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Understanding Libertarians

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I’m not writing this with the idea of changing the minds of any self-identified Libertarian—before I take that on there are some windmills that must be defeated. This post is an effort to understand where they’re coming from. We all have a few friends who hold these positions, and about whom we think, “Yeah, but he seems like a nice guy. And so normal. I hardly ever see the horns, especially under that motorcycle helmet he hates being made to wear.”

There is this belief among large sections of the Left that, to be a Libertarian (using “Libertarian” in the limited sense of Right-wing anarchist, or supporters and sympathizers of the Libertarian Party, or Randites, &c), one must be Evil. Or, at any rate, not care about the suffering of others. And, many think, they’re probably bigots, sexists, and care more about their right to smoke weed than about the homeless.

I don’t think it’s that simple. It might seem so, because some of the core beliefs of Libertarianism easily, perhaps inevitably, lead to positions that are deeply hostile to what many of us (including me) consider human rights—as I’ve said before, if you accept that property rights can be higher than human rights, you’ll find yourself supporting the most appalling positions and never know how you got there.

For a classic example of what I’m talking about, look here.  Penn Jillette is a pretty smart guy, and, by all reports, not a jerk.  But his specialty is slight-of-hand, of which this is a delicious example.  When he says that taxation is the state taking things from the people “at gunpoint” he is essentially correct; the state at its heart is simply a bunch of people with guns, and mechanisms for controlling the use of those guns.  But the card he’s palming is that the whole reason for the state’s existence in the first place, the reasons those guns exist, is to protect private property.  So when the state comes in and takes some of your property, well, it is only your property in the first place because the state defines it as such through laws determining what can and cannot be private property, regulates how it can and cannot be used, and then protects your right to keep it.  Changing the definition of what property can be kept under what conditions might be really enraging, like when the GM suddenly nerfs your favorite weapon, but that remains the state’s job: to represent the property-owning class in the best way it can at a given time and place.  Arguments between liberals and conservatives are arguments among those who control wealth and property over how best to manage it for their combined interests, and the heat and fury of these arguments reflects the degree to which those interests conflict, uncertainty about how best to represent those interests, and sometimes desperation over the possibility of finding any solution at all.   Mr. Jillette’s argument is flawed, and if broadly adopted would lead to conditions that can only be called Dickensian; but it does not reflect someone who is evil.

This forces us to ask: What, other than holding great wealth and having the desire to keep it, can lead one to a position whose end result is such barbarity?  Or, to put it another way, what is attractive in this philosophy to those who do not have immense wealth?  There are any number of answers to this question, including the desire to believe that one might acquire great wealth, or having been subjected to Ayn Rand at an impressionable age,  or, well, sometimes it really is pathological selfishness.  But  I think what is usually at the foundation of the appeal of Libertarianism is a deep hatred of coercion. And, seriously, who can’t understand that? I mean, not many of us like being coerced. We don’t enjoy being told what we can and cannot do. As a smoker who is now forbidden to smoke (or even use an e-cig, fer chrissakes!) just about anywhere, believe me, I get it.

For now, my point is not about the problems of trying to invent a socioeconomic system based on one’s likes and dislikes, rather than on a scientific understanding of historical processes. My point is, I think they are missing something important, something that has led those of us on the Left (even the ones with whom I vehemently disagree on almost everything except, “these things are problems”) to such drastically different positions.

The issue is coercion itself, and I would argue that human beings have been fighting coercion as long as we have been in existence.  But there are more kinds of coercion in heaven and earth, Milton Friedman, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  If we define coercion as being forced to act or to refrain from acting in a certain way regardless of one’s wishes, then Man has been fighting coercion by nature since before we separated ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom.  The simpler our society, and the less we understood natural processes and how to make them work for us, the greater were our choices limited by nature.  But the real gotcha came when we had made great strides in understanding nature, in division of labor, in forming complex societies that were able to free us from the burden of dominance by our environment, because, in doing so, we created the situation where these societies themselves coerced us.  Class society—an important and necessary step forward for humanity—brought with it for the first time a class able to make choices about how to devote the greater part of its time, but it supported these few by a system of slavery, that is, with human beings defined as property.  It also, in order to protect that property, for the first time introduced the state.  Other forms of property have accompanied progress, but it has, so far, always come down to a minority being relatively free of coercion at the expense of the majority whose choices were curtailed or entirely nonexistent.  One of my earliest memories of my mother becoming really angry came when she was looking at the cover of some magazine, maybe “Look,” that showed a Jamacian child under the caption, “A future sugar field worker.”  And she was angry, of course, because the magazine was right—that child would work in the sugar fields.  There are children in Kentucky and West Virginia who, if nothing is done, will grow up to work in the coal mines because they have no other choice.   Others don’t even have that to look forward to: poverty, hopelessness, and crime are in their future, and there’s nothing they, as individuals, can do about it.

.And here is where we get to the crux of the matter: The greater part of the human race faces coercion to a humiliating and degrading degree by the necessity to secure food and shelter, not because society can no longer easily supply all of those things, but because society is organized around the principle of private profit, which by its nature coerces most of us into spending 40 or 50 hours a week for forty years of our lives merely to live. In the worst cases, generations of poverty, and artificial systemic oppression in its various ugly faces provide even more coercion, fewer choices.

When some entitled reactionary says, “Want to escape poverty? Want to get a free education? Join the army!” what he is saying is, “I have a thousand choices for what to do with my life, you have two. So pick one, and stop complaining about being coerced.”  It is easy to recognize helmet laws as limiting personal choice; it is harder to recognize that being forced to spend the greater part of your life working to make someone else rich is also limiting personal choice.  I not only believe the latter is coercion, but I believe it is more fundamental to how society works.  Like the Libertarian, I favor full human freedom (except, of course, the freedom to exploit the labor of others, which inherently denies them freedom).  Where I part company with them is that I consider freedom from material wants to be a necessary precondition for spiritual freedom.

It is no longer necessary.  If the full technical and creative force of humanity were working on it, those sugar fields could be worked by robots, the mines by machines, all of the goods needed for all of us produced with little or no need for oppressive labor, but only the sort of “labor” that is fulfilling to, well, to us geeks, engineers, those with a passion for tinkering and fixing and making stuff better.  There are immense numbers of those people now; how many more would there be with full education, and with the leisure that would come if there were an even division of wealth and toil?  We could get there easily; but such changes are simply incompatible with production and distribution based on profit.

Buckminster-Fuller-Quote

Yes, I hate individual, personal coercion by constituted authority, especially when (as it so often is) it’s arbitrary and stupid and an excuse for an emotionally stunted swine to find fulfillment through exercising power. I would like to see that ended. Furthermore, I am fully confident that doing so is achievable. But before we can end coercion by authority, we must create a society where authority is not needed to keep anyone in line. That means a society where people are not having their heat cut off in winter, where drinking water is not poisoned, where bombs are not raining down on the heads of children, where homelessness, untreated disease, and hunger are eliminated; because the existence of those things absolutely requires authoritarian measures, violence, and the threat of violence to protect the entitled from the oppressed.

So, my fellow Leftists, here is the disconnect: Libertarians hate coercion as much as we do, but they do not see it in some of the places that we see it, perhaps thinking that such things are the “natural order” or “just how things are.” No, it is by no means safe to believe they don’t care about human suffering.  But because they do not see coercion in the blind forces of nature and society, but only in the deliberate actions of individuals and institutions, they have created an ideology whereby (in their belief) removing personal coercion will relieve human suffering.  Needless to say, I disagree, but that is not the point of this post.

And, just on the off chance a Libertarian has stayed with me for all of this (for which, thank you), I would ask you to consider that there are more kinds of coercion than just income tax, drug laws, eminent domain, and mandatory immunizations. If we are to reach a place where we can tackle coercion by authority, we must first find our way to full social and economic equality, which can not be done otherwise than by, at last, putting an end to the fundamental coercion that is private property in the means of production.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

331 Comments

  1. “Or, well” indeed!

  2. You may want to add a link to the Marxist definition of private property, ’cause that’s hard for most Americans, and especially for right-libertarians.

  3. skzb

    Good point, Will. I’ll go footnote that.

  4. I’m a moderate libertariian that did, indeed, stick with you to the end, thank you for taking a nuanced approach to understanding where libertarians are coming from.

    And you’re right that a lot of libertarians don’t understand how coercive just having to live can be. But I do think you can take “equality” way too far. Yes, it’s coercive to have to work because you need to eat, but it’s not coercive to have to work because you want a nice cellphone.

    I do think that, as automation causes pure capitalism to break down, that something akin to a Universal Basic Income is going to become both necessary, and actually desirable.

    But with that in place, the excuse that capitalists are “exploiting” the labor of the working class disappears. It’s not exploitive to offer someone the opportunity to create enough value to have the luxuries that one wants, rather than the necessities that one needs.

    We do, indeed, have (barely, maybe) enough productive resources to satisfy everyone’s *needs*. What we don’t have, and may never have, is enough sustainable productive capacity to satisfy everyone’s *wants*, because those are sufficiently unlimited that we would destroy the planet trying to satisfy them.

  5. Coercion is scratching the surface. It’s “close” to what libertarians believe, but not entirely the whole thing.

    It’s about *statutory* coercion. It’s about coercion that you are literally powerless against. I may feel coerced by “big corporations” or “nature” but I can — in and of myself — reject that coercion and still live a life of freedom. It might be *difficult* — I might have to raise my own crops on my own land, etc., but one *can* avoid those external non-statutory coercions.

    Statutory coercions cannot be so avoided. You cannot simply say “I am living on my own land, raising my own food and drinking the water that falls from the sky, and so I do not need your assistance, and I certainly don’t intend to pay for it” (for example). Well, you can SAY that, but — and this is key — the men with guns will still come steal from you the tithe that they demanded you voluntarily send them.

    The forces of statutory coercion are allowed to inflict bodily harm on you if you refuse to turn over the tithe, unlike the forces of ‘corporate’ coercion.

    This is the fundamental difference, for many of us at least.

  6. Brilliant post, sir. Thanks for reminding me that my libertarian friends and I agree that coercion is awful, and just disagree on what defines coercion.

  7. As a Libertarian centrist, who worked his way up from poor to successful verging on well off, I agree with a large part of what you have said in this article about motives. That said, there are a few anecdotal matters I would like to mention.

    Removing the ability to fail to the point that you are desperate removes a large part of our ability to grow spiritually. How we react when we are desperate to eat or retain our home is a test of character that a universal net would remove. You speak about removing the ability to fail like it is a self evident goal that can only lead to good, and then quote that only 1 in 10,000 has the genius to advance our society. Where I have an issue with this is that in my case I had to fail hard to get the drive to persevere and become who I am today. I look back and see that had I no fear of utter ruin and hardship I would not be who I am today, and that is why I abhor the very idea of mandatory communism. You are talking about taking away the ability to fail which I view as vital to human personal growth.

  8. Another brilliant essay, Maestro. I have one or two libertarianesque friends who will enjoy this immensely. Why? Because I think they are coming along nicely toward the far left.
    Two nearly random comments:
    1. I find there are no libertarians in an elevator. Everybody looks for that inspection certificate.
    2. I love that part where you referred to people being exposed to Ayn Rand at an early age. Leaving aside her obviously being quite mentally ill, after 18 years working on a railroad I can definitively say that what she didn’t know about railroads could fill a book–well it did, actually. Her chief metaphor in Atlas Shrugged doesn’t work. All that heroic individual stuff would lead to death and injury not only to that HI but also to a lot of people who aren’t driving the train. And there’s your true image of the world as it is.

  9. Three of my four libertarian friends are incredibly kind and generous people; their belief that social problems can be dealt with through individual charity alone has never failed to strIke me as incredibly naive, especially given their cynicism about government, but nonetheless they’ve never left me room to doubt they are folk of enormous goodwill who live their ideals. For at least two of them, I think stubbornness about statutory coercion covers a lot of the difference in outlook. Not sure about the others, there’s something else at wirk, but I can’t get my finger on the pulse of it right now.

    Anyway, good, thought provoking post.

  10. Matthew Jenkins, I’ll take a society where nobody starves and nobody discovers their true potential over a society half inspired and half malnourished any day. And the self-evident good of that goal looks pretty plain to me.

  11. @dballing,

    If you become too sick or injured to work, you cannot resist nature alone.

    And in turn, corporate coercion is itself limited by the very thing you call statutory coercion. GE, Walmart, Microsoft, Exxon, and Kelloggs don’t have gangs of enforcers roving the country to press-gang people into slavery because of the very mechanisms you decry. Likewise they cannot dump poisonous chemicals into the water or the air.

  12. And the ability of everyone to discover their true potential in a free society is — to me and many others — similarly “self-evident”.

  13. If I become too sick or injured to work, and I have not properly saved up for a “rainy day”, then it is perhaps “my time to move on.”

  14. I suggest folks avoid phrases like “free society” because right-libertarians and left-libertarians both think the society they want is free.

  15. @Matt Doyle,
    Seconded. I made the best advances in skill of my adult life at two different times when the household budget was hemorrhaging cash and my choice was ‘improve or beg relatives for a place to live’.

    But the problem with ‘sink or swim’ is that some sink. My inability to excel without a fire lit under my behind was my own character flaw. It was not a sign that society is better when some are left to hunger, homelessness, and perpetual debt so the rest stay motivated.

  16. “If I become too sick or injured to work, and I have not properly saved up for a “rainy day”, then it is perhaps “my time to move on.””

    For the millions of Americans earning $12 per hour or less without a family support system to fall back upon, that’s a death sentence. If you’re comfortable with that, we’re done having a discussion.

  17. There’s plenty of jobs to be had making more money. They may require that they learn new/better skills. They may be less “attractive” jobs. But if those millions of Americans choose to stick with their low-paying jobs, that’s their choice, and it’s not my place to stand in their way.

  18. To my amusement, this showed up in my RSS feed moments after another article that included the following (context is irrelevant):

    “Much like Libertarianism, it sounds cool in concept, but there’d only be a handful of people who’d bother with participating, and something would seem off about them.”

  19. skzb

    Thank you, deballing, for taking the time to think a bout the post and respond.

    The subject of the possibility of failing to build character is an interesting one. In large measure, it is beside the point: we do not have a society in which, for masses of people deprived of education, nutrition, sometimes with mental defects from drinking poisoned water, living in an area with no opportunities, nor the ability to move, “succeeding” is even a possibility, much less a fair test (I’m pretty sure most Libertarians would agree with this, although we differ as to why and what to do about it). So now we’re talking about our ideal society. I do not think we get to construct an ideal society, I think we need to work with what we have, and with the development of society that is possible within the framework history has given us; but let’s leave that aside too, because the question itself is fascinating.

    I am also inclined to think that the possibility of failure can be an excellent spur. One example I keep coming back to on this is that one reason my friend Adam Stemple is a better guitarist than I am a drummer is that he is terrified of looking like an idiot on stage, whereas I’m, like, well, okay, whatever. His fear is one thing that spurs him to excellence. Some people–many people–work like that.

    Where we part company, dballing, is that I do not think abject poverty, untreated disease, and homelessness need to be the failure conditions that spur success. In fact, I’m pretty sure that once those possibilities are eliminated, once the basic material wants human beings require to flourish are simply assumed to be part of our lives, we will find new ways to reach higher, to test ourselves. And if we test ourselves, we risk failing.

    In our present world, where except for the elite, everyone must fight for bare survival, yes, not surviving is the failure condition that tests our character; but I think moving to a higher level will produce greater results, and provide greater freedom for each individual to express him- or herself both to that persons benefit and to the benefit of all of us. Let the test happen. Let the character be built. Let the fear of failure, of embarrassment, continue to spur us. But I assert that it needn’t be, literally, life or death.

  20. To dballing:

    I’d say that you’re incorrect on two major counts:
    1) “The forces of statutory coercion” are NOT allowed to inflict bodily harm on you for failure to pay taxes. They are allowed to deprive you of liberty, but not to harm you unless you actively threaten them with harm.
    2) If you are truly living solely off the land, not using any money, then “men with guns” will NOT come after you for taxes. If you make no money and own no land, you owe no taxes.

    And on the more conceptual count, “statutory” coercion is a complete canard. By CHOOSING to “own” property in a society, you are CHOOSING to be a part of that society and abide by its rules. The distinction of “statutory” coercion is an attempt to draw a distinction between coercion from individuals within a society that you’ve CHOSEN to be a part of vs. coercion from individuals hired or chosen to represent that society and enforce its rules, which you have already CHOSEN to accept.

    Rejecting “statutory” coercion is equivalent to rejecting the referee for enforcing the rules of the game. If you lose, blame the other player, not the referee. If you don’t like the rules, change the game, but don’t blame the referee for enforcing the rules as written. And if you don’t want to play at all, get off the field.

  21. skzb

    Erik: You make some valid points, but I need to side with dballing one important point: You say, “If you don’t like the rules, change the game…” I beg to submit that that is exactly what he is trying to do (as, in fact, am I, though in a drastically different way). That said, I agree with much of the rest of your comment.

  22. ““The forces of statutory coercion” are NOT allowed to inflict bodily harm on you for failure to pay taxes. They are allowed to deprive you of liberty, but not to harm you unless you actively threaten them with harm.”

    You’re making a semantics argument. If you refuse to pay taxes they will come to take you away. If you refuse to go away willingly, you *will* be subject to physical harm to ensure compliance.

    “If you are truly living solely off the land, not using any money, then “men with guns” will NOT come after you for taxes. If you make no money and own no land, you owe no taxes.”

    Sure they will. They will insist that your crops must comply with their regulatory requirements. They will demand a tithe in their currency (which you might not even use) in exchange for continued use of the property you own.

    “By CHOOSING to “own” property in a society, you are CHOOSING to be a part of that society and abide by its rules.

    Nonsense. Hypothetically, I can choose to own property (for my sole separatist use) and want to have no part in society.

    The argument you are making is handily addressed in a phenomenal book (which, full disclosure, I’m in the middle of reading now and so I haven’t finished it), called “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey” (I don’t want to link to it on Amazon for fear of auto-spam stuff happening).

  23. I would argue that the purpose of the state is to protect human rights, not property. The ability to own property happens to be part of those rights, but not even close to the most important of them. I would also argue that the primary and most important function in protecting human rights is protection from coercion. As such, the use of force should only be authorized in such cases where it is clear that _not_ applying a minimal amount of force would result in significantly worse human rights violations (stopping a shooter, suicide bomber, or domestic violence, for instance).

    As a centrist, I look for balance in all things. What I see the primary function of the Libertarian philosophy being is countering those who would give far too much power to the state out of convenience or fear; power it shouldn’t have, and power that would ultimately be abused to diminish human rights in a significant way (see also: The Patriot Act, which incidentally, Rand Paul successfully filibustered part of the renewal of, though many parts ended up getting renewed later anyway). It’s a driving fear of being made powerless to successfully protect one’s self from external force. And stated like that, I’m honestly amazed that more women aren’t Libertarians.

    Personally, I’m 100% behind a Universal Basic Income (UBI), for many reasons. One big reason is that in 30-50 years, about 90% or more of all jobs that exist today will no longer exist, and this is a good and necessary thing. It’s a thing that’s coming, regardless of what anyone does, so we should be planning for it now. UBI is a major piece of the platform to help us get there in one piece, and with minimal human suffering. And yes, it’s scary to most conservatives, taking away a basic piece of their world structure (“everyone must pull their own weight”) when it’s both crumbling and no longer necessary. The onus is definitely on us to prove an alternate structure that will work, will be a stable equilibrium over the long-term, and will be acceptable by a supermajority of the population. And the whole structure will have to be very carefully and strategically phased in, so-as not to disrupt the economy significantly, ideally in such a way as to actually stimulate economic growth, such as by significantly reducing the burdens on small businesses under a certain size, phasing in more and more of the load as the businesses grow larger. Structures like this would serve secondary purposes as well, putting pressure on businesses to be smaller and more dynamic, rather than growing to large behemoths (“too big to fail” becomes “too big to succeed”). In the process, it would actively reduce large portions of government, with much of the remaining white-collar government being focused on regulating and taxing the bigger businesses, while significantly increasing individual empowerment and stability, both of which I think Libertarians and socialists alike could get solidly behind.

  24. This is a very good start. I believe you have missed some of the fundamental libertarian ideas, though.

    You say that to you, property rights come from the government because the government enforces them.

    I doubt libertarians think that way. They tend to think that your property rights are *inherent* rights that are yours, and the government recognizes them. Just as the government should not have the right to tell you “Your marriage to your wife is no longer valid, you both are now married to other people the government has picked out for you”, it should not have the right to take your property from you.

    If property doesn’t come from government, where does it come from? People (at least some people) have a deep sense of what their property is. You know where your home is. That kind of thing. They believe they own things, and the things are theirs because those things are just intrinsicly theirs and they know it. I have no explanation or argument to say they’re right but — they know they’re right. If you use the wrong methods to take their property away from them, they will shoot you because they know it’s theirs.

    They’ll shoot you for burglary. They’ll shoot you for robbery unless you have the drop on them. They’ll use armed force to resist eminent domain if it’s done in an illegal way. If you claim they owe you so much money that their property is forfeit, and you falsely get a judge to agree, they might still shoot you.

    They won’t resist the armed might of the government, acting legally, even when they believe the laws are wrong, because they have learned that they can’t. The government is too strong. When it makes bad laws that say it’s OK to take away their property there’s nothing they can do about it and all they can do is support libertarian politicians who will try to repeal those laws.

    What happens when two libertarians firmly believe they own the same property? I don’t know. Maybe they fight a duel. Maybe they get all the neighbors to say what they think. Maybe they act like reasonable gentlemen and try to work out who’s objectively right according to criteria they agree on. Libertarians seem to assume this won’t be a big problem.

    So that’s one. Property rights are not privileges granted by government. Property rights are intrinsic rights that government recognizes; part of the reason to start governments is to officially recognize those rights, and when government does a less than ideal job of enforcing our rights we have the right and necessity to find some better way and use that instead.

    Again I can’t put this on a completely logical basis. But i’m certain that many libertarians believe it, whether they can put it on a logical basis or not. After all, logic is a way to recognize truth. It doesn’t create truth. When you can’t find a logical argument to support something that’s true, that doesn’t mean it is false. And logical arguments which contain a subtle flaw so they say wrong things are right, don’t make the wrong things right.

  25. skzb

    Thought: History does not appear to bear you out. The state arose simultaneously with private property, well before we invented the concept of human rights. If the nature of the state changed, I’d like you to show me when. And as for the state protecting human rights, I wish to observe that, insofar as humanity has managed to enlist the state in the defense of human rights it was *against* property rights, and against its own nature,, and forced through long and bitter struggle (cf abolition, child labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the 8-hour day). None of these would have been an issue save for property, the state, or both. Property and the state are inextricably linked, and exist in opposition to human rights.

  26. I passed through Libertarianism on my way Left. For me it broke down when I realized how the libertarian worldview relied on a conception of free-will that simply wasn’t coherent. This may just be a way of restating that libertarians fail to perceive certain forms of coercion, but I think the fantasy that sustains libertarian philosophy is the fantasy that each and every choice happens in a vacuum, without being conditioned by circumstance.

  27. “But I think what is usually at the foundation of the appeal of Libertarianism is a deep hatred of coercion.”

    Thank you for this. It is easily the most interesting sentence I’ve read in a looooooong time.

  28. Paulie Rockets: I keep learning things about people. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at an elevator’s inspection certificate (except the first time I noticed one, when I was little). I’ve never noticed anyone else looking at one either, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention.

    Anyway, I believe right-ish Randesque libertarians expect that in their utopia, elevator inspections will be performed by private companies and will consequently be more efficient and reliable than they are now.

  29. “Anyway, I believe right-ish Randesque libertarians expect that in their utopia, elevator inspections will be performed by private companies and will consequently be more efficient and reliable than they are now.”

    Sure. It’s the model that’s been used by Kosher-keeping Jews for millennia. It’s the same model used by Underwriters Laboratories, the Celiac Foundation, etc., etc.

  30. I keep thinking right-libertarians learned nothing from the Gilded Age.

  31. That’s completely non-constructive but if it helps you feel superior, by all means.

  32. For me, the fundamental problem with libertarianism is that of public health. I see no way that libertarian philosophy creates the necessary social structures which provide for things like sanitation, freedom from the pollution of others, herd-immunity, and useful response to infectious diseases. I have all sorts of other issues, too, but that’s my big sticking point. We know a lot about best practices for public health. All of them require an organization similar to a governmental organization, none of them are possible in a libertarian society. Which, basically, means mega-deaths. I’m anti-death.

    As for the freedom to fail… different people are different. But my least productive periods in life have been when I was most in fear of homelessness and starvation. The very real possibility of those things were paralyzing and numbing. It in no way spurred me forwards. My most productive periods of life have been when I had a safety-net, sufficient food, and stable housing. I am willing to grant that some people are best motivated by fear of death, but I think it highly unlikely that a majority of people are that way.

  33. J. Thomas: You wrote, “What happens when two libertarians firmly believe they own the same property?”

    In the versions I know, they go to court. One of the main purposes of government in Randoid libertarianism is to protect property rights, which includes determining who the real owner of a piece of property is.

    I believe you’re right when you say such libertarians believe property rights are intrinsic, not created by the state, and I believe SKZB is right when he says they don’t consider it coercion for someone to say “Even if you’re starving, I won’t give you food unless you pay.”

    Yes, I read a lot by Rand and her associates before the age of 18.

  34. “they don’t consider it coercion for someone to say “Even if you’re starving, I won’t give you food unless you pay.””

    coercion – the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

    I don’t see where demanding payment is coercion. It might be “dick-ish”, but it’s not coercion.

  35. @skzb Oh, I’m not saying that’s how the state originated. I’m saying that’s the primary legitimate purpose for its existence now, and also one of the key principles around which the US federal government was founded. Any current government that isn’t serving that purpose as its primary purpose, should be changed until it does, or dissolved. We’re seeing this happening all over the world right now, most obviously in the poorer countries (the middle east comes to mind; for an example, look at the recent election results in Iran).

  36. dballing: Okay, I’m glad I got both answers right. I’m not going to debate libertarianism or socialism, and since you’re here, I’m not going to try to answer any more questions about what libertarians believe.

  37. dballing, sorry you saw it as non-constructive. The point is that we have seen what capitalism does when it is not regulated: it creates conditions that require regulation.

  38. “What happens when two libertarians firmly believe they own the same property?”

    ‘In the versions I know, they go to court. One of the main purposes of government in Randoid libertarianism is to protect property rights, which includes determining who the real owner of a piece of property is.’

    Yes. I think the theory is that most people will agree about who truly owns what, and the courts will recognize this agreement. Almost everybody but the one who’s wrong will see that he is wrong, because of this fundamental agreement.

    My thought is that property rights are basicly arbitrary, that the government enforces rights partly by whatever is convenient to the government and partly constrained by what the public and important people will put up with.

    But libertarians believe that it is not arbitrary at all. People have real rights, and the government is supposed to recognise the real rights and not any fake ones.

    I’ve heard about arguments about things like intellectual property. If somebody doesn’t believe in IP rights, is it OK for him to copyright his writing and expect the government to enforce payment to him? And of course one answer is the same as Steven Brust’s, while he has to live in the existing society and pay taxes in US dollars, he must “do as the romans do” and live under those rules.

  39. Good discussion, good insights.

    One of the first points skzb raised was that libertarians (or any other political group) are not bad people in general. It always amazes me when a group of basically good people get together and come up with bad policies and ideas to impose on others. Libertarians may hate coercion, but they are not opposed to putting the burden of their beliefs on others (falling bridges, rutted roads, etc is a bigger burden to me than my paying taxes).

    It’s fine to talk in terms of idealized concepts, but what would the model societies for various political concepts look like. I get the impression that Libertarians basically don’t want a “society”, that it would just be individual, self reliant people doing their thing. At first thought, this sounds like no communal projects involving more than a few people could get done (no taxes?). So no big bridges, no highways, no airports, no flood control, no safety rules, etc. All paved roads toll roads. This was probably just fine in colonial days. I don’t think that’s such a good idea now. I don’t believe that is what Libertarians really want, but their basic position seem to point in that direction.

    So what would an ideal Libertarian world look like? What do we do with the people who have neither the wealth, health nor capability to survive in the Libertarian world? Let them die seems to be the answer as private charity can only cover about 10% of the need. Does that make them a bad person? Maybe naive and unimaginative.

    I agree that some kind of basic minimum income is needed for everybody. This is a lot better than moving homeless people around until they die. What about people with health problems who cannot hold a normal job. Telling them to work harder is just cruel and insulting. But having a safety net will not guarantee people will somehow become creative. Some maybe, not most. But at least they aren’t freezing or starving to death and they can enjoy discussing the Kardashians’ latest sex issues.

    I haven’t seen a good description of the idealized American socialist society either. Just being socialist doesn’t automatically solve society’s problems. One would think that a socialist government would be more in tune with the problems. But no guarantees.

  40. It will take a while to get to Bucky Fuller’s position, but it will become more and more apparent as we move into the future.

    I am sympathetic to some libertarian principles. The primary one for me is that the state should not be taking away individual liberties (such as recreational drugs or non-standard sex practices). But the powerful property-rights people point out how much of a burden it is to have regulations, without reminding us on how much protection they give us.

    And then the libertarians went to bed with the Religious Right which appears to have as its primary objective taking away the libertarian civil liberties it doesn’t like. That is a very uncomfortable bed, and the powerful may find the result similar to that of the German establishment when the Nazis came to power.

    Also, those who complain that the only thing wrong with capitalism is croneyism don’t wish to be reminded that their theory should include all costs of production in the price of a product (which requires the state to enforce). While I disagree that that is its major problem – it is a problem that they should agree should be addressed.

  41. @dballing

    “You’re making a semantics argument. If you refuse to pay taxes they will come to take you away. If you refuse to go away willingly, you *will* be subject to physical harm to ensure compliance.”

    You’re correct that I’m making a semantic argument, but by attempting to divide coercion into “statutory” and “non-statutory” you started it. 🙂 More seriously, I repeat: you are not subject to bodily harm for refusing to pay taxes. By your own statement, you are only subject to bodily harm if you physically resist state authority. Whether you feel the state has the right to that authority is a separate (and interesting) question. But if you do not resist, you would be arrested, held for a term of time, and released without any aggressive hand laid on you. (Theoretically, that is. The horrible malfunctioning of our prisons is a matter for a different discussion. But under either definition, that harm comes from individuals not from statutory authority.)

    ” “If you are truly living solely off the land, not using any money, then “men with guns” will NOT come after you for taxes. If you make no money and own no land, you owe no taxes.”

    Sure they will. They will insist that your crops must comply with their regulatory requirements. They will demand a tithe in their currency (which you might not even use) in exchange for continued use of the property you own.”

    Actually, the first part is not correct. You only must comply with regulatory requirements if you sell your crops. If they are completely for your own use, the trade-based restrictions do not apply.

    The second part is a different subject, and I was attempting to divide it by noting that if you own no land, you own no taxes. Whether the ownership of land is an effect of the state or somehow independent of it is a difficult subject, currently being handled better up-thread. (Looks like J Thomas and our host are addressing that, and I have nothing constructive to add there.) It’s also relevant to our final point:

    ” “By CHOOSING to “own” property in a society, you are CHOOSING to be a part of that society and abide by its rules.

    Nonsense. Hypothetically, I can choose to own property (for my sole separatist use) and want to have no part in society.”

    You say nonsense, but offer nothing to address it but a flat counter-assertion — and it is the crux of my position. All property in this country is owned, and because of the loss of the frontier, virtually all property on the planet is owned. Therefore, if you own property, you acquired it under the rules of the society that governs it. And by accepting the acquisition, you accepted those rules.

    If you truly wish to separate, you must have enough force to prevent the government from enforcing its rules. This is called rebellion (or revolution if it’s successful), and making it stick entails setting up your own state in opposition to the state that formerly governed that land. If you can set up your own state, you can set up your own rules. If not, you are obligated to either play by the rules of the state that governs the land you are on, or move to some other state. You can choose to play by the rules while campaigning to have the rules changed, and I highly recommend that course of action for honorable folk. It’s what our host is doing right here and now, in his original post. But until the rules change, don’t blame the referee for enforcing them.

  42. By the way… I’m very often surprised by how libertarians and Marxists come to such different conclusions starting from such similar starting metaphysics and historical analysis, though often somewhat contrary metaethics.

    For any Marxists that have not yet seen it, I think you might be quite surprised by reading one of the basic tracts on the development of the state on which (many) libertarians base their views of state power and its problems: Franz Oppenheimer’s “The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically”.

    A link to a PDF of the book can be found here:
    https://mises.org/library/state-its-history-and-development-viewed-sociologically

    Except for the start and conclusion, the historical analysis is remarkably similar to that of socialists. You could almost be confused into thinking you’re reading Marx if you didn’t notice the very few places where he calls Marx out for confusing things.

    In particularly, the first divergence comes from a disagreement with Marx’s blurring of the distinction between economic ends and economic means vs. political means and ends (discussed in Chapter 2).

    It’s amazing to me how much a tiny variation in the genesis of the philosophies can result in such enormous differences in conclusions.

    It convinces me even more of the fallacy of central planning and any kind of view of “human nature” that can be summarized by anything other than “diversity”.

  43. @Erik:

    > But if you do not resist, you would be arrested, held for a term of time, and released without any aggressive hand laid on you.

    It think right here, is where your opinions have diverged: that arrest, and that holding for a term of time *is* an aggressive hand being laid upon you. If anyone other than the state did it, any reasonable person would agree with that. We have a term for it: kidnapping. It is the fundamental iron fist in the velvet glove of the state.

  44. @hacksoncode

    You are correct that we have a core divergence there, which is what I’m trying to explore. The original statement to which I was responding was “The forces of statutory coercion are allowed to inflict bodily harm on you if you refuse to [pay taxes]”, and I still maintain that even the maximal response of a term in prison is not “inflict[ing] bodily harm”. In reality, refusal to pay taxes almost never results in prison time, only garnishing of your income – which, if you have no monetary income, is fairly irrelevant to you.

    My phrase of “without any aggressive hand laid on you” was a late edit to “without a hand laid on you”. I was trying to forestall a different ticky-tack point about being touched during arrest being a hand laid on you, but it looks like the edit disturbed my meaning beyond my intention, leading to interpretations of prison time being “aggressive”, which it surely is. But I still contend it is NOT “a hand laid on you” in the sense of the original point of “inflicting bodily harm”.

  45. @hacksoncode,
    One of the functions of the state is to protect you from criminals and armed representatives of other nations. So your choice isn’t, “state coercion or freedom from coercion”, it’s “state coercion or other forms of coercion” – and in most of the modern world, you have a democratic say in the management of the state. You don’t have voting rights with respect to foreign armies or criminals.

  46. Good line.

    Although your explanation could use an addition – not only does the state have a function to protect us from foreign coercion, it has that function to protect us from domestic coercion and other damage.

  47. I don’t think libertarians imagine a society where there is no coercion. They imagine a society where no one is coerced unless they deserve it.

    So, if you own a piece of land and somebody comes onto your land without your permission, and they then won’t go away when you tell them to. Clearly you have the right to coerce them to get off your land. Because they are infringing on your rights by being there.

    Of course you have the right to coerce people to stop infringing on your rights. And no government has a right to make you stop coercing people to stop infringing on your rights. If anything the government should assist you. But if the government doesn’t have a lot of power, it might be mostly your own responsibility. You and whatever friends will support you.

    It looks to me like the main thing that’s supposed to prevent grievous miscarriages of justice, is that everybody will mostly agree about what’s right, and will uphold their own rights while not overstepping them. A libertarian society that’s composed of actual philosophical libertarians, will be a society of people who have thought at great depth about right and wrong, and who have come to agree about most of the things that are objectively true about right and wrong. So they will tend to do right by each other because they’ve thought it out. How would a libertarian society behave if the majority of its members were not actually libertarian and had to be taught right and wrong? That issue is usually put aside, although it is likely to be a great big issue in the early days of any actual libertarian society.

    “they don’t consider it coercion for someone to say “Even if you’re starving, I won’t give you food unless you pay.”

    If you have grown food with your own effort on your own land, and somebody else needs it — you can give it to them if you want to. You can sell it to them for whatever price you both agree. You aren’t obligated to make a deal, a deal you can’t walk away from is a coerced deal.

    If somebody starves without your food, you can give it to them for free if you want to. You don’t have to let them starve, you don’t have to feed them. If there are multiple people who might give them food, they can shop around. If you want an extended session of anal sex and somebody else will settle for a blowjob, they can pick the one they like better. If you are the only alternative then they must satisfy you or do without.

    Obviously, you don’t want to be stuck with a bad deal, so you should try to make sure you have alternatives for everything you need. Better if you don’t need anything from anybody but just trade for luxuries. Extending this reasoning about as far as it will go, getting into a marriage in which you agree not to have sex with anybody but your partner for the rest of your life is the ultimate in bad deals, unless you and your partner truly care about each other.

    The principle that you should always have some sort of back up is not limited to libertarians. It’s basic to negotiating strategy that you should pay attention to your BATNA, your Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. If you have a clear idea of your best alternative then you will have a much better idea whether to walk away from a deal, and of how hard to push for a better deal. It just makes sense.

    Ideally there would be multiple governments that all co-exist on the same land, and you could choose the government that gave you the best deal — while the governments also chose the citizens they most wanted. I haven’t noticed anybody work out the details of this, but probably it’s been done to death and I didn’t notice.

  48. Some Libertarians say that they can protect themselves from external coercion, robbery, etc. They think having a gun and the willingness to use it is sufficient. That is very naive. You have other things you need to do other than to sit in high perch with your rifle all day and night. Also, the aggressor has a huge tactical advantage of choosing the time and place to do the dirty work.

  49. Very few libertarians think that they, alone, can protect themselves from coercion.

    For one thing, most of them are minarchists, and believe that a state is a necessary evil that should be minimized by requiring that all uses of state coercion be justified as truly necessary, not just the will of a ruling class or majority. The devil, of course, is in the details.

    But even the anarchists among them (a small but vocal minority) think that a social structure of cooperative defense would be necessary, or that protection could be hired from defensive agencies.

    Personally, I think they’re naive, but it’s not a completely crazy idea on the face of it… after all, most statists think that government is just that defensive agency, and that you “hire” it “willingly”.

  50. I’m going to be doing a bit of “Catching Up” here…. 🙂

    @David: ” Libertarians may hate coercion, but they are not opposed to putting the burden of their beliefs on others (falling bridges, rutted roads, etc is a bigger burden to me than my paying taxes).”

    I reject the premise. Take as an example the New York State Thruway Authority. Maintains about 500+ miles of interstate highway across the state of NY, only some of which has tolls on it. It receives effectively-zero (<1%) of its annual budget from taxpayers. The entire rest of it is tolls, land-use fees (rentals on rest area service-providers), and limited-access contracts (ie, to be the sole provider of towing service for given stretches). The New York Bridge Authority similarly receives next to no taxpayer funds. Both of which charge exceedingly reasonable tolls and provide some of the best roads and bridges I've ever driven on.

    Yes, they are "public corporations" but there is no reason they couldn't achieve that success as private corporations.

    "So what would an ideal Libertarian world look like?"

    I recommend the book "Freedhold" by Michael Z. Williamson. It's a bit of a military-sci-fi romp, but the important part is that it describes very well how such a society might function.

    @Erik: "And by accepting the acquisition, you accepted those rules. "

    Read the book on "coercive authority" I suggested earlier. It does a much better job of refuting that argument, and it's too long to compress here.

    @Erik: "You only must comply with regulatory requirements if you sell your crops. If they are completely for your own use, the trade-based restrictions do not apply. "

    Sorry. History disproves your assertion.

    Posit: Raise a crop of marijuana on your own land for your own personal use, and remind me again how the DEA won't swoop in with flamethrowers, torch your crops and haul you off.

    Also, please see "Wickard v Filburn", where Filburn raised wheat solely for the consumption of his own animals, and Los Federales swooped in and told him he couldn't do so because he wasn't doing it "their way".

    @hacksoncode: "It think right here, is where your opinions have diverged: that arrest, and that holding for a term of time *is* an aggressive hand being laid upon you. If anyone other than the state did it, any reasonable person would agree with that. We have a term for it: kidnapping. It is the fundamental iron fist in the velvet glove of the state."

    EXACTLY.

    The state *only* has powers delegated to it by the people. Therefore the state cannot do something which the people could not do, because if the people could never do it, they could not delegate that power to the state.

    @Erik: "But I still contend it is NOT “a hand laid on you” in the sense of the original point of “inflicting bodily harm”."

    I'll come kidnap you and take you away, and you tell me if you've been bodily harmed. K?

    @Mike S: "One of the functions of the state is to protect you from criminals "

    Nope. "Warren v District of Columbia."

    @J Thomas: "Ideally there would be multiple governments that all co-exist on the same land, and you could choose the government that gave you the best deal — while the governments also chose the citizens they most wanted. I haven’t noticed anybody work out the details of this, but probably it’s been done to death and I didn’t notice."

    An excellent example of this would be the "franchised microstates" of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I long for the "burbclaves".

  51. Do you have the right to coerce yourself?

    Suppose you make an agreement. in exchange for a bunch of stuff you need today, you will provide somebody with a whole lot of food next year, after you have grown it. This looks like the best deal you can get today.

    Next year, you have a lot of food that could sell for extremely high prices, for far more than you were paid last year. Maybe you break the deal? Sell the food, buy new copies of everything he gave you last year, and return it? Can you break a deal after the other guy has done his part but you haven’t done yours?

    If you can break deals like that, nobody can trust you. Trade becomes far more inconvenient. A whole lot of deals are future deals.

    But if you can’t break deals that way — if the courts can coerce you to stand by the terms you agreed to — then by making deals you are coercing yourself. You bind yourself to do things you may later be unwilling to do.

    In the extreme case, turning up the clarity all the way, this question turns into “Is it OK for you to sell yourself into slavery?”.

    Most people say no. When the question is that clear, it looks wrong. But any time you bind yourself to a future contract, you are doing some of that, just not as much and in a way that isn’t as clear that you’re doing it.

    In a strange way, if you can’t coerce yourself that puts harsh limits on you. But if you can, then implicitly a degree of slavery has been introduced.

    And remember that woman who had nothing to eat, and you are the only one who can feed her — if she agrees to be your slave, who should complain? It’s nobody else’s business unless they can offer her a better deal. If later she breaks your agreement and wanders off with somebody who does — later — offer her a better deal, does somebody have the right to sue? She’s breaking her promise, and you didn’t coerce her into that promise, she had the free alternative to die instead. If you can be sued for breaking a contract, why can’t she?

    And if in the process of upholding the contract that she freely agreed to, you keep her chained in a basement where she never meets anybody who’ll give her a better offer….

    Libertarians almost entirely disapprove of slavery. This is just a disgusting example. But philosophically, where do you draw the line between a legal future contract and an illegal one that should not be allowed? It’s all slippery-slope gradual gradations, with no clear point to say it turns wrong. But maybe the way libertarians know their property when they see it, and know which laws are right when they see them, they will just know when future contracts are wrong. A promise to deliver ten thousand bushels of corn next year is one thing. A promise to do whatever somebody wants for the rest of your life is something else. A promise to do whatever somebody wants for one year is pretty bad. A promise to do a specified list of housekeeping chores, and massages, and sex positions for a specified length of time, for a set fee, is only a contract for cleaning services, massage, and prostitution. Not slavery at all except that it’s a future contract. If either party can break the deal at any time with payment for services actually performed, it isn’t slavery at all, right?

  52. In the extreme case, turning up the clarity all the way, this question turns into “Is it OK for you to sell yourself into slavery?”.

    Absolutely you can.

    Maybe you decide, “my labor and servitude is worth XXXX which can go to my children to give them a better life”.

    So long as you are a *willing* participant, and of sound mind, there is no reason you can’t sell “yourself” to someone. One’s self is the ultimate representation of one’s property, and there is no reason you can’t sell it to someone else.

    If you can rent yourself out by the hour, there’s no reason you can’t just sell yourself outright.

  53. See “The Unincorporated Man” by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin.

  54. @dballing,
    The events that triggered the Warren vs. District of Columbia care are disgusting and terrible. But you can’t with a straight face argue that the existence of police, prisons, courts, and a standing army have never prevented an assault on you, anyone that taught you, anyone you had a favorable business relationship with, anyone that raised you, etc…

  55. dballing: Would you try and take a crack at public health for me? As I understand it, the basic principles of public health are antithetical to a Libertarian philosophy. Public health does not work if there is someone who can opt out. It requires that everyone, willing or not, trade a little bit of freedom, and assume a little bit of risk, for the common good. Everybody has to get their sewage treated, every healthy person needs to get a reasonable battery of vaccines, everybody needs to not use lead-based paint or leaded gasoline. When we fail to do these things, the most vulnerable suffer, and society as a whole suffers. Not that I’m a communist, I’m probably best described as a failed anarchist with a love of bureaucracy. And I really, really like being healthy.

  56. Everybody wants *some* socialized medicine – if the plague starts killing one’s family, we all want some help.

    But then, everything’s a compromise. True Believers argue otherwise, but trade-offs are part of life.

  57. @J Thomas,
    So you’re holding the position that if I have enough food for myself and at least one extra person, and someone else has no food, I have no fundamental obligation to feed them?

    That’s a fine philosophy for the people with the food to hold. It’s not so great for people who get too sick to farm, or who get robbed, or lose their possessions in a natural disaster, or are swindled in a dishonest business deal. It also doesn’t work out so well for kids from poor families, either.

    The system you describe already did exist in the US, it was the 19th century. The industrialists lived like kings, and the average person worked a 60 hour week until they were too sick to continue and earned the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $7000 per year. And when they were too sick to work, the lucky ones had younger families care for them and the unlucky ones died.

    This is exactly what you’re advocating – the people who have more can negotiate slavery conditions from the people who have less.

    We’ve had variations on the discussion a hundred times. My parents are alive because their grandparents negotiated better working conditions with the mine owners at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve driven on roads that never had enough traffic to justify a private corporation or cooperative setting them up as a toll route. I’ve used publicly funded health services and my family members, educators, colleagues, managers, and customers have used them too. I’ve worked with and for people that received public education and the businesses I’ve worked at do businesses with other people that received public educations. And of course all of this driving, education, and business has been conducted with police and armed services for protection, emergency services for safety, and a court system for contracts.

    When you spontaneously germinate in some field somewhere that’s not owned by any sovereign state, and educate yourself without contact with any teachers or mentors that used state-funded education, get all medical care from people that never had any public education or publicly managed and monitored health care, and conduct business only with other people that have been raised the same way, then you can discuss severing ties with the state. Otherwise, the state you despise has been an intrinsic factor in your acquisition of skill, maintenance of health, and accumulation of wealth and does, in fact, have a claim to a portion in return.

    I’m out before I turn this into a flame war.

  58. @Mike S.

    “So you’re holding the position that if I have enough food for myself and at least one extra person, and someone else has no food, I have no fundamental obligation to feed them?”

    I’m not holding that position for myself, but some libertarians do hold it.

    If we start out with a government that hands out all the rights, it makes sense for that government to try to take care of all its people. They are after all the citizen army it will need to protect itself if a foreign army invades.

    But if we start out with the idea that people are like a culture of bacteria in a flask, each looking out for himself and cooperating as much as they choose to, then you don’t have an obligation to give away for free the food you spent your life growing, to the first person who comes by and says he needs it.

    You may feel an ethical obligation, your heartstrings may get tugged, and it’s fine for you to pay attention to that. But nobody’s supposed to force you to do the right thing, just as nobody’s supposed to force you to do the wrong thing. That’s the theory.

    I like to play with the ideas, and there are a variety of holes in the foundations. But logical holes maybe aren’t that important, because the whole thing is really based on a deep emotional need. A sense of knowing what’s right and wrong. If some of the details don’t work out easily, they still know what they want.

    So like, the goal is to not have any coercion. And that immediately turns to no coercion except what’s justified by people doing wrong. (Like trespassing.) And then what happens if you do something that everybody disapproves of. Then maybe you go into a bar and nobody catches your eye or smiles at you, and the bartender grunts at you when you buy a drink, and when you want a second drink he tells you to go away. Nobody will sell anything to you, and nobody wants to buy from you. You get the idea you are not wanted and you slink away looking for some place nobody’s heard of you…. That isn’t coercion because nobody pointed a gun at you or slugged you in the jaw, or even threatened you. It can be pretty intense psychological pressure. For most people it’s more intimidating than intimidation.

    “If a man can resist the influences of his townsfolk, if he can cut free from the tyranny of neighborhood gossip, the world has no terrors for him; there is no second inquisition”

    Coercion is not allowed but this is allowed? But then, how could it possibly be stopped? And without enforcing social norms how could you have any society, much less a libertarian one?

    Then there’s the part about slavery. Of course libertarian societies are for free people who don’t coerce each other except when somebody does wrong and has to be coerced to do right. But it’s OK to put somebody into a bind where he’ll die unless he voluntarily agrees to be your slave? That’s literally how feudalism got started!!

    If libertarian societies are slave societies, that puts a whole different spin on it.

  59. @Mike S: “But you can’t with a straight face argue that the existence of police, prisons, courts, and a standing army have never prevented an assault on you,”

    I can and I will argue that.

    @Lydy: ” Would you try and take a crack at public health for me?”

    Sure. It’s simple. In a libertarian society, there are precious few truly ‘public spaces’. Private property owners can simply make rules like “You’re not allowed to enter our building unless you’re vaccinated”, or “You’re not allowed on our privately owned road unless you’re vaccinated”.

    Further, one can make the argument that running around unvaccinated (without just cause to do so) is negligence *such that* if your doing so causes harm to others, that you are criminally culpable for such harm.

    @howardbreeze: “Everybody wants *some* socialized medicine”

    Speak only for yourself. In the event of your plague you mention, I’m more than willing to pay for my medicine, or to retreat way out to the middle of nowhere away from all the infected until it dies down.

  60. Free enterprise does not result in good public policy. It does not self regulate for the protection of consumers. For one example, look up the history of lead paint in the US.

  61. In theory, capitalism needs to pass on all costs to the consumer – but in order to pass the costs of lead paint, those costs need to be known, and the seller needs to still be around to pay those costs.

    That is just to get capitalism to work as advertised. Beyond that is the assumption that if it works correctly that it is best for the general population. But that hasn’t been demonstrated as being true.

    I will note that most everybody is too short-termed to be the best for humanity (or even our neighbors) in the long term. We do invest in education, but for the most part we are concerned with the current (politicians are concerned with raising enough money for the next campaign). CEOs of corporations manipulate stock prices for immediate gain at the expense of the corporations’ long term gain.

    And our ethical and moral leaders often seem to be more concerned with fighting current changes (as in fighting homosexual marriages), than accepting that changes happen and going beyond those changes for the long term.

  62. howardbrazee:Yes, in a theory*, the moral capitalist would figure out that lead paint results in 10’s of thousands of deaths and 100’s of thousands of physical and mental problems per year and so the price of a gallon of the stuff should be about a billion dollars.
    In practice, they dress children up in cute Dutch costumes and deny that it causes any harm at all.
    *It turns out, that particular brand of free market theory has some flaws.

  63. dballing- your ability to see and evade viruses before they can infect you is to be envied, as is your ability to escape into other dimensions unencumbered by needy, diesease ridden humanity. Given your evident superpowers, I’ll not try to convince you that the rest of us would be better off with a real public health system to keep us a bit safer. Why would you care?

    But for anyone approaching the problem of need driving self-improvement from a more honest stance, I’ll just offer one tiny counter argument to the libertarian perspective. For decades, public policy for dealing with the massive homelessness problem in this country (BTW, if your solution to people not wanting to work at Walmart is to tell them to “get some land and start farming”, I think you might be underestimating a supply and demand problem) has been to require that the homeless prove themselves worthy first. The thought was, these homeless are often out of work or “underemployed”, many have substance abuse problems, criminal records, mental health issues. If we just give them a place to live, they will bring their problems with them and crap it up. Let’s force them to run a social work gauntlet and hit milestones of self-improvement before we let them have a roof.

    This led to decades of backlog, overburdened public programs, and an exploding homeless population. Then a few localities decided to try the opposite approach. They had all these apartments sitting empty after the crash of the housing market. Why not just put people in them and try to fix their problems afterwards?

    Low and behold, when people no longer had to wonder where they would lay their heads every night or keep their few possessions safe from their fellow desperates, they made remarkable progress with their other issues. Substance abuse, recidivism, the ability to find and keep a good job, even mental health, all improve when you have a place to live. Remove the need and people accomplish more.

    Here’s a few dozen scholarly articles, if you are into that kind of thing https://goo.gl/5qTqbM

    Now, I realize that for most libertarians this is just a choice between two coercive, top down, state driven solutions to a problem best handled by the vagaries of private charity, but I think there is a lesson there even for Mr. Jillette. No one wants to waste their hard earned money, right? Then why pour your expensive charity into expensive solutions just because they fit your ideology? Why not go with reality based solutions? Remove need and people are free to do more for themselves. That is what the evidence shows.

  64. @larswyrdson Excellently stated. Thank you.

  65. @skzb BTW, thank you for holding these discussions here. They’re fascinating debates.

  66. skzb

    Just a reminder that, to me, this post is not intended as an attack on Libertarian ideology (I’ve done that before, and will again), but an attempt to understand, on behalf of my fellow Leftists, how a decent person can arrive at that position.

    That said, of course, I have no objection to the discussion continuing as it’s been going.

  67. @larswyrdson: “dballing- your ability to see and evade viruses before they can infect you is to be envied, as is your ability to escape into other dimensions unencumbered by needy, diesease ridden humanity. Given your evident superpowers”

    strawman … *plonk*

  68. One thing – most all positions have some elements of goodness and truth – and some elements of harmfulness and falsehoods. It’s funny though how some people become True Believers of a line which was developed over time and arguments and is still evolving – as gospel. I very much prefer the 3 Rabbis with 5 positions recognizing that things are complex. The biggest problem with True Believers isn’t when they think their position is right without nuances – it is when they think other positions are by definition wrong.

    One Libertarian position against filling up our prisons with recreational drug users. This position seems stronger with them than with leftists – and I agree with that position.

  69. dball- not really. It would be a strawman argument if I claimed you had said something you hadn’t. I think your response to Lydia wasn’t at all honest. Do you really think that turning every business and home into individual states with border control and personally determined vaccination requirements is a workable way to prevent disease from spreading? Who is going to keep everyone honest? Do you really think that you can buy “plague medicine” when you think you might be at risk, or run off to the woods until all the infected are dead if you someohow can’t?

    If you aren’t going to propose serious solutions, don’t expect to be taken seriously.

    That said, I am sure that if you actually thought through the real world consequences of what you are advocating, you could do better. I’ll wait and see what you come up with.

  70. I never claimed I had “the ability to detect viruses”

    I never claimed I had “the ability to escape into an alternate dimension”.

    “Do you really think that turning every business and home into individual states with border control and personally determined vaccination requirements is a workable way to prevent disease from spreading?”

    I’m simply saying that property owners *can* do such things, which can mitigate to some extent the potential for damage (or increase the penalty if someone negligently refuses to be vaccinated and causes harm).

    “Do you really think that you can buy “plague medicine” when you think you might be at risk, or run off to the woods until all the infected are dead if you someohow can’t?”

    The statement I was responding to made an assertion about what “everyone” wants, when that is blatantly false. *NOT* “everyone” wants some level of socialized medicine.

    I am, in fact, willing to pay on my own for whatever “socialized medicine” would have provided for, or (failing that) move myself as far away from sources of infection as can be done.

  71. People may not want protection when they don’t see the danger as being a real personal threat. But when the danger reaches home, they change their minds. As soon as one’s loved ones start to die from the plague, they wish their policies hadn’t been implemented, removing such protection. Being unaware of threats doesn’t make them less real.

  72. This is where we’ll have to just “Agree to Disagree”, at least for me.

    I will freely acknowledge that many of my “moral/political positions” are not in fact designed to improve my lot in life, but they stem from moral positions, not personal desires, and so I recognize that I just have to deal with the outcomes in some cases.

    You’re essentially making a variation on the “no atheists in foxholes” argument, which is demonstrably false.

  73. I agree that the “no atheists in foxholes” argument is demonstrably false. And I see examples of people doing very immoral things, claiming a moral high ground. It is quite possible for people to be in favor of letting their families die or suffer for a “moral” position – we see it happening. (People even kill their raped daughters to save their “honor”). So I should amend my position by adding the word “virtually”. There are exceptions. Sadly.

  74. dballing- OK, I understand you better now. For the record, I was using irony. I never thought you could literally evade disease by your own power. I am sure you are just as human as the rest of us.

    I still don’t see how your individual vaccination policy interacts with penalties for infecting others. Surely you aren’t talking about prosecution by the state? Would I have to sue someone everytime I got a cold?

    So, yes, in a world with no social contract, every individual could decide for themselves how best to protect themselves from infectious disease. Some might take measures, most wouldn’t, and before long at all, we would be back to the level of protection available before the 1950’s and 60’s, when the vaccination programs were put into place. Hundreds of thousands of children died every year and many more suffered permanent, lifetime disability from polio, scarlet fever, rubella and all the rest.

    Your willingness to pay for medicine won’t help them, or very likely, you. Vaccines work best when everyone is vaccinated. Any one individual can fail to develop an immune response, but those individuals don’t end up meeting if enough of their neighbors are immune. That way communicable diseases don’t have time to get a foothold. That is what is meant by the Herd Effect (a name that is particularly unappealing to you, I am sure). And vaccination is only one aspect of a real health care system.

    I’m glad you are willing to pay for medicine for yourself. That shows some sense of responsibility. But I wonder if you would be willing when you saw that price tag of creating new medicines in a pure, free enterprise system? Without government subsidies, researchers wouldn’t create anything except new Viagras and obesity drugs. Nothing else would be profitable.

    So, to sum up, without super powers, I don’t see how your system could keep you any healthier than the average peasant in Medieval Europe. If you really don’t want some sort of socialized medicine, I’m not sure you really know what it is you are rejecting.

  75. @skzb: >Thought: History does not appear to bear you out. The state arose simultaneously with private property, well before we invented the concept of human rights.

    I think if you want to really understand libertarians and their philosophy, it would be necessary to understand why they disagree, fundamentally and radically (not as reactionaries) with this view of history.

    Libertarians consider “private property” (of the only legitimate kind) to be that which is created by economic means, and not by political means (i.e. force). Property, to a libertarian, *is* the first human right, and as such belongs solely and completely to those who created it by their labor (including improvement of land… though “geolibertarians” disagree with that) or traded for it voluntarily (in this view, meaning without violence or threat of force by either human party to the trade).

    Fundamentally and at the root, libertarians agree with communists about property to a surprisingly (to me) large degree.

    But by this view of property, the state did *not* arise “simultaneously” with private property, but arose shortly thereafter and as a *result* of private property.

    The state arose to legitimize and make more efficient the *theft* of private property. The “peasants” (not a good term here, but I hope it conveys the meaning) created *legitimate* private property by tilling their land and creating crops on it. It was theirs to do with as they wished, and the crops they grew were theirs to trade with, as far as a libertarian is concerned.

    If they accumulated more land to till by voluntary trade, that was theirs to do with as they wished as well, in spite of it being the most fundamental of “means of production”. Though uncommon until recently, if they traded with others for their labor, that too is an economic activity that creates legitimate “property”.

    Others, largely herding nomads, would frequently *steal* this private property from peasants, often killing them in the process. That this was an inefficient way to steal would be immediately apparent to the meanest intelligence, and so the State was created by these thieves to legitimize that theft of private property, against the most fundamental of human rights.

    What the State was created to protect was not what libertarians consider property. It’s what they consider theft and coercion.

    That a person “owns” themselves is true by the definition of “own”. Libertarians consider ownership of what you create to be a logical conclusion of that, but feel free to consider it an axiom as well if that’s simpler.

    Most libertarians are minarchists, and believe that the State’s eventual only legitimate purpose is to protect legitimate private property, both ourselves, and that which we create by *economic* activity (not theft or coercion).

    The anarcho-capitalists think that the State can wither away completely, like anarcho-communists, but personally I think both groups are naive. As long as we create more than the bare minimum needed for survival, someone will always want to steal the things that they want, even if we were to provide them with everything that they truly “need” (i.e protection from violence, sufficient food, adequate shelter, and necessary healthcare).

  76. The idea of having those accepting social welfare, jumping through hoops, is really a form of insult and punishment for their social condition. There is really no desire to help these people, but by making help conditional, it gives an excuse to not provide help and to feel morally superior in the process. The political right does not care that this approach actually costs more, the goal is to look down on these people as unworthy and to deny them help.

    You can say similar things about the US prison system, which has been extensively (and expensively) privatized for profit. Putting somebody away for life for smoking a joint is not cost effective nor rational. But again, the point is to punish “morally weak” people and to feel superior about it.

  77. @dballing: What are the moral positions upon which you are basing your political positions? A list would be interesting and pertinent to this discussion. Thanks.

  78. Fair question. Full disclosure, this is probably one of the first times I’ve ever sat down to write them all out, so I may have to edit-for-nuance or add something I’ve forgotten later. I don’t have anything copy/paste-ready yet. 🙂

    1.) First and foremost, I believe that individuals have absolute indisputable ownership over themselves, and their labor, and the right to defend themselves, and others. Corollaries to this would include the right of self-defense, the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense against individuals and groups, etc.

    2.) An obvious corollary to that, but one which is powerful enough to stand on its own bullet point, is that nobody can make you do something if you choose not to do so, and nobody has a right to “claim” some portion of the proceeds of your labor.

    3.) Second only to one’s ownership of one’s self if one’s ownership of one’s property. Nobody has a greater claim to your property than you do. Corollaries to this would be, “nobody has the right to tax you just to keep your property” and “no state has a right to say your real property is part of their state and subject to their rules”.

    4.) A legitimate ‘state’ can only function with the powers delegated to it by citizens. Thus, the state has no legitimate authority to do anything a citizen couldn’t legitimately do themselves. So a state might exercise a lawful authority to execute a criminal who poses an ongoing menace (societal self-defense) but it has no authority to, say, levy a tax on your income or assets (since no other citizen has such an authority it can delegate to the state).

    5.) Nobody can be bound to a contract or agreement that they themselves didn’t actually explicitly agree to. (ie, just because your grandfather or great^6-grandfather may have consented to be bound by a given governmental authority, you are not born-enslaved by their agreement). There is no valid “implied social contract”. A corollary to that is that people certainly *can* choose to band together for common cause, but they have no legitimate authority to bind others to that cause just because “you live near us”, or “because your kid is part of the contract”.

    How’s that for starters? I think I might start keeping track of this just so I can keep it well-organized moving forward. 🙂

  79. Pingback: “Daily” Links – 3/8/2016. – Ceci n'est pas un discours

  80. As you surely noticed from dballing’s discussion about epidemics, libertarians don’t believe that every problem has to be solved.

    If we are the lords of creation, if there is nothing we cannot do if we work together, then every problem deserves an attempt to solve it. If we suffer from epidemics then we should find a way to make them stop happening.

    If we have earthquakes, then we prepare to help the people affected and also we should try to persuade people not to live near earthquake faults, and try to detect warning signs so the people who are there after all can get out in time.

    If we have wars, we should look for ways to keep them from happening so we can have peace.

    If there are men who rape women (or other men) it is our responsibility to find a way to keep it from happening ever again. Every individual man who has failed to arrange the world so that rape never happens, is personally responsible for every rape that does happen.

    If people die of old age, we should fund a giant research project to figure out how to make it stop happening.

    Every problem is potentially solvable, and should be solved.

    But what if instead we are just a collection of individuals, each of us trying to live our lives, few of us geniuses? What if we are basicly just another animal species, like beavers or black bears?

    A beaver family raises their kits until they’re old enough to get by, and if there is sufficient room they can stay. Excess beavers are sent out into the world to find a place to live. If they fail to find an adequate place that isn’t already taken, then they die.

    Throughout the animal world, more babies are born than can survive. On average the excess die. Animals degrade their environments, when the environments are degraded fewer of the animals can survive. The population drops, the environment recovers, and then the population can rise again. Usually populations are fairly stable because large populations get smaller and small populations get larger. There are a lot of interesting exceptions — populations that suddenly soar and then crash….

    If we are just another animal species then there will be hard times. Part of the population will die in hard times. There’s nothing to do about that.

    Our idea that all problems can and should be solved comes from technology. We have gotten new technology fast, to the point no one can keep up with it all. We learn how to support more people on the same resources. We grow food more efficiently, we make bigger projects to move water from where we find it to where we need it, we ship petroleum all around the world. We could theoretically feed everybody in the world if we had the political will. If our technology keeps improving faster than the population rises, we can do that for an indefinite time. And maybe we will learn to regulate our population and keep it at a reasonable level.

    But this has not been going on for very long. Through most of our history there were good times and bad times, and people died in the bad times. There was nothing we could do about it. It was just true for us, the same way it’s true for other animals.

    If you accept that kind of life today, then libertarian stuff falls into place. Why should we use coercive governments to keep the population growing bigger and bigger and bigger? Eventually we will have a crash and the government will fail and the extra people will die. Why put up with a lot of coercion to put that off?

    All the other radical changes we think of as solutions to problems go the same way. If we can solve them reasonably, then sure, go ahead. You can grow penicillin on bread and get sick people to eat it. Anything that works. If it’s some giant complicated solution to a problem, that requires a whole lot of coercive government to make it happen? Maybe we’re better off to leave it unsolved.

    If it turned out that you cant have libertarian cities? To get an adequate society you’d have to empty the cities, and that might require a certain amount of genocice. Libertarians don’t have to plan out a path and a schedule to get from here to there. They can just talk about what’s morally right, and watch the others occasionally kill each other.

    If we do at some point get a reduced population, libertarians can argue for keeping it that way. They don’t actually have to get their hands bloody.

    So anyway, that’s an important thing. Libertarians don’t think they should solve all human problems. We’re better off if we solve only the ones that we can solve without coercion. We are animals, mostly like other animals, and we can’t expect to solve all our problems. Some of our problems are solutions to worse problems anyway.

  81. As Steve says in the post, no one particularly enjoys being coerced. Both Penn Jillette, in the example given, and dballing seem to be reacting to the perception of the State taking their property and the results of their labor.
    For most people (93% of people in the US are not self employed) the State is not the first or greatest taker from the results of their labor–their employers exist to profit from their labor and do so first. The State, in the form of taxation does so secondly. You see the portion that the State takes quite easily as it is right there in your paycheck. You don’t get to directly see the portion that the employer takes and so many people don’t see that coercive relationship.
    Property rights exist in relationship to societal and State definitions, so saying that the State is coercing one in some property relationships seems rather like saying that English syntax is coercing well formed English sentences. True, but also trivial by definition.
    In both cases, results of labor left after everyone else gets their share and property rights, Libertarians seem to end up placing these illusory emergent properties over people and don’t seem to be making a distinction between personal and private property. Entirely different allocations of both forms of property can be arrived at and many of those end up with the needs of people being taken care of first over the needs of property.

  82. @Steve Halter: “their employers exist to profit from their labor and do so first”

    No. My employers gets *exactly what they paid for*. My employer is – literally – entitled to every bit of labor they get from me because they paid me for it. The *fruit* of that labor — to ME — is the salary. Which is (to be funny about it) mine mine mine all mine. 🙂

    My employer hasn’t “taken” anything from other than that which I willingly agreed to give them in exchange for cash.

    The state, on the other hand, has taken quite a bit from me, to which I consented to none of it.

    “Property rights exist in relationship to societal and State definitions”

    Only because “the state” insists that they do, and they have people with guns who will ensure that you obey their instructions in this matter.

    People had property long before there were states. States just made it easier for the rulers of those states to claim sovereignty over the land and property that others already owned.

  83. Dballing, there’s a long history of tax protesters who choose to earn too little to be taxed. And the state backs the money used for your wages, as well as ensuring a minimum wage. So you’re still choosing to participate in a system they contribute to the maintenance of. Sounds to me like your consent issues are not as clear cut as you make them sound.

  84. dballing — Your employer does get what they paid for–it works out to be a very good deal for them. They have extracted a certain amount of labor from you and paid you in a salary derived from the state that (as currently set up) is stacked in favor of the employer rather than the employee.
    If you had not taken this “deal”, what would be your option? In the current system, you could starve or eek out a subsistence living somewhere (possibly). Other systems exist in which the employer either doesn’t exist as such or does not get to profit so freely from your labor. Your employer is not literally entitled they merely happen to currently be in a position of entitlement.
    As Matt says, your consent issues are not as clear cut as they may appear on the surface.

  85. skzb

    Steve Halter: Well said, and leads exactly into the point of the post, which is where we part company with the Libertarians. Yes, labor-power is paid for at its market value (which is determined socially, by the class struggle*). The labor is of greater value than what has been paid for, and the employer appropriates the difference, as per the agreement. Thus the worker receives in wages what was promised, which is less than the value he produces. Why would he enter into such an agreement, when what he produces is clearly more than what he is receiving? Because he must enter into that agreement if he is to receive wages, ie, to live.

    In other words, he is forced to take a “bad deal” not so much by his employer, but by the nature of commodity production or commodity exchange or service. In other words, by capitalism. This is the most common form of coercion to exist, and is the basis of all other forms of coercion. That there isn’t an individual “bad guy” doing the coercing makes it no less coercion. It is a form of coercion that Libertarians deny is coercion. Yet, in spite of their denial, the guy still goes to work every day producing more value than what he receives in wages, because he has no other option.

    *In fact, one might say that this negotiation over the value of labor-power IS the class struggle.

  86. Steve, the last two paragraphs have me more convinced by socialism than the last two years.

  87. skzb, Some of these comments say or imply that the worker is always getting screwed because the employer makes money off of the deal. Maybe or maybe not.

    The employer can add value to the process by being able to market the widgets the employee makes, when the employee has no way to make and sell widgets by himself. The employer also has the overhead of supplying the resources for the employee to make the widgets. There is nothing inherently wrong with this social contract.

    The problem comes when the employer tries to take more than a reasonable profit out of the deal, or to force the employee to work more for less pay. One could argue that this is always the case for capitalism, and that has mostly been true in America. But it doesn’t have to be true in all cases.

    When I first took economics classes, it was recognized that there was a social contract between the company and the workers and community – to return benefits/profits. Today that social contract is long gone, with schools teaching that literally the only obligation of a company is to extract as much profit as possible from the workers, customers and the community.

    So now companies expect the community to pay them to exist, and the worker is a commodity. Companies make the community absorb the liabilities while the company extracts profits for the executives and shareholders. But it doesn’t have to automatically be that way. We have allowed corporations to act like a cancer on society. Primarily because we have allowed corporations to buy political influence.

  88. Yeah. When an increase in profits for the company does not result in an increase in profits or conditions for the worker, the worker is getting screwed.

  89. Exactly.

  90. “Yes, labor-power is paid for at its market value (which is determined socially, by the class struggle*). The labor is of greater value than what has been paid for, and the employer appropriates the difference, as per the agreement. Thus the worker receives in wages what was promised, which is less than the value he produces. Why would he enter into such an agreement, when what he produces is clearly more than what he is receiving? Because he must enter into that agreement if he is to receive wages, ie, to live.”

    I’m disturbed by this. There’s a truth to it, but the way it’s stated is not true. There’s a problem with the words.

    Something about value and trade.

    Say I have a bunch of broccoli, and you have a bunch of green beans. We trade some. I’m better off because I like to eat green beans sometimes instead of broccoli. You’re better off because you like to eat broccoli sometimes instead of green beans. We both get value from the deal. More value than if I gave you all my broccoli and you gave me all your green beans.

    People voluntarily trade when they both feel they are better off with the trade than before.

    Say we got into a deal with 30 other people where we each put in our stuff and we each get some of everybody else’s. Instead of just broccoli I now have broccoli, potatoes, onions, salsify, cabbage, carrots, etc. I am better off. But wait, I don’t like oinions or green peppers. The potatoes have more calories than any of the other vegetables. The tomatoes have more vitamin C. My broccoli has more vitamin E. There wasn’t all that *much* salsify. The spinach took more work to grow. Some of us are getting exploited relative to others. It would take a lot of argument to decide who. We could argue and argue and maybe eventually a majority would agree.

    But the bottom line is we all feel like we gain more than we lose or we don’t agree to the deal.

    Saying “The labor is of greater value than what has been paid for” is a confusion. If the guy who pays you doesn’t think your labor is worth TO HIM more than he pays, why should he make the deal at all? If you don’t think the pay is worth more TO YOU than the labor you give, why should you make the deal? There isn’t any objective “the value of” for us to compare, there’s only what each of us thinks he wants.

    This way to say it is not good. If I go into a deal figuring I deserve to get all the value from it, I’ll bargain higher and higher until the other guy doesn’t get any value and doesn’t want to make a deal at all, what good is that?

    But there’s a truth to it. People do get exploited. People get so systematically exploited that we need to do something to change it.

    “Yes, labor-power is paid for at its market value (which is determined socially, by the class struggle*).”

    We’re talking about making deals. Once I negotiated for a 5-month job. They phoned me an offer. I asked for 20% more. They said wait. Two hours later they called back and accepted my terms. The two hours I spent wondering whether I’d made a mistake paid more than a month of working.

    When you make a deal, you have to pay attention to your BATNA, your Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. So when you apply for a job, you do better if you have at least 3 job offers to choose from. If they can say “You’re hired!” and you have to accept right then or they’ll take the next guy on the list, you will not have 3 offers to choose from. If you turn them down you have to hope another offer will show up soon. It’s a bad position to be in.

    “Unskilled” labor is always in a bad negotiating position. There are plenty of unskilled workers and there are not plenty of jobs.

    If you spend years developing a skill, then employers have a pigeonhole for you. You can get a job in your job classification, or be overqualified for a less-skilled job. If there is a shortage of people with your skills then you are temporarily in luck. Otherwise you must compete in a smaller market. Not as many workers, not nearly as many jobs.

    If it takes you two years to become a skilled website developer, and the profession lasts 3 years before amateurs can do all the important parts of your skilled job, then tough luck! This is why skilled computer professionals tend not to be that skilled. They must learn very fast, and then learn something else very fast, and when they aren’t actually that skilled they must fake it. This is also part of why computer skills tend to be obfuscated. Look at a website and you’ll see lots of stuff done in javascript and Flash that should not have been done that way, but it helps job security.

    Unions help skilled workers. But the workers then have two bosses, and their bosses make deals with each other. It doesn’t necessarily help.

    The system is rigged. In theory it’s a free market, but it’s a market that’s heavily rigged against employees.

    Let’s back up. Theoretically a market is supposed to help regulate production and consumption. People reveal what they want, and suppliers try to provide that. People want more of something so they bid up the price, suppliers create more and the price goes down. That’s a theoretical justification for the whole market system, apart from the moral justification that everybody must benefit or else they wouldn’t trade.

    Markets fail when somebody figures out a way to make them fail. “The price is up. I could make more money by producing more and selling more stuff at a lower price. But if I can find a way to make sure nobody else produces more, then I can make a whole lot of money by selling less at a higher price.” This is the main way to get rich. There are other ways that can work, but this is the one that’s usually used.

    Anybody who has to go into a deal without a BATNA can expect trouble. That includes capitalists. If you work, you’re usually screwed. If you invest capital, at the moment you’re screwed. There’s way more capital sloshing around looking for good investments than there are good investments waiting for capital. If you are a banker, you’re temporarily screwed. Interest rates are set so low it’s hard to make money renting out money. If you want to invest in real estate, you’re probably screwed. Many places there’s a real estate bubble, not a good time to buy. If you already own land and you don’t want to sell now, you will still make money if you can wait indefinitely, until after the bubble bursts and then prices rise back up again. If you might need the money at some specific time then you’re probably screwed.

    Somebody is exploiting everybody else. It isn’t completely obvious who. You can point at the banking system, but if you buy stock in any paraticular bank it’s likely to fail in the next banking crisis.

    There’s a martial arts story where the master is asked what’s most important, and he gives a metaphor, he says there’s a drummer and a bunch of people dancing with him, and which one can stay best in step? Obviously, the drummer, because he sets the rhythm while he dances to it. You can’t stay in step as well when you dance to somebody else’s beat. And the winning fighter is the one who can keep the initiative, who can require the others to fit into what he’s doing.

    The best exploiter is the one who gets to decide what’s in short supply. What it is that others need and have trouble getting. If you can decide what that will be, then you are in the best position to be the one supplying just barely enough of it.

    “Capitalist” or “business owner” or “business manager” is too crude a label for the exploiters. They are sneaky. They don’t have to keep playing the game the same way, century after century.

    Sorry this is so disjointed, I’m trying to figure out how to say it. Maybe I can say it again clearer, later.

  91. @Matt Doyle: “And the state backs the money used for your wages, as well as ensuring a minimum wage.”

    I don’t need the state to set a minimum wage. In fact, that’s the “hook” it uses to weasel it’s way into the middle of a relationship (between the employer and the employee) that it has no business being in.

    If I were to willingly choose to be paid in MattBucks, so as to not use the “government backed currency” the government backed currency, the government would step in and say “no no NO, you’re not giving Derek a minimum wage, as MattBucks are not legal tender.”

    If I were to choose to work on the barter system, exchanging my labor directly for other folks’ goods and services — technically speaking — I am supposed to report for taxation purposes the dollar-cash-value of those goods and services as “income” even though the whole point is to not be using the currency they back.

    @skzb: ” The labor is of greater value than what has been paid for, and the employer appropriates the difference, as per the agreement. Thus the worker receives in wages what was promised, which is less than the value he produces. Why would he enter into such an agreement, when what he produces is clearly more than what he is receiving? ”

    Not necessarily. The ability to monetize one’s value is not consistent. Let’s take a “McDonald’s Cashier”. Her ability to easily monetize “punching picture-coded buttons on a register and making change in the amount dictated by the register” is pretty low. The fry-cook’s ability to monetize “dropping frozen products in hot oil for a given amount of time” is pretty low. Standing on their own, their skills *don’t* have much value because they cannot be easily monetized. BUT, a McDonald’s franchisee on the other hand, *can* monetize all those skills, but he lacks the ability to do all of them at once. So a trade is worked out where the employer brings to the table the ability to monetize an un-monetizeable skill, and the employee brings a willingness to do that labor.

    It’s also about risk-avoidance. Let’s take a high-tech worker like a programmer. Let’s say “I’m the guy who wrote Excel.” I can live on cat-food and garbage scraps for two years, the time it takes until I have something I can sell, OR, I can sell my labor to someone else, let THEM take all the risk (that being that they pay me and the product flops and they don’t make anywhere near what they paid me) and in exchange for that risk, they get the difference in value between “What I demanded I be paid” and “what consumers paid them for what I made”.

    @David Hajicek: “The problem comes when the employer tries to take more than a reasonable profit out of the deal, or to force the employee to work more for less pay. ”

    This is just the market determining what the *actual* value of labor is. The value — of ANYTHING, goods or service — is what both the owner and the buyer are mutually amenable to exchanging for it.

    – If I will not accept anything less than $20, but the buyer will only pay $10, the value is unknown
    – If I will not accept anything less than $20, Bob will do the deal for $15, and the buyer will do the deal for $15, the value of the ‘whatever’ is $15

    ” Companies make the community absorb the liabilities”

    No no no, the communities have *chosen* to absorb the liabilities.

    The oft-cited example here is Wal-Mart, right? NN% of Wal-Mart employees are also on food stamps or welfare or whatever.

    Wal-Mart *can* do that because the communities have created that “safety net”.

    If the safety-net doesn’t exist, then it becomes untenable for an employee to work for that amount which doesn’t actually feed them (they die, Wal-Mart has to retrain someone else on short notice, people see that their neighbors who work at Wal-Mart starve to death, it’s a whole thing).

    “Primarily because we have allowed corporations to buy political influence.”

    A corporation is nothing more than a collection of individuals pooling their resources towards a common goal. The “Democratic National Committee” is a corporation. The ACLU is a corporation.

    There is no reason why individuals who pool their resources together should suddenly lose their rights because they did so.

    Now, we’re wading into a more complicated area so let me head off at the pass a couple side-notes, so we can avoid some comment-round-trip-time.

    – Yes, individuals have limits on what they can spend on political contributions and corporations don’t. I think that’s wrong and should be put to an end. Individuals should be able to spend as much as they want.

    – Corporations are special in one way which – I think – if eliminated would radically change the landscape in favor of consumers and labor. The individuals who have pooled their resources into the corporation enjoy a liability shield via the corporate charter. The shareholders in Company X cannot be sued for the actions of Company X. This needs to end. It will radically change the risk-profile that companies are *able* to engage in, since no investor will want to run the risk that THEY for example need to pony up their fractional-share of the class-action lawsuit for tobacco, etc. If my home and life is going to be “on the line” because of the companies I have chosen to have fractional-ownership in, you can bet your ass I’m going to exercise a LOT of scrutiny over their behavior and ethics. Which in turn means corporations will be forced to behave better otherwise, oops, no investors, you’re out of business buh-bye.

  92. One reason communities have minimum wage laws is pretty much the same reason it offers “free” benefits for companies to build facilities in those communities. Better paying jobs make the community richer. And fewer people on welfare helps the balance.

  93. ——————-
    ” Companies make the community absorb the liabilities”

    No no no, the communities have *chosen* to absorb the liabilities.

    The oft-cited example here is Wal-Mart, right? NN% of Wal-Mart employees are also on food stamps or welfare or whatever.

    Wal-Mart *can* do that because the communities have created that “safety net”.
    ———————-

    If communities can choose to create a safety net, then communities can also choose to make WalMart pay a minimum wage.

    If you don’t want them to do that, then you need a way to coerce the community to stop them from doing it.

    Only — what if WalMart gets a great big say in what the community does? Then WalMart might make them have a safety net, and prevent them from having a minimum wage. The more influence WalMart has over the government, the more WalMart can choose to change the rules of the game for its own short-term benefit. If it chooses to.

  94. —————-
    Yes, individuals have limits on what they can spend on political contributions and corporations don’t. I think that’s wrong and should be put to an end. Individuals should be able to spend as much as they want.
    —————

    Let me propose a poker game to you. Before each hand, the players bid on who gets to make the rules for the next hand. Each bid goes into the pot to be won by the winner of that hand. It’s no-limit. The winner, who put the most money into the pot, becomes the dealer for the next hand and he sets the rules.

    Suppose that I have the most money. i put into the pot 1 dollar more than the next-most-wealthy player has. So I get to be the dealer.

    I announce that the rules for this hand go as follows: Everybody put all their money into the pot. Then I win.

    If this strategy is legal, then I don’t want to play the game. Because if somebody other than me has more money than I do, they win everything I have regardless of my skill. It doesn’t look like a fun game at all.I will stay out unless I am sure that I have a table full of suckers who have less money than I do.

    But that is the game you propose for politics. The one who has the most money gets to put his puppets into the government, and they will do what he wants if they know what’s good for them. And if he gets to make the rules of the game, he can get as much money as he wants.

    To my way of thinking, this is not acceptable unless we can make sure the government is so weak and toothless and useless that it isn’t worth spending much to take it over.

  95. @J Thomas: “If communities can choose to create a safety net, then communities can also choose to make WalMart pay a minimum wage.”

    Not at all. If the community has pooled its money together (we’ll set aside for a moment that that money is “stolen property”) to make a safety net as a “charitable thing to do”, that DOESN’T magically give them legitimate authority to tell other folks “you HAVE to do this thing that minimizes how much charity we have to do.”

    “If you don’t want them to do that, then you need a way to coerce the community to stop them from doing it.”

    No. Wal-Mart is the absolute owner of its property (the money in its bank). It’s up to *it* to decide how it pays it out in exchange for goods or services. If the community doesn’t want them to do it a certain way, the onus is on the community to *convince* Wal-Mart to behave differently, not *coerce* them to do so.

    “But that is the game you propose for politics. ”

    Au contraire.

    The game *I* propose for politics is that the dealer has a *phenomenally* limited set of rules he can enact. You’re trying to paste your “big government” way of doing things onto my “teeny tiny almost non-existent government” world-view, and it doesn’t work.

    Best way to describe it: A government that is so small and powerless that it’s not worth bribing your way into.

    (and then I see, after writing all this, that you get to that point yourself…)

    “To my way of thinking, this is not acceptable unless we can make sure the government is so weak and toothless and useless that it isn’t worth spending much to take it over.”

    *EXACTLY*.

    Remember: I’m a libertarian, not a statist. 🙂

  96. dballing: In your model where large groups of people could band together in a corporation and arm themselves with guns, what prevents them from enforcing their will upon smaller groups?

    Is an armed Walmart free of any regulation really a desirable end state?

  97. If free enterprise is to work as advertised, the full costs of a product must be included in the price of the product. But that doesn’t happen without enforcement (look at how many environments have been spoiled and have to be cleaned up by future generations).

    So what is the Libertarian position on who pays for the costs that the seller and buyer dont recognize (either by choice or by ignorance)?

  98. @Steve: Explain to me how exactly that’s not what we have today, but the evil gun-toting corporation is called “Government” and it has statutory protections prohibiting you from defending yourself against it which cow those who might come to your aid into submission.

    At least with a gun-toting Wal-Mart, Target might decide “That’s crazy, yo” and help defend folks against Wal-Mart.

  99. @howardbrazee: “So what is the Libertarian position on who pays for the costs that the seller and buyer dont recognize (either by choice or by ignorance)?”

    Simple: The party that causes the damage to others is the one who pays for that damage.

    If they didn’t pass along that future-cost to their customers, that’s their own fault that they didn’t fully realize the costs of the product they sold.

  100. And if the seller and buyer choose to ignore the costs (say, of pollution) – how is that ideal enforced? It’s there own fault – but either they pay – or we pay.

  101. @howardbrazee: This is one of those areas where [many] libertarians believe government still has a role: adjudicating disputes between parties and compelling restitution.

    So if Factory A pollutes and the air above Homeowner B is smoggy, and the water in Farmer C’s water-table is polluted, B and C take A to court, and A is compelled to pay B and C for the damage (typically the amount necessary to make B and C “whole” in terms of bringing their property back to the pre-pollution state, and any damage that happened along the way, health issues, etc.)

  102. dballing:Yes, you haven’t actually mentioned any means of avoiding this scenario.

    You mention in reply to Howard: “Simple: The party that causes the damage to others is the one who pays for that damage.”

    Why would anyone pay for any damage? There are no enforced regulations and no one to enforce them.

  103. Ask yourself this–If I didn’t have to constantly struggle to defend and obtain property, what might I be doing?

  104. I did answer it in my 9:28am ET post, but I’ll assume it simply wasn’t visible when you started responding. 🙂

    As to your later question… you’re making a utilitarian argument, which doesn’t really work. You are, of course, free to enter into some sort of consenting agreement with other to protect each others’ property (or pay someone to do that for you) but what you cannot do is compel others to band together with you (or foot a share of the bills you have decided to incur).

  105. dballing- it really does seem that your rigid adherence to principal comes at the expense of any attempt to make the world more livable.

    Could we form a working social system where every individual (or small band of individuals who somehow manage to temporarily trust each other) is an armed nation of one ready to defend whatever they claim is theirs at gunpoint, and utterly unwilling to help anyone else unless there is an immediate profit in it? Where no one is ever forced or even asked to put their own needs second to the greater good? A world where every hero is Achilles and there is not one Frodo?

    I honestly don’t think we could. It runs contrary to human nature to completely excise altruism and community spirit. 6 million + years of cooperative survival have ingrained the instinct too deeply in our cognitive structures. We got to where we are (good and bad) by working together, not as swarms of lonely sovereigns. Everything humanity has created worth having was made through group efforts. Lone wolves? In nature, they are deeply damaged, maladaptive, ultimately doomed.

    It seems like your final answer to any criticism you can’t rationalize away is that it is merely “utliitarian”. That your position might not be to your own benefit, but it is a matter of “principal”.

    If your philosophy doesn’t promote a greater good, what good is it? If your principals make your life harder without benefitting anyone else, are they really fit?

    There are more things in heaven and earth, dballing, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    If your philosphical understanding of how things ought to be can’t stand up to the reality of what is, maybe it is time to think deeper.

  106. @larswyrdson: “it really does seem that your rigid adherence to principal comes at the expense of any attempt to make the world more livable.”

    I reject the premise. It comes at the expense of the world working how *you* want it to work, but there is no evidence that it is “less livable” just “not the way you want to live”.

    “…and utterly unwilling to help anyone else unless there is an immediate profit in it? ”

    Assumes facts not in evidence. People help each other out, voluntarily *all the time* even when there’s no immediate profit in doing so.

    “If your philosophy doesn’t promote a greater good, what good is it?”

    The greater good is *freedom*. Now, you might find utilitarian goals to be “more good” than freedom, but that’s a completely subjective judgement call.

    “If your philosphical understanding of how things ought to be can’t stand up to the reality of what is, maybe it is time to think deeper.”

    It stands up to the reality of human nature better than any other system, proposed or existing.

  107. Lots of times morals seem to be self-defining. (My sexual preferences are Right). But sometimes people go beyond that to use logic and even evidence to show that their philosophy works.

    But we need to start off with some assumptions. If we wish to test to see whether one philosophy is better than another we need to define “better”. We also need to define the “for whom” we are measuring this. This can be difficult as there are always conflicts. Is it better or worse to fill up the world with people?

    Let’s say we come up with some criteria to evaluate whether Libertarianism is better or worse than Communism. That would be a good start. We won’t be able to measure whether complete (however we measure that) Libertarianism or complete (however we measure that) Communism is better until we actually try them. Experience shows that some compromise works better than any extreme position.

    Of course, people don’t appear to like actual data when evaluating their philosophies. For instance, the first thing that should have been done with the Laffer Curve theory would be to graph it to find out where on that curve we actually are. But that might be evidence that our side was wrong, so we’d better not look at the data. (Or it might show that the whole theory didn’t reflect reality).

  108. dballing:”It stands up to the reality of human nature better than any other system, proposed or existing.”
    Interesting claim–wholly unsubstantiated as far as I can tell.

  109. How would we test that claim?

  110. In the libertarian viewpoint, where does new property, physical property, come from? There is a finite amount of both land and matter. If we are to assume that people are entitled to claim physical property as their own, for the duration of their lives, and to dispose of it to their heirs as they choose, why would they ever give it up? How will it ever become available again?

    New people are always being born. And billions of them, currently with no property, already exist. Where will they get this property that everyone is entitled to own?

  111. dballing- when I say your philosophy would make the world less livable, I am basing it purely off what you have admitted. You have said that you would reject medical systems that would be more likely to keep you healthy, because they would reduce your freedom. You have said that you would reject goverment safeguards against the tyranny of employers or providers of goods because it would reduce your freedom to negotiate in isolation. You have said you reject any collective attempt to deal with world effecting issues like pollution in favor of individual lawsuits (I’m not sure why courts are OK, but bureaucracies are not, but we’ll let that go).

    Freedom is very good, but freedom of decision is not the only freedom. Freedom from disease is good. Freedom from hunger is very good. Freedom from fear is really quite lovely.

    Freedom from coercion from a faceless State certainly sounds great, and hard to argue against, but freedom from coercion from faceless corporations is also desirable. And, not to minimize your accomplishments or personal power, which I am sure are respectable, but I don’t believe Wal-Mart will ever fear your personal economic power or even ability to wield a firearm. If you make a decent wage wherever you might happen to work, it is not because you are awesome. It is because generations of labor activists have fought tirelessly on your behalf, forcing the Federal government to enshrine your rights to a living wage and safe working conditions into law. And because some of those faceless bureaucrats pop by now and again to check to see that they do. Don’t believe it is necessary? Read Upton Sinclair. Read Steinbeck. Read Dickens, for the love of all that is good. Read about what life is like when every individual is left to rise or fall on their own merits, but no effort is made to ensure a level playing field for them to strive in.

    If the world you want to create has only pay roads, pay bridges, pay schools, pay doctors, pay, pay, pay, pay… what about that sounds more appealing than a very modest level of taxation? Do you really relish the opportunity to choose between food and antibiotics or being able to drive to visit your mother?

    That is what I mean by less livable. A world of absolute individual freedom is a world of individuals forced to spend their every waking moment trying to recreate every aspect of civilized life from first principals.

    Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

    If you think you see a world where you can stand on your own two feet and owe no one a thing, I really think you are failing to see what is underfoot.

  112. @Steve: “Interesting claim–wholly unsubstantiated as far as I can tell.”

    Exactly as substantiated as your non-constructive claim that it “can’t stand up to the reality of what is”.

  113. @larswyrdson: “It is because generations of labor activists have fought tirelessly on your behalf, forcing the Federal government to enshrine your rights to a living wage and safe working conditions into law. ”

    LOL. My chosen field of work is one in which labor unions do not now, nor have they ever, held any sort of influence.

    “If the world you want to create has only pay roads, pay bridges, pay schools, pay doctors, pay, pay, pay, pay… what about that sounds more appealing than a very modest level of taxation?”

    What sounds more appealing is that I pay for what I use, and I am not coerced or tricked into paying for what I might not (a) use, or (b) agree with.

    “If you think you see a world where you can stand on your own two feet and owe no one a thing, I really think you are failing to see what is underfoot.”

    I do not think that. I do think that the things I stand on fall into two categories:

    1.) Decisions made for me where I was not allowed to have a say in the matter, and so cannot be held liable for the cost involved (ie, public school as a child)
    2.) Things people have done of their own volition to better *themselves* but not at my behest, and so — since I did not ask for it, I do not have any obligation to them for their efforts.

    “Read Upton Sinclair. Read Steinbeck. Read Dickens, for the love of all that is good. Read about what life is like when every individual is left to rise or fall on their own merits, but no effort is made to ensure a level playing field for them to strive in.”

    All of which describe a statist world filled with a government which ultimately serves the will of businesses, creating an environment which literally takes from private individuals and subsidizes business interests with those takings. It was true in Dickens’ era, it was true in Sinclair and Steinbeck’s era, and it’s true today.

    The commonality was, is, and for the foreseeable future remains a state, given nearly unlimited power, funded by stolen monies, wielding that money and power at the behest of the highest bidder.

    Smashing that entire system to the ground is paramount to freedom.

  114. dballing- OK, OK. I guess we have no basis for conversation. I’ll leave you be.

  115. dballing:I didn’t make that claim. You are confusing me with larswyrdson–delightful for me but incorrect of you.

  116. @steve: Fair enough. this isn’t the most ‘threaded’ conversation so I got it a little confused. 🙂

    It’s as substantiated (or not) as *his* claim. 🙂

  117. Libertarians don’t believe anybody ought to be in charge. They don’t believe that getting a good outcome justifies oppression.

    I hope this is clear from dballing’s responses.

    There’s my property and your property. I try to protect my property, if you pollute it I will demand payment. If there’s something that doesn’t belong to anybody (like the Pacific ocean, for example) then nobody protects it. Anybody can pollute it as much as he wants to. But if there’s somebody who owns the fish in the sea, then that somebody can sue anyone who pollutes his fish.

    There is no right to public health. The prospect of fewer epidemics is not worth coercing people into doing things they don’t choose for themselves.

    There is no right to have any aspect of the economy be regulated. Even if that results in increased wealth, no one has a right to do any sort of regulation except things that all participants voluntarily agree to.

    This is all logically self-consistent. A society of people who agreed to it, could probably make a go of it. Some of them would die for various reasons, but they could probably maintain themselves provided they could indoctrinate their children sufficiently to keep it going. Or send any children who disagree out into the world, and accept immigrants who agree.

    What if a group of people who disagreed were strong? A big armed group who wanted to enforce something? A society which wants to be free, has to enforce freedom. It has to use its armed might to prevent people from coercing each other, when people who don’t share the faith start coercing. I can’t say how that would go and probably neither can anyone else with any certainty. We’d have to see how it actually evolved in practice.

    I think some libertarians push the issue aside, because if every member of society is dedicated to noncoercion, the problem won’t arise.

  118. You evaluate “The prospect of fewer epidemics is not worth coercing people into doing things they don’t choose for themselves.”. Is this a basic belief that we can either accept or deny, or do you have some other values that this supports?

    We all have values that allow for damaging other people’s rights (and even lives) – compromise is part of life. Most people are much more willing to kill than I am, which is why there are always wars. But for me, having the government step in to save my family from something like the black death is worth an awful lot.

  119. Two clarifications:

    The reason society accepts the liability from corporations is primarily that the corporations lie about the risks that they know. This is considered an OK business practice at this time – what ever makes money is good, apparently. An example is fracking, when the waste-water is pumped back into the communal water table. Or XL not telling you that they expect 20 spills (guess) a year, that the community has the major responsibility to clean up.

    Second, corporations being able to contribute unlimited money to political campaigns (also known as a bribe) allows the above to happen. Saying individuals (now limited to $2500) can contribute unlimited money, does not level the playing field. Now if you limited corporations to $2500 (they really shouldn’t be allowed to contribute at all), that solves the problem. If they claim the rights of a person (actually much more), then they need to be treated like a person with the officers of the corporation serving jail time for corporate offenses, and egregious corporations broken up.

    One shouldn’t use an ideology in a way that obviously is bad for everybody else. There is a social contract even if one doesn’t like that concept.

  120. dballing:

    “If communities can choose to create a safety net, then communities can also choose to make WalMart pay a minimum wage.”

    ‘Not at all. If the community has pooled its money together (we’ll set aside for a moment that that money is “stolen property”) to make a safety net as a “charitable thing to do”, that DOESN’T magically give them legitimate authority to tell other folks “you HAVE to do this thing that minimizes how much charity we have to do.”’

    I wasn’t thinking so much morally, as practically. If the community has the power to collect resources and distribute them to the poorest who can’t get by without them, then the community has the power to regulate trade. They have the power to impose penalties on WalMart for breaking their rules. They have the power to impose a minimum wage as one of their rules, if they choose to.

    Suppose WalMart sends a big team over to your place and steals some of your pigs. They slaughter them and sell the meat cheap at WalMart. WalMart is too big for you to fight by yourself. If you have a government that’s small and weak and powerless, it won’t be much help to you about getting WalMart to respect your property, if in fact WalMart doesn’t respect your property.

    If they’re strong enough to keep WalMart from damaging you, then they’re strong enough to impose rules on WalMart that they perhaps lack the moral right to impose.

    If they’re strong enough to seriously annoy WalMart, then WalMart has an incentive to try to corrupt them if it can.

    Basicly, if WalMart is amoral, and your government is amoral, then one or the other of them is going to rule you.

    You need a way to keep them both moral. If you can depend on them both to do the right thing then it will come out OK. Or if you can keep them both too weak to be very important when they do wrong things, that sort of comes out OK.

    So I have a thought that maybe you could get a government which was very weak, but which was strong enough to make corporations split in two when they get too big. Splitting them in two when they get big is not an extreme power. It helps free markets to require big corporations to divide up into small corporations that compete.

    If you own a big corporation, and then you own two small corporations that make all the sales the big one did, you haven’t lost any wealth you deserve to have. If your businesses compete and become more efficient, that’s fine for you. The reward for outcompeting the other businesses should not be that you have no competition, it should be that you can replace them with competitors you own stock in.

    Just as you don’t want the government to be too powerful, I don’t want any other component of the society to be too powerful. If the government is weak, I don’t want any one corporation to be stronger than the government.

    I’m concerned about super-rich people too, some. If government isn’t enough to protect your wife and daughters from them, you need something else. But if government is that strong then you can’t let them play no-limit poker to control it.

    I don’t have all the answers and I suspect you don’t have them all yet either.

    “If communities can choose to create a safety net, then communities can also choose to make WalMart pay a minimum wage.”

    Not at all. If the community has pooled its money together (we’ll set aside for a moment that that money is “stolen property”) to make a safety net as a “charitable thing to do”, that DOESN’T magically give them legitimate authority to tell other folks “you HAVE to do this thing that minimizes how much charity we have to do.”

    “If you don’t want them to do that, then you need a way to coerce the community to stop them from doing it.”

    No. Wal-Mart is the absolute owner of its property (the money in its bank). It’s up to *it* to decide how it pays it out in exchange for goods or services. If the community doesn’t want them to do it a certain way, the onus is on the community to *convince* Wal-Mart to behave differently, not *coerce* them to do so.
    “If you don’t want them to do that, then you need a way to coerce the community to stop them from doing it.”

    No. Wal-Mart is the absolute owner of its property (the money in its bank). It’s up to *it* to decide how it pays it out in exchange for goods or services. If the community doesn’t want them to do it a certain way, the onus is on the community to *convince* Wal-Mart to behave differently, not *coerce* them to do so.

  121. @David: Assuming that businesses won’t “fail to discover something” that is counter to their profitability (such as the dangers of a cheaply made product) is a textbook example of how statism simply fails to account for the realities of human nature.

    Better to remove the liability shield, and let their actions help or harm themselves as appropriate.

    “If they claim the rights of a person (actually much more), then they need to be treated like a person with the officers of the corporation serving jail time for corporate offenses, and egregious corporations broken up.”

    That would go hand in hand with my removal of the liability shield.

    “There is a social contract even if one doesn’t like that concept.”

    Show me where I signed it.

    Yes, it’s a trite textbook response, but it’s the truth.

    A contract binds two willing parties together after a meeting of the minds. I’ve yet to have that with the State in my 40+ years of life.

  122. @ChrisB: >New people are always being born. And billions of them, currently with no property, already exist. Where will they get this property that everyone is entitled to own?

    I can only answer for myself about how to acquire it, but everyone comes into the world with no property. They might, some day, inherit some from their parents or others, but in the mean time the way I did it was to trade my labor with people who did have property, and acquired my own property through voluntary trade.

    It’s a pretty efficient system. People good at producing value end up with more value to put to productive use.

    Of course, as various people on this thread have pointed out, the world coerces us in various ways that make some people question how “voluntary” that trade really is. I’m open to having a discussion of how to fix that without throwing away the baby of an efficient system with the bathwater of that natural coercion that would exist in a state of nature.

  123. @J Thomas: “If they’re strong enough to keep WalMart from damaging you, then they’re strong enough to impose rules on WalMart that they perhaps lack the moral right to impose.”

    Not necessarily, except in the most physical sense of the word. A government which solely has authority to, say, “mediate disputes and enforce the outcome of that mediation” might have the “physical strength” or societal-capacity to enforce the outcome but lack any recognized authority in any other area of influence.

    Let’s say that in such a society, maybe the state’s enforcement power in such matters is limited to “we can direct a bank to divert funds from the guilty to the victim”. That doesn’t require a lot of “strength” to stand up to Wal-Mart. No matter how much money Wal-Mart wants to throw at the problem, once the state finds them guilty, their bank accounts are debited the restitution amount.

    Your “Forced Split” idea is interesting but I don’t think it actually solves the problem the way you hope. If it is decided that “NewsCorp” is too big, it splits into “News” and “Corp”, with Murdoch still owning 55% of the shares in each, the shareholders of those parallel companies aren’t going to mess with their interests in “the other side”, they will effectively collude often enough that they effectively still operate as a MegaCorp.

  124. howardbrazee:
    —————–
    You evaluate “The prospect of fewer epidemics is not worth coercing people into doing things they don’t choose for themselves.”. Is this a basic belief that we can either accept or deny, or do you have some other values that this supports?’
    —————–

    I’m studying libertarians, I haven’t settled on that as a core belief for myself.

    Libertarianism is all about regulating coercion. We can’t get rid of it entirely unless everybody agrees about who has what rights. If there is no disagreement about that, then any time I’m about to do wrong I realize it and quit, and everybody gets along.

    But if I wrongly think I’m upholding my own rights when really I’m infringing on somebody else’s, then somebody has to resolve the issue. Ideally they will teach me the right way to think about it and I will back down and behave like a model citizen. If I’m not convinced, somebody has to coerce me. But they’re doing it to make things right, to stop me from coercing people. It’s OK to coerce people who are coercing people.

    If noncoercion is the only moral requirement, people can still do good things voluntarily. It might turn out that 90% or 95% of libertarians want their kids to be vaccinated. Because they are smart, and they do it even when nobody forces them to. But they don’t have to.

    Almost all the issues I have with libertarian beliefs are things that are issues with our society today also. LIbertarians aren’t willing to force people to save ecosystems. Neither are we. At least half the time we wind up with bad laws that prevent people from saving ecosystems. When you have a coercive government and the wrong people get in control — as they have been in the USA almost as long as I can remember — that isn’t necessarily better than nothing.

    It’s an interesting set of ideas that are mostly logically self-consistent. What I’ve seen is incomplete. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been thought out enough to maintain itself as stated, without some additional functions.

    “Is this a basic belief that we can either accept or deny, or do you have some other values that this supports?”

    It’s about freedom. I’m not sure a real libertarian would say it this way, but when I try to say it, it comes out:

    “If you can’t get people to agree about something, you’re going to have even worse results from forcing them to do it your way.”

  125. “Is this a basic belief that we can either accept or deny, or do you have some other values that this supports?”

    It’s about freedom. I’m not sure a real libertarian would say it this way, but when I try to say it, it comes out:

    “If you can’t get people to agree about something, you’re going to have even worse results from forcing them to do it your way.”

    No, I think that sums it up pretty well actually.

  126. dballing, You seem to think that the individual can sue to get compensation for say a corporation damaging his property. In theory, yes that can be done. But in reality, it is almost impossible because the corporation can use it’s money to win.

    Also, it seems that you would be paying an awful lot of lawyers to get others to not screw you. Better to have laws and regulations.

    If I had no scruples and lived in the society you envision, I would set myself up as a minor warlord. You would pay me for protection (yes you would or you would be dead, along with your family and I take your property). But you get something out of the deal as I would punish anybody that screwed you over. So we have turned the clock back a thousand years or so.

  127. That’s the system we have today. Maybe in this “stripped down” version it’s more like small claims court (but for larger stakes) where it’s “an officer of the corporation” and “the plaintiff”, no lawyers, making their cases before the judge-arbitrator.

    Trying to paste this sort of society onto the *existing* legal structures doesn’t work. It’s a complete game-change and has to be effectively approached that way.

  128. dballing:

    “A government which solely has authority to, say, “mediate disputes and enforce the outcome of that mediation” might have the “physical strength” or societal-capacity to enforce the outcome but lack any recognized authority in any other area of influence.”

    A corrupt government which can do only what you say, can hire people to create disputes that it will then mediate and enforce the outcome it desires. You need a way to rein in corrupt governments.

    If you have a way to stop a corrupt government, and the method you use to do that can also be corrupted, then….

    If people are willing to be corrupt then at some point it comes down to physical force. It turns into you and your idealist friends, with your guns etc, against some rich guy and all the corrupt people he can hire, with their guns etc.

    You win some and you lose some.

    “maybe the state’s enforcement power in such matters is limited to “we can direct a bank to divert funds from the guilty to the victim”.”

    What if it’s a bank at fault?

    What if the judge is corrupt and orders the bank to empty your account into — whoever’s? If the banker is sure it’s unjust he can refuse to do it. But then, if the banker is corrupt he can refuse to give you the money you deserve.

    When you assume the system works as designed then it seems like there won’t be much problem. But if you assume a regular coercive government works as designed that won’t have much problem either. Except we’re living witih one that doesn’t work as advertised….

    “Your “Forced Split” idea is interesting but I don’t think it actually solves the problem the way you hope.”

    Yes, if they act just like they haven’t been split up then it doesn’t accomplish anything.

    If you play it in good faith there are things that help make it work. If you’re 50 and you have a 40-year-old vice president who’s been dreaming of running his own company, and he stayed with you helping yours grow because he hoped to run one side after the split, he’ll probably prefer not to just keep taking orders while he pretends to run his company. And if you make him wait until you retire before he gets his chance to run it for 10 years, he’ll likely not be suited for it any more. After so many years of being your underling, he won’t be a leader.

    But yes, if your business gets officially split up and you secretly run it as a cartel that does price-fixing etc, how can the government stop you without more control, more oversight, etc.

  129. It all just sounds so ugly. I get that you yearn for it, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why.

    You have enshrined selfishness and ingratitude as sacred principles. All your life, other people have helped and supported you. They educated you, protected you from disease, provided a safety net against disaster or failure, tried to make a world where you had a chance to be whatever mysterious thing you are, but you didn’t ask them to, so you have no obligation to them or to anyone else. You didn’t deserve your education, they were suckers to give it to you for free. Since you are no sucker, why should you have to pay it forward to someone else?

    I am beginning to think you want to burn the world down just so you don’t have to say, “Thank you.”

    For me, any world that has a hungry child in it needs improvement. Any world in which anyone has to choose beteween eating and education is flawed. Any world in which I need to buy a gun to keep other people on their side of a fence is just unbearably sad. And, not the least, any world in which I must resort to hiring lawyers to try to stop other people from pissing all over me is too tedious for words. Now, I realize that I am describing the world we are currently living in, but all the ways you are proposing to change it just seem to make those particular problems worse, all in service to some flawed frontier mentality.

    Maybe you could build your brave new world. People are very inventive. They can build and maintain all sort of improbable systems and keep them going, too, through massive effort and a lot of deliberate blindness. Look at North Korea. Who could have believed that the Kim Jongs could have kept that Grimm story going for so long, but they have, they have.

    Why you think your paradise would be any better than theirs bogles my mind.

    Sorry! I know I said I would drop it, but sometimes I just have to talk to hear myself think.

  130. Within the context of this discussion, I would have to say that Steve’s original premises in the post are looking pretty valid.

  131. larswyrdson

    “It all just sounds so ugly. I get that you yearn for it, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why.”

    As a point of observation, every libertarian I’ve gotten to know well turned out to have a domineering father.

    I don’t mean to psychologize (well I guess I do but I don’t want to take it too seriously). If you have been dominated by a father who makes arbitrary demands and insists that you have to do things his way because he’s the father and it’s his house and his family etc etc etc, it seems plausible to me that you might be attracted to a philosophy which says nobody has the right to boss you around.

    A philosophical system which puts up every possible objection to the idea that anybody has the right to tell you what to do. You have rules that you personally have agreed to, about what you owe other people. You don’t do anything to their property without their permission. Etc. Reasonable rules that you agree to, not arbitary rules that somebody makes you follow.

    “You have enshrined selfishness and ingratitude as sacred principles.”

    He hasn’t, really. He has enshrined the *right* *to* selfishness and ingratitude. If somebody says he HAS TO do what they say because it’s selfish not to, he doesn’t have to go along. He doesn’t have to actually be selfish, he just does not accept that you can force him to give away his stuff. If you say you have a right to force him to do things because it would be selfish for him not to, then he says go away, he’ll do whatever he wants, you can’t make him. If you ask him to be nice to people, he might likely want to do that after he’s established that he doesn’t have to. It’s his choice.

    I can sympathize with all that. I don’t feel it strongly, probably because I haven’t been dominated much by anybody I thought had a right to. I’ve met bullies etc, but they didn’t claim they were right in any way I was tempted to accept. None of them were my father.

    It’s mostly a self-consistent system. Everything fits together logically. That’s attractive to a certain kind of mind. I’d like to see more about ways to organize cooperation with like-minded people, and they may do that if they actually start trying to set up communities. As it is, the emphasis on not having to go along with stuff is so intense that it tends to drown out everything else.

  132. @J Thomas:>As a point of observation, every libertarian I’ve gotten to know well turned out to have a domineering father.

    Sounds like confirmation bias to me. Mine certainly was way more “absent” (out traveling a lot, somewhat alcoholic, quiet and stoic) than “domineering”.

    Mostly my libertarian viewpoint comes from studying the philosophy of ethics and politics. Ultimately our moral systems break down when they start to treat human beings as means to an end rather than ends in and of themselves (while this wording is from Kant, don’t conclude that I think he’s right about everything).

    Just about every ideology that fails that test has been directly responsible for enormous atrocities.

    That, and a simple observation that separation of qualia means that no one but me has the information necessary to determine what’s best for me. If I want to hold that viewpoint consistently, I have to assume (whether true or not in every individual case) that it holds for all adults of sound mind as well.

  133. skzb

    “For me, any world that has a hungry child in it needs improvement. ”

    Yes.

  134. >As a point of observation, every libertarian I’ve gotten to know well turned out to have a domineering father.

    “Sounds like confirmation bias to me.”

    It isn’t a big sample. I got it from observation, and didn’t start out with the idea and look for examples, but it could still be wrong.

    Also it could likely be true for a large fraction of libertarians and not all. If it was true for all, the implication would be that no one would take up that line of thinking without this particular handicap. I’d consider that an extreme position.

    But does seem plausible to me that people who have been subjected to arbitrary dominance regimes might tend to like a philosophy which says that coercion is wrong and which spells out precisely the rights they should have. And that has been true of a large handful of people who fit that description.

  135. When I was younger I had some libertarian thoughts. It’s seductive. But I do not see how this could work. How do you get everybody to agree with your rules and honor that agreement without some form of coercion? Also, why would I want to destroy the present social structure and have to rebuild just so a libertarian is happy?

    I’ve seen a number of engineers that thought they could negotiate salary better than they actually could.

  136. >When I was younger I had some libertarian thoughts. It’s seductive. But I do not see how this could work. How do you get everybody to agree with your rules and honor that agreement without some form of coercion? Also, why would I want to destroy the present social structure and have to rebuild just so a libertarian is happy?

    The vast majority of libertarians are minarchists that don’t want to throw out the entire structure, but merely view it as a *direction* that government should move in: towards less coercion, and only using coercion when its evils are genuinely *necessary* for our ability to enjoy our freedoms.

    Ultimately, we’d like to see government stop being used as a tool for people to rule over others, and instead have it be a tool for people to rule over themselves with as a little interference as humanly possible.

    We don’t see it as a “class” struggle so much as a criminal vs. free people struggle. But beyond that, there is more in common with pure socialists (at least the “withering away of the state” types) than is commonly recognized by either side, in my opinion.

  137. skzb

    Certainly, Marx was aware of a close identity of goals between left-anarchists and communists. “Anarchists believe that if you abolish the state, private property will wither away. We believe the reverse.”

  138. Pingback: H. A. Busse

  139. I appreciate that Steven Brust made a respectful attempt to see the libertarian viewpoint. I think he missed a few things, but many people do. He was spot on when it comes to our aversion to force/coercion.

  140. >Ultimately, we’d like to see government stop being used as a tool for people to rule over others, and instead have it be a tool for people to rule over themselves with as a little interference as humanly possible.

    This.

    >“For me, any world that has a hungry child in it needs improvement. ”

    And this too.

    Many libertarians care deeply for others’ physical well-being as well as for their freedom. We just believe the best way to eliminate hunger is through innovation and productivity, and we believe that cronyism and excessive regulation tend to hinder those.

  141. dballing: “I don’t see where demanding payment is coercion. It might be “dick-ish”, but it’s not coercion.

    Of course it’s coercion. I walk into a store, I see food. I take food and eat it. They arrest me and throw me in jail. Coercion. Where’s the ‘freedom’ in that?

    Oh, it was your store, your food, and I *stole* it? Property rights. Theft in this case comes down to the same essential point that SKZB made regarding taxation:

    “When he [Penn Jillette] says that taxation is the state taking things from the people “at gunpoint” he is essentially correct; the state at its heart is simply a bunch of people with guns, and mechanisms for controlling the use of those guns. But the card he’s palming is that the whole reason for the state’s existence in the first place, the reasons those guns exist, is to protect private property. So when the state comes in and takes some of your property, well, it is only your property in the first place because the state defines it as such …

    Property — whether it be land, currency, the merchandise in a store, or the sofa in your living room — only belongs to someone by government decree and enforcement. And lest it be not clear, enforcement is definitely coercion.

    This is the fundamental flaw at the heart of those that advocate property rights and anti-government views; without government there are no property rights.

  142. jeremycfoster writes: “We just believe the best way to eliminate hunger is through innovation and productivity…”

    Then you ought to be clamoring for more more taxes to support more government research and more regulation to make the results of that research a public commons.

    Noam Chomsky used to mock a speech by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan wherein Greenspan lauded capitalism and the wonders it had given us; semiconductors, computers, the internet, airlines, etc. But, as Chomsky quickly pointed out, every single one of those “capitalist” achievements cited by Greenspan was funded in whole (or large part) by government.

    While the public has routinely funded these large research efforts, the profits go to private industry. It’s called socializing risk and privatizing profit.

  143. @oneillsinwisconsin: “Of course it’s coercion. I walk into a store, I see food. I take food and eat it. They arrest me and throw me in jail. Coercion. Where’s the ‘freedom’ in that?”

    coercion: ‘the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.’

    Nobody coerces you to “buy food”.

    “Property — whether it be land, currency, the merchandise in a store, or the sofa in your living room — only belongs to someone by government decree and enforcement.”

    No. Property belongs to you because it is yours. There is no government decree that this bar of deodorant next to me here is “mine”, but it is most definitely my property.

    “without government there are no property rights”

    you can assert that as axiomatic all you like, but it doesn’t make it so.

  144. dballing:” Property belongs to you because it is yours. There is no government decree that this bar of deodorant next to me here is “mine”, but it is most definitely my property.”

    Well, I assert that bar is my property. I am a noted collector of deodorant bars and the bar that is sitting by you is on loan from me. In fact, you owe me rent on that bar.

    What leads you to believe that your assertion is any more true than my assertion?

  145. @Steve Halter: “What leads you to believe that your assertion is any more true than my assertion?”

    Because I kept the receipt showing that it *didn’t* come from you?

    And before you throw out the tired old “well, you used government currency to do that”, I’ll offer a parallel hypothetical: I’ve got a USB drive on my desk as well, paid for using “reward points”, and I’ve got the receipt for that as well. So “use of government currency in the transaction” has no bearing on property rights.

  146. “Excessive regulation” seems to be “regulating me”. The right amount of regulation seems to be that stopping others from hurting me.

  147. I don’t care about receipts or currencies. Since, in our scenario, there is no state, both of those are meaningless. I assert that all deodorant bars are my property. Since you are resisting, I really have no choice but to send my legion of deodorant bar collectors to retrieve it from you.

    What leads you to believe that deodorant bar is your property?

  148. >It’s called socializing risk and privatizing profit.

    Which is a huge part of the problem with government. Arguing that more taxes will support innovation is deeply, deeply flawed, as you’d see if you (or Chomsky) actually looked at the numbers in context and understood just how much the government sector spends in comparison to the innovation it generates. We spend more federal dollars per capita on public health care than most OECD countries, spend just as much again via private spending and still have poor health outcomes. That’s not a funding problem; it’s a structural one.

    There’s no shortage of government funding, and very little of it goes towards generating innovation (or any common public good for that matter). For example, total government spending in 2015 was over $6T dollars, more than half of which was federal. Do you have any idea what the total private HOUSEHOLD debt in the US is? If you add up every mortgage, auto loan, student loan and credit card, it’s about $13T. Every US citizen combined owes far more on behalf of Uncle Sam than they do for their mortgage, etc combined. It’s hard to argue poverty would be solved with more government spending when the federal government spends $20k per year per person (not per homeless person, per PERSON), and so little of it goes to infrastructure.

    I’m actually very supportive of spending on problems of the commons, infrastructure, etc., but a tiny portion of our tax dollars actually go there, and there’s more than enough to fund it if we’d cut down on corruption in the system. We could quintuple primary medical research, cut government spending by 50% and still have massive waste in the system. Look at cancer – $150 per person who will eventually develop cancer (not just every US citizen – specifically the people who will develop it) would be enough to double annual federal funding of cancer research. That’s ALL sources of research that could potentially be considered research; funding through the NIH will only account for about a fifth of that.

    I suspect most of those citizens would consider that a bargain and a priority for the tax dollars being spent “on their behalf.” You could argue that everybody should just chip in another $150, but my point is that my money clearly isn’t being prioritized very well. We spent between 200 and 500 TIMES as much bailing out the big banks as we do on cancer research every year. Did that happen because the societal cost of big bank failure exceeded that of cancer? No. It happened because big banks buy politicians on both sides of the aisle.

    It’s not that problems of the commons don’t exist and shouldn’t be funded, but rather that a shortage of spending spending isn’t the reason they’re not being solved. They’re not being solved because the system is inherently corrupt, and the bigger and more removed government gets, the worse the societal costs become.

  149. It’s mine because I assert dominion and control over it, and there is no documented agreement demonstrating that that control is transitory or a proxy for someone else’s greater dominion.

    If you think it’s yours, by all means, try to come and get it. But as the line from Cannonball Run goes… “Bring friends.”

  150. I paid for an e-book – but I’m told that I can’t give that e-book away when I’m finished. The e-book is mine, but the words are someone else’s property. I paid for land which has in past times been taken from previous “owners” by force of arms. Therefore it’s mine, right? I bought a product and later discovered that the maker of that product didn’t pass along the costs of pollution it created and “society” is paying for the clean-up. Society is still paying for my product – does society have an ownership stake in my product? The state informs me that a long lost uncle died without a will. It tells me that I inherited some property. I didn’t earn it, but let the state decide. The state decides it needs to build a defense against the barbarians – it goes through my land. I don’t want to sell, it takes the land anyway. I build myself a nuclear bomb. My community says I can’t have one and takes it away from me.

  151. @howardbrazee: “I paid for an e-book”

    Nope. You agreed to terms which specifically stated that you “paid for a LICENSE” to read an e-Book. Shame you didn’t read the terms before you agreed to them.

    In none of the cases you describe do I see a legitimate state “ownership stake” (to use your words) in any of your property that you mention.

    And if you own a nuclear bomb and the community tries to come and take it, and they *succeed*, I can only assume you built a defective nuclear bomb. 🙂

  152. dballing:”Bring friends.” I guess you missed the legion of deodorant collectors part. They are heavily armed and while you did put up a spirited defense, they used all means necessary and so the deodorant bar is now safely amongst the rest of my deodorant bar collection.
    So, what in this scenario other than who had the most guns conferred any property rights?

  153. The web site where I bought the book did not state the terms. I only saw the terms after I paid for the book.

    The bomb is only defective if it was designed to stop people from coming to take it. But ownership doesn’t care whether it’s defective or not.

    I’m just saying that ownership – like virtually everything else in the universe – is not purely black and white. Nuances exist.

  154. “Property — whether it be land, currency, the merchandise in a store, or the sofa in your living room — only belongs to someone by government decree and enforcement.”

    Look at other animals. Some of them are territorial. They stake out land that belongs to them and they drive out others that don’t belong.

    How do they pick who gets what? They choose the land they want to defend, and for each piece of desirable land, the one who wants it that’s best able to drive out the others, gets it.

    Often they use sophisticated display methods. “See how big and strong I am, if you fight me I will win.” Usually they don’t have to fight, the others back off. When they fight it typically isn’t to the death, a losing animal gets the chance to run away. Maybe because each winner will face many more challenges, and the more effort he puts into beating one contender the more tired he’s likely to be for the next.

    Obviously there’s nothing god-given about which bird owns the blueberry bushes or which grizzly bear owns the sweet potato patch. And for animals it’s self-limiting. If you claim too big a territory you have to spend too much time patrolling its border and you don’t have as much time left to enjoy its interior. One animal can only claim so much land. But the whole thing seems almost like it’s built into some animals.

    Many animals can switch it on or off. Catfish are often territorial, they drive other catfish out of their own areas. But when there’s lots of catfish and lots of food, like when they’re being factory-farmed, they learn to get along just fine and they snuggle together.

    Is that stuff built into human beings? Do humans have an “instinctive” concept of defending their homes? I dunno. In the USA we get heavily indoctrinated about that as little kids, watching Westerns etc. The unspoken assumption is that what protects your property is not a government but you. You and your guns. You and your guns and your neighbors and their guns.

    How come you deserve to own your farm instead of somebody else owning it? How come you get to own your farm instead of some other one? That isn’t usually particularly stated, but it’s partly that you (or your papa) put a whole lot of work into making it what it is, and if somebody wants their own farm they should go out on the cattle range that doesn’t belong to anybody and fence some of it in and make it their own.

    Does all that resonate with deep instinctive human drives? Is it just something that Hollywood and TV programmed into people? I don’t know.

    Without government, how much does your ownership depend on your willingness to fight for what you want with other people who want the same thing? How much does it depend on the agreement of your neighbors? Is there anything more fundamental than that? Some special reason you should own the stuff you happen to own? One reasonable libertarian told me that all there is, is that the people who already own something get to keep it. If you’re the first to grab it, it’s yours. That’s pretty much the way the settlers did it, when they began to civilize the vast empty parts of north america that belonged to nobody.

    But once we have a powerful government, it basicly owns us. Traditionally kings had the right to take whatever they wanted from anybody. The british king could take the Earldom of Cornwall from whoever he’d given it to, and give it to whoever he wanted. If the nobility thought he was being unfair they would be disquieted and it might lead to trouble, but he had the right. And whoever owned Cornwall basicly owned the people who lived there.

    In ancient times in the middle east there was a tradition that kings must not take other men’s wives. They could take unmarried girls for their harems, but not married women. People thought it upset the gods, and they would revolt over it. Abraham and Sarah repeatedly played the badger game using that.

    There were limits that could get people to revolt, but basicly the government owned everybody and everything.

    The main reason conservatives put so much emphasis on the Constitution is that it is their equivalent to the magic and god stories that ancient people used to limit kings. The Constitution officially puts limits on government, and if we threaten to rise up and revolt when government passes those limits, then we can maintain a little scrap of freedom.

    For myself, it all looks arbitrary. If somebody wants to play king-of-the-hill and own a hill, I’d just as soon not play that game. They can play it as long as there’s a good place left for me. If the government wants to own me and everything around me, and it’s a corrupt government I don’t approve of, then I will disrespect them and consider them an imposition and not give them any loyalty. But while they’re too strong to fight I’ve got to live with it, whether they’re officially a democracy or a kingdom or a Mafia or the proletariat or whatever they want to call themselves.

    To me the non-arbitrary way to do it is to have an organization that is working for the good of humanity, and it assigns resources as needed to whoever uses them for humanity. But I don’t see how to create the organization, or give it power, or keep it from going all corrupt. I might as well wish that God would make everything work out right.

  155. J Thomas – Government provides an intermediary body for defining property such that I don’t need to physically defend the things so defined from appropriation. Falling back to an animalistic state would be one way to go. Removing the defined private property [technical term] and eliminating contention on personal property would be another.

    Conservatives don’t like the Constitution more than Liberals. They just like to emphasize different parts with different readings.

  156. dballing:Your argument is might makes right; i.e., your property is only yours until someone bigger and stronger takes it from you. We have a word for this – it’s called barbarism.

    BTW – it’s easy to talk tough over the internet. But if you believe you’re the biggest baddest dude and you’ll be on top o’ the heap, there aren’t enough LOLs in this keyboard to appropriately respond.

  157. jeremycfoster:”We spend more federal dollars per capita on public health care than most OECD countries, …”

    You do realize the absolute insanity of your argument, don’t you? We have a predominantly private healthcare system in the USA. These OECD countries you compare us to – that are doing much better – have socialized government run systems. You’ve exactly got it bass-ackwards.

  158. @oneillsinwisconsin: “dballing:Your argument is might makes right; i.e., your property is only yours until someone bigger and stronger takes it from you. We have a word for this – it’s called barbarism.”

    How is that functionally different from the *government* being the “biggest baddest heavily armed band”? The government is the *ultimate version* of “might makes right”. They exhibit a monopoly on force, and will shoot you dead if you believe you can use force against them.

    Barbarism, thy name is “Government”

  159. dballing- my understanding of your system of property rights grows and grows! Do you watch the Walking Dead? It is fortunate that the writers of that show seem to have an innate understanding of your brand of libertarianism.

    Please review Season 4, episodes 11 & 15. The gang that Darryl takes up with are living exactly by your system. Anytime one of them sees something they want, they just shout “Claim!” and it is theirs. As long as you are the first to shout, it is all yours. Unless some disagrees, and then they stab you. But then everyone else in the group beats that guy to death to enforce the social norms.

    Even for people living after a zombie apocolypse, I gotta say, that group is living particularly unpleasant lives. The cannibals at Terminus were more civilized.

  160. As soon as two people band together to define who controls something, we are on the path to governments.

  161. I see right wing politicians trying to push 3 large, incompatible philosophies (and some smaller ones). The Religious Right wants to control people’s behavior. The Fascists want the powerful to control everything. And the Libertarians want freedom to do whatever they wish. Of those 3, I prefer the Libertarians – but they aren’t as popular with Republicans as the other two factions.

  162. So, unless you’ve got Native American heritage, you’re fine vacating stolen land and emigrating back to Europe? Because there’s barely a scrap of continent hereabouts that wasn’t clearly their property, stolen by force, then by treaty, before treaties were broken and more was stolen again. Lather, rinse, repeat. If property rights are inherent, we need to pack up and leave.

    For that matter, if property rights are inherent, and coercion inavigates contracts, and a valid purpose of government is to arbitrate contract disputes, we owe reparations. Debt, like wealth, is inherited.

    Unless property rights are inherent, but individual, and expire upon death? That makes more sense with your notions of consent, but also means there’s no such thing as inheritance.

    I’m not just baiting you with these questions – I think they’re unanswered dilemmas of the American people, where every possible answer is deeply ugly and unpleasant for someone, as befits the fallout of genocide (albeit incomplete) and slavery.

  163. @larswyrdon: “Do you watch the Walking Dead? It is fortunate that the writers of that show seem to have an innate understanding of your brand of libertarianism.”

    OK, I think we’re done here. When you start trying to assert that a fictional show about a zombie apocalypse bears any resemblance to reality, I think we’ve reached the end of productive dialogue.

    Take care, everyone. I’m out.

  164. Now I feel bad! I really wasn’t trying to silence him. I should have remembered how badly he reacted to the use of metaphors.

  165. >So, unless you’ve got Native American heritage, you’re fine vacating stolen land and emigrating back to Europe? Because there’s barely a scrap of continent hereabouts that wasn’t clearly their property, stolen by force, then by treaty, before treaties were broken and more was stolen again.

    More evidence that the State was actually created to legitimize the *theft* of private property, rather than to legitimize its existence.

    And there are many discussions among libertarians about what to do about the problem that much (though by no means all) current property was taken by force and is thus illegitimate. There aren’t really any good solutions to that problem that don’t involve more stealing, which libertarians are opposed to.

    Most of them say: look, we can’t do anything about past harms without creating new harms ourselves, aren’t guilty of those crimes ourselves, and economic principles seem to indicate that regardless of initial allocations, in the absence of coercion, property eventually moves into a state where it has been acquired by economic rather than political means. So let’s just start now with existing allocations and in time it will reach a legitimate equilibrium.

    The anarchocapitalist libertarians believe that if people had to pay the cost of maintaining/protecting illegitimate property themselves, they would eventually abandon it for others to “homestead”, and that’s probably the best solution as it’s the most voluntary.

    Other libertarians, notably geolibertarians, disclaim the possibility that land itself can be property, but all things which *can* be property (creations of human labor) necessarily have to be on land, so in order to fund our minimum needed government, we should institute a land-value tax, as it’s the least coercive option. As I get older I find myself sympathizing with this more and more.

  166. Thank you. Much as I disagree with some of that outlook, that was a cogent, nuanced, and genuine response, and I really appreciate it.

  167. hacksoncode: “… let’s just start now with existing allocations and in time it will reach a legitimate equilibrium.”

    Except that under capitalism we know this is the opposite of reailty. Which is why most libertarians have a philosophy that is built on a logical fallacy.

    The geolibertarian idea is at least a step in the right direction, but it usually falls apart in the details – still skewed towards property rights and profit. I.e., if you’re rich you can just let the land sit idle and pay taxes on it – which does nothing to improve the commons. Without a means of assessing the social utility of land-use, regardless of whether it’s taxed or not, we arrive pretty much where we are now.

  168. Thinking about the importance of property rights… I’ve seen use libertarianism as an excuse to occupy federally owned land. With that basis – who should be allowed to own property? Corporations, churches, organizations, communities, countries? If a state owns all property and individuals only own their labor – renting everything else – it would seem that property rights is ruling. But it’s certainly not a libertarian ideal.

  169. The occupying of Federal land certainly is a use case. It seems to prove that the State has not gone away. I could have told them that had they asked. Way too far to assert a point for me.

    I’m still fairly unclear on why many on the right side of the line seem to adore corporations and fear governments.

  170. It is really curious that libertarians would side with the current group of republicans. Maybe because the republicans keep shouting “freedom” and “small government”, even though their actions are the complete opposite.

  171. >We have a predominantly private healthcare system in the USA.

    1) We really don’t, which you’d realize if you’d actually do some research and look at the numbers. We have a hybrid system, and while I won’t oversimplify in response to your knee-jerk oversimplification and call it socialized healthcare, the fact is that ~60% of healthcare spending is direct government spending, and even the remaining private spend is made less efficient by things like HIPAA, government mandated insurance, and what for all practical purposes is an oligopoly of health insurance companies.

    2) You clearly missed the main point and ignored a host of arguments refuting your rallying cry for “MOAR TAXES!,” because the simple fact is that just the public portion of the spend is comparable to the average OECD country’s total spend. There’s plenty of public money available for healthcare – it’s just not being deployed effectively.

  172. At the risk of getting automatic nay responses – I argue that private insurance is a type of socialization. It’s just a very expensive type with lots of loopholes and inefficiencies. And when we have an environment where large companies are expected to pay for it (as a cost of hiring one), but small companies can’t afford to do so, we are making it harder for families to start up businesses – it’s easier to let Big Business be in charge.

    On a related note, I haven’t often seen the argument that Social Security makes it easier to start up a new business. The start-up doesn’t endanger the retirement insurance already paid for.

    Some people think that it is a reasonable risk to get rid of these insurances for the freedom gained. Others think that the economic gain in having people more willing to take chances is valuable.

  173. >I’m still fairly unclear on why many on the right side of the line seem to adore corporations and fear governments.

    Good question. I like them both a lot more when they’re small and local. There’s a similar question in reverse though – why do so many on the left seem to adore government and fear corporations, especially in a system where they scratch each others’ backs?

    >Maybe because the republicans keep shouting “freedom” and “small government”, even though their actions are the complete opposite.

    Yes, though for what it’s worth, I think this dissatisfaction with big government neocons is exactly what has driven libertarians and liberty-leaning Republicans to fragment the party to the point of weakness. That’s led the GOP to be so ineffective that even authoritarian Republicans are reacting against the establishment GOP; unfortunately, many of them are apparently okay with a not-so-closet fascist.

  174. @howard I agree with you, though it’s not what most of the people on this board mean by socialized medicine. Either way, it’s certainly not private; even if we view insurance companies as private, using any reasonable person’s math, at best we have a hybrid system.

    The counterpoint on the social security front for a start-up is that it’s funded by payroll taxes. There’s probably some truth to the point for a sole proprietorship, but once you have to hire your first employee, 13% of payroll would go a long way towards putting together a private retirement plan.

  175. Theoretically, the voters have a say in what the state does – and our demands for the state are for it to serve us. Currently politicians in the U.S. are bought and paid for by Big Business, so they serve them instead. That’s probably better than being ruled by demagogues, but it obviously isn’t ideal. The state *does* do good things, protecting us from some abuses (as is its function). The fact that it is corrupt limits its effectiveness. If we were bosses of the politicians, there would be no long-term secrets from us.

    Big Business does not have a function of serving us (and why should it?).

    Both demagogues and Big Business agree that War is Good, so we have to spend lots of money to be less safe, less respected, and less moral.

  176. @Howard Brazee “If we were bosses of the politicians, there would be no long-term secrets from us.”

    This is an important central point.

    In general, people will dare to do secret things that they would be scared to do publicly.

    If we could establish that almost everything in government is available for people to find out about, that would weaken government a whole lot. Ideally, everything that any government employee does on the job would be videotaped, and the documents would all be published unless there is specific decision mad to hide something, and the discussion leading to the decision to hide something would itself all be public. It would be useful if elected officials were videotaped 24/7.

    Of course, one side effect of that is that anything the government knows about a private individual should also be available to everybody.

    I think it’s basicly a good idea but it’s pretty radical and I doubt it will get popular any time soon.

  177. I came to this discussion late and have not read it all. But I was struck by one assertion by dballing that I want to refute. Namely, that the NY State Thruway Authority would serve us as well if it were private. Would it? Why would it. As a monopoly owning the tollways, it would have no incentive to keep the tolls reasonable. They could, and doubtless would, raise their prices to the point that further rise in price would produce less revenue. If you don’t believe that, just look at the way drug companies operate.

    Many years ago I knew a libertarian. He had swallowed the whole Rand Kool-Aid. He wanted all roads to be private toll roads. Even the street in front of my house. Pay a toll every 50′? No, the homeowners on my block would create a voluntary association and you would have to stop and pay a toll only at the corner. This was decades before things like EZ-Passes. And if I didn’t want to join this “voluntary” association? He couldn’t answer that. As far as he was concerned, the only legitimate function of government was to run a police force and an army, to protect our property from domestic and foreign threats. Sounds like a perfect prescription for an authoritarian dictatorship. I googled him and discover that he ended up as a lawyer and spent his career as a Los Angeles county DA (one of the chief coercers) and was still active in libertarian circles. I really don’t know what to make of this.

  178. “Namely, that the NY State Thruway Authority would serve us as well if it were private. Would it? Why would it.”

    Why _wouldn’t_ it? it’s got a good thing going. Sure it’d raise tolls a little so private owners could have a profit, but the point of the matter is that it wouldn’t want to raise them too much as you could simply get off the Thruway and ride on surface roads if the tolls became too expensive.

    Certainly technology of today (ie, ez-pass) has made some of this sort of microtransaction-service-fee based society possible. Lots of sea-changes politically happen concurrently with technological advances which enable and drive those changes. This is a perfect example.

  179. @dballing

    “Sure it’d raise tolls a little so private owners could have a profit, but the point of the matter is that it wouldn’t want to raise them too much as you could simply get off the Thruway and ride on surface roads if the tolls became too expensive.”

    You have an idealistic view of for-profit corporations.

    Here is another approach,

    Make it a non-profit corporation. Whenever you pay the toll, you get one share of stock. Every year or so, at the online annual meeting, decide how much maintenance to pay for, what improvements to approve, and what toll to set.

    So the more you have used the road, and the more you have spent on it, the more say you get about how good a road it will be and how much it will cost to use it.

    There’s no need for profits in this case. The funding comes from the customers, who are also the owners to the extent they’ve paid for it.

  180. There’s no incentive to invest in building new roads then with that model.

  181. There is no incentive to build new roads with the toll model either. Toll roads that I have been on were located in such a way that there were not many other alternatives.

  182. Calculating the best rates to maximize the ROI (Return on Investment) requires that start off knowing what is the desired return. When the object is to run a mass transportation for profit, this calculation isn’t hard. But a community might have the mass transportation as a tool for a different objective. For instance, a city might be wanting to maximize tax revenue by getting more workers and consumers to its downtown without causing traffic jams. In that case the transit is a tool which may even optimally be an expense for the ultimate goal. So the optimal rates could be those which maximize tax revenue.

    And the routes need to get poor workers to the restaurants where they do dishes as well as rich patrons to buy the meals. And street congestion needs to be lessened so that tourists are more willing to come. And trucks need access to the streets.

    The community has all sorts of needs and wants which are different from a private transit company, and its business model needs to reflect that.

  183. But we’re talking about a scenario when *all* roads are toll roads, ie a libertarian society.

    In that model, there’s no incentive for anyone to ‘break new ground’ because they’re not going to profit from their risk.

  184. Then let a local “community business organization” build and operate the road as a “loss leader” of sorts for their business needs. They can be the ones to invest in the cost of the infrastructure, since they are the ones who will see the secondary-effect benefits they’re hoping for.

  185. Some new ground will be broken. People built toll bridges when there were no developed roads leading to them. And housing developers will put in streets. And private toll roads were precursors to public toll roads. Private railroads and canals were built. That said, the infrastructure will be much, much less developed, which makes economic growth much slower. Gated communities will be more common, keeping out the riffraff who can’t afford tolls.

    Communities make investments for their own needs and often get good returns on their investments. “Free” streets usually pay off nicely.

  186. But those all fall into one of two categories:

    1.) Taxpayer funded investments in a community’s future, or
    2.) Private property owners who were able to realize any profits from their venture.

    Not the scenario described by J Thomas earlier.

    If there are enough people who want to *voluntarily* get together and fund free streets, that’s their own lookout, but they have no legitimate authority to coerce someone to pay for them unless they’re actually using them.

  187. The place where Libertarianism goes “up in smoke” is firefighting. Because a fire in one spot can spread to other buildings, giving each owner the responsibility to decide whether to pay to fight the fire in his own building is complete nonsense. And if the owner is asleep or out of town and we can’t reach her? Let it burn and consume the city block? And don’t say you are going to pay extra to build yourself a fire-proof house. There is no such thing.

    After many decades of trying private, for-profit firefighting models that were predictable disasters, city planners have realized that firefighting must needs to be a public service paid for by tax dollars. Everyone pays a tiny bit, and in return there are these trained guys just waiting around, ready in case a fire starts. In my city, they are cross-trained as EMT’s, too.

    But it only works if no one gets to opt out. Call it coercian or cooperation or collective effort but the public model is inarguably superior.

  188. “The place where Libertarianism goes “up in smoke” is firefighting.”

    And yet, firefighting is the one area where some communities have already, quite successfully, moved to subscription models.

    There’s two basic models. In both cases, when the property is a “covered property”, they show up and do their thing. When it’s NOT a covered property is where they differ.

    1.) They show up to defend neighboring “covered properties” from being affected by the non-subscriber’s fire.
    2.) They show up, willing to put out the fire, but the non-subscriber gets a “rack rate” type invoice afterwards for every piece of equipment, individual, materials costs, etc. There’s variations on this where either [a] the fire company just does it and is authorized to bill them afterwards, or [b] the fire company shows up, and if the non-subscriber isn’t willing to pay, they fall back into #1 above, defending the neighbors’ property.

    I grew up in a firefighting home, so we followed the progress of these experiments closely and — other than the non-subscribers who refused to pay and lost their house — everyone seems to be quite happy with the outcome.

  189. They tried private fire-fighting companies, it didn’t work well in cities. It could work in the country where a fire in one house doesn’t spread to another. But what about forest and grass fires? You need to fight the whole fire and the cost may be too high for local residents to pay.

    I get the impression a lot of libertarian ideas apply more to rural people. The space between neighbors lessens the need for communal behavior. In the cities, it would cause chaos and generally make life more complex and expensive.

  190. Basically the main detail is what defines a forest. Where do we define the public good to be worth requiring everybody to pay in? There are so many different levels.

    True Believers in any -ism often see the world in black and white. But nothing is in black and white – even physics has its gray areas (biology has tremendous gray areas), and obviously we have clergy of the same religions disagreeing strongly with each other.

    Besides having different gradients, we can’t call even as simple of an -ism as Libertarianism on a line There’s the Libertarian square grid which recognizes this, but implies that we can see it on a plane. That is also over-simplification.

    “The Public Good” wants us to be protected from the powerful. Unfortunately it takes power to do this. If the government is too weak to protect us from corporations or gangs or other governments, we can’t be free. The best compromise (in my opinion) is to have a state which is answerable to the people. An open state with no secrets is closer to this than what we have today. But even that leaves us open to being ruled by demagogues who can work with a tyranny of the majority. Nothing solves everything – but it is important to recognize that there are strengths and weaknesses of every choice. And then to be able to adjust our idealism for long term good.

  191. “Where do we define the public good to be worth requiring everybody to pay in?”

    This still comes back to the basic fundamental principle: There is no legitimate authority which you possess which allows you to coerce some other person to pay for something they don’t want to pay for, and didn’t ask for.

  192. “But what about forest and grass fires? You need to fight the whole fire and the cost may be too high for local residents to pay.”

    It’s all “someone’s” property. You defend the subscribers’ property, and let the fire burn out when it runs out of fuel on non-subscribers’ property.

  193. It’s not all “someone’s” property. And even if it is, are you willing to put yours at risk because you aren’t willing to stop it before it is too big to stop? Is it worth that much suffering to stand up to your principals. Sometimes doing good is worth more than the costs.

  194. Look at the forest fires we had last year in Texas and California. Those fires were huge and firefighters were killed in them. The fires raged for days to weeks. They required air support. This isn’t something that can be fought by a few people working together. There is nowhere near the ability to selectively protect one house vs others, under those conditions.

  195. “It’s not all “someone’s” property.”

    There’s precious little property that isn’t either owned by a private individual or the government.

    @David: “Look at the forest fires we had last year in Texas and California.”

    There’s a strong argument to be made that forest fires like that should be allowed to burn themselves out, regardless of property damage cost, because then they won’t happen anywhere near as often. Our fighting them is what increases their frequency.

  196. @jeremycfoster:” There’s a similar question in reverse though – why do so many on the left seem to adore government and fear corporations, especially in a system where they scratch each others’ backs? ”
    Note that the original post and many comments here aren’t arguing that the current system of government is the best. You may want to review other blog posts here if you think that is the case.
    The topic of the post is “Understanding Libertarianism” and some of the comments and background reading have been quite useful. A large emphasis on property rights seems to be the keystone although exactly how that functions without an enforcement mechanism remains murky as retention of the notion of private property without a State seems dubious.

  197. Seeming to love government and fear corporations is which of these powers do we feel we have less control over. The funny thing is lots of the people who seem to hate government seem to love the military going to war. And we look at the set of people who hate government and the set of people who are racist bigots and see a tremendous overlap.

  198. “The funny thing is lots of the people who seem to hate government seem to love the military going to war.”

    My experience is the opposite. The folks who are *truly* small-government lovers don’t tend to be hawks. You might be confused by GOP talking-points that *claim* to be “small gov’t” while growing it ridiculously just as badly as their DNC opponents, just in different areas. 🙂

    But most libertarian-minded folks that I run across in my libertarian/A-C circles, are anything BUT hawkish….

  199. Speaking of fiction, claiming that subscription based fire fighting works to anyone’s benefit is a particularly lazy kind of fantasy.

    To use a particularly lazy form of online argument, I’ll just suggest that you Google “subscription based fire service”. You will see story after story of firemen standing by and watching homes burn because the owner wasn’t up to date on payments. In some stories, paying subscribers’ homes end up burning as well, since the first fire wasn’t dealt with. In one fairly famous story, one man begged to be allowed to pay, but the fire chief just watched his mobile home burn… with half a dozen pets inside.

    I can just imagine how well it would work in NYC or Chicago. One warehouse with disputed ownership catches fire and the whole city is gone.

  200. “You will see story after story of firemen standing by and watching homes burn because the owner wasn’t up to date on payments. ”

    That system *is* working. The people who wanted protection paid for it via a subscription. The ones who couldn’t be bothered to pay for it didn’t.

    It just isn’t working the way *you* want it to.

    Nobody lets you buy auto insurance *after* your accident. Not sure why you would let folks wait until their house was on fire to then subscribe to the service.

  201. dballing- “That system *is* working. The people who wanted protection paid for it via a subscription. The ones who couldn’t be bothered to pay for it didn’t.” (BTW, once again you cherry picked my statement and ignored where I pointed out that paid subscribers lost property as well).

    That is the crux of all these questions I’ve been asking you. Don’t you get it? There isn’t just one, valid, inarguable system. There are as many possible systems as we clever monkeys can make up. You have chosen the system you think is best, for reasons that seem unassailable to you, but you can’t just keep defending it by saying “property is the only right” and expect to convince anyone except your homies.

    So, the system you propose leads to results. Some of those results are: widespread disease, poor people burning in their homes, hungry children, roads and bridges not being maintained, etc… In every case, you have said that you are willing to put up with results like that to achieve the larger good of removing State power to compell you to pay for things you don’t want.

    OK, why should the rest of us want that? I see nothing about your proposed system that improves my life over the current one. I see no reason why I wouldn’t rather pay taxes than live in the place you describe. And I don’t see why your “right” to avoid federal law should trump our right to set up a society that gives us the support we want. If you want to convince me, you ought to think of some actual benefit for someone other than yourself.

  202. “You have chosen the system you think is best, for reasons that seem unassailable to you, but you can’t just keep defending it by saying “property is the only right” and expect to convince anyone except your homies.”

    Similarly you can’t keep defending your right to steal from other people, call it “taxation” and expect to convince anyone other than *your* homies.

    “Some of those results are: widespread disease, poor people burning in their homes, hungry children, roads and bridges not being maintained, etc…”

    FUD. Roads and bridges has been addressed copiously. You also assume a complete lack of charity presence that people might partake of with their newly recovered income.

    “OK, why should the rest of us want that? I see nothing about your proposed system that improves my life over the current one.”

    Well, duh, sure. When you’ve become accustomed to a lifestyle that is paid for with other people’s money, it’s really hard to come up with any sort of reason why you’d want to give up that lifestyle other than “morals” or “a conscience”, but having developed that lifestyle already, the pain involved in providing for oneself as opposed to having others provide for you is too much for you to bear. I get it. But don’t claim some sort of moral superiority while defending your lifestyle of theft.

    “And I don’t see why your “right” to avoid federal law should trump our right to set up a society that gives us the support we want.

    You’re free to set up whatever society you want. You’re not free to force others to participate in it.

    “If you want to convince me, you ought to think of some actual benefit for someone other than yourself.”

    That’s rich, considering YOUR system is the one that involves stealing from others to benefit YOURself.

  203. dball- as long as you remember that I define myself as “we” and you define yourself as “I”, your last statement is perfectly true.

    Except for the stealing part.

    If that is too hard for you to parse out, sorry, but this time I really am done with this thread.

  204. You can flower it up all you want, but the system you support involves taking from people against their will… stealing.

    Of course, statists have invented a word, ‘taxation’, so as to avoid use of the weighted term of theft, because it would reveal the fiction of any moral legitimacy to the act.

  205. There are worse things than stealing.

  206. Your Logical Fallacy is: Relative Privation.

  207. dballing:I think that you are confusing a statement that your proposed system does not sound viable with an assertion that the current system is great. The current system does indeed have a number of flaws–for example, starving children. Your system does not seem to address a number of the flaws extant in the current system–for example, starving children.
    Many possible different systems could address those concerns but haven’t been brought up as those aren’t the topic.

  208. Terminology is very important to this discussion. Let’s say dballing and I agreed to the exchange of an apple for $1, and we executed the agreement. Then dballing claims I had just stolen his $1, even though he had the apple in his hand. He certainly has the right to define that as stealing, but it makes no sense, convinces no one, and would not make anyone follow his philosophy or believe in it.

    To live in the United States, each agrees to give an amount of our income to the local, State, and Federal Government and we get certain things in exchange, like paved roads, street lights, police, an army to protect us from foreign invasion, public schools, health research, firefighting, and the list goes on. Anyone who does not want to participate in this system is free to leave and go live somewhere else. By staying, a person is voluntarily participating. dballing can label that “stealing,” but it would make no more sense than calling the $1 for the apple in my example stealing.

  209. We all enter this world naked, owning nothing but ourselves, and possessing certain needs. We know these needs are real without thinking of them because our bodies alert us to their lack. Food, water, warmth, shelter, good health, mental stimulation, care and affection from others.

    If our rights to those things are trumped by a right for property, a quality which we invented, then how is a concept like “rights,” which we also invented, meaningful in any way?

    Property codifies our material needs to help us claim them. Rights present a rational framework for explaining why it is wrong to deny us our needs. But in the absence of property or rights, those needs exist. They are more real, more basic.

    When we do not have enough for everyone, these concepts help us reach agreement on who goes without. When we have enough, and still some starve or freeze, and someone pretends to me that their need to keep the plenty and comfort society helped them secure is more important than the right of the starving and homeless not to die this winter, I do not understand the argument.

    You may argue all you like that it is wrong for a starving man to steal your bread, or trespass in your garage to escape a storm. But you would not expect a starving or a freezing man to choose death when the means of survival is available.

    You talk of freedom: you are free to starve nobly if you prefer. I do not think this is a significant moral truth you’ve discovered.

  210. Your analogy critically fails.

    “To live in the United States, each agrees to give an amount of our income…”

    Show me where I agreed to that, please.

    I was “born locked into” that agreement. *I* never agreed to it.

    “Anyone who does not want to participate in this system is free to leave and go live somewhere else. ”

    Ah, the “MURICA, love it or leave it” gambit. The only problem, of course, is that the statists have [a] claimed all the habitable land on the planet, and [b] refuse to allow you to take your own land that you own, and secede to form a new nation-state with different rules and different agreements.

    Now, you can pretend that there’s some validity to that duress, but it’s nowhere close to an “agreement”.

    And that’s the “terminology” that is “important to this discussion.”

  211. > Let’s say dballing and I agreed to the exchange of an apple for $1, and we executed the agreement. Then dballing claims I had just stolen his $1, even though he had the apple in his hand.

    The key element that’s missing here is legitimate ownership.

    All of what you say is true, if both parties legitimately own the apple and $1 respectively.

    But if you had stolen that apple, and the rightful owner came by and repossessed it, dballing would be *absolutely* legitimate in their claim that you stole their $1, by fraud in this case.

    So where is the legitimate claim that the United States (or individual states) own most of the productive land on an entire continent?

    There isn’t one. Historically speaking it *very clearly* was stolen from people that lived on it for millennia.

    And even if it weren’t, this government did *nothing* to convert the unowned land and resources of the continent into “property”. They mixed no labor with it, and have no legitimate claim to tell anyone what to do on it.

    In the absence of a legitimate economic means used to create property, all that is left is force and violence.

    No one argues about whether the State has the *power* to force you to agree to their view of what the social contract comprises. They just have no more legitimacy to do so than any *other* gang of organized criminals that settles in an area and demands “protection money”. You can move to a different city (with a different set of organized criminals with their protection racket) if you want, of course… that just doesn’t make the first gang’s claim on you any more legitimate.

  212. Matt, excellent summary of the issue.

  213. Mr. Balling, I have only one question, and I’ll apologize in advance if you answered this above (in 200+ responses, I’m sure I missed some).

    In the past I’ve crossed paths with many people who’ve said the exact things you’re saying, and I’ve asked each one if he knew of a community living by this philosohpy, preferably a soverign state, but even just a community adhering to libertarian ideals. None could name even an experimental community trying this to live like that.

    So my question is, Can you point me to any group of people who are living by libertarian ideals, or who have tried? Thanks.

  214. Quoting “Your Logical Fallacy is: Relative Privation.” So you reject the idea that we should prefer the smaller privation in favor of the larger? *Everything* has a downside. Relativism should not be discarded in to accept only True Principals instead of reality.

  215. It hasn’t yet, because the “states” still retain control of all the land-mass on the surface of the planet and refuse to relinquish their control of it.

  216. Your argument essentially boils down to “There are worse things than this, so let us keep doing this.”

    It’s a textbook relative privation logic-fail.

  217. Convince us that your cure won’t be worse than the disease. I’ll go for the lesser harm.

  218. I have no interest in ‘convincing you’. If you lack the moral character to see for yourself that theft is wrong, even when condoned by the majority, then no amount of discussion is going to convince you.

  219. I kind of thought so. True Believers know what’s right, and reality doesn’t matter.

  220. It’s not about “true believers”. It’s about simple logic.

    – If I steal from you in an alley, it’s theft.
    – If I bring three friends into the alley and we vote 4-1 to take your money, it’s **STILL** theft.
    – It doesn’t suddenly cross a line from being “theft” to “legitimate” just because I brought 50.1% of the voting-population into the alley with me.

    That you fail to see that basic principle – and that you essentially reject it – means there is no common ground to discuss this topic from.

  221. Dballing, You have yet to answer the points I raised above, which seem relevant to me when we consider the moral character of our system.

  222. dballing:Most (all?) of the things that you would have with you in an alley are personal property. In situations where people have access to all of the personal property (food, water, clothing, …), health and safety, there is very little incentive for anyone to be stealing from you. The vast majority of people don’t want to steal things.

    Now, you are (trough metaphor) attempting to cast private property as being the same thing as personal property. This is the traditional Capitalist stance but it isn’t the only stance.
    If there is no such thing as private ownership of private property, (no private property) then no one can steal that from you either.

  223. But you agree that personal property, like say money, would be covered by that logic? Because the alley metaphor applies *perfectly* to taxation.

    If I have “cash” in my pocket, “you” don’t have a right to steal it, nor do “you and your buddies”, *nor do* “you and the electorate”.

    So – let’s end that theft, you figure out what government you can fund on voluntary contributions and use-fees, and we’ll see where things stand at that point.

    Deal? … Yeah, didn’t think you’d agree to that…

  224. Why would I steal the money? In a decent system it won’t even be possible for me to steal a money analogue from someone in an alley.
    There clearly wouldn’t be any use fees since there isn’t anything to “charge” for the use of.
    I’m not certain if voluntary contribution applies either. Are you voluntarily contributing carbon dioxide to the world ecosystem each time you breathe? Your terms reflect the assumption of private property.

  225. “Why would I steal the money?”

    That’s what happens right now, all the time. 50.1% (or more) of the population gather together and decide to mug large chunks of society every April 15th.

    It’s like “The Purge”, actually.

  226. We aren’t talking about right now–or at least I am not.

  227. OK, so we go back to my earlier point. Let’s stop the theft (taxation), and then see what sort of government can be funded on the scraps that remain (service/use-fees, voluntary donations, etc.) … I bet it’ll be small enough to not offend most libertarians’ sensibilities. 🙂

  228. A number of, (two at the least least), conversations here:
    1)Within the constraints of the current system, I disagree that taxation is theft. I’ll let you argue that with the federal and state governments. Let us know how that turns out. This breaks down into if you want to test this immediately (in which case it will not work out well for you) or at some future point that you have worked for in passing legislation–in which case we aren’t talking about the current system anymore.

    2)If we are talking about possible theoretical economic systems then a number of us are saying that your proposal to base everything upon property is rather getting things exactly backwards and ends up in a bad place (it looks rather post apocalyptic to a number of us).

  229. I feel like we’re having two different conversations.

    I’m having a conversation about essentially philosophy and ethics, and you’re arguing about what the state/fed say The Law is.

    There is not now, nor has there ever really been, a connection between the two.

    The “state” says that it stops becoming theft — essentially — “because they said so”.

    So what I’m saying is let’s stop them from arbitrarily saying their theft ISN’T theft, and see what sort of government comes out on the other side of that.

    The necessary reductions in state power would be incredibly beneficial.

  230. I came late-ish to this thread and haven’t been able to read all of it before feeling impelled to reply. So if what I post has more or less already been covered, apologies in advance for wasting your time.

    1) I disagree that spiritual growth is only possible when material wants are taken care of. These are two different worlds that, while they often interact with each other, are more or less independent of one another, in my opinion.

    2) re: removing poverty (and failure or fear thereof as a motivator) as a means of encouraging growth/development. I think that we have enough data to determine that we can get along passably well under the current system; but I disagree that that means we shouldn’t explore with other methods. So why not try the alternative, seriously, determinedly try it, if only to get a better grip on what happens and put the argument to rest.

    But…I have another thought that I think is relevant–freedom from distraction (you know, petty things like having to eat, find shelter etc) allows someone to really focus on a thing, in other words, to hyper-specialize. Many people will choose to spend their free time hyper-specializing in absolutely worthless things like, being the best video game player. But Stephen Hawking, for example, or Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, are examples of people who hyper-specialize to the degree where their ability to perform other tasks like making enough income to eat/find shelter etc. might be outside of their reach, or, if not, then would certainly detract from the amount of brilliance they are able to provide to the world.

    Yes, these people are probably well lauded as luminaries in their field–I bet Stephen Hawking isn’t impoverished, and Sabrina has a ridiculously bright future in front of her–but not every genius is recognized, and certainly not every genius is recognized during their lifetimes.

    So my point is that yet another of society’s functions is to allow for the hyper-specialization of people so that the rest of us may advance. For every genius, there are 100,000 or more “grunts” whose labour provides less brilliant, but no less impactful a benefit to every individual, so that those who hyper-specialize may continue to do so. Certainly no one studying gravity waves, for example, is providing anything of material benefit to society *today*. But who knows what value their research will have in 50, 100, or 250 years?

    I think therefore, that a certain inherent value should be assessed for each individual, regardless of circumstance, because if you’re not a genius, then you’re a grunt, or somewhere between the two; and that “mediocrity” is the mechanism by which our society keeps advancing. This isn’t as much about celebrating failure or even punishing success; it is about recognizing the universal value of a human life, and acknowledging that we as humans have 0 ability to predict where the next great thing will come from–whether that’s Apple’s R&D lab, or some nobody’s garage. And that completely ignores the potential of an insignificant gesture for person A to have a world-shaking effect on person B (for better or for worse). You don’t need to be rich to be that pivotal moment in someone’s life before they’re the next big thing, that they attribute as being that key person who MADE them the next big thing. We just don’t know.

    Finally, my last point revolves around the power of the masses. In certain cases, the crowd-sourcing of individual’s computers has allowed medical breakthroughs (in days or weeks) that our brightest doctors and researchers had been completely stymied about for YEARS. The Protein folding application FoldIt, for example, or the ability of a crowd-funding platform to get a project off the ground that had never been able to do anything for lack of funding. These things and more are directly attributable to the masses of the Mediocre and not the geniuses or super successful billionaires.

    In the end, I think the premise that the only true indicator of a person’s value cannot be something as crass as money (which is what, I believe, the right, as well as libertarians mostly assume as a logical foundation, upon which the rest of their logical structures rest), because of the inherently subjective and unpredictable quality of our reality.

  231. dballing: I have a couple of questions for you: what do you think about herd immunity? The idea that when enough people “opt out” of immunizations, we all suffer? Because I think that’s at the crux of our dilemma. The choices of others to buy in or opt out of society have impacts that are NOT limited to the individual, but extend to those around them. Hence we have a society where we all agree to a certain loss of freedom in one area in order to enjoy greater relative freedoms in other areas. You’re using the internet–you wouldn’t have that if you had opted out. But that argument is shit. The REAL argument is NONE of us would have it many of us hadn’t opted IN. Opting in is what allows us to progress as a species and move the bar from “warmed by a fire in a cave, if you’re lucky” to “typing impassioned speeches to the internet at home”

    The second question is: regarding the “If you don’t like society, then why don’t you just leave it” argument. I agree, it’s a shitty argument because it presupposes that you have an alternative. But isn’t that what Steve is arguing? If you don’t like your circumstances, why don’t you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change them? If you don’t like your current job/wage, why don’t you just get a better one? As if they’re just sitting around waiting to be selected by people like so many fruits at a grocery store.

    So, to my view, you can’t defend yourself using THAT particular objection, without ceding the point to Steve that the game is rigged and that that is an inherent injustice worth fighting and dying for, as many secessionists seem to believe, if recent media is any indicator.

  232. Re: Herd Immunity

    It’s obviously a real thing. But where I want to stop you is…

    “Hence we have a society where we all agree to a certain loss of freedom”

    No. I *haven’t* agreed to that. Language matters. The state has *imposed* that loss of freedom on me but I have never agreed to it.

    Your “Internet” argument proceeds based on a premise that the *only* way to have innovation is through government funding which — frankly — is a load of malarkey. There has been plenty of innovation accomplished without taxpayer dollars being involved.

    Re: ‘MURICA Love It Or Leave It

    The problem is that it’s effectively impossible to “change the circumstances”. There is no ability to create a competing “product” (a different nation-state which could demonstrate its market acceptance by taking on immigrants) due to the literal monopoly on land-mass by nation-states.

    It’s far worse than any “monopoly of product or service” because while – say – “Google” might effectively have a monopoly on search-engine usage, one *could* create a small alternative service somewhere else catering to the 0.01% of the population who want to use it (DuckDuckGo for example). But you can’t create a small alternate land-mass. There *are* other jobs out there, they may not be the ones you want, but we’ve never had a period of time in history when there were *zero* open jobs.

    The two are basically apples and oranges.

    Which is why I’m very excited for projects like the SeaSteading folks — whose goal IS essentially to create new land-mass, and for anything that gets us off this isolated rock. The sooner we can colonize other environments, and find new frontiers within which to do new political experiments (the same way the US was a new political experiment in the “new world”) the better.

  233. When I said “we agreed to that” I mean, the people who first formed societies. Presumably, they did so because the alternative sucked. And sucked hard. I see no reason to believe that they were wrong, even after I don’t know how many thousands of years have passed.

    The internet argument is one where you’re missing the point–I agree that society isn’t the ONLY way to innovation; it isn’t even the fact that innovation is a whole HELL of lot easier when you aren’t in an intellectual vacuum, but can bounce your ideas off of someone else so that we don’t all have reinvent not only the wheel but literally everything else. No, the actual point is that society forms the means by which those innovations can actually benefit you–ie, that it can further your own pursuits in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. People who are willing to be part of a society agreed to pay fees for services they may not use on the grounds that they might use it–the most obvious example is insurance (which admittedly is a scam) but other ones could be, as previously mentioned, fire, police, healthcare, education. They might not need/use any of those services in their lives, but there’s a real value in having the OPTION open to them. Your argument being based in the fact that you have no OPTION but to buy into government should be able to immediately see the inherent value of options regardless of those options being leveraged.

    In the end, for all that I disagree with your viewpoint, it is people like you who form a part of the innovation that we all value and benefit from. People who are tireless in their pursuit of problems that everyone else either doesn’t see or care about. Personally, I think your argument boils down to “wahhhh I don’t WANNA” but I bet many can and do say the same thing about my beliefs, so it’s a wash. So keep at it, and keep furthering the discourse, because it’s a benefit to all of us.

  234. I think you’re arguing from a logical fallacy – that a libertarian society isn’t a “society” which can collaborate. It simply doesn’t have mandatory financial contributions to the overhead of that some small portion of that collaboration (that portion which the government coordinates).

    The amount of collaboration fostered by government influence/interference is a fractional share of the entire societal collaboration. The vast majority would still happily exist in a libertarian model.

  235. Need for government usage is dynamic; you might want minimal government involvement. Someone with a different circumstance might need maximal government involvement. And because we are hard-wired to seek opportunity wherever it may be found, even if that opportunity introduces a hardship to someone else in our “group”, we’re going to be tempted to take it; and in taking it, we’re going to tempted to maximize it. This is the why we have such an extensive government as we do these days, with all of its unjust thievery and coercion. Because individuals and groups have found so many ways to exploit a person for their own advantage, and advancement of technology opens up even more avenues along those lines, that government is by necessity a vast, sprawling, painfully inefficient beast that we all hate with the very essence of our being. And until we learn to STOP taking advantage of one another, ie, play nice in the sandbox, government will CONTINUE to be that vast sprawling inefficient beast.

    In any collaboration, the cost of government is spread out among the whole in order to avoid it being an unreasonable burden on any individual based on factors which are (presumably) largely beyond their control. So yes, that means you’re going to pay for someone else’s ride in any governmental collaboration; that’s no different than being a school project with a person you perceive (rightly or wrongly) to not be pulling their weight. You’re going to resent it; but that’s just the nature of working with someone who is not exactly the same as you.

    As any group increases in scope/membership, the variations on the theme that define that group are going to increase until it strains to contain all those variations. I bet there are Libertarians with whom you don’t agree on 100% of the possible topics. Being part of a group means sacrificing some degree of your preferences (ie, your freedom to be you) in order to maintain the cohesiveness of the group as a whole. Some may call it social lubricant, some may call it basic human decency, others might call it manners. I call it survival and optimization. But all of us probably agree that it can a PAIN IN THE ASS to maintain at points. For example: thanksgiving dinner. There’s always that one fucking person in your family who’s a complete idiot who makes the evening a real stressful event.

    But if you want peace, and quiet, and a relative degree of security and good food, then you keep your mouth shut and let the dick be a dick, to a point, anyway.

    You are struggling with an instinct to be self-sufficient, independent, a lone-wolf in other words, in an environment that demands community, and a certain degree of competence in social interactions. You need to learn to play well in the sandbox, because, as you’ve stated, it doesn’t matter where you go–the sandbox is all there is. Even if your SeaSteading project ended up being a massive success, you’d still need to be able to play nice (ie, invest in the group) because we as a culture have evolved to a point where one person, or even one family can’t do it all on their own. How much do you know about plumbing? cooking? farming? engineering? biology? physics? history? etc etc etc. You need others to fill in the gaps that you don’t have the time/interest/talent to fill in yourself, and until you recognize that, you’re always going to be, for me anyway, that complete idiot who makes an otherwise fun family event a nightmare. You are, of course, free to feel (and state!) the same thing about me.

  236. You, also, fall into the trap of assuming that “society” and “government” are synonymous (or, at the very least that the latter is a pre-requisite of the former).

    I reject that premise, and there has been no evidence proffered which demonstrates that such a connection exists.

  237. Where society exists; government exists. Government serves many purposes, one of which to ease an unreasonable burden on any individual of the populace that it governs. Another is to be a voice of the masses as a whole. But any society, any government, any organization, are all just groups of people. You can’t NOT be in a group with people, no matter how much you don’t want to be. Even if you’re Robinson damn Crusoe, there’s always a Friday. If you’re that dude Tom Hanks portrays in Castaway, there’s always a Wilson. We are a communal creature. You can’t fight nature. Where there is community, there is group. Where there is group, there is a focus for that group, regardless of whether it is a network- or hierarchical-based model.

    Where there is a focus for your group, there is a set of rules that focus observes, whether they’re self-imposed (dictator/monarchist) and/or unjust (tyrant) or externally imposed (religious/democracy/oligarchy/plutocracy/communist etc). It’s very simple, really. Where there is a system, there are rules that system observes. I could be talking about a computer or an ecology.

    The rules are the government. We have formalized our government as a means of, among other things, avoiding “worse” versions of the same.

    I don’t see how you don’t see.

    But regardless of what I think of you, I will give you this: it’s a LOT less frustrating talking to you than to most who seem to share your views. You’re smart, and have a good vocabulary, and you’re cognizant of logic; I suspect our differences revolve around our subjective value judgements that we each attribute to various factors in our environment; ie, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

    EDIT: you know what? I don’t even think you’re an idiot, I’m just getting impatient and letting it colour my responses. You’re a pain in the ass; but you’re not dumb 🙂 So, please accept my apologies for my stupid ad hominem attacks.

  238. “Where society exists; government exists”

    You state this as axiomatic, but it is not. My neighbors and I form a small society, there is no governing body overseeing us. I work on a number of projects (open source, etc.) none of which have a government (certainly *some* do, one could argue that Linux is maintained by a benevolent dictator).

    The examples you give — Robinson Crusoe, Castaway — demonstrate societies, certainly but those societies do not presuppose a government. (There was a decided LACK of government on Tom Hanks’ remote desert island, for example).

    Thank you for demonstrating the point you were trying to refute. 😛

    “But regardless of what I think of you, I will give you this: it’s a LOT less frustrating talking to you than to most who seem to share your views. ”

    Ditto.

    In my own case, I think it’s — in large part — because

    [a] I debate this shit a LOT and so have had to address a bunch of this many MANY times. :-P, and
    [b] I’m 99% done with a PoliSci degree so I’ve got a decent foundation in the background that (not to toot my own horn) far exceeds the Average Joe (whose sole exposure to politics is from a partisan-leaning news channel of either bent).

    Well argued, sir…. take care. 🙂

  239. No, that’s my point, even where there’s only 1 person, there’s a government—that “government” is the individual will of that person. And where even 2 people get together, that means that, to one degree or another, 1 of those people must subvert their will/preferences to the will/preferences of the other. That you exist in a free-form commune sounds pretty cool, actually, but do not think for a second that 1) there is no government, and 2) that that government doesn’t exert a moderating influence on your behaviour.

    Because you live in a group with numerous people, ***and because your group can be considered a collective which interacts like an individual does with OTHER collectives,*** then even being NEAR other groups means you have to observe rules that constitute an even greater subversion of your individual will/preference in favour of the greater whole.

    I would liken it to the difference between an employment contract and an employment relationship under common law. The former has an explicitly laid out, formalized set of conditions governing the relationship. The second is (well it’s codified, but…you know what I mean I think) is an IMPLICIT form of government as dictated by the social contract that suggest that 1) I don’t kill you and steal all your resources and vice versa, and 2) that there are a variety of other such “basic/assumed” rules by which all members of the group are expected to behave.

  240. dballing:If you are 99% done with a PoliSci degree, I’ll presume that you are familiar with the terms personal property and private property as they are used within talking about economic systems.

  241. The argument that people created societies because the alternative sucked works for those who created the societies – but not so much for those who were dragged in.

  242. Literally has never come up (and the only PS class I’m short at the moment is my “research” course).

  243. That’s a use of the term “government” that flies in the face of pretty much any ordinary usage.

    And that – by the way – is why I think you have this concept of society and government as synonymous when they are anything but.

    You can reject and defy a society, largely free from direct peril.
    You cannot reject and defy a government, free of direct peril.

  244. dballing:That’s quite interesting. Glancing through a few Poly Sci curriculums, it appears they vary in focus.
    If you want some insight into portions of the discussion I recommend looking the terms up.

  245. No, I get the concept (in general at least) but — functionally — I see no difference in terms of how they should be treated.

    Property is property.

    I understand that some folks see it differently. I don’t. I see the difference as arbitrary.

  246. dballing:It is a difficult concept to internalize. Pretty much Everything in the US desperately tries to point in the other direction. Try to imagine it as true–it’s an interesting exercise at least.

  247. It’s basically the concept behind geolibertarianism, more or less.

    But since I skew more towards the AC side of the spectrum than geo, …. 😀

  248. It’s somewhat more on the less side than the more side. Geolibertarianism only puts land in the category of private property rather than all mechanisms of production. Then, it turns it back into personal property via a sort of usage fee. An interesting notion but not quite all the way there.

  249. @dballing “…flies in the face of ordinary usage…” Yeah, I think I agree. One of the things that enables me to maintain my worldview is the requirement that I often re-define terms according to their foundational principles, which may contradict what IS in favour of what OUGHT to be.

    I’m not sure if that makes me “wrong” per se, but it certainly is a valid avenue of attack. My only real defense is that I seek those foundational principles as a means of minimizing all the subjectively-based static of an individual’s definition of terms by sticking to the most literal definition of that term. I thereby avoid the #notmyX quagmire which inevitably ends in zero progress in the debate beyond “agree to disagree”…but I do it at the cost of introducing my own version of #notmyX which is at least a little hypocritical, and also renders it vulnerable to that very same impasse as it’s designed to avoid.

  250. So basically… doing it your way results in a “push”? 😀

  251. @dballing: Once again, you dodge the public health issue. The thing is, if you don’t require participation in public health measures, such as vaccination, sewage treatment, pest control, etc. you are choosing a future which involves megadeaths. Not a hundred deaths. Not a thousand deaths. Millions of dead people. Some of which won’t die right away, they’ll get things like polio, and die because they cannot afford the health care necessary to support them. You are choosing to allow to die infants too young to get vaccinations, people who are getting chemotherapy to treat cancer, people for whom the vaccination didn’t work this time, people who have no choice but to drink polluted water. All of these are preventable. You are choosing a grim-dark future for a huge percentage of the current population on earth. If that’s ok with you, you should say so. If it’s not, then I cannot see how libertarianism can possibly mandate vaccinations, sewage treatment, and pest control without infringing on the liberties you state are so important.

  252. You’re making a wild hyperbolic assertion about outcome with little to no facts to back it up.

    Charities can fill the healthcare void, ensuring that children have access to vaccination, and that folks get the treatment they need. I don’t have “sewage treatment” *today* where I live and it’s not all megadeaths and brimstone.

    None of the things you’re describing require a government. For all of my formative years I took fresh clean water out of the ground, and put waste back into it. I could’ve done all of that without a strong government.

    Now, you will almost certainly argue that it was the government ensuring that the groundwater was clean, but I would counter that — as noted several times before in this long-ass thread — pollution can be handled easily as a tort – the polluter damaging the property of others, meaning that the only framework you need to ensure such is a claims-court system.

  253. dballing:”You state this as axiomatic, but it is not. My neighbors and I form a small society, there is no governing body overseeing us. ”

    An interesting assertion. Especially given that you are making it over the internet.

  254. Non-sequitur.

    Societies can overlap. I can be part of my “neighborhood” society, a part of my “gaming group” society, a part of “American” society, etc.

    Further, I never said that societies can’t exist in conjunction with a government. I said that they don’t *require* a government to exist.

    Let’s also remember, vis a vis your red herring: Government investment in ‘the internet’ is dwarfed, by a factor of about 7 orders of magnitude, by private investment. So let’s not over-romanticize government’s role in the internet.

  255. Charities cannot require that children be vaccinated, they can only provide low or no-cost vaccination. Sewage treatment if you live in a thinly populated area is not nearly as critical as in densely populated areas. However, a really serious outbreak of cholera in a large urban area would be devastating. The flu, right after WWI, killed 20 million people. The world is much more densely populated, and people travel much more freely, now. Without good public health measures, an epidemic could travel much farther, much faster. Polio was all but wiped out in this country, by the use of mandatory vaccinations. It still exists in countries that have not been able to fully vaccinate their population.

    And I never said that governments were necessary. What I said was that there needs to be some system of requiring that people’s autonomy be sacrificed to public health measures. I’m happy to look at any system you care to delineate, as long as it doesn’t require “opting in.” Because that’s not going to work. The recent measles outbreak in California shows that.

    So you don’t like my numbers. What numbers do you think are non-hyperbolic? 1,000,00 deaths per year? 100,000? I can’t imagine it would be lower, world-wide. Is that an acceptable number? How many dead people are you willing to go with, to avoid coercion?

  256. “I’m happy to look at any system you care to delineate, as long as it doesn’t require “opting in.””

    And therein we reach our impasse, because I’m happy with whatever system you care to delineate so long as it doesn’t involve coercion.

    The immovable objects meets the unstoppable force, as it were. There is no solution to this disagreement.

  257. If it is being required to do or pay what you don’t wish is the issue, it doesn’t matter whether it is a government or a private organization which has some way of enforcing its will. And whether that enforcing is by gun point or by shaming also doesn’t change the basic premise.

  258. dballing:Neither a non-sequitur nor a red herring–you’re assertion was “no government.” I see you have retracted that to a more reasonable observation that you are, indeed, currently part of American society.

    Also, I am curious as to what you would do about serial killers.

  259. dballing, your argument is founded upon creating a vacuum. You cannot exist in a vacuum; China’s pollution is affecting us, right now, and not only in the overall health of the planet way, but in the global air currents way. This is just an EXAMPLE of how things you or I know nothing about can have a measurable impact on our lives.

    Your argument that you do not NEED a government revolves around a more or less closed system in a world where no such system is possible.

    We both agree on the same point, but merely interpret the response to that point differently. We don’t believe that government is a good idea; but while I’ve decided that government is a necessary evil (with LOTS of conditions), you have stood by your principles and insisted that you would prefer a system that doesn’t require that government (thereby implying that you would prefer to create one and live in it if it existed). But such a government will never exist except in the delusions of the people who buy in to the idea.

    Here’s an example: North Korea. Yes, I KNOW, it not only has a government, it has a totalitarian government, basically the opposite of what you’re proposing. That isn’t my point, though. My point is that it is as closed a system as you can get at a nation scale. Agree with their philosophies or not, you cannot refute that, despite all their efforts to cut themselves off from the world, nevertheless external influences play a major role in determining which conditions exists within that system. They’re like an emu with its head stuck in the ground, or a child assuming he can’t be seen because he’s covering his eyes.

    Which “government” is punishing them for their non-conformity? Is it the US? Not really, though they are involved. Is it the UN? Hah! Please. So…is it some kind of “shadow government”? No, unless you are willing to term a collective of governments acting in concert (though not *necessarily* with pre-determined coordination) as a single entity. And why are they being punished? It certainly isn’t human rights violations. Africa and Syria are proof positive that we have a pretty good level of tolerance for truly sickening circumstances. No, I would argue that they’re being punished for the crime of non-conformity itself; ie, failing to be predictable enough that other “people” (countries in this case) can rest assured that they’re not about to be attacked by NK. And they are right to be, because NK, in response to its “oppression” is developing nuclear launch capabilities.

    Can you really say, in the face of “unjust” tyranny by a group of your peers that don’t share your opinion, whether those peers are individuals, states, nations, or humanity itself, that you wouldn’t eventually start to fight back against that tyranny with whatever means your commune would be able to bring to bear? Using, perhaps, the only option to even the playing field, making you as an individual state capable of taking on a whole group of others?

    I don’t think so–because one of the side effects of shutting oneself away from the world is an eventual, and inevitable stagnation of thought. You will not only cease to be able to determine the validity of other view points, you will eventually cease being able to see that anything you think is wrong, even when it demonstrably is. Every King needs a Fool.

    So sure, build your government-less society with bright eyes and lofty ideals today, promising that you’ll never cave to “the man”. But be aware that, tomorrow, you’ll either cave, or you’ll harden until you cannot be reasoned with, to the point where both actions are catastrophic for you and everyone in your society—and possibly everyone else around you too.

  260. guys, I’ll refer you all back to the first sentence of the OP.

    dballing- no one you are talking to is ever likely to admit that private property rights are so important that every advantage of modern civilization should be sacrificed to assure that you are completely free to pursue them uncoerced by any other authority. Nor are they likely to agree to your definition that private property rights are inalienable and not created by societal rules.

    Guys- dballing will never acknowledge the importance of any point you make that seems to contradict his base assumptions. He will never admit that he benefits from the State in any way that matters to him, nor admit that he owes anyone anything for any benefit he has received, nor admit that the combination of self-interest and uncoerced charity is inadequate to answer the very real needs of people other than him.

    Provided that everyone understands that and still enjoys the conversation, we can go on forever!

  261. I enjoy the conversation, myself. It helps both sides refine their points instead of constantly fighting strawman arguments. The fact that dballing is as intractable as we are only shows that he’s representing his (to him, self-evident) truth, and he should be applauded on keeping such a civil tone–he’s essentially going it alone against all of us, and I think that’s very commendable.

  262. So why should we elevate one “gang of folks with guns” (ie, the government) above others?

    ie., if your fear is that there will be coercion from gangs of people with guns, reality check, we have that today, but somehow you want to give them a “pass”.

  263. I was refuting an earlier assertion that societies dictated the presence of government. Specifically “Where society exists; government exists”. By demonstrating counter-examples, societies *without* government, I was simply pointing out the fallacy of that original argument. Then there was an attempted distraction to that refutation with offhanded remarks about the internet.

    Serial Killers is easy: Society (and individuals within that society) have the right to protect themselves and others. Folks might pool their resources and hire a Private Investigator to locate the serial killer, at which point you deal with them as you would any murderer (which probably means execution or banishment).

  264. So private individuals would have the right to execute other private individuals?

  265. You’ve yet to make any documentable case that “every advantage of modern civilization [would] be sacrifice[d]”…. sure, you’ve spouted FUD and hyperbole about how it essentially would be dystopic end-times, but no actual facts to back it up other than your feels.

    “dballing will never acknowledge the importance of any point you make that seems to contradict his base assumptions”

    Strange. I would argue the same thing about yourself. You have a base assumption that the state needs to exist for such things as society, etc., etc., and will brook no points against that assumption.

    ” nor admit that he owes anyone anything for any benefit he has received”

    I only *owe* for benefits which I *asked for*, or *requested*.

    If people owe for the “benefits they receive” even if they never requested them, can you please provide me with your shipped address? I’d love to ship you something and then just follow up with an invoice a week later that you’re obligated to pay.

    Morally, those two positions are identical, after all.

    “nor admit that the combination of self-interest and uncoerced charity is inadequate to answer the very real needs of people other than him.”

    You assert that without any data to support it. Show your math.

  266. This is why I left it as an “or”…. banishment is certainly preferable, but you could make a case for “societal self defense” as it were.

    Certainly if “A” is actively causing or reasonably-threatening harm to “B”, “B”‘s right of self-defense entitles them to use deadly force.

    If “A” is a serial killer, and “B” is a society at-large, a death penalty for-cause isn’t too much of a stretch, morally speaking.

  267. dballing:”Certainly if “A” is actively causing or reasonably-threatening harm to “B”, “B”‘s right of self-defense entitles them to use deadly force.”

    So, presumably if you refused a vaccination for something like smallpox, thus threatening harm to “B”, then you would be fine with B executing you.

  268. I reject the premise that the only way for such a society to succeed is through strict isolationism (and the stagnation that comes with that).

    Certainly, a non-conforming nation would be ostracized/punished, and so “Libertopia” would be ostracized to some extent, and (attempted to be) held to heel by its peers. But that’s not a compelling argument for *not* doing “the right thing” (insert disclaimer that YMMV on that sentence).

  269. This is the challenge of quick summaries, right? 🙂

    dballing:”Certainly if “A” is actively causing or reasonably-threatening harm to “B”, “B”‘s right of self-defense entitles them to use deadly force.”

    Steve: “So, presumably if you refused a vaccination for something like smallpox, thus threatening harm to “B”, then you would be fine with B executing you.”

    I was referring more to the sense of “imminent harm”. Think along the lines of what current-era statutes might consider justifiable conditions for use of force on another.

  270. >I was referring more to the sense of “imminent harm”. Think along the lines of what current-era statutes might consider justifiable conditions for use of force on another.

    And since we’re trying to understand libertarians here… this is where the ACs go completely off the rails from the perspective of the more common minarchist libertarians.

    Most of the ones I talk to have an *appallingly* restrictive view on what constitutes “harm” or “coercion”. Mostly it seems to revolve around, “well, any aggression that we couldn’t do anything about without a government we’ll simply have to live with or consider not to be an initiation of aggression”. Basically, begging the question.

    Risk is an actual harm. We have a huge economic industry (insurance) that surrounds this notion, quantifies harm, parcels it out into neat bundles and charges real money for it.

    Risk is not “non-coercive” or “non-aggressive” simply because it is not straightforward or not imminent. Your air pollution harms me even if I don’t *happen* to get lung cancer from it, because I have to protect myself against that risk with more expensive insurance.

    And let’s not even get started with one of the largest initiations of aggression ever committed in the history of mankind: anthropogenic global warming forced by the industrial world’s release of stored CO2. This isn’t even a question about *whether* harm is caused. We *know* (as much as we know anything) that it causes harm to peoples in low-lying areas at a minimum, and to people growing crops and living in hurricane zones almost certainly. How shall they recover the damages from this harm?

    And then let’s not even get into whether people should even be *allowed* to engage in activities which have a reasonable expectation of causing more damage than they will be able to repay in their lifetime, even assuming the victims could actually recover from it.

    A requirement that drivers have insurance is not coercive… Flinging about a 2 ton object in public that has a good chance of eventually causing people huge damages without the proven ability to recompense them is what is coercive. Your right to swing your fist doesn’t end at my nose, it ends at the point where a reasonable person would perceive harm. It ends where it becomes assault, not where it becomes battery.

    Walking around in public unvaccinated (without a good medical reason) exposes people to risk that you could have avoided. It therefore does them harm by your choice. It is basically assault. If we’re not going to *prohibit* it with government force, we definitely need to make people that do it *liable* for this cost.

    Or let’s take discrimination by businesses against minorities. If you claim to be open to the public, and then refuse to serve members of the public for reasons that aren’t intrinsically associated with the business you’re doing, then by claiming to be open to the public, (even implicitly, by having an “open” sign) you are committing *fraud*, and the minorities so treated should have a cause of action against you for the economic harm you’ve caused them to incur, trusting that your claim to serve the public was true.

  271. dballing:” sure, you’ve spouted FUD and hyperbole about how it essentially would be dystopic end-times, but no actual facts to back it up other than your feels.”

    Actually, a number of examples have been pointed out how profit driven entities do not act as you describe. In specific, I pointed out the lead industrie’s actions with respect to lead paint that continued into the 1970’s until concerted government action stopped them. There are two variable factors in the description. Government action and profit driven entities.
    Your assertion is that if you remove government action, then profit driven entities will become society benefiting vehicles of wondrousness. There appears to be no evidence to base this upon.
    A separate possibility is raised by removing the profit variable (via the removal of private property) and to see where that leads.

  272. The “lead paint” problem could just as easily have been solved, sans government, by consumers refusing to purchase lead-based paint.

    Paint manufacturers, at that point, would have two choices: go out of business for lack of revenue, or change their formulation.

    I’m not sure why you need a government to interfere there.

  273. dballing:”The “lead paint” problem could just as easily have been solved, sans government, by consumers refusing to purchase lead-based paint.”
    No, now it is you engaging in wishful thinking. There is actual fact based history here.
    The lead industry actively sought to deceive consumers by asserting that lead paint was not harmful and by actively mislabeling paint as either lead free or containing a much lower lead level than it did.
    In your system, how are consumers to know that the paint contains no lead and how are they to know that lead is dangerous. Note that the profit driven entity worked quite hard to prevent both of these and there is zero evidence that the industry would have stopped without government intervention.

  274. >I’m not sure why you need a government to interfere there.

    In this case, because the people being harmed (children, for the most part, including in future generations) are not the ones making the decisions. Lead paint is actually fucking good paint, in the same way that asbestos is a miracle insulator. And advertising can convince people that the claimed harms are minimal compared to the advantages for a *long* time.

    Externalties have to be policed in some way, or people will ignore them and end up inflicting their choices on third parties.

  275. I’ll reply with this simple analog:

    How are Jews to know that their meat has been slaughtered in accordance with their requirements, and that there has been no intermingling of “meat” and “dairy”?

    No government required. Just private consortiums of trusted testers, whose “mark” (intellectual property) is both protected and valued.

    No reason that this couldn’t function exactly the same way.

  276. dballing:Did not happen that way.

  277. >How are Jews to know that their meat has been slaughtered in accordance with their requirements, and that there has been no intermingling of “meat” and “dairy”?

    By a trademark, enforced by the government.

    The reason you need some monopoly on force in some defined constraint (a geographical area is only one possibility, but it’s a good one when people actually live somewhere) is that otherwise you end up with multiple enforcers enforcing multiple interpretations of different people’s agendas about what is and isn’t “coercion” or “fraud”.

    Eventually some of those will be illegitimate initiation of coercion, but by definition the people doing it disagree with others. That’s how we end up with warlords and ultimately feudalism.

  278. Only because society came to expect that the government would let them know of badness.

    You can’t cite a society that expects government notice of defects as an example of how they would behave without that safety net around.

  279. dballing:You’ve got your historical cause and effect backwards. Society did not expect the government to enforce labeling in the <19th though the early 20th centuries. What occurred was that profit seeking entities consistently mislabeled many products and would not stop doing so.

  280. But there already was a presence of a big governmental state while that was all happening, sitting idle and watching it happen.

    Just because government was “first to market” in terms of providing some sort of quality assurance doesn’t mean it somehow has a monopoly on capacity for doing so.

  281. dballing:Please read the history.

  282. I *have* read the history.

    Nothing from the relevant history precludes that a private entity could’ve simply said “we’re going to label things as ‘safe’ or ‘harmful’ and let consumers decide.”

    And where things were documented (by gov’ts or by third-parties) as unsafe, if people still opt to purchase those things, that is their own fault and problem.

  283. Nothing from the relevant history precludes that they weren’t saved in just the nick of time by the Martians dying from the common cold. Of course, nothing in the relevant history gives any indication of such an event. Rather, all evidence suggests there weren’t any Martians at all.

    This has been a really interesting post and has helped in understanding some Libertarian positions (thanks, dballing) and where the horns start peeking underneath the helmets. Thinking through examples of personal and private property has also been really useful in gaining a deeper understanding of those. Thanks Steve!

  284. True, there is no evidence of Martians, or of Russell’s Teapot, but to argue that just because the gov’t “got there first” that nobody else ever would have come along and solved the problem is exactly as specious and un-documentable an assertion to take.

  285. I reiterate that nature abhors a vacuum. In places where the government’s restrictions are rejected, black markets, for example, arise. The Mafia is an extreme example of that. In places where the company that employs most of the people in the town eclipses the presence of the government, that town becomes a company town. Nature abhors a vacuum–doesn’t mean one can’t exist for a while. But if you set up a place where governance is lacking, someone, SOMEWHERE will either try to put something in place to formalize the agreement between the people, and/or exploit the loopholes that that agreement allows for (see the behaviour of literally any major company in history). Companies that DON’T exploit loopholes get taken over by companies who do.

    And in another aspect–if your community requires 1000 workers with skillset A, and there’s only 100, what do you do?

    I ask because I work at a company that is retained after many layers by another company requiring work done. But they don’t have sufficient human resources/logistical expertise to get the job they want done, done. So after all is said and done, the company requiring the work pays the actual worker close to minimum wage, but is billed by all the middle-men at an average of, say, $85/hr. That’s a whole HELL of a lot of cost difference, all because they can’t do what we can. They are paying, essentially, for our network, and corporate infrastructure. I don’t agree that it’s a fair shake for the worker, but…there you have it. That kind of stuff happens ALL. THE. TIME. in our society. It’s business as usual.

    My point is; what happens if your community requires resources that are outside of your means of production? What happens, in other words, if you’re forced to interact with an outside entity? If they’re bigger than you, and they probably are, then you’re gonna get screwed. The fact that THEY have a government means that YOU have a government.

    There’s just no place on Earth that’s cut off from everywhere else. It’s sure as hell not going to be some floating island. There’s literally 0 chance that it will be able to sustain itself, and even if it could, there’s 0 chance that it can ignore/prevent any cultural “contamination” from other cultures you can’t help but to come into contact with.

    There’s no such thing as a closed system; there’s no such thing as a static cultural practice; there’s no such thing as a government-less group.

  286. Responding to “So why should we elevate one “gang of folks with guns” (ie, the government) above others?

    ie., if your fear is that there will be coercion from gangs of people with guns, reality check, we have that today, but somehow you want to give them a “pass”.”

    First, my statement was a response to the argument that having private groups taking care of stuff is better than having a government do it. To that end all I have to show is that the absolute that coercion is bad still applies.

    Secondly, we have lots of experience having the toughest bullies in charge. The movement towards a democratic government has been giving some more power to those who aren’t the biggest bullies. Certainly that trend could be gone a lot further, but my values are for the powerless, not for the powerful. Whichever choice that gives them more protection has my support.

  287. “The “lead paint” problem could just as easily have been solved, sans government, by consumers refusing to purchase lead-based paint.”

    Why are there so many instances where those don’t get solved, or don’t get solved in a timely manner? What makes solving them easy?

  288. deballing, You keep saying anything that counters your view cannot be proved.

    Your idea that charity can meet the needs of public health care and social welfare is utter BS. Show me an example of any society where that has worked. We would be back to debtor’s prisons and sanitariums where people go to to die. But this is acceptable to you. I think you have lost any moral basis for your arguments.

    You claim lawsuits can accomplish things such as preventing toxic wastes in your drinking water. Again, I call BS. Show me your proof. The individual, regardless of the validity of his case, is almost powerless against large corporations in court. Isn’t it better to NOT be poisoned rather than counting on a protracted law suit to seek compensation afterwards? It also doesn’t stop the corporation from continuing to poison people.

  289. larswyrdson, Good summary of the situation. Not much point in continuing this discussion. Thanks for dropping the mic.

  290. “The movement towards a democratic government has been giving some more power to those who aren’t the biggest bullies. ”

    Quite the contrary. I would argue that the centralized power absorbed by the currently-reigning gang of bullies is massive and we are effectively their slaves, even if they allow us some modicum of delusion that we’re in control.

  291. “We would be back to debtor’s prisons…”

    Well, see, this is where we’ll “Agree to Disagree” because I don’t necessarily have a *problem* with debtor’s prisons. If you’ve incurred a debt, and you cannot pay it back with tangible assets, then the only thing you have to do so with is your labor.

    ” I think you have lost any moral basis for your arguments. ”

    Because my moral compass and your moral compass do not align does not mean that either of us is lacking in a moral basis for our respective arguments.

    ” The individual, regardless of the validity of his case, is almost powerless against large corporations in court.”

    In our current system, sure, absolutely. But pinning the design-flaws of our current system to a hypothetical replacement system is disingenuous. We covered this a couple hundred messages ago, where I speculated that the “private claims court” of Libertopia might work much the same way as a small claims court does today. Two people, plaintiff and defendant. Nobody else. You make your cases to the arbitrator and he decides.

    “It also doesn’t stop the corporation from continuing to poison people.”

    If they keep paying to clean it up and paying restitution to those who are harmed, I don’t necessarily see the problem.

  292. “True, there is no evidence of Martians, or of Russell’s Teapot, but to argue that just because the gov’t “got there first” that nobody else ever would have come along and solved the problem is exactly as specious and un-documentable an assertion to take.”

    deballing, Show some examples of people just getting together and solving problems like pollution, poverty or illnesses. It is easy to show thousands of examples through history where it didn’t happen.

    Look what happened with smoking hazards, or leaded gasoline. The companies steadfastly denied any harm to people. It took many years before the public outcry was enough for the government to step in and provide some regulation. Do you honestly believe some individual people could have any measurable effect on corporations like this. Look at what Monsanto is doing today. You and your friends are powerless against a company like that. To think you have any real power just by yourself, is delusional. You just don’t seem to “get” how powerless you really are. Having a few like minded friends isn’t much better.

    Look what is happening in South America if you need an example. The local farmers are protesting corporate influence and the damage and land grabs the corporations are doing. What happens? The protesters are assassinated. As you would be if you rocked the boat here under your “system.”

    You seem to think you can sit in your little freehold and protect yourself from outside influences that are much much larger and more powerful than you. Even if you could do something, you would be doing constant battle with those trying to get away with something or to screw you over. That’s not a life to choose.

  293. Mr. Balling,

    Thanks for your above answer re: establishing a community. I was looking for some notes I made years back when I first ran across people who espouse this same philosophy so I could ask you about a few attempts others have made to live the way you’re talking about, but I can’t find them, so I won’t folow up on that line.

    But maybe you could explain one other thing in addition to all these regulatory & crime questions, namely how such a society would handle homicide. I don’t mean murder, which you address in your post of 3/8 @ 5:42, but consider this scenario: some people get drunk then get into two different cars and drive home. On the way they both plow into a group of pedestrians, killing one person each. One victim (A) has a family – spouse, parents, kids etc. – the other (B) is a total stranger who moved to this town to get away from all past contacts, and whose past is utterly unknown. In the absense of a government to determine the response:

    1) Would A’s survivors get to decide whether to take payment or the driver’s life in recompense?

    2) Who would decide the proper response to B’s death?

    Thanks.

  294. I think in both cases, it would be treated as any other personal-harm would, with an arbitrator deciding the outcome.

    The “Justice System” is where most minarchist/libertarians still see a role for a state, and where ACs tend to see it as private arbitrators making the decision.

    I imagine that in the “B” scenario, there would exist organizations who – for charitable reasons – support justice for those who for whatever reason cannot do so themselves (in much the same way as current-system attorneys do pro bono work).

  295. Re: Nature abhors a vacuum

    Certainly there will always be those elements as you describe. What differentiates “The State” from “The Mafia”, other than the former has blessed itself as the supreme authority and convinced you to fall in line behind it?

    Morally, they are equals, and neither should be given a privileged position over the other.

    “And in another aspect–if your community requires 1000 workers with skillset A, and there’s only 100, what do you do?”

    You trade with other communities. There is this (inaccurate) recurring theme in your (and others’) position that somehow such a society must be completely isolationist and self-sufficient, when that is not at all the case.

    “The fact that THEY have a government means that YOU have a government.”

    That is not in any way a logical argument. The fact that the United Kingdom has a queen doesn’t mean we have a queen, and it doesn’t mean that the lack of that commonality means we cannot conduct trade and commerce.

    “There’s no such thing as a closed system”

    That, right there, is the false presumption that your entire house of cards is built on. It doesn’t *need* to be a closed system.

    “there’s no such thing as a government-less group”

    Nonsense. There are plenty. I have a group of friends, we get together every week and play games. There is no “government” or “governance”, or coercion power held by anyone.

    The constant assertions that “every group has a government” and that any “AC/libertarian society must be isolated” are getting quite old. I feel like I’ve explained patiently, any number of times, that they have no basis in reality. We’ve reached the point where this thread is just constant repetition.

    I think I’m done here. Yeah, I said that before, but this time I’m unsubscribing from comment notifications, so nothing will be dragging me back here. 🙂

    Take care everyone.

  296. In the original post, Steve asked, “What, other than holding great wealth and having the desire to keep it, can lead one to a position whose end result is such barbarity?”
    He somewhat provided an answer that coercion avoidance could be one of the answers. From some of the answers of at least one representative of the Anarcho Capitalist branch of libertarianism, it seems that coercion avoidance of a designated State is part of it–although oddly (it seems to me) a complete acceptance of designated intermediaries is perfectly fine.
    It does also seem that a desire to accumulate property with no distinction of the form of the property is definitely behind that shade of Libertarianism.
    The Geolibertarianists go part of the way in at least distinguishing forms of capital but then don’t take the last remaining step.
    All very interesting and it does seem like profit seeking and the desire to hold private property are tied deeply into into the Libertarian position while at the same time trying to avoid the essential nature of the State in defining property. It seems to me that this last point leads them into a philosophical contradiction from which they really can’t recover.

  297. >The Geolibertarianists go part of the way in at least distinguishing forms of capital but then don’t take the last remaining step.

    Not really. Geolibertarians take the view that there’s nothing that anyone can do, in terms of pure economic activity, that can transform a 3-d locus in space into “property”.

    Like with other libertarians, they consider property to be that which is created by economic means (created by yourself, or traded for voluntarily), and only hold the additional view that there’s no way to make land into property by economic means.

    Basically, you have the right to freedom of travel anywhere you want, and land as “property” restricts people’s travel, which is a form of coercion, though since you can own the stuff thereupon and restrict people’s use of it, a lesser form.

    However, they acknowledge that land must be used in order to hold property, and see the *consideration* of land as property to be a practical necessity for the freedom/right to hold property. The land value tax is considered the least coercive way of funding what government is, unfortunately, needed.

    Along with other minarchists (a large majority of libertarians), this puts them in the category of people that believe a state is a necessary evil, and that its evils need to be justified by a need to preserve our freedoms.

    It is communists and socialists that have an inconsistent view of property to libertarians, because personal possessions and their view of “property” (in some cases, other than land) have no logical distinction.

    There’s no logical difference between a sandwich that I made (or traded for) to consume myself, and a hammer I made (or traded for) that I use to produce carpentry goods. That difference doesn’t magically spring into existence because something I own is far away. It doesn’t spring into existence because I’m renting it to someone for their temporary use to make a living. There’s really no difference.

    There only becomes a difference when I initiate coercion to steal it from someone (i.e. use political means to take “property”). While, regrettably, that might in some cases by necessary (to as small a degree as possible) in order for everyone to retain those rights against those who would steal from them (or, for the more sensible of us, impose those costs as externalities), that doesn’t make it “right”, it just makes it a lesser wrong.

  298. hacksoncode:Thanks for the clarification on Geolibertarians.

    Various groups, of course, hold that the other is mistaken in some aspect–otherwise they would be the same groups rather than various groups.

    I think sandwiches and hammers would generally be considered personal property. Auto plants, nuclear reactors, communications infrastructures, etc would generally be considered examples of things that are private property in Capitalism but ought not to be.
    Exactly where the line is drawn, is, again of course, a matter of debate.

  299. >I think sandwiches and hammers would generally be considered personal property. Auto plants, nuclear reactors, communications infrastructures, etc would generally be considered examples of things that are private property in Capitalism but ought not to be.

    The thing is, there’s really no distinction there except for a completely arbitrary one, especially today.

    My house is a personal possession. If I buy 10 computers, 2 for each room, those are my personal possessions. But somehow if I turn that into a business and hire 9 other programmers, it becomes evil capitalist means of production and some kind of different sort of “property”. Presumably if I stopped doing that it would revert to a possession.

    Perhaps one might argue that this *activity* is wrong (somehow, though that’s pretty tricky… I might see that if they literally have to do it to survive… but not if they just want stuff and are willing to trade their labor for it), much like one might argue that usury is wrong. But it makes no sense at all to say that it changes the character of property.

  300. hacksoncode:”hire programmers”. You are presupposing that people need to be hired, that you have a business and that is presumably because you want to profit from the hirelings.
    Here’s another scenario:
    You and some friends are unencumbered by the need to sell your labor in order to eat, sleep somewhere or have medical attention. Thus, you use some of your time to produce a cool program because you think it is fun. You then release this work and other people use it because it is cool and useful.

  301. One difference in property is whether it is owned by a person – or owned by a corporation or government that is run by leveraged “managers” whose interests aren’t the same as an owners would be.

  302. I’ve seen a considerable overlap between the sets of libertarians and the set of those white males who complain how picked upon they are for being WASP. It’s easy for anybody to see themselves as victims, but when one is of the dominating class, blaming the government is an easy target. The classes that have been able fight Jim Crow other discriminations with help of the voting booth don’t appear to be as attracted to libertarianism.

    The less powerful are more willing to band together to fight the more powerful. And then those who resent losing power to the bands decide that power is bad.

  303. skzb

    Steve Halter: This is some good stuff; well said.

    Of course, the difference between production for use and production for exchange is huge. To point to just one detail, in the former case, there is no need to create or expand markets, nor is there need for competition over markets, hence there is no need for trade wars, which takes 80% of the causes of modern war off the agenda right from the beginning (it also removes the other 20%, which is competition over control of resources and cheap labor; but that’s more complicated so I’ll stop with the bare assertion).

    In general, I’ve stayed out of this discussion—arguing with Libertarians is the moral equivalent to beating one’s head against the wall, and no doubt they feel much the same about arguing with Communists. Our differing views of the history and nature of the State and the social role of property and the development of human rights and the materialist versus the idealist view of history permit no common ground for conversation,

    But I do want, for the sake of making things clear, juxtapose one of my remarks with a comment by our representative of Libertarianism (whom I wish to thank for taking the time to participate in the discussion):

    He says: ‘Well, see, this is where we’ll “Agree to Disagree” because I don’t necessarily have a *problem* with debtor’s prisons.’

    In the original post, I said: “if you accept that property rights can be higher than human rights, you’ll find yourself supporting the most appalling positions and never know how you got there.”

  304. >You and some friends are unencumbered by the need to sell your labor in order to eat, sleep somewhere or have medical attention. Thus, you use some of your time to produce a cool program because you think it is fun.

    Sure, and that’s a much more ideal situation. As I’ve said, I’m willing to entertain the notion that employment simply to *survive* (not, live where you prefer, eat what you like, or expend arbitrary levels of medical care, but actually survive) could be considered “coercive”.

    But that’s talking about *actions*, not “property”.

    There’s no consistent or even *coherent* definition of “property” that can distinguish it from personal possessions. If something is a “possession” if used one way, but “property” if used another way, but the thing itself undergoes no change, then the term has nothing to do with the thing being discussed, but with legitimate things you can *do* with your property.

    Even libertarians would never say that your use of property is without boundary. They just limit that to things which actually initiate aggression against someone.

    I’m sure we have very different definitions of “aggression”, however.

  305. > It’s easy for anybody to see themselves as victims, but when one is of the dominating class, blaming the government is an easy target.

    Meh… I could equally say that it’s difficult for people benefiting from government coercion to be against it.

    A problem, and I’ll agree that it’s a problem, with libertarianism is that it is relatively easy to *coopt* by crony capitalists, in a similar way to how Communists find themselves relatively easy to coopt by Social Democrats. The Tea Party actually started off being pretty libertarian, but that lasted only about 6 months before it was coopted by the most crony capitalist part of the Republican Party. That it is still associated in any way with libertarianism is mostly a historical accident.

    It does tend to attract idealists who are prone to black and white thinking, and they are usually among the loudest of libertarians. But any philosophy with a basis that has been reduced down to the minimum number of necessary axioms will do that too. I have observed that many mathematicians have rather rigid patterns of thought.

    But I will take skzb’s statement that “if you accept that property rights can be higher than human rights, you’ll find yourself supporting the most appalling positions and never know how you got there.” and turn it around.

    If you support *any* ideology that places itself above human freedom and human beings as ends in and of themselves, you’ll find yourself supporting the most appalling positions.

    Communists of the 20th Century are perfect examples of this. They managed to kill way more of their populace than has previously been seen in history because of their ideology. And I’ve seen little to no evidence that they *really* know how they got there.

  306. hacksoncode:”There’s no consistent or even *coherent* definition of “property” that can distinguish it from personal possessions.”

    There are actually a number of coherent definitions. Here’s two simple ones:
    1)There are no possessions.
    2)Possessions can be moved–movable property.

    There are many more and many debates about them.

  307. skzb, I just reread your OP. Excellent. As for Jillette, he’s a smart guy, does great magic but his political position is total BS.

    “I imagine that in the “B” scenario, there would exist organizations who – for charitable reasons – support justice for those who for whatever reason cannot do so themselves (in much the same way as current-system attorneys do pro bono work).”

    Two issues with this. Why would these people bother to take on this effort (or is it just a posse to string up the offender)? Second, who give these people authority over the killer. What if the driver says they have no power to coerce him and walks away?

  308. Why would Debtor’s Prison be acceptable to a libertarian? It has to be one of the most extreme forms of coercion in existence. Once you go down that road, you have set up a force based government. The debtor is not allowed the choice of opting out. Even if you give the person the option of exile, it is still heavy coercion.

    It degenerates to “I want to be free from coercion, I don’t care what happens outside my circle of friends.”

  309. I remember reading Isaac Asimov’s autobiography where he recounts discovering that Mensa members had the same political variations that the general population had. He was disappointed that smarter people don’t have smarter politics. But I’ve read that there are basic differences in how our brains work which matter – differences which aren’t related to intelligence. Our thinking is affected by more than pure logic (which makes the idea of uploading our brain into a computer problematical – without hormones nor funny synapse connections).

  310. Mr. Hajicek, you jumped right to the obvious point I was hoping to get Mr. Balling to address.

    When people want to argue theory I stay out of it, but once they say their theories *will* work in the real world I ask about their practical applications. To me it’s interesting that as soon as he was asked to look at the non-economic, non-regulatory aspects of his libertarian society he suddenly backs off of the profit motive in favor of a pro bono organization.

    He’s bowed out at 8:08, which is a shame because I’d love to know who appoints this arbitrator:

    “I think in both cases, it would be treated as any other personal-harm would, with an arbitrator deciding the outcome.

    The ‘Justice System’ is where most minarchist/libertarians still see a role for a state, and where ACs tend to see it as private arbitrators making the decision.

    I imagine that in the “B” scenario, there would exist organizations who – for charitable reasons – support justice for those who for whatever reason cannot do so themselves (in much the same way as current-system attorneys do pro bono work).”

    We already have the chance to see private arbitrators at work, and the results are not equitable. Plus, of course, it seems to me that with all the personal liberty they espouse, libertarians would be in favor of allowing the survivors to decide what would be more to their profit – a monetary fine or a life for a life. And, as you point out, someone would have to compel the drivers to submit to punishment.

  311. skzb

    Steve Halter: A simpler one is: possession describes a relationship between a person and an object; property describes a relationship among people.

  312. My thanks to dballing for hanging in there as long as he did. It was good to hear the logic of the libertarian philosophy and to bounce questions off him.

  313. skzb:Yes, that is a nice root definition.

  314. Re: a whole bunch of comments about coercion in the form of no other option to survive than accepting an under-valued / underpaid job.

    This is where a Universal Basic Income completely balances those scales back out, provided it’s implemented carefully, and maintained closely against the cost of living. With a UBI, no one _must_ work to survive, so any business trying to undervalue the work people do will flat-out fail, unless a ton of people are fascinated by it, and the experience itself makes up enough compensation for them. A UBI spreads out the most critical power (survival) equally among the entire populace, allowing people to pursue positions and businesses due to interest and/or a perceived need in the community.

    Again, though, any UBI must be very carefully introduced, both because desperate people suddenly released from the source of their desperation tend to initially run amok, and because there’s a potential for a severe economic imbalance to occur that could cripple the economy and/or provide for massive initial inflation if its funding is not structured properly, or if it’s introduced too quickly instead of being phased in.

    Ultimately, though, I believe a UBI is a critical piece of any culture that wants to be successful, long-term.

  315. I think Nixon once came out in favor of a UBI which corresponded to our personal tax deduction. I like that idea implemented so that anybody could go to the tax office and take out $1000 each month, or choose to take the full tax deduction on one’s income taxes instead. This could be sold to the general population as being a different way of getting the already implemented tax deduction.

    Do not require anybody to demonstrate that they can’t work to get “welfare”. A kid can grow up knowing his mom was a waitress on Saturdays and Sundays as an identity even if that mother also got welfare (after all, *everybody* gets their UBI one way or another). And working two nights per week doesn’t risk the UBI.

    Of course that brings up a different problem – and that’s employers who won’t hire full-time employees because then they have to pay for insurance. But we all know the solution to *that* problem.

  316. Looking back, I think I got it mostly right.

    Libertarian thinking starts with the fundamental idea that I should not be coerced. But then we get the problem of conflicting rights, which is easy to express in terms of property rights. If two people think they own the same property, and try to achieve conflicting uses, which of them is being coerced? There should be a way to decide who *really* owns the property, and a way to enforce that decision. Then justice will be denied if the mechanisms for justice and enforcement get corrupted. But libertarians assume that in their hypothetical societies those mechanisms will not be corrupted.

    Starting with the single principle that people who are morally in the right should not be coerced, we can get variious unsavory results, simply because it has only the single principle. People who believe in other principles will imagine bad results that don’t fit their additional principles.

    So children can starve if they fall into bad circumstances and no one who has food chooses to take pity on them. Of course bad things can also happen to children in other systems when no one who has the authority to help chooses to be merciful.

    There is nothing in the simplest libertarian thinking to keep people from getting corners on markets etc. If somebody sees them on the way to that then it’s in that someone’s interest to stop them, or to negotiate and take a cut of the profits, one or the other. If you acquire a monopoly on food or water or breathable air, no one should be able to coerce you to share it. It’s within your rights to require everybody to become your slaves or else die. As a lesser thing, you could give them air on credit until they’ve taken more than they can pay back (and remember you can set the price at whatever you want) and then you can throw them into debtor’s prison.

    When that sort of thing is possible, it’s in your interest to make sure there are multiple suppliers for everything you need to buy. If you can.

    People complain about bad outcomes, but that’s something that depends on circumstance. Imagine we had 100 billion people living on earth, most of them crowded into giant giga-cities. Any little disruption of food, power, water, etc would result in tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths. We couldn’t have the sort of civil liberties we have now. It would just be too dangerous. People would have to be coerced every-which-way because the alternative would be too many disasters.

    But libertarians wouldn’t want to live in a society like that. The obvious choice is to let the thing collapse and let 99.99% of the population die, so the survivors could live in a good society, a libertarian society. Alternatively, let them live that way so long as the libertarians got to escape to have a libertarian society in space.

    If you live in a libertarian society and bad things happen, that means you’re doing it wrong. If the population density rises to the point you can’t have a libertarian society, then you need to reduce the population density until it works again.

    All the disgusting things — debtor’s prison, slavery, etc — are done to people who in theory deserve bad things happening to them. It’s that way with most moral systems. Communists are often a bit gleeful about violent revolution. They grin and their eyes go crinkly and they point out that if the former elite gives up their ill-gotten gains peacefully then no violence will be required.

    The drug war is about putting people in prison who deserve to be in prison, and typically then encouraging them to work for far less than minimum wage. Almost like debtor’s prison.

    Pro-life means bad things happen to women who try to get abortions. Because they deserve it.

    US foreign policy means bad things happen to nations that “harbor” terrorists that attack the USA or its allies. Because they deserve it. (Though we support terrorists that attack our enemies.)

    In general, Americans who want other people put in prison have no trouble with those people getting raped in prison. Often they sort of gloat over it. Because people who have done bad things deserve to be ass-raped in prison.

    We’re basicly kind of a punitive society. We just disagree about who deserves to have bad things happen to them. Libertarians are not very different about that.

  317. You need to add that Libertarians think that they are capable of enforcing a no-coercion policy through use of force. Look at the ranchers in Utah as an example. They are just going for a land grab and see no value in trying to keep various endangered species alive. No skin of their backs.

  318. Although those ranchers do *not* respect land ownership.

  319. I wonder how a libertarian like dballing would deal with the 101,000 hectare fire in Fort McMurray.

  320. I’m pretty sure I can answer that. Their fundamental principle is non-coercion. So first, they’d figure it’s wrong to force people to leave their homes — if somebody wants to stay and get burned to death, let him.

    From there, there’s the question of how to cooperate to deal with it optimally. And again I’m pretty sure the answer is that if rational adults see that they benefit from social structures designed to handle problems like this, then they will create and support such social structures without needing coercion to do it.

  321. My own thought is that in reality we have a population which does not have enough rational adults who think things out that well. But rather like the New Soviet Man, to get a truly functional libertarian society we would need to have a lot of adults like that.

  322. I believe that most people have political views where ideologies are to be implemented when they favor themselves and not when they hurt themselves.

    As in complaining about government paperwork until they get sick from an uninspected restaurant.

  323. Of course we want government to do useful things and not useless things.

    And the most direct way for me to estimate whether something is useful is whether it’s useful to me personally.

    This leads directly to an argument similar to the one free market advocates use about people making deals for what they want and getting an optimal solution, except some of the details would be different. I won’t bother to spell it out since I don’t much believe it, but I sort of believe it a little bit. In evolution something that gives a 1% advantage can take over….

  324. I wonder what those who want government to stay out of the way of free enterprise suggest to someone who wants to find the best value for a hospital when expecting a baby. Right now, hospitals don’t tell, and insurance companies pay what they wish, and consumers find out later.

  325. “From there, there’s the question of how to cooperate to deal with it optimally. And again I’m pretty sure the answer is that if rational adults see that they benefit from social structures designed to handle problems like this, then they will create and support such social structures without needing coercion to do it.”

    Doesn’t that just describe our current society? So what you’re saying is that we’re already in a Libertarian utopia? 🙂

  326. skzb

    Jon: I’m reminded of the old chestnut: The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist is afraid he’s right.

  327. @Jon:

    “without needing coercion”

    Much like “fnord” it’s almost as though people have been bred for centuries and taught in elementary schools to be utterly blind to those words.

  328. My daughter had a band back in college days, called “Cafe Fnord”.

  329. “Doesn’t that just describe our current society? So what you’re saying is that we’re already in a Libertarian utopia?”

    I’m not sure I understand the concept, but as near as I can tell what they’re saying is that if we eliminate the existing coercion then people will turn into rational adults.

    Or maybe we can set up a libertarian society somewhere sometime where only rational adults will be invited.

    Or more likely, that in a libertarian society the laws will be so clear and obvious that there is never any question who the lawbreakers are that it is OK to coerce.

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