Further Thoughts on Penn’s Libertarianism

The last thread about Penn Jillette’s book sparked some debate, so I’d like to revisit the topic. This is what Penn says is his view of the legitimate powers of government:

If I had a gun, and I knew a murder was happening… I would use that gun to stop that murder. I might be too much of a coward to use a gun myself to stop murder or rape or robbery, but I think that use of a gun is justified. I’m even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts. I would use a gun to protect the other people who chose to live under this free system. If I were a hero, I would use a gun to stop another country from attacking us and taking away our freedoms. [p.150]

Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute. We started out with Penn declaring that, in an ideal world, he would heroically use a gun to stop a murder, rape, or robbery. Fair enough, I can get behind that. But then he slides to “enforcing voluntary contracts”? That job may be useful to society, even necessary – but is it heroic? Why is that a more legitimate use of force than the ones he decries?

For instance, why isn’t it equally “heroic” to help the sick and the needy? Why isn’t it heroic to contribute to building hospitals, schools, libraries, shelters? Personally, I think it’s pretty damn heroic to cure someone of cancer, give them a warm bed to sleep in, or get them a heart transplant. A libertarian like Penn might say that there’s no merit in doing this if our support is compelled, but it’s not at all obvious to me why using guns to enforce voluntary contracts is intrinsically more admirable than using guns to build hospitals or schools.

Penn says he likes libraries but wouldn’t object if someone else thinks he has a better use for his own money than spending it to build a library. Well, I can say the same thing: Why should my money be spent on judges and courts just to resolve byzantine legal disputes between massive corporations that have no effect on my life? (The vast majority of lawsuits are filed by corporations suing each other, not by private individuals.) What if I think I have better uses for my money than paying men with guns to enforce voluntary contracts? For example, I can easily imagine an anarcho-libertarian viewpoint which holds that damage to one’s own reputation should be the only penalty for breaking a contract.

Or, an even more pertinent example: What if I think I have better things to spend my money on than the police or the military? What if I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in having an army at all, or what if I just believe that military spending is too high as it is and disproportionate to any threat our country actually faces? What if I believe the police are unfairly arresting innocent people and want to withhold my funding in protest? Is that a choice I would have in Penn’s ideal libertarian state, or would it result in “men with guns” showing up at my doorstep? If the latter, then it seems Penn doesn’t believe, after all, that each individual is the best judge of how to spend his or her own money.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

This hysterical, ridiculous “men with guns!” meme works both ways. Using this emotionally charged phrasing, I could say, “There’s great joy in running my own business and providing a service that people want and need, but there’s no joy in doing it if libertarian government thugs are holding me at gunpoint and forcing me to contribute to this free-market economy.” (If you don’t think that would happen, try imagining a person living in a libertarian state who declares he doesn’t believe in private property and, say, plants a garden on a plot of unused land legally owned by someone else. The guns would come out very quickly, I assure you.)

I would use a gun for defense, police, and courts. Well, well, I’ll be hornswoggled, that’s pretty much what the Founding Fathers came up with.

Actually, if you want to get technical about it, our founding fathers came up with quite a bit more than just that. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a staunch supporter of public schools and libraries. President John Adams signed into law a bill establishing a government-run health care system for sailors, funded by payroll deductions (yes, really), which in its broad outlines isn’t all that different from modern systems like Medicare.

More to the point, of course, the founding fathers didn’t permanently enshrine a minimal state, nor did they claim to be infallible. They left us a living Constitution which can be changed and amended, precisely because they knew that future generations might see necessities they overlooked or correct errors they made. To name an obvious one, the founding fathers also didn’t seem to have a problem with using guns to enforce slavery – a glaring error which we’ve thankfully corrected.

If there’s an argument to be made for a minimal state, it’s going to have to be a better one than a subjective list of what seems most “heroic” to one person. It’s inherent in all democracies that the majority will sometimes vote for a course of action, such as establishing an income tax, that not everyone will agree with. That’s not necessarily an infringement of human rights; it’s the inevitable consequence of having a social contract. And even though not everyone can always get their own way, the social contract of democracy is – should be – sustained by the recognition that we’re all better off, on average, living in a democracy than we would be under any other kind of government. If that bargain is intolerable to you, you’re welcome to seek a country that’s more congenial to your viewpoint, whether it be a cooperative communist utopia, a benevolent theocracy, or a completely free libertarian market-state. And if there are no countries which fit your chosen model anywhere in the world, well, there just may be a reason for that.

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.

  • Nathaniel

    Thank you. If using force(sorry, a gun) to enforce a contract is admirable, why isn’t using force to gather income taxes admirable?

  • http://shelter.nu/blog/ Alex

    Libertarianism always falls apart objectively, and is why I always reverse any scenario they come up with just like you did here, it works wonders in exemplifying the bizarre stance they take on it being a system of fairness and freedom when it pretty clearly isn’t. It’s a subjective model that appeals to a certain kind of (simplistically minded, IMNSHO) people who claim their subjectivity to be objective. I’ve never understood them.

    Even when talking about a specific case, like libertarian free-markets one can very quickly come up with scenarios which render the free market utterly unusable, not to mention highly unfair to people who don’t believe in guns. Libertarians scare me the way they try to solve the Gordian problems of the world with the blunt sledgehammer of simplicity.

  • dhagrow

    For anyone who wants a chance to hear from Penn & Teller directly, they’re accepting questions on reddit today.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    What if I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in having an army at all, or what if I just believe that military spending is too high as it is and disproportionate to any threat our country actually faces? What if I believe the police are unfairly arresting innocent people and want to withhold my funding in protest? Is that a choice I would have in Penn’s ideal libertarian state, or would it result in “men with guns” showing up at my doorstep?

    Well, as I understand it, you would have that choice. If you want to use police services, pay them to investigate crimes committed against you. If you don’t want to, then don’t pay anything – it’s pretty simple. Same goes for courts, etc. I’m not necessarily saying that I agree with Penn (he seems a little money-focused, and all utopian discussions are bullshit), but your criticisms are pretty off-base.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    Not a Libertarian myself, but here’s where I think there might be a legitimate difference:

    Not being anarchists, the Libertarian here may be claiming that it is acceptable for a government to use force to force people to live up to their freely chosen obligations, but not to use force to force people to ACCEPT obligations that they have not and would not choose of their own accord. Thus, you can use force to enforce contracts that both sides entered into voluntarily, but things like income taxes are forcing people to accept an obligation that they did not accept.

    The problem is that when it comes to a government it’s a gray area over whether you accept some obligations in exchange for the services the government provides by being a citizen, and also if in accepting a democracy you always agree to accept the government’s decisions, even if you’re on the losing end of the vote.

  • Fargus

    Philboyd, where do you get the impression that Penn is advocating as anarchist a state as you outline there? One where every tax is completely voluntary? Penn says he would use guns for defense, police and courts. Those are the systems which, under his ideals, citizens could not opt out of. He’s basically saying that since those are legitimate functions of government (in his view), then it’s legitimate to fund them, and for their funding to implicitly come at the end of a gun barrel. To put it a little more simply: if you agree with Penn’s priorities for society, then you’d do fine here. If you don’t, then you’d be staring down the barrel of his hypothetical illegitimate gun.

  • Forrest

    I’m even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts.

    Does he mean, like, when I “volunteer” to give him all my money because he’s got a gun?

  • Zionhiker

    Your last paragraph is a really great summary definition of democratic governance; I wish the Congress and some Republican party factions would read and ruminate on this. Our entire society benefits when we honor the social contract we have as American citizens. Very well written.

  • Ryan Jensen

    Penn says essentially that if he were a hero, he would join the military. Not sure how you got that he said it was heroic to enforce contracts, but the entire first part of your article attacks that strawman. I couldn’t read anything beyond the first two paragraphs because of it.

  • Brian M

    Some historians note that one of the major reasons for adopting the Constitution was to ensure that Colonial War of Indpendence bondholders (like today, a tiny wealthy minority) got paid. The whole point of government was taxation to pay off an elite.

    This is obviously simplistic, but the historical record shows this as a factor.

  • http://www.politicalflavors.com MissCherryPi

    If using force(sorry, a gun) to enforce a contract is admirable, why isn’t using force to gather income taxes admirable?

    I have been told that it’s because the taxpayer never consented to be a part of a contract where s/he would be made to pay taxes.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The whole point of government was taxation to pay off an elite.

    No, the whole point of government is to help societies of sufficient enough size continue to actually exist and not degrade into might makes right, anything goes free-for-alls.

  • Brian M

    Well…”whole point” is a major exageration on my part, but establishing a central government with the power of taxation to ensure the bond holders got paid was one underlying issue.

  • Nathaniel

    @MissCherryPi

    If consent is the issue, then technically I can “consent” to giving my wallet to someone. The fact that they have a gun is immaterial. After all, I can always decide its in my enlighted self interest to chance getting shot instead.

  • http://www.politicalflavors.com MissCherryPi

    If consent is the issue, then technically I can “consent” to giving my wallet to someone. The fact that they have a gun is immaterial. After all, I can always decide its in my enlighted self interest to chance getting shot instead.

    Taxation is not armed robbery. We don’t elect people to rob us. In fact, the people of the United States have been fairly successful in the past 60 years in electing people who will lower their taxes. You can’t stop a thief by casting a ballot that he stop what he is doing.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    I am a long time existentialist and have known a few libertarians over the years. Often, Libertarians seem to assume that I am one of them, but there is a difference.
    Libertarians emphasize individuality and personal freedom above the benefits and needs of the commons.
    Existentialists follow the principle that responsibility that goes hand in hand with freedom of choice, that each individual action affects he conditions of those around us, often in ways we cannot anticipate.
    From an existentialist viewpoint, Libertarianism is somewhat naive. My take on it is they believe a world where everyone respects the rights and freedoms of everyone else has little need for government. On the other hand they are totally blind to the benefits for the individuals that comes from providing for the common good of the people. While many Libertarians acknowledge the benefits of public works and public services, they tend to argue in favor of cooperative and communal ownership over public ownership. They are very much against the wealthy subsidizing to poor, while lauding individual act of charity.
    My opinion is that libertarianism appeals to people who rebel at the idea of the appearance of following the commands of others, especially if commanded to do something they would do any way.
    When I was a teen, I worked several odd jobs, that paid little, and since a hair cut was a low priority o me, my hair would sometimes get long and shaggy. My grandmother would then nag at me to get a haircut.
    On the occasion that I had the time and money to get my hair cut, I would do so, but invariably whenever my granny next saw me after my shearing, she would start bragging to anyone and everyone about how obedient I was for getting a haircut after she told me to.
    I knew the decision o get my hair cut was all mine, and her bragging did not change that fact. It was annoying. My cousin, who was in a similar money situation as I was, and was also constantly chided by granny for his long hair, refused to get a haircut because he did not others to think his granny ordered him around.

    To me, it seems Libertarians feel insulted by many laws they deem stupid because they think avoiding such things are self evident, but do not recognize that many laws exist for the fact that what is self evident to Libertarians is obviously not evident to everyone.

  • Lagerbaer

    Thunderf00t also talked about it in his last video: The military is here to defend every US citizen equally, no questions asked. So why is the thought of a health care system that helps every US citizen equally so outrageous?

  • Brian M

    You don’t really believe the military is here to defend every US citizen “equally” do you? What does that even mean from a practical standpoint?

    Niklaus: Very good response that contains many good things. Although some on the other trhead pooh pooh the difference, there is a fundamental difference between “libertarians” which tend to be all in favor of the socioeconomic status quo (hence, on a libertarian blog I no longer follow she spent her time deriding how unworthy newly poor, ex-middle class families in a media report are, with no focus at all on the elites who helped set up the economy and social system) and anarchists, who are often suspicious of capitalist cant and paens to John Galt. :)

    Of course, there is no one definition or school or party line.

    Anarchism emphasizes a severe suspicion and doubt about coercion….especially when insitutionalized into a State/government. I think such doubt makes a lot of sense.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I think the military is a great example of the overriding issue with common libertarian thought. Does the military as an institution have problems with corruption, incompetence, incessant budget bloat, and so forth? Seems so. At least, those who believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ineffective to counterproductive would agree.

    However, do we then jump from that problem to a conclusion that the military should be abolished? No, not if we’re being reasonable. The original concern of national self-defense still exists even if the military-industrial complex is a nest of corruption.

    It’s pretty clear that the straightforward solution involves new leadership in the military, as well as the executive and legislative posts that control it. However, a libertarian consistent with many of their other views would have to simply declare defeat and eliminate 90 to 95% of the institution outright.

    Demanding an arbitrarily high level of effectiveness all of the time can be used to undermine and destroy any institution, from town council to international conglomerate. Standards which cannot be met are not an acceptable premise for an argument.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute. We started out with Penn declaring that, in an ideal world, he would heroically use a gun to stop a murder, rape, or robbery. Fair enough, I can get behind that. But then he slides to “enforcing voluntary contracts”? That job may be useful to society, even necessary – but is it heroic? Why is that a more legitimate use of force than the ones he decries?

    I’m not sure what Penn means here-enforcing specific performance, collection of judgment for breach of contract? However, presumably he feels if they entered into the contract voluntarily this is justified either way. Many liberarians, both anarchists or minimal statists, would disagree. I don’t think either way that should be about what’s “heroic” but what you think is consistent with their rights.

    Penn says he likes libraries but wouldn’t object if someone else thinks he has a better use for his own money than spending it to build a library. Well, I can say the same thing: Why should my money be spent on judges and courts just to resolve byzantine legal disputes between massive corporations that have no effect on my life? (The vast majority of lawsuits are filed by corporations suing each other, not by private individuals.) What if I think I have better uses for my money than paying men with guns to enforce voluntary contracts? For example, I can easily imagine an anarcho-libertarian viewpoint which holds that damage to one’s own reputation should be the only penalty for breaking a contract.

    Many libertarians agree that you should not have to pay for it. This is a common anarchist criticism of the libertarian minimal state-that it’s an oxymoron. And yes, many feel that passive social sanctions should be used, such as boycotting and down-grading credit ratings. Liens and garnishment of bank accounts if you think that can be legitimate.

    Or, an even more pertinent example: What if I think I have better things to spend my money on than the police or the military? What if I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in having an army at all, or what if I just believe that military spending is too high as it is and disproportionate to any threat our country actually faces? What if I believe the police are unfairly arresting innocent people and want to withhold my funding in protest? Is that a choice I would have in Penn’s ideal libertarian state, or would it result in “men with guns” showing up at my doorstep? If the latter, then it seems Penn doesn’t believe, after all, that each individual is the best judge of how to spend his or her own money.

    This neatly encapsulates another problem with a libertarian minimal state. As you note, there will always be someone that objects to paying for even the minimum of the police, courts and military. Libertarian minarchists (minimal statists) like Penn do indeed have a contradiction here.

    This hysterical, ridiculous “men with guns!” meme works both ways. Using this emotionally charged phrasing, I could say, “There’s great joy in running my own business and providing a service that people want and need, but there’s no joy in doing it if libertarian government thugs are holding me at gunpoint and forcing me to contribute to this free-market economy.”

    I presume this means contributing by paying taxes? If so-yes, this is a problem.

    Actually, if you want to get technical about it, our founding fathers came up with quite a bit more than just that. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a staunch supporter of public schools and libraries. President John Adams signed into law a bill establishing a government-run health care system for sailors, funded by payroll deductions (yes, really), which in its broad outlines isn’t all that different from modern systems like Medicare.

    Agreed. The Constitution was a vast increase of government power, which the faction called the Anti-Federalists bitterly opposed. Whatever your view of it, the prior Articles of Confederation laid out far more limited government. Many of the clauses in the Constitution, for instance General Welfare are written, I believe, to be deliberately vague and thus broadly interpretable.

    More to the point, of course, the founding fathers didn’t permanently enshrine a minimal state, nor did they claim to be infallible. They left us a living Constitution which can be changed and amended, precisely because they knew that future generations might see necessities they overlooked or correct errors they made. To name an obvious one, the founding fathers also didn’t seem to have a problem with using guns to enforce slavery – a glaring error which we’ve thankfully corrected.

    I think the key word is “amended” rather than “re-interpreted as the Supreme Court feels best.” However, it certainly is easier than getting two-thirds of state legislatures to agree, so I’m not surprised this caught on. Not that there ever was a Golden Age of Constitutional Sanctity as some people believe, anyway.

    If there’s an argument to be made for a minimal state, it’s going to have to be a better one than a subjective list of what seems most “heroic” to one person. It’s inherent in all democracies that the majority will sometimes vote for a course of action, such as establishing an income tax, that not everyone will agree with. That’s not necessarily an infringement of human rights; it’s the inevitable consequence of having a social contract. And even though not everyone can always get their own way, the social contract of democracy is – should be – sustained by the recognition that we’re all better off, on average, living in a democracy than we would be under any other kind of government. If that bargain is intolerable to you, you’re welcome to seek a country that’s more congenial to your viewpoint, whether it be a cooperative communist utopia, a benevolent theocracy, or a completely free libertarian market-state. And if there are no countries which fit your chosen model anywhere in the world, well, there just may be a reason for that.

    Yes, the “heroic” argument is clearly horrible. As to human rights, that really depends on your view of them. For some, it would indeed infringe on them. Perhaps a good essay would be for you to define and defend your social contract, along with human rights. It would interesting to be sure. My view is that, if social contracts are to exist, there should be more, with greater diversity, and entered voluntarily, not born into them as it stands at the moment for most. Let voluntary nations bloom?

    (Sorry for this post’s length).

  • Leum

    @Niklaus Pfirsig: It’s notable that a number of the post-WWII French existentialists supported communism because they believed that with the government providing for the basic needs of the people, they’d be more free to choose things that were more important (to the existentialists, not the proletariats) than choice of how to get food, shelter, and other basic services.

  • Nathaniel

    @MissCherryPi

    I wasn’t defending that position, but mocking it. Just to clarify.

  • Shaun

    What bugs me about Libertarians is that they claim they never consented to paying taxes, so forcing them to pay is theft. Except, they’ve been benefiting from the services that are made possible using tax money literally from they day they are born. Clean water, safe roads, electricity, police and firefighters, etc.

    I have a hard time believing that any of them would willingly choose to live without those things. And yet when it comes time to pay back the government for having made their entire life safe and comfortable and basically worth living, they suddenly object?

    They want to have their cake and eat it too. That isn’t morals or ethics, it’s pure selfishness, plain and simple. Society would collapse if they had their way. They are nothing but parasites.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#23: Well, surely we are not to blame for benefiting from things “literally from the day” we are born, no? It’s not as if you can help that, being born into it. Unless parents should be able to charge their children for 18 years of upkeep. Most libertarians are not actually objecting to those basics anyway, but they may have objections in the details or methods of payment. It is not that they would choose to live without them either, rather that they would desire greater options, with the opportunity to choose the best service, or do without as the case may be. So it’s a little bit more complicated than your description. Not that there isn’t plenty of pure selfishness to go around as well. I believe we are selfish at heart, like it or not. Which doesn’t mean it should be elevated into the ultimate good as some have either.

  • keddaw

    Penn never claims enforcing voluntary contracts by force is heroic, that is an abominable misrepresentation of his words and not worthy of yourself, this site, nor free thinkers in general.

    A libertarian like Penn might say that there’s no merit in doing this if our support is compelled, but it’s not at all obvious to me why using guns to enforce voluntary contracts is intrinsically more admirable than using guns to build hospitals or schools.

    Or engage in illegal wars, spy on citizens, limit competition, protect corporations, incarcerate citizens for non-harmful ‘crimes’, build useless infrastructure to pay off political allies? Where do we draw the limit on what a government can do that is heroic? You are making a value judgement (which I happen to personally agree with) on what is societally beneficial and therefore worth pursuing however others may disagree on those priorities and to use the force of the state to enforce your morality and values on others is exactly what a free state should not be doing.

    Also, there are taxes that can be levied that are in keeping with most libertarian viewpoints that allows the funding of schools and roads and various other services that do not require an income tax. Obviously this is not a situation that is possible to implement in the current situation, but it is one that we could direct society towards with sufficient agreement and willpower.

    If that bargain is intolerable to you, you’re welcome to seek a country that’s more congenial to your viewpoint

    And there we return to this disgusting intolerance: “If you don’t like what we’re doing then get out of my country.” The exact same meme used by slavery supporters, segregationists, white supremacists, religious dominionists, racists, Republicans etc. etc*. Who the F**K are you to tell me to get out of my own country because you want to impose rules that impinge my Constitutional rights? That goes for the PATRIOT Act, school prayer, DODT, DOMA, Jim Crow laws, people who wish to ban the KKK, and anyone who thinks people should be unable to participate in the democratic and legal process to try to further their agenda, protect their rights and live in their own country.

    * I recognise their may be some overlap between these…

  • Mountie Bob

    The issue I’ve always had with libertarians is that they are (a) espousing an ideal they take few steps to achieve, and (b) apparently quite happy to enjoy the fruits of a system they claim to despise.

    I believe theft is wrong, and I refuse to purchase stolen goods, even when they are available at a low price and minimal risk (the guy in the parking lot with the top-of-the-range stereo in his trunk, for example, asking just $20 for it).

    Many libertarians claim that taxes are the moral equivalent of theft, and yet I’ve yet to hear of one who refuses to drive on roads built with tax monies, or send their kids to a school that is partially or wholly dependent on tax dollars. If you really believe (and I do not) that libertarians actually feel that taxes are equal to theft, consider the myriad ways in which they benefit daily from what they claim to see as a universal and constant thievery occurring around them. What moral bankruptcy, to continually enjoy that which you believe was taken, by force and without right, from those around you.

    We may all be born without a choice into a system of more-or-less governmental authority, but few people pay any significant taxes before the age of 18. If you believe by that stage of your life that taxes are an illegitimate form of governmental action, you DO have the choice of moving to a country that does not practice taxation. How many libertarians claim that they have taken any steps at all to find (rather than create) a society that practices an economics more moral in their eyes?

    It is a principle of economics, that the negative incentives of the free market will cause bad actors to change their behavior to appease the buying public. Why hasn’t the outflow of capitalists, entrepreneurs and libertarians from the socialist west into the less regulated third world forced the west to change it’s policies? Can it be that those who claim that freedom is the most important of all virtues actually prefer security and public works to the ideal/idol they constantly praise?

    And there we return to this disgusting intolerance: “If you don’t like what we’re doing then get out of my country.”

    Sort of. You could read it that way, or you could read it as: if you find this system and it’s products so intolerable, why haven’t you moved to a country where the system is closer to your ideal?

    The truth is, libertarians like Gillette don’t really want the society they advocate for, they want the society they are already in with less taxes and fewer regulations, without a thought to how those regulations and taxes have contributed to making the society they are already in desirable to them in the first place.

    Gilette believes that using force to effect voluntary contracts is legitimate, but fails to see the systems of municipal, state and federal law to which he is subject as voluntary contracts. They may not be voluntary to children, but Gillette is an adult with significantly-better-than-average ability to change the society in which he chooses to reside. That of all the societies on earth, in all their myriad forms, he chooses to reside in the United States of America, and be subject to the laws he claims to despise, is a strong argument that the society that is the product of those laws is a good one in which to dwell. If he, with all the assets he has at his command still chooses to live in a society which is governed according to rules he claims do despise, how shallow must his feelings on that point be?

    American libertarians, particularly the wealthy, educated and privileged ones, show by their actions just how weak the convictions they pretend to really are.

  • keddaw

    I’ve yet to hear of one who refuses to drive on roads built with tax monies, or send their kids to a school that is partially or wholly dependent on tax dollars.

    Okay, let’s take these one at a time.

    Roads: Even if roads are built by tax dollars, why not charge people who use them, rather than everyone, since this unfairly punishes those too poor to afford a car? Businesses could then raise prices to (partially) cover the cost of using the roads and the actual impact of road use would be paid for by those who get the benefit of the roads (car users, businesses and consumers) in a much more fair way than general taxation.

    Schools: We need an educated populous. This is indisputable as without it democracy is dead and without democracy we get, well, the USA of today. So how can we fund schools?

    Perhaps there should be an employment tax where employers must pay a fee to hire a publicly educated employee since they get the benefit of that education? Or an employee tax that publicly educated people pay to cover the cost of their education? Or how about a tax on natural resources (oil, coal, gold etc.) that have no real business being owned by anyone in particular so could be used to fund public goods, like education. As an example check out Norway’s use of North Sea oil revenues.

    Many people already send their kids for private education, so your claim about libertarians not sending their kids to non-taxpayer funded schools is false. Even those that do, however, are paying tax so have a right to that education.

    …why haven’t you moved to a country where the system is closer to your ideal?

    For the same reason Democrats haven’t moved to Europe for a state funded health system – it’s their country! Just as it’s mine, just as it’s yours. Just because Bush came in and ripped up the rule of law by spying on citizens and torturing people, it doesn’t mean I should move to a civilized country that doesn’t do those things, au contraire, it means I stay and fight for my land, my country, my ideals and the ideals on which this country was founded*.

    American libertarians…

    Ah, I see your problem. Most are corporatists, or corporatist patsies. At least Jillette and, to some degree, Ron Paul, are ideologically libertarian rather than selfish, greedy or brainwashed by Fox. The pro-war, anti-regulation, anti-taxation, pro-business Tea Party ‘libertarians’ are not, by most definitions, libertarians of any kind.

    * And any better ideas that have come along since.

  • Tom

    The central moral argument in most flavours of Libertarianism, especially so-called Objectivism, Libertarianism’s demented, arrogant cousin, is against coercing anybody into action. I do not object to the apparent moral motive behind this stance; indeed, I’m sure it derives from a very important foundational ideal, though I’m equally sure that that particular expression of it is a very superficial and incomplete one. It’s worth noting that many who take such a stance do explicitly recognise that the governmental enforcement of this “uncoercive” state qualifies perfectly well as coercion; most seem to regard it as the one and only acceptable form of coercion, and an exception so obvious that it requires no justification. I rather think such special pleading most definitely does need justification; at the very least, we need sub-definitions of “morally acceptable coercion” vs “morally unacceptable coercion” to make any sense of this arrangement; the simple dogma of “coercion is bad” is not sufficient.

    Where I do have a real problem is that the definition of “coercion” that most seem to subscribe to is badly incomplete. Far too many take the childish, naive (and, I suspect in perhaps a few cases, deliberately obtuse) view that only the deliberate, active threat of direct, physical force counts as coercion (with one or two exceptions, which themselves kind of highlight the inadequacy of that definition – deception is apparently functionally equivalent to physical coercion in a lot of peoples’ books, for example).

    So, for example, if you want someone to work in your factory at starvation wages but they won’t voluntarily agree to do it, so you then go and smash up their workshop and steal their tools so they can’t work to feed themselves any more, and then they have no choice but to work for you on your terms or face starvation, that’s coercion, because it’s direct and physical and active and it violates their personal property rights to boot.

    On the other hand, if you go around all the markets and buy up all the raw materials for their product and store them away somewhere, wait a while for your opponent to run out of his own stock and go bust and get hungry, then march up to his place with the employment contract, you get the same result but it’s not coercion because it’s indirect; in fact, it’s free market! Or if you introduce a cheaper way of making his product, that requires machinery your smaller opponent couldn’t afford to get (patented if there’s any chance he could actually do it), and ultimately influence the entire market so that the price falls and he can no longer make enough money to support himself, then it’s not coercion because it’s indirect and it’s not just you, but the entire population of the free market, unconsciously of their effect on the smaller manufacturer, acting without the instigation of direct physical force or violating property rights (and, if you’re a Randian, I gather you’re also automatically in the moral right because you’re heroically making better, more efficient use of the raw materials with your new machines than he is with his older tools). More subtly, it seems financial action is absolutely not recognised by the anti-coercionists as equivalent to physical action in a lot of cases, even if it does ultimately result in physical action taking place – I’m sure most Libertarians would say, “hell yes it counts as physical coercion even if you pay a hitman to do it for you,” but my point is that most would not consider things like the above economic examples to qualify, even though the method and result are the same (you get the other guy to work for you on your terms, when he doesn’t want to, by arranging things so that his only alternative choices are less pleasant).

    My own personal definition is much more broad. A sentient person acts in reaction to their environment. If another person acts in a way that alters that environment then, with a rudimentary knowledge of how people respond to environments, which he has via experience and observation and empathy as another person too if he’s not a psychopath, he can make those alterations such that the first person will react more in the way that the second person wants. At the same time, of course, the first person may reciprocate. Strictly speaking, by that definition we’re all acting mutually coercively pretty much all the time, as long as we are conscious, non-paralysed and in any way in contact with or just anywhere near one another. Just by standing somewhere, you’re physically forcing everyone else into not standing in the spot you’re occupying and, unless it is the very spot in which you were born, you consciously moved there.

    Where it starts to get messy is that some people are capable of having a much greater influence on the environment than others. Where it gets a lot worse is that they are often able to influence the environment such that their ability to influence it increases, and that of others decreases. To expand on the above example, everyone can coercively deny everyone else access to the land they stand on by simply occupying it, but by owning land, which is a very nontrivial concept itself, some people can coerce others into not entering a much bigger area – suddenly the playing field isn’t level. This is why the ultra-libertarian/objectivist proposition that all land should be both owned and private is very unsettling to me – nowhere do they specify what happens to people who, say, are surrounded on all sides by people who won’t let them across theirs, even though that would effectively constitute imprisonment. Hold someone at gunpoint and tell them not to move and that’s coercion, but what if you just build a wall all around them on land you own?

    What if you own no land at all, have nothing that private owners might want in exchange for standing on theirs, and there is none left that is not privately held? Well, an unfortunate subset of humanity already knows this – those who live in places where there is no unowned land left and where even the state considers them ineligible to make use of what publicly owned spaces exist (even some otherwise remarkably socialist governments do this), and calls vagrants. You spend your entire life either miserably trudging somewhere else or waiting for someone to notice you’ve been on their land for a while and coerce you into miserably trudging somewhere else, until you die of exhaustion.

    I was going to write more stuff derived from this definition of coercion, but I can suddenly see an entire essay of interesting deductions stretching for miles in front of me, so I’ll go away and write it properly. If this thread’s still active by the time I finish it, I’ll come back and share it.

  • scotlyn

    Tom, I really like your take on coercion, and the potential coerciveness of financial acts, etc. In relation to human trafficking in the sex industry (which is a modern slavery issue), we are having a debate in Ireland at the moment about whether we should follow the Swedish model of criminalising the purchase of sex, while de-criminalising the selling of it by sex workers. Trafficking in human persons attracts the heaviest penalties of all. One Irish police officer who spent a year in Bosnia learning about trafficking and trying to rescue victims, found that they could be difficult to rescue precisely because traffickers do this:

    you get the other guy to work for you on your terms, when he doesn’t want to, by arranging things so that his only alternative choices are less pleasant

    Very simply, traffickers control their sex slaves by making it clear to them that they or their families are in mortal danger if they fail to comply. Which, when faced with such unpleasant consequences as their ONLY ALTERNATIVE CHOICE, they almost invariably do.
    What has happened in Sweden, ten years after they adopted laws that criminalise the purchase of sex, is that it has had a transformational effect on attitudes. 70% of the population now equate the purchase of sex with the promotion of slavery, and the social shaming of sex purchasers, together with laws that actually criminalise them has greatly reduced the actual incidence of sex trafficking into Sweden. This effect has not been seen in other countries, such as Germany, where the sex industry was simply de-criminalised.

    Tom, you have explained very well why, quite often the “free choices” that people are assumed to have, in effect, are so limited as to amount to a choice of wage drudgery/death, or debt entrappedness/death, etc. This is no more a free choice than actual “legal” slavery.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    I’m getting really sick of this whole ‘libertarians are parasites’ meme, so let’s get one thing straight: libertarians pay tax. They pay the appropriate fees for the public services they use. They’re not arguing that they should be able to use those services without paying tax. In fact, they want the nature of those services to grossly change – but until that happens, they’ve of course got no choice but to use the services they’re forced to pay for.

    If I say that I don’t think tax money should be spent on, say, torturing people in foreign prisons, am I a parasite if I ‘benefit’ from the intelligence gained from said torture? No, of course not (although plenty of asshole politicians might disagree).

  • keddaw

    Tom:

    even though the method and result are the same

    If you buy up all the raw materials I want to use in my business then you are nuts – the cost of doing that is much greater than the additional wages it would have taken to persuade me to come work for you in the first place.

    Why is working for you the only choice? Surely there are other opportunities out there, either for my own business or working for someone else.

    owning land

    Well, in my opinion no-one should be able to own land since the very principle of property rights has been broken since all land is stolen from someone in the past so it is impossible to have a legitimate owner. This is not a common, or popular, view among libertarians.

    Also, many libertarians do not agree with patents. I am on tending towards this view, although I can see pragmatic reasons for having them.

    Scotlyn:

    70% of the population now equate the purchase of sex with the promotion of slavery

    And they’re wrong. Purchasing sex indiscriminately may well contribute to the sex trafficking industry, but Person A voluntarily performing service X on Person B for remuneration is not, in and of itself, causing crime in a foreign country. No more than buying a phone here causes child/slave labour in mines or genocides in third world countries.

  • scotlyn

    Person A voluntarily performing service X on Person B for remuneration

    What’s at issue is how “voluntary” Person A’s “services” are, and the role that may be played by non-obvious forms of coercion that effectively coerce, but remain invisible to others. I think Tom explained this incredibly well.

    The Swedish attitudes survey, does not refer to “causing crime in a foreign country” – that would appear to be an embellishment of your own. What has happened is that a large number of Swedes have come to believe that paying for sex is the same as “buying” a human person, which is the definition of slavery, even if it is on a “time-share” basis, rather than a permanent one. The thing is that you do not “buy” the person’s services from themselves, you essentially “buy” your sexual “time-share” in a human person from whoever holds power over them (quite often the power of life or death), and who is thereby able to sell them again and again.

  • Brian M

    I’ll throw in my kudos to Tom as well. Many anarchocapitalists/Objectivists completely ignore the problems summarized by Tom (and keddaw as well).

    One interesting school of thought that struggles with these issues is “Mutualism”, which posits non-coercive, voluntary associations on a small scale to handle much of society’s business. It is, of course, a VERY utopian school that yet recognizes that one cannot simply throw away all the government welfare programs because our current system carries such historical baggage and injustices. Kevin Carson has an interesting blog/webpage which is at least a good read.

  • keddaw

    But Scotlyn, the concept of

    a “time-share” in a human person from whoever holds power over them

    is the antithesis of libertarianism and is the complete opposite of voluntaryism.

    However, outlawing something simply because some people are forcing others to do it against their will is the wrong approach to take. The coercion of the people is what should be being tackled, not the thing that they are made to do. Otherwise we risk outlawing every role that people get forced into doing. In summary, why the focus on sex? What is it about that service that people think is so evil that they feel the need to use underhand tactics to ban it?

    You are unnecessarily punishing people who perform that service willingly to ostensibly protect people who are illegitimately coerced into doing it, little realising that the drop in supply will inevitably raise prices and so make the trafficking problem worse and make the service inherently less safe for those who willingly choose to do it. The social shaming of people does decrease demand so may stop prices rising, but that comes at a cost to the person paying who may not be doing anything wrong (for a given definition of wrong).

  • Nathaniel

    You have yet to prove that there are “legit” no sex slave based prostitution outfits getting somehow hurt by Sweden’s policy.

    Real world evidence trumps theory everytime.

  • Tom

    If you buy up all the raw materials I want to use in my business then you are nuts – the cost of doing that is much greater than the additional wages it would have taken to persuade me to come work for you in the first place.

    You’re forgetting two core principles of capitalism: economies of scale, and initial investment. It might not be economical to do that for one person, but realise that you’d affect every worker and employer in the same business other than those in your own company by using up the supply in the area for a while (and it’s also no loss as long as it won’t spoil and you can store all the excess you’re not using). Realise also that if you can just make that initial, finite payment, enough to scupper the others, you can then employ them at a lower wage indefinitely, and raise your own prices besides. That’s a one-off investment against continuous increased return. There are other, sneakier ways to do it than the brute-force methods I’ve described, too; contracts, where in exchange for more lucrative prices suppliers agree not to sell to anyone else, for example, are not inconceivable. Or, (and this happened to somewhere I myself worked once), if you’ve got enough free capital floating about, you can simply buy the smaller competition and then immediately close them down.

    If you’re still unconvinced by that example, you can’t deny the “new machinery” one – it happened. Often. It’s in the history books.

    Why is working for you the only choice? Surely there are other opportunities out there, either for my own business or working for someone else.

    Keddaw, I hate to point this out to you, but that’s basically just a variant of the “If you don’t like how we do things here, go somewhere else,” thing you rightly criticized earlier in the thread. Both imply an argument from incredulity as well; “I cannot imagine that there could be nowhere else to go that doesn’t have the same problems as here.”

    What’s crazy is that while just about every side of every political divide has made this argument at some point, rather than actually find a way to satisfy their dissenters, an awful lot of them have, at the same time, been bent on completely obliterating or assimilating all the alternative places their dissenters might go to! Unless you cry equally forcefully for peaceful coexistence, you really should never say “like it or leave it” in the name of ideological freedom.

    Don’t think I’m writing this just to bash you, though. We’re on the same page when it comes to patents, and you can see I share most of your concerns about land ownership, although our conclusions might not line up exactly there (tbh, I’m still working them out). If you’re interested, my own notions of utopia lean mostly toward socialism/communism but with just a few anarchic/libertarian elements in important places.

  • keddaw

    Nathaniel, making anything illegal harms the freedoms of anyone in the present or future who may wish to engage in it. No specific harm needs to be shown. Although it would be trivial to do so – simply find one Swedish prostitute who has given up for fear of being arrested, or one John ‘shamed’ for paying for a service from a willing supplier.

    Your so-called real world evidence is that people are harmed by being forced to leave their home countries and work in servitude in another. Yes?

    Everyone agrees that is wrong and should be punished. The point is that whatever service they are forced to do in the second country is clearly not the problem, the problem is that they are forced to do it. Anyone not getting this fundamental point is obviously blinded by the sex angle and should perhaps get behind licensed brothels where staff have to be registered and the business regulated so that the traffickers really struggle to get their slaves employed.

  • keddaw

    Tom:

    Both imply an argument from incredulity

    No, I was pointing out the double false dichotomy you presented (work in your business or work for myself and there are no other employers or industries) and since outside of a collectivist state there is always the opportunity to sell your labour or skills this is clearly false.

    Sure, the “new machinery” argument holds, but if you’re less efficient you have to do something to match your competition: lower prices, increase efficiency, enhance your product (very few are genuinely homogeneous), increase service or leave the market.

    You are correct though, with enough economic power you can generate situations that people would find difficult, but that is the price of freedom – what you don’t do is use the power of the state to complain about people doing perfectly legal things because you don’t like it. To complain of indirect harm due to economic activity is at best special pleading, at worst simply whining – the “new machinery” argument (without the focus on you working for starvation wages) implies that you want the state to [Ban the new machine? | Tax the company? | Subsidise you?] because they will economically harm you?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Tom, I find your posts well thought out, but I think they’d don’t address the major counterpoint to what would be a libertarian objection:

    So people are indirectly coerced into doing things they don’t want (even if they’re the best remaining alternative) and some people have more influence than others; so what? If everyone is playing by the rules of the game, there will be winners and losers, and the winners earned it.

    On the subject of trafficking:
    http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/10/on-sexed-up-statistics.html

  • Brian M

    What if the rules of the game are gamed by the winners? Which almost always happens in State societies as much as in the libertarian utopias posited here? Regulatory capture and rent seeking protectionism are big issues here.

  • Mrnaglfar

    What if the rules of the game are gamed by the winners?

    I would assume they are, and the result would be that people who aren’t winners may not be as happy, or at least not as well-off economically.

    The response, I’m imagining, sounds something like “then work to be a winner, and if you can’t manage that, you’ll not be as well off. Deal with it.”

  • Brian M

    So we posit a correctly operating society as one which rewards arguably unethical behavior? Only losers play by the rules?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    [Nathaniel]: You have yet to prove that there are “legit” no sex slave based prostitution outfits getting somehow hurt by Sweden’s policy.

    Real world evidence trumps theory everytime.

    If they’re really that difficult to find, I would suggest the problem is that the reasoning is circular. In order for there to be legitimate sex services in Sweden, both buying and selling would need to be legal. You can’t have a proper market with only supply and no demand. As soon as you make one or both illegal, what you have is a black market.

    How do we demonstrate that Sweden’s policy is superior to full legalization? Scotlyn says that slave-trading traffic into Sweden has fallen compared to Germany (and presumably the Netherlands and other comparable countries). Let’s assume this is true. How do we prove that the law didn’t cause a displacement effect, shifting demand to countries where buying sex services is legal?

    Is not the fundamental issue here insufficient enforcement of the law? Slavery is very much illegal in Germany, I assure you. It’s not necessary to ban sex-related services in any way to enforce that law.

    We ought to ask ourselves why enforcement of essential human rights and labor standards is so lax to begin with. When we have good answers to that question, we can work towards resolution not only in one field of work but in practically all of them.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Only losers play by the rules?

    The point is that people who won are just fine being winners so just as they won by playing by the rules, and the same goes for those who lose, even if those rules favor people who are already ahead.

  • Tom

    Keddaw, I’m not sure what you’re playing at now. First you apparently concede that my examples are indeed valid and illustrate similarity between economic and physical coercion, and should therefore both be condemned by any moral philosophy that is against coercion, but then in your later posts you fall back to the standard libertarian position of arguing as if economic coercion were A-OK. What gives?

    Let me turn your arguments around. In between incredulously arguing that the situation could never happen anyway (which is no good response at all to a hypothetical question, and you are wrong anyway – it did and it does. Most notoriously during the 19th century, with the rise of the power loom in England, masses of hand weavers in India starved to death as a result of their sudden obsolescence), you seem to be asserting that it’s perfectly morally acceptable for someone whose skills or means of production have been made obsolete by a competitor’s perfectly legal economically coercive activity (and, really, I don’t know how the hell you think you can get anywhere making arguments like “those are the rules” or “it’s not illegal” when we’re discussing what the rules should even be in the first place – Mrnaglfar, here is your answer too) to have no choice but to either retrain and adapt (and you need capital to do that as well, remember – what if he hasn’t got any? Economic coercion again), leave the market (and, presumably, starve and die – what else could be the result of that?) or submit to the coercion and become an unskilled wage-slave.

    In that case, by analogy, why is it not equally morally acceptable for someone facing physical coercion via a weapon to have no choice but to retrain and adapt (presumably, buy a bigger weapon and armour – hello, arms race) leave combat (i.e. get killed), or submit to the coercion?

    How can you condemn one of these things and cheerfully have no issue with the other, when they are so alike in intent, mechanism and effect?

    As for your final question about how to actually do something about this? The current structure of most governments and economies does indeed seem to have little recourse but to the three options you suggest, and which I freely concede are all crude and imperfect (ban the innovation, tax the innovators, or subsidise the disadvantaged) and carry their own repercussions. Government is always a blunt instrument, it seems, no matter what ideology it’s currently run under. It’s worth noting that during the British industrial revolution, there were many calls for exactly such taxes and subsidies, but the government did nothing – the libertarian response. Given those options alone (false trichotomy?), I’d probably go with half tax and half subsidise. A more rigorous, but vastly more difficult solution might start by adopting an economy based on the labour theory of value. I, like just about every leftie, have my own modest little proposal as well (and this, at least, I think you’ll take no issue with: I designed it from the ground up to be totally voluntary), but that’s a multi-page essay just to describe, and it ain’t gonna happen soon in any event.

    Though I have illustrated the problem as I (and, I’m pleased to see, apparently at least one or two others here) see it, I don’t have an answer that would satisfy you – but that isn’t sufficient by itself to make your own position the optimal one, especially given the contradiction I’ve endeavoured to point out above.

    Note: This post was written in a state of extreme tiredness, and may suck compared to earlier ones.

  • Colin Mackay

    Of course your only truly free if you are free to withdraw your support for the state and to compete with the state economically.

  • Brian M

    Amusing comment on “libertarianism” which does, have to admit, hit home….((from the inimitable Ioz, of WhoIsIoz fame) in regards to someone criticizing the blogger at Unqualified Offerings for drifting from strong libertarianism because he was terrified about privatizing social security. Said critic riposted that he could smash windows but still believes theft is wrong:

    Ioz: …amusingly mirrors the crackpot Hobbesian, anti-libertarian argument that but for the strong state we’d all be slaughtering each other in the street. But actually most of us are not murderers, nor thieves, nor yet even blog trolls! Decency is not a matter of convenience one way or other; people are social creatures; “we must love one another or die”; etc.

    The flaw of libertarianism in almost every variety is that it presumes its values to be transcendent when they are purely situational; you would be hard pressed to locate a political philosophy more intimately and inextricably tied to a time and a place. I mean, your project is effectively to build a vast system of categorical imperatives based on the cobbled-together political project of a bunch of late-eighteenth-century tax cheats, and to somehow do so within the context of a metastasized 20th-century military-industrial global hegemon . . . I mean, I could go on, but the point is that almost nothing could be more contingent, and the universal values of liberty that you think you espouse are, as the saying goes, neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.

  • Brian M

    Nagalfar: I certainly don’t agree that banking executives and hedge fund gamblers deserve their “victory”. I think the consensus you feel is in place is beginning to crack a bit.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I think the consensus you feel is in place is beginning to crack a bit.

    For the record, I’m not actually a Libertarian. I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate

  • Nathaniel

    “I certainly don’t agree that banking executives and hedge fund gamblers deserve their “victory”.”

    That’s the thing. Much of Libertarianism depends on the just world fallacy. People are rich and wealthy and powerful because they earned it, therefore they deserve, and deserve to use it as they see fit against lesser powerful people.

    To use a cliche, how solution does Libertarianism have for people who get rich from dumping pollutants in a river and then selling people expensive bottled water?

    The answers seem to be:

    A. Such a thing would be prevent by a truly free market.
    B. Sucks to be them.

  • colluvial

    If I were a hero, I would use a gun to stop another country from attacking us and taking away our freedoms.

    This statement neatly sums up the motivation behind a half century of costly and pointless wars.

  • keddaw

    Nathaniel, that is spectacularly poor. Having just read the piece on Wole Soyinka, I find your take on libertarianism to be just as unimaginative as the criticism of Wole Soyinka’s atheism.

    The (majority of) libertarian solutions to the river dumping issue is for people to sue and/or imprison anyone who pollutes the river. It’s really not that difficult.

    Secondly, libertarianism (Objectivists and Republicans aside) do not believe wealth is always earned. Any realistic view of the world would let you see the massive amount of luck that is involved. What libertarians want is as level a playing field as possible. What happens afterwards is a lottery, but so is crossing the street.

    Tom, I never agreed that economic coercion was in the same ball park as forceful coercion. There should never be a situation where the choice is to do what someone wants against your will or starve. The only time this is the case is when ALL land is owned by a minority and cannot be utilized by the unlanded. A situation I would never allow since I dispute all claims to ownership of land.

  • Nathaniel

    Huge swaths of government regulation are about creating a level playing field. “Free” markets are incredibly artificial things. Without regulation, they quickly become monopolies.

    And if the government is as minimal as desired, then why would suing have any effect? The only reason going to court has any power is because there is government force backing it.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Leum,
    The quickest way to display a lack of understanding of economics and government is to imply someone is a communist by association. It is true that Jean-Paul Sartre was a Marxist Communist, and no doubt that some of his followers were, but to most of existentialist Communism is simply a socio-economic model where a group of people, often customers, share equal ownership of a business, regardless of their individual contribution to that business. Credit unions, farm co-op stores, mutual insurance companies and in some cases, buyers clubs are based on a communistic model.

    Existentialism emphasizes the responsibility of choice. Libertarians emphasize the individual right to choose. The difference is often missed by Libertarians. Libertarians view the right to choose as an individual freedom. Existentialists view choice as an inescapable burden, and acknowledge that individual decisions produce effects, both trivial and non-trivial on others as well as the immediate effect on the individual decider.

    To me, Libertarians seem like the “Dine and Dash” customer. If I go to a restaurant, my first concern is that I can pay for the meal. If I can’t afford the restaurant, I don’t go there. A Dine and Dash customer, goes to the restaurant, orders and consumes a large expensive meal and when the check comes, they take of out the door without paying.

    Except in this case they would accuse the restaurateur of thievery, claiming the meal was not what they ordered, that the meal they received was a gift and they should only pay for what they ordered. It seems to be a philosophy of denial.

    Philboyd,
    consider the libertarian-capitalist pay for play police.If you get robbed, you pay for the police investigation. If you can’t afford it… well ,tough tiddy.
    What if you get robbed by an organized crime goon, and the crime boss offers the police more money to ignore your complaint.
    What if your fire department acted like this: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/248649/pay-spray-firefighters-watch-home-burns-daniel-foster
    Before publicly funded firehouses many cities had commercial fire companies, who took in customer payments and placed an identifying badge on the outside of the home or business to identify it as their client. it became commonplace for a fire brigade to prevent competing fire-brigades from fighting fires of their clients, and in some cases they would torch buildings covered by their competition.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    To me, Libertarians seem like the “Dine and Dash” customer. If I go to a restaurant, my first concern is that I can pay for the meal. If I can’t afford the restaurant, I don’t go there. A Dine and Dash customer, goes to the restaurant, orders and consumes a large expensive meal and when the check comes, they take of out the door without paying.
    Except in this case they would accuse the restaurateur of thievery, claiming the meal was not what they ordered, that the meal they received was a gift and they should only pay for what they ordered. It seems to be a philosophy of denial.

    To make the “Dine and Dash customer” analogy work, we have to posit the libertarian being born to parents who go to the restaurant, since it is a regional monopoly which forces them to eat there. Then upon growing up it’s his turn. Now, there are other restaurants further away, but eating at them requires extensive paperwork to get permission ahead of time, arduous travel and paying back fees to the current restaurant for years afterward, perhaps even more requirements too. The restaurant, moreover, is structured such that, if most customers like certain dishes, the minority are served these as well and billed for them. If they refuse payment, they are fined or put to work for the restaurant, washing dishes and taking out trash. A new customer who comes from somewhere else and signs an agreement to only patronize the restaurant might be acceptable (I stress might) but this is a minority. Most are born into patronizing it whether they want to or not. True, this analogy is very awkward, but that is a reflection of its weakness. Comparing the libertarian objecting to government with the Dine and Dash customer does not follow.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Micheal,
    actually the dine and dash scenario is analogous to only a small facet of Libertarian philosophy. There are places in the world where traveling 30 miles, a common commute for many in this country, can take hours due to the requirement to stop and pay tolls to tribal warlords. In the US road maintenance and construction is paid largely by vehicle registrations with federal funding, so in a sense, this partially meets the Libertarian criteria. If you don’t own a car, you don’t pay for registrations fees and wheel taxes that are use to maintain the roads the cars travel over.
    But even if you don’t own a car, you still benefit from the system of roads and highwways. The roads are used to transport all manner of supplies, from building materials to clothing, to food and medicines. Some of the federal taxes you pay hels provide additional funds to the state highway departments, because everyone benefits for the roads, even if you are not a driver or car owner. The slice of taxes that are payment for the benefits access to the open road. Anyone who claims the taxes that are budgeted for worad works are being stolen from the people simply refuse to acknowledge that everyone benefits from the roads.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Niklaus, what if you’re a civilian sitting in Yemen and a Democracy Drone swoops over and blows you up? What if you’re rotting away in an American jail because the government decided that ownership of particular kinds of plant was evil? What if you get shot or pepper-sprayed by a cop who is then shielded from investigation?

    I mean, terrible things happen under any government. It’s intellectually lazy to list problems with System X as a substitute for argument. (Personally though, I’d take a few houses being burnt down over a sprawling prison system, War on Drugs, and War on Terror any day.)

  • Nathaniel

    How about a guarantee that you drink disease free water and that your house won’t burn down from poor construction?

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#56: Whether everyone benefits from something is not the same as the question of it being stolen. And, I should point out, the large corporations who transport goods benefit most directly, with the cost passed on to people they then sell to-us. So this is a huge subsidy sent their way. That must be remembered. Most likely people would pay for roads anyway. The question is rather the method.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Fair objections all. I’d point out that using “a gun” to enforce a contract sounds way too much like a mobster activity. I don’t think threats of violence or death should be what holds a contract in place. I think threats of fines would suffice. Even then, a lot of business contracts are phrased in such incredibly awful ways that it appears whenever a large company strikes any sort of contract with an individual, the individual gives up pretty much any possible right. That’s a complaint for another day.

    What gets me about libertarian thinking is the complete inability to account for children. The world is treated like Elder Scrolls 4, as though it consists of nothing more than perfectly ambulatory adults with not a single child to be found. Well, what do they believe regarding children? If someone raises a child to the age of 2, and decides after careful enlightened selfish consideration that this child in particular won’t further their long term goals as well as originally thought, and it would be better off starting anew or putting effort into raising a neighbor’s much more promising child, what then? Is this person obligated to continue raising the child, or should we take it that only they should be the governor of where to put their effort and money? Is this person even obligated to take the child to an orphanage (if they even still exist in this libertarian utopia), or is it enough to tell the kid they are trespassing, get out before that parent defends their property, and then tell the kid that it would be insulting to donate food to the kid and they are fully capable of making their own way in the world.

    Some libertarians probably actually DO think this. Those are people I don’t want to know…

    Dear atheismo we NEED a gender neutral 3rd person pronoun. Look at that garglemess, and don’t suggest he/she or s/he as an alternative, it ain’t cuttin’ it. Let’s try the letter “e” for he or she and “es” for hers or his, and “em” for her or him. Short and to the point. …and it won’t catch on at all like all the other solutions… Oh well. Back to trying to convince people “it” shouldn’t be rude.

  • Jormungund

    What gets me about libertarian thinking is the complete inability to account for children

    I have no idea where this concern comes from or how you possibly think that the following paragraph is in any way a critique of libertarian ideology. You know what would happen to criminally neglectful/child abandoning parents if libertarians were in charge? CPS would take their kids away (CPS and other government bureaucracies would still exist, a vast majority of libertarians are minarchists not anarchists) and the neglectful parent would face criminal charges. It would be just the same as today. Even extremest libertarians who want nothing more than a ‘night watchman’ government (basic law enforcement and a for self-defense only military) want the police to exist and want child neglecters to be punished accordingly.
    Did you mean to write that paragraph critiquing anarcho-capitalists or something? You mentioned ‘libertarian utopia’ in that paragraph. Are you envisioning total anarchy when you use that term? There wouldn’t even be police to arrest parents who abandon children? You honestly think that is what the average libertarian imagines as being a utopia?

    If that bargain is intolerable to you, you’re welcome to seek a country that’s more congenial to your viewpoint

    Love it or leave it? Seriously? I thought that sleazy rhetorical ploy was used by conservatives to attack progressives. I never thought I would see a progressive stoop to that level in that way. How about: no. I won’t leave. Instead I’ll advocate that things be changed so that they are more in line with my values. The best part about sticking around and advocating that things be changed is that it isn’t even a violation of the social contract. As I pointed out in the last thread about Penn’s views, it is certainly not a violation of the social contract to advocate a policy change to defund some government program.
    I’m imagining some stereotypical religious right conservative telling Adam that if he doesn’t like the fact that America is a Christian nation for Christians to live in and control the government of, then he can go elsewhere. “Love it or leave it, liberals!”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The best part about sticking around and advocating that things be changed is that it isn’t even a violation of the social contract. As I pointed out in the last thread about Penn’s views, it is certainly not a violation of the social contract to advocate a policy change to defund some government program.

    Jormungund, the fact that you even recognize the existence of a social contract puts you a cut above the kind of libertarian I’m criticizing here. Libertarians are perfectly within their rights to call for eliminating unnecessary government programs, and I’ll even support them on many of those.

    This post is aimed at a different group of people: the petulant, rejectionist libertarians who seem not to understand the concept of a social contract and who believe that any exercise of state power they disagree with is necessarily illegitimate and a violation of their rights. That’s exactly what I said in my closing paragraph:

    It’s inherent in all democracies that the majority will sometimes vote for a course of action, such as establishing an income tax, that not everyone will agree with. That’s not necessarily an infringement of human rights; it’s the inevitable consequence of having a social contract. And even though not everyone can always get their own way, the social contract of democracy is – should be – sustained by the recognition that we’re all better off, on average, living in a democracy than we would be under any other kind of government. If that bargain is intolerable to you, you’re welcome to seek a country that’s more congenial to your viewpoint…

    The defining characteristics of these rejectionist libertarians are that they compare paying taxes to rape and slavery and/or use the phrase “men with guns” frequently in reference to public spending on, say, sewage systems, anti-pollution laws, or vaccination. I think Penn is one of them, sorry to say.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Jormungand, I’m not envisioning a lack of police. I’m following the logic many libertarians have presented to me. In the view of many of them, it is not a crime to fail to provide for the poor or the sick. I’ve literally heard someone respond to the “what if someone was drowning, would you be obligated to save them?” question with “no, I would not be obligated” (followed by some enlightened selfish reason why it would still be the most logical course of action to save them, usually having to do with reputation or the promise of getting saved in the future, or some direct reward from the victim). However pressed further they usually reveal that no, someone should not be arrested for failing to rescue someone drowning or stuck in a well. So, if those extreme situations don’t count as moral obligations, I have to ask what of children? Child “neglect” sounds like a moral obligation to help someone else because of that other person’s own interests, saying that that person, a child in this case, is owed some of your resources just for existing. THAT is what I mean when I say that libertarianism doesn’t account for children. That is, it does, but the conclusions applied to every other weak and powerless person in society would apply just as well to children in a way too horrifying for a lot of them to face up to.

    That doesn’t seem to be your viewpoint at all, since you view child neglect as a crime just as I do, and probably for the same reason (yes, a child DOES deserve society’s resources). I’m speaking purely to those extreme libertarians who really do view the very concept of a moral obligation to be, as Rand might put it, reducing the grand stature of man to that of a tool to be used.

  • keddaw

    …it is not a crime to fail to provide for the poor or the sick.

    Correct. Except when you have children, or pets, you have given up some of your rights – including the right to abandon creatures* in your care. In general not helping is not the same as harming. We can socially shun people who don’t help, but it is not just to use the power of the state to harm them.

    compare paying taxes

    This is getting tiresome. INCOME taxes, not all taxes. A tax on income means you are having some of your labour taken by the government which, in a very loose sense, is in keeping with the idea of slavery since you don’t own your own labour. All other forms of tax are either the externalities of the good/service or the utility gained from it. These are debatable, but in no way are unjustified. Likewise, taxing unearned benefits (inheritance, mineral resources etc.) is entirely justified.

    Incidentally, please stop using Rand as some sort of definitive libertarian, even by her own words she was not one. Objectivism is, well, stupid let alone unworkable, impractical, myopic and sub-optimal.

    *Children, as they are to become equal members of society when adults, require some form of education since an educated electorate is necessary for democracy and democracy is necessary for a libertarian state. Which doesn’t necessarily equate to public education, but does require public funding of education as a safety net.

  • Brian M

    Many of the traditional “liberals” here assume that the functions of the state they find necessary (e.g…”protecting children”) are done well by the state and that said functions were never performed prior to the existance of the State. Is that really the case?

    I honestly don;t think history shows that. I am not denying that the State performs some of these functions more efficiently and perhaps even justly ( fire fighting as an example) but even fire fighting, in smaller and rural communities, is often performed through volunteerism. Neighborhood watches can be an effective policing mechanism. Heck, as our police forces purchase tanks and fund studies of crowd control technologies to suppress political rallies, I wonder sometimes how beneficial is our thin blue line (hat tip to Phil Boyd)?

    The issue of scale is a big one (lol), of course

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Dark Jaguar and Jormungund,
    A former coworker of mine, named Beth, often told me how she believed parents received special privileges simply because they had children. Beth was a very personable lady, and when she said this, it was in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

    I never really understood her justification for that belief, and she did attempt to explain it to me on several occasions, but I never could follow the rationale behind the idea.

    Keddaw,
    A lot of the ideas you promote seem more in line with neo-conservative ideology of keeping government small enough “to drown in a bathtub”. In recent years capitalism has become almost a religion ( well, in some circles it is a religion .. Prosperity Gospel anyone?), and the failing of privatization are often ignored. Some libertarians buy into the privatization argument, that government cant do anything right and through the magic of the free market business will find ways to do the job better and at a profit, without bothering to look at the numbers.
    The charter school movement, has, for the most part produced worse results than the public schools. The major exceptions have been charter schools run by non-profit organizations. For promotional purposes, charter businesses will pull the best students into a single school and promote the success of that school while staying quiet about the schools with the lower scores. Places like Chicago and Philadelphia, have documented problems with chartered schools.
    But Libertarians should also note that the privatization model of charter schools take tax money, funnel it to a private business, and in the case of for profit businesses, a large percentage is taken off the top for profit before the expenses. They reduce expense by cutting back on custodial staff, overloading teachers and skimping on building maintenance.
    So the tax payers get less for their money.
    The same is true of a lot of other forms of privatization. County jails operated by private contractors in the past have reduced expenses by feeding prisoners dry dog food for meals and turned off power and heat the the lockup areas during the winter.
    This is not true in all cases, as there are many businesses that do a fine job providing services through government contracts. The problem is that services which are generally not profitable are better done by civil service, or a non-profit organization.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I am not denying that the State performs some of these functions more efficiently and perhaps even justly ( fire fighting as an example) but even fire fighting, in smaller and rural communities, is often performed through volunteerism. Neighborhood watches can be an effective policing mechanism.

    I love this, I really do. Sure, we can run society that way; who needs a police force? Let’s just bring back vigilantism and mob justice! What’s the worst that could happen?

  • Jormungund

    @#63 Dark Jaguar:
    You seem to be talking about Objectivists rather than libertarians. Libertarians and Objectivists don’t identify with one another or like one another. Maybe Objectivists do shrug their shoulders when hearing that a parent is refusing to give food and shelter to a child. If I had to guess, well over 99% of American libertarians support the existence of anti-child neglect laws and a police force/justice system capable to enforcing such laws. You want to make an analogy between feeding kids and having a large and well funded welfare state. I guess you could find libertarians who don’t think that is an apt analogy.

    @#66 Niklaus,
    Your understanding of charter schools almost directly contradicts my own. I am familiar with D.C. and California charter schools. I know that the California ones outperform the public school system and do so with much less money per student. You are right about them getting to be selective about entry. That certainly boosts their averages. The extreme profitability and lack of basic support staff that you claim is not something that I’m familiar with.
    I’m an advocate of school choice. The California teacher’s union is out of control. Our public K-12 education system is terrible and the teacher’s union fights tooth and nail to prevent any and all schemes to improve things. And with their massive ‘campaign contributions’ state legislators bow to their will. I sympathize with parents who would much rather that the property taxes they pay towards education be spent sending their kids to somewhere other than the geographically closest public school. The way the political scene is in California, I don’t know how to feasibly unfuck the the school system. I wish those trying to flee it the best.
    Do you have a source on that dog food in prison claim? I’ve read articles and watched a number of prison documentaries, and while I’m aware of my state’s privately run, ridiculously expensive and senselessly brutal prison system, I have never heard of US prisoners eating dog food. A quick google search reveals nothing on that matter.

    @#67 Ebonmuse:
    You know that isn’t what he meant. Don’t play dumb. Hysterical exaggeration of someone’s comment isn’t an argument. Lowing the conversation to that level doesn’t help anyone.

  • keddaw

    Niklaus, the problem when dealing with a member of a group (libertarians, Christians etc.) is that you will often lump them in with your own myopic idea of what the majority view is. We all do it, in lots of situations, and then the person gets defensive about someone misrepresenting their actual views and the discussion descends to arguments, insults and “No True Scotsman” claims. In mainland Europe the majority of libertarians are either collectivists or anarchists, in the UK quite a few are closer to minarchists with a sizeable number anti-corporatist. It is only when you get to the US you get a libertarian movement that wants to replace government with corporations (“liberals want to replace god with government” is an interesting tactic from the right).

    So, rather than take the severely broken US education system and see what happens when they try to privatise some of it (for profit schools buy Republicans and Teachers Unions buy Democrats) why not look at countries where education works, like Belgium or Finland, where radically different approaches have caused great advances in education levels.

    As for government providing services, there are many ways round this. My preferred choice is for most things to be done by mutuals rather than government, even if government provides some initial incentive or funding for it. This keeps essential services in the hands of those who use them and helps to stop government becoming too large to control. Obviously some functions have to be controlled by government – the main one being prisons. No private institution should have the right to keep someone locked up, it is only the state, by consent of the rest of us, that should be able to do this. Police should be local and by consent.

  • Brian M

    Ebonmuse #67…may I suggest you read a little Radley Balko before the hysterical vapors totally overcome you? And think on the question: why does my small suburban city police force need a TANK? And militarized training worthy of an occupation army? Why have American police forces become increasingly militarized? Why does the United States imprison vastly more people as a percentage of population than other western and even “second world” countries?

    I am imagining you muttering in your morning coffee about the police needing to shoot to kill to keep those darn kids off your lawn.

    Why the reflexive deferal to authority? My fundamental point is question/doubt/laugh at the worship of the State. Isn’t that a good thing for atheists/freethinkers? Why such hysterical defensiveness?

    I will refer you again to the Einstein quote up thread. I have to admit I am disappointed to imagine the altar to patriotism having a prominent space in residence.

  • Brian M

    keddaw: I like your last paragraph quite a bit. Playing devil’s advocate, though, as much as I agree with mutualism and localized control, I remain concerned that in a country as rife with division and racism and classism as this country, I imagine a balkanized system of squabbling groups. I still see such local groups as not being rational, “liberal” mutual aid socieites but a collection of gangs, religious cults, and the like. Plus, even as a person sympathetic to mutualism, I am not convinced by their privatization of the commons (national parks and wilderness areas would what…just be turned over to anyone who puts a plow to the soil)? One has to admit that localized control has a terrible history in mush of the country (local governments created Sunset Towns, enforced the most cruel aspects of Jim Crow, and used lynch mobs to enforce racial apartheid…it was the big, bad federal government who began breaking that up).

    My politics continue to evolve. I still have enough of a traditional statist liberal to ask these questions…while bristling at relfexive “but but look at Somalia” comments from cruise missile liberals. LOL

  • keddaw

    Brian M, keep both thoughts in your head – the US libertarian worldview (or the European one for that matter) cannot function in today’s world, the wealth disparity, corporate power and land ownership in the US today would either not allow it, or take advantage of it to the point of breaking the spirits of ordinary Americans. Hence why people like the Koch brothers are funding it.

    That doesn’t mean they can’t be a decent check on the growth of a nanny state or an overbearing police state, or both.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Keddaw,
    Beth is not the only Libertarian I’ve known. Of the ones I’ve met, she was the only one to voice an opinion that parents had special perks. It seems to me, that with Libertarians, as with Republicans, Democrats, and any other political ideological group frame their own prejudices and preferences with in the context of that ideology. This leads to several problems in real life. There is an old proverb: “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” The common thread among the Libertarians I’ve known is the idea that the government intrudes too much on the lives of the citizens and their individual freedom. However most of the same Libertarians hate the idea of our lives being governed by greedy corporate interests.

    I am in agreement that our educational system is broken, and I think the No Child left behind legislation is a major contribution to to our educational race to the bottom, and part of a strategy to funnel taxpayer dollars into the pockets of private contractors. Public schools have also been the laboratory for every social experiment imaginable, and while tax increases are often sold to the public on the premise that part of the money will go to the schools, then the schools get squat while the taxes go to overpriced programs to encourage tourism.

    Essential services are too important to be placed in corporate control,
    http://thirdworldtraveler.com/South_America/Bolivia_WaterWarVictory.html, however many municipal services are often handled through tightly regulated business entities with a restricted charter due to a local monopoly status.

    Jormungund;
    Do you count charters such as CCCTEC http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/09/29/charter-failure-prompts-scrutiny/ , or the large number of failed charter schools (around 29 % as of 2009< or are you only drawing your opinion based on the reosy reports of the charter schoold corporations and their lobbyist organizations?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Brian, it may surprise you to learn this, but there are options intermediate between “let’s have a society governed by the military and give police unlimited discretion to use deadly force” and “let’s have no government at all and leave justice up to roving lynch mobs”. You may advocate the latter, but I most definitely do not advocate the former. If you insist on attributing to me views which I do not hold, know that I have no interest in continuing to debate people who can’t represent my position honestly or accurately.

  • Jormungund

    If you insist on attributing to me views which I do not hold

    What a great follow-up to comment #67. Make wild announcements that someone else is advocating something that they aren’t, then get pissy when you suspect that someone is misrepresenting your views. Pots, kettles, the color black.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Brian M,
    Whether you like it our not there will be government. What we have in the US currently is a rapid weakening of a government originally designed to represent the majority of the people, and replacing it with a plutocratic corporate fascist government.
    In Afghanistan, a socialist government was overthrown years ago, only to be replaced by a crime family, the Taliban. In Iraq, a democratic government was toppled to put Saddam Hussein in power, In Iran, a democracy dell to place a dictator in power, and years later the dictator was overthrown and replaces by an equally bad religious leader. The leader was replaced by a combination theocratic parliamentary government. The common thread in most of these cases was the change benefitted the income of corporations.

  • Brian M

    Niklaus:

    Except for skepticism about your second sentence (when was the government really devoted primarily to representing the views of a “majority”, whatever that measn) I don’t disagree with your statement that there probably “always” will be a government.

    I just disagree that the current government CAN or WILL be reformed. Why would the people who benefit even entertain fundamental reform? It works so well for them. And, the media has ocnvinced a majority of the population…even self-defined atheists…that the American State is fundamentally good. It ain’t. We are not denmark, folks. We are a military empire, and while we have focused on oppressing outsiders for fun and profit, the police state tactics are incerasingly turned inward.

    So…no shrine to American Exceptionalism here.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So…no shrine to American Exceptionalism here.

    I fail to see any atheists here who believe in American Exceptionalism or stating that the “American State is fundamentally good.” Where are you getting that from?

  • Brian M

    I’m not responding to anyone here really. More a general statement of opinion.

  • Brian M

    Ebonmuse: Of course. But you seem to be losing that distiction as well when you claim anarchists want nothing but lynch mobs.

    Plus…only the most doctrinaire anarchist denies that states vary in their level of evil.

    Niklaus: re: the Taliban crime family…that’s a somewhat simplistic definition of a tribal/clan based political force which we helped create/strengthen.

    I would note that most of the states which can be more accurately defined as “governed by crime families” are typically American allies in the war against communism….errr terrorism….errrr…whatever is next. Certainly our good buddy Saudi Arabia is nothing but an extended criminal enterprise run by mafiosi of particualrly venal character. Bahrain? Same thing. We were also good friends with the Duvalier clan of Haiti(until they became embarrasing), the Somozas of Nicaragua, good ol’ Mobuto Sese Seko. In other words…what is wrong with good old fashioned Crime Families? The United States Government LOVES crime families that mouth the proper platitudes and provide us platforms for military bases, “enhanced interrogations” or resources we can suck dry. Empire loves crime!

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I’m not responding to anyone here really. More a general statement of opinion.

    Then it’s nothing but a red herring. Why bring it up?

  • Lenoxus

    I was surprised by keddaw’s repeated statements to the effect that income taxation is not good but other forms can be acceptable, and basing this on something resembling the labor theory of value. For nearly all the libertarians I know, little distinction is drawn between the evils of the different types of taxes, although perhaps sales taxes are considered mildly superior to income taxes. Regardless, even things like inheritence taxes are seen as bad by most libertarians because property is property is property is property, regardless of means by which property came to be transferred. Merit, in principle, should have nothing to do with it — that’s nanny-state thinking. Or so I’ve heard.

  • keddaw

    Lenoxus, it is a surprising statement that challenges most people’s preconceptions. Much like my view of land ownership (i.e. it’s impossible to own since there cannot be any factual legitimacy to one person’s claim over another’s.)

    Taxes should be for services the government provides and those that use them most should pay most. The obvious flaw is that for many services the people most in need of them cannot pay for them (unemployment benefits and medical treatments spring to mind) which is why a flat fee, paid for by those with enough wealth each year, would cover those unable to pay. The benefit they would receive for this payment is the decrease in risk of a popular (and potentially violent) uprising. Wealth is something that can be measured and something that people will want to protect, thus there is a justification for taxing it. Income is entirely different, albeit usually ending in wealth accumulation.

    Income is also an entirely private transaction between two individuals that the government has no business even knowing about – unless there is a dispute over the terms (e.g. refusal to pay up for services rendered.) The ideas that get thrown around over this are asinine “by having a legal contract you are using the courts and so the government should take a cut” etc. This is simply a way for people to try to justify government involvement in absolutely everything since every interaction between people in some way involves their rights and the protection thereof, which is kinda the government’s role. But I refuse to buy into the idea that talking to someone in the street should involve a fee to the government for disincentivising that person from murdering or robbing me by having police, courts and prisons – and I’m pretty sure almost everyone agrees.

    To be honest, I am all for inheritance taxes (not having much of an inheritance coming my way) since once a person dies they have no rights, and no legal standing. The idea that their property goes to their next of kin is a throwback to feudal times. While this would require a fundamental shift in law and people’s thinking, it would result in earlier transfers of wealth to others and a massive increase in funding to the state since when you die your estate becomes common property. It would also remove the legal status of wills.

    Basically, I’m not a run of the mill libertarian – I have thought about many forms of government, the basis of rights for individuals, corporations and states and come up with many ideas and concepts that are the antithesis of what right libertarians think but I am still closer to them since I agree with limited government and personal autonomy.


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