaled back to 5% of its current size tomorrow that things would go massively awry.
Part E: Practical Issues
14. Slippery Slopes
The author doesn't like the slippery slope argument that giving government large powers will descend into tyranny and inefficiency.
No one seriously expects Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, or Canada to become a totalitarian state, even though all four have gone much further down the big-government road than America ever will.
Of course, this is pretending to know the future in advance. I reserve judgment on issues of future tyranny in countries I don't know much about, but I also know that history is quick, brutal and unpredictable. Of course, the best thing about the slippery slope section is that the author responds only to the threat of tyranny from large governments, not the threat of say, ECONOMIC FUCKING CATASTROPHE! It's amazing that libertarians cry foul about the future of our debt levels and currency worth ad nauseum, and the author skips that and goes straight to giggling at libertarians for thinking Canada is going to become a Hitleresque empire. That's not very nice.
Secondly, you don't have to attribute a massive New World Order type conspiracy to the ever growing Federal Government to be worried about a creep into less than ideal civil liberties situations. Though I realize that libertarianism is home to a lot of paranoid conspiracy types, it is simple enough to say that state power in the United States expands as a general rule. Programs that are created are rarely abolished, budgets are rarely trimmed, and advancing times always require new regulatory agencies and rules.
Read two books my William Blum (Rogue State and Killing Hope, specifically) to see the lengths the United States government has historically gone to achieve its objectives. Since the United States government is in constant need of an external threat, it is no surprise that civil liberties conditions deteriorate generally. Plus, I don't know when this article was written and posted, but it comes as no surprise to many of us that the Obama administration (supported by many liberals who spent 8 years complaining that George Bush was implementing a totalitarian state) would give Dick Cheney a hardon with how wrecklessly and unabashedly creepy it is on civil liberties. Also read Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill, not exactly a libertarian wonk.
Suffice it to say that when a government has complete control over the money supply, the interest rates, openly defies law with warrantless wiretapping, increases crackdowns on journalists and protestors, legalizes indefinite detention of American citizens, sends drone strikes against American citizens never charged with a crime or even suspected of one, and a whole other host of issues, the one who looks foolish is not the libertarian worried about the scope of state power.
A large government also irks libertarians because they rightly see it as a complete failure to achieve goals promised beforehand. Imagine the following scenario: libertarians seize power and promise to reduce the state by 10%. They argue that this will help the economy, lift people out of poverty and help sick people afford health insurance. After a presidential term, government is reduced 10% and nothing happens. They campaign saying they need to cut another 10% to really get the reforms kick started. Then a terrorist attack happens and they say they need to cut another 10% to offload military bases that are thought to be the cause of the attacks. Imagine after twenty years of libertarian rule that nothing fundamentally has changed. Poverty exists, health care is expensive, and the economy is only alive thanks to some clever Federal Reserve jiggery. Meanwhile the libertarians stand by their predictions and mechanisms of action. Wouldn't this be a complete refutation of libertarianism? Wouldn't continued demands to reduce the state more to achieve their goals be a stubborn lack of willingness to admit their failures? This is how libertarians see statists.
15. Strategic Activisim
I think if you've got enough intelligence and energy to be a libertarian, a better use of that intelligence and energy would be to help enact a properly working system.
That's not very nice. If you think you've got enough intelligence and energy to be a statist, a better use of that intelligence and energy would be to help enact a properly working system. See? I can do it too!!!!!!
He talks about various libertarian proposals to affect change, and I disagree with most all of them. I find trying to hijack an entire nation and making it bend to your will is a horrifying thought. I am in favor of small enclaves of social experiments involving voluntary interactions of people choosing to try out a particular system (anarcho-capitalism, socialism, Venus Project, etc.)
I also have a particular disdain for democracy. Rather than get into that here, here's a link to my (incomplete) thoughts on democracy: http://problemswithdemocracy.blogspot.com/2013/10/negative-externalities-huge-problem.html
Well, that's the end of my critique of his long and well-written post. Though they don't really fit within the context of the responses above, I'd like to address four topics here.
1. Some problems do NOT have readily available solutions or even conceivable realistic solutions, so statists and libertarians should not pretend they have the solutions to them.
You see this fallacy at work all the time. Listen to a debate between a statist and a libertarian and you'd get the impression that both members are fucking geniuses who have pored over policy papers for decades. They know how to solve every problem! It's uncanny. There are some problems that, no matter how advanced and civilized the people in the society (statist or non) are, there will not be solutions to. Deal with it and stop pretending you can save the entire fucking ocean.
2. Regulation, in general, creates apathy and a sense that a problem has been solved when really, only a Band-Aid has been placed on it.
I see this all the time. A group of concernced citizens gets some legislation passed regulating industry X. They rejoice, for the world is now safe! However, regulation requires enforcement, competence and no conflict of interest. Did you know that there were over 100 different agencies and groups regulating and overseeing the financial markets in 2008? How'd that work out? Did you know that people from the MMS (Minerals Management Service) were literally having sex with oil industry employees and lobbyists instead of protecting our precious damn oceans? The price of having effective regulations is constant vigilance and harsh punishment. Neither seem to be in fashion these days.
3. MOST IMPORTANTLY, both the statist and nonstatist worldviews MUST rely on the ability of common people to be ethical consumers in order for either worldview to function correctly.
This is the most important point that can be made in this debate. The author of this post does not think that consumers could effectively band together and boycott unethical companies. How he doesn't find this idea to be a complete damnation of democracy in general is beyond me, but it's worth looking into. It is much easier to boycott (refrain from doing something) than to support something politically (vote or rally for.) Since the author even says that people cannot be counted on to expend enough energy to make a boycott effective, how does he think that an effective democracy can be built?
It's even worse than that because smart and well-intentioned people participating in politics have a hugely less chance of success than smart and well-intentioned people in a consumer boycott. Why is this? Well, it simply must be assumed that a politician is not going to be as true to his word as he says he is. Since a positive action put into a boycott by a private person is by definition effective (in that a person abstaining from buying something or buying a rival product actually makes an effect, however small), it is of course true that they are more effective than those who use political action. Look at how many smart and progressive liberals voted for Barack Obama for a reduction in our use of armed forces, a single payer health care system, a reduction in state shenanigans vis-a-vis civil liberties and so on. Since a lot of the things they wanted and voted for have provably deteriorated, their political action was not only a failure, but they got the OPPOSITE of what they voted for. They scored an own goal. It'd be like trying to boycott Wal-Mart by going into a rival store, buying 1,000 dollars worth of groceries, only to find once you've gotten home that you were actually shopping in a Wal-Mart.
It might be argued that people lack the information to effectively boycott a company. Of course, the same is directly true of democracy, but leaving that aside, it can be easily envisioned how this can be overcome. The Moneterey Bay Aquarium puts out a list of seafood that they separate into green, yellow and red categories. Based on sustainability and overfishing, you use their handy little guide when you're shopping to find whether or not the seafood you're about to purchase is on the up and up. Whole Foods also announced that it would partner with the program to eliminate “red” seafood from all of its stores. That is a two-fer: a cool program with easy to follow instructions on how to purchase sustainable seafood and an effective boycott without a single citizen having to modify their behavior at all.
I do take this criticism very seriously, because like I've said, the entirety of a peaceful society rests on the ability of average people to be ethical consumers, either of corporations or of government. Since you are doubtful and since I have a misanthropic disdain for the voting public, this does not bode well for either of our visions of the future. Which leads me to:
4. The Hubris of Universality and a Compromise
I think that the most insane thing in all of America is the drive to push the entire country towards your own way of thinking. I cannot imagine a more immoral, destructive and wasteful project than American politics. Election after election, we swing from D to R by the tiniest of margins and spend the intervening four years agitating for your side to continue its grip on power. I literally cannot overstate how goddamn stupid this is.
Imagine a group of enlightened liberals bought some land outside of Portland and moved 15,000 likeminded people there. They establish a universal health care system, high taxes on high income earners, a fully public school including university, and other liberal bastions. Wouldn't that be an awesome experiment to see the results of?
Imagine a group of anarcho-capitalists bought some forestland and moved 15,000 anarchists there. They traded freely with no taxes, they openly cultivated, consumed and sold drugs. They distilled alcohol, they built houses without permits or regards to zoning laws. They created arbitration courts and dispute resolution organizations. They created private charity for the unfortunate. They created ten different schools, each with vastly different curricula and different ways of learning.
This is all I propose: that people who think differently be allowed to voluntarily form their own communities free of state control. This is where the moral rubber hits the road. Say my friends and I try this libertarian paradise. What would YOU do? What would YOU advocate? Would you want the community disbanded by force of government? Thank you for your time.