Libertarians and Compassion

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Are the two compatible?

I ask this question not because I think that libertarians are lacking a basic human emotion (I don’t believe you are), but because politically, I think it needs explanation if libertarian thought is going to be able to reach a larger audience.

Let me explain….when reading a recent interview that Brian Dougherty from Reason did with Ron Paul, Paul said:

The biggest challenge for conservatives and libertarians is to convince people who think being libertarian means you have no compassion, and in politics you better have compassion.

He’s right, in politics you better have compassion. That’s especially true when unemployment is high(at 9% or above 15% if you look at the U6 that includes the underemployed and discouraged). There’s no possible way you can argue that every person in this country who doesn’t have a job right now is in that position because they’re lazy and want to mooch off of the government, or aren’t serious about finding work. It’s a tough time, and companies (the largest of which by the way are raking in record profits) are not hiring.

So how do you convince voters that you have their best interest in mind, and have compassion, and understand their needs if you don’t believe in welfare, unemployment benefits, social security, medicare, medicaid, etc? Unemployment in particular.

I’m genuinely interested in what you agitators have to say…how do you convince Americans that libertarians have compassion, while believing that the government shouldn’t give them any? If not to the government, where else do they turn?

Mike Riggs and I mentioned this in an interview on my program the other night, when Ron Paul officially declared his 2012 candidacy, if you care to check it out.

[Alyona]

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77 Responses to “Libertarians and Compassion”

  1. #1 |  Highway | 

    Well, I think it’s very tough, because it’s not the definition of ‘compassion’ to the libertarian that matters. It’s the definition of ‘compassion’ to the person who wants something. So if you don’t want to give them something they want, they will dismiss you as uncompassionate.

    I think maybe the only way to do it, and hopefully get people to understand it, is to try to separate the compassion of the individual from the fake ‘compassion’ of the government. Plenty of people care about the other people around them. Plenty of people see heartbreak and tragedy and tough times, and their hearts go out to them, but can’t see a remedy being “Hey, I’m gonna make Joe and Peter and Eddie and Susan and Farhad and Edwina and Bobbi and everyone else give you some of their money.”

    It’s definitely tough, because people see other people doing OK, and think “Well, they should share.” Unfortunately, I really can’t countenance that sort of outright greed. You’re having a tough time? Well, I’m sorry about that, really I am. But your tough time shouldn’t *obligate* someone to help you. I’m not going to go full Rand Paul and call that ‘slavery’, but it does start riding close to a line. And it could be argued that we’re on that line. As you seem to acknowledge, Alyona, people think the government is the only place to turn. And the government is *happy* to be that place, because it aggregates power to government to be there.

    Ultimately, a lot comes down to ‘it’s for your own good’, and people are really bad at hearing that. They didn’t like it when they were kids, even when their parents turned out to be right. And when they have the opportunity to vote, and make a fuss, and make sure they don’t have to do things ‘for their own good’, then they’re not going to accept it.

  2. #2 |  Q.E.D. | 

    (i) I support a system in which the state shall not prevent charitable acts.
    (ii) Therefore I am charitable.

  3. #3 |  perlhaqr | 

    There’s no possible way you can argue that every person in this country who doesn’t have a job right now is in that position because they’re lazy and want to mooch off of the government, or aren’t serious about finding work. It’s a tough time, and companies (the largest of which by the way are raking in record profits) are not hiring.

    To take these in reverse order: Of course they’re raking in “record profits”, the dollar is worth less than ever before.

    I think many places are not hiring, and many people who want to work are not finding the opportunity to work, because companies don’t know what costs of employment the government is going to impose upon them next. And even aside from that, any time you look at opening a business, or expanding a business, there’s more and more and more hoops to jump through, more government bureaucrats who’ve never worked an honest job in their life standing in the way, more regulations to deal with.

    I think the vast majority of unemployed people in this country would work if there were opportunities, and there would be more opportunities if the government wasn’t sucking tax dollars out of companies that they might otherwise use to hire more employees.

  4. #4 |  douglas | 

    This topic is very frustrating, and one that has really hobbled “big L” libertarians in that this vision of non-compassion is a cornerstone of “liberty” in the libertarian viewpoint. But then again most people think that all libertarians just want to smoke tax-free weed, so I’m pretty much given up on convincing anyone otherwise.

    The problem with the two mainstream parties, and there is little difference between them, is that they’re both looking to spread as much tax dollars around to their constituents to keep getting elected, so they can get more money. This is obvious. What I find baffling in your characterization of the lack of compassion of libertarians is this: How could anyone be so gullible in thinking what the government does with tax money is compassion? After a hurricane, flood, tornado. . .how is any of that “compassion?” You can’t be compassionate with other people’s money.

    But, even if you want to extrapolate some of these programs, going all the way back to LBJ’s great society, we have spent more in federal tax money to flat out buy everyone below the poverty line out of it. This isn’t assistance, this is a hand out, yet, 50 years later and guess what? Poverty still exists. This pisses off libertarians because it takes money from those that earn it, give it to those that don’t, and it still doesn’t work.

    So tell me, what’s compassionate about continuing a bottomless pit of inescapable welfare where there’s no motivation or incentive to get a job or an education? What’s compassionate about federally secured insurance that encourages people to build houses, year after year, on the flood plain, below sea level, or in hurricane alley? No one, not even a libertarian, wants to see people starving in the street, or homeless due to natural disasters. But it’s never the government’s fault that these occur, but usually exasperated by some inane government policy or program.

    Also, in another rant of mine, people would be MUCH more prone to lend a hand to their neighbor or donate to private charities if their city, county, state and federal governments didn’t take over half of their earnings.

  5. #5 |  Steven | 

    Libertarianism and compassion are absolutely compatible. Libertarianism takes no inherit position on compassion and performing compassionate acts. It leaves the decision to the individual, which is too scary for most people to want to allow.

    The collective morality of any given society is a very fickle thing. What is considered moral one day could easily become immoral overnight, and vice versa. This is fine for most people, as most people follow the crowd and go along to get along without ever putting much thought into why. There are, however, a few of us who cleave to more timeless principles and not what’s in vogue at the moment.

    For some reason, people consider Ayn Rand to be the prototypical libertarian. It’s a myth that libertarians are like Ayn Rand, though certainly some are. Some of us despise her philosophy mightily. However barren, empty and meaningless her creed appears to me, I recognize that standing up for her right to pursue soulless self-interest also stands up for my right to live a meaningful, self-directed life of service to my own deeply-ingrained, unchanging moral code, even when society’s morality flips 180 degrees. Enduring narcissists and self-centered people is part of the price of freedom.

    The only reasonable political stance that is consistent with this view is a government with a very limited ability to interfere in the lives of her citizens.

    True morality cannot be proclaimed by fiat. It isn’t brought into being, nor is it wiped out of existence, by legislation. When day becomes night, and the groups the government is protecting today become the groups they oppress tomorrow, people discover too late that the outstretched “helping hand” of the government is in fact a mailed fist.

    Like atheists and other groups who are defined more by what they aren’t or don’t want, I imagine libertarians are a harder group to stereotype and pigeon-hole than other political types. Of course, that doesn’t stop anybody from trying.

  6. #6 |  Phil D | 

    I would argue the question should be asked in reverse. Where is the compassion for the single mother who gets up in the morning every day to work at McDonald’s for $9.00/hr to make ends meet? Where is the compassion for the person who toils as a ranch hand for $10/hr just to make enough to get by? Heck, even where is the compassion for the illegal immigrant who leaves everything behind, comes to a country where they know no one and do not speak the language, all to pick fruit for less than minimum wage?

    We have people in this country collecting unemployment benefits making as much or MORE MONEY than many who work full-time. That is morally wrong. Wouldn’t you feel like a total sucker working your tail off and taking home less money than someone who doesn’t work at all? Does the person who sits at home collecting a check equal to or greater than many who work feel any compassion?

    And I disagree with the premise that almost everyone who doesn’t have a job isn’t lazy or isn’t looking for work. Go to almost any fast food restaurant, mall or any place where there are low wage jobs and you can find work. But the unemployed aren’t interested in those jobs, because they figure it’s better to sit home and collect your $500-$600 per week and than actually work for it.

  7. #7 |  elcid1390 | 

    There’s better ways to help people than having the government take a percentage of your money (how much being determined in the most opaque way imaginable) than taking an even smaller percentage of that amount (like any organizations, government has overhead; unlike any other it has little concrete incentive to keep it as low as possible) and putting it into a fund, some of which is than doled out to people whose problems may have more to do with any number of externalities that have nothing to do with their un/underemployment. Some of these externalities might even be caused by the policies of the very government which presumes to take care of those people in the first place (I’m looking at you, Drug War).

    The implicit threat of violence involved in taxation also transforms an act of compassion (alleviating someone else’s burdens by sharing of your own “left over” wealth) into something akin to robbery via third party.

    Interview is listed as being conducted by Brian Doherty, btw.

  8. #8 |  Kirsten | 

    It’s not that I believe that the government “shouldn’t” give people compassion. It’s that the government “doesn’t”, “won’t”, and for the most part “can’t” give it.

    If a cop shoots a citizen what happens? If a citizen shoots a cop what happens? Punishment will be swift and harsh when the offender is the citizen, but slow and mild- if any is meted out at all- when the offender is the government agent.

    Fat cat salaried executives are considered “too big to fail” and rake in bonuses as we are forced deeper into debt to bail them out. But if you’re the little guy on unemployment because you were laid off from your minimum wage plus $1 an hour job, the state has no problem shaving 4-6 weeks off your benefits.

    That same state is so “compassionate” that it’s willing to ruin thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lives over victimless crimes. Look at the recent wave of raids on medical marijuana facilities, the Raich decision by the Supreme Court, the Peter McWilliams case, and so on.

    I think this notion that the government has anything to do with compassion is simply an illusion.

  9. #9 |  Nate | 

    It’s a lot easier to define what isn’t compassion to a libertarian. If you see an orphan with leprosy on the street and a large troll approaches you and says he can use magic to cure the orphan, it is not compassion to feed him two orphans to do it.

    On the what actually is compassion front it’s really a dammed if you do dammed if you don’t situation. The solution is to do it yourself. Plenty of libertarian minded individuals do donate their own time and money to worthy causes, but the larger populace seems to see some impure taint to it. And I have no solution at hand to convince people that there is no ulterior motive.

  10. #10 |  Difster | 

    We’ve had a mentality foisted on us in this country that for some problems, government is the only answer. Only the government can really help the needy on a large scale. Private charity is good but it can only go so far and we shouldn’t rely on people to give voluntarily because what if they don’t?

    But this mentality flies in the face of reality. In reality, government is force. Any act of compassion, help, assistance or other benevolent act is always handed out with one hand while the government holds a big sledge hammer in the other.

    Government does nothing but what promotes its own growth and thirst for power. Even warlords in the Serengeti know that they have to give stuff away to ingratiate themselves to those they would maintain power over. It’s just that we do it in a more sophisticated manner and call it compassion.

    Ultimately, the welfare state creates more poor people by its very existence. How is that compassionate? How is taking money from productive, hard working people and giving it to others compassionate? How is inter-generational welfare compassionate?

    A California judge has just ruled that there is no right to carry a concealed weapon. How is disarming people and forcing them to be compliant victims to armed criminals compassionate?

    How is sending thousands of American servicemen to their deaths in unconstitutional and undeclared wars in the middle east compassionate?

    Nothing the government does has the underlying motive of compassion no matter what terms they couch it in. Government acts in its own best interest and sometimes that means appearing to be compassionate even though it never actually works out that way.

    I challenge you to name one thing that the government can do in a compassionate capacity that cannot and should not be handled voluntarily between individuals.

  11. #11 |  Miko | 

    From a philosophical angle, the state has nothing of its own. Just as all of its money is stolen from others, so is all of its compassion. So, this portion of libertarianism is just about reallocating compassion in more efficient ways. This argument is, of course, completely unconvincing to nonlibertarians.

    The problem is one of signaling, or showing people that you care without the trouble of actually caring: the average Democratic or Republican politician is far less compassionate than the average libertarian (as compassionate candidates are unable to attract the campaign funds necessary to get on the ballot). They’re just better at pretending to care by hiding the details of their proposals to rob the poor behind nice sounding names like “The Warm Fuzzy Kitten Anti-Povery Program.” Rationally, most voters aren’t going to bother to dig into the details and most of those who do aren’t going to understand the economics well enough to dispute the claims of the politicians anyway, so the political libertarian is left with the two unappealing choices of either 1) becoming just as despicable as the statist politician or 2) losing.

    Politics is rigged against libertarianism and so libertarians should avoid it. Instead, we need to focus on building alternative institutions and showing people that they work, without bothering with political rhetoric.

  12. #12 |  ThinkAnarchy | 

    If someone equates compassion with government handouts than I’m a complete asshole. Why should anyone defend themselves when the the definition of compassion is narrow and flawed. Ron Paul has a reason to explain it, but the question is so idiotic that when people propose it, I ignore them. I shouldn’t have to explain what compassion is.

  13. #13 |  Chris | 

    There are those of us who like to think “We the people…” are compassionate. That is that we as a whole are the governing people of this nation have decided that, as a society, we need to help the individuals who have been given less in their lives. Yet everyday the list of people who have been “given less in their lives” grows and we continue to shower them with “compassion”. I’ve been on unemployment. I’ll never, ever, ever, ever, and I mean ever apply for it again. I only wish I could stop paying into that horrible service so I could use that cash to improve my situation in life.

    Seriously, there was nothing life-saving about unemployment. Time consuming is more like it, and by definition that is life wasting. Time better spent looking for new work is spent filing paperwork to get a claim on the money you deserve. Now they’re talking about drug testing these people. At whose expense? Theirs? And then you’re going to cut them out of a program they paid into for the same years you did?

    More of your tax dollars are used to buy guns, tanks, battle ships, and many other devices created with the intent to destroy than anything else. Real compassionate government you got there.

  14. #14 |  CharlesWT | 

    There’s no possible way you can argue that every person in this country who doesn’t have a job right now is in that position because they’re lazy and want to mooch off of the government, or aren’t serious about finding work.

    It is illegal for a lot of people to have a job or be self employed. Libertarians would remove those barriers.

  15. #15 |  Tom | 

    One can argue that the productive private sector workers who have been laid off had their jobs stolen by the government. Removing the bloat from government programs and clamping down on ludicrously well paid bureaucrats would probably help to distribute jobs more equitably.

  16. #16 |  Corkscrew | 

    My one-stop answer to many things, this included:

    It took FEMA three days to get water to the Superdome.

    (Thanks to Die Hard 3 for weaponising this particular cutting retort.)

  17. #17 |  varmintito | 

    This is a great question, and the only responses so far from the libertarians are cloying self-pity, angry defiance, and disingenuous straw-clutching.

    Libertarians as individuals might be moved to perform compassionate acts (I trust it happens regularly), but libertarianism, as a political philosphy is antithetical to compassion. Indeed, it rejects the notion that the state can act compasisonately, even when it creates structures designed solely to protect our most vulnerable fellow citizens, because they rests of a foundation of coercive taxation.

    Before the New Deal, we had a few millenia to test the idea that private acts of compassion would be enough to protect our most vulnerable and least powerful. What we got was children crippled by hard labor before they could shave, men who had worked hard all their life cast aside like garbage once their bodies gave out, and so on and so on.

    It’s all fine and well to fume about how taxation and spending on social programs for the poor, sick, elderly, and unemployed is an insult to free will. That may be a rational view. That may be an efficient view. That may be a pareto optimal view.

    It is not a compassionate view.

    If it does too much violence to your self-image to accept the ground truth that libertarianism is not compassionate, then find another political philosphy. And, to quote the resolutely practical and uncompassionate Henry Higgins, cease this detestable boo hooing immediately.

  18. #18 |  Kevin Carson | 

    One thing that might shed a little historical light on the subject is accounts by people like Pyotr Kropotkin and E.P. Thompson of the state’s active suppression of working class associations for mutual aid, on the grounds that such voluntary mechanisms for pooling income and risk might reduce workers’ need for wage labor or increase their bargaining power. Sick and unemployed people who get help through a friendly society, who trade their skills through a labor-notes or other barter system, who work in producer co-ops organized by their unions, and who otherwise shift part of their needs from wage labor to the informal and household economy, have a bit more ability to walk away from the bargaining table. And the party with the power to walk away controls the bargain.

    If you look at the effect of various “health” and “safety” codes, zoning, occupational licensing, the enforcement of artificial absentee title to vacant and unimproved land, etc., in most cases it’s to artificially raise the capitalization and overhead costs required to undertake production even when the actual means of production are cheap. Or to raise the costs of subsistence (e.g. outlawing housing self-built by unconventional techniques, including user-friendly modular components). In either case, that means raising the fixed costs of living and hence the revenue stream required to service them.

    You might check out Charles Johnson’s article in The Freeman, “Scratching By,” which I’m too lazy to look up at this late hour.

  19. #19 |  varmintito | 

    Kevin @15: I’m all for increasing the ability of the average american worker to bargain. Creating the conditions for self-help and removing artificial barriers that entrench unearned advantage are peachy.

    But they don’t have much to do with compassion. Repeal all the zoning and occupational licensing laws you like, it still takes tax revenue to provide school lunch for poor kids or help for adults with autism who need lots of support when they’re learning how to live more independently.

  20. #20 |  John Spragge | 

    It seems to me that libertarianism boils down to a simple proposition: giving some people power over others doesn’t work. As a principle, this makes sense in most situations, and making compassion the reason to exercise power over other people does not actually deliver compassionate results. The drug war, for example, started out with the stated intention of saving addicts from themselves, and ended up producing one of the highest rates of incarceration on the globe.

    If libertarians tie themselves in knots over economic issues, I suspect it arises from a central economic paradox, one which libertarians appear to avoid. People play a central role in the economic process, but our lives transcend economics. The economic system exists to promote human values: dignity, hope, decency and, yes, compassion. Therefore, we cannot permit economic processes to violate these values, and we have to approach economic losses in that spirit. We have an elegant social welfare program to protect entrepreneurs called incorporation. Stripped of all the mystification sometimes associated with it, the limited liability corporation exists to transfer risk, and therefore loss, from entrepreneurs to the public at large. If you ever had a layaway plan or a pension or a consumer protection plan with a company that went belly up, you know what happened: the government effectively stepped in and transferred your claim, your just property, to the benefit of the proprietors and profit participents. They get to keep their house, savings, and kids’ college fund. People who paid into the layaway plan go without their furniture, workers lose all or part of their pensions, and the consumers have nobody to fix their broken appliances.

    Obviously, this works well for the owning and risk-taking classes, and to the extent that entrepreneurs benefit society, it works for everyone else as well. But equally clearly, without some check, this system puts the people who write business plans and make investments at a tremendous and unacceptable advantage over the people who drive the trucks, sweep the floors, stock the shelves, splice the wires, and generally turn ideas and risks into useful business realities. On these grounds if no other, I find Milton Friedman’s proposal for a negative income tax, basically a guaranteed annual income, a compelling solution. It has the advantage of elegance, similar to incorporation, it removes discretion from government officials, it provides at least a modicum of fairness, and it upholds the principle that the property system, and the economic system as a whole, exists for people and not the other way around.

  21. #21 |  damaged justice | 

    Are you compassionate enough to help people, or only so much as to force others to do so?

  22. #22 |  MikeZ | 

    The trouble with this question is people thinking this out too much. It seems to me that Libertarianism actually has a basic philosophy that ideas can be measured against so naturally people choose to measure them against all problems to their logical absurdity. I believe there will always be some government aid programs even with the ideal libertarian government. Its not a perfect world and no one strategy would ever plays out to its Utopian ideal. What exactly are the Democrat /Republican philosophies? Are they actually more compassionate? I don’t think the big two parties should get a pass on this question because they don’t have a philosophy. Or at least one that can be expressed.

    To answer the question, I can be a libertarian and even think that a lot of government harms social welfare causes more harm than good, but that does not I would abolish all welfare programs tomorrow if I were elected. Stripping down a government to a libertarian ideal is a process that would take 50+ years. Certainly the process would start with removing the government restrictions to individual prosperity and hopefully the need for some of the social welfare programs would be reduced. If not then certainly there is still time to rethink the strategy.

  23. #23 |  Z | 

    I don’t think Libertarians are opposed to unemployment etc because they lack compassion. (Leave that to the conservatives who shamelessly want to turn the U.S into Guatemala.) I just think they are naive. Take the controversy over the civil rights act of 1964: Many libertarians are opposed because they see it as government meddling. They also see racism as fundamentally anti-market and deeply irrational: who would willingly throw away profits? But the fact is, many people were willing to do that, based either on racial pride, a need to fit in with the community or other non-economic factors. Too often Libertarians see the world as a seamless rational enterprise rather than the disorganized clusterfuck it actually is.

  24. #24 |  varmintito | 

    Damaged justice @21:

    Short answer: yes.

    Slightly longer answer: in terms of solving our country’s problem, there is no real difference.

    The scale of the challenges we face are so vast that they cannot be solved with personal virtue, no matter how great. It’s sort of like the crack about the Air Force having to hold a bake sale to build a B-1.

    IOoo

  25. #25 |  damaged justice | 

    What you mean ‘we’, paleface?

  26. #26 |  ktc2 | 

    The largest companies are making record profits in many industries by auctioning off American’s jobs to the lowest third world bidder. Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that offshore outsourcing is good for America but I’m not buying it. I’ve worked in three major industries in the last 30 years, all of them heavily outsourced now. How many times can one be expected to start over in a new career? I keep hearing that each will be replaced by new better jobs. These new jobs are always just a promise with no specifics and even when they do sometimes happen it’s only until they also are inevitably offshored.

  27. #27 |  ktc2 | 

    The largest companies are making record profits in many industries by auctioning off American’s jobs to the lowest third world bidder. Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that offshore outsourcing is good for America but I’m not buying it. I’ve worked in three major industries in the last 30 years, all of them heavily outsourced now. How many times can one be expected to start over in a new career? I keep hearing that each will be replaced by new better jobs. These new jobs are always just a promise with no specifics and even when they do sometimes happen it’s only until they also are inevitably offshored.

  28. #28 |  ktc2 | 

    The largest companies are making record profits in many industries by auctioning off American jobs to the lowest third world bidder. Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that offshore outsourcing is good for America but I’m not buying it. I’ve worked in three major industries in the last 30 years, all of them heavily outsourced now. How many times can one be expected to start over in a new career? I keep hearing that each will be replaced by new better jobs. These new jobs are always just a promise with no specifics and even when they do sometimes happen it’s only until they also are inevitably offshored.

  29. #29 |  Highway | 

    varmintito’s responses here are perfect examples of begging the question. It seems his entire worldview is based on the assumption that “If there is a specific problem, the only solution is government, and since that is the only solution, then whether one has ‘compassion’ is solely dependent on whether one answers “Yes, the government has to ‘solve’ these problems” or “No, the government cannot ‘solve’ these problems.”

    What are these ‘challenges’ that government is solving? If they’re solvable by government, then why aren’t they ‘solved’ yet? All these ‘challenges’ have been around for over 50 years. And yet they’re still not ‘solved’. You’d think that in that amount of time, government could actually solve *something*, if it was so compassionate and capable. But it hasn’t, and it can’t.

    So how is it ‘compassionate’ to continue to drain the productivity of this country to hand power to government that continues to ratchet up the ways it treats people like serfs?

  30. #30 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Libertarians are compassionate in the sense that they:

    1. support genuine equal treatment under the law.
    2. oppose the enabling of people to perpetually live off the state.
    3. oppose the inflated cost of education resulting from government run schools.
    4. support the individual right to work without unnecessary licensing and without being coerced to join and finance a union.
    5. oppose the wholesale incarceration of poor people and minorities under the pretext of a drug war.
    6. oppose partnerships between government and business that lines the pocket of both at the expense of the public.
    7. oppose the entitlements that tax the poor working class to finance the rich retired class.
    8. oppose tariffs and other import restrictions that artificially raise costs for the poor in the U.S.
    9. oppose consensual crime laws that divert law enforcement resources from solving violent crime problems that hit low income neighborhood most.
    10. oppose government involvement in health care which has forced the cost of medical services beyond the reach of the poor.
    11. oppose corporate income taxes which are largely borne by consumers and labor.
    12. oppose federal food and drug laws that increase the cost of both.
    13. oppose laws that pay farmers not to farm.
    14. oppose ethanol subsidies (as well as all others) which inflate the cost of food.
    15. oppose the minimum wage which forces poor people out of work in the name of helping poor people.
    16. oppose the fed which discourages savings and decreases the values of money.
    17. oppose excess government spending because it saddles every productive human being (which excludes a majority of, if not all, government employees) with the burden of having to pay for it (now or in the future).

    The list is probably endless, but the fact is that almost everything that libertarians support will benefit the poor, whereas most of what the two major parties do is designed to line the pockets of politicians, corporations, and special interests at the expense of ordinary productive working people (and of you need evidence of that, just look around you). Everything you do as an individual is taxed in some way, whether it’s from an explicit tax or by the favored treatment of a particular industry. They take a chunk of your money (no matter how much you make) when you earn it and then another chunk when you spend it. And you had better spend it quick because it’s losing money constantly as the government manipulates the money supply to the benefit of itself and the banks.

    So, in summary, the libertarians are compassionate because they don’t see that dollar bill in your hand and immediately start scheming to figure out a way to get it away from you (either for themselves or their friends).

  31. #31 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Why the he’ll don’t we just pretend to have compassion while fucking everything up? Works for Repubs and Dems.

  32. #32 |  Mike T | 

    The reason libertarianism cannot gain traction here is that most libertarians have no ability to degrade their principles to work with human nature and history when necessary. Julian Sanchez made a good point about this on Rand Paul:

    Libertarians need to think harder about how our principles should degrade elegantly, how they can guide us through a fallen world where the live political options seldom afford a full escape from injustice. Rand Paul’s 2.0 view (which came out during his interview with Ingraham) suggests a shift toward just this sort of approach. How far it could be extended to other forms of discrimination — against the disabled, the elderly, women, gays — should be determined not by a blanket assumption that government can always restrict associational rights in the name of equality, but by a fact-intensive, case-by-case inquiry that factors in both the state’s past complicity in depriving groups of their rights and the extent to which those groups would in practice be systematically denied equal participation in society absent state correction. And in each case, the ultimate goal of regulation should be to render itself unnecessary.

    In an economy with an official unemployment rate of 9.5%+ and an unofficial one that’s probably twice that, ordinary people don’t want to hear about the virtues of unskilled immigrants. Simply, shut the fuck up about them. When minimally and unskilled Americans who compete with them in even a great economy are out of work and their kids are going without, you’ve just shot in the head every successive argument you could make to them. Likewise, people don’t want to hear about getting rid of entitlement programs during this time.

    Defenders of individual liberty, be they doctrinaire libertarians, conservatives or others, have to make peace with these facts and find a different way to approach things. Instead of focusing on welfare right now, libertarians should be talking about “empowerment of workers” to make their own way. A consistent and simple message of making it easy for any normal worker to draw an income from a small business here, odd jobs there, etc.

    Any rhetoric about welfare and unemployment should be about maximizing efficiency to make sure “the right people get it” and to encourage people to work. One of the things that Ron Paul should be running on is a platform to reform unemployment so you can draw a paycheck that’s substantially less than your previous job and receive the difference between the two jobs’ paychecks in unemployment for a while instead of an all or nothing. It would be very easy to turn that it into a human dignity argument about the value of work and that would steal a substantial amount of the left’s thunder on economic issues.

  33. #33 |  ktc2 | 

    Wow! Sorry for the multiple posts! My browser kept locking up after I hit “Submit Comment” but before it was posted (or so it appeared).

  34. #34 |  Alyona Minkovski | 

    Thanks for all the responses! And yes, someone corrected me, the interview is conducted and posted by Brian Dougherty, not Jacob Sullum, my mistake!

  35. #35 |  SamK | 

    Guess I’m the token socialist libertarian time to get my licks…

    No philosophy is (or should be) absolute, especially in practical application…life’s too damned complex. When I get criticized for claiming the term ‘libertarian’ it’s generally because ‘those people are crazy’ which usually follows from application of the philosophy as an absolute. My beliefs are that, in general, we should leave people alone. This includes when making a living from their own labor and without any labor from another. In practice, however, everything people do affects other people…everything. We operate as groups whether individuals like it or not…even Ted Kaczynski ended up interfacing with the group if only to bomb it, though hermits are a bit of an outlier. Working to raise yourself up means working to support the group or it means working to suppress the group and steal from them. Libertarians do seem to follow a philosophy of leaving people alone economically…I dislike this as an absolute because it is very easy once minimal economic power is obtained to steal rather than produce (kind of what libertarians are against in the government). I know, I work in business and run a tiny LLC myself. It’s far easier to take than to make, simply by setting up (or taking advantage of) a situation in which the mass of individuals is desperate and have little to no choice in their economic decisions. Even something as simple as housing in a small town produces a situation where, for decades, it is too expensive to build a cheap-ass home even if you do it yourself, and the lack of housing allows us landlords to do as we damned well please. The old rentals I buy are in ridiculously bad shape…anymore I just look for a solid frame and foundation and plan on dumping ten grand into them for wiring, sheetrock, pipes, etc. I never advertise. I don’t have to, housing is too short. Is this lack of housing due to government policies? Maybe, but it’s a damned long argument…we’re in the middle of nowhere with minimal resources immediately available. I can build a mud hut cheap and easy, but a modern home? Shit takes resources and they’re not out here. Resources care not for your political or economic philosophy, they just are. The government could artificially lower the cost of materials by subsidizing building etc but we’re getting into more convoluted arguments now. The anecdote is intended to illustrate that this much is simple: Resource limitations exist, couple them with greed and power imbalances (natural and unavoidable) and people get taken advantage of. This is not earning a profit, it’s sucking the life out of your fellow man on purpose. The government does it, big business does it, and we should hate it. Socialists have a bad name for giving government a pass to do it, libertarians have a bad name for giving business a pass to do it. For libertarianism to be compassionate it must accept that it is a simple philosophy, a place to start, not a final solution. The complexity of human nature requires more than a belief that life is best when individuals are left alone and free markets reign, it’s going to take action in the situations where those philosophies don’t work.

  36. #36 |  rmv | 

    We all work on the margin, and that’s where the question has to be directed.

    If we’re talking about the consequences of compassionate political actions:
    http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2008/Powellsweatshops.html

    “In one famous 1993 case U.S. senator Tom Sharking proposed banning imports from countries that employed children in sweatshops. In response a factory in Bangladesh laid off 50,000 children. What was their next best alternative? According to the British charity Oxfam a large number of them became prostitute”

    What’s more compassionate, signalling my compassion or supporting policies that don’t force other people to take second-best option?

    In politics, signalling is what matters, not the results.

  37. #37 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #32 Mike T

    The reason libertarianism cannot gain traction here is that most libertarians have no ability to degrade their principles to work with human nature and history when necessary.

    That would definitely include me. I’m inflexible. I don’t believe you can pick and choose on what issues to be libertarian and what issues to be an advocate for the nanny state or police state.

    Asking me to compromise my stand on shrinking government and maximizing individual liberty would be like asking me, an atheist, to believe in god sometimes, because being an atheist alienates people.

    I’m not bothered in the least by the fact that libertarians can’t get anyone elected to public office. Libertarians can’t get anyone elected is because they can’t get hardcore libertarians to compromise on their principles, which is exactly why I still refer to myself as a libertarian.

    If you want to get people elected, join a party corrupt enough to get people elected, but if you want to stick to your principles, you’d better be content in being a tiny minority. I prefer the latter.

  38. #38 |  Phelps | 

    Ultimately it is the wrong question. The real question is, does libertarianism lead to a more compassionate world, and the answer is certainly yes. Very few libertarians say, “don’t help the poor.” What libertarians say is “don’t force someone to help the poor by pointing a gun at them.” Not only do we feel that it is immoral to take with force from one to give to another, the government does it poorly. (Three days to get water to the Superdome.)

    Through history, the most free states were also the states with the strongest charity networks. Freedom also tends to create more wealth, which gives more money that can be given to charity. Americans are the most charitable people in the world, and that is after much of that giving has been eroded by the insidious incursion of state entitlements. When the state takes over the function of charity, it takes over the function of charity — people stop giving as much because they think the government is handling it.

    Even if the price of freedom was hardship for the poor, it would be worth it. We are fortunate that we don’t have to make this choice — we can give freedom to everyone, stop taking money from everyone at the barrel of a gun, and have everyone better off, financially and spiritually.

  39. #39 |  SamK | 

    Dave…<3 but I'm going to disagree or otherwise comment on a few of those because some require assumptions.

    2) Perpetually living off the state is difficult to do, and the small percentage that manage something similar to that aren't real high on my list of people to deal with when I see massive benefits from the social programs most people dislike.

    4) Requiring union membership is bollocks, but an awful lot of licensing isn't just useful, it's damned necessary. Assuming that we agree on that one and moving on, just wanted to clarify that I really do want my electrician to have at least the minimum acumen and resources to pass the test and carry the license.

    10) I don't think it was the government involvement that did it. I posit that it was a natural outgrowth of unregulated insurance. There's data to support both claims, but the truth is likely an amalgamation of those two concepts and a hell of a lot more. I've lived in places with socialized health care and even the bad ones (UK) were easier to deal with and get care from than the US, including seeing specialists.

    11) I don't think the corporate taxes are borne by those people as much as the corporation. Costs are pushed to the consumer only as much as demand will bear, then much more complex concepts come into play. I suggest the biggest problem with economics is the inability of any market to respond instantaneously, which invalidates a hell of a lot of economic theory at the level we neophytes discuss it.

    12) I like the increased costs far better than unregulated food production and unregulated drug production. I do think pharma regulation needs one hell of an overhaul to speed things up, but the current system is actually very useful for drug safety, it's just also useful to manipulate for profit because of the difficult in entering the market (restricted resources, see post above).

    15) I've never had a problem finding work, and the minimum wage set the bar for my pay. I like it. I don't doubt that it has an effect on employment, but I'm with the group that says the effect is minimal and doesn't last long. We could make $8 a day like Mexican farm laborers too, but I don't want to see that happen in my country.

    ok, time for me to go back to work, glad there were only half a dozen things in that entire list I took any kind of issue with.

  40. #40 |  David | 

    As they say in politics, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

    I have some libertarian leanings, depending upon the topic, but I also (too be somewhat imprecise and unfair) am willing to pay higher taxes if it means people in my country don’t starve to death. And so are many (a majority?) of others. A majority of voters, while wanting at least on some level reform, don’t want these programs eliminated. And I think too many libertarians don’t recognize that (“They just need to be persuaded…”).

    Even for things I don’t think need to be government-funded, when they get demonized I just tune the person out. I currently live in Canada, and while doctrinally I might prefer a pure private healthcare system, the system here works okay (where I live, anyway), and even before Obamacare the U.S. system was NOT pure private and the extent of government involvement was, in my opinion, of such a nature as to artificially increase the costs of healthcare to others. But that’s a longer diatribe about scaremongering by politicians…

    If a politician’s campaign focused on eliminating government waste, privatizing a few programs that are most in need of it rather than saying you’ll get rid of everything, eiminating unnecessary government regulatory barriers (e.g. hair stylist and interior designer mandatory licenses – a compromise may be to eliminate the requirement of a license to do the work, but allowing for certification to use a particular title to continue), the need for fiscal reform to allow welfare/social security/medicare/etc. to continue, and they may get elected and actually make government somewhat smaller and less expensive. Incremental steps; recognize that a majority of voters appear to WANT some level of government beneficent programs, focus on making them less expensive and more efficient at a start.

    If they start talking about getting rid of all regulatory certifications, welfare, etc., even if they get elected, they don’t have a hope of getting it all done.

    For all its flaws, the most recent Republican budget proposal was an attempt to focus on what is politically possible, and more fiscally responsible (unlike any other Republican budget or proposal for the last few decades…).

  41. #41 |  Sean L. | 

    varmintito:

    “libertarianism, as a political philosphy is antithetical to compassion.”

    You have it exactly backwards. You speak of compassion, but compassion does not live in a vacuum. Compassion must be directed at a person or group of people. *You* believe compassion is to provide for yet another child born into a family that can’t afford the first one at the expense of the family that waits until they can afford it. *You* believe compassion is to provide for a man who didn’t plan for his retirement at the expense of those who do. So now you, under the threat of taking me away from my children, want me to subscribe to *your* view of compassion? The very idea that you’re taking the moral high-ground is laughable.

    “Q: Are you compassionate enough to help people, or only so much as to force others to do so?”
    “A: …in terms of solving our country’s problem, there is no real difference.”

    I find it amazing that people can’t see the difference. My 11-year-old daughter was able to figure this out: My children earn stars for good behavior, which allow them to earn TV, video games, etc. I asked her, “If your sister needed an extra star to earn TV, would you give her one even if it meant you not earning video games?”
    She said, “Sure.”
    I said, “Well, what if I MADE you give her a star? And if you didn’t give her the star, you would lose all your stars.”
    She said, “Well, that’s not fair.”
    I said, “Why not? It ends up being the exact same thing.”
    She said, “Yeah, but the first time, I’m being nice. The other way, you’re just being mean to me.”

    The one thing she missed was, her sister would be appreciative of the act if it were voluntary, and maybe return the favor at some point. If I just walk around evening out the star count, why should *either* of them behave at all? Either they’ll have what they’ve earned taken away, or they’ll just going to get the stars anyway.

    Libertarianism = compassion to let people keep what they earn PLUS freedom for them to be compassionate to others.

    “Before the New Deal, we had a few millenia to test the idea that private acts of compassion would be enough to protect our most vulnerable and least powerful”

    Exactly which millennium are you speaking where people actually owned the fruit of their own labor? Because only a tiny percentage of people in the last fifth (or so) of the last millennium have had that opportunity. And considering that those lucky people (you among them) have enjoyed thousands upon thousands of times more wealth and prosperity than any humans in history speaks volumes about what *can* happen when people are actually free.

  42. #42 |  Miroker | 

    @6, I am not sure where you are getting your information from, but here in Florida, the maximum amount you can collect from unemployment is $375/week. That is of course taxed as regular wages, so when you cash the check, you would be lucky to have $250 left.

  43. #43 |  Sean L. | 

    SamK:

    “11) I don’t think the corporate taxes are borne by those people as much as the corporation.”

    Who do you think owns the corporation? Through my 401(k) I own Ford. If Ford’s profits are taxed, it’s less money they pay in dividends, which is less for me. And then that money is taxed AGAIN as earnings when I retire.

    “12) I like the increased costs far better than unregulated food production”

    You do realize that 99.9% of food safety comes from the producers themselves. Businesses that kill their customers don’t stay businesses for long, and regulations on a book somewhere don’t prevent the deaths in the first place.

    “15) I’ve never had a problem finding work, and the minimum wage set the bar for my pay. I like it”

    To borrow from Milton Friedman, If the the minimum wage is good, why not make it $100/hour? Any price set artificially high will cause a shortage. Shortage in labor = unemployment. What’s worse, the unemployment hits the exact people you’re trying to protect: The poor and low-skilled.

  44. #44 |  John Jenkins | 

    Artificially high prices will cause a glut, not a shortage. A glut of labor is unemployment, not a shortage (a shortage of labor would mean close to 0% unemployment because demand exceeds supply).

    The OP makes a category error. Libertarianism as such has nothing to say about compassion. It only has anything to say about the proper role of government vis a vis individuals. Compassion is not an attribute of organizations of any kind, but of people. Nothing in libertarianism prevents compassion (or even counsels against it). The only thing prevented is the forced conscription of some for the benefit of others.

  45. #45 |  Joshua LYle | 

    Libertarianism is, regardless of the “thickness” of the particular conception, a position on the appropriate use of violence. It’s only incompatible with compassion if you somehow construe compassion to require the violence against innocent people. It is only unnecessary to compassion if you somehow construe compassion to disregard violence towards those to whom you should be compassionate.

  46. #46 |  kevdog | 

    I like the concept of progressive-libertarianism. Which, to me, is basically massive freedom for the individual, but recognizing that large corporations that bribe our g’ment officials (campaign donations) are not capitalistic and need to be “supervised” so they do not infringe on the freedom of individuals. I’d vote for the first politician who’s campaign is basically “shrink g’ment to the level it was in 2000″, a platform which doesn’t scream libertarianism, but promotes a viable goal of g’ment reduction.

  47. #47 |  Highway | 

    I also have to disagree with SamK’s assertions that government regulation and licensing make food preparation or electrical work (to name two that he does) safe or ensure any level of competence.

    Two of my favorite shows on TV – Holmes on Homes (or Holmes Inspection) and Kitchen Nightmares – put the lie to this.

    * – Presumably licensed and inspected restaurants that Gordon Ramsey goes in, because they’re struggling to stay afloat, and more than half the time he finds just *nasty* kitchens. Dirty prep surfaces, terrible food storage practices, disgusting and gross. People aren’t going to the restaurant, because 1) the food tastes bad or 2) maybe they got sick before. But the government isn’t doing anything about it.

    * – Mike Holmes goes into houses of people who got scammed, by licensed contractors no less. Terrible workmanship, dangerous HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing. His foundation spends thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands (in payments and ‘free’ work) to fix these problems. And they don’t bother to go after those contractor’s licenses, even if they did the work without getting a permit.

    Sure the rules and regulations work. If the worker is conscientious enough to follow the rules and regulations. But if the workers aren’t, the government doesn’t stop them until well after the damage is done. The government’s not stopping these restaurants from serving terrible food. All it means is sometime in the past, the people at the place at that time had enough wherewithal to clean up enough for the inspector. Just like the cops don’t protect anyone, but rather just show up after the fact to see what happened, the food inspections department does the same thing.

  48. #48 |  Danny | 

    A dead-end thread for a dead-end post.

    Here’s a clue, Libbers: “welfare” isn’t about compassion. It’s about the economic realities of labor as an economic input.

    “Free Market Capitalism,” whatever its grand benefits, isn’t a full employment program.

    Never was a full employment program.
    Never will be a full employment program.
    Never even pretended to be a full employment program.

    Don’t believe me? Just ask the capitalists. (N.B.: Stocks go up when a company’s jobs are cut, not expanded.)

    There is no law of economics that guarantees that every person available for the workforce will be afforded a job at a wage that supports a life of basic decency under a “free market system”. There is no guarantee that the providers of any economic input will earn such a return under a “free market system”.

    The difference is, unlike other input suppliers, the work force doesn’t have the option of shrinking its supply in response to economic changes. People and their kids need to eat. Every day. No matter what.

    The “welfare, unemployment benefits, social security, medicare, medicaid” that this guest blogger sneers at and blithely and says she is — categorically and without qualification — “against,” provide people with basic necessities that “free market capitalism” is under no obligation — in theory or in practice — to provide.

    I don’t know why Libbers even “go there.” They are against the war on drugs, but most don’t allow for crystal meth sold out of ice cream trucks. They are against war abroad, but most don’t want us to become the next Costa Rica in terms of military force. They are against regulations, but most don’t want a 90 mph speed limit in a school zone. Where does this smug and thoughtlessly categorical “no-handouts-ever” horsesh!t come from? Do they really think they can outflank the GOP on the Nixonland welfare-queen politics of downward-facing class resentment? Here’s another clue: you won’t.

    Libbers often get mocked for their dismal election-day returns, and complain that electoral might doesn’t make right. But when Libbers express such naked contempt for the great majority of people who have no choice but to provide for themselves through their own labor in a market that is structurally oversupplied with workers, those Libbers richly deserve to have their faces smooshed hard into the putrid fact of their own self-marginalization.

    In other words, you lose so badly because you suck so much, and because you have no good answers for the vast majority of people who are trying to make their way in a world with gross imbalances of economic power. Welfare as it exists in this country is a very modest hedge against the brutal competition of the job market with its permanent “reserve army of labor.” It benefits not just its recipients, but EVERYONE who has to make a living under the circumstances of lower-wage competition. It has nothing to do with “compassion” and everything to do with survival.

    But still, you want to make that into some kind of stupid sermon on “compelled compassion”? Be my guest, two-percenters. You’ll get what you deserve.

    I like this blog because Radley puts the focus on a major issue that no one else even touches: lack of police accountability. But when the focus shifts to the rest of the Libertarian dogma, the quality plummets. Long live Radley. The rest of you need to sharpen up you game a whole lot.

  49. #49 |  Highway | 

    Hey, you want survival? Then use your ability to produce something of value to someone else. What’s that, you don’t want to? You can’t because of some rule? That’s the reality of government. Nobody wants what you produce? That’s another reality that should be telling you to do something else.

    People don’t want to ‘make their way in this world’. People want a ‘job’. They want someone else to put up everything so they can show up, do something, and get paid. That’s the wrong way around. It’s not about ‘the gross imbalances of economic power’. That’s bullshit. Where does that gross imbalance come from? Companies and government working together. Name a corporate abuse of workers from the past, and it’s more than likely they had the government helping them out with it. Name a corporate abuse of someone trying their own business, and it’s more than likely they had the government helping shut the small guy down.

    But no. People want a “jay oh bee”. People “just want to get paid.” Sorry, your *effort* is not anything of value. Your output is what might have value. And if it doesn’t have value, or you don’t have output, then you, by definition, are worthless.

  50. #50 |  Danny | 

    Thanks for the semi-coherent string of ipse dixits, highway.

    Let’s see you cash that check on election day.

    You lose because you should lose.

    To wit: “… more than likely they had the government helping them out …”

    Yeah, in the sense that factory owners offered a market wage, the workers went on sitdown strike, and the government shot up the workers because they were violating “property rights.” And every bullet was in keeping with “Libertarian” credo.

  51. #51 |  Highway | 

    Maybe in the ‘Libertarian credo’ you’ve invented in your mind.

    Libertarians lose because they don’t hand out free ice cream to keep the proles distracted while they’re stomped on.

  52. #52 |  Danny | 

    “Libertarianism: now with legal sit-down strikes!”

    I won’t be holding my breath.

  53. #53 |  varmintito | 

    highway@29:

    There a great many problems where the smaller government’s role is, the better. When there is trash on the sidewalk, I pick it up. I don’t call the streets department. This is a trivial example, but most non-systemic problems can benefit from committed individuals.

    Even systemic problems can me vastly improved through collective action outside the government, or evolving social attitudes. Most of the civil rights advances up to 1964 were the product of group action and changing sensibilities.

    In many cases, however, evolving social attitudes are the product of government action. My favorite example is cleaning up dog waste. When I visited relatives in Brookly in the 1970s, the sidewalks were a minefield. Then NY passed its pooper scooper law. There may have been the occasional ticket, but for the most part, people simply changed their habits, and then changed their attitudes. There is no dog doo SWAT team, just hundreds of thousands of dog owners who have internalized that not picking it up is disgusting and antisocial. It didn’t require a commited true believer to evangelize the community (a dynamic with a decidedly mixed track record), just a bunch of political hacks on city council.

    You ask “What are these ‘challenges’ that government is solving? If they’re solvable by government, then why aren’t they ‘solved’ yet?”

    1. Your demand that broad social problems be eradicated or all attempts to combat them be considered a failure is a straw man argument. Although there may be exceptions of which I am unaware, social problems cannot be eradicated, only ameliorated. The police can solve individual crimes, but they cannot “solve” crime as a social phenomenon.

    2. Using the more realistic metric of ameliorating social problems rather than eliminating them, here are a few examples of government policy that have made a huge dent in broad social problems. In addition to winning the war on dog doo:

    According to US Census data, over the past 50 years the rate of poverty among the elderly has fallen from about 35% to 10%, largely as a result of increases in social security payments beginning in the mid-60s.

    In 1870, public school enrollment for 5-19 year olds was less than 50%, and about 10% for black children. 20% of the country was completely illiterate — unable to read or write at all in any language. The rate for black americans was 80%. A century later, attendance was around 90%, less than 1% of all Americans and less than 2% of black Americans were illiterate (functional illiteracy rates are higher, but have shown the same consistent improvement).

    I could go on, but the point is made — government action can have huge positive results.

    The knee-jerk libertarian is too quick to equate all exercises of government power. I suspect liberals and libertarians are often indistinguishable when the issue is the government’s right to invade the integrity of your body or your home, or punish you for the way you state your beliefs and the substantive content of those beliefs. I suspect that both groups are big fans of due process.

    The fork in the road is taxes. Plenty of libertarians are confortable equating most taxation with tyranny. To most liberals, that sounds crazy.

    The weird thing that just occurred to me is that the supposedly touchy feely liberal tends to view taxes in a pretty utilitarian way, while the coldly efficient libertarian ses them in an emotionally loaded way.

  54. #54 |  Joshua LYle | 

    In an economy with an official unemployment rate of 9.5%+ and an unofficial one that’s probably twice that, ordinary people don’t want to hear about the virtues of unskilled immigrants. Simply, shut the fuck up about them.

    In other words, the problem is not that libertarians lack compassion, but that libertarians have compassion for people that “ordinary people” don’t really think of as people.

  55. #55 |  Windy | 

    #6 “We have people in this country collecting unemployment benefits making as much or MORE MONEY than many who work full-time. That is morally wrong. Wouldn’t you feel like a total sucker working your tail off and taking home less money than someone who doesn’t work at all? Does the person who sits at home collecting a check equal to or greater than many who work feel any compassion?”
    The money for unemployment benefits are paid by the employer to the State, the benefits received by a laid off employee are based on a percentage of what one has earned over 4 quarters (of a year, but that year begins 18 months prior to receiving benefits). If one does not use all the benefits one has “banked” in the UE system by his/her employer in their benefit year, the unused money goes to the State. The State does all in its power to deny benefits so as to get that money in the State coffers instead of in the hands of the unemployed. But seasonal employees (construction trades, etc.) rely on those benefits to get them thru the off season. It’s not at all like welfare, as you seem to be suggesting. I think most seasonal employees (maybe all employees, seasonal or not) would prefer that such benefits were handled solely by their employer (like a 401k plan) instead of going thru State bureaucracy; I know that, as a libertarian, I do, this should be an agreement between the employer and employee, the government should not be involved.

  56. #56 |  steve | 

    I am afraid you don’t.

    I am afraid the only way to acheive liberty is for the big government approach to undergo a catostrophic failure first. In other words, starve the beast is correct but it will get very ugly first.

  57. #57 |  b-psycho | 

    Danny:

    Yeah, in the sense that factory owners offered a market wage, the workers went on sitdown strike, and the government shot up the workers because they were violating “property rights.” And every bullet was in keeping with “Libertarian” credo.

    …government mass murder of organized labor for a negotiation tactic the company doesn’t like = “libertarian” how?

    Really. Explain please. Because I was under the impression that workers had rights too in a free society.

  58. #58 |  varmintito | 

    Last point then I’m outta here on this thread:

    54 posts in, I’ve heard lots of arguments for why libertarianism is fair, logical, rational, effective. I have yet to hear a single compelling example of how libertarianism is compassionate.

    The closest I’ve heard is the repeated refrain that taxation is “robbing me at gunpoint,” so I guess libertarianism is, by analogy, Dudley Doright saving Sweet Sally Purebred from Snively Whiplash. As the English say, pull the other one.

  59. #59 |  Brent Royal-Gordon | 

    There’s something special about charity—people treat it differently. Most people who accept charity feel a little bad about it. They understand that what they’re getting is coming from the kindness of someone’s heart. They understand that there’s a limited supply and what they’re taking could go to someone else. They accept it because they need it, not because they want it. And because the recipients are so reluctant, the donors know that what they’re giving is going to someone who needs it, and they can feel good about their donations.

    But when charity becomes welfare, this dynamic breaks down. The givers are forced to give. They don’t feel good about it; they feel imposed upon, forced, trapped. And the recipients don’t feel grateful or reluctant. They feel entitled. The money they receive is not something someone else gave up to help them; it is their birthright. It belongs to them. There is no reason to avoid needing it.

    And they understand that it was given to them, not by ordinary people seeking to help them, but by politicians seeking their votes. And they respond accordingly.

    So true charity—true compassion—seems to me to be a healthier dynamic than welfare. Both help the needy, but charity has positive effects: it makes givers feel good and encourages takers to reduce their take.

    This is, of course, not 100% true. Some people take more charity than they need, and some people avoid welfare even when they need it. Some people even feel good about helping others when they pay their taxes. But I think what I’m saying is true enough to explain why we should be skeptical of welfare and encourage private charity instead.

  60. #60 |  b-psycho | 

    “Libertarianism: now with legal sit-down strikes!”

    I won’t be holding my breath.

    Some would very much approve of sit-down strikes. Some are even on the side of the IWW when it comes to legit labor tactics. You don’t hear from those kind because they’ve been whitewashed out of the picture & replaced with “libertarians” who just blindly cheer the big corporate players despite them being the real welfare queens.

  61. #61 |  Acksiom | 

    “Rationally, most voters aren’t going to bother to dig into the details and most of those who do aren’t going to understand the economics well enough to dispute the claims of the politicians anyway, so the political libertarian is left with the two unappealing choices of either 1) becoming just as despicable as the statist politician or 2) losing.

    Politics is rigged against libertarianism and so libertarians should avoid it. Instead, we need to focus on building alternative institutions and showing people that they work, without bothering with political rhetoric.”

    THIS. Miko nails it.

    Alonya, you’re starting from a false position because of a crucial error in Paul’s statement. Convincing people that libertarianism is compatible with compassion is “the biggest challenge” only for conservative and libertarian *politicians*. The rest of us don’t need to bother.

    You convince people in general that libertarians have compassion by actually doing compassionate things for them while identifying yourself as a libertarian.

    If you must address restraints on the State, simply point out to people how you could do even more for them if the State would stop getting in both your ways. If that’s not enough for someone, explain that you’d rather be doing much more practically compassionate things for others, so they need to pitch in and help

    Paul’s statement is incorrect. Convincing people that libertarianism is compatible with compassion is “the biggest challenge” only for conservative and libertarian. . .politicians.

  62. #62 |  Highway | 

    varmintito, I addressed that in my first response to you. You have defined ‘compassionate’ in such a way that libertarianism cannot meet it. You have also defined it in a way that libertarians would not. If the definition of ‘compassion’ is school free lunches and government programs for autistic children, then pretty clearly the idea of removing the public schools and replacing them with private schools of choice, where they might or might not provide lunch as part of the cost of the school, and they might have classes for autistic children or might not, will be incompatible with your definition of compassion. You can never be convinced.

    Yet libertarians might choose to donate their time or money to homeless shelters, to food banks, to centers for development of treatments for autism. Or they might advocate for the freedom of use of marijuana and its derivatives that have helped at least one autistic child achieve a quality of life that he likely wouldn’t have otherwise ( http://www.slate.com/id/2294072/ ). The difference is that the libertarian will choose his or her compassion as they see fit, in scope and direction. They will not be directed or forced to give to a general fund which is then fought over by competing narrow interests.

  63. #63 |  Mattocracy | 

    varmintito wrote…

    “Before the New Deal, we had a few millenia to test the idea that private acts of compassion would be enough to protect our most vulnerable and least powerful. What we got was children crippled by hard labor before they could shave, men who had worked hard all their life cast aside like garbage once their bodies gave out, and so on and so on.”

    That still happens pal, it happens in poor countries. What changed America wasn’t the New Deal, it was prosparity. That’s how you get rid of child labor and get better working consitions.

    To say that government is the reason this ended in America is incorrect. That undermines your whole premise that government is the only/best means to care for people and without, it never would have happened.

  64. #64 |  2nd of 3 | 

    @55 Don’t be disingenuous – workers may have rights under libertarianism, but property owners always have the power to protect their property. You can carve out exceptions for strikers if you like, but shooting tresspassers is in no way antithetical to the core philosophy. Asking the government to do it for them insteadof hiring private sector guards to do so may be a bit unseemly, but protection of private property is generally seen as a legitimate function of government by most libertarians I know.

    I’n the end, libertarianism goes full circle. I trade one master for another, but it’s okay because it isn’t the gub’mint that is doing the whipping.

  65. #65 |  Greg C. | 

    Hey. I actually am unemployed. Though I guess I am technically “self employed,” but I often have a negative income. I am self employed and my income is below the poverty level. I can’t really make ends meet without debt and being very creative.

    I also happen to consider myself a very “hardcore” libertarian philosophically. Honestly, I spent a lot of my formative years doing a lot of thinking and reading and not much living, at least not living “among the people.” The more I got to know people, especially of diverse backgrounds, the more I got to see a human side to this stuff and see people who are mostly good and well-intentioned, who are NOT lazy, but ARE affected by a variety of circumstances ( government policies, biased employers,etc).

    So, yeah, I agree with that part ( about unemployed people not always being lazy) of the main post and tend to disagree with what I now see as the simplistic view of #6. Phil D. ( though I would have written the same thing a few years ago).

    You know that 1 million people applied for 62,000 jobs at McDonald’s last month. So that means 93.8% of applicants were declined.. for MCDONALDS.

    I also look at it this way: I am a white male. I am young, physically strong. My IQ is in the upper 2%. I have no criminal record. Educationally- I have underachieved, but my level of degree attainment is higher than most. I can’t get hired anywhere. I imagine it’s probably a lot more difficult for those who don’t have educational opportunities, aren’t too bright, don’t have the “right” family background, and/or have a criminal conviction of some sort.

  66. #66 |  BamBam | 

    Well, I think it’s very tough, because it’s not the definition of ‘compassion’ to the libertarian that matters. It’s the definition of ‘compassion’ to the person who wants something. So if you don’t want to give them something they want, they will dismiss you as uncompassionate.

    NAIL. HEAD. DEAD CENTER HIT. Who gets to define compassion is the key question. The same can be said for anything, who gets to define _______ which then allows actions to flow from the definition (by government force).

  67. #67 |  Danny | 

    Beware rhetorical traps laid by the apologists for the master class.

    There is no such thing as a “negative right” except against the government itself.

    All laws against theft, or murder or arson are “positive rights,” no less than schooling or medicaid or food stamps. There is no grand metaphysical distinction between mutual aid and mutual protection. There is no fundamental difference between a police officer or a firefighter on one hand and a social worker or schoolteacher on the other. All provide a service which could be rendered by public or private charter, according to political choices made in the halls of representative government.

    There is no right to food or shelter only in the same sense that there is no right to have 911 available to dial, or to have an army protect your land from invasion.

    There is no such thing as a “night watchman” form of government, because, without the vast, reticulated, and mostly arbitrary superstructure of law and privilege erected by government, there is nothing for the watchman to watch over.

  68. #68 |  varmintito | 

    I can’t resist. danny @ 63:

    The criminal laws against theft, murder and arson DO NOT create a right, whether characterized as positive or negative, not to be robbed, killed or have one’s house burnt. They define prohibited acts and state potential punishments for those who commit them.

    If somebody mugs me, I cannot sue the police for damages because they failed to protect me. I cannot sue the police in mandamus requiring them to investigate, charge or prosecute whoever did it.

    The only things preventing criminal acts against me are the basic lawfulness and decency of most people, my right to self-defense, and the disincentives provided by the criminal and civil laws.

    Government benefits, once enacted, become a positive right for those who qualify. They can be withheld only if they meet the constitutional requirements of equal protection and due process (not an exhaustive list, but those are the two biggies).

    Negative rights, as you correctly state, prohibit specific kinds of government action.

    The positive/negative distinction oftenbreaks down in practice — for example, the free exercise clause permits you to worship as you please by barring the government from preventing you from doing so. What the clause does not do is prevent private individuals from preventing you from worshipping as you please. Private individuals are restricted from such interference by criminal and civil tort laws, and since 1965 by the Civil Rights Act.

  69. #69 |  supercat | 

    Allowing people on the dole to live well enough that they’re willing to stay on the dole is not compassionate. It would be evil, and would be evil even if it miraculously didn’t require taking money from the pockets of people who earn it.

    Real charities are run by people who know that every dollar given to someone who didn’t deserve it is a dollar that can’t be given to someone who does. Government entitlement agencies by contrast realize that every dollar that’s given out to someone who doesn’t deserve it is another dollar that can be demanded in next year’s budget.

    Some people, if given an extra $100 today, would a year from now be more than $100 richer than if they hadn’t gotten the money. Other people, if given an extra $100 today, would a year from now be in even worse financial shape a than if they didn’t get it (e.g. because they’d use it to make a down payment on a television set they really can’t afford). It is by no stretch of the imagination compassionate to suggest that money should be taken from people of the first type and given to those of the second, but that is the behavior of government entitlement programs.

  70. #70 |  Phil D | 

    #Greg C.
    “You know that 1 million people applied for 62,000 jobs at McDonald’s last month. So that means 93.8% of applicants were declined.. for MCDONALDS.”

    That example strikes me as highly, highly atypical because that was part of a well-publicized, coordinated effort by McDonald’s to get lots of applicants. Most people probably get hired by their local McDonald’s franchisee by simply going to the restaurant, filling out an application and getting a phone call later. My own experience and those of my friends from high school when we were in the market for low-wage, part-time jobs is that they were readily available. You basically had you choice between the fast food chain, the dry cleaners, the supermarket, etc. (That’s not scientific, but anecdotal evidence obviously. I’m not sure where you would find scientific evidence on the subject honestly). Bottom line is that I find it very hard to believe that someone who wants a low-wage job cannot find one, even today.

  71. #71 |  yonemoto | 

    I know I’m late to this, but it’s a huge topic that I care deeply about, and one of the things that got me was this:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion.html

    Economically, I think what we are seeing is that people are forced to be incredibly self-centered to maintain financial stability in a system of secular inflation – and that’s impairing our capacity to be compassionate. As a Hayekian, I also think that distribution of the resources and insight to be charitable is over the long term going to be more effective than centralized charity (be it by BINGO or government). So, libertarianism is highly compatible with compassion.

    The thing is, it also requires emphasizing the personal, moral argument for compassion. That’s hard to do and requires a lot of self-discipline. When I was in DC, I volunteered weekly with these folks:

    http://www.foodforalldc.org/

    And could never once get any of my friends (liberal, conservative, or libertarian) to come help me. Even the other volunteers were mostly non-committals who were only showing up every once in a while, or on special days. MLK day was a particular disaster as we never had enough things for people to do and a flood of volunteers, who never really wanted to do the toughest of tasks anyways. I used to joke that the day exemplified the Austrian principle of bubble economics and malinvestment.

    Also, I was never forced to volunteer as a kid. I did so two years in high school, but only because I was asked if I was interested with no incentive to otherwise. When I found out that the NHS had a volunteership requirement, I quit. (but kept volunteering)

  72. #72 |  John Q. Galt | 

    Wat. I have compassion for the victims of the bloodsucker political class.

  73. #73 |  JOR | 

    I don’t see why libertarianism should be incompatible with a compassionate society. Look at it this way: The state is not made of magic, it is made of the same substance as “private” enterprise, charity, everything else – it is made of people. It is people who choose to spend time and money on doing stuff for poor people, or whatever. If it’s the case (accepting for the sake of argument the statists’ claims that the state more or less conforms to the will of the majority of voters, at least issue by issue) that people in a given society are willing to fund a welfare state, then they’ll be willing to fund charities for them without a welfare state. This is leaving aside the various ways that states keep poor people from scratching by (as Kevin Carson noted), sometimes “for their own good” and sometimes motivated simply by the urge to socially engineer.

    This is all quite aside from the question of whether libertarians can be personally “compassionate” of course; I reckon they can be as much as anyone else, even if they show it or express it differently. Why else would libertarians (tend to) care so much about, say, people railroaded by the state’s criminal justice system? There are other motives at play, of course, but often enough I’d guess at genuine compassion and feelings of outrage at perceived injustice.

    As an anarchist, I think that the state gets by mostly by playing on peoples’ cruelty and callousness on one hand, and paranoia on the other. Even where it does play on people’s empathy and compassion, it must necessarily get them to (at least) callously disregard whoever is getting hosed or abused by the program(s) in question.

  74. #74 |  John David Galt | 

    Leftists (I won’t call them “liberal” or “progressive” since they are enemies of liberty and progress) have always known how to cry crocodile tears about how heartless the rich are … unless the rich person is themselves.

    Like the phony emergencies they make up whenever it’s a slow news day, or the so-called racism some of them blame for all their problems, the notion that leftists are “compassionate” is hogwash, and anyone with a brain knows it. If we ever get a media outlet that isn’t left-biased, I suggest they point their cameras at things we never see now, like Oprah’s mansion or Ralph Nader’s huge bankroll.

  75. #75 |  Sean L. | 

    2nd of 3 #64:

    “…shooting tresspassers is in no way antithetical to the core philosophy.”

    It’s clear you don’t know what the core philosophy is: Do not initiate force upon others. That means avoiding the use of bullets unless my health or life was in danger.

    The strikers, sitting on my property have initiated force against me by not leaving when I have asked them to. I would be well within my right to enlist the assistance of police to enforce my property rights. (Of course, willing to pay a per-use fee.) If *government* agents decide to use bullets to finish their job more quickly, that certainly would not be on me, especially since the police have a monopoly on law enforcement. How nice would it be if I could choose a competitor that would guarantee not to use guns?

  76. #76 |  Alan W. Bock, RIP - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine | 

    [...] knew him much better than I did. The other day, guest-blogging at The Agitator, Alyona Minkovski asked, "How do you convince Americans that libertarians have compassion?" Part of the answer, I think, [...]

  77. #77 |  barry Klein | 

    At the city level, a committee of Libertarians can do coalition building to replace a harsh or cruel policy, such as cruel practices in the city jail.
    the resultant publicity should redound to the credit of Libertarians, demonstrating their compassion.

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