Weigel on Balko on Beam

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Here, my friend Dave Weigel responds to my post on Chris Beam’s New York article on libertarianism. (Follow all that?)

A few comments on Dave’s post.

Beam’s “thrashing” is based on what’s happened as the current crop of libertarian politicians have been tested by the electorate, gotten burned, and walked back a little. “Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter,” he argues. Their ideas are never really tested, and when they’re tested, they crumble, because voters like the trains and the Social Security checks to be on time. “Libertarians can espouse minarchy all they want, since they’ll never have to prove it works.”

I suppose that last part is true. We’ll never have a minarchist government. I’m not sure how that’s a failing of libertarianism, though. But there are plenty of libertarian ideas that have been tested, and have worked well. Deregulation of airlines, telecommunications, and trucking in the 1970s, for example. Drug decriminalization in Portugal. Free(r) trade and the decline of protectionism. And generally speaking, the industries that are least regulated and influenced by government have the highest rates of customer satisfaction. The fact that politicians half-assed libertarian ideas like Social Security privatization or electricity deregulation in California doesn’t disprove those ideas.

Beam’s history and etymology are going to be useful to outsiders, who don’t pay attention to this stuff.

I don’t know what Dave means by “useful”. I found some of it to be trite. Not all libertarians cut their teeth on Ayn Rand. I’ve never been much of a fan. She was important in many ways, detrimental in many others. The drug references were a bit too cute, too. Beam’s reference to Somalia was also silly and cliched. Somalia isn’t a libertarian paradise any more than North Korea is a progressive paradise. That is, libertarians don’t advocate the absence of government any more than progressives advocate all-powerful government. We advocate the rule of law. There is no law in Somalia. (That said, the country is still doing better than many of the corruptly run countries that surround it.)

It’s a better case against libertarian policy, if you want that, than a shouty “investigative” blog post at some liberal site that connects a congressman’s staff to the Koch family with the assumption that evil has just been uncovered.

Not sure why it has to be either/or. Beam still couldn’t resist mentioning the Kochs, though it obviously wasn’t the central theme of his article. And yes, his piece was fairer and more respectful to libertarianism than other treatments I’ve seen. And yes, I still had some problems with it.

Do libertarians promise utopia? Sure.

No, they don’t. People use the utopia canard  to make libertarianism seem creepy and cultish. Look, politics is a dirty, corrupt profession that rewards people who display the characteristics you least want in someone in whom you entrust important decisions about your life. The general premise of libertarianism is that people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives—that as much of our lives as possible should be kept within the sphere of civil, voluntary society, and out of the sphere of political society. There would still be problems in a libertarian society. There would still be crime, income inequality, acne, nu metal, and reality TV. Most libertarians merely believe that in a libertarian society, most people would be better off than they are now—that being free to make more of your own choices is preferable to having politicians make them for you. Most conservatives and liberals also believe that most people would be better off if their own policy preferences were implemented. That isn’t in the same ballpark as promising utopia. People will still make bad decisions. They should be free to do so.

If anything is utopian, it’s the idea that the world would be much better off if only we put more of society in the hands of a few very smart people who somehow know all the answers. And that somehow the political process will ensure that those all-knowing people always end up in a position to make all the decisions.

In the 1990s, the new, libertarian-minded Republican congressmen and governors discovered that fast growth allowed them to cut taxes and grow budgets for services that voters liked.

Come on, Dave. There was nothing “libertarian-minded” about Newt Gingrich & Co. Yes, the Contract With America had some language about eliminating a few federal agencies. And those plans were jettisoned almost as soon as the new GOP freshmen were sworn in. The 1990s GOP held firm on a few economic issues that had some culture war resonance (welfare reform, for example), but there were no guiding libertarian principles on display during Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker. They were primarily social conservatives.

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100 Responses to “Weigel on Balko on Beam”

  1. #1 |  Brandon | 

    I think you meant “Plans were jettisoned,” not “plants.” Better fix that before somebody at balloon juice seizes on it as proof that you’re incompetent so they can continue trashing libertarians without bothering to read anything written by libertarians.

  2. #2 |  Eric Hanneken | 

    There is no law in Somalia.

    According to Benjamin Powell et al, there is law in Somalia (PDF). Unfortunately for westerners, Somalian law depends on clan associations, which they don’t have. You can listen to Benjamin Powell talk about Somalia here.

  3. #3 |  Michael Chaney | 

    . There would still be problems in a libertarian society. There would still be crime, income inequality, acne, nu metal, and reality TV. Most libertarians merely believe that in a libertarian society, most people would be better off than they are now—that being free to make more of your own choices is preferable to having politicians make them for you.

    There are often no solutions to the big problems in society, just tradeoffs. A free market still means some people make dramatically less money than others, for instance, but we’ve seen that even the worst off among us are typically higher earners than what you find in a communist country. Same with the drug war. Do we want a system where we lock people up for years for simply possessing dead plant material? Or do we want a system where some people become addicted and destroy their lives pursuing a high? Which is worse? I argue for personal choice – even if those choices are bad.

    When people talk about “solutions” to the big problems, they’re usually about to say something stupid. The free market isn’t a solution, per se, it’s just far better than any alternative. Same thing with our system of government.

    Sorry, I’m rambling.

  4. #4 |  M | 

    Telecommunications deregulation in the 70s may have been successful, but the 90s version was good for nothing.

  5. #5 |  Bill | 

    What Michael Chaney rambled. I’d add that my first serious look at libertarianism came through David Bergland’s “Libertarianism In One Lesson”, and one of the things that was appealing in that book was that he explicitly made the point that “There Is No Utopia”–libertarianism didn’t promise to remake the world into a paradise, it merely offered people the opportunity to live their own lives as they saw fit, which might make the world a better place.

    Because of that I always chuckle a bit when people reference Libertopia–rather than a paradise, the unattainable dream is apparently just the notion that people might get better at leaving one another alone.

  6. #6 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I too am mystified by the “utopia” argument. I’ve always considered one of the hardest selling points of libertarianism the fact that it essentially concedes that we’ll never have a utopia. Modern liberalism/socialism offers the promise of a wise ruling elite solving all the world’s problems. Libertarianism (as I see it) basically acknowledges that leaving people to their own devices will allow certain mistakes, but that on the whole those mistakes will be far fewer than the mistakes created by a domineering government, and further that along with those mistakes will come wonderful progress that will make things better for everybody in the long run.

  7. #7 |  Danny | 

    A most astute analysis.

    Why isn’t Radley at the top of the media food chain, with his own major newspaper column, or at least a show on cable news? He deserves a lot more than a blog and the occasional quote in a magazine article. This guy is as good as anybody churning out opinion at NYT or WashPost or NPR.

    Maybe us fans should be making phone calls.

  8. #8 |  Juice | 

    That is, libertarians don’t advocate the absence of government any more than progressives advocate all-powerful government.

    wut?

    Many libertarians (anarchists, which can be placed under the umbrella of libertarianism) advocate no government or, at least, no coercive state. Murray Rothbard was a prominent libertarian, no? One could make the distinction between the absence of a coercive state and the absence of law (there would still be law in a stateless society) but most people don’t. To most, absence of the state means absence of government.

    And what is some people’s obsession with Ayn friggin Rand? I mean on both sides. Objectivism is not libertarianism, but some people will automatically assume that you just love Ayn Rand because you call yourself a libertarian. Another thing people will assume is that if you are a libertarian, then you’re also automatically a conspiracy theorist of the Alex Jones variety. Damn, some people are just ignorant as hell. Finally, the most obnoxious assumption of all is that people think you side with the Republican Party 90% of the time. It’s obnoxious.

  9. #9 |  Alex | 

    Maybe this excludes me from the libertarian camp, but if we could define a sort of moderate libertarianism as a political ideology that values personal freedom much more highly than other ideologies do, then I think the mainstream would have a more difficult time criticizing it. We can go a lot farther in the direction of personal freedom without reaching the evil unregulated capitalism that the mainstream equates with libertarianism and allows them to write it off as naive, crazy, weird, whatever.

  10. #10 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    *snickers* nu metal..

  11. #11 |  Juice | 

    #9 Alex,

    With Reason, Cato, etc. you’re looking at it.

  12. #12 |  David Hume | 

    “…We advocate the rule of law.”

    Except, of course, illegal immigration…because delicious pupusas and cheap labor are much more important.

  13. #13 |  Matt | 

    Reason, Cato etc. support unregulated capitalism, do they not? Or more precisely, capitalism regulated through enforcement of property rights, contracts, and tort law, rather than by state and federal bureaucracies. I think Alex is referring to what’s sometimes called civil libertarianism, where the focus is just on political liberties and not economic freedom. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU already do exist, but still tend to be a minority view. The majority just does not believe in any kind of freedom very much.

  14. #14 |  KristenS | 

    It doesn’t matter one whit what libertarians say or how good they are at defending themselves – the ruling duopoly understands libertarianism perfectly, it just characterizes it as crazy so it doesn’t disrupt their little power party. Ergo, arguing about what is and isn’t libertarianism with political power players and media is pointless and useless.

  15. #15 |  musefree | 

    I completely agree with Radley that a lot of Beam’s observations about libertarianism were trite or over-generalized. The Rand example being a case in point. Also, he mentioned Milton Friedman as a libertarian inspiriation but later suggested that the provision of any sort of welfare is fundamentally anti-libertarian (Milton Friedman was for welfare via a negative income tax, and so are many libertarians I know). And so on. Yes, there are many kinds of libertarian, but it is dishonest to pick and choose which kind you are criticizing to fit the point of the paragraph.

    He is also guilty of puzzling conflations: he seems to think there is an equivalence between providing for clean air and providing for a stable financial system. I mean, come on. Only someone who does not appreciate the importance of clearly defined rights in the libertarian ideology could have made that analogy.

    But my main bone of contention is this passage in Beam’s essay.

    If everyone refused to compromise his vision, there would be no cooperation. There would be no collective responsibility. The result wouldn’t be a city on a hill. It would be a port town in Somalia. In a world of scarce resources, everyone pursuing their own self-interest would yield not Atlas Shrugged but Lord of the Flies. And even if you did somehow achieve Libertopia, you’d be surrounded by assholes.

    That is wrong on many levels. First off, libertarians are not against cooperation, merely against coerced cooperation. And the last sentence is disappointing. What on earth did Beam mean by that? That libertarians are assholes? That people who might live in a world of non-coercive laws will inevitably turn into assholes? That libertarianism is evil? I would hope that this is just a case of Beam getting carried away, and not something he believes.

    ****

    On the whole, this essay of Beam was neither a substantive nor a substantial criticism of libertarianism. A much better criticism, in my mind, was Robert Locke’s 2005 essay titled “Marxism of the right”, which I responded to in detail a couple of years ago in this post on my blog:
    http://musefree.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/a-libertarian-response-to-robert-locke/

  16. #16 |  Andy | 

    While I certainly think there’s a healthy tribe of thoughtful libertarians doing hugely important work, I have to say that I do think that Newt and Co. were, for all practical purposes, a pretty true realization of American movement libertarianism. They may have betrayed it’s principles at every turn, but the dreaded Matthew Yglesias is correct – libertarianism will always appeal to the right because it provides an opportunity to oppose reform in the name of liberty whenever dominant interests are at stake (or perceived to be at stake). Thus, right wing politicians will often take on the libertarian mantle, even as they betray the principles. I’d love to be proven wrong, of course.

    Also, I could be wrong here as well, but I think Dave meant to be ironic in his line about libertarian-minded politicians – in the same sentence he turns around to point out how they promptly expanded budgets. He was just missing scare quotes.

  17. #17 |  The Mossy Spaniard | 

    “Not all libertarians cut their teeth on Ayn Rand. I’ve never been much of a fan.”

    Also, what #8 said. I’ve never cared for her writing style or her dogged insistence on ideological purity. A straightforward reading of the Constitution, and this website, did the trick for me.

  18. #18 |  musefree | 

    I agree with Andy (#15):

    Also, I could be wrong here as well, but I think Dave meant to be ironic in his line about libertarian-minded politicians – in the same sentence he turns around to point out how they promptly expanded budgets. He was just missing scare quotes.

    I read Weigel that way as well. I think he was being ironic, and I don’t think he is suggesting that Newt and co were libertarian. I read libertarian-minded as a different way of saying pseudo-libertarian.

  19. #19 |  Dave Krueger | 

    One of the reasons religion has no credibility is because it adapts to cultural changes. It claims to be the ultimate god-given truth, but then changes it’s mind over time when social pressure becomes strong enough.

    I won’t adapt my libertarian beliefs to make them more amenable to popular attitudes. I’m not big on compromise or corrupting my beliefs in the name of pragmatism. Unfortunately, politics is all about compromise. For any given discussion, I understand that two people can differ on where to draw the line, but I refuse to even have the discussion with a statist, and basically that includes the overwhelming majority of Americans (some of whom even claim to be libertarians).

    If that dooms me to being an outcast that no one takes seriously, then so be it. Better that than having to hold my nose and pretend to have something in common with contemporary conservatism and liberalism.

    If libertarians never got a single candidate elected to public office, I would still have no choice but to be a libertarian. To be otherwise would be like trying to deny gravity.

  20. #20 |  Matt | 

    […]I do think that Newt and Co. were, for all practical purposes, a pretty true realization of American movement libertarianism. They may have betrayed it’s principles at every turn,

    That makes absolutely no sense. If they “betrayed [libertarian] principles at every turn” they can’t possibly be “a pretty true realization” of libertarianism. Perhaps with the word “movement” you intended to drain libertarianism of all meaning, but in that case, all we are contemplating is naked political opportunism by Gingrich et al, which is not any kind of reflection on libertarianism.

  21. #21 |  Dave Krueger | 

    But there are plenty of libertarian ideas that have been tested, and have worked well. Deregulation of airlines, telecommunications, and trucking in the 1970s, for example. … Free(r) trade and the decline of protectionism.

    Wait, I think conservatives take credit for all those ideas.

    Conservatives are fervent believers in deregulation, free trade, and aggressively oppose the welfare state (I mean when they aren’t busy increasing regulation, passing protectionist tariffs, and increasing the size of the welfare state.

  22. #22 |  perlhaqr | 

    Because of that I always chuckle a bit when people reference Libertopia–rather than a paradise, the unattainable dream is apparently just the notion that people might get better at leaving one another alone.

    I learned back in pre-school and kindergarten not to take other people’s things. I guess that lesson was lost on most of the voting public, or at least they choose to forget or ignore it.

    Ah well, I’ll still keep dreaming the impossible dream, a world in which people will leave each other alone.

  23. #23 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I forget, is Weigel pretending to be a liberaltarian this week or not?

  24. #24 |  Mattocracy | 

    I agree that Nu Metal is/was terrible. Thankfully, the market worked. That shit disappeared once everyone woke up and realised that Limp Biscuit and Korn were terrible bands. If the FCC had it’s way, we’d be require to purchase their shitty music for the sake of fairness.

  25. #25 |  Andy | 

    #19 – I said “American movement libertarianism”, by which I meant libertarianism as a political movement actively involved in national electoral politics. Like any political party, the libertarian movement often strays from it’s principles, and I think MY describes a unique way in which libertarianism tends to do so. Other ideologies are prone to different kinds of compromises.

    I’m not saying libertarian principles or policies are never worth defending and can never succeed, I’m just saying that there’s something about the ideology that will always appeal to nativists and right-wingers. And when they dominate libertarian political movements, as they usually do, people like Newt & Co. will do things to grant their wishes. In that sense, they are the realization of movement libertarianism – if they’ve got a right wing constituency in the libertarian movement, that’s who they will serve.

  26. #26 |  Moskos | 

    What’s the libertarian answer to abject poverty and homelessness?

    And I don’t mean down on your luck poverty or even elderly poverty (if there weren’t social security). How do we help might be called the *un*-deserving poor? People through complete fault of their own have nothing, either because they privately invested their savings and lost everything or are simply too stupid, mentally deranged, or drugged out to do anything right. Seriously.

    How do help those who can’t or won’t help themselves? Do we just let them starve in the streets? Doesn’t the government need to step in at some point?

    I agree with some libertarian positions. But as an ideology, libertarianism (like most ideologies) scares me.

  27. #27 |  HSS | 

    “And yet, for all of libertarianism’s diversity, the libertarian movement—those who feel so strongly about live-and-let-live that they want to make you live and let live, too[…]”

    Nice, Chris. Way to circumvent the whole “negative rights” thing.

  28. #28 |  ClubMedSux | 

    By the way, can’t believe I missed it before, but it’s Metal. Please, show the umlaut some respect.

  29. #29 |  J.S. | 

    A bit OT:

    “that had some culture war resonance (welfare reform, for example)”

    The worst part about Newt’s welfare reform was that it just passed the bill onto the individual citizen to pay for all their feel good welfare crap. Oh, lets make those deadbeats pay and look like we’re stopping welfare handouts! Sure, except that you just gave huge amounts of power to the states and the feds in running people’s lives all to make sure that the government is “doing something” while doing nothing to prevent screwing over the innocent they snag in their webs. Feds kicking back 2/3rds of every child support dollar states collect as incentives means mega bucks.

    So you have innocent men, poor men and others put into debtor’s prisons (Bradley Amendment). Paternity fraud? Whats that? Mistaken names? Gov. owes them nothing! Missed payments to mommy due to state error? So sorry, not our fault! Stealing from kids chore money they put into the bank because daddy who paid them owes them child support (aka owes mommy)? No problem there! My favorite was the state telling a father to pay up his support to them or get jailed and lose custody. Why wasn’t he paying? His ex had died from cancer and he had full custody. Paying out half his income each month to the state for a dead person kinda made it hard to feed his kids. Took a news media story to get the state fixing that one.

    But hey, we’ve reformed welfare! I hate social conservatives or anyone who doesn’t look into these problems and parrots the contact with america baloney.

  30. #30 |  Brandon | 

    Perl, everyone learned not to take other people’s stuff in kindergarten. And immediately afterward they spent 12 years being force-fed the idea that if Government takes people’s stuff, it’s always for the greater good. It’s hard to undo that kind of long-term brainwashing.

  31. #31 |  Tom Barkwell | 

    I appreciate an honest and reasoned argument against the ideas I hold true. But as Radley demonstrates, most of libertarianism’s opponents seem to find it necessary to resort to half-truths and obfuscations. And their lack of any strong counter only strengthens my belief that true freedom and personal liberty are far superior to any ideas coming from progressives or conservatives.

    We understand that liberty doesn’t equal utopia. But we also know that every power given to government comes at the direct expense of freedom, no matter how well intentioned.

    I’m so sick of hearing people say how wonderful it is to live in a free country, or how we have the best legal system in the world, when we have so many federal regulations alone that not even our own government can tell us how many there are, much less what they all mean. How can they be so clueless?

  32. #32 |  Nick | 

    That is, libertarians don’t advocate the absence of government any more than progressives advocate all-powerful government.

    Of course, “libertarian”, like any other label, is going to mean different things to different people but, generally speaking, libertarians tend to be split into two groups. One is ethical-view libertarianism (based on the principle of non-aggression) and the other is utilitarian-view libertarianism. Ethical-view-libertarians advocate the elimination of the state (absence of government not absence of governance) because all states employ aggression. And, because all states employ aggression, states, and the aggression they necessarily employ, are unjustified.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t libertarians calling for the abolition of the state for utilitarian reasons (David Friedman comes to mind) but you’ll find most libertarian-anarchists are of the ethical-view variety.

    As for “rule of law”, that will only exist in the absence of government. No need to take up space explaining why since I can’t do any better than John Hasnas did in The Obviousness of Anarchy.

  33. #33 |  Mattocracy | 

    All the forms of government created have never existed to solve problems. It’s about transferring responsibility for said problems. Some transfer responsibility to individuals, some transfer it to agencies.

    Who’s responsible for urban decay? The Department of Housing and Urban Developement. But they aren’t really responsible for fixing it, just it’s existance.

  34. #34 |  Nick | 

    Beam’s reference to Somalia was also silly and cliched. Somalia isn’t a libertarian paradise any more than North Korea is a progressive paradise.

    Saying Somalia is a “libertarian paradise” is definitely silly but that doesn’t mean we can’t look to Somalia for lessons. The truth is that, in Somalia as a whole, conditions have improved as a result of state collapse. Where there is data, there is improvement. Death rate, infant mortality and cases of tuberculosis are all declining while life expectancy, access to telephone lines, mobile phones, TV, internet and immunizations are increasing.

    From one study (pdf)…

    Telecommunications is one major area of success in Somalia. The one measure for which we have complete data, main lines per 1,000 of population, shows dramatic relative improvement since Somalia became stateless, moving from 29th to 8th among the African countries included in our survey. We only have data since the collapse of the state for mobile phone, Internet usage, and households with televisions. Somalia ranks highly in mobile phones (16th) and Internet users (11th), while it ranks 27th in households with televisions. In many African countries state monopolies and licensing restrictions raise prices and slow the spread of telecommunications. In Somalia it takes just three days for a land-line to be installed; in neighboring Kenya waiting lists are many years long.

    The irony is that we’re constantly hearing about the violence in Mogadishu which also happens to be the area of Somalia with the highest government presence. A more telling comparison is between Somalia when it had a government and Somalia when it is (almost) stateless.

    More reading…
    Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse (pdf) Peter T. Leeson (Department of Economics – West Virginia University)
    Short summary of the first pdf linked.

  35. #35 |  Matt | 

    @ 24, Republicans trying to co-opt some libertarian ideas hardly means they are the “realization” of political libertarianism. Granted, there’s some overlap with small government conservatives, but the differences are still quite substantial. An actual realization of political libertarianism, even if flawed and compromised, would still be very different from the Republicans; it couldn’t possibly be supportive of the drug war, for example.

  36. #36 |  Steve Verdon | 
    Do libertarians promise utopia? Sure.

    No, they don’t. People use the utopia canard to make libertarianism seem creepy and cultish. Look, politics is a dirty, corrupt profession that rewards people who display the characteristics you least want in someone in whom you entrust important decisions about your life. The general premise of libertarianism is that people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives—that as much of our lives as possible should be kept within the sphere of civil, voluntary society, and out of the sphere of political society. There would still be problems in a libertarian society. There would still be crime, income inequality, acne, nu metal, and reality TV. Most libertarians merely believe that in a libertarian society, most people would be better off than they are now—that being free to make more of your own choices is preferable to having politicians make them for you.

    You know, I don’t think I’d call a person that I’m pretty sure is lying a friend Radley.

    My response to your riposte above Radley is that right nhow it looks like most people prefer not to be free and to have other people make decisions for them. We don’t really live in a free country. Granted we don’t live in Oceania either. We live in a world where tyranny is soft and slow moving as described near the end of De Toqueville’s book Democracy in America

    But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.

    […]

    Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

    Read that and don’t tell me we are not moving in that direction. And it goes one with amazing prescience,

    After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

    Look at the Federal Register, the laws in each state, county, city and so forth. Look at how people want health care, housing, food, education, jobs, cars, etc. Subsidize this, pay for that, take care of me!

    think Alex is referring to what’s sometimes called civil libertarianism, where the focus is just on political liberties and not economic freedom.

    I think this is a false dichotomy. If you can deprive me of my property…say my house, then what is to stop you from depriving me of another type of property…say my labor? Once you do that you have enslaved me. This notion that there are civil/political liberties and economic liberties is fatuous nonsense.

  37. #37 |  Matt | 

    his notion that there are civil/political liberties and economic liberties is fatuous nonsense.

    I agree, and was just observing that the notion exists, not endorsing it. Civil libertarianism is kind of a half-philosophy; whether you’re capitalist or socialist or in between you’ll have to take a side in the economic issues. But it does have a place in allowing people to support a common cause, like the ACLU or EFF, without necessarily knowing or caring about the underlying philosophies of other members.

  38. #38 |  Moskos | 

    I hate to beg, but does anybody have an answer to my question above (#26)?

  39. #39 |  musefree | 

    @Moskos:

    Most libertarians would tell you that such people should be taken caren off through charities or other private means.

    Some libertarians would disagree. Since giving such people a minimum welfare to keep them off the streets and with basic level of nutrition would require relatively little money (as a percentage of gdp) and the benefits are considerable (it could be the difference between life and death for the person, and besides reducing homelessness or starvation correlates with reduced crime etc.) they would not mind letting the government have a role in case charities are not enough. The proper way to achieve this might be debatable. Milton Friedman, often classified as a libertarian economist, famously suggested an income tax whose rate would be negative at the lowest income levels, thus providing everyone with a certain very minimum income.

    So it depends on who you ask. Personally I am in the second camp.

  40. #40 |  thorn | 

    @ Moskos:

    One problem with your question is that it targets a part of society that – for the sake of momentary argument, we’ll call “helpless”. If one finds a starving 7 year old in the street, obviously something should be done to feed and shelter the child. The same goes for a 70 yr old woman suffering from dementia.

    The fact that these situations exist do not justify the expanse of government that we currently have. The amount of taxation and regulation that exists in America is far beyond what would be required to take care of the people you’ve listed in your question.

    Should my taxes be paying for Xray machines and people to grope their fellow citizens at airports? No. The airline industry should be privately funding all flight security, completely paid for with a portion of the fares they charge. Should Washington be funding blueberry research in California? Again – if blueberry farmers need advances in growing berries, it should come from within their own industry as a private endeavour.

    I recall during the stimulus spending last year, looking over local awards of funds in Cincinnati. One airport received around $38,000 to repave their runway (Created 3 new jobs!). The problem was the these weren’t really JOBS; it was a contract that probably lasted 2 weeks, and after that the asphalt pavers were likely going on to other things – or laid off still, if their company didn’t have jobs lined up past the airport project. Futhermore, it’s an airport primarily used by private small aircraft and corporate jets… again: if people can afford a corporate jet, they can likely pay some of their hangar fees towards buying their own damned new runway.

    So getting around to your issue – hungry, poverty-stricken people – my basic libertarian theory answer would be: stop wasting our money on blueberries, TSA, planting flowerbeds on interstate exists, funding groups like ACORN. Stop spending $465,000,000 for on a jet engine that the Pentagon didn’t even want in the first place. Stop spending $1.9 Mil on the Pleasure Beach Water Taxi Service. The list is endless.

    Put an end to this spending. Stop over-regulating every damned thing private citizens and businesses do every day.

    Do all of this, and in the end I’m quite sure we’ll be able to find a way to easily keep hungry children from having a hot meal in the morning.

  41. #41 |  delta | 

    I hate to say it, but most of the stuff in your first big paragraph is why I stopped voting Libertarian in the 1990’s. Just to pick one, “Drug decriminalization in Portugal”, as I wrote in the other thread, is (in the specifics) really hard to see as libertarian-approved.

    “In the Netherlands, where police ignore the peaceful consumption of illegal drugs, drug use and dealing are rising… However, in Switzerland, where addicts are supervised as they inject heroin, addiction has steadily declined.”

  42. #42 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Moskos–

    Can’t speak as a libertarian, but I just wanted to say it’s nice to see you on The Agitator. I very much enjoy your blog.

    Regarding ways to reduce poverty, I would suggest that libertarians read “Agrarian Justice” by Thomas Paine, or perhaps material by the 19th century economist Henry George. Mix their ideas with some Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Hayek, and we could probably have a sound, relatively free economy.

    Anyway, talk to you later Moskos. Dave H- IL

  43. #43 |  Episiarch | 

    Others have said this above, but the utopia canard is really the absolute most dishonest fake portrayal of libertarian thought that there is, and it tends to be the end result of any discussion of anarchism in particular. I can’t tell you how many people, after discussing these things with me, end up spitting this demand at me: is anarchism or minarchism perfect? It isn’t? Then it’s invalid.

    Of course, when you turn that around and say “the current system is light years from perfect too”, it gets ignored. It’s a simple, cheap, intellectually dishonest way of dismissing powerful arguments. “Oh, it’s not perfect, so I can ignore everything you said; discussion over and I don’t have to think any more.”

  44. #44 |  mantooth | 

    Oh, boo hoo. You are all getting my philosophy wrong! It’s two parts Rand not three!

  45. #45 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #42 Episiarch: “Of course, when you turn that around and say ‘the current system is light years from perfect too’, it gets ignored. It’s a simple, cheap, intellectually dishonest way of dismissing powerful arguments. ‘Oh, it’s not perfect, so I can ignore everything you said; discussion over and I don’t have to think any more.”

    Good point. I never ignore sound criticisms of the current system. But as a non-anarchist I would also say the fact that the current system is “light years from perfect” does not mean that it should be “smashed” (in the parlance of some anarchists).

    My main problem with anarchist thought, aside from the fact that I think it would not lead to a workable system, is that it seems to take the throw the baby out with the bathwater approach. If one takes a more general approach in which they seek to gradually empower individuals so that they can control more of their lives, then I am for that. In other words, I support evolution, not revolution. Hasty revolutions rarely result in liberal, safe societies.

  46. #46 |  Chance | 

    “I agree with some libertarian positions. But as an ideology, libertarianism (like most ideologies) scares me.”

    Yeah. What you said.

  47. #47 |  Episiarch | 

    Helmut, why do you assume that anarchists would necessarily be against a slower, more evolutionary dismantling of the state? You seem to be stereotyping all anarchists as if they were bomb-throwing, put-em-all-against-the-wall scumbags, who are usually not anarchists at all (certainly not individualist anarchists who believe in the non-aggression principle; I mean, that’s why we’re individualist anarchists in the first place).

    Your main problem with anarchist thought (again, I’m talking about individualist anarchist or anarcho-capitalist thought here) is based on a totally flawed assumption. I suggest you look into individualist anarchist philosophy a bit more before making any more assumptions.

  48. #48 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    If only we didn’t know that power corrupts.

  49. #49 |  cApitalist | 

    #26 Moskos:
    “What’s the libertarian answer to abject poverty and homelessness?”

    Simple Answer:
    Prevent the state from causing it or making it worse.

    Less Simple Answer:
    By destroying enormous percentages of the nation’s resources (both monetary and material) the state, like any other parasite, makes society poorer. Eliminating the state’s destruction from the equation increases the resources available to all. Additionally, capitalism (not to be confused with corporatism) has improved the lot of the poor to a greater extent than it has improved the lot of rich. This is not a comment on wealth distribution (X percent of the population holds Y percent of the wealth), but rather an evaluation of each classes lot with and without capitalism. Prior to industrialization (the rise of modern capitalism), large percentages of the population lacked adequate food and shelter. Poor people died of starvation and exposure. This is no longer the case, and it ceased to be the case well before the rise of the welfare state. Alternatively, the rich have always had adequate food and shelter with additional resources to devote to leisure. The situation of the rich has changed little throughout history, while the lot of the poor has improved dramatically. So, in addition to eliminating the parasitic state (hopefully entirely), completely unrestraining the free market would doubtlessly reduce poverty and homelessness.

    What solutions do statists offer to abject poverty and homelessness which have not already failed miserably?

    “How do we help might be called the *un*-deserving poor? People through complete fault of their own have nothing, either because they privately invested their savings and lost everything or are simply too stupid, mentally deranged, or drugged out to do anything right. Seriously.”

    If by “we” you mean you and I, I suggest we donate our resources and time to private the private charities we feel best serve these folks. If by “we” you mean the United States or the US government, please refer to my comments above.

    “How do help those who can’t or won’t help themselves? Do we just let them starve in the streets?”

    Those who won’t help themselves are no concern of mine, and again, I suggest you and I help those who can’t help themselves. No, I personally am not in favor of letting people starve in the street. People dying in the street is horrible and unfortunate. However, theft is an undoubtedly evil act. I can not advocate doing something evil (using the force of the state to loot its subjects via taxation) to prevent something unfortunate (poverty). This distinction between evil and unfortunate is crucial.

    “Doesn’t the government need to step in at some point?”

    No.

    Does this adequately answer your questions?

  50. #50 |  cApitalist | 

    #46 Episiarch:
    I agree with the gist of your post. Most Individualist Anarchists would not oppose a slow dismantling of the state.
    But, can you really say that violently resisting the state is immoral or a violation the non aggression axiom? Sure it’s often ill advised and likely ineffective. But didn’t the state initiate the aggression a long time ago? Isn’t that the whole beef with government? Isn’t responding in kind just fine (morally) unless you’re a pacifist?

  51. #51 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #47 Episiarch: “Helmut, why do you assume that anarchists would necessarily be against a slower, more evolutionary dismantling of the state? You seem to be stereotyping all anarchists as if they were bomb-throwing, put-em-all-against-the-wall scumbags, who are usually not anarchists at all (certainly not individualist anarchists who believe in the non-aggression principle; I mean, that’s why we’re individualist anarchists in the first place).”

    I didn’t make that assumption. I did make a passing reference to “smash the state rhetoric,” but I did not stereotype anarchists in the way you are describing. Perhaps I should have just left that part out to avoid confusion.

    I know perfectly well the difference between the common street thug posing as an anarchist (AKA Communists in anti-authoritarian drag) and a principled individualist anarchist. I have had many discussions on The Agitator with anarchists, particularly Cynical in CA. If Cynical is around, perhaps he can vouch for me.

    Also, I am aware that some anarchists are ok w/ “a slower, more evolutionary dismantling of the state.” However, they are still starting out with the clearly revolutionary goal of doing away with the state, thus I referred to their stance as revolutionary rather than evolutionary. For reasons I have gone into at some length during other threads, I simply don’t consider their eventual goal of no government/individual sovereignty, etc to be realistic or even desireable. That is just something that you and I or you and Cynical will have to disagree on.

  52. #52 |  LibertarianBlue | 

    I wouldnt say that people havent fully rejected Protectionism at this point. Paleocons are attempting to tie free trade with illegal immigration in order to justify state interference with trade.

    Im always amused when liberals and some conservatives use the typical Somalia response in order to counter our ideas when it has less substance than a run of the mill Obama speech. Oh and by the way Newt a Libertarian-Republican? Damm that was funny!

  53. #53 |  Highway | 

    But what’s ‘in kind’? Sure, if the government started rolling tanks down Main Street USA, lining people up against the wall, and mowing them down, armed insurrection would probably be a response in kind. But it’s hard to justify any actual violence to individuals as being ‘in kind’ to the government threatening to tax you or even lock you up for violating even an immoral law.

    There probably is some point where it is justified, but it’s hard to say ahead of time where that would be. In any case, at that point it’s called ‘Revolution’.

  54. #54 |  cApitalist | 

    Highway
    Thank you for the well reasoned response. And I agree, the tanks are an easy case.

    Imagine this scenario:
    Cop: Hey you! You’re smoking pot. That’s illegal. You’re coming with me.
    cAp: No. I’m going to stay here, mind my business, and smoke my joint.
    Cop: No. You’re coming with me.
    cAp: I refuse. You see, I’ve violated no one’s…*shouts and sound arguments drowned out by the thud of batons*

    Would cAp be wrong to resist this aggression by running? By blocking the blows? By fighting back? Remember, I’m not asking if it would be foolish. It would be. I’m asking if its wrong to physically resist the imprisonment/beating/murder that accompanies defying the state’s illegitimate decrees.

    If its moral to resist in this case, its moral to resist in the broad sense. There’s a reason our beliefs are founded on nonaggression as opposed to nonviolence. Just to be clear, I’m not saying such resistance is wise, only that its morally acceptable.

  55. #55 |  Joe | 

    “the unattainable dream is apparently just the notion that people might get better at leaving one another alone.”

    Yep! That’s exactly why it’s unattainable. All the evidence I’ve ever seen indicates that the desire to be left alone and make ones own decisions is usually only applied one way. That is, most people, including self-labeled libertarians, want to reserve the right to judge and control people who make decisions they disapprove of, while forbidding anyone who disagrees with them from the same.

    That said, the biggest step in the direction of so-called Libertopia I can imagine would be the abolition of incorporation and limited liability, the basest form of protectionism available. Only once that happens – when the state revokes its guarantee of corporate power – will I concede to any other kind of deregulation.

  56. #56 |  Chuchundra | 

    I love the kindergarten lessons, because when I was in kindergarten I was taught that if I had two crayons and my neighbor had none, I should give him one of mine and if I didn’t, the teacher would make me.

    The kindergarten lessons are particularly apt because I figure that the core principals of a certain flavor of libertarian is the same as that of a poorly-socialized five year-old, “what’s mine is mine and you can’t have any”

  57. #57 |  cApitalist | 

    It deeply concerns me that one could equate the relationship between sovereign rational adults and the state to that of children and a teacher. Please tell me this is just a poorly conceived analogy.

    And what the hell kind of teacher forces a student to share his own (not the classroom’s) crayons? Or does the classroom (state) by default control everyone’s crayons? This must be a public school.

  58. #58 |  BSK | 

    “I love the kindergarten lessons, because when I was in kindergarten I was taught that if I had two crayons and my neighbor had none, I should give him one of mine and if I didn’t, the teacher would make me.

    The kindergarten lessons are particularly apt because I figure that the core principals of a certain flavor of libertarian is the same as that of a poorly-socialized five year-old, “what’s mine is mine and you can’t have any””

    Chuchundra-

    If I may, I teach Pre-K and do not agree with your assessment of the values that are often instilled at this age.

    The crayons in my classroom are publicly owned. As such, they are no individual’s to keep or share. However, with certain materials which cannot be easily “shared” or used simultaneously by more than one child, I do not demand or insist on sharing. For instance, Duplos are a popular choice with the children. There are a limited number of car pieces. Sometimes, a child will start working and quickly gather all the cars and set to work with them. Another child will later want one or some cars and will get upset if they other child refuses to give them up. I do not insist or demand that they do. I am apt to demonstrate to the “hoarder” the potential result of their choices. I also demonstrate to the child wanting other ways to solve their problem. In the end, it is the child’s decision and if he/she is using all the cars, so be it; that’s life sometimes.

  59. #59 |  JOR | 

    #26,

    Whoever wants to do something for them is free to. Will that solution be perfect? No, there are no perfect practical solutions. You can try to live a decent, compassionate, moral, virtuous, and happy life as an individual. And you very well should. But you can’t save the world, and you can’t fix it. Nobody can. Not even “all of us” can do it. And trying will lead to frustration at best (and monstrous cruelty and injustice at worst). Entropy is the only ultimate end.

  60. #60 |  MacGregory | 

    Dave Krueger is right. Don’t tell me what it means to be libertarian. I am one. Fuck you. I don’t write. I act as one. The best interest of the government are rarely, if at all, yours. Dissent. We don’t need them, they need us. Us v. Them can be a has-been.

  61. #61 |  Highway | 

    The problem I have with the characterization of ‘a certain flavor of libertarianism’ as selfish and greedy is this: Why is it any more acceptable to have the idea that ‘What’s yours is mine’ than it is to have the attitude ‘What’s mine is mine’? Additionally, the concept of ‘sharing’ is not antithetical to the concept of ‘What’s mine is mine.’ The key thing is who makes the determination of what, when, and how much you share.

    cAp, I think that it’s going to be tough to justify any violence against the state until it’s post facto. There may be a question of what authority finds justification in it, whether it’s the court system of the current government or the ad hoc court of the new government. But the justification will be recognized by the rest of the society: If more people join in the resistance of the government, then it’s justified, if other people don’t, then it’s not.

    It’s really a big amorphous cloud of possibility, with no bright lines anywhere.

  62. #62 |  BSK | 

    Highway-

    I think the perception of selfishness, which is not unique to libertarianism and is generally more emblematic of humanity in general or American culture specifically (I’ve only lived in American culture so hard to know what’s universal and what’s local), is not predicated on the “What’s mine is mine” meme but on the “I’ll step over and on you to get what I want to be mine.”

    I don’t mind a “What’s mine is mine” mentality. What bothers me is that people often get what’s there’s in ethically and morally questionable ways. And I’m not just talking about guys who are sheisters… I’m talking about folks who murder, abuse, destroy, etc. to get what they perceive or want to be their’s.

  63. #63 |  BSK | 

    To elaborate, I don’t think being a ruthless business man should be illegal. I might call you an a-hole, but to each his own. But as soon as these business tactics involve bashing in the heads of union leaders, I take issue. And while this doesn’t happen anymore (hopefully), it did happen a lot in our history. And a lot of the great American business empires employed such tactics to create and protect their empires. Had they been rightfully prevented from engaging in and prosecuted for these actions, they likely would not have gotten all the theirs that is theirs. Obviously, those folks are gone and dead now, but they have past theirs down and much of theirs was gotten through grossly immoral means. So many folks, myself included, don’t really recognize of their theirs as theirs. How do we correct for this is another matter, one I don’t really have a good solution to. But when I see people, libertarian or otherwise, simply saying, “Well, they earned it so it’s theirs,” my response is, “Eh… not necessarily…”

  64. #64 |  Matt | 

    Maybe you’ve heard the phrase possession is nine tenths of the law? If a person possesses something and has not clearly acquired it through unlawful means, that person can be considered the rightful owner. Since two wrongs don’t make a right, you can’t use alleged crimes in the distant past to take someone’s property in the present. So yes, “what’s mine is mine.”

  65. #65 |  BSK | 

    Matt-

    I’m not saying that things should be taken from those people. But it’s not the most convincing argument to say, “What’s mine is mine,” when so many people (women, Native Americans, religious minorities, people of color, poor folks, etc.) were forbidden from having a “mine” and/or had whatever was their “mine” taken from them.

    I also think you are operating under a false assumption. First, I’m not sure that that phrase is actually any type of legal argument. Secondly, if I am in possession of stolen goods, even if I did not do the stealing and did not know about the stealing, it is still likely that the goods will be taken from me and returned to the owner. If I buy a car, that I think is legit, but was stolen and is discovered, my understanding is that car goes back to the owner and my only opportunity to seek redress is with the person who stole the car. Again, I’m NOT saying that should happen nowadays, but it does complicate the issue of “What’s mine is mine,” and demonstrates why so many people, myself included, are bothered by that mindset.

  66. #66 |  BSK | 

    Admittedly not a foolproof source, but a bit more info on that statement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possession_is_9/10ths_of_the_law

    To elaborate, I always use the following analogy:

    Imagine a game, with two competing sides, A and B. There is a great multitude of rules that make it easier for A to acquire points towards victory. There are other, smaller rules that make it easier for B to acquire points towards victory. The more points a side has, the easier it is for that side to continually acquire points. Over time, A has gained far more points than B, at a near exponential rate. Eventually, someone steps in and says, “This game is not fair. All the rules apply equally to everyone.” Going forward, both sides play with the same rules, but the game is not reset; the conditions achieved under the initial rules hold. As the game continues, the gap between A and B vacillates, sometimes shrinking a bit, sometimes growing a bit, but otherwise, not changing dramatically. Eventually, with all the old rules forgotten, A genuinely believes they have played the game better and earned their lead. Maybe even B thinks this as well and thinks the game is fair and hope to one day match team A. But we all know, looking at the full context, that A no more earned its advantage than was given it unfairly and arbitrarily.

    Or, to put it more succinctly, some people were born on 3rd base and think they hit a triple.

    Again, I’m not advocating that things be taken from one group to give to another. Not one bit. I’m simply pointing out that the “What’s mine is mine” mindset is palatable to folks who were denied an opportunity to acquire things for a long time and who live in a society where many possessions are passed down from generation to generation (again, not an inherently bad thing, but it leads toward an ongoing legacy of those more disparate times).

  67. #67 |  Matt | 

    Poor people, descendants of slaves, etc. may be disadvantaged, but what they have, they want to protect. Indeed, the poor are at even greater risk of having their rights violated, and suffer more for it, than the rich who can afford insurance, security guards, alarm systems etc. It’s only people who intend to steal who should find “what’s mine is mine” to be unpalatable.

  68. #68 |  BSK | 

    Matt-

    I find it unpalatable and I have no intention to steal. Oftentimes, “What’s mine is mine,” should read, “What’s now mine is mine, even though it used to be yours and was gained through ill-gotten means. But it’s mine now. So shove of.” Whether intended or not, that is how many people understand the mind set. Which makes it indeed unpalatable.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that I know what to do about the situation. But to ignore it or says it doesn’t matter is to embrace ignorance.

    I’m also not saying we should violate personal property rights. But I am saying that the staunch defenders of personal property rights often struggle to find allies when they, rightfully or not, are associated or identified with people or groups who, for so long, made it a policy of violating the personal property rights of others. And, unfortunately, this does continue to happen, albeit far differently and (hopefully) infrequently. We need only look at the Madoffs who are insisting they played no part in Bernie’s schemes and, thus, are entitled to the family windfall for evidence of this mindset.

  69. #69 |  BSK | 

    To clarify my last point, I’m not saying every personal property rights advocate is a robber baron or is associated with a robber baron. Far from it. But to hear a Carnegie talk about property rights makes me want to scream, “You can’t be serious!”

  70. #70 |  awp | 

    As to utopia. I always thought that libertarianism (at least my brand whatever the hell that is) was a pragmatic solution to the fact that people are dicks.

    I believe we need at least a minimal government to monopolize the use of force, as I have never been convinced that an anarchic system/utopia wouldn’t be subject to the law of the jungle, or might makes right.

    And that government should be limited because it is in its nature to be corrupted and or misused, which is why the communist system/utopia never works as planned.

  71. #71 |  Highway | 

    And often, the ‘robber barons’ who stole and murdered and otherwise came to possess ill-gotten goods did it with the consent, if not the outright cooperation, of the government.

    Strong property rights are the greatest friend of the guy who doesn’t have much. Without them, what he has is rightly characterized as ‘whatever the powerful people let him have’. More power centralized in government just exacerbates this problem. Strong property rights would have helped those that the railroads, figuratively, railroaded.

  72. #72 |  BSK | 

    Highway-

    I’m not opposed to strong property rights. Far from it. But I find it a bit disingenuous when those arguing on behalf of it fail to acknowledge how much of what is theirs probably wouldn’t be theirs if property rights had always been held so universally sacrosanct as they advocate for. It’s a bit of a paradox. And I fully recognize the role that the government had in ensuring this system.

    You and Matt are right that property rights are just as important, if not more so, to those who have less. As you point out, the strength of one’s property rights is often directly correlated with the amount of property the person holds, another travesty. But those people often don’t feel that way or sympathize with that line of thinking. Oftentimes, all they see is someone who robbed, cheated, lied, and stole to get their property and, having done so, suddenly want to make sure no one does the same to them. Obviously, that is not necessarily an accurate perception of reality. But it is a real perception that does exist (though probably not as extensively as my admittedly broad strokes would imply) and one that property rights advocates need to be mindful of if they truly want to recruit allies to their cause.

  73. #73 |  Matt | 

    I find it unpalatable and I have no intention to steal. Oftentimes, “What’s mine is mine,” should read, “What’s now mine is mine, even though it used to be yours and was gained through ill-gotten means. But it’s mine now. So shove of.”

    If you can show that someone is possessing stolen property, the property can be returned to its rightful owner as is current law. “What’s mine is mine” doesn’t apply to receipt of stolen goods.

  74. #74 |  Matt | 

    You know, it it takes you a lot of words to convey that life is unfair. And most of us have realized that already.

  75. #75 |  BSK | 

    Well, it depends how we define property. Is there any doubt that slavery existed? Because much of the wealth that many Southerners possessed was a direct result of slavery. And that carries forward to today. I’d argue that these people benefited from stolen labor. Obviously, it wasn’t illegal, but it was still morally repugnant and inviolate of some fundamental principals of libertarianism.

    How about Native Americans and the entirety of the American continents? One can argue that the Native Americans didn’t lay claim to the land in a way formally recognized by the Europeans, so it was never really “theirs”. But that doesn’t explain away the contracts that the government explicitly reneged on that had guaranteed certain lands remain in NA possession.

    And it’s not just about stolen property. Folks were denied the opportunity to hold or own property. So much of the property that was available was swooped up by others and never made available again.

    Have you truly realized that life is unfair? It doesn’t seem like you have. Because it’s not so much that there is an inherent lack of guaranteed equity, fairness, and equality to life. I get that. But, for a long time (and still today), life was MADE unfair. As I said before in my game analogy, the rules were explicitly created to favor some over others. And many of those rules have been taken away. But we can’t pretend that never happened.

    Or, you can choose to pretend it never happened. But you can’t get mad when your complaints about taxes as a human rights issue falls on deaf ears with people who still bear the legacy of far greater human rights abuses.

    What would you say if members of the Cherokee Nation demanded the land promised to them in the Hopwell Treaty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopewell_Treaty) back? Would you be on board them having it returned to them, being that they could make a pretty sound case that their elected leadership never ceded the land and those that did choose to leave did it under extreme pressure? It’d never happen, because legal wrangling and the unfortunate impracticality of the situation would prevent it. But if we’re talking about “What’s mine is mine,” why the hell wouldn’t we give it back?

  76. #76 |  BSK | 

    “If you can show that someone is possessing stolen property, the property can be returned to its rightful owner as is current law. “What’s mine is mine” doesn’t apply to receipt of stolen goods.”

    Unfortunately, this continues the gamed system that lead to the mass stealing in the first place.

    “We’ll take what we want until you prove to us that we shouldn’t. Because we had it in our possession, the burden of proof is on you. And, no, we won’t show you a receipt for it…”

  77. #77 |  Highway | 

    But how long do we let injustices of the past continue to allow for injustices in the present. How does opposing the idea of strong, fair, property rights help anyone who had those property rights violated in the past?

    It’s fine to be outraged, and fine to point out that “if this system had been in place, they would never have gotten to the position they’re in now”. But what does that have to do with actually implementing the system now? Is the point to say “We should go *farther*, and now take back what was taken before”? That causes a moral problem, because if stealing it was morally wrong but not illegal before, and it’s not able to be restored legally, how is stealing it back when it’s now illegal to have stolen it in the first place any better?

    A lot of people like to hold up a Potemkin Village version of ‘Libertopia’, compare it to the present, and say “You can’t get there from here”. And no, you can’t do it painlessly. Some people will be hurt. But the point of increasing freedom is that people have freedoms. And most libertarians acknowledge that there are people who won’t deal with freedom well. The question is why should unfreedom for everyone be used to counter those who can’t handle freedom?

  78. #78 |  Nick | 

    …I’m not saying every personal property rights advocate is a robber baron or is associated with a robber baron. Far from it. But to hear a Carnegie talk about property rights makes me want to scream…

    @BSK… you have to watch out not to confuse people who talk about property rights (or free markets or liberty) with those that actually support property rights (or free markets or liberty). For instance, it’s not uncommon to hear someone claim they support property rights while also supporting government control of immigration (you can’t support both).

    When it comes to violating property rights, the state is the most efficient tool the powerful have. If you have 3 minutes, check out Kevin Carson’s short piece, The Corporate Alarm Clock. Although, after reading your last comment (#75), it seems you are already familiar with how the state is used.

  79. #79 |  BSK | 

    Highway-

    I’m not arguing for stealing anything back and I’ve made repeated statements in support of that, since people who take my position often do favor radical redistribution and such. Not only do I recognize the impracticality of that, but also the moral hazard you point out. Of course, if there are legal ways to set it right, I would encourage the aggrieved to seek out those remedies (assuming the legal remedies aren’t morally bankrupt themselves; I realize that legal =/= moral).

    My larger point is how we situate a property rights movement. As I’ve said, I’m someone who is in favor of strong property rights. But many of the movements risk losing someone like myself because they seem more interested in protecting only CERTAIN property rights -or- are unsympathetic to the complaints of folks who were denied property rights for so long. I’m not saying that these complains should be appeased with a blank check written on the backs of the wealthy. But they shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed as “Marxist” or whatever the pejorative-du-jour is. How about we say, “We get that you’ve been screwed and might be still getting screwed. Let’s put a stop to the screwing, first and foremost. Then, if there is an appropriate way to remedy the situation, we’ll explore that”? Instead, we get, “What’s mine is mine,” which, as I’ve pointed out, sounds to a lot of people like, “I’ll just keep on taking what I want and there is nothing you can do about it.”

    Nick-

    Great point. It’s why I struggle with being more actively involved in the libertarian movement… many libertarians (certainly NOT all) make a big to do about certain issues, yet are woefully inconsistent in their application of the ideas. Of course, this is far from unique to the libertarian movement and is why I struggle to fully align myself fully with any singular movement (which may, in the end, be the better strategy regardless). I am only harping on libertarians here because this is a post about complaints with the libertarian party. I’ll look into that article.

  80. #80 |  BSK | 

    Nicki-

    Great read. Thanks!

  81. #81 |  Big A | 

    @#26. I agree with the others. If you want to help, go for it. If you see trash on the sidewalk and want to improve the situation, go ahead and pick it up. Just don’t make it a requirement of everyone. I bet you’d find that the less people feel they are forced to help out, the more they’d be willing to do voluntarily help simply out of goodwill towards other people (i.e. having empathy for others trying to figure out this thing called life).

  82. #82 |  Big A | 

    @#70 awp- that’s funny, I think of libertarianism principles (or at least principles of liberty) as being held by those who believe people are good, and therefore can be trusted to have freedoms. I realized this talking to a socialist who believed lots of regulations need to be in place to keep people from screwing over other people (he kept repeating the line from scrubs about “bastard-covered bastards with bastard filling).

  83. #83 |  Matt | 

    It’d never happen, because legal wrangling and the unfortunate impracticality of the situation would prevent it. But if we’re talking about “What’s mine is mine,” why the hell wouldn’t we give it back?

    Because it doesn’t belong to “us” (interpreted as the US government). It belongs to lots of landowners who are, presumably, in that region now, and who did not steal it. You would have to commit a massive wrong now against innocent people, in your attempt to right the wrongs of the past — hence the “legal wrangling”.

    I don’t know why you think I’m denying, or ignorant of, the many past injustices perpetuated against American Indians, blacks and others in US history, as well as the West generally. I acknowledge that. And while I don’t know of any depredations in my family history, it’s possible, had historical practices been different, that my situation today would be different (the butterfly effect and all that). That doesn’t change the fact that robust private property rights make us better off, rich and poor alike, and should be defended. You’re taking them too literally — they don’t go back to the beginning of time; the intention is to make questions about who controls what more straightforward and efficient. If complex litigation and historical scrutiny is needed to ascertain most property claims it ruins the whole enterprise. For communists, of course, that’s precisely the point, although you claim this isn’t your intent.

  84. #84 |  Big A | 

    @#56 Chuchundra “The kindergarten lessons are particularly apt because I figure that the core principals of a certain flavor of libertarian is the same as that of a poorly-socialized five year-old, “what’s mine is mine and you can’t have any”

    What part of a five-year old not wanting to share his crayons makes him poorly-socialized? To a five-year old, toys are some of the most valuable things in existence. Even adults are not inclined to share the things we value most (e.g. spouse, or even material goods like house and car), not because we are “poorly-socialized”, but because we do value them and don’t want them to get messed up by people who don’t value them as much).

  85. #85 |  BSK | 

    “Because it doesn’t belong to “us” (interpreted as the US government). It belongs to lots of landowners who are, presumably, in that region now, and who did not steal it. You would have to commit a massive wrong now against innocent people, in your attempt to right the wrongs of the past — hence the “legal wrangling”.”

    The government stole it and sold/gave it to private property holders. My hunch would be those people knew that Native Americans had been on the land, but let’s assume they didn’t and were completely innocent. The fact remains that Native Americans could make just the case you argue they should; that their property was stolen and they are entitled to have it back. But you say now that can’t happen. So tough luck, Native Americans. Even if they did what you said they should do, they’d get nothing for it.

    “You’re taking them too literally — they don’t go back to the beginning of time; the intention is to make questions about who controls what more straightforward and efficient. If complex litigation and historical scrutiny is needed to ascertain most property claims it ruins the whole enterprise.”

    Do you realize how self-serving this is? We’ll start looking at property rights at the moment we gained the property. Anything that happened before we took ownership is irrelevant to current standing. I don’t think we have to go back to the dawn of time. We need only go as far as the middle of the last century to find laws that directly or indirectly prevented some groups from enjoying true property rights.

    This is a major flaw in libertarian argument on this issue. In theory, inviolate property rights are a wonderful idea. In practicality, they have to deal with all those thorny issues. Many libertarians want to say, “That’s really hard to solve and happened before anyway and people nowadays weren’t directly involved, so, we’ll just ignore it.” I’m sorry, but that is a major failing and one reason, I believe, that libertarianism doesn’t have more mainstream acceptance. It’s not prepared to deal with these thorny issues which are at the core of some of their most fundamental values.

    And, yes, I realize that liberalism or conservatism is not necessarily any better at dealing with these issues, theoretically or practically. But they have their market share. Libertarians are fighting for theirs yet want to ignore one of the major criticisms of their position.

    Is it your position that resolving prior claims to property is too difficult to manage? Or that prior claims don’t matter? If it is the former, what if there are cases that are pretty cut and dry (such as the one that I mentioned)? If it is the latter, where does the statute of limitations run out? And if it is your position that we’d be committing a wrong now by “stealing back” that land… I contend that one cannot steal was never rightfully someone’s to begin with. Yes, those people are on the land now and are guilty of nothing more than being at the tail end of a shitty sequence of events. But it’s not theirs. And that might be unfair. But, hey, that’s just life, isn’t it?

  86. #86 |  BSK | 

    Big A-

    I’m a Pre-K teacher and I remember reading an article that touched on that point precisely. If you get a new car and drive it to work, does your boss say, “Now, Big A, let everyone go for a spin or don’t bring it back here again”? Probably not. So why do we do this with children? “Little Billy, if you didn’t bring enough for everyone, don’t bring any at all.”

    Now, obviously, children are not adults. Our expectations shouldn’t be the same. But they certainly shouldn’t be HIGHER for children than they are for adults. Personally, I thought the article went a bit too far, because there are practical issues that arise in a classroom that justifies limiting objects from home. Little Susie might cry all day if Little Johnny brings in his super sweet toys that she doesn’t have and never will have. Hopefully the guy in the cubicle next to you can manage to get his job done while peaking at your car through the window. Of course, there is an important lesson there for Little Susie about the realities of the world, but that isn’t the most productive use of time. Still, I teach my kids a balance of, “These belong to everyone and, at all times, must be accessible to everyone,” and “These too belong to everyone, but if one person is using them, others must sometimes wait if that person is choosing to use them exclusively.”

  87. #87 |  thorn | 

    BSK – if we’re going to pull potential Native American land issues into the pros and cons of Libertarianism, then how far back do you wish to go – and how much of the globe are you willing to redraw?

    Why stop with the Native Americas, when we could potentially go back to the Roman or Norman Conquests?

  88. #88 |  JOR | 

    BSK, I’m actually fairly sympathetic to what you’re saying, in the sense that I think some of the positions you advocate are better aligned with actual libertarian principles, but I really doubt your concerns have much to do with the real reasons libertarianism doesn’t have mainstream acceptance. When’s the last time you heard the average American worry about land stolen from Native Americans? People who do worry about that kind of stuff are nowhere near mainstream. Points though for your counter-invocation the timeless “life is unfair” justification.

  89. #89 |  BSK | 

    JOR-

    I probably am overstating it, in that way. But if libertarians ever want support in the black community or among the poor, they need to address these issues of perception. You can’t just say, “Trust us, property rights issues are more important for you than for others,” when everything that has happened to this point has told people otherwise. You have to demonstrate it. Even if you can’t get something done, you have to show that, “We get it. You got jobbed. Let’s make sure you never get jobbed again.”

    Thorn-

    If we are looking at this from an exclusively American perspective, I think it is appropriate to go as far back as the forming of America (late 1700’s). Notice I’m talking about every instance of a non-Native American inhabiting space on the American continents. I’m referring to specific treaties that the American government signed and reneged on. Slavery is a trickier issue because it preceded the founding of America and has a more complicated entanglement of private and government involvement. For Native Americans… it’s pretty clear. The government said, “You are guaranteed this land.” When the US suddenly needed or wanted that land, they said, “Sign away your land or we’ll make your lives hell. And if you don’t, we’ll move you off it anyway. Or we’ll get that guy over there, who is not an elected leader, to sign and we’ll pretend he had the authority to do so.”
    Your argument is an unfair one. I’ve kept my argument focused on America and what the American government has done. To say, “Well, should we honor DINOSAUR claims?!?!?” is just foolish and is exactly the kind of tomfoolery that this article engaged in that is intellectually dishonest.
    The American government stole land from the Native Americans. They are dutybound to return it. Anyone on that land… tough luck. It wasn’t yours to begin with. Take any issues you have up with the government.

  90. #90 |  Matt | 

    As JOR noted, revisiting old land disputes has nothing to do with libertarianism’s lack of mainstream acceptance; our views on economic and foreign policy, and civil liberties issues, often put us at odds with the mainstream. But libertarians and most everyone else agree it’s crazy to revisit these old grievances (which isn’t to say the history should be forgotten). The only people I’ve previously heard bring them up were communists who clearly sought to undermine the western idea of property.

  91. #91 |  cApitalist | 

    All the atrocities being discussed were facilitated by, if not outright perpetrated by, the state. How in the hell does pointing out such injustices constitute a criticism of Libertarian thought? These are exactly the kinds of things we’re trying to stop or prevent.

    I get what you’re all saying, but “What’s mine is mine,” is just easier to say than “my justly held property is my justly held property.” I don’t think anyone’s really overlooked these issues. Like I said, calling out the state is our thing.

  92. #92 |  Matt | 

    “Do you realize how self-serving this is? We’ll start looking at property rights at the moment we gained the property. Anything that happened before we took ownership is irrelevant to current standing.”

    Not what I said. You should have noted my earlier comment that receiving stolen property is not acceptable. Prior possession _is_ relevant, just not infinitely relevant.

    “I don’t think we have to go back to the dawn of time. We need only go as far as the middle of the last century to find laws that directly or indirectly prevented some groups from enjoying true property rights.”

    Yes, we know about this. We need to protect their rights now, not abrogate the rights of innocent people trying to create some kind of balance of victimhood.

    “This is a major flaw in libertarian argument on this issue.”

    There’s no flaw, just your strawman that libertarians don’t consider prior possession _at all_, which would make defense of any property rights rather difficult (as anyone who steals property would become the new owner).

    “In practicality, they have to deal with all those thorny issues. Many libertarians want to say, “That’s really hard to solve and happened before anyway and people nowadays weren’t directly involved, so, we’ll just ignore it.” I’m sorry, but that is a major failing and one reason, I believe, that libertarianism doesn’t have more mainstream acceptance. It’s not prepared to deal with these thorny issues which are at the core of some of their most fundamental values.”

    As noted earlier, that’s not a reason libertarianism doesn’t have mainstream acceptance. I don’t see even modern liberals arguing for this; probably they realize we are not an agrarian economy anymore and any unjust disposition of land in the 18th century has little to do with modern economic questions.

    However, I would agree libertarians tend to overestimate what can be deduced a priori, and there are thorny questions that can be difficult to answer from first principles. But I don’t think your focus on righting old land claims is especially apposite, as you haven’t offered any solution that would not be massively disruptive and unjust to people now living.

    “Is it your position that resolving prior claims to property is too difficult to manage? Or that prior claims don’t matter? If it is the former, what if there are cases that are pretty cut and dry (such as the one that I mentioned)? If it is the latter, where does the statute of limitations run out?”

    It varies, but it seems in many states the statute for theft runs out after just several years. The proper duration may of course be debated, but I don’t think it should extend decades or centuries in the past, nor do I see anyone seriously arguing for this, besides you.

    “And if it is your position that we’d be committing a wrong now by “stealing back” that land… I contend that one cannot steal was never rightfully someone’s to begin with. Yes, those people are on the land now and are guilty of nothing more than being at the tail end of a shitty sequence of events. But it’s not theirs. And that might be unfair. But, hey, that’s just life, isn’t it?”

    I don’t think I can impress upon you how intellectually vapid and untenable this position is.

  93. #93 |  thorn | 

    BSK –

    Is it also your position that the American colonists stole the country from the British Empire, or that most of the population of Canada should vacate the country and move back to France? Should a large portion of the citizens of Mexico and South America (and basically all citizens of Cuba) be evicted back to Spain?

    Land possession has changed in many ways over the centuries… war, treaty, exchange, conquest, and purchase. Not all of these ways were fair to all parties involved; there’s no argument about that. But if you’re going to address property rights as a WHOLE in history, again – you’ll be drawing a lot of new lines across the globe.

    BTW – just as a personal aside: have you personally contacted a rep from a Native American and offered to transfer to them the deed to your home… and if not, any plans in the near future to do so?

  94. #94 |  Greg C | 

    It is not true that all libertarians believe in the “rule of law” or the state.

    As far as Somalia goes, I HAVE seen libertarian sites/articles/publications that DO use Somalia as an example of a libertarian stateless society. I am not saying that to agree/disagree or ridicule those libertarians, but they do exist.

    I am not saying anarchists are the “real” libertarians, but I wouldn’t exclude them as libertarians any more than I would exclude minarchists.

  95. #95 |  JOR | 

    #94

    I’ve seen varying degrees of enthusiasm for and interest in Somalia in libertarian circles. I’ve seen libertarians claim it’s stateless; I haven’t seen any actual self-identifying libertarians claim that it’s a libertarian paradise. I’ve seen plenty of critics of libertarianism make that claim.

    As an anarchist, I see the state as a particularly large and particularly deep problem, but I don’t think it’s the only problem in the world (or even the only threat to anarchist principles or ideals). Not all stateless societies are created equal, any more than all state-bearing societies are created equal. And it’s perfectly possible for a state-bearing society to be more libertarian (or otherwise pleasant) than a stateless society, just as it’s perfectly possible for a fat guy to be healthier than a muscular guy (if the muscular guy, say, has AIDS or something). Somalia is an interesting case in a lot of ways; attempts to saddle Somalis with a state have been tragic at best and they’ll probably be better off without one than with one, but it’s not the sort of society I’m particularly interested in living in, as an anarchist.

  96. #96 |  BSK | 

    I just find it incredibly convenient that all the blather about strong personal property rights wants to ignore the legal claims of Native American groups. Again, I’m not saying any person who touched a leaf going back to antiquity deserves exclusive ownership over the entirety of the North American continent. But the US Government negotiated specific and explicit treaties with Native Americans, guaranteeing them exclusive rights over certain lands. When the US Government changed their mind and decided they wanted this land back, they simply violated the treaties and pushed the Indians off their property. You really don’t think they have a legitimate claim to get the land back? That land was stolen. Plain and simple. There are legal documents demonstrating the Native Americans claims. They have attempted legal proceedings but have been railroaded by the courts system because of the difficulty in sorting out the claims. The idea that we can’t look back 150 years (which is only as far as we need to go) and remedy these wrongs is nonsense. Otherwise, we permit the government to continue to engage in these behaviors and just wait out the necessary time period to ignore all complaints.

  97. #97 |  phlinn | 

    BSK, you might want to look at the Coase Theorem. As I understand it and simplified, as transaction costs approach 0, the distribution of wealth approaches optimal, regardless of starting conditions. Most government regulation, whatever else it does, serves to increase transaction costs. Your example of the game changing to fair rules and then forever leaving the status quo in place doesn’t actually happen.

  98. #98 |  BSK | 

    Phlinn-

    That was a loose analogy. And I’m still not sure how the Coase Theorem is relevant.

    My fundamental point had to do with one poster’s contention that libertarians are wrongly perceived as greedy because they possess a “What’s mine is mine” mentality. I argued that the perception exists in some circles because many feel that what people are claiming are theirs were achieved through immoral and/or illegal means, directly or indirectly. That is not to say that that perception is accurate. But it certainly has enough of a basis in fact that to dismiss it leaves libertarians will little room to argue against it. It is hard to claim to be an advocate of fierce property rights while ignoring some of the most egregious violations of property rights by a state in their handling of Native Americans. If you want to be seen as level-headed and fair-minded and not particularly selfish, you can’t really take a tact that implicitly states, “THESE property rights matter and THOSE ones don’t.” Even if your argument is largely regarding the practical, you’re still pissing on people’s legs and trying to tell them it’s raining.

  99. #99 |  JOR | 

    There is no optimum allocation of wealth, except in the sense that at any given point in time, the status quo is the exact optimum (even wealth that has been allocated by outright robbery is where it “should” be, from an amoral, purely praxeological view). Just as, at any given point, the ecosystem is exactly as it “should” be (even “weak” creatures can be adapted to their niche, and even creatures on the way out are currently constituted such to be exactly where they are – on the way out, rather than completely extinct).

    The same goes for utilitarian fantasies about “optimum” levels of overall pleasure, or overall freedom.

  100. #100 |  JOR | 

    Or as Kevin Carson says it, “Okay, no more theft, starting… NOW.”

    To be fair there are plenty of libertarians who would acknowledge the seriousness of US thefts from American Indians (to mention nothing of complicty in and active enforcement of slavery) but also think that it would be unjust to dispossess current property holders in favor of now-living individuals who have, at best, tenuous connection to the victims of ancient aggression. Some anarchists have an interesting solution to this problem: when the state is dismantled, historically oppressed or dispossessed groups get first claims on government assets. I suppose even a minarchist could make such a solution work. Of course, that’s a fanciful dream, but then, so is the idea of getting the government to address its old wrongs, when it doesn’t even bother to address its recent wrongs, or even seriously try to avoid future wrongs.

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