Some Thoughts on Libertarianism

The Politics of Atheism posts back in April inspired a healthy debate with several regular commenters who advocate a libertarian political philosophy. One of the major claims of this philosophy, defended both on this blog and by prominent libertarians such as Timothy Sandefur, is that “taxation is theft” and that any taking of property from any individual, by the government or by anyone else, without that individual’s consent is an immoral act even if done with the best of intentions.

I disagree with this claim, and to see why, let us craft a thought experiment in which we grant the libertarians exactly what they wish. Let us assume that all rules that infringe on people’s ability to contract freely or to do as they wish with their own property were abolished, and we started over again in a brave new libertarian world. In this world, the right to own property is absolute, and people who own property can set whatever rules they desire as a condition of allowing others to use it; those others can, in turn, either freely accept and abide by those rules or seek an alternative elsewhere.

It is a key tenet of libertarianism that economic inequality, arising from fair competition in a free market and premised on people’s differing levels of natural talent and willingness to work to achieve their goals, is a normal and desirable state of affairs. So be it. Once the initial conditions have been set, we will step back and let the market work. Over time, because of their differing levels of business acumen, foresight and dedication, some people will naturally be more successful than others, and will become wealthy.

Let us now suppose that those who are most successful in this market move toward expanding their property, a natural and necessary step if they want to further boost their wealth by increasing their ability to produce whatever product or service they have been providing. They achieve this by purchasing neighboring tracts of property from their owners who freely agree to sell them. Over time, as this process continues (because free competition inevitably results in a power law distribution), there will be a few individuals who are very wealthy and possess large quantities of land and other resources, and a comparatively large number of individuals who possess little or none.

Next, let us suppose that the largest landholders choose to diversify. Instead of devoting their entire property to uses of their personal choosing, they choose to allow others to move onto and live on their property, and use the resources of that property to make a living – by farming, say, or by mining, or simply by using the space to run a business of their own. In exchange for this privilege, the landholders charge their new tenants a fee. This is a perfectly fair libertarian transaction, since it is free and uncoerced and entails a mutually agreeable trade of value for value.

However, note that if these landholders charged their tenants only a fixed, one-time fee for the right of occupancy, they would be losing out, since a successful tenant might use the landholder’s property to derive a potentially unlimited profit. Therefore, instead of charging a fixed amount, let us suppose that the landholders would understandably set the fee as a percentage of what the tenants produce. This seems only fair in a free-market world: as long as you are going to keep using my resources to make a profit, you should keep paying me for that privilege.

Finally, let us suppose one more step: the large landholders, now profiting handsomely from the labors of their tenants, choose to improve their competitive position by using a portion of that profit to offer beneficial services to those tenants: services such as police protection, medical care, education, utilities and infrastructure. A landholder’s doing so would make the offer to dwell on their land more attractive to potential tenants, thus increasing their population of tenants, increasing their profit, and allowing them to expand still further.

My question to libertarians is this: How does this world differ from the one we actually live in? By beginning with a strictly libertarian worldview and following it all the way through to its logical conclusion, we end up with a situation identical to the one that actually exists now: independent states which collect taxes from their citizens as a way to fund social programs for the common good. There is not a single step in this process that is inconsistent with the strictest possible interpretation of a libertarian political philosophy. The only differences between the actual world and this scenario are terminological – instead of large landholders, we have states and governments; instead of tenants, citizens; instead of occupancy fees, taxes; instead of beneficial services, social programs. It would seem that we do live in a libertarian world after all. Libertarians should rejoice to hear this. They need not struggle to put their preferred view of politics into effect, because it has already happened.

Why is taxation not theft in this thought experiment? Because, obviously, the tenants/citizens are not being forced to pay anything. They agreed to accept a landholder’s terms in exchange for the privilege of living on their property. If they dislike the terms of the social contract of that landholder, they are free to leave and seek another whose politics are more congenial to their own. And this principle holds true in exactly the same way in the real world: if a libertarian dislikes paying taxes, they can leave the state they live in and take up residence in another. (Given this, I concede that taxation imposed by a state that prevented its citizens from leaving would be theft.) Arguing that an individual has the right to refuse paying taxes while still living in that state and taking advantage of the social benefits it provides is analogous to arguing that an individual has the right to violate the terms of a contract they freely agreed to, something which any libertarian should find abhorrent.

There is one difference between this thought experiment and the real world that I have not touched upon, however. The scenario I have described in this post is actually a world of dictatorships, where single individuals or small groups of individuals control all the land available for dwelling and are not accountable to anyone. Large property owners can set absolutely any rules they like for the use of their property, and this may lead to work-or-starve scenarios where people are coerced, not by force but by bad luck and circumstance, into grueling, dangerous, low-paying jobs that leave them little or no practical freedom. This is undesirable. It seems to me that a libertarian should actually prefer our current democratic society to the world of this thought experiment, because it affords us more control over the laws of the land – more freedom – via participation in the democratic process.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Philip Thomas

    An interesting analogy. I have crossed swords with libertarians in internet debate before now, including one memorable argument where my opponent threatened me with physical violence…

    The immediate problem that occurs to me about this analogy is that the products of taxation are not spent on the individual taxpayer’s own benefit, but on benefiting certain classes of people who may or may not be contain him. This seems difficult to understand from the contractual position we started with…

    Of course, one can construct a theory of general benefit from government spending, particularly on ‘public goods’. But the libertarian typically dislikes this sort of reasoning.

  • andrea

    Libertarianism is a flawed idea. First, the only people who want it seem to be the well-off. They want to keep “theirs”. To claim that taxation is theft, well, libertarians should not use the public roads. Nor should they benefit from fire companies or police. Or sewer or water infrastructure. Or national defense We would not want them to be “forced” to do anything. Does anyone really think that those types of services should be allowed to be created and run by private business which can charge anything they want because these services are so needed? Is there a “market value” on such things? I do know that some libertarians are not so harsh on their view about taxes and do support some taxes. However, IMO, that is just an instance of situational ethics. If it benefits me, okay, if it benefits someone else, just can’t have it.

    Most libertarians are also blindly against eminent domain. In a world where no one ever impacted another human being, that might work. However, this world isn’t like that. I’ve seen instances where stupid greedy people will stand in the way of eminent domain just to make more money, more than a fair return on their property. I have also seen where landowners who allow their property to degrade unfairly impact neighbors. If no one can enforce the libertarian ideal of personal reponsiblity, what happens?

    Libertarianism is also isolationist (also called non-interventionist, though the difference is not clear considering some libertarian actions) from what I’ve read. Which is an untenable idea in a closed-system as the Earth.

    Finally, libertarianism is simply a codification of actions that typified the robber barons and the “princes of industry” from the 19th century. They are those who came up with the ideal “survival of the fittest” not Darwin. They claim that “forcing” people to help others is “wrong”. Until it’s them that is being helped. Unfortunately, although it’s an interesting idea, nearly a Nietzchean ideal of self-responsiblity, it is fraught with hypocrisy. There are always circumstances beyond the control of humans and not everyone will ever have the same chances as others. Should we just abandon those luckless millions?

  • Philip Thomas

    Hi andrea. I’m glad I’m on your side (in this argument)! Actually it has been characteristic of the few libertarians I have encountered (in cyberspace), to claim for themselves personal poverty, just barely scratching a living in the teeth of government opression. But I guess rich libertarians are unlikely to be found in internet chatrooms.

    One thing libertarians seem to be in favour of is law and order: money on police good, money on hospitals and schools bad. I don’t quite understand this…

  • Bechamel

    Here’s the problem with the current state of affairs, though. If we were in your proposed libertarian world, some of the landowners would likely be buying and selling land for profit. That being the case, if I’m industrious enough to save up some money (or its equivalent), I can buy my own chunk of land and live exactly as I find best for me.

    However, in the world we live in now, there’s no place that I know of that isn’t under a national government (and probably more governments as well) providing many services, and charging all of its citizens and visitors for the privilege. I find that the U.S. is as close as any country to what I’m looking for, but it’s still far, far away.

    I’m not a pure libertarian, but I believe government should be minuscule, existing solely to protect its citizens from force and fraud, and providing services that only government can (like roads and utilities that are natural monopolies – and charging only the people that use those, if at all possible).

    You say those that don’t like taxes can leave. But where are we supposed to go? It seems that in this world, the only way to avoid paying people for not working is to move to a desert island.

  • Philip Thomas

    Bechamel, how exactly does one maintain title to land in this utopia? Seems to me that without government what would rule would not be the market but force…

  • SpeirM

    There have been times when, at first blush, I have found Libertarianism appealing. But further consideration stops me. When I extrapolate, no matter which way I head, I end up with anarchy, or something close enough that it wouldn’t make much difference to most people. I find myself in a world very much like France before, oh, AD 1000. There would be no real fielfdoms, per se, because there would be no fiefs to hand out. (Although such a system could easily develop.) But society would have broken down into power blocks which, as Philip suggested, would only be held onto so long as the strongman remained stronger than his greedy neighbor. Most people would live under the thumb of one of these overlords, enjoying what rights and freedoms he might feel like permitting that day. War would be an ongoing thing, as in the Middle Ages.

    On the other hand, I’m not keen at all on socialism. I think I begin to see why people tend to gravitate toward the poles. Any balance we achieve must inevitably be somewhat arbitrary. Wherever we draw the line, most people are going to be on one side of it or the other. (No, all would. Nobody could ever agree on all points.) Then people get frustrated about the line not crossing where they think it should on some pet issue and migrate backward into a defensive pack with others who, while they might not agree on everything, at least share convictions about core values that they consider essential. (These people, when they have managed to press the opinions that had bound them together upon society, will then fragment over other issues.)

    What’s the solution? There probably isn’t an ideal one, and that’s hard to live with. A system like our own is likely about the best that can be expected, however dissatsified we all get with it at times. That’s not to say we shouldn’t labor to improve it. But we should come to accept the fact that others, as sincere as we are, are going to be working against us. Making that kind of tension permissible is probably one of the things that has given us the high level of civilization we enjoy.

  • Shawn Smith

    … One thing libertarians seem to be in favour of is law and order: money on police good, money on hospitals and schools bad …

    I consider myself somewhat libertarian, and I object more strongly to more of my money going to cops than to schools and hospitals. After all, the main function of a cop is apply force to see that laws are obeyed, even if I consider those laws unjust, did not agree to them, and breaking them harms no one except perhaps the person doing the breaking (Jaywalking on an empty road, for instance). I believe you will find most libertarians in the U.S. strongly disagree with the USA PATRIOT Act, Asset Forfeiture Laws for Drug “Crimes”, Eminent Domain Abuses that take property from one private party and give it to another private party, etc.

  • Oz

    I honestly don’t see the huge emphasis on demoracy, Adam. Which is more important, the policy of a government or the process? To put it another way, would you rather live under a king who uses his power to defend the rights of his people or in a democracy where the people vote to burn infidels alive?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Bechamel:

    If we were in your proposed libertarian world, some of the landowners would likely be buying and selling land for profit. That being the case, if I’m industrious enough to save up some money (or its equivalent), I can buy my own chunk of land and live exactly as I find best for me.

    Allow me to point out the word “likely” in your comment there. There is no guarantee, in the libertarian world I described, that you could find anyone willing to sell you land, or that they’d be willing to sell you land at a price you can afford. In fact, for the purposes of this thought experiment, let’s say that this does not happen – that all the available space is owned and no one is willing to sell. I consider this outcome quite likely, for the same reasons I outlined in my post: knowing that you could potentially derive unlimited profit from it, why would any landholder be willing to sell you land at a fixed one-time price, rather than a lifetime percentage of what you produce?

    Again, my point is that by strictly following libertarian principles, we can end up with a world indistinguishable from our own.

    You say those that don’t like taxes can leave. But where are we supposed to go?

    Since when does a libertarian require that an option he actually likes be available to him, though? This is the very basis of my argument against libertarianism: If the state does not take actions to protect its citizens’ economic well-being, we can (and will) very easily end up in situations that are indistinguishable from slavery in all practical respects, situations where the individual’s only realistic options are to either do as they’re told or starve. And most libertarians I’ve argued with concede this point, but maintain that this is not an undesirable outcome, because the individual still has a choice, however unpalatable their options.

    Oz:

    Which is more important, the policy of a government or the process? To put it another way, would you rather live under a king who uses his power to defend the rights of his people or in a democracy where the people vote to burn infidels alive?

    I deny that the policy of governing and the process of governing are as easily separable as you suggest. Just look at history. Yes, you will find some absolute rulers that nevertheless treat their people kindly, and you will find some democracies that nevertheless routinely violate human rights. But regardless, I assert that the majority of democracies are far more respectful of human rights than the majority of autocracies. To put it another way, if you were going to be dropped into some nation from a random period in history and could choose nothing except the manner of government of the nation you were going to, which would you prefer? A democracy or a dictatorship?

  • SpeirM

    “…would you rather live under a king who uses his power to defend the rights of his people or in a democracy where the people vote to burn infidels alive?”

    It’s just that it’s far likelier that dissenters of any kind will be burnt alive under a king than a democracy. At least in a democracy the say as to who’s burnt and who’s not lies somewhat with the people. That dilutes rather than concentrates power. Concentrated power is dangerous. Even the occasional occurence of a benevolent despot does nothing to undermine that general principle.

  • Chad

    Lots of interesting discussion. Not much to disagree with, except for one minor point. From andrea:

    To claim that taxation is theft, well, libertarians should not use the public roads. Nor should they benefit from fire companies or police. Or sewer or water infrastructure. Or national defense We would not want them to be “forced” to do anything.

    This is a non sequitur. The question re: libertarianism is “Should we be taxed for public services?”, not “Should we use public services for which we’ve been taxed?”. I may not like the fact that money has been taken from me against my will for, say, a public road, but given that it has, I’m certainly going to use it.

  • Oz

    I’m just talking in principle. I know that in the long run a republic is more efficient at the goal of protecting rights, but I also know that there are many individuals with whom I would trust power far more than with “the people.”

    Democracies are governments where 51% of the people can vote to pee on the other 49%. If you don’t think it can happen that way just remember Hitler was elected and that all of his policies had popular support. Our constitution is supposed to prevent that sort of thing but in reality it’s just paper; as soon as enough people stop caring about it it will become impotent.

    Perhaps the best sort of government would be a constitutional dictatorship? That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, though. That would be just as vulnerable to public apathy if not more so – as soon as the wise dictator died, there would have to be another one just as capable to take his place, and I would not be optimistic about our odds in the long run.

    I’m enough of a pragmatist to know that some coersion is necessary if a state is to carry out its moral function. But how much? Clearly limits are required. Deep down I feel that a society that won’t voluntarily shoulder its responsibilities deserves the ruin it will achieve; that’s why I oppose any drafts for any reason. At the same time, I would tolerate a tax, collected under the force of law, to fund our defense. I need time to work out the apparent contradiction.

  • Oz

    Also, re Andrea:

    Why shouldn’t I want to keep “mine?” It is, after all, mine, isn’t it? Is there some kind of new definition of the word I’m not aware of? Is it okay if I come over to your house and take some stuff I don’t think you need? How about me and fifty friends? Five hundred?

    Your vote is pure force, but it’s sanitized so that fact isn’t always apparent. But votes make laws, and if you still don’t believe that your vote is an exercise of force, try breaking a law and seeing what happens. If you’re still not convinced, try resisting it. If you’re still not convinced after that… well, there’s probably a tag on your toe.

    As to your implications about corporate welfare, you’ll find no argument from any libertarian (small or big L) I’ve ever known: abolish that too. Perhaps you could stick to the facts instead of the strawmen.

    As to charity: this was never a matter about charity but about the government’s role in it. Contrary to the belief of the left, Americans (and people in general, I suspect) are not heartless people with no sympathy for people in genuine need. When Katrina and Rita hit, when the tsunami last year struck, and on countless other occasions, Americans donated millions of dollars in addition to the billions that were taken from them at gunpoint (again, try not paying your taxes!) for those causes. No, government is not needed for charity.

  • SpeirM

    “Democracies are governments where 51% of the people can vote to pee on the other 49%.”

    Yep, that’s a problem. Your point about Hitler is well taken, too. But one thing we also have to avoid is to alter things such that the minority can tyrannize the majority, whether that minority is a solitary king or the 49%. This all goes back to what I said earlier. There’s not going to be a perfect solution. One struggle is to keep from becoming apathetic because of that.

  • Bechamel

    Quoth Oz:

    Our constitution is supposed to prevent that sort of thing but in reality it’s just paper; as soon as enough people stop caring about it it will become impotent.

    I predict this will happen sometime around…

    …um, 2001.

    Quoth Mr. Muse:

    Since when does a libertarian require that an option he actually likes be available to him, though?

    I am by no means a staunch libertarian; as such, real-world results like having a range of acceptable options are what’s important to me. This isn’t an argument against anyone here; it’s a completely honest question: just what is someone like me to do, if I find that living in the U.S., I’m paying for many, many services that I don’t want, and seeing that the goverment unacceptably infringes on the rights of its people? Every other country I’ve looked at is significantly worse on at least one of those criteria. Any thoughts? Anyone?

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    Fah, not enough time. And this site’s gotten too big; 5 posts used to be a big deal! Anyway, my two cents on what I read; taxation is not theft. That’s just stupid. The American Libertarian PARTY is stupid to approve that because it’s obviously impossible. However, excessive taxation, unfairly placed on whoever doesn’t have enough votes to fight back is theft. Income redistribution is theft. Taxes exist to do one thing; fund the government. The government exists to do one thing; provide equal protection and service to all. Thus, taxes should do nothing except fund protection and service (as in, the service of government workers, roads, etc). Anymore than this is political pandering where the minority gets screwed out of what it earned simply because it’s too small; it’s tyranny of the majority (or the rich and powerful).

    Oh, and so obviously, libertarianism does NOT disallow taxes. The LP is not libertarian; they are anarchists with a pretty website. I often agree with individual positions, but their goals are as bad as communists. So, don’t use their views to judge the rest of us please.

    Alright, I doubt I’ll be back to check what others said to me, sorry.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    BTW, I intend to get back updating my blog shortly. Since it is libertarian, feel free to check it out, to get an idea of what real libertarianism means.

  • Philip Thomas

    Bechamel, which services would you want to get rid of?

    As for the problem of leaving the USA, there are tax havens around the world for the rich. If you really want to live in a state without government, try Somalia. I guess the average Somali would be delighted to swap lifestyles with you!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    This isn’t an argument against anyone here; it’s a completely honest question: just what is someone like me to do, if I find that living in the U.S., I’m paying for many, many services that I don’t want, and seeing that the goverment unacceptably infringes on the rights of its people?

    In that case, I would suggest that you start a political party and campaign for the revocation of those services. That’s the best part of the democratic mechanism: anyone can be a force for change, if they are sincere enough and can convince enough people of the rightness of their ideas.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Even though I am a libertarian, I am also concerned about the power that a monopoly might wield in a free market. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if we should try to stop it, and, if so, how we should go about it.

    I think that the analogy of the super-property owner as dictator is nothing like what we have today. There is a great difference between a dictator and a constitutional republic like the US. A property owner has no requirement to protect the rights of those who use his property. The foremost purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens.

    Because government is not involved for its own benefit (at least that’s how it’s supposed to be), it can use force where citizens cannot.

    I am not against all taxes. I am, however, against taxes that only benefit some at the expense of others. The military protects us all equally from harm by other nations. Welfare, on the other hand, takes from many to give to a few.

    Let me take the take the analogy and modify it slightly. What if instead of a single property owner, we had millions of families that own property, and none of them were willing to sell. Do you have a right to take someone’s property just because you want it? At what point does someone’s property stop belonging to them and start belonging to society or the state?

    Once we give the state the right to redistribute wealth, there is nothing to stop a slide into socialism. At that point the state controls (and defacto owns) all property. That seems to me to the opposite of liberty.

  • Philip Thomas

    Hi Unbeliever

    I don’t know that the military protects us all equally: the rich have more to lose than the poor, and really its doubtful whether the average poor person’s life would be affected much by a change in which country rules them
    As for welfare, there are several reasons to support it. Firstly it is an insurance policy: who knows when you might not be in extreme want and unable to proviude for yourself? Secondly, it is a mark of a good society that it doesn’t let people starve to death in its streets. Thirdly, welfare avoids the formation of a wretched underclass which is easy prey for revolutionary propaganda (and revolution is generally harmful). I am aware that all this would seem to suggest a rather lower level of welfare provision than is generally the case in the developed world, and maybe that is a reasonable suggestion. It doesn’t suggest it would be wise to abolish it altogether.

    The scenario of many families would evolve into a few landholding families and many in poverty within a few generations, I think.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I think that the analogy of the super-property owner as dictator is nothing like what we have today. There is a great difference between a dictator and a constitutional republic like the US. A property owner has no requirement to protect the rights of those who use his property. The foremost purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens.

    I agree. As I said, that was the one way in which my analogy differs from the real world. However, I believe that the basic needs of life, things like food and housing and medical care, are human rights as well, and every government should be obligated to ensure their availability. What can be more basic than the right to live?

    I am not against all taxes. I am, however, against taxes that only benefit some at the expense of others. The military protects us all equally from harm by other nations. Welfare, on the other hand, takes from many to give to a few.

    I don’t agree. Welfare is exactly like the military in an important respect: namely, while only a relatively small number of people are directly benefited (there aren’t any soldiers standing guard on your personal property right now, are there?), all people are indirectly benefited by its existence. In the case of the military, the indirect benefit which all people enjoy is deterrence: the knowledge that the existence of the military dissuades most people from attacking us. Similarly, welfare provides the indirect benefit of knowing that, should you lose your job or otherwise fall on hard times, you will have access to a social safety net. Although you are not using it at the moment, you are just as eligible to use it as anyone else.

    Besides, we have to face reality: whether we abolish welfare or not, there are going to be a large number of people who lose their jobs, deplete their savings, or become injured and unable to work. What are you proposing we do about these people? What happens if private charity is not up to the task of caring for them? Should we turn them out into the streets, leave them to suffer and starve? Should we force them into begging or crime? Those options make everyone less safe and leave all of society worse off in the long run.

    Far better, in my view, is to establish a social safety net that gives people who’ve fallen on hard times the support they need until they can get back on their feet and rejoin society as productive citizens. I am not, of course, suggesting that social assistance should be unlimited in duration or come with no strings attached: it should be dispensed on the condition that the recipient receive job training, seek new employment, or whatever else becomes necessary to move them off the welfare rolls.

    Once we give the state the right to redistribute wealth, there is nothing to stop a slide into socialism. At that point the state controls (and defacto owns) all property.

    That’s a pretty dubious application of the slippery slope. You might as well say that once the state has the right to prohibit certain types of speech (say, slander or threatening or posting bomb-making instructions on the Internet), then there is nothing to stop a slide into tyranny where the state prohibits all speech that the government disapproves of. Therefore, we must abolish absolutely all laws that infringe on people’s right to say anything they want, if we are to preserve liberty.

    With property, as with speech, the solution is not to take refuge in a misguided absolutism. Rather, we should understand why there need to be some exceptions to a generally good principle, and then write those exceptions and those only into law, so that the limits of governmental power are clearly delineated.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    However, I believe that the basic needs of life, things like food and housing and medical care, are human rights as well, and every government should be obligated to ensure their availability. What can be more basic than the right to live?

    Many people need blood to survive accidents and sometimes there isn’t enough. Do you then propose that everyone be forced to donate a specified amount of blood to meet this “basic need?” Well, the money in my pocket is just as much my property as the blood in my veins. And I would agree that everyone does have the right to live, but you don’t have the right to force me to help you do it. I have a moral obligation to help my fellow man. The government shouldn’t have the power to force me to be a good person. It should only ensure that I don’t harm others.

    Welfare is exactly like the military in an important respect: namely, while only a relatively small number of people are directly benefited (there aren’t any soldiers standing guard on your personal property right now, are there?), all people are indirectly benefited by its existence. In the case of the military, the indirect benefit which all people enjoy is deterrence: the knowledge that the existence of the military dissuades most people from attacking us. Similarly, welfare provides the indirect benefit of knowing that, should you lose your job or otherwise fall on hard times, you will have access to a social safety net. Although you are not using it at the moment, you are just as eligible to use it as anyone else.

    The only purpose of government should be to protect its citizens from harm from others. There is no obligation on the the government to protect you from you. (By the way, this is the thinking behind most drug laws) If the government doesn’t require me to pay for the misfortunes of others, then I can save for my own misfortune. If everyone accepts responsibility for their own lives, then the charity safety net would be there to help the few who are truly in need.

    This is the same thinking behind social security. Why can’t I save my own money under my own control and plan for my own retirement. Oh, I know. Because some idiots failed to plan for theirs and now the government fells obligated to help them. Sometimes people will make mistakes, sometimes fatal ones. They should be allowed to do that. If we continue to undo the poor decisons of others, then there is no longer a downside to making poor decisions. We are creating a world without negative consequences. How is that a plan for a “great society?”

    That’s a pretty dubious application of the slippery slope. You might as well say that once the state has the right to prohibit certain types of speech (say, slander or threatening or posting bomb-making instructions on the Internet), then there is nothing to stop a slide into tyranny where the state prohibits all speech that the government disapproves of. Therefore, we must abolish absolutely all laws that infringe on people’s right to say anything they want, if we are to preserve liberty.

    But there is a clear difference between speech that harms and speech that doesn’t. How much of my property to take away to help others has no clear stopping point. There will always be those who need and they will always need more. If we say that you must give up some property to pay for the protection of your rights and no more, then there is no slope. We have created a line in the sand. From the perspective of the government, we must all be treated equally, whether we are begging in the street or multi-millionaires. As soon as the government starts playing favorites, then someone must, by definition, get screwed.

    However, we, as private citizens, can play favorites. If you want to donate money, work in a soup kitchen, or take blankets the homeless, you can. And many do and will. I’ll be honest, I rarely give to charity. Not because I don’t care, but because I already have. The government takes about a third of what I make and very little of it is used for protecting my rights. Most of it goes to someone else, who someone somewhere decided was more deserving of my money than me. If that changed, then I would definately give to private charities. Not the government, which sucks at just about everything it does, but a reputable charity that gives 95 cents of every dollar to help others. Explain to me why that wouldn’t work.

  • Philip Thomas

    Unbeliever, there are certain things which you see as a legitimate source of taxation. The armed forces, clearly. Does the legal and justice system fall into this category, or should it too be supported by private charity?

  • Oz

    Adam, the major problem with our system is the way the franchise is given away. People who contribute nothing to society have an equal say with active members of the community. People who pay no taxes have an equal say in how taxes are spent. Right now a majority of federal tax money comes from an ultra-minority of citizens? Since there are more people who benefit from social programs than there are paying for them, do you honestly believe we can have a vote succeed in repealing them?

  • lpetrich

    To those who complain about there being governments, governments, everywhere, I propose these options:

    * Find some government that does not demand tax money from you. Like the governments of Gulf States like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Those places are absolutely full of expatriates that work there, and if you are such a super worker, you should have no trouble getting hired there. It must be conceded that those governments cheat a bit; they live off of oil revenues.

    * Buy the favors of some government. Yes, bribery. In democracies, politicians are more than happy to repay those who have heavily financed their campaigns. But if the necessary bribes cost more than the taxes saved, then it is not a very economical strategy.

    * Live outside of the sovereignty of any government. One can build a floating city for oneself in international waters and declare it a sovereign nation. Some people have proposed doing exactly that, and many of those seem to be libertarians.

    One can go even further and build a space colony for oneself, either on some other celestial body or else free-flying, as Gerard K. O’Neill has proposed. But that is a much more expensive option than any Earthbound one.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The only purpose of government should be to protect its citizens from harm from others. There is no obligation on the the government to protect you from you. (By the way, this is the thinking behind most drug laws) If the government doesn’t require me to pay for the misfortunes of others, then I can save for my own misfortune. If everyone accepts responsibility for their own lives, then the charity safety net would be there to help the few who are truly in need.

    I’d still like an answer to my question. If all government social programs are abolished and private charities do not completely cover the shortfall (and you know as well as I do that they almost certainly won’t), then what happens to people who slip through the cracks? Talking about taking responsibility for one’s own life is well and good, but there will always be people who get hit with some contingency for which they’re unprepared. It doesn’t have to be because they’re lazy or thoughtless. There are millions of people in America today – I say this to my shame – who live paycheck to paycheck, who can’t afford to save up or buy insurance, who can’t afford to leave their job to get an education so they can find a better job, who are only one serious accident or illness or family tragedy away from destitution. What are we going to do about these people if such a disaster strikes? Turn them and their children out to starve on the street?

    But there is a clear difference between speech that harms and speech that doesn’t.

    And there is, likewise, a clear difference between social programs that only assist people with their most basic needs of life and social programs that give people luxuries which they do not need. Please note that absolutely no one has proposed the latter.

    However, we, as private citizens, can play favorites. If you want to donate money, work in a soup kitchen, or take blankets the homeless, you can. And many do and will. I’ll be honest, I rarely give to charity. Not because I don’t care, but because I already have. The government takes about a third of what I make and very little of it is used for protecting my rights. Most of it goes to someone else, who someone somewhere decided was more deserving of my money than me. If that changed, then I would definately give to private charities. Not the government, which sucks at just about everything it does, but a reputable charity that gives 95 cents of every dollar to help others. Explain to me why that wouldn’t work.

    I have no problem with that. Isn’t that exactly the system we have now? Income that is donated to a bona fide, non-profit charity is deducted from your taxes. That’s perfectly okay with me. The problem comes with the free-riders – people who would gladly use social services but would not give anything in return. How does a libertarian society propose to deal with people like that?

  • Shawn Smith

    … what happens to people who slip through the cracks? …

    What happens to people who fall through the cracks now? Do you believe government or its employees care more about citizens (increasingly called “civilians” by the cops) than private charities? I don’t.

    … Income that is donated to a bona fide, non-profit charity is deducted from your taxes. …

    Well, to be perfectly honest, Ebonmuse, money donated to bona fide non-profit charities is only partially deducted from taxes, 0%-31%, depending on which tax bracket you are in.

    … How does a libertarian society propose to deal with people like that (free-riders / cheaters)?

    A (pure) libertarian society would simply provide people knowlege of who the free-riders (cheaters) are, and hopefully those cheaters will be shunned. If the services are provided by for-profit entities, the for-profit entities would have strong incentives for finding out who the cheaters are, and denying them services in those cases. We can expect plenty of mistakes.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    What happens to people who fall through the cracks now? Do you believe government or its employees care more about citizens (increasingly called “civilians” by the cops) than private charities? I don’t.

    What you say may well be true. However, let’s not forget that the U.S. has been largely under the control of the Republicans for ten years now, and most of them are hell-bent on slashing every social service for the poor in sight. (Tax breaks and handouts to the mega-rich are another matter, evidently.)

    A (pure) libertarian society would simply provide people knowlege of who the free-riders (cheaters) are, and hopefully those cheaters will be shunned.

    Allow me to point out that the scenario you describe – shunning cheaters who haven’t contributed sufficiently to society – sounds, to me, more than a little like… communism.

    If the services are provided by for-profit entities, the for-profit entities would have strong incentives for finding out who the cheaters are, and denying them services in those cases. We can expect plenty of mistakes.

    We can expect plenty of mistakes when it comes to permitting access to the basic necessities of life in even an ideal libertarian society? Haven’t you just given an excellent reason to oppose libertarianism?

    The idea that basic services, like medical care, should be for-profit chills my blood. If I have some serious illness, I do not want my doctor to pick the treatment that will make his institution the most money over the one that has the best chance of curing me. And, if I should ever have to go to the emergency room in dire need of help, I most especially do not want the physicians to evaluate my ability to pay before deciding whether or not to save my life.

  • Philip Thomas

    What do you mean by ‘cheaters’. You mean, people who don’t give to charity when times are good, but live off the charity of others when times are bad, right?

    But how exactly could a libertarian society find out who these people are? I mean, their charitable outgoings are there own private business, surely? In any case, an information service designed to find such people and tell everyone about them would cost money- do you want it to be funded by taxes??

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Unbeliever, there are certain things which you see as a legitimate source of taxation. The armed forces, clearly. Does the legal and justice system fall into this category, or should it too be supported by private charity?

    Since the justice system exists to protect the rights of individuals, the proper function of government, then yes, it is something for which taxation is warranted.

  • Philip Thomas

    Ah, but then it seems to me you have already conceded the principle that we may tax you for the benefit of the others.

    The justice system disproportionately benefits the victims of crime. Victims of crime are normally poor people: rich people can avoid crime in many ways, from insurance and private security to paying protection money and running the criminal cartels themselves.

    So you approve of spending taxpayer’s money on something which benefits those who are unfortunate in one particular way (crime), but disapprove of spending it on something which benefits those who are unfortunate in another way (poverty). What’s the difference?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I’d still like an answer to my question. If all government social programs are abolished and private charities do not completely cover the shortfall (and you know as well as I do that they almost certainly won’t), then what happens to people who slip through the cracks?

    I’m sorry if I didn’t sufficiently answer it earlier. I wasn’t trying to be evasive. This is a very legitimate question and there is no satifying answer. If someone has fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, then certainly they are deserving of our help. But how do we provide that help? Do we take from others? Whether you like it or not, taking the property of another and giving them nothing in return is theft. And that is what forced charity is: theft. You mention people living paycheck to paycheck. There’s often another name for them: taxpayers. How often do we place financial hardships through taxation on a lower middle class family to help a family in poverty.

    Let me give an example.You have a man who makes $75,000 a year. Obviously, he will be paying taxes and is not elligable for government assistance. Then you have a low income family who do qualify for assistance and they essestaily get the money from the first man that he pays in taxes. That is your system. But wait, there’s more. The wealthier man has a son who has a heart defect. Even with very good insurance, he pays enormous amounts of money to keep his son healthy and prolong his life. Now, explain to me the justification for taking this man’s money to help the impoverished family. Why is the low income family’s needs greater than his own?

    You may say that this is a rare scenario. But in a population of 300 million, it will be played out many times. This shows the inherent unfairness in forcibly taking money from Peter to help Paul. It ignores the circumstances of all involved and says that success should be punished and failure (even by uncontrollable factors) should be rewarded.

    I firmly believe that if we remove the certainty of a safety net, many will find that extra something to succeed on their own. How many grown kids living with their parents are suddenly able to find a job when threatened with being thrown out. If we can eliminate the people who don’t really need the safey net, then I firmly believe that private charity can and will provide for the rest. Especially when you consider that people will have more money to give (with reduced taxes) and that much of that money won’t be burned in a government bureaucracy.

    The problem comes with the free-riders – people who would gladly use social services but would not give anything in return. How does a libertarian society propose to deal with people like that?

    That is where looking at individual circumstances comes into play. The government assumes that if you are poor that you need help. It makes no difference if you lost your money from theft or if you blew it all gambling. That is a terrible system. A private charity can discriminate based on real need and not self-inflicted problems brought on by stupidity. And we will only give money to charities that help people in need, not charities that give money to everyone willy-nilly. That is how the free-market can fine-tune a system while the government system fails.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    However, let’s not forget that the U.S. has been largely under the control of the Republicans for ten years now, and most of them are hell-bent on slashing every social service for the poor in sight. (Tax breaks and handouts to the mega-rich are another matter, evidently.)

    Obviously I am against hand-outs to anyone, especially the rich, who don’t need it. But listen the first part of that sentence: tax breaks.

    Let’s rephrase that: how dare the Republicans allow people to keep more of their money. I mean, they have so much that taking more shouldn’t matter to them. Their money really belongs to the government and they should be grateful that we let them keep any of it at all.

    This is the part of the liberal philosophy that truly disturbs me.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    The idea that basic services, like medical care, should be for-profit chills my blood. If I have some serious illness, I do not want my doctor to pick the treatment that will make his institution the most money over the one that has the best chance of curing me. And, if I should ever have to go to the emergency room in dire need of help, I most especially do not want the physicians to evaluate my ability to pay before deciding whether or not to save my life.

    Funny, because the thought of depending on the good-heartedness of others for my medical care scares me to death. And if your doctor chooses a course of treatment that harms you in order for him to profit, then he is commiting a crime. This would be true no matter how we fund health care. And I would have far more faith in my doctor’s decisions than in some government agency’s decrees. If you want to see how effective socialized medicine really is, go ask a Canadian how long he’s been on the waiting list for a hernia operation. Socialized medicine only ensures that we all get the same bad treatment. It is the system of the lowest common denominator.

  • Shawn Smith

    … handouts to the Mega-Rich are another matter entirely…

    I disagree with government handing out money to corporations, as well as private individuals, especially if they don’t need it. All we have demonstrated is that most Republicans will abandon principles of fiscal responsibility in a heartbeat as soon as they get power. Would libertarians be any different? I don’t know. I would hope they would, but we are all human, and people who actively campaign for the levers of power tend to be the ones we need to make sure don’t get that power in the first place.

    … shunning cheaters who haven’t contributed to society … sounds … like communism …

    I probably misspoke here. The “shunning” I referred to would be done by the people who know the cheaters, not enforced by the government, and mainly through the knowledge that the cheaters are assholes. Selfishness, which seems to me to be an important characteristic of cheaters, is usually pretty easy to find out quickly. Also, the “shunning” (I see now that is a bad word choice) would be similar to the way we treat selfish people (assholes) nowadays.

    We can expect plenty of mistakes when it comes to permitting access to the basic necessities of life even in an ideal libertarian society? …

    First of all, I said pure, not ideal. And it was more an acknowledgement that because society is made up of plenty of people, and none of those people are mistake-free, plenty of mistakes will be made. I don’t consider that assertion to be specific to libertarian societies.

    The idea that basic services, like medical care, should be for-profit chills my blood.

    Then I would guess that you believe food and water distribution should not be done on a for profit basis, either. Food and water are necessary for survival to a FAR greater percentage of the population than medical care, but I don’t hear calls to get the government involved in running the supermarkets. And because you brought up communism earlier, the case of a government run food distribution system that first comes to my mind is Soviet Russia.

    Shelter seems to me to be another basic service. Do you believe allocation of shelter space should not be done on a for profit basis? I would hope you would not want the government, or the agents of the government, deciding which houses or apartments people can and cannot live in, based on political connections. Or even better yet, based on a form processed by someone who has never met the person who filled the form out.

    If I have some serious illness, I do not want my doctor to pick the treatment that will make his institution the most money over the one that has the best chance of curing me.

    Well, those two options are not necessarily different, but in the cases where they are, it seems to me that it wouldn’t take a long time before it was obvious that that medical facility cared more about money than the health of their patients. Once that became well known, I would hope most patients would do what they could to find a better hospital / doctor.

    And, if I should ever have to go to the emergency room in dire need of help, I most especially do not want the physicians to evaluate my ability to pay before deciding whether or not to save my life.

    So how many resources should go into saving any one person’s life? What if they’re already 90 years old? What if they’re in a persistent vegetative state? What if they’re 25 years old, otherwise healthy, and contribute all their time and money to charitable causes? What if they’re 35, have a spouse and three young children, and no life insurance policy? I can’t answer those questions, and I don’t personally know anyone who could. I REALLY don’t want the government or its agents making those kind of decisions.

    I would hope you could find physicians who do care more about saving your life than your ability to pay them. I believe you would, because we can find those physicians even today.

    Finally, let’s look at the probability of any of the libertarian ideals coming to pass. In the last U.S. presidential election, the Libertarian Party candidate received less than 0.5% of the vote, and that wasn’t much of a change from the previous two elections. Ross Perot (remember him?) got 20% of the popular vote in 1992 and 0 electoral votes and at most had the effect of bringing the budget deficit to the political debate. I believe most people in the U.S. don’t want a libertarian government, and certainly most government employees don’t want a libertarian government. Most people want to get “free” stuff, especially if the costs of the “free” stuff are hidden, or separated from the benefit. So, what I’m basically saying is that getting all worked up about something that is about as likely as Jesus’s second coming, although possibly interesting, is something I just don’t have the time, energy, or expertise for.

    Demolish away! :-) :-)

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    So you approve of spending taxpayer’s money on something which benefits those who are unfortunate in one particular way (crime), but disapprove of spending it on something which benefits those who are unfortunate in another way (poverty). What’s the difference?

    The difference between crime and poverty is pretty clear. One was caused by the misdeeds of another and the other was not. Government exists so that we can all live together. It is the buffer that protects me from you and you from me. Without laws to protect us from harm by others, then no one is truly safe, and society falls. But government doesn’t exist to save you from yourself.

    Poverty is in many if not most cases the fault of the individual. They made the poor choices that lead them to where they are now. Many people were born into abject poverty who then went on to do great things. They prove it can be done. Those who choose not to better themselves get exactly what they have earned, nothing.

    I would happily help someone who got laid off because of a market downturn. I have no desire to help someone who got fired because they showed up to work on drugs. Our life is the result of the choices we make. If we create a system were poor choices have no repurcusions, then where will that lead us?

  • Philip Thomas

    I don’t think it is desirable to create a system where poor choices have no repercusssions. The good news is I don’t think it is possible either! But saying that people who are unemployed should be worse off than those in work is one thing, and saying that they should starve to death is another.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I don’t think it is desirable to create a system where poor choices have no repercusssions. The good news is I don’t think it is possible either! But saying that people who are unemployed should be worse off than those in work is one thing, and saying that they should starve to death is another.

    But we have created that system. We treat the man who got laid off the same as the guy who was fired for showing up to work drunk. They are not the same. The idiot who came to work drunk deserves to suffer for his mistake. If he gives up and dies, well too bad. That was his poor choice. Everyone in this country who can physically work can find a job. Everyone. It may be a job scraping roadkill off highways, but there is a job out there. Some people want a free ride. We cannot give it to them. As soon as we do, then there will never be a need for them to better themselves. The greatest disservice ever done to the poor in this country was welfare. We created a cycle and society of dependency. For the benefit of all, that must be undone.

  • Philip Thomas

    We have not created that system. In both the USA and the UK, being unemployed is not free from repercussions.

    Crime: Showing up to work drunk
    Sentence: Death by starvation

    I see. The deserving and the undeserving poor…but how do you tell the difference?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    We have not created that system. In both the USA and the UK, being unemployed is not free from repercussions.
    Crime: Showing up to work drunkSentence: Death by starvation

    I see. The deserving and the undeserving poor…but how do you tell the difference?

    I never said that being unemployed has no repurcusions. But the circumstances of why you are unemployed have the same repurcusions from the government’s point of view. It doesn’t matter why you are unemployed, you are still deemed worthy of assistance. Let me put it this way. I have a six year old son. He knocks a lamp off the table. Should I treat him exactly the same if he just brushed by it accidentily or if he was throwing a beach-ball around the living room? One is the result of misfortune and the other is the result stupidity and poor choices.

    The problem is that you think that we are executing the sentence of “death by starvation.” We are not. He is. By refusing to do what is necessary to survive and be a productive member of society, he is killing himself. You seem to think that a person is equally culpable if they steal someone’s food or if they just don’t give them anything to eat. I would agree that the outcome may be the same, but the circumstances are far different.

    I may even feel charitable and help this fellow, but that must be my choice. Forced charity at the point of a gun isn’t charity. It is tyranny. Whatever the intentions of the thief. You may admire him, but Robin Hood was still a criminal.

  • Philip Thomas

    You haven’t answered my question. How do we tell the difference between the deserving and the undeserving poor?

    Robin Hood broke the law by taking money from the rich by force and giving it to the poor. He was a criminal. The Sherriff of Nottingham enforced the law, by taking money from the poor by force and giving it to the rich. He was not a criminal. Fair enough.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    You haven’t answered my question. How do we tell the difference between the deserving and the undeserving poor?
    Robin Hood broke the law by taking money from the rich by force and giving it to the poor. He was a criminal. The Sherriff of Nottingham enforced the law, by taking money from the poor by force and giving it to the rich. He was not a criminal. Fair enough.

    I don’t tell the difference. Each individual charity determines their requirements for assistance. If people decide that they want to help everyone equally then money will go to those charities. Likewise for charities that only help those who are on hard times due to circumstances beyond their control.

    That is a far better system than taking people’s money under threat of incarceration and then giving it out indiscrimately.

    I may also admire Robin Hood’s concern for the poor, but the ends cannot justify the means. His system assumes that all rich people are evil and don’t deserve what they have.

    Let me give you another example. Say in 2006 I gaive 20% of my income to charity. You would probably say, “Great! Good for you.” Then in 2007, my father died of a heart attack and my mother had a debilitating stroke. I spent ten of thousands of dollars burying my father and setting up care for my mother. As a result, I spent exactly zero on charity. Then you might say, “That’s okay. I understand.” Well, guess what: the government wouldn’t say that. They would still expect me to pay forced charity like I did last year. Yes, I might pay less due to deductions, but I shouldn’t have to ask the government’s permission to keep my money to spend as I see fit rather than have them give it to someone else.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I guess it depends which Robin Hood story you read, but I always understood the situation to be roughly this.

    The people of Nottigham are getting forced to pay money to the rich few. Some of this money is called ‘tax’, some ‘tithes’, and so on. The few are the only ones with serious weapons, so there’s not much anyone can do about this.

    Robin Hood arrives. He starts reclaiming the money people were paying in tax and returning it to them.

    Actually, maybe Robin Hood was the first Libertarian!

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Well, I guess it depends which Robin Hood story you read, but I always understood the situation to be roughly this.
    The people of Nottigham are getting forced to pay money to the rich few. Some of this money is called ‘tax’, some ‘tithes’, and so on. The few are the only ones with serious weapons, so there’s not much anyone can do about this.
    Robin Hood arrives. He starts reclaiming the money people were paying in tax and returning it to them.
    Actually, maybe Robin Hood was the first Libertarian!

    LOL! Maybe he was. Although somehow I don’t see him on the next Libertarian Party ticket. ;-)

    And we would agree that taking money from the poor to give to the rich is wrong. I just also disagree with the reverse: taking money from the rich to give it to the poor.

    True, Robin Hood was trying to correct a wrong, but did he just take money from those who benefitted from these ill-gotten taxes, or did he steal from the rich just because they were rich?

    If the rich take from the poor (or anyone for that matter) in an Enron type case, then action should be taken. But there is a misconception among liberals that all wealth is theft. That the rich only got that way by defrauding the poor. Yes, that does sometimes happen, and it should be criminalized. But if the poor gladly hand over their money for a good or service that they like, then where is the harm? Why is the moral outrage at this person’s wealth?

  • Philip Thomas

    I wasn’t getting morally outraged (although in Medieval times the idea that the rich were robbing the poor was probably more justified than it is today). Let the rich be rich.

    I do however think that a society which allows its citizens to die of starvation in its streets when it could have kept them alive cannot call itself a civilised society.

  • Void

    I’m concerned that if industry is completely de-regulated, then competition will actually collapse. Many of the regulations are actually designed to sustain competition. In a completely de-regulated economy, giant companies can run at a loss for a while to undercut small buisnesses and run them into the ground. Not to mention the troubles that would arise if anti-strikebreaking legislation was repealed.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I wasn’t getting morally outraged (although in Medieval times the idea that the rich were robbing the poor was probably more justified than it is today). Let the rich be rich. I do however think that a society which allows its citizens to die of starvation in its streets when it could have kept them alive cannot call itself a civilised society.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean you specifically, just liberals in general. And I’m glad to see that you don’t share the common liberal disdain for the wealthy.

    How about a society that allows its citizens to become addicted to drugs? Or one where people can go skydiving and kill themselves? At some point we have to let people make poor or risky decisions and live (or die) with them. If my son starves to death, that isn’t society’s fault; it’s mine. Adults don’t need the government to be their parent. To pick them up when they fall or make the boo-boos go away. Being an adult means taking responsibilty for your own life and your own decisions. If you can work, then you should work. There is no reason for anyone to support someone who can work but refuses to do so. If that person starves, then they have only themselves to blame.

    If you are drowning in 3 feet of water because you refuse to stand up, do I have an obligation to save you? And if I do, will I have to keep saving you again and again because you keep falling under, even though you can easily stand?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I’m concerned that if industry is completely de-regulated, then competition will actually collapse. Many of the regulations are actually designed to sustain competition. In a completely de-regulated economy, giant companies can run at a loss for a while to undercut small buisnesses and run them into the ground. Not to mention the troubles that would arise if anti-strikebreaking legislation was repealed.

    I share your concern for the possibility of monopolies growing out of control and stifling competition in a de-regulated environment.

    However, if you look at monopolies in the past, they were often created by the government intervening on their behalf. For example, the railroad monopolies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were due to the massive land grants that the government gave the railroad companies. If the railroads had been forced to buy the land or if the government had built the railroad as a public work, then they would not have grown so powerful.

    Many people consider Microsoft a monopoly, especially the EU. And yet there is still competition in Microsoft’s markets. Admittedly, there isn’t much, but sometimes the free market will favor one company over almost all others. As long as Microsoft isn’t allowed to defraud in order gain advantage, then Microsoft should continue to grow as more customers use its products.

  • Gathercole

    I just want everyone here to know that Unbeliever, Shawn Smith, etc. are not real libertarians, because they advocate having police. Why would you want the government holding the hand of people who are too stupid to get self-defense training? Even an old granny can get a CCW permit, anyone can learn hand-to-hand combat or unarmed self-defense. There’s no excuse but laziness and stupidity, the same two excuses for being unemployed. Anyone who doesn’t wise up and get trained and heavy is a naive flower child that is afraid of some punk criminals. Hey Unbeliever, is the government your Mommy? Do you need her to protect you from the bad men? I tell you what, anyone messes with a SMART citizen, they get a faceful of knee and a gutful of sky. If someone fucks up at their job, they deserve to starve. And if someone is too much of an idiot to learn how to defend themself, they deserve to get mugged and/or raped. Unbeliever and the rest are on the right track, but they apparently can’t wean themselves away from sucking on the government’s tit.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I just want everyone here to know that Unbeliever, Shawn Smith, etc. are not real libertarians, because they advocate having police. Why would you want the government holding the hand of people who are too stupid to get self-defense training? Even an old granny can get a CCW permit, anyone can learn hand-to-hand combat or unarmed self-defense. There’s no excuse but laziness and stupidity, the same two excuses for being unemployed. Anyone who doesn’t wise up and get trained and heavy is a naive flower child that is afraid of some punk criminals. Hey Unbeliever, is the government your Mommy? Do you need her to protect you from the bad men? I tell you what, anyone messes with a SMART citizen, they get a faceful of knee and a gutful of sky. If someone fucks up at their job, they deserve to starve. And if someone is too much of an idiot to learn how to defend themself, they deserve to get mugged and/or raped. Unbeliever and the rest are on the right track, but they apparently can’t wean themselves away from sucking on the government’s tit.

    I can only hope that this a weak attemp at sarcasm.

    As I have said many times, the only purpose of government is to protect us from harm by other people. Of course the police are necessary to ensure this.

    Expecting everyone to get a job and provide for themselves is a far cry from expecting everyone to be able to defend themselves from those who wish to do them harm.

    I don’t want anyone to starve, but I also don’t want the government reaching into my pocket everytime someone is in need. It’s my pocket and I’ll do the reaching.

    I’ve known many capable and hard-working people that were laid-off and faced unemployment. The difference is that they didn’t stay that way.

    BTW, you would be better served if you based your sarcasm on what I’ve actually said. I never said that the only two excuses for being unemployed are laziness and stupidity. Or do you deny that sometimes these are the reasons for some people?

    I also never said that someone deserves to starve if they “fuck” up at their job. I, myself, have fucked up several times, but never enough to get me fired. You deserve to starve when you don’t care enough about yourself to keep yourself alive.

  • Philip Thomas

    “You deserve to starve when you don’t care enough about yourself to keep yourself alive”

    I have actively tried to kill myself on at least 3 occasions, and attempted death by passive means on several others. Did I “deserve” to die?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I would like to point out that it’s probably unfair to accuse a libertarian of being inconsistent for using public resources like roads or the Internet. As I understand the position, libertarians do not object to taxation to create public infrastructure that they benefit from to the same degree as everyone else. It’s only when tax money is used to fund public services that they do not see as providing any direct benefit to them personally, such as welfare, that they object. (Then again, I think there are some who would object to all taxation on principle. It depends on the libertarian, I suppose; but let’s be careful not to castigate someone for not following a principle which they don’t believe.)

    That said, I do have some comments:

    I’m sorry if I didn’t sufficiently answer it earlier. I wasn’t trying to be evasive. This is a very legitimate question and there is no satifying answer. If someone has fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, then certainly they are deserving of our help.

    Okay, I understand. We are agreed so far, and I appreciate your reasonableness.

    But how do we provide that help? Do we take from others? Whether you like it or not, taking the property of another and giving them nothing in return is theft. And that is what forced charity is: theft.

    I deny that. I point again to the reasoning of my thought experiment: taxation is not “forced” in any meaningful sense, because if you do not want to pay taxes, you are free to leave. (I do not mean that in the insulting sense of “love it or leave it”; I am merely pointing out that this is an option available to any free person.)

    Taxation is part of the contract that the citizens of a state have democratically agreed to: we have contracted with each other to contribute that money to fund social programs as a precondition of residing here. If you dislike the terms of the contract, you have the choice to opt out. What people do not have the choice to do is to remain in that state and take advantage of the benefits it provides while refusing to abide by the terms of its social contract. It’s the same principle as when you work for a private company, and part of the profit created by your productivity is taken from you and given as compensation to the executives of the company, providing you nothing in return. That isn’t theft; those are the company’s terms, and if you dislike them, you have the freedom to opt out by quitting.

    Let’s rephrase that: how dare the Republicans allow people to keep more of their money. I mean, they have so much that taking more shouldn’t matter to them.

    Yes, that is exactly right. Let’s not forget that none of the rich people in our society made their money purely on their own with no outside assistance; they were only able to earn it because of the stable economic and political environment that our society has created, largely through tax funding, which allows those activities to take place. (A free market cannot exist without government guarantees against force and fraud, not to mention all the public infrastructure which any successful business depends on.) The wealthy do have an obligation to the society which allowed them to earn so much wealth, and the more wealth they have earned, the greater their obligation is. I believe that and will stand by it. Taxing them accordingly is not punishing them for their success; it is calling in a debt that they already owe. And the money acquired through taxation should, in turn, be used to build up the public economic system so that other people will have access to the same opportunities in the future.

    And if your doctor chooses a course of treatment that harms you in order for him to profit, then he is commiting a crime.

    I was not speaking of a doctor harming me deliberately, but rather of them choosing a course of treatment that offers me a poorer chance but is more profitable over one that gives me a better chance but makes them less money.

    If you want to see how effective socialized medicine really is, go ask a Canadian how long he’s been on the waiting list for a hernia operation. Socialized medicine only ensures that we all get the same bad treatment. It is the system of the lowest common denominator.

    I strongly deny that. Are you aware that something like 40 million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever? The vast majority of these people are forced to forego routine medical care because they cannot afford it, and a single major accident or illness could force them into bankruptcy or hobble them with crippling bills for the rest of their life. If that is not a failure, I do not know what is. Medical care is not and cannot be a luxury for the well-off. What could be a more basic right than the right to life and health? Even assuming that universal health care must be intrinsically inefficient, which I see no reason to believe, which would you rather have: inefficient health care or none at all?

    Poverty is in many if not most cases the fault of the individual. They made the poor choices that lead them to where they are now.

    That is categorically false. Poverty is self-reinforcing: most people who are poor – not all, but most – are that way because they were born into situations where there is no real opportunity and never was. It is a terrible insult to tell the poor that they are poor because they lack ambition; on the contrary, a great many people are willing to work as hard as it takes. The problem is that our society is increasingly becoming one where working as hard as it takes isn’t enough.

    A recent article in Time magazine touched on this subject:
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1205378,00.html

    Do you think Craig Jones is stuck where he is because of his own poor choices? Could you get out of that situation on your own if you were where he was?

    Many people were born into abject poverty who then went on to do great things. They prove it can be done.

    I’m sorry, but this is a terrible argument. That’s like saying that many people who have cancer experience spontaneous remission, so people who die from cancer must not be trying hard enough to get better.

    Incidentally, do you realize that those European socialist states you so decry have significantly higher rates of class mobility than free-market America? (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05133/504149.stm)

  • Gathercole

    Unbeliever wrote: “It’s okay for the government to steal from you (if it’s for police).”

    Wrong, unbeliever, it’s never okay for the government to steal from you. Is my money MINE? Answer that question: Do I OWN the money that I RIGHTFULLY EARNED? Then how can the government be “justified” in STEALING my money, whether to save someone from starving or to save them from getting mugged?

    You said the government should protect citizens from harm caused by OTHER PEOPLE. WTF? If someone gets their leg broken by another person, or by tripping in a pothole, that leg is STILL BROKEN. The leg isn’t broken any WORSE because a person did it. Why should the government protect people from one but not the other? The answer: it SHOULDN’T.

    You wrote: “You deserve to [die] when you don’t care enough about yourself to keep yourself alive.” Hell yeah. So hit the gym and get a used 38. Costs the same as a lawnmower and even a granny can use it. I don’t want the government “reaching into my pocket” to finance your lazy pacifism.

  • lpetrich

    I agree with Ebonmuse here. How many poor people ever become very rich? Only a tiny fraction. And anyone who argues from this or that counterexample — if I hired them to do data analysis, I would not hesitate to fire them for incompetence.

    Also, this “poor choices” argument can be turned against libertarians. They have no right to whine about taxes when they can move to places where they don’t have to pay a cent in taxes, like Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. If they are too lazy to do so, then that’s just too bad. And since they believe that anybody can get a job if they want to, then according to their beliefs, they should have no trouble getting the necessary employer sponsorship.

    The idea that “anyone can get a job if they want” is baloney. You can get rejected for being overqualified as well as for being underqualified; you can get considered overqualified if your would-be employer fears that you’ll run away for a better-paying job.

    And I wonder how libertarians would react if the only jobs they could find are as government bureaucrats. Would they accept the jobs, no matter how contrary to their values those jobs are? Or would they act like their own stereotype of lazy bums who refuse to work?

    I don’t know where Unbeliever gets his(her?) ideas about what government is for. Furthermore, does only commission of harm count? Or does harm by omission also count? Will criminal negligence be a recognized concept?

    Also, the US Constitution does not exactly fit libertarian ideals. Consider its Preamble:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    And Article 1, Section 8 specifies several powers, like coining money, regulating commerce, establishing post offices and post roads, establishing patents and copyrights, etc.

  • Philip Thomas

    “Then in 2007 my father died of a heart attack and my mother had a debilitating stroke.”

    Just noticed this. Firstly, here in the UK we have state-funded medical care, so you wouldn’t be so out of pocket. Secondly, the argument here is just as valid against all forms of taxation, including that to maintain the justice system and the armed forces.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I have actively tried to kill myself on at least 3 occasions, and attempted death by passive means on several others. Did I “deserve” to die? – Philip

    I, too, have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts, although I’ve been fortunate enough to have never attemped to harm myself. If my tone seemed to suggest that you are are unworthy of a good life, I apologize.

    I’m not talking about mental illness, I’m refering to people who think that they should be supported and taken care of by others. The people who want all the benifits at no expense to themselves. Should we provide for an able-bodied adult who simply refuses to provide for himself?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I deny that. I point again to the reasoning of my thought experiment: taxation is not “forced” in any meaningful sense, because if you do not want to pay taxes, you are free to leave. (I do not mean that in the insulting sense of “love it or leave it”; I am merely pointing out that this is an option available to any free person.)
    Taxation is part of the contract that the citizens of a state have democratically agreed to: we have contracted with each other to contribute that money to fund social programs as a precondition of residing here. If you dislike the terms of the contract, you have the choice to opt out. What people do not have the choice to do is to remain in that state and take advantage of the benefits it provides while refusing to abide by the terms of its social contract. It’s the same principle as when you work for a private company, and part of the profit created by your productivity is taken from you and given as compensation to the executives of the company, providing you nothing in return. That isn’t theft; those are the company’s terms, and if you dislike them, you have the freedom to opt out by quitting.

    I agree that the government can do things that I disagree with moraly. I’ll grant you that they can tax by fiat. I’m not saying that the government can’t tax me and give the money to someone else. I’m saying that they shouldn’t. If the US decided to add an amendment making Christianity the state religion, would you object to it or just shrug your shoulders and agree with Christians that say, “Christianity is not ‘forced’ in any meaningful sense, because if you do not want to be a Christian, you are free to leave.”

    And for the record, I pay all my taxes. Even the ones that are taken from me to be given to someone else.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Yes, that is exactly right. Let’s not forget that none of the rich people in our society made their money purely on their own with no outside assistance; they were only able to earn it because of the stable economic and political environment that our society has created, largely through tax funding, which allows those activities to take place. (A free market cannot exist without government guarantees against force and fraud, not to mention all the public infrastructure which any successful business depends on.) The wealthy do have an obligation to the society which allowed them to earn so much wealth, and the more wealth they have earned, the greater their obligation is. I believe that and will stand by it. Taxing them accordingly is not punishing them for their success; it is calling in a debt that they already owe. And the money acquired through taxation should, in turn, be used to build up the public economic system so that other people will have access to the same opportunities in the future.

    Certainly the rich should help pay for the protection of their rights. They should pay for government protection of the free market that provided them an environment where they could get wealthy. But, unless that rich person took from a poor person, they don’t owe the poor person anything. Yet, somehow you think they do. My employer pays me. He does so as part of an agreement we made when I was hired. Even if I were poor, he doesn’t owe me more just because of my poverty. I would suggest that a rich person owes the poor less because they are a drain on society, and certainly didn’t help him achieve his wealth.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I was not speaking of a doctor harming me deliberately, but rather of them choosing a course of treatment that offers me a poorer chance but is more profitable over one that gives me a better chance but makes them less money.

    If he reduced your level of care to make more money, isn’t that crimial? It’s fraud at the very least. A doctor must have the best interests of the patient as the top priority. If you took your car to a mechanic and he used cheap parts to repair your brakes, which later failed resulting in your death, do you doubt that the mechanic should be charged with manslaughter?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I strongly deny that. Are you aware that something like 40 million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever? The vast majority of these people are forced to forego routine medical care because they cannot afford it, and a single major accident or illness could force them into bankruptcy or hobble them with crippling bills for the rest of their life. If that is not a failure, I do not know what is. Medical care is not and cannot be a luxury for the well-off. What could be a more basic right than the right to life and health? Even assuming that universal health care must be intrinsically inefficient, which I see no reason to believe, which would you rather have: inefficient health care or none at all?

    How many of those 40 million choose not to have insurance? Probably even more Americans have only liability car insurance. A wreck that is their fault could make them unable to get to work, resulting in unemployment, and then possibly bankruptcy. Should I pay for someone’s car insurance, too?

    If we could remove many of the crippling regulations on medical care and pharmecuticals, then mecial care and drugs would be cheaper. And there are many private hospitals and emergency care centers that provide free or low cost health care. Again, let’s allow private charity to deal with this.

    I, personally, would never be without health care because I refuse to risk myself or my family that way. If only more people took that approach to their lives and obligations.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    That is categorically false. Poverty is self-reinforcing: most people who are poor – not all, but most – are that way because they were born into situations where there is no real opportunity and never was. It is a terrible insult to tell the poor that they are poor because they lack ambition; on the contrary, a great many people are willing to work as hard as it takes. The problem is that our society is increasingly becoming one where working as hard as it takes isn’t enough.

    Every person who has come out of poverty and made a good life for themselves proves you wrong. A person who is willing to do what it takes to succeed will succeed. Instead, through welfare programs, we have taught the last couple of generations that the government will always be there to take care of them. We have created this dependency. If I never kick my son out of the house and expect him to live on his own, who’s fault is if he never does. Welfare only creates more welfare recipients. How many in poverty did poorly in school? They were given a free opportunity to better themselves and threw it away. And yet you tell me that they’ve never been given a chance.

    A safety net only encourages people to not get back up on the tight-rope.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I’m sorry, but this is a terrible argument. That’s like saying that many people who have cancer experience spontaneous remission, so people who die from cancer must not be trying hard enough to get better.Incidentally, do you realize that those European socialist states you so decry have significantly higher rates of class mobility than free-market America?

    Since we have very little control over our bodies immune systems, but almost complete control over our choices, this is a terrible comparison. Like many on the left, you have the mistaken notion that success is far more a product of luck (like cancer remission) than individual choices. That’s just wrong. People succeed because they make good choices. Yes, sometimes luck plays into it, like finding out about a job at just the right time, but it is that person’s choices that will get them the job.

    Our choices determine the course of our lives. To pretend otherwise dimishes all the great achievements of everyone who has ever lived.

    As for Europe, we come back to the ends justifying the means. You want to use theft to make someone else’s life better. Yes, maybe institutionalized theft of the successful will increase class-mobility, but does that somehow make it acceptable? What does that say to society as a whole?

    Some people have made the choice to do nothing with their lives. Stop trying to save them from themselves! Or if you still want to, then do it with your own money and don’t use mine. Is that too much to ask?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Gathercole,

    If you continue to misquote me, I will simply ignore your responses to my posts. I have to ask, are you truly an anarchist or are you trying to be sarcastic? I’m having trouble taking your posts seriously.

    The government exists to protect our rights. Without it, there would be no adquate means to protect ourselves from the actions of others. I would agree that a leg broken by another or by accident is still just as broken, but the difference is that I can control and have responsibility over my actions, but I have no control over the actions of others. There is a big difference between suicide and murder, or are those synonymous to you?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I agree with Ebonmuse here. How many poor people ever become very rich? Only a tiny fraction. And anyone who argues from this or that counterexample — if I hired them to do data analysis, I would not hesitate to fire them for incompetence.

    I’m not talking about “very rich.” I’m talking about being able to sufficiently provide for themselves without having to take from others. And my counterexamples are to prove that it can be done. I actualy do data analysis for a living. If my boss said that “A doesn’t equal B,” all I would need is a sinhgle example where it does. That would inevitably lead to why it did in this instance and how might it happen again. The same is true for those who pull themselves out of poverty.

    The idea that “anyone can get a job if they want” is baloney. You can get rejected for being overqualified as well as for being underqualified; you can get considered overqualified if your would-be employer fears that you’ll run away for a better-paying job.

    So you are saying that there isn’t a single job out there for a particular individual? Not one? I’m not referring to a great job or something that pays what you want. I’m talking about a job that allows you to provide for yourself and your family. There are always jobs out there like that if you are willing to take them.

    And I wonder how libertarians would react if the only jobs they could find are as government bureaucrats. Would they accept the jobs, no matter how contrary to their values those jobs are? Or would they act like their own stereotype of lazy bums who refuse to work?

    I would work for the government in order to provide for my family and avoid taking money from others through welfare.

    I don’t know where Unbeliever gets his(her?) ideas about what government is for. Furthermore, does only commission of harm count? Or does harm by omission also count? Will criminal negligence be a recognized concept?

    I get my ideas from centuries of enlightened thought. Our founding fathers are a good example. I would say that the ommision would have to follow an overt act. If I release a deadly poison into the water and fail to tell anyone, then those that were harmed are my fault. And yes, crimial negligence can occur. If I keep my handgun laying on the front porch and a kid kills himself with it, I am guilty of criminal negligence because my actions lead directly to the harm of another and the harm was foreseeable.

    Also, the US Constitution does not exactly fit libertarian ideals. Consider its Preamble:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    And Article 1, Section 8 specifies several powers, like coining money, regulating commerce, establishing post offices and post roads, establishing patents and copyrights, etc.

    There is nothing in the preamble that conflicts with libertarian ideals. Justice is a libertarian ideal. Common defense is necessary to protect freedom and it provides equal protection for all. Promoting general welfare is fine so long as the government isn’t the one providing the welfare. And how best can we secure the blessings of liberty to us and our children. Teach them to depend on the government or teach them to depend on themselves?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    All,

    Since we’ve had quite a discussion on this topic and I seem to be one of the few libertarians here, I thought I would attemp to sum it all up from that perspective.

    First, I don’t think that liberals are evil, nasty people who can’t wait to get their hands on my wallet. I recognize the altruism from which their ideas flow, and I admire that. Whenever I hear how much Americans contribute to charities around the world, I feel great pride in my country.

    Libertarianism has one central goal: maximum freedom for the individual. This means that you should be free to do what you wish with what is yours (e.g. body, ideas, property) so long as you don’t harm others (e.g. murder, assualt, pollution, fraud).

    Now with this freedom comes responsibility. The freedom to succeed comes with it the freedom to fail. And some will fail. I hope that compassionate people will be there to help those who’ve fallen, but forced compassion isn’t true compassion. And forced charity isn’t real charity.

    Yes, the government has the power to take everything I own and redistribute it to those less fortunate. I am saying that the government shouldn’t do that. Not because it is wrong to help others (because that is a good thing), but because taking from one to give to another is the antithesis of freedom. It is the abolition of property rights, because it gives the government carte blanche to decide who is needier and move property around according their own arbitrary dictates.

    I don’t want anyone to go hungry or suffer needlessly. But I do expect people to take responsibility for themselves. If we create a society where government dependence replaces individual independence, where will it lead? Do we want a society where a very few create our economy while the vast majority lives off them like parasites?

    Someday, my son will grow up and be at an age where he must go out on his own. I will help him get started, but there will come a time when he must succeed or fail on his own. It must be his life to do with as he chooses. I demand that he provide for himself because I love him, and I know that a life of dependency will not be fulfilling, even if he disagrees at the moment.

    Tough love is still love. And I think that it is better than a love that never judges and never condemns. Because that is a love that never teaches.

    —–

    I don’t plan on posting anymore comments to this thread, but I will reply to a direct question if asked.

    Thanks, Adam, for bringing up this topic and this opportunity for a great exchange of ideas.

  • lpetrich

    I’m not impressed by “anyone can get rich if they try”, because part of the counterevidence is many of the makers of those arguments. If they are so expert at how to get rich, then why aren’t they themselves all rich? And in command of large business empires, their common definition of “success”?

    So are they all lazy bums? Or is there more to getting rich than whatever they have in mind?

    I believe so — luck, like: being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, having rich parents, having certain aptitudes, etc. I’m fairly sure about the latter, because I know that I have great skill in mathematics and science and computer programming, while many others totally lack such skills, despite valiant efforts on their part. Shall I challenge Unbeliever to interpret some of the mathematics I have no trouble with?

    It must be statistically significant that rags-to-rags and riches-to-riches are MUCH more common than rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags, especially as many poor and lower-middle-class people may be called “working poor”, despite the common libertarian presumption that all poor people are lazy bums. Since Unbeliever considers himself such a big expert on data analysis, there has to be something wrong when he looks the other way at an obvious statistical trend.

    And why do many libertarians want to give their kids good educations? According to their premises, it is a big fat waste of time and money and effort, since they don’t need that to “succeed”.

    Also, this whine about “forced compassion” is like saying that if something is forced, then it cannot be a virtue. So it would therefore be wrong for the governemnt to force respect for life, liberty, and property as the libertarians define it.

  • Belathor

    Unbeliever said:

    A safety net only encourages people to not get back up on the tight-rope.

    You must be joking!

    lpetrich said:

    And Article 1, Section 8 specifies several powers, like coining money, regulating commerce, establishing post offices and post roads, establishing patents and copyrights, etc.

    Not to mention “power to lay and collect taxes”

  • Belathor

    Many people consider Microsoft a monopoly, especially the EU. And yet there is still competition in Microsoft’s markets. Admittedly, there isn’t much, but sometimes the free market will favor one company over almost all others. As long as Microsoft isn’t allowed to defraud in order gain advantage, then Microsoft should continue to grow as more customers use its products.

    I am probably being niave, but I was under the impression that “The only purpose of government should be to protect its citizens from harm from others” doesn’t include giving corporations any rights at all, or even recognizing their existence.They are not citizens. Furthurmore, “free market” doesn’t give Microsoft the right to tell people they can’t do X, because they merely thought of x first.

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com/ Michael Bains

    Excellent rebuttal, lpetrich. The whole picture of a dataset includes the effects, or weight, of data from outside the set. Education level is one of these datum when it comes to the ability to create or collect wealth.

    Thanks for the post, Ebonmuse. I read the Liberator Online and, while the philosophy is far less fundamentalist than the ARI’s, I frequently find myself shakin’ my head at some… many Libertarians’ apparent inability to see that the extremes they advocate are the core tenets of Feudalism, a dysfunctional political system which works best for very short periods of time, but collapses unless the serfs are ultimately allowed the same freedoms and GIVEN similar powers as have the Feudal lords.

    There is a time for Tyrants. There is a time for Anarchy. An Educated populace keeps both from growing to extremes, and is the only way to discern which is which and when it’s time to adjust.

    Thanks.

  • Belathor

    Unbeliever said:

    Even if I were poor, he doesn’t owe me more just because of my poverty. I would suggest that a rich person owes the poor less because they are a drain on society, and certainly didn’t help him achieve his wealth.

    I would suggest that a rich person owes everybody more because they are a drain on society. Rich people are very wasteful and certainly did not contribute to society in proportion to how much they have reaped from it. In most if not all cases, the rich person is rich by a matter of luck and coincidence. Bill Gates is not rich because he did anything revolutionary but because he was in the right place at the right time. And now he continues to be rich by feeding off of the ignorance of consumers. Why the hell would you buy an operating system that costs $130 and doesn’t even come with an office suite when there are literally hundreds of operating systems that are absolutely free that do? Sure, its Capitalism but it is still detrimental to Society. (I’m assuming by society you mean the benifit of the human species and not frivolous million dollar dinner parties)

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com/ Michael Bains

    Belathor; I totally agree with your implication, but there is some set of Legislation that makes Incorporation a legal means of securing quasi-individual status for those who do it. I don’t know as I’ve ever seen the specific Laws, but remember learning in college that they were established early on in our Republic and are strongly based on British Common Law.

    I’d be very interested if anyone has more detail on the evolution of Incorporation laws in the US. It’s a hugely important and, IMO, grossly under discussed legality which, as far as I can tell, everyone either ignores outright or simply takes for granted.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I hadn’t planned on posting again, but since I am still being misquoted, I feel like I need to set the record straight.

    lpetrich, I don’t believe that everyone can be a millionaire. I’m certainly not and don’t ever expect to be. What every able-bodied person can do is provide for themselves if they are willing to put forth the effort. Most of the poor in this country do work, and they usually work at jobs most of wouldn’t last 10 minutes at. But there are some who refuse to work. Who honestly think that it the job of the government to care for them. I don’t want my tax dollars going to support someone who can support themselves but simply doesn’t want to.

    Yes, luck does play a part in success. I said that earlier. But making the right choices has far more to do with it. Do you study in school or do you goof off? Do you do the things necessary to advance in your job or do you just scrape by? These aren’t tied to luck, they are tied to a person’s attitude.

    Both my father and my father-in-law worked full-time jobs, cared for a family, and went back to college to get a degree. This is the type of thing I’m talking about. Are you saying that the working poor can’t do this? Or is it simply that the vast majority of them don’t want to.

    I give my son a good eduaction because I want him to have the tools necessary to be successful later. Since he in young, it is my responsibility to make good choices on his behalf. I expect other parents to do the same.

    Yes, if something is forced it is not a virtue. If I tell you, “Help that old lady across the street or I will put in jail,” and you do, are being virtuous or are simply acting to avoid punishment?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    A safety net only encourages people to not get back up on the tight-rope.

    You must be joking!

    No, I’m not. If you know that when you fall, no one will be there to help you up, it might just cause you to try harder and not give up so easily. That’s simple human nature. I’m confused that this surprises you.

    Not to mention “power to lay and collect taxes

    I’ve never said that the government can’t collect taxes. They are necessary to fund the government that protects our rights. But that is all they should collect for: to protect our rights. Anything else is the government being altruistic with someone else’s money. It’s always easy to be generous when it’s not your money.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I am probably being niave, but I was under the impression that “The only purpose of government should be to protect its citizens from harm from others” doesn’t include giving corporations any rights at all, or even recognizing their existence.They are not citizens. Furthurmore, “free market” doesn’t give Microsoft the right to tell people they can’t do X, because they merely thought of x first.

    The shareholders of Microsoft are citizens. And if Microsoft creates something that requires patent protection, we are really ensuring that the investment of the shareholders, their property, is protected. Ideas are property, too.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    The whole picture of a dataset includes the effects, or weight, of data from outside the set. Education level is one of these datum when it comes to the ability to create or collect wealth.

    Isn’t education still free in this country? How are the poor managing to avoid gettign an education?

    You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. And he doesn’t, is that your fault, or the horse’s?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    many Libertarians’ apparent inability to see that the extremes they advocate are the core tenets of Feudalism, a dysfunctional political system which works best for very short periods of time, but collapses unless the serfs are ultimately allowed the same freedoms and GIVEN similar powers as have the Feudal lords.

    Libertarianism isn’t feudalism. So long as everyone has the exact same rights, then this type of disparity won’t happen. And all have the same power over their own lives, which the crucial power for success.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    I would suggest that a rich person owes everybody more because they are a drain on society. Rich people are very wasteful and certainly did not contribute to society in proportion to how much they have reaped from it. In most if not all cases, the rich person is rich by a matter of luck and coincidence. Bill Gates is not rich because he did anything revolutionary but because he was in the right place at the right time. And now he continues to be rich by feeding off of the ignorance of consumers. Why the hell would you buy an operating system that costs $130 and doesn’t even come with an office suite when there are literally hundreds of operating systems that are absolutely free that do? Sure, its Capitalism but it is still detrimental to Society. (I’m assuming by society you mean the benifit of the human species and not frivolous million dollar dinner parties)

    I feel that you have a very limited understanding of ecomonics. The wealthy add to society by spending money. Where do you think everyone’s paycheck comes from? People spending money. The more they spend, the better the economy. The poor are a drain because they contribute less individually to our economy.

    Bill Gates is filthy rich because he created something that people want. Do you think that he hasn’t worked hard? That he hasn’t put in alot of hours?

    And, even though this is off topic, when it comes to buying an OS versus downloading a free one, you very often get what you pay for. Most software on the market has been designed to run on Windows. That means that compatibility is rarely a concern.

    And how is people buying something that they like detrimental to society? It sounds like you just hate to see someone make tons of money.

  • lpetrich

    A safety net only encourages people to not get back up on the tight-rope.

    That is absolute hooey. A safety net makes people more willing to get on that tightrope, because they lose less if they fall off. It’s like safety devices in general. Are they evil, because they encourage people to do unsafe things? On the contrary, they are good, because they enable people to achieve more by reducing the risk of catastrophic failure.

    Consider in computer operating systems, two very desirable features have been preemptive multitasking and protected memory. The first keeps programs from blocking each other, while the second keeps programs from trampling on each other’s contents. Accoring to Unbeliever’s arguments about the evils of safety nets, those two features are evil features, because they encourage programmers and users to be careless.

    Yet it is very likely that Unbeliever is using an OS with both these features — the more recent versions of Windows have these features as do all its relatively recent desktop competition: MacOS X, Linux, the xBSD’s, etc.

    And is there anyone who really loves Microsoft software as compared to the various alternatives that are available? Is there anyone who loves Windows the way that MacOS and Linux lovers love their favorite OSes?

    I think that what’s going here is a natural monopoly — if one uses software for one OS, it’s hard to switch to another OS without replacing that software. If you don’t believe me, try that yourself. And no cheating, like dual-booting or runnning Windows stuff inside of Linux with the likes of VMWare or WINE.

    It must be significant that M$’s main competition in desktop and server OSes is Unix flavors (OSX, Linux, *BSD’s, etc.). Meaning that software for one can often easily be rebuilt for another.

    Bill Gates got his money by being on the top of the Microsoft heap. Think of him as being like the commander of an army — and living off of the labors of his underlings.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    lpetrich,

    First, you can’t compare people and computers. We work very differently. Computers are always logical, and humans rarely are. We often do things that are contrary to our own interests.

    When you lighten the consequences for failure, you make failure easier. It is no longer something to be avoided at all costs. Because we offer bankruptcy as an option, some, not all, but some, will overspend because they know that there is a safety net if they spend it all.

    Some acrobats won’t work without a safety net. Maybe if we took away the societal safety net, then some wouldn’t have more kids than they can afford or they wouldn’t take risks that could lose them their job.

    If you remove the repurcusions of doing wrong, then, for some, you also remove the incentives for doing right.

    I love Microsoft software. It works well for me and meets my needs.

    So a successful leader that creates thousands of jobs and makes shareholders (many of which are not rich) more money, he doesn’t deserve the credit for any of that? Some have to work and some have to lead. Both have their place.

    Why do you have such a problem with success? What’s wrong with creating a company that make things that people want and are willing to pay for? And then getting rich from that?

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com Michael Bains

    So long as everyone has the exact same rights, then this type of disparity won’t happen. And all have the same power over their own lives, which (is) the crucial power for success.

    That statement is simply idealistic. It’s beautiful and often true and I think it a laudable goal for the long term. The cultural reality is that wealth is power. It’s the energy to Make Things Happen which supplements purely biological human power. It’s simply not the case that all people, regardless of their equal rights, have the same amount of initial wealth, much less of any so-called self-motivational force.

    I don’t deny the basic prinicples for which you’re arguing, Unbeliever. I point out that human culture determines what is important, what are our Rights, and human beings take advantage of each others’ weaknesses, innocently for the most part, I would agree, but none the less. Once an individual, or corporation, gets relatively too big and powerful, a relatively arbitrary human force must be used to counterbalance that power, otherwise the rights of others are necessarily reduced in actual, practical value. That is indeed a path to Feudalism.

    And please do not forget the preponderance of superficially healthy folk with mental health issues who frequently need assistance for which they’re not even remotely sure about how to ask. Is John Doe’s depression my fault? Of course not! It is my problem if he works for me. So I can decide to send him packing or help him, my dependant co-worker. (If one who works for me isn’t my co-worker, then I’m not working.) If our culture decides it’s no one’s problem but John’s, as A LOT of good folk do, then John’s homelessness or suicide are inevitable, even though, medically speaking, they are Far From It.

    I don’t like that people get Cancer, or Lou Gehrig’s or Depression, or hit by drunk drivers. These are just things we, as a society, need to deal with. There is very little Free Market motivation to provide such assistance, though. THAT’s why it’s so important to elect responsible leaders, and replace them quickly when they fail to adequately address society’s problems.

    Life is complicated. Ideals are to be looked at and striven for, but political extremes must be avoided except for the shortest periods and under the most extreme of conditions.

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com Michael Bains

    BTW, Education is getting farther and farther from free in this country all the time. What Public Ed that is provided K-12 is generally considered sub-par by any goup of experts, and most lay folk, whom you might care to inquire of on the topic.

    Wealth provides a much higher level of Education and gives the private Ed schools the power to decline students who don’t pre-meet the standards which keep their GPA’s well above those of “free” Public institutions.

    Plus, I don’t know about any of you, but I’m still paying off my student loans, though I graduated in ’96. And I got turned down for an Ohio Instructional Grant one year because they said my form showed that I didn’t make enough money to be alive in the state of Ohio! LOL! And, yes, I did work that year, at a couple of different crappy jobs.

  • lpetrich

    Unbeliever doesn’t get my points. Computers may be “logical”, but the programmers and users of them aren’t, and a lot of computer features are intended to keep their users’ failures from being too costly. Unbeliever can even find many of them in features of his beloved Microsoft software. Let’s see:

    • Undo commands. These are very common in software for editing text and drawings and images and so forth.
    • Soft delete. A special directory, usually with a trashcan icon, for files to be deleted. One can open it up and restore its contents if one has second thoughts.
    • “Do you really want to do this?” dialog boxes for destructive actions, like deleting files, overwriting existing files, closing opened documents with unsaved changes.
    • Access privileges. These keep users from causing trouble with other users’ files or OS files.
    • Preemptive multitasking. So no program will hog the CPU, something I’ve experienced with OSes that lack it, like MacOS Classic.
    • Protected memory. So no program will be able to access parts of memory that do not belong to it.

    And it’s not just computers; if he has a car, then does Unbeliever drive the least safe car he can find so that that car will punish him as much as possible for bad driving?

  • Philip Thomas

    Unbeliever, thankyou for those words: I would suggest that people who completely refuse to provide for themselves may (only may) have some mental health problems in addition to everything else.

    Anyway, the difference in money terms* between the ‘give the poor nothing’ position and the ‘give the poor enough so they don’t actually starve to death’ position is much smaller than that between the latter position and the current welfare system.

    *There is of course an ideological cleavage there which may be wider.

  • lpetrich

    What do you consider “providing for oneself”?

    Would theft count? After all, stealing stuff is doing something by one’s own initiative and refusing to either beg from the government or submit to government regulation of one’s actions.

    And one can make the argument that if someone steals something from you, you had forfeited it because you were too lazy to do what it takes to hold on to it, and the government ought not to enable laziness by trying to protect you by trying to catch anyone who steals from you.

    And I wonder what the “anyone can find a job” libertarians would say if they had trouble finding a job — would they believe that they are evil lazy bum losers?

  • Philip Thomas

    I mean, get enough to live on without breaking the law. So theft wouldn’t count.

  • lpetrich

    Define “the law” — how is it any more than what libertarians never tire of decrying: government regulation?

    Or is it a law when one likes it and a regulation when one doesn’t?

  • Philip Thomas

    The Law has its normal meaning. Government regulations are part of the Law.

    By the way, I am not a Libertarian!

  • http://terp.bravehost.com Eddy1701

    Libertarianism has its good points and I certainly agree with the importance of personal responsibility. However, you have a good point when you compare the Libertarian goal of unregulated business to states that are held back only by their own interests. I think it should be remembered that if pure socialism is not compatable with human nature (or rather it doesn’t work well with it), then the same is probably true of pure capitalism. Libertarianism is a nice idea that seems to assume things like inheritance, prejudice, and simple bad luck don’t exist and ends up making promises as unrealistic as any Marxist would.

  • Padishah

    Reading through the thread, I note the core Libertarian value from which all else seems to flow is property rights. People forever ask ‘why should the government allow poor people to STEAL MY MONEY’ without regard to the obvious point: property is only ours because society says it is so. There is nothing particularly intrinsic that ties one to the patch of real estate you inhabit, or to the car you drive, or even to the numbers in your bank account which are affected by interest rates, fines, exchange rates and all sorts of other arbitrary factors. The ‘purpose of government’ insofar as it can have any one coherent purpose, is to allocate the resources within it to maximise benefit to its inhabitants. Once you stop seeing money as being yours by divine right the cries of ‘taxation is theft!’ ring hollow.

  • http://www.stevesmyth.net/ spsmyth

    Libertarianism is a nice idea that seems to assume things like inheritance, prejudice, and simple bad luck don’t exist and ends up making promises as unrealistic as any Marxist would.

    I totally agree with that statement. Libertarianism, like most governmental philosophies, breaks down when human nature is involved. One of the reasons Trotsky was ousted from the party, he lived in a Communist dream world ruled by Marxist dogma. Stalin, even though he was evil, was a realist.

    Steve

  • David

    Has it occurred to anyone that “freely agreeing to” the presence of the State in one’s life is not, in actual fact, what goes on? It catches you at an age where, one would hope, most people consider a human being to be far too young to consent to anything – namely birth. You’re dependent on it from the day you’re born (if not before), and therefore you start out indebted to it. The Libertarian way out of this would be to save up and buy your freedom, pledging thenceforth to “take nothing FROM Government and give nothing TO Government”. The system we have today is essentially analogous to that whereby you plant a product in someone’s house without their consent and then bill them for it.

    Furthermore, the “you’re free to leave” argument only really works when there exists somewhere to escape TO. Vis-a-vis taxes, this is not currently the case, so I feel it is uncharitable to haul the Libertarians over the coals for alleged hypocrisy.

    Why is Libertarianism relevant to an Atheist website anyway? Somebody told you “Libertarian” meant “gun-toting Texan Christian” and you just believed them because it sounded right, perhaps?

    The fact of the matter is that small (I don’t say NO) government is the most enlightened type there is; the free market, if you actually study how it works, is the best (indeed, the only) means ever devised of making people that hate each other’s guts cooperate despite this. The economics aren’t hard to grasp, and to be honest if you feel the need for a powerful State to run things for you, keeping things and people in their place, then I’m sorry to say you haven’t weaned yourself off religion at all; you’ve merely transferred your “God” into the form of the State. That’s a positive step, of course, but you’re still looking at the world in very much the wrong way. For all your talk of Individualism, at the end of the day if you’re not some breed of Libertarian (defined broadly as one who believes in personal and economic freedom) then it’s all a lie and you’re as Collectivist as a Christian commune.

  • Mrnaglfar

    David,

    you’ve merely transferred your “God” into the form of the State. That’s a positive step, of course, but you’re still looking at the world in very much the wrong way. For all your talk of Individualism, at the end of the day if you’re not some breed of Libertarian (defined broadly as one who believes in personal and economic freedom) then it’s all a lie and you’re as Collectivist as a Christian commune.

    Nice stance; either we have to agree with you or we’re a communist that worships the state despite that exact sentiment being denied by myself, Ebon, and many, many others throughout the site. Matter of fact, I believe there’s an entire series on the cite entitled “Why I’m not a communist”.

  • Alex Weaver

    David:

    It must be quite a navigational challenge seeing everything in terms of black and more black.

  • Mathew Wilder

    It seems to me, that for all it’s benefits, the free market can be worshipped as much as god or the state. The market is not perfect. It aims for efficiency, not other things that matter too (i.e. Justice).

  • Dave

    So basically, what you’re saying is that by adhering to strict Libertarian principles – that is, by holding fast to a near-obsession with property and individual rights – you can eventually, given time, arrive at our current situation of State control – that is, where an authority exists that can and regularly does violate those rights.

    Er, right.

    It’s not even a question of whether the State has been given a democratic mandate to violate the rights of 49% of the population – which of course it has not – because that would still be a crucial departure from Libertarian principles, causing the entire Gedankenexperiment to vanish in a puff of smoke. For the Libertarian, self-ownership is a non-negotiable absolute, and that’s that. If that principle has been discarded somewhere – anywhere – along the line then we are evidently NOT in the Libertarians’ “best of all possible worlds”. You can’t, to coin a phrase, get HERE from THERE without at some point violating the fundamental “law” of Libertarian, namely total rights over one’s own property including the body.

    Mrnaglfar: Collectivist and Communist are not the same thing by any stretch. Nevertheless, it does seem to me that to rely too heavily on the State betrays a retention of the need for somebody else to take care of certain aspects of life on one’s behalf. With God being refuted, a substitute is sought. Obviously I’m using broad brushstrokes here; many people support a large State WITHOUT worshipping it, but the fact remains that at some level, the phenomenon is the same – that of *letting someone else do it*. Be it God, politicians, employees, friends who owe favours – it is human nature to try to weasel out of hard work.

    The same might, of course, be said of those that consider the free market an all-knowing entity (consider the “Invisible Hand” image – does it catch falling sparrows, I wonder?, but the difference here is that the basics of free-market economics are inanimate principles that can be verified by experiment, so no human element is needed, no knowledge at all. The market is not all-knowing any more than gravity is all-knowing. It is the only system whereby the tendency to weasel out of hard work can be tapped and put to use, thus benefitting society as a whole.

    Finally, I’m deliberately defining Libertarian much more widely than is usual; if it bothers you to be lumped together with American Christian gun nuts, perhaps you’d prefer the less controversial term “Liberal”. To me, that’s simply a subset of Libertarianism, although I suppose one might argue that actually the two terms are distinct points on a spectrum of “Not Hating Freedom”.

    Worshipping the market is theoretically possible, but it’s about as sensible – and as likely – as worshipping Darwinian evolution, for the simple reason that a similarly evolutionary principle is what drives it.

  • Dave

    Alex: It is, but the alternative is to deny reality because it’s too nasty to think about. I’ve tried that, and it’s worse.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Dave,

    I have a mixture of capitalist free-market views and socialist ones, depending on what the issue happens to be (causing some confusion as on one website I can be branded a socialist who hates rich people whereas on the other I’m called a heartless, religious defender of the free market and greed).

    Nevertheless, it does seem to me that to rely too heavily on the State betrays a retention of the need for somebody else to take care of certain aspects of life on one’s behalf. With God being refuted, a substitute is sought. Obviously I’m using broad brushstrokes here; many people support a large State WITHOUT worshipping it, but the fact remains that at some level, the phenomenon is the same – that of *letting someone else do it*. Be it God, politicians, employees, friends who owe favours – it is human nature to try to weasel out of hard work.

    For just about all of that you’ll find no argument from me, but my main points about whether to allow government to act in the industry and how much to allow is based primarily around this central principle: The government/state can settle on market alternatives that the free-market will not/cannot on their own, or can shape the free-market in a direction, that while ultimately benefical, would not happen on it’s own.
    The benefits of free-markets are vast; from encouraging work ethic, innovation, creativity, and always shooting for better in a way that benefits everyone involved on top of being able to make sure people who don’t feel like doing work do not get rewarded for it. However, there are a number of downsides as well like people not starting out on a level playing field oppertunity wise, poverty tending to be a self-reinforcing cycle, overuse of commonpool resources, corruption, formations of monopolies, pollution, and in some cases, a harmful abudance of choice.

    The state as well has these pros and cons; a state can settle on more efficient outcomes that individual firms cannot, can protect against market failures that a free-market has no solution for (i.e. overfishing, pollution, monopolies), and can work to level the playing field in terms of oppertunity so poverty becomes less of a reinforcing cycle. The downside of course is that the state is not run by people who are all knowing and infallible, so regulations and involvement can be misplaced and/or not implemented properly. In some cases, because of regulation failure on the part of the state things can end up worse than before (or not as good as they could be).

    Worshipping the market is theoretically possible, but it’s about as sensible – and as likely – as worshipping Darwinian evolution, for the simple reason that a similarly evolutionary principle is what drives it.

    Worshippers of anything economic, and in many other types of worship I can think of, make the same mistake of confusing what is with what they feel could be. In those who worship the free-market things would just always work themselves out just fine if the government would just leave everyone alone (especially britney). For those who worship the state everything would work out just fine if people were just told what to do and all got along with each other. For those social darwinists out there it’s that society would be perfect if everyone would just breed out all traits they find personally distasteful. In all cases, it’s the naturalistic fallacy. When it comes to christians or jews or muslims, everything would just work out fine if everyone obeyed their teachings flawlessly.

    In all cases, it seems like the perfectly natural human thing to do in to prade our personal views around as better than all others, and in all cases, try to make ourselves look better, understand things better, and be righter than everyone else; in other words, trying to make people view us as better or special.

  • Alex Weaver

    My point was that you have somehow arrived at a viewpoint that is less nuanced than “black and white,” not that you’re pessimistic. Actually, I find your naive faith in dergulation rather pollyannish, if anything.