Spread the Wealth: Further Thoughts on Capitalism

In his 1651 book Leviathan, the Enlightenment political theorist Thomas Hobbes wrote that in the uncivilized, lawless state of nature, the life of humankind was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Even in Hobbes’ own day, when a relative degree of civilization had been achieved, there was considerable truth to this. But in just the last few hundred years, our society has been transformed almost beyond recognition.

For most of human history, nearly everyone lived in conditions of poverty, squalor and deprivation. But, ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have had a tool to overcome that! That tool is capitalism, which, when combined with science and technology, has proven itself to be a powerful engine of economic growth. The greatest virtue of capitalism is that it creates wealth, rather than just shuffling it around. Capitalism rewards the development of more efficient ways of making and doing things, from agricultural techniques that produce larger and more reliable yields of food, to industrial manufacturing methods that create far greater quantities of goods than could ever be made by hand. Although this does cause hardship for people whose ways of making a living become obsolete, in the long run it benefits everyone, because the human resources that are freed up can find new employment in other, more productive areas and increase the net wealth of society further still.

And when we can create wealth, we are freed from the Darwinian struggle for physical survival. We need not spend every moment in cutthroat competition for necessary resources. We are no longer limited by what untamed nature provides us. By using our ingenuity and our will to shape our environment, we can all be lifted up by economic growth that benefits every member of a society, creating more abundance than past eras had dreamed of. As opposed to traditional pastoral or hunter-gatherer societies, where the net wealth and range of opportunities open to a person was small, industrial society offers an enormously greater field of opportunity and abundance.

Although the process of economic competition causes hardship, it is necessary, because meritocracy is an essential part of capitalism. It’s the way in which the good ideas which produce more wealth flourish and spread, while bad, inefficient or outdated ideas are selected against and disappear. But the important point is that competition and meritocracy are a means to an end. They are not the end in themselves.

Some people, especially libertarians, seem not to grasp this. They act as if competition itself was the end, as if inequality was the end – and this is absurd. The purpose of the economy is, or at least should be, to produce happiness, not to produce winners and losers. Competition is merely the means; the end is producing greater wealth and greater opportunity, and with them, greater well-being for all members of society.

This is why progressive, redistributive taxation is a vital part of any civilized state’s economic policy. Those libertarian philosophies which would allow individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth without interference have lost sight of why an economy and a state exist in the first place. By allowing some people to acquire unlimited wealth, they have implicitly decided that their goal is happiness not for everyone, but only for a privileged few. By any reasonable standard of morality, this is wrong. By aiming at a suboptimal standard, they would construct a state that enjoys less prosperity and less happiness in general, and such nations will inevitably be outcompeted by those that ensure a fair distribution of basic resources.

We should not help people with no reasonable expectation of repayment. If there are people who want to be free-riders, who want to take advantage of others’ effort and not contribute in return, then by all means, cut them off. This conclusion flows from the same principle that implies taxation of the wealthy: namely, the principle that all people should do their part in contributing to society. The point of a meritocracy is that people should be rewarded commensurate with their effort. But they should also, as a precondition of participating in society, contribute to that society commensurate with their ability to do so. By spreading the wealth around, we create a better, more prosperous community – one that any rational person should prefer to join – than could ever be achieved by other methods.

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.

  • Mrnaglfar

    A quick nitpick,

    And when we can create wealth, we are freed from the Darwinian struggle for physical survival. We need not spend every moment in cutthroat competition for necessary resources. We are no longer limited by what untamed nature provides us.

    Evolution has never really been about survival; survival is merely one means to an end in evolution, which is ultimately based around the perpetuation of one’s genes into future generations. One could survive for a hundred years as the most physically healthy person on the planet, but if they die without leaving descendants, their evolutionary contribution to the next generation is essentially zero, unless through their acts they further the reproductive success of their kin.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    I remember I saw this really bizarre bumpersticker on a car once. It read:

    “YOUR FAILURE IS MY SUCCESS”

    I thought to myself, what a twisted mindset the driver of that car must have.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Until about half-way through I was prepared to comment on this article with a “bravo!” Your first half was completely reasonable, logical, and sound as far as I could tell. The error came from this contradiction in your words:

    “The greatest virtue of capitalism is that it creates wealth, rather than just shuffling it around.”

    I agree with this, but then you go on to state:

    “This is why progressive, redistributive taxation is a vital part of any civilized state’s economic policy.”

    When you put these two sentences together, ordered as they were in your article, it is very easy to see the flaw. If Capitalism allows the creation of wealth (implying anyone with ability can create wealth), which it does, how exactly does it follow that the government should take the wealth created by an individual and “redistribute” (said: “Shift”) to someone, ANYone else?

    And, by the next quote you seem to have lost all recollection of stating the virtue in capitalism’s ability to create wealth:

    “Those libertarian philosophies which would allow individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth without interference have lost sight of why an economy and a state exist in the first place. By allowing some people to acquire unlimited wealth, they have implicitly decided that their goal is happiness not for everyone, but only for a privileged few.

    If wealth can be created by one man’s genius, why should he not be allowed to keep that wealth if HE was the one to create it? Furthermore, if wealth can be created, one would assume that wealth is as endless as material is available as humans have needs. According to this logic (and I have not seen any reasonable argument against it) I can see nothing wrong with somebody accumulating unlimited wealth, seeing as wealth is virtually limitless and anyone with a mind and drive can obtain it!

    Further yet, we are not talking about stealing here; the capitalists are obtaining a value (money) by creating a value (product). By what right does the poor consumer have to buy that product for the agreed upon price then turn around and demand the producer to give some of that money back AFTER the contract (transaction) has taken place? This is, essentially, what wealth redistribution does: it penalizes those who make an honest living by creating a value and trading it for cash. Imagine the scenario flipped: After a transaction between a producer and consumer the producer demands that the consumer gives a piece of the product (profit) back. This would be wrong because the producer agreed to sell the product for a specified price. Why then is it acceptible for consumers to expecct producers to give a percentage of their profit back when the consumer agreed to pay that price?

    The first half of your article provides a solid argument against your closing point. Feel free to email me back personally with your thoughts

    ~Stephen Newport

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad

    If capitalism is to rid us of the unfairness of Darwinian struggle more effectively, it needs to be tempered to make sure the lowest level of society receives basic resources. I think a purely free capitalism would be more than just a meritocracy, I think it would be survival of the fittest.

    Anyway, I don’t think capitalism directly creates wealth – rather, it guides us to find the best ways of creating wealth. It also lets us shuffle it around better.

  • Cuers

    Although I agree with the sentiment that everyone should have access to basic resources, I struggle with the moral implications of forcing people to give up portions of their own lives to do so, I’ve found no good way to account for what will ultimately boil down to a threat of death or imprisonment.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    According to this logic (and I have not seen any reasonable argument against it) I can see nothing wrong with somebody accumulating unlimited wealth, seeing as wealth is virtually limitless and anyone with a mind and drive can obtain it!

    I don’t agree with the premise of that argument, Stephen. Wealth can be created in essentially unlimited quantities, but it does not follow that everyone is equally capable of doing so. As the proverb goes, it takes money to make money, and people lacking access to basic resources will likely be trapped in poverty and unable to best apply whatever skills or drive they may possess. Through enacting redistributive taxation, we can guarantee the access to basic resources and education that is needed for everyone to make the best use of their innate talents.

  • Alex Weaver

    I remember I saw this really bizarre bumpersticker on a car once. It read:

    “YOUR FAILURE IS MY SUCCESS”

    I thought to myself, what a twisted mindset the driver of that car must have.

    To be fair, that could just as easily be an expression of disdain for our culture’s perceived narrow definition of success in socioeconomic terms, and an affirmation of the driver’s happiness with his chosen path.

  • Cerus

    It’s true that people who are “stuck” in poverty often have a very hard time crawling out of it, but I disagree that robbing the people who just happened to be in a better situation is a legitimate, morally sound answer.

    If there were a government service that was truly opt-in and sufficiently valuable to people of means so as to be nearly universally accepted, it would resolve the moral problems with stealing from them.

  • Stephen Rice

    I’ve always viewed the libertarian vs. socialist philosophies as having the same end goal with a different prescription to reach that goal. We all want a society where everyone has access to basic necessities, where nobody starves, everyone is educated, etc. because that benefits everybody. The difference lies in what we see as the best path towards this goal.

    To put it crudely, socialists think that the state is the best means towards that end, where government officials literally take wealth from one portion of society and decide amongst themselves how best to redistribute it. Libertarianism sees it the other way, whereas the best way to ensure that everyone has access to simple necessities is to create and maintain a system of limited government oversight on private individuals and corporations. They view the principal role of government as that of securing private property rights. Comfortable that their private property is and will be secure, available to use as they see fit, every individual has the incentive to seek out the means of obtaining wealth. Government oversight and redistribution acts more as a hinderance (reducing the security of private property) than a help.

    The bottom line, and the major point that was left out of this post’s argument, is the value of individual liberty. As far as basic necessities go, this has to rank high on the list. No amount of healthcare or unemployment benefits can make up for a society composed of individuals who are not free to decide the best way to use the wealth that they generated. Individual freedom should be the starting point from which everything else follows.

    Put simply, I would rather deal with the ineffiences of a libertarian system, where there exists the possibility that certain members will lack basic necessities, than deal with a system that allows resources to be physically taken from one individual against their will and give to another. Such a system is an insult to the human condition and lacks respect for the individual dignity of both the individual being taken from and, perhaps more importantly, the individual receiving the benefits.

  • Aethertrekker

    The real problem, Ebon, is that the idea that you know how to best manage someone else’s property through redistributive taxation is not much different from the Christian conservative’s idea that s/he knows how to best manage everyone’s sexual lives.

    Both of you are convinced that your solution will increase happiness, but legitimizing the act of intruding into other people’s lives via government compulsion causes great amounts of suffering. Generosity with someone else’s property isn’t generosity.

    I think that private persuasion is better than public compulsion at changing hearts and minds. Many of the extremely rich do devote themselves to the alleviation of suffering without needing the government to force them to. We should recognize that unless we’re the ones who earned all that money, we don’t have a right to determine who will be the beneficiaries of that money.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I’m not sure any socioeconomic system frees us from Darwinism, or should be expected to do so. Genes or memes or whatever the replicant is in any given environment prosper or not in relation to it; capitalism is as exploitable as any other system by natural selection. Even taxation as a redistributive system can be usurped by people clever or rich enough to hire the right accountant.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    Ebonmuse,

    Exactly!

    Through enacting redistributive taxation, we can guarantee the access to basic resources and education that is needed for everyone to make the best use of their innate talents.

    … which increases competition and reduces stagnation. New ideas can flourish based on their merit, not just the wealth (historical merit) of their creators. So to stay ahead, the successful must keep doing the right thing.

    I think this argument applies quite well to Microsoft as a monopoly. Their business strategy seems to have little to do with providing the best solution and a lot to do with making it difficult for people to choose anything but their products for reasons of compatibility and interoperability.

  • Alex Weaver

    If wealth can be created by one man’s genius, why should he not be allowed to keep that wealth if HE was the one to create it?

    Can you name a single situation in which a person can become very wealthy without heavy reliance on the infrastructure of society?

  • Cerus

    Can you name a single situation in which a person can become very wealthy without heavy reliance on the infrastructure of society?

    A valid point.

    Counterpoint:

    Those very wealthy people likely weren’t receiving any special consideration from the infrastructure, the playing field was level in that regard, why do they deserve to be stolen from above anyone else who had identical access to that infrastructure?

  • Mark Plus

    I notice that these discussions of “capitalism” usually omit the important and non-coincidental fact that rapidly growing economies started to use coal and then petroleum and natural gas in a big way to substitute for human labor. (You’ve probably seen calculations showing that one barrel of oil does the same amount of work as five healthy human slaves toiling away for a year.) Energy from fossil fuels matters a lot more than “capitalism” in producing wealth. A capitalist society minus fossil fuels would look like Amish society indefinitely.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Can you name a single situation in which a person can become very wealthy without heavy reliance on the infrastructure of society?

    Alex, I’m unsure what led you to think I was not pro infrastructure? That’s what capitalism is. But wealth is relative. A society is not necessary for wealth to be created, one can plant corn on his own land and be wealthy with corn without a need for anyone else. Capitalism just speeds the process up by allowing that corn farmer to exclusively produce corn, therefor being very efficient and good at it, rather than trying to raise corn and livestock, cook and clean, etc etc. He can then trade the value his corn creates for all of the other wonderful commodaties other people are focusing on creating. People only gain profit when they are offering something original at a reasonable price. People only gain profit when other people desire to have what they have.

    Eshu,

    I think this argument applies quite well to Microsoft as a monopoly. Their business strategy seems to have little to do with providing the best solution and a lot to do with making it difficult for people to choose anything but their products for reasons of compatibility and interoperability.

    The solution for this is simple: Don’t buy their product if you don’t agree with their business practices! Who said we need a computer? Personal computers didn’t even exist until he came along, and we all were surviving up ’til that point. Simply because he created such a revolutionary product that it was sucked up by the market does not mean he should be penalized for the whole world desiring to use it. Monopolies were invented for those who do not wish to put as much effort into a product that is required to be better than the competition. Bill Gates started in his garage, he’s only rich because we all wanted what he created, how dare we penalize him for that. If you own (or stole) anything microsoft in your house you have no right to cry “monopoly!” because you are the one that made it so. Your voice to companies lies in your wallet, if you are not buying they will have to reasses their strategy. If there was an actual demand for Microsoft to become more universal it would have shown in the sales figures. It didn’t, so a few whiney people had to use flaws in the law to strip them of the wealth they created.

    Brad,

    You are correct, it is the people of a capitalist society that then have the ability to create wealth, not the system itself.

    Everyone else:

    There is nothing in the constitution (at least the original draft) that claims everyone has a right to free food, shelter, and Microsoft computers. The American capitalist democracy was created to allow people to obtain those values only to the extent that they worked for it. For those who are unable produce anything of value to anyone can be taken care of by those who desire to. Do you honestly think that if the government didn’t force people to give to those ‘in need’ that those who actually were in need wouldn’t get help from private funding?

    The altruists who demand everyone else give up their wealth for others are simply people who don’t really want to devote much of their time to those in need. If they really believed in the values they are trying to get the American government to enforce, they would spend less time trying to pass bills and more time at soup-kitchens and big-brother programs with their money, not money they stole from everyone else.

    In a capitalist society I am free to produce, buy and give whenever I see fit. So is everyone else. If you feel the need to give to a cause, give it, don’t force everyone else to have the same values you do; that’s socialism and a whole other discussion.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex, I’m unsure what led you to think I was not pro infrastructure?

    The fact that you apparently think it’s unfair for people to be taxed to support the roads, facilities, regulation, protection, and social health and stability on which their ability to make wealth above the subsistence-farming level depends, as evidenced by the statement I quoted.

  • Alex Weaver

    Do you honestly think that if the government didn’t force people to give to those ‘in need’ that those who actually were in need wouldn’t get help from private funding?

    I was under the impression that the government started “forcing people to give to those in need” through taxation and social welfare programs precisely because private charity efforts proved insufficient to help those in need. Would you care to make a contrary case?

  • prase

    It’s amusing, how the libertarian arguments are repeated ad nauseam. I think an identical statement to this can be found on this blog in few copies under every post concerning capitalism or libertarianism:

    The altruists who demand everyone else give up their wealth for others are simply people who don’t really want to devote much of their time to those in need. If they really believed in the values they are trying to get the American government to enforce, they would spend less time trying to pass bills and more time at soup-kitchens and big-brother programs with their money, not money they stole from everyone else.

    And those citizens who want to outlaw murder don’t in fact want to supress crime. If they really wanted to do that, they would pursue the murderers personally and shoot them with their own rifles, right?

    The solution for this is simple: Don’t buy their product if you don’t agree with their business practices!

    I like simple solutions, especially those that don’t work.

  • Chris

    Further yet, we are not talking about stealing here

    It’s true, the original post doesn’t talk about stealing; I find that an unfortunate omission, since capitalist societies are notoriously riddled with fraud and other ways of distorting the income distribution away from the genuine producers. People who become very wealthy by creating something of great value are the *exception*, not the rule; most megawealth comes from monopolies and other unfair competition, insider trading, no-bid contracts given in exchange for campaign contributions, predatory loans and other take-it-or-leave-it contracts with hidden terms, and similar chicanery. (You show me an old money man, and I’ll show you the grandson of a scoundrel.) Taking a percentage of thousands of other people’s work is also popular, discussed more below.

     
    Competition can be anti-productive as well as productive. Marketing (including advertising and pushy sales tactics) is a good example. From the viewpoint of the consumer, there is far too much effort expended on marketing, which does not improve the product at all; but any company that unilaterally cuts back its sales department will probably suffer competitively even if its product is better. (The adage about the better mousetrap is sadly not true – Phil’s House of Discount Mousetraps will go right on outselling you until you beat a path to the *customer’s* door and not the other way around.) The consumer and society as a whole would be improved if the *whole industry’s* marketing budget were spent on R&D or buying better quality raw materials for whatever the product is, but any *individual company* which follows this strategy is punished in actual competition and so nobody engages in it (or not for long, because they go out of business).

    I don’t intend to imply that marketing can *never* be useful – sometimes there really are people who don’t know your product exists, but it would be useful to them if they did – but that it’s overdone because it has an effect on marketplace success separate from, and sometimes stronger than, actual product quality and price.

    And some marketing is actually fraudulent, which is even worse. Then society’s resources are spent on an actually inferior product *and* go to reward the scammer. Gee, why would anyone want to interfere with that?

    one can plant corn on his own land and be wealthy with corn without a need for anyone else.

    Without anyone else to trade it to, a huge pile of corn is not very impressive as wealth. And that’s assuming you can bring it to harvest in the first place without a miner and a blacksmith to make your plow and shoe your horses, a lumberjack and a carpenter to build you a house to live in and a barn to store the corn in, some farmers growing textile fibers, weavers and tailors to make some clothes for you to wear in your magnificent corn-farming solitude, etc., etc. (Relatively low-tech alternatives are described here because the high-tech versions are even *more* interdependent, requiring ever more specialized trades. Try creating great wealth by inventing computer software “without a need for anyone else”…)

    And of course, someone to enforce your claim to “your own” land. Want to enforce it yourself? Then you’ll need a gunsmith, and a saltpeter miner, and a charcoal burner, and… (Here I apply a medium-tech alternative, again to be more favorable to the scenario. One guy with a black-powder musket would at least have a chance of running similarly equipped intruders off his land, or shooting them. At the tech level of muscle-powered weapons, a person who spends most of his time farming has virtually no chance against professional warriors or bandits no matter how he is armed – even one on one, to say nothing of any military organization – and he’s even worse off against a tank or a guided missile. The military could be described as another anti-productive endeavor, but again, you wouldn’t want to be the only one without one.)

    Even John Galt needed a society – and that’s with the partiality of the author *and* inventing perpetual motion!

     
    Furthermore, capitalism notoriously undervalues actual *work* and overvalues non-labor contributions, based on the relative bargaining power of the people who bring each of those things to the table. Progressive taxation is an attempt to counteract that distortion. (Although the money still flows uphill, because poorer people have no choice but to spend it; but at least some goods reach them in exchange.) Unions are another, but corporations have a strong incentive to destroy unions and will often succeed if the unions aren’t protected by law. (Corporations are *created* and protected by law, so it’s only fair.)

  • Scott M.

    I quite liked the article but I guess that’s because I consider myself a WITT (We’re In This Together) and not a YOYO (You’re On Your Own).

  • Alex Weaver

    An additional thought: If Libertarians are in favor of an economic meritocracy, why don’t they campaign to outlaw the practice of leaving money to one’s descendents?

  • Jim Baerg

    Mark Plus said:

    A capitalist society minus fossil fuels would look like Amish society indefinitely.

    That’s partially true. It’s more accurate to say that we need some energy source that provides a similarly high return for the energy invested, to have a more prosperous society than that.

    The currently developed non-fossil energy sources that qualify are, hydroelectric, geothermal & most importantly nuclear fission. The 1st 2 exist in only some locations & in insufficient amounts to supply a population of billions. Nuclear is needed to maintain an industrial society post fossil fuel.

    Note that none of the alternatives to fossil fuel can be easily used to run mobile machinery like cars. The future won’t look Amish, but transport will be more electric rail & less road or air.

  • Samuel Skinner

    A capitalist society without fuel would be like the French and English prior to the industrial evolution. The’d use sail for transport, water power for industry, etc. They wouldn’t be able to build planes, but alot of other technologies would be inside their grasp.

    Coal, oil and other fossil fuels simply allow rapid improvement and allow certain endevors that require high energy density fuel.

  • Christopher

    Ebonmuse,

    “For most of human history, nearly everyone lived in conditions of poverty, squalor and deprivation. But, ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have had a tool to overcome that! That tool is capitalism, which, when combined with science and technology, has proven itself to be a powerful engine of economic growth. The greatest virtue of capitalism is that it creates wealth, rather than just shuffling it around.”

    Wrong! Wealth isn’t actually “created” by anyone or anything – the capitalist system merely allows more room for exploitation of resources in order to convert it into wealth. This motivates economies of scale: which are very growth-oriented and can only further develop so long as their is a flow of resources going their way (thus the reason so many companies expand outside their home country).

    But the actual number of resources that they can exploit is finite – sooner or later there will come a point in time where there’s just no where left to expand into to get them, at which point you’d better prepare for another economic crash like 1929…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Cerus:

    It’s true that people who are “stuck” in poverty often have a very hard time crawling out of it, but I disagree that robbing the people who just happened to be in a better situation is a legitimate, morally sound answer.

    Yes, I agree: robbing rich people would be an unfair plan. Taxation, as enacted via a democratically elected representative government, is not. To compare the two is like comparing a judicial system with police and courts to roaming mobs practicing vigilantism. I note that, like this one, most libertarian arguments against taxation can only be made by assuming the illegitimacy of the state.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Further, for Aethertrekker:

    The real problem, Ebon, is that the idea that you know how to best manage someone else’s property through redistributive taxation is not much different from the Christian conservative’s idea that s/he knows how to best manage everyone’s sexual lives.

    This argument is sheer nonsense. Unless you’re taking the position that the government never has any right to regulate anyone’s behavior in any respect, then you’ve already conceded the principle at hand. My opposition to theocratic religious laws on sex is not based on a generic principle that no one ever has any right to tell anyone else what to do. It’s based on the reasoned conclusion that such laws are an enormous infringement on people’s liberty and produce no real benefit to anyone. Taxation is, at best, a minor infringement on people’s liberty and has the potential to produce enormous tangible good for those who need it most.

    Both of you are convinced that your solution will increase happiness, but legitimizing the act of intruding into other people’s lives via government compulsion causes great amounts of suffering.

    I refuse to take seriously the proposition that taxing a percentage of a wealthy First World citizen’s property causes greater suffering in the long run than leaving people in poverty to starve and die of treatable disease.

  • Christopher

    Ebonmuse,

    “Yes, I agree: robbing rich people would be an unfair plan. Taxation, as enacted via a democratically elected representative government, is not. To compare the two is like comparing a judicial system with police and courts to roaming mobs practicing vigilantism.”

    I fail to see a difference: as far as I’m concened, the state is just a bigger mob with more guns that wants to appear legitimate – so the people they collect protection money (read: taxes) from don’t want to tear their heads off.

    BTW: I find that vigilantees do a better job of protecting theirs than any branch of “law” enoforcement does…

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Ebonmuse:

    …as enacted via a democratically elected representative government, is not. To compare the two is like comparing a judicial system with police and courts to roaming mobs practicing vigilantism.

    So if our elected officials were to decide we can no longer say what we please, consume what we please, or make love to whomever agrees to (oh, wait, those last two rights have already been infringed upon), you would have no problem with that?

    Alex:

    The fact that you apparently think it’s unfair for people to be taxed to support the roads, facilities, regulation, protection, and social health and stability on which their ability to make wealth above the subsistence-farming level depends, as evidenced by the statement I quoted.

    Infrastructure does not denote government, there are governmental infrastructures and their are private ones. A capitalist society (supported by the enforcement of human rights by a people’s government) of private roads, private market, private facilities and private health is entirely possible. Does it mean everyone wins? No. Does it mean everyone will survive the best life? No. But this is the only system which gives that person a chance. Give me an argument as to why one life should be morally responsible for the survival of any other life. I was not personally born into the greatest of means, but there will always be someone lower than I, and I would die before my life were to be supported by the robbing of someone else.

    Also, Alex

    If Libertarians are in favor of an economic meritocracy, why don’t they campaign to outlaw the practice of leaving money to one’s descendents?

    This quote shows your misunderstanding. Our job isn’t to tell people how to use their money, that’s for the leeches of society. I have no problem with those born into wealth and riches, that’s how life works, wishing wouldn’t change it. The only morally acceptable way to deal in a reality in which nothing is naturally fare is to create a system that allows the freedom to create, to produce, to think, to speak, and to act all the while penalizing those who undermine the system (yes, this includes shady business people who deceive, I don’t understand why you guys think capitalists think this is ok?). Those who ‘magically happen upon wealth’ are entitled to it, as well as those who produce it. If it was given to them in ANY mutual deal, rather a trade or a gift, it.is.theirs. no one elses. Simply because someone you think needs it does not entitle you nor any government to take it from them. If you want the world to be more fare, make it so. Quit telling people how to live their lives.

    Prase:

    And those citizens who want to outlaw murder don’t in fact want to supress crime. If they really wanted to do that, they would pursue the murderers personally and shoot them with their own rifles, right?

    It would be illogical to pursue a supposed murderer and kill him. That’s why we have a system that organizes the evidence and tries to conclude objectively what it points to. Killing is never ok unless that is the only way to directly, in the moment, save innocent life from somebody threatening it. Killing somebody (whether the government or an individual) is never ok otherwise, because there is always the chance we could be wrong about our conclusions. At least it can be partially corrected if they are still alive but in jail.

    However, I don’t understand how you can relate altruism with law enforcement? Law enforcement (at least in a free society) is in place and should be supported by the people to allow them the freedom to live in defense of those who wish to take their freedoms away (example: most of the people commenting here). Altruism is what: Defense against reality? Bad luck? Fairness? Listen, if you want “fairness” live in a socialist country, and be prepared to accept whatever level of fairness they say is appropriate. Socialism can only exist at the point of a gun, and it will be aimed at your head too not just the formerly rich ones. If you should ever decide you want a Honda instead of the standard bicycles being passed out to the masses, to bad. Socialism does not mean everyone is rich, it simply makes everyone poor.

    You can’t just say, “oh, we’ll only take a little bit from the rich, that’s not wrong.” If you’re taking something they own, you’re stealing. Those who don’t wish or cannot pay to use roads, drive cars, buy computers, whatever, never had a right to them without working for it. That’s how reality works.

    The only way for me to drive cars, eat food, own computers, live under a roof etc. is either for me to work only for me, or for somebody else to work twice as hard… I’ll take the former, thank you.

    I like simple solutions, especially those that don’t work.

    Prase, if everyone isn’t buying, it works. If you’re the only one not buying, I guess no one else really minds if Microsoft has a corner on the market. Simply making a better product first does not make it ‘unfair’ competition. Grow some balls and make something better.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Prase,

    one more thing. Although it would be wrong to pursue a supposed murderer and shoot him, it would be your responsibility to fight if your soil was being attacked, if your family was in harm. That’s what a people’s government is. In cases such as war where a trial is not possible in between gunshots, it is necessary for the people to defend their freedom. That is my philosophy but I would not, and could not force you to fight with me if you did not believe it was right, even if I believed doing so would save lives. It would simply mean I’d have to work extra hard for that which I believed in and recruit others to join the cause. That is what you should be doing. Find people of similar convictions and help each other out, don’t use the government to force your cause on other people. I promise I won’t do that to you.

    Scott,

    I assume your not in this with those who wish to strip your freedoms and harm your family? Me neither. Everyone else is just fine with me though.

  • Alex Weaver

    nfrastructure does not denote government, there are governmental infrastructures and their are private ones. A capitalist society (supported by the enforcement of human rights by a people’s government) of private roads, private market, private facilities and private health is entirely possible. Does it mean everyone wins? No. Does it mean everyone will survive the best life? No.

    The result of attempts at operating society under a purely private infrastructure are what produced the motive to develop government infrastructure.

    But this is the only system which gives that person a chance.

    Will you perhaps not ignore THIS request to justify an incredible assertion/

    This quote shows your misunderstanding. Our job isn’t to tell people how to use their money, that’s for the leeches of society. I have no problem with those born into wealth and riches, that’s how life works, wishing wouldn’t change it. The only morally acceptable way to deal in a reality in which nothing is naturally fare is to create a system that allows the freedom to create, to produce, to think, to speak, and to act all the while penalizing those who undermine the system (yes, this includes shady business people who deceive, I don’t understand why you guys think capitalists think this is ok?). Those who ‘magically happen upon wealth’ are entitled to it, as well as those who produce it. If it was given to them in ANY mutual deal, rather a trade or a gift, it.is.theirs. no one elses.

    Good, now we’re making some progress. Just a moment ago you were implicitly asserting that everyone who is wealthy earned it through their own efforts.

    Simply because someone you think needs it does not entitle you nor any government to take it from them. If you want the world to be more fare, make it so. Quit telling people how to live their lives.

    Will you make up your mind?

  • http://mcv.planc.ee mcv

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t read all the comments so my points might have already been made.

    First, a more careful reading of Hobbes reveals that the state of nature that he describes is not a historical description, but a hypothetical justification for the existence of the state. If there were no state then we would be in a state of nature and that would be bad, since men would act like Hobbes desrcibes.

    Secondly, the essential element for Hobbes was not economy, but laws. It is the laws and the lawgiver who is able to enforce those laws which provides us with progress and development, since without those laws people would be in a constant state of war and in that state there is no place for economy.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Christopher, you do realize thatis you are tlaking about running out of power, the Sun has a good 4.5 billion years left? It isn’t inherent that we fail to tap it.

    “I fail to see a difference: as far as I’m concened, the state is just a bigger mob with more guns that wants to appear legitimate – so the people they collect protection money (read: taxes) from don’t want to tear their heads off.

    BTW: I find that vigilantees do a better job of protecting theirs than any branch of “law” enoforcement does…”

    First of, you are making a false analogy. Both the mob and the government use force. True. They happe to be differant in every other way though. You seem to think that “force” is inherently bad… because you say so. It is called an implicit assumption- you have to defend it.

    As for vigilantism… doesn’t work if you are dead. Or for contracts. Or for misdimenors. Or if you don’t know who did it.

    “So if our elected officials were to decide we can no longer say what we please, consume what we please, or make love to whomever agrees to (oh, wait, those last two rights have already been infringed upon), you would have no problem with that”

    Strawman. We are stating government is necesary. That doesn’t mean individual governments are good.

    “Infrastructure does not denote government, there are governmental infrastructures and their are private ones. A capitalist society (supported by the enforcement of human rights by a people’s government) of private roads, private market, private facilities and private health is entirely possible. Does it mean everyone wins? No. Does it mean everyone will survive the best life? No. But this is the only system which gives that person a chance. Give me an argument as to why one life should be morally responsible for the survival of any other life. I was not personally born into the greatest of means, but there will always be someone lower than I, and I would die before my life were to be supported by the robbing of someone else.”

    Except certain projects are to big for private individuals. Like sailing across the ocean, space travel, interstate highway system, etc.

    Apparently you think anarchy is preferable… EVEN when the outcome is worse. We don’t stand on “moral principles” because they are inherently moral, but because they lead to moral outcomes. You seem to want to be self righteous.

    As for supporting off another person… uh, your family ring any bells?

    “This quote shows your misunderstanding. Our job isn’t to tell people how to use their money, that’s for the leeches of society. I have no problem with those born into wealth and riches, that’s how life works, wishing wouldn’t change it. The only morally acceptable way to deal in a reality in which nothing is naturally fare is to create a system that allows the freedom to create, to produce, to think, to speak, and to act all the while penalizing those who undermine the system (yes, this includes shady business people who deceive, I don’t understand why you guys think capitalists think this is ok?). Those who ‘magically happen upon wealth’ are entitled to it, as well as those who produce it. If it was given to them in ANY mutual deal, rather a trade or a gift, it.is.theirs. no one elses. Simply because someone you think needs it does not entitle you nor any government to take it from them. If you want the world to be more fare, make it so. Quit telling people how to live their lives.”

    So, it is okay if they raise private armies? Or buy slaves? Or develop their OWN states? Or do you oppose people accumulating power like that?

    As for shady dealers… what if they rip off a brand name? In short, what if they exploit the system and people die? Are people supposed to look in deep for ALL purchases?

    We tell people how to live their lives… right now in fact. You are telling people not to force this on others… why are you telling us how to live our lives?

    “It would be illogical to pursue a supposed murderer and kill him. That’s why we have a system that organizes the evidence and tries to conclude objectively what it points to. Killing is never ok unless that is the only way to directly, in the moment, save innocent life from somebody threatening it. Killing somebody (whether the government or an individual) is never ok otherwise, because there is always the chance we could be wrong about our conclusions. At least it can be partially corrected if they are still alive but in jail.”

    Except that is what you are proposing. Why would a market answer work- they have no incentive to solve murders- evidence collecting, trials, etc- they are all expensive.

    “However, I don’t understand how you can relate altruism with law enforcement? Law enforcement (at least in a free society) is in place and should be supported by the people to allow them the freedom to live in defense of those who wish to take their freedoms away (example: most of the people commenting here). Altruism is what: Defense against reality? Bad luck? Fairness? Listen, if you want “fairness” live in a socialist country, and be prepared to accept whatever level of fairness they say is appropriate. Socialism can only exist at the point of a gun, and it will be aimed at your head too not just the formerly rich ones. If you should ever decide you want a Honda instead of the standard bicycles being passed out to the masses, to bad. Socialism does not mean everyone is rich, it simply makes everyone poor.”

    Strawman. You seem to forget the US itself has wealth redistribution programs and we aren’t socialist. Or look at Sweden, which is socialist… and the people love it.

    You are conflating redistribution with communism, which is like conflating police duties with facism.

    “You can’t just say, “oh, we’ll only take a little bit from the rich, that’s not wrong.” If you’re taking something they own, you’re stealing. Those who don’t wish or cannot pay to use roads, drive cars, buy computers, whatever, never had a right to them without working for it. That’s how reality works.

    The only way for me to drive cars, eat food, own computers, live under a roof etc. is either for me to work only for me, or for somebody else to work twice as hard… I’ll take the former, thank you.”

    If you can’t afford food, tough! And if the rich people buy up the food to inflate the price and you starve to death, tough (happens alot)! Property rights are sacred!

    “Prase, if everyone isn’t buying, it works. If you’re the only one not buying, I guess no one else really minds if Microsoft has a corner on the market. Simply making a better product first does not make it ‘unfair’ competition. Grow some balls and make something better.”

    That statement is totally incoherant.

    “one more thing. Although it would be wrong to pursue a supposed murderer and shoot him, it would be your responsibility to fight if your soil was being attacked, if your family was in harm. That’s what a people’s government is. In cases such as war where a trial is not possible in between gunshots, it is necessary for the people to defend their freedom. That is my philosophy but I would not, and could not force you to fight with me if you did not believe it was right, even if I believed doing so would save lives. It would simply mean I’d have to work extra hard for that which I believed in and recruit others to join the cause. That is what you should be doing. Find people of similar convictions and help each other out, don’t use the government to force your cause on other people. I promise I won’t do that to you.”

    And the people with an actual government laugh as you die because there is no early warning system and they used mustard gas.

    “I assume your not in this with those who wish to strip your freedoms and harm your family? Me neither. Everyone else is just fine with me though.”

    I’m against you- you seem to believe that property is more valuable than human life.

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad

    Samuel Skinner, I don’t think Christopher’s analogy is false. And he never said anything about force being bad. He was stating that the state is just as “legitimate” as a mob, but with bigger guns. I think he means to indicate that the idea of “legitimacy” is itself invalid, and that the only real authority is power. Personally, I would say that consent is also a root of authority. But all states are far from having the consent of all of its members for its existence and authority.

    I say if a society allows some of its members to gain an outrageous amount from it, the society should take some of it back for the benefit of those who need wealth more. Although I’d certainly need to qualify “outrageous” to have a solid opinion here.

  • Stoo

    I’m not an economist but I think the whole Liberatarian stance works on too many leaps of faith. That anyone can succeed and become rich if they work hard, that a business can only make money if people are happy with its productservice, that a system can work where everything runs on a for-profit basis (or that charity will fill the gaps).

    They’re always very sure of themselves; frankly their zeal for the market borders on the religious and makes me a bit nervous. I’m no fan of communism either, I guess some kind of path down the middle is the least bad solution.

    Kind of bugs me when tax is referred to as “theft” though. I mean I’m sure you can rationalise such a view but it just portrays libertarians as selfish and mean-spirited, hardly a good means to make me sympathetic to their views!

  • lpetrich

    I agree with Chris here. And more broadly, marketing efforts and military force are cases of the Tragedy of the Commons, where each participant has all the benefit from its efforts and only some of the costs.

    Some professions have featured addressing this question by taking an anti-advertising stance, notably lawyers.

    And I must say that Stephen Newport’s history is all wrong — Bill Gates never came close to inventing the personal computer, and MS’s success is in good part due to some rather unscrupulous conniving. A good part of it was blocking preloads of alternative OSes by cliff pricing — making it significantly more expensive to install DOS or Windows on 99% of a company’s PC’s instead of 100% of them. And also the possibility of sabotage code in Windows that interferes with some rival’s software running on it, so that MS-Office imitators cannot get very far.

    It’s significant that some of MS’s biggest OS competition is given away rather than sold — Linux and the BSD’s. And is given away in open-source fashion, allowing full access to the OS internals. It almost seems like predatory pricing. :)

  • prase

    Killing is never ok unless that is the only way to directly, in the moment, save innocent life from somebody threatening it. Killing somebody (whether the government or an individual) is never ok otherwise, because there is always the chance we could be wrong about our conclusions.

    OK, so you can imprison the murderer in your private jail. In my objection the particular type of treatment of the murderer wasn’t important. Why do you want the government for running jails while you condemn its involvement in poverty eradication? Your argument was that if you want to solve some problem, do it personally instead of passing bills. What I’m missing here?

    However, I don’t understand how you can relate altruism with law enforcement?

    It was you, who suggested that instead of creating the law, people shall try to solve the problem directly. It has nothing to do with altruism, it’s a question of how the society functions.

    Law enforcement (at least in a free society) is in place and should be supported by the people to allow them the freedom to live in defense of those who wish to take their freedoms away (example: most of the people commenting here).

    Except when the law doesn’t suit your demands, in that case it is opression.

    Altruism is what: Defense against reality? Bad luck? Fairness? Listen, if you want “fairness” live in a socialist country, and be prepared to accept whatever level of fairness they say is appropriate. Socialism can only exist at the point of a gun, and it will be aimed at your head too not just the formerly rich ones.

    You said that social security net and redistribution of wealth, at any extent, is socialism. Therefore, all developed countries are socialist. Do you think they exist only at the point of gun? All of them? Anyway, I would gladly live in an undoubtedly socialist country like Sweden. The living standard there is in fact one of the best in the world.

    Socialism does not mean everyone is rich, it simply makes everyone poor.

    Well valid for Soviet type of socialism, invalid for Western-European type of socialism. Using the same word for different concepts is not a completely honest way to debate things, is it?

    You can’t just say, “oh, we’ll only take a little bit from the rich, that’s not wrong.” If you’re taking something they own, you’re stealing. Those who don’t wish or cannot pay to use roads, drive cars, buy computers, whatever, never had a right to them without working for it. That’s how reality works.

    An Objectivist mantra. Never mind how much an act matters, never mind what are the practical consequences, it’s in principle stealing. Property is an absolute value, more important than life, health, actual freedom. That’s how your ideology works, don’t mix it with reality, please.

    The only way for me to drive cars, eat food, own computers, live under a roof etc. is either for me to work only for me, or for somebody else to work twice as hard… I’ll take the former, thank you.

    Or to win an a lottery, or to inherit it from your relatives, or to have luck with speculations at the stock market or…

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique_of_capitalism Jimmy_D

    It’s worth noting that arguments for capitalism in lieu of the state makes no sense. After all private property, capital rights (rights to rent, copyright, etc.), and even wealth itself are social constructs. Change property rights so they don’t allow the ownership of abstract property (like rent, unused/unoccupied land, etc) and capitalism ceases to exist, you have mutualism. Without the state to define property all anyone can one is what they can defend with force of arms, and they can own it only so long as they can defend it. If we remove inheritance or abstract property (stock markets, copyright, etc) most of today’s wealthy would be paupers. Capitalism is a state invention, even in so called anarcho-capitalism there are proposed mini-states that would create laws that benefit the capitalist and the wealthy. So Newport, the playing field isn’t level as the economy favors the rich and not the worker.

    Is wealth created by labor, is it deserved? Let’s assume that the market is a meritocracy (a massive assumption), so that would mean that the family man who works two jobs to live barely above the poverty line is a bad person compared to the unmarried playboy who invested his inherited money into the stock market to make a fortune? Does that mean that Bill Gates life is worth the life of millions of starving africans? Are they starving because they didn’t try hard enough? Is the playboy rich through his labor alone? Of course not. Wealth is a cultural construct. We set up rules where labor and trade don’t create wealth but playing the rigged system does. The capitalist who buys a factory and does nothing but balance the books occasionally is rewarded more than the dedicated employee by whose labor the sale-goods are created.

    Now Ebon, I don’t agree that capitalism is good or necessary. Markets and competition are, but capitalism not necessarily. There are alternative system like Mutualism, market socialism, etc that encourage innovation and hard work while meeting out a just reward. Capitalism is a system by which the wealthy and the rent-owners and the capitalists receive preferential treatment compared to the laborer or the consumer. Oh and ebon you forgot one important thing the freedom-to or positive liberty. I think it’s perfectly justified to restrain freedom-from in order to grant greater freedom-to.

    And on final thing, no libertarian has ever provided me with a meaningful answer to this question: If I don’t work I will starve, that is coercion, so why don’t you oppose capitalism as coercive?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    So if our elected officials were to decide we can no longer say what we please, consume what we please, or make love to whomever agrees to (oh, wait, those last two rights have already been infringed upon), you would have no problem with that?

    I’ve got news for you: we already have regulations in all three of those areas. You can’t broadcast bomb-making plans or incite violence; you can’t consume alcohol or consent to sex if you’re a minor. I don’t object to any of those, although perhaps you do. Once again, my argument is not founded on a generic principle that the state has no right to legislate anyone’s behavior, but on reasoned arguments about which regulations of behavior make all of society better off. Until you respond to this point, you’re just making yourself look irrational by refusing to acknowledge my argument.

    Give me an argument as to why one life should be morally responsible for the survival of any other life.

    Why do you support private charity if you don’t believe you have any moral responsibility toward others?

    Altruism is what: Defense against reality? Bad luck?

    Yes, precisely. Where nature or chance has created an inequality, we use society to remedy that inequality through its redistributive powers, by ensuring that all people have equal access to basic necessities. This creates a level playing field where all people’s natural talents and abilities have the best chance to manifest and are not cut short by bad luck. That’s why a liberal, socialist society is more of a meritocracy than a libertarian society, which ignores those who are needy through no fault of their own, and leaves people to fail (and die) due to bad luck or circumstance.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Ebonmuse,

    I’m honestly not trying to be condescending , but your problem lies in the lack of a defined, cohesive, logical philosophy. To build that philosophy you have to ask “why?” about everything. You have to define things by asking what is right, what is wrong, are there any contradictions in my beliefs?! Is it universal?

    Your obviously unchecked assumption that the individual should be sacrificed for the whole of society is flawed… why? The society is nothing more than a group of individuals who happened to be born near each other. The proper thing to do in this case is to to define a system of ethics by asking what is valuable. Sooner or later you’ll arrive upon the ultimate value to be life, because without it no values can exist. But not just life, free life, because without being free one is unable to choose values. The only system where this can work is a society where people are free to live as they please without physically interfering with other individuals. As soon as you tell someone what they are allowed to say or consume, whom they can procreate with or criticize, or how they are allowed to use their money, you remove the possibility of values, the persons right to choose. The governments (said: the people’s government) should only exist to ensure everyone is able to live free. Law enforcement of human rights is the only reasonable branch of the government. If you want to think of law enforcement, one that keeps Joe from stealing from or killing Susie, as a mob, go ahead, but this type of government is the only system which allows people to live freely and peacefully.

    Why do you support private charity if you don’t believe you have any moral responsibility toward others?

    If I brought life into this world, then yes, it would be my responsibility. However, one has no moral obligation to anyone else. If my family were not filled with such stellar individuals, I would have nothing to do with them. It is by the sheer fact that they are passionate, loving, respectful and encouraging (among many other traits) that fills me with the desire (not, notice, the moral obligation) to be a part of their lives and help them out whenever possible. People who bring me joy, challenge my ideas, have a fire in their eyes, have the drive to be a better person are the people I care about and help, I don’t give out charity for charity’s-sake, that’s pointless. I’ll give to those I think deserve it. If you were born into less than fortunate circumstances, and you’re also an asshole who beats your girlfriend, I’d like the freedom to choose not to help you. With your system, Ebonmuse, we are all helping that asshole.

    Yes, precisely. Where nature or chance has created an inequality, we use society to remedy that inequality through its redistributive powers, by ensuring that all people have equal access to basic necessities. This creates a level playing field where all people’s natural talents and abilities have the best chance to manifest and are not cut short by bad luck. That’s why a liberal, socialist society is more of a meritocracy than a libertarian society, which ignores those who are needy through no fault of their own, and leaves people to fail (and die) due to bad luck or circumstance.

    Again, Ebonmuse, question what is going on behind that statement. “We use society,” … well, who is in that society? Rich people, poor people, good people, bad people. People who earned their money by hard work, people who had it given to them. Imagine what would happen if all those people with money decided to stop making money, and burned all of their possessions….. your system wouldn’t really work then, would it? Your systems survives exclusively by the leeching of wealth from the upper-class. Your system depends on the drive and hard work of people to produce. Without production you would have no one to steal from to help your cause. The way it is corporations, rich people, middle class people, and even poor people combined donate millions of dollars to various charity organizations out of their own will annually. If you feel that is still lacking, produce something yourself and use your money for your cause. Although it is not omnisciently inspired, Atlas Shrugged gives a very detailed example of how much your society depends on the passion and hard work of others. Without them, what would be your plan? Maybe you might find the initiative to produce great wealth yourself and give whatever you deemed necessary to your cause. But then someone might come along and pass regulations that you should instead give that money to another cause…. then you might understand. Do you see the value in being able to choose your own values and a system of law that enforces that right?

    Prase

    Please excuse my vagueness. If you read all of this post you will see that I reason the only logical branch of government is law enforcement, one that only “forces people” to not force other people. And that should be the only thing which is ‘taxed’ for and supported. I am pro law enforcement and con forceful ‘poverty eradication’ (quoted because I see no poverty eradication in any government) because the upholding of individual rights is reasonable, taking money from people simply because a lot of people want to take it is not reasonable, moral, or ethical.

    Socialism can exist only at the point of a gun with passive individuals who are ok with somebody else telling them to what extent they can live. When money is taken from those who produce against their will, it makes the producers desire to produce less; or steal back creating a very corrupt, volatile society.

    While I acknowledge there are different extremes of socialism, a rose by any other name is still a rose. And stealing, by any other name, is still stealing and must be done at the point of a gun. The American-Euro type of socialism (I’ll dub it ‘neo-socialism’ at your request) just means their stealing only enough to make it not worth the victims life to fight back. I submit it’s a very effective system for it’s cause, but a very corrupt and immoral one.

    lpetrich

    My word choice was poor. While Bill Gates did not necessarily ‘invent’ the desk-sized PC, for all practical purposes he is the one that made it accessible to the masses (thus his success). I have never heard of the term “cliff pricing,” maybe you would be kind enough to explain it? Does it mean bundled, quantity or package pricing?

    I am not a devout Bill Gatesian, I do not agree with his philosophy or everything he’s done. But he has definitely done a lot of things extremely well. The shadier parts of his business are up for the market to decide (meaning us), and they are deciding, as you stated. Apple is making a killing with their superb products (I am, however, a slight Apple cultist ;-), and the free OS’s and open source projects are proving to be very valuable. And the great thing is this is all happening inside the same market! Those who wish to contribute their time and talents for the sheer benefit of having a cool, open-source product (or whatever other reason), can. Those who wish to try and make millions, can. I, personally, enjoy aspects of all of it. But I would not enjoy Steve Jobs or Bill Gates being forced to produce for anyone other than themselves.

    Alex

    I’ve stated above why a free market and government is the only fair way to deal with poverty. Any other method involves stealing. Let those who desire to help other individuals decide when, how and who to help while also allowing the less fortunate the opportunity to build their wealth if they so desire. If the less fortunate were born, not into our society, but in the middle of the jungle, what would be their method of survival then without other people to leech off of? Probably to hunt and gather, aka work. My justification does not state that the poor will be rich or there will be no starving, there will always be that to some degree or another. But this system is the only one that ethically places the most cards in their favor by means of freedom of choice and action all the while allowing those who value helping other individuals to do so. By allowing the government to make value-judgments you give them the right to tell you, “no, you may not give that money to your family, you must give it to this horrible person simply because they are poorer than you.” Once you let the government make a single value choice that interferes with another persons set of values, you open the door for them to make up any arbitrary values that may or may not align to yours.

    An argument against my statement above may go something like this, “If you are against the government making value choices, why are they allowed to make the value choice that life and freedom are valuable.” My answer would be this. Life and freedom are the only values that allow anyone to choose their own, personal paths, beliefs and philosophies and live by them in a peaceful and opportune way. Any other way incites unnecessary violence, stealing, slavery and religious doctrine.

    The unfortunate child did not ask to be born into his circumstances, but the wealthy business owner did not ask for that child to be born either. In a free society the child is given the opportunity to make the best of his situation honestly, and the business owner the opportunity to help him out or not help him out. One cannot be held responsible for life which they did not directly cause. When somebody else is held responsible for the choices of another person, you have 27-year-old women (such as my next-door neighbor) bringing five kids into this world simply to be able to collect the $2,000 per child from welfare. I might be more sympathetic if that money was going into a savings plan for the child by law, but that money is instead going to support the mothers crack-habit.

    Does that answer suffice, Alex?

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Alex

    I realize my ending statement sounds very condescending, that was not intentional. I was honestly asking if I addressed your questions and accusations, please do let me know.

    Jimmy_D
    Sorry, I forgot to address your question in my last post…. there are so many.
    You asked:

    no libertarian has ever provided me with a meaningful answer to this question: If I don’t work I will starve, that is coercion, so why don’t you oppose capitalism as coercive?

    This is fuzzy logic. Look at the reality we were born into. Imagine, for a moment, being transported to the middle of a jungle. A quick realization on your part might be that reality was not created for our survival, that food and water does not flow into our mouths from the outside world. To be able to survive, we must work, to some degree or another. This does not apply only to the jungle, it applies to anywhere. Either you have to work for your food, or someone else has to do the work for you. Once you have the food either you have to lift, bite, chew, digest and make waste of it yourself, or you have to have somebody else or a machine do it for you. Coercion is defined as:

    “to persuade an unwilling person to do something by force or threats.”

    There is no argument against the fact that work must be done to survive and be happy. That is how reality works, wishing wouldn’t make it any different. So to survive you must work, if you do not wish to survive no one is forcing you (well, aside from suicide laws which are yet another discussion). Rather, I submit a society that forces other people to do the work for someone else’s survival is the exact definition of coercion and the exact society which you are pontificating. Capitalism does not involve any form of coercion, Jimmy, neo-socialism does.

    Survival cannot happen without work. Will you work for yourself or require others to work for you, that is your moral dilemma and one you cannot risk being blind to, because eventually those who are supporting you may decide to disappear and you will be left starving.

  • Valhar2000

    Aethertrekker wrote:

    Both of you are convinced that your solution will increase happiness, but legitimizing the act of intruding into other people’s lives via government compulsion causes great amounts of suffering

    Ebonmuse wrote:

    I refuse to take seriously the proposition that taxing a percentage of a wealthy First World citizen’s property causes greater suffering in the long run than leaving people in poverty to starve and die of treatable disease.

    Indeed. It is interesting that Libertarians will say things like that, and then wonder in bewildered incomprehension why nobody takes them seriously. Then again, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Stephen,

    Off the top of my head, here a few problems with that stance of non-government you seem to take.
    You are so interested in maintaining property rights irrespective of their consequences, but you seem to miss how those rights are decided in the first place. Everything that allows free markets to function as they do is dependent on the government; from the printing and regulating of money, to the building of infrastructure, to regulating and enforcing policy on different industries. Here are some for instances; you say you have a claim to the land you build your house on, yet without a government, how do you claim you came to own that land? For any resource, multiple people would like to stake their claim to it; after all, whatever you do with a resource excludes me from using it. On top of exclusion, many times the use of a resource can also create harmful side effects for others, externalities, that a free market has no way of internalizing. Would you advocate that if I had come to own a stretch of land that includes part of a river, it’s my right to do whatever I want on that land, even if it includes dumping toxic waste into that river? What about the way our energy in generated? The burning of coals or oils emits pollution into the atmosphere and harms everyone else, yet if I’m doing it on my own land there shouldn’t be a problem with that under a strictly “free market”?
    Let’s run for a moment with the idea that “taxation is theft and thus shouldn’t be allowed”. Without taxes the government loses the power to do anything; can’t print money, can’t enforce police or military, can’t enforce any policy for that matter, which means there go your property rights beyond what you can immediately defend. This will, as history shows, inevitably lead to a new, powerful group simply taking over, and this time that group doesn’t answer to you.
    Taxation may be coercion, but it’s a mutual coercion, and this is what allows society to run. Coercion is not necessarily a bad thing, it merely depends on how it’s used and what outcome it gives.

    Another set of problems comes from the rather quick build up of inequality in the free market system. It’s not that inequality is a bad thing, but it becomes, by in large, a self-sustaining system. Those born poor tend to remain poor and those born rich tend to remain rich. As Ebon pointed out, this system doesn’t let people rise or fall of their own accord, but rather several disadvantages new generations that may be more “talented”, but due to the circumstances of their birth are unable to adequately express that. Social systems that create equality among new generations allow for people to more freely rise and fall of their own talents rather than the economic circumstances they were born into.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Mrnaglfar

    I will not respond to you until you have actually read all of my posts on here. I have explicitly stated I am not anti-government, rather I am pro-people’s government and pro-law-enforcement to protect the individual rights of the people (this includes dumping of chemicals and pollution of air, if it is harmful). Reread my posts then respond with an argument that actually challenges my stance, not someone else’s.

  • prase

    S.Newport,

    I never understood by what standard you Randians distinguish between what is “force” and what is not. In your moral code “initiation of force” is bad and shall be avoided, and the way how to do that is by adopting free-market system. This statement gives some sense, but one shall verify it (whether the free market really avoids force). Then a question arises: “What exactly counts as a force?” The only reply I have ever heard from libertarians is more or less elaborated statement, which nevertheless says something along the lines “force is everything which doesn’t respect the rules of a free market”. What a wonderful self-consistent system!

    A parable: typical discussion with a Christian apologist:

    Christian: God is good.

    Atheist: Well, look around at the suffering of so much people. Look at poverty and diseases, at wars and catastrophes. I dare say that that’s evidence against God’s goodness.

    C: The people who suffer are sinners and deserve it.

    A: I don’t think all of them are, I know few people who are really virtuous and experienced serious suffering in their lives.

    C: Then, there must be something good in their suffering. Or maybe Satan caused it.

    A: I can’t se anything good in suffering, when God allows that, he can’t be called good.

    C: What an immoral person you are when you don’t acknowledge God’s goodness. Remember that you are not in position to decide what is good. There are objective standard of goodness, and only God conforms them pefectly. I know it in my heart.

    Now, replace God by Free Market, Satan by Government, sinners by looters or parasites and “know in heart” by “rationally follows” and you have an example of typical Objectivist’s discussion.

    The problem is, that the word force doesn’t mean what you assert. As well as “good” is a synonym neither for “not-enforced” nor for “voluntary”, and “voluntary” is not the same as “free” or “just” and none of these words means “obeying the laissez-faire capitalist laws”. To steal means that the perpetrator violates the law. Maybe taxing violates your moral law and you can thus, as anybody pointed out here already, rationalise to use the word, but that’s not how most of people understand the concept of theft.

    I prefer to live in a world where my freedom is infringed by taxation (although I still have difficulties to see what freedom was constrained by that, since I don’t feel having right to gain an arbitrary amount of money, but let’s put that aside). I prefer such a world over the vision of a different world, where my freedom is constrained by an absolute sacredness of PROPERTY, where all land (roads included) is owned by some individual whom I must ask for permission to enter, where the only right I have is not be “coerced” by government, but where the circumstances, in accordance with market principles, regularly force me into “voluntary” decisions which I would never accept today. (Not that I think such society is even remotely able to survive more than few years, after what it spontaneously furns into sort of feudalism).

    Sorry, libertarian ideals are not for me. I need real justice, not your redefined version of it.

  • Leum

    Imagine what would happen if all those people with money decided to stop making money, and burned all of their possessions….. your system wouldn’t really work then, would it? Your systems survives exclusively by the leeching of wealth from the upper-class. Your system depends on the drive and hard work of people to produce. Without production you would have no one to steal from to help your cause.

    Stephen, first, do you really imagine that the wealthy would do such a thing? They have no incentive to do so. But, more seriously, the rich depend on society and on the poor to support their wealth, and generally do so by exploiting the poor.

    Even if without the exploitation we currently have, wealthy people would still depend on the lower socioeconomic strata of society to exist. Their wealth would disappear pretty fast if the poor refused to work (this is why strikes are effective).

    The rich benefit from society, so it makes sense to require them to help support it. Taxes are not a penalty or theft, they are the membership dues necessary to support society (as you recognize). The thing is, that society isn’t just the wealthy, so it can’t protect their interests alone; it has an obligation to protect all it’s components. Not just from theft and violence, but from the natural disasters, exploitation, and pure bad luck. I don’t mind that there is a safety net that catches “horrible” people, because I know it will catch me should I fall, too.

    One final thought: you don’t seem to recognize the role of social forces: that people in certain conditions are kept there by society; that people who are “horrible” are often so due to being oppressed by the upper echelons of society; and that opportunities to succeed are much easier to come across for those who are already privileged.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique_of_capitalism Jimmy_D

    Capitalism does not involve any form of coercion

    Bull! Coercion is used to create property laws, original appropriation. Coercion is used to enforce the laws, create copyrights, and allow the rich to own property they do not use or occupy. Until recent history capitalism used coercion to crush workers who objected to their working conditions. Only after the people demanded union laws were capitalists checked. Capitalism uses the state to create a system by which the few owners of capital can prosper from the production of the laborer. Coercion is used to prevent any other system but capitalism from prospering.

    Also you’re defense of work or starve not only runs afoul of the naturalist fallacy and is-ought but also stinks of social darwinism. The point of a society and a government is to better mankind through joint effort, practical humanism rather than some arbitrary idealism (like Objectivism or capitalism). You obviously agree with Hobbes that life in nature is nasty brutish and short. Only by working together can we become more than barbarians with broadband. I don’t see how life in capitalism isn’t just as nasty or brutish?

    And yes, you do have a moral obligation to other human beings. You say you are entitled to the fruits of your labor because it was by your hand it was produced? Well how did you receive the skill set to produce that? How did you come upon the raw materials? How did you get the means of production? How is the fruit of your labor a use to you? You see the collective community has had just a hand in producing that item as well. Without the social construct of property or money you would have nothing. Without language, education, and socially constructed trade you would have nothing.

    What can on man do alone? Maybe plow a little field, hunt a little game, and build a little hut. What can man do as part of a group? Look around. One man by his own action could not have created skyscrapers or websites. A man is useless without a society and a society is useless with a man. Moral obligation to the community flows from justice, desert, and the very facts of nature.

    Newport you really need to find better arguments than off the back of your Ayn Rand cereal box.

  • lpetrich

    Stephen Newport: While Bill Gates did not necessarily ‘invent’ the desk-sized PC, for all practical purposes he is the one that made it accessible to the masses (thus his success).

    Historical illiteracy — he was the one who won the war.

    I have never heard of the term “cliff pricing,” maybe you would be kind enough to explain it? Does it mean bundled, quantity or package pricing?

    It means something like charging significantly more for Windows being 95% or 99% or 99.99% of all a company’s preloads on Windows-capable computers, as opposed to 100.000000%

    More seriously, it’s rather hard to get very rich unless one is a corporate empire builder, and it’s simply not possible for everybody to simultaneously head a large corporate empire. Who will be their employees?

    It’s like someone who told Isaac Asimov how great it was a century ago when it was easy to get servants.

    “That would be terrible.”

    “Why?”

    “We’d be the servants!”

    And the downside of private infrastructure providers is that they end up acting like de facto governments, because of how they govern their property. Yes, govern it, a word I use to note how much they have in common with governments.

  • Cerus

    I should clarify, I have no problem with taxation, nor do I have a problem with legitimate welfare,. I do have a problem with the enforcing power behind taxation being the threat of pain and/or death to those who wish to exercise their freedom to refuse to participate.

  • http://patwhalen@austin.rr.com Pat Whalen

    But, ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have had a tool to overcome that! That tool is capitalism

    The problem is that capitalism has been with us since the dawn or recorded history and likely longer. So why now?

    Science and technology blossomed in China and the middle east millennia ago. Other that advancing warfare nothing was done to lift the general population out of the stone age.

    The likely source was the enlightenment. The intellectual elite were outraged by the excesses of the Catholic church and the royalty that the church legitimized. I’m sure these people were no saint but its I can imagine that the principle “The church and the royalty do not have exclusive right to wealth and power but me and my buddies do” was considered sell-able.

    So the principles of liberalism were born. As that principle took hold with fits and starts the wealth of the nation was spread out to an ever larger portion of the population. This in turn created broad markets in which capitalism could thrive.

    At least that’s how I see it.

    Pat

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Stephen:

    Your obviously unchecked assumption that the individual should be sacrificed for the whole of society is flawed… why?

    You are inventing positions and attributing them to me. I have never said any individual should be “sacrificed” for the good of anyone else; that is a libertarian fiction. My position is precisely that no one should be sacrificed for the sake of anyone else – no one should be left to die in pain and want just so that you can enjoy your material possessions unhindered. That would be what it truly means to sacrifice an individual.

    By the same token, I believe that no one should be taxed into ruination and poverty for the good of others. That would just be worsening the problem we’re trying to solve. Happily, such a policy is not necessary: if we had a well-administered system, it would be necessary to tax only a modest percentage of each individual’s wealth in order to create a level playing field and ensure access to basic necessities for everyone. The best part about my proposal is that, as individuals are lifted up out of poverty, they will be better able to use their skills and talents, thus creating greater amounts of wealth and easing the tax burden on everyone. This is a win-win policy, whether you like to admit it or not.

    The society is nothing more than a group of individuals who happened to be born near each other.

    This is an amazingly ignorant claim. No, society is not just a group of people occupying the same geographic space. Society is, or should be, a representative system of democratic consent where laws are created and enforced for the betterment of all its members. Between this, and your claim that taxation enacted by a democratic government is indiscernible from robbery, I’m led to believe that you don’t seem to know anything about political thought since the Enlightenment itself.

    As soon as you tell someone what they are allowed to say or consume, whom they can procreate with or criticize, or how they are allowed to use their money, you remove the possibility of values, the persons right to choose.

    I have already listed examples of reasonable restrictions on what people can say, what they can consume, and who they can procreate with. You chose to ignore that point rather than address it.

    I also want to highlight this comment by Leum, which I especially liked:

    One final thought: you don’t seem to recognize the role of social forces: that people in certain conditions are kept there by society; that people who are “horrible” are often so due to being oppressed by the upper echelons of society; and that opportunities to succeed are much easier to come across for those who are already privileged.

    This is a wonderful point and an excellent example of the kind of reasoning that explodes libertarian delusions. Most libertarians think we live in a Horatio Alger novel, where anyone can succeed through sheer willpower if only they want it enough. In the real world, however, opportunities are unevenly distributed, circumstance conspires against the poor and the needy, and many people find themselves trapped in poverty and lacking any meaningful escape through no fault of their own.

    The role of society should not be to passively stand by, letting people languish or starve. That is both selfish and irrational. The role of a rational and just society, as I’ve said, should be to guarantee a level playing field and create equality of opportunity by using its redistributive power to remedy natural inequalities. By giving people an escape route out of poverty they would not otherwise have, we can make them full and productive members of society, increasing its overall wealth and benefiting everyone in the long run.

  • Jim Baerg

    Pat:

    But, ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have had a tool to overcome that! That tool is capitalism

    The problem is that capitalism has been with us since the dawn or recorded history and likely longer. So why now?

    You might be interested in a book titled “The Birth of Plenty” by William J Bernstein. The authors thesis is that four factors are necessary & sufficient for general prosperity.

    1) secure property rights
    2) the scientific method
    3) capital markets
    4) rapid & reliable communication & transportation

    He then documents the history of these four factors & how they finally came together at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    I must submit I no longer find value debating this topic.

    Survival requires energy no matter what socialist system you try and implement. As I stated before, the only question is what is the source of energy for your survival. If that source is anything other than yourself, the question must be answered as to why you are not putting forth the energy yourself and how you can morally justify ‘coercing’ somebody to work for you.

    The argument that keeps coming up is “where would the producers be if they didn’t have workers!?” The answer is they would work themselves, albeit at a slower pace. But they would because they understand they must work to survive, and since they are at the top of the mental food-chain they know no one else is going to provide for them. What a luxury to be lower-middle class and have someone to leech off of when you don’t feel like working yourself. What a luxury to actually be able to believe you are not stealing, but taking what is (somehow) rightfully yours. How nice it must be to actually believe there is a system that somehow magically produces food for you to eat without working for it and ipods for you to jam to without somebody behind it sweating to make it.

    Now I ask you: where would you be if the great minds of this earth were not telling you what to make and how to make it? Can pushing buttons or moving boxes or digging holes accomplish anything without concepts and direction? It probably scares you shitless to think you might be responsible for your own well-being some day. It wouldn’t scare you if you created your own safety net instead of relying on others.

    (I don’t know why the text is suddenly larger) Before the argument is made, I was born into lower-middle class with four siblings and divorced parents who made poor financial choices when they were young. Knowing I wouldn’t be getting much help I realized I was the only one responsible for my survival. Apparently, that mindset is very helpful since, being unable to attend college, I’ve been able to work my way into a field I love (without having to step on anyone or anyone stepping on me, crazy, right?)
    Being born with lesser means is no excuse, pull your pants up and work and you’ll be the kind receiving my help some day.

    Should you sincerely wish to discuss further feel free to email me at stevenewport at gmail.com I no longer wish to respond to five people at a time who do not wish to actually read what I have taken the time to write.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    I think it must be said, as well, that I would not expect to receive your charity if I chose not to partake, just as I would not expect access to roads, libraries or schools if I chose not to contribute. But to have my possessions stolen from me and to be imprisoned for it is not something you can not justify. I challenge you to try without lying to yourselves.

  • AstroPaul

    I think this debate has been unusually coherent, for an internet debate on the proper scope of government. Let me just submit my own thoughts — I would consider myself a fairly moderate libertarian, in the sense that I believe some goods are not properly distributed by a market (such as Stephen’s example of law enforcement and justice services, or protection from foreign invasion, or local roads) due to blatant injustice or free-riding problems. But I think that government coercion no less than private coercion is an evil, to be kept to the bare minimum that is compatible with civilization. So when you say:

    No, society is not just a group of people occupying the same geographic space. Society is, or should be, a representative system of democratic consent where laws are created and enforced for the betterment of all its members.

    Not only are you sounding a lot like J.S. Mill (which in most cases I would heartily approve) I think you’re asking more from government than it can deliver, and giving it more moral authority over its citizens than it deserves. I think that asking the government to better its citizens is somewhere between impossible and undesirable. The only property of government that is guaranteed to set a government apart from other forms of human organization is its monopoly on the use of force. And using that force for the betterment of society sounds like the kind of social engineering that we atheists would likely find very unpleasant.

    On the issue of consent and the legitimacy of government: I think the idea of “consent of the governed” has been largely oversold. I can practically guarantee that there has never been a government in the history of the world where every citizen believed the government had the right to control everything that it claimed the right to control. So even in the most direct democracy, there will be some people who consider that the government is acting, in some field of its endeavor, beyond their consent. (Consider drug prohibition as a current US example.) Instead, our modern liberal democracies operate on nearly the opposite principle: they will take on as much power as they can, without arousing the actual disgust of the public, which would result in them losing power. It’s not tyranny, but it’s a lot like being ruled by an aristocracy that submits itself to the grudging approval of an apathetic public at regular intervals. So I wouldn’t go mistaking even a representative government for the reified will of the people — a lot of the people won’t share the government’s positions, and the only way to minimize those thousands of petty infringements is to reduce the scope of government action.

    Another issue: you had suggested taxing the few extremely wealthy at high (but not ruinous) rates, in order that the many might benefit. I do wonder at what point you would find that in contradiction of your own theory of Universal Utilitarianism — you wouldn’t allow the folks in the philosophical dilemma to push the innocent fat man on to the railroad tracks to save 5 other innocent people, but isn’t that just what you’re suggesting here? To push the rich in front of the train to save a larger number of people from poverty? Would the rich person need to be reduced to actual poverty before this taxation starts to make the whole society fear for its security, or how much of his earnings must he be allowed to keep in order to maintain the illusion that the rich aren’t in unacceptable danger? You might argue that the rich man isn’t being killed for the benefit of others — but that money probably represents his work, his time, and although income taxation is a more euphemistic way of taking his work, I suppose the direct way would be its moral equivalent (work camps?) I may just have an aversion to facile moral evasions, that’s why I’m a vegetarian…

    And one final point: I actually support a minimal safety net, for the unlucky worker, the permanently disabled, the impoverished elderly or children, who have no way of earning their way out of poverty through productivity (all groups who are damnably absent from Ayn Rand’s “ethics”), as well as the public funding of education (through vouchers, if possible) to help equalize life’s unfair starting conditions. But my concern is for the stability of a democratic society where transfer payments become commonplace: as soon as a large group of people discovers that it can vote taxes on a smaller group of people, democracy will not check that desire until everyone with enough capital to accomplish anything industrial has been bled dry. In order to stop this process, rich individuals end up either buying elections outright (destroying the democracy), or forming bizarre alliances on non-economic issues (see Republican Party). Something similar has been at work in Zimbabwe, where a combination of (illegitimately) over-concentrated land ownership and racial politics led to a land reform platform that thorougly undermined property rights, leading to the collapse of the productivity of the entire country and bottomless misery for its population (except for the government officials, who are incredibly corrupt). When the many are permitted to band together and use the government’s force against the few, democracy can be a very destructive thing (as the Sunnis of Iraq fear it will be.) Representative democracy is a way of deciding who rules — it doesn’t, on its own, guarantee any degree of freedom, equality, or justice, particularly for minorities. It’s just the best system we have at the moment.

  • Aethertrekker

    Valhar2000 wrote:

    “It is interesting that Libertarians will say things like that, and then wonder in bewildered incomprehension why nobody takes them seriously. Then again, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?”

    I became an atheist recently and I found this website while I was trying to find the best arguments against my former faith. I I really like this website, and I admire Ebonmuse greatly for his non-theistic and reason based ethics even though I only agree with him most of the time. I’m not bewildered that he disagrees with libertarianism and I don’t laugh at his views. There’s no need to be uncivil, Valhar2000. I’m all about testing the logic of my views with civil discussions. If I hadn’t debated with atheists on their forums, I probably never would have seen the holes in my thinking.

    Ebon wrote:

    “Unless you’re taking the position that the government never has any right to regulate anyone’s behavior in any respect, then you’ve already conceded the principle at hand.”

    The scope of the government should be to ban coercion from human relations, and all regulation should be subservient to that principle.

    “My opposition to theocratic religious laws on sex is not based on a generic principle that no one ever has any right to tell anyone else what to do.”

    Then what gives you the right to tell someone else what to do with the money that s/he earned legitimately?

    “Taxation is, at best, a minor infringement on people’s liberty and has the potential to produce enormous tangible good for those who need it most.”

    I agree, as long as taxation is used to support legitimate government functions, the prevention of crime, or violations of individual liberties.

    If you want to help alleviate suffering, go earn some money and do it yourself, or persuade like-minded people to pool your funds and use them to help people yourselves. I seriously doubt that you really have to resort to coercion in order to accomplish your quite admirable goals.

    Isn’t persuasion more ethical and high minded than coercion?

    “I refuse to take seriously the proposition that taxing a percentage of a wealthy First World citizen’s property causes greater suffering in the long run than leaving people in poverty to starve and die of treatable disease.”

    It’s true that appropriating some wealthy dilettante of her income is a very easy way to achieve some of your goals. I just think that it’s not ethical to transfer wealth from people who have earned it to people who have not.

    Many of these wealthy people are easily persuaded to give to the needy. If everyone changed their focus from persuading the government to force the rich to help the poor, to persuading the rich to help the poor, I think charities would probably be more efficiently run than a welfare state would. If you have businessmen on your side, they can apply their acumen to the problem better than would any politician.

    Just some thoughts.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I have a brief response to this comment by AstroPaul:

    But my concern is for the stability of a democratic society where transfer payments become commonplace: as soon as a large group of people discovers that it can vote taxes on a smaller group of people, democracy will not check that desire until everyone with enough capital to accomplish anything industrial has been bled dry.

    This is a legitimate and important issue, but it’s not one that’s avoided by libertarianism. I agree that a democratic society has the problem that some special interest groups may seek more than their fair share of the public till. But even in a perfect libertarian world, this problem would be replicated across society in miniature.

    After all, the stockholders of a company can do the same thing, and arguably often do: voting in favor of business moves that increase their own short-term gains, at the expense of the long-term financial health of the company. Just as in a democratic republic, this can occur over objections by other stockholders who also own equity, and who can quite justly view themselves and their monetary contributions as being unfairly exploited. If democracy is unstable for this reason, capitalism itself is also unstable for the same reason. In both cases, however, collapse has yet to occur, which suggests that there are counterbalancing forces at work even if they’re not so easily identified.

  • Leum

    “My opposition to theocratic religious laws on sex is not based on a generic principle that no one ever has any right to tell anyone else what to do.”

    Then what gives you the right to tell someone else what to do with the money that s/he earned legitimately?

    No one and nothing gives Ebon, or me, the right to tell you what to do with your money. However, what gives society that right is the fact that you could only have earned that money with society’s assistance. The government is simply the entity through which society asks you to pay. Unless you generate wealth independently from society (an idea I find absurd), you owe society for the benefits privileges it has given you.

    Many of these wealthy people are easily persuaded to give to the needy. If everyone changed their focus from persuading the government to force the rich to help the poor, to persuading the rich to help the poor, I think charities would probably be more efficiently run than a welfare state would. If you have businessmen on your side, they can apply their acumen to the problem better than would any politician.

    I disagree. If that were the case, Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, combined with various philanthropic ventures, would have ensured such a system continued to this day. The sad truth is that most people who can fund such things don’t wish to. Even if they did, the charity would be precarious as it would have no guarantee of receiving sufficient funds each year. Only a government has the power to be a sustainable charity; only a government can dedicate the resources necessary to know who needs what, how much, and how best to provide that. Lots of small charities, or even a few large ones can’t. Besides, such charities are often constrained by their donors. Most people don’t want their money going to those whom they deem unworthy, but it is often the “unworthy” who most benefit from the boost of charity.

  • AstroPaul

    Ebonmuse:
    Your concern about the stockholders is an interesting point, since any organization based on “voting”, whether the votes are stock shares owned or your right as a citizen, is subject to this kind of “hollowing-out” exploit, in which an irresponsible voting majority destroys the entire infrastructure, Enron-style.

    But wouldn’t you see a significant difference between voting to destroy a privately-owned corporation for your own benefit, whose shareholders freely entered into ownership, and where the repercussions are limited to those who chose to be involved; and voting to impose taxes on third parties, which taxes are, regardless of your position on the government’s legitimacy, backed by the threat of force and imprisonment? There might be an analogy to selling your Enron shares in leaving the country, but I didn’t think we were attempting to design a government so burdensome that the people with the highest incomes would be fleeing the jurisdiction. I agree that these sorts of exploits are possible in the corporate world, but I don’t believe that constitutes an argument for enabling them to happen in the realm of goverment as well, where the element of “authorized” coercion is always lurking. Corporations can be nasty beasts, but in theory, the government will step in if they try to use force or violence against you — there’s no such protection against the government itself.

    (The issue is slightly confused in the case of Enron because some of the biggest losers were Enron employees whose employee stock purchase plans allowed them to buy in at a deep discount, and who found after the collapse that a good portion of their pension funds had also been invested in Enron, a very dangerous practice. However, a more typical company would have its stock held almost entirely at will, by investors cognizant of the risk, and there are — perfectly legitimate! — government regulations in place to ensure that companies that take the benefits of incorporation also implement a standard of transparency and reporting to the shareholders at large.)

  • AstroPaul

    I also meant to mention: you brought up the point that democracies with large transfer payments appear to be quasi-stable systems, indicating that some restoring force is acting against the tendency to vote oneself additional money. I had speculated on the possibility that non-economic issues might allow the “big money” party to align itself with a large number of non-rich voters, as is the case with the Religious Right in the States (and was equally the case with the Republican Party’s older “Southern Strategy”, turning racial conflict into the basis for bringing non-rich voters into the party.) My wife pointed out that both the Southern Strategy and the current anti-immigrant (or anti-”outsourcing”) branding of the Republicans actually are economic issues: in both cases, workers are being induced to vote for the party by promising protection from competition in the labor market. (The anti-immigration strategy is particularly insidious, as the people hurt by the protectionism aren’t American citizens, and therefore have no chance of retaliating against you electorally.)

    There’s also the harsh reality that the rich are hardly powerless to protect themselves against these political exploits — they donate and channel donations to the political parties to buy themselves protection from the government’s fiscal demands (again, backed by force.) In fact, the “campaign donations” have most of the salient properties of a protection racket, except that the government claims to be a “legitimate” user of force, not a criminal gang. (Most gangs don’t subject themselves to elections, but the elections are the occasion of the extortion in this case!) So in order to keep the powerful government from taking their riches, the rich simply buy off the election to the fullest extent of the law, while promising indirect economic subsidies to any special interests that they can bring on board. Restrictions on “buying the election” tend to translate into greater restrictions on free speech for all of us, while the indirect economic subsidies cost the average person more in food costs, labor costs, and lost trade opportunities.

    Libertarianism isn’t a perfect solution to various kinds of government corruption, but it has a simple premise: if you make the government weak enough, it won’t be worth buying. The hard part is making the government too small to corrupt, while still keeping it large enough to stand up to any other organization, in a violent confrontation (otherwise, it can hardly call itself a government, much less protect us against the coercion of our neighbors or corporations). Whether there are any viable governments between those two limits, I can’t say for sure. But I would be interested to find out!

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    AstroPaul and Aethertrekker

    I’ve enjoyed reading both of your responses, you’ve brought up some good points concisely and to the point. I’m taking notes.

    However, AstroPaul, I have not read all of Ayn Rand’s literature, and what she has to say about any given topic is not the deciding matter. What she says about logic and philosophy, however… the basis… allows us to form our own conclusions coherently. And the logic, to me, seems to be found in Aethertrekkers statements (quoted below). I too sympathize with those born in near unlivable situations, but if those are my convictions they are just that, my convictions, and it would be in my interest to find people of similar convictions and join together rather than interfere in other people’s lives by force. Do you agree?

    Leum

    If you, personally, get nothing else out of this argument please do your best to turn this around in your head for a few days. This is what you said:

    Unless you generate wealth independently from society (an idea I find absurd), you owe society for the benefits privileges it has given you.

    I am a photographer. If I am commissioned to do a photo shoot this is how it works: I shoot the project as described, they pay me what I ask. It is a mutual transaction. Just as I wouldn’t expect them to pay me more after the contract, they cannot expect me to clean their toilets on top of it. When people trade in mutual transactions (which is the entire basis of capitalism), they only owe what they promised to deliver, whether money or product. That’s it. Done. There is no further owing to anybody!

    If you go into Walmart and buy 4 tomatoes, the transaction is done. You paid what they asked for, you received what you paid for. The shareholders of Walmart do not owe you anything other than the tomatoes. They owe society nothing more than what society has paid them for. Simply by existing in the same society as me gives you no right to ask for money if you have not delivered any service that I have asked for. We only ‘benefit from society’ when members of the society buy something from us they find valuable, and vice versa. The great thing is, we choose what benefits us. If we have no interest in gardening, we don’t have to pay the owners of the new gardening store down the street. If nobody wants a gardening store, the government isn’t going to give free money to the owners stolen from you to keep that gardening store and it’s owners in business (in a perfect world, at least).

    Please let me know what doesn’t make sense about this. So long as you’re sincere I’ll do my best to try and help you understand.

    Aethertrekker spoke on the topic of charity very eloquently. He said:

    I think that private persuasion is better than public compulsion at changing hearts and minds. Many of the extremely rich do devote themselves to the alleviation of suffering without needing the government to force them to. We should recognize that unless we’re the ones who earned all that money, we don’t have a right to determine who will be the beneficiaries of that money.

    and again:

    If everyone changed their focus from persuading the government to force the rich to help the poor, to persuading the rich to help the poor, I think charities would probably be more efficiently run than a welfare state would. If you have businessmen on your side, they can apply their acumen to the problem better than would any politician

    Persuasion is always more effective and ethical than coercion… agreed. And I think it is a beautiful example that if you spent as much time speaking with like-minded individuals with and without money as you did trying to pass forceful government restrictions you’re efforts would be a lot more fruitful both by monetary value and with volunteer labor.

    The fact of the matter is America was founded on the principle that the government should be run by the people, and that the people cannot know best about anyone else’s lives other than their own. Thus, mutual agreements between consenting individuals trump anything anyone else can say, government or citizen. When you put the power in the government’s hands to choose how people should live their private lives or use their property, you turn a capitalist democracy into a joint-owned dictatorship. Once you let the government do anything more than protect your human rights, once you allow them to tell you what to say, how to use your money, etc you make the government a thing of value that can be abused by power-hungry politicians and shady citizens. The government should never have that much power. When it is only a system backed by the people to protect their human rights, nobody can abuse that system and it is in everyones interest to fight for the right of freedom. Start telling people how to live their private lives and you’ll soon be making enemies which you may have to fight some day, and it will be your fault, not the victims whose rights you infringed upon. And history shows those fighting for human rights are much more likely to succeed than those fighting to suppress them, no matter their excuses.

  • Christopher

    Samuel Skinner,

    “Christopher, you do realize thatis you are tlaking about running out of power, the Sun has a good 4.5 billion years left? It isn’t inherent that we fail to tap it.”

    Solar energy is inefficient to harvest and use on the same scales we use fossil fuels – either we make the change to nuclear power (which the environmental crowd is all shaky about) or else find another fuel.

    Besides, the resources I was refering to was just electrical power: land, minerals and other forms of capital are also limited – there’s only so much material to work with.

    Also Samuel Skinner,

    “First of, you are making a false analogy. Both the mob and the government use force. True. They happe to be differant in every other way though. You seem to think that “force” is inherently bad… because you say so. It is called an implicit assumption- you have to defend it.”

    1. Aside from the fact that governmnet put on a little show every now and then to make the people think they’re in charge, I see no significant differences: both force their collective will upon individuals through “law,” make both “legitimate” and under-the-table bargains to further their interests, provide services to their constituants (however the organization defines them…), go to war, etc…

    2. I don’t see the use of force as a “bad” thing (hell, I use it myself to defend what’s mine!) – what I see as detrimental to me is a social order strong enough to exhert control over the individual (be it by a mob or a “legitimate” government).

    To this end, I act as a government of one: I patrol and defend my own interests, estblish my own brand of law and reserve all powers that most people in ou society deem fit only for the state for my own use.

    Also Samuel Skinner,

    “As for vigilantism… doesn’t work if you are dead. Or for contracts. Or for misdimenors. Or if you don’t know who did it.”

    Well, I guess that it’s my job to stay alive to make my will reality, isn’t it? And I have enforced contracts in a manner that our society probably would consider to be acts of vigilantism before.

    As for misdomeners – they don’t really exist in my worldview, so that point is moot. And if you don’t know who commited an act – and it’s important enough to merit investigation – get yourself a PI (I know one that can work miracles).

  • ex machina

    Libertarianism does not work. Completely unregulated capitalism does not work. It’s too easy for one party to obtain disparate amounts of wealth/power. Play any game where economic principles are used: Monopoly, Settlers of catan, Aquire. The same thing happens every time: People may start evenly, but by skill or luck, some fall behind, once the balance shifts, the winning players use that imbalance to end the game. You could say that the winners deserve to win, but you have to understand that the losers, in the real world, live in poverty, sickness, and death. That’s just not good enough when a small sliver of the winner’s wealth (gained by their advantage over the losers) could give them a life of dignity.

    That things work out in the long run is nonsense: The poor are the system “working itself out.” There’s no reason to think that another few years of capitalism will do the trick, the current system will sustain itself just fine until changed.

  • http://atheistthinktank.net L6

    I would hardly call capitalism a meritocracy. Not when you have so many people paying for so many stupid things. I would also hardly call happiness the purpose of economy. The purpose of economy is money.

    I’d love to live in a meritocracy in which happiness was the goal, but instead I live in a place where only reputation and money are important.

  • Leum

    Stephen Newport, I think I may have been a bit too strident when I spoke of “owing” society. I don’t deny that all I owe you for the photograph is the fee you charge. What I do deny is that you don’t benefit from public education (either because you received education or because your employees–or customers–did), that you wouldn’t benefit from universal healthcare (for the same reason), and that you won’t benefit from a safety net should photographs go out of fashion.

    Even if you don’t owe society (that really was a poor word choice on my part), I hope you realize that you benefit from the existence of social programs. Of course, I understand if you dislike being required to pay for them, but I don’t agree that that makes taxes paid towards social programs theft (I don’t think my taxes paid towards the war in Iraq are theft, despite thinking that the war there is immoral and unconstitutional).

    I think ex machina put it best: You could say that the winners deserve to win, but you have to understand that the losers, in the real world, live in poverty, sickness, and death. That’s just not good enough when a small sliver of the winner’s wealth (gained by their advantage over the losers) could give them a life of dignity.

    We don’t want the wealthy sunk into poverty, just that they give up some of their money in order to soften the hardships of those less fortunate.

  • Alex Weaver

    Any other method involves stealing.

    You have not demonstrated that taxation to support society is in any meaningful sense “stealing,” and I do not accept it as an axiom.

  • Steven

    I’d love to know how much of a percentage many of the commentors are contributing in income taxes. I’m pretty sure that for most folks in the U.S. it is considerably lower than the 25%-30% rate of taxation in Canada.
    It is a painful amount, but it means that I can take my daughter to the hospital if I need to and not worry about a bill for thousands of dollars. It also means that the government will waste a lot of money on ridiculous things – but what government doesn’t do that?
    In order to promote a healthier, happier society there is a strong need to “share the wealth”. I don’t begrudge Mr. Gates his billions (well, maybe a little…) but what does one person need with all of that wealth? He can’t possibly spend it all and while I’ll grant that he does contribute generously I suspect that it is considerably less than the 25% or so that I’m “forced” to pay for government-sponsored services.
    Capitalism isn’t perfect, neither is socialism and certainly not communism (an equal share of nothing is still nothing). I suspect that by blending these systems, each of which appeals to a different aspect of human nature (greed, compassion, and empathy)it is possible to create a system that, while flawed, will create greater equality of wealth and opportunity. All I need now is a nifty name for this new system – and I’ll be really disappointed if such a system is already in place.

  • Polly

    I suspect that by blending these systems, each of which appeals to a different aspect of human nature (greed, compassion, and empathy)it is possible to create a system that, while flawed, will create greater equality of wealth and opportunity. All I need now is a nifty name for this new system – and I’ll be really disappointed if such a system is already in place.

    This may not be what you were thinking of, but Libertarian Socialism has aspects that could appeal to both Libertarians and “bleeding heart liberals.”

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    ex machina

    Where is your logic behind your seemingly unchecked notion that everyone has a right to free property coming from? Who says? Certainly only those without it. You and others keep spouting “capitalism doesn’t work, libertarianism doesn’t work,” but you say that with the misconceived notion that to ‘work’ means to make everyone monetarily equal. Where is this notion coming from? You must defend that. I can see no logic behind it. Simply because the child was born into a poor family in the United States does not obligate the United States to support that child! What if the child was born to a jungle family with no one else to mooch off of? The only people inherently responsible for life are those that cause that life to exist (the mother and the father), if they don’t take care of him those who wish to are welcome, but no one can be morally responsible but the parents. A society exists to provide opportunity by way of not physically interfering with the lives of others, it is not their to redistribute everyone else’s property.

    Leum

    I wouldn’t ever argue that in the current structure of society in order to take advantage of publicly funded institutions such as schools, libraries and healthcare one must pay his taxes. I will also submit that education, as a concept, is beneficial, as are libraries, roads, and healthcare. My hold-up resides in using people’s money who are against those institutions to support them with the threat of imprisonment if they choose not to (as opposed to him simply being denied access to those institutions, which, according to all the logic I have been able to gather, would be fare). Does that make sense?

    If someone is taking advantage of public education, he owes taxes to the government that supports it. If he is paying his taxes, he owes nothing further. If he sees no direct benefit in public education, he should be allowed to opt out. My Step-mom home-school’s NINE KIDS because she does not agree with the public education system! Yet she is still required to pay public education taxes! So I will agree that many public institutions are beneficial at face value, but not at the expense of forcing those against it with a gun, it’s a violation of freedom of thought and the freedom to make ones own value judgments.

    Your other logic, benefit by association (the example you gave that I would benefit by having an ‘educated employee’) does not work because of this: Imagine My father taught me good money practices as well as a good work ethic. That could technically be a great value to a future boss…. would the boss then owe money to my dad because he benefited from my education? Do you get my point? (thanks for the clarification, btw, of your word choice).

    Alex Weaver

    Let me try and explain:
    There are two ways to obtain property from someone else, either by mutual (unforced) agreement, or by stealing (forced). The former, all parties are satisfied and still retain either equal or greater value than they had before (usually the latter). The former is only possible in a society that allows individual freedom of choice. The latter method means only a percentage (one of two people in a two-person transaction) receives value and can only take place with a threat of force. This can only be legal in a country where the government (i.e. the majority of the people in a ‘people’s government’) have the right to inflict their values on you (in other words, a government that could be run by the church if that was the majority population… which it is… I believe most of you are fighting against that, aren’t you?)
    The webster definition of “to steal” is:

    1 a: to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully (stole a car) b: to take away by force or unjust means (they’ve stolen our liberty) c: to take surreptitiously or without permission (steal a kiss) d: to appropriate to oneself or beyond one’s proper share : make oneself the focus of (steal the show)

    Look at ‘definition-b.’
    Need I connect the dots for you? I believe my case to be rested, do you disagree Alex?

    To everyone else

    Are you merely trying to create a monopoly on who has the power to say who has sex with who and how I am to use my money? Are you fighting for a separation of church and state so you (a secularist) now have the power to run into the capital building and make moral decisions for all of America instead of Jesus? If so you are missing the point. Separation of church and state could easily be read as “Separation of those who wish to run people’s lives from those who only wish to protect their freedoms.”

    Again, case rests.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    And for those of you who for some reason think big-wig business owners have no interest in helping out other people, here’s some educational material of two of the riches people in the world.

    http://www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2004/s1160665.htm

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/26/buffet_gates_charity/

    I still haven’t heard an argument as to why it is a moral necessity for them to do so, seeing as they had no choice in whether any of you were born at all, but they did it because they wanted to, without government force… go figure.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Look at ‘definition-b.’
    Need I connect the dots for you? I believe my case to be rested, do you disagree Alex?

    Stephen, this argument is not going to get any more correct no matter how many times you repeat it. By your definition, if I agree to pay you money in exchange for goods or services and then renege on my agreement, and you summon the police to make me pay what I owe, you are “stealing” because you took my property away by force.

    What’s missing from that scenario? The element of consent – I agreed to pay you in exchange for the goods you provided. And the very same thing is true of society in general, where the social contract mandates that taxes are levied in exchange for the goods and services which society provides its members and which you consent to accept by living there. Taxation is not theft for the same reason payment for goods is not theft.

    A better analogy, perhaps, would be membership dues in a club. As long as you keep coming to the club and using its facilities, you’re consenting to pay the dues it requires of all its members. If you don’t want to pay the dues, you can leave that club and find somewhere else to go. What you’re not free to do is petulantly sit in the club and demand that you should be allowed to stay there without paying.

    You may wish you lived in a libertarian fantasy world where you could unilaterally withdraw from the social services the state provides, but we don’t live in that world. And I’m glad we don’t: havoc would ensue if we did. Private landowners would disregard pollution and fire hazard laws, threatening their neighbors with natural disasters that don’t respect property lines. Whenever someone called 911 or came to the hospital, emergency workers would have to check whether they were paid up before assisting them (and woe betide the person whose name is missing from the books due to clerical error). Power lines, roads and pipes would have to be routed in a crazy quilt around the property lines of people who refused to participate. People could literally be imprisoned by private property surrounding their houses. The most charitable thing I can say about your plan is that you clearly haven’t given any thought to its implications.

  • MS Quixote

    “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.”

    I’m not convinced there is a permanent answer to the problem y’all are grappling with. It’s a constant struggle between tensions: the need to limit the reach and power of government, no matter the type, being that government comprises men and women given to a lust for power, and the propensity of humanity to follow its selfish desires at the expense of all other concerns. What I do know is at any considerable distance from this nebulous center in any direction reside equal perils, and, of course, the Huns at the gate.

  • http://thepolymath.wordpress.com Robert

    I drafted a response to this blog, but pingback and the trackback URL don’t make it show up here. In any case, here is my contrary response.

  • ex machina

    Where is your logic behind your seemingly unchecked notion that everyone has a right to free property coming from? Who says?

    I never said anything about a right to free property. Nowhere at all.

    Certainly only those without it. You and others keep spouting “capitalism doesn’t work, libertarianism doesn’t work,” but you say that with the misconceived notion that to ‘work’ means to make everyone monetarily equal. Where is this notion coming from? You must defend that. I can see no logic behind it.

    It’s because you choose not to. I say what others and myself have said before: It’s got nothing to do with free stuff. The whole point is why does one party have nothing and another have plenty. You seem to believe it is only due to the failure of the party with nothing to produce. I, and others, find fault with this conclusion. At best, it is only partially true, poverty is created as much by the rich exerting their advantage over the poor as it is by inaction. If this is true, redistribution of that wealth is not “stealing” at all, but returning the wealth to it’s rightful owner.

    Usually, libertarians/objectivists, will tell me that the above is impossible, that the rich have no advantage whatsoever over the poor and that all trades are mutually beneficial. I also find fault with that conclusion. One does not have to look far to find a situation in which a party is to poor to choose anything but a “bad” option or a “worse” option, while the real opportunities are reserved for those who can afford them. Pretending this is not the reality does not make it go away.

    Simply because the child was born into a poor family in the United States does not obligate the United States to support that child!

    It would if the United States, through it’s policies of discrimination and anti-labor efforts, was responsible for their poverty. I say this to emphasize my point that wealth is often gained by way of taking advantage of the less fortunate, and that a returning of that wealth would be appropriate. I’m not for the redistribution of wealth because I’m feeling nice. Calling my argument an argument for “stealing” or the “right to free stuff” is a complete miscategorization.

  • http://brian.carnell.com/ Brian Carnell

    “Some people, especially libertarians, seem not to grasp this. They act as if competition itself was the end, as if inequality was the end – and this is absurd”

    Yes, it is absurd. In fact, it is so absurd it is a straw man.


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