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Archive for the ‘libertarianism’ Category

The always entertaining P.J. O’Rourke has some reflections on the recent FreedomFest in Las Vegas (DailyBeast). Much of the piece is good fun (as one might expect). But O’Rourke does end with an important question that has bedeviled libertarians for quite some time: how do you make the leap to mass politics?   In O’Rourke’s words:

people love to hear what libertarians have to say until those people go into the voting both. Then limitations on the size, power, and expense of government start to get personal.

According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans receive some kind of government benefits. And political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides of The Century Foundation (which is liberal-centrist) say that if you throw in everything that can be construed as a government benefit, e.g. mortgage interest deductions, 96% of Americans are on the take.

What would be a good yard sign for a libertarian politician?

Vote for _______
He Can Give You Less 

Make Sure Not Much Happens Ever” isn’t a catchy slogan. As O’Rourke notes: “I suppose we could infiltrate the government and do nothing.  But federal employees, at the V.A. for instance, seem to have that base covered.”

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Persons of Straw

Alright, straw men… I guess I have been an academic for too long. Elizabeth Nolan Brown (Reason) observes that many journalists who write about libertarianism are in the business of constructing straw men. They simply do not feel the slightest need to do the kind of research necessary to make credible statements:

Not only do you not have to know the first thing about libertarianism to cover it for major news outlets, it is perfectly fine to a) decline to ask anybody who does know, b) make up your own version of what it is, and then c) lament the terribleness of this terrible philosophy or people you have just created.

Brown illustrates her points by drawing on a recent essay by Damon Linker. I have read a fair amount of Linker’s work and find it quite thoughtful, but that is another matter. The larger point seems quite correct: many media commentators (and any number of academics) feel little need to go beyond poorly constructed straw men when arguing against libertarianism.

work.2782775.4.flat,550x550,075,f.straw-man

Many academics I know present one of four caricatures of libertarianism, two of which they find frightening and the other two a bit bemusing. First, there is the libertarianism that is best exemplified by Timothy McVeigh. It can be found where the Christian Identity movement, the Tea Party, and the National Rifle Association overlap. The world they would like to create would end up looking a good deal like Mogadishu (As one of my friends says: “If you like libertarianism, you will love Somalia”). Second, there is the libertarianism that is exemplified by Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko. Here we have the corporate titans, the Koch brothers, and the 1 percent intent on rigging the system to perpetuate massive levels of inequality (“Could we actually get a Gini coefficient approaching 1?”). Third, we have the tinfoil hat libertarianism that fears the conspiratorial “powers that be.” Imagine a combination of 9/11 truthers and Comic Con attendees living in their mothers’ basements. Finally, there are the “smoke-em-if-you got-em” libertarians. These are the libertines who are largely interested in free love and free drugs but are largely apolitical. The world they would create looks a lot like a Grateful Dead concert (or Zuccatti Park absent the “Occupy” placards). Libertarianism is either evil or easily dismissed as an oddity that has no relevance to contemporary politics.

In contrast to these kinds of caricatures, Brown explains:

Libertarians are the ones who tend to both support same-sex marriage and people’s right not to be compelled to work in service of one; to want to get both our bosses and the government out of birth control decisions; and to take free speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and personal autonomy very seriously.

None of this sounds too frightening–or too unreasonable–unless you are intent on using the power of the state to impose your own vision on others. Brown’s piece has some links to recent Reason posts that speak to contemporary issues. They may be of use for those seeking to get a better grasp on libertarianism.

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After weeks of media obsession with Senator Cruz, the GOP-forced government shutdown, and the impact on public opinion, the Obama administration’s use of drones and the NSA’s vast surveillance efforts are once again gaining some space above the fold. The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the civilian casualties from drone attacks, reviewing the recent findings of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In Yemen, Human Rights Watch investigated six selected airstrikes since 2009 and concluded that at least 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children who perished in a September 2012 attack.

In Pakistan, Amnesty International investigated nine suspected U.S. drone strikes that occurred between May 2012 and July 2013 in the territory of North Waziristan. The group said it found strong evidence that more than 30 civilians were killed in four of the attacks.

Although the White House declined to comment on the reports, it directed attention to President Obama’s May 2013 speech where he said that “drones would be used only against people who pose a ‘continuing, imminent threat’ to the United States and only in cases in which the avoidance of civilian casualties would be ‘a near-certainty.’” Excellent.

Meanwhile, past allegations of NSA interception of phone conversations abroad (in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Germany, Mexico, etc.) were updated with new information about  its interception of French phone calls on a “massive scale.”    Not to worry. A National Security Council spokeswoman explained: “We’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.” Once again, excellent.

None of this has received the kind of attention one might have imagined.  Stop Watching Us is planning a rally in Washington DC on October 26—the twelfth anniversary of the signing of the PATRIOT Act—to “demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.” The rally has the backing of a broad and diverse set of advocacy groups, ranging from the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Libertarian Party and (believe it or not) the US Pirate Party.

Of course, Tom Watson (Salon) objects to the NSA’s policies, but not as much as he objects to the participation of libertarians in the protest (h/t Reason).   Why object to the libertarians? Because “their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.” Strong stuff, but it gets better:

libertarianism is a form of authoritarianism disguised in a narrow slice of civil liberties. In trumpeting the all-knowing, ever wise wonders of the totally free and unencumbered market, it bestows all the power on those with access to capital. You may say we’re there already, but under a pure libertarian system, things would get much worse.

Watson concludes that for libertarians, “it’s always about the man on the balcony,” making reference to Hayek’s support for Pinochet (for a more nuanced presentation, see an ungated version of a paper by Farrant, McPhail and Berger here). In the end, one might conclude that the odd fear of some future libertarian authoritarianism is greater than concerns about the revelations of the past several years involving the targeted executions of U.S. citizens abroad, the extensive use of drones, and the NSA’s global surveillance efforts. Imagination trumps reality.

One can only hope against hope that the rally is a success and that the media’s obsession with the post mortems on the government shutdown and the daily fluctuations in the opinion polls will leave some space for a more significant debate about civil liberties, one that draws on the broadest coalition possible.

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On Saturday I moved with my family to Lebanon, New Hampshire. I am teaching for a year in the Government Department at Dartmouth College. Although my reasons for leaving my tenure-track job at Buffalo were several, I decided last year to apply almost exclusively to jobs in New England so that I could fulfill (early) my Free State Project commitment.

Fifty-nine people greeted us when we arrived at our new home, unloaded the truck in 20 minutes, and then held a party. The welcome we got exemplifies the reasons why we decided to take the risk of leaving a tenure-track job for a future in New Hampshire. Even though our decision may very well require a career change for me in a year’s time, we do not consider it to be a “sacrifice for the cause.” Our move is fundamentally self-interested.

The things that really matter in life are family, friends, community, a sense of purpose. Financial security is secondary. In the United States today, we enjoy unparalleled wealth, access to technologies inconceivable until just a few decades ago. There is much that we can give up financially while still enjoying a decent life.

We moved from a 3,000-square-foot house in Buffalo to a 1,100-square-foot apartment in Lebanon. We gave up our TV, our stereo system, and most of our furniture. Adjusting for cost of living and benefits, my real earnings have already declined significantly. The variance in our expected future earnings has increased dramatically. But my daughter also played in a river for the first time, throwing rocks and trying to catch tadpoles. We can walk to the

The view from our living room

The view from our living room

town green. You can see the stars at night and the hills of the Upper Connecticut River Valley during the day. Most importantly of all, we’re participating in a historic effort to create a society of free and responsible individuals, which would be an impossible dream almost anywhere else.

To be sure, we also left a few good friends in Buffalo, and that was hard. I understand why libertarians with strong local family and friend connections do not move to New Hampshire. But we didn’t have such long-term connections anywhere else, apart from those few good friends.

I also understand why libertarians who are promoting the cause in their own careers would see a career change and a move to New Hampshire as a step back. But most of what I have done as an academic does not promote liberty directly, and I have come to question seriously the (more…)

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The Free State Project’s Porcupine Freedom Festival was last week, and the media mentions have been trickling in. Unfortunately, I was not able to go due to scheduling conflicts, but the organizers claim, on the basis of 1,500 paid registrants, that over 1,700 people attended (including children). That makes it the biggest PorcFest ever, unsurprising considering an excellent lineup including David Friedman, Robert Murphy, Don Boudreaux, Michael Huemer, and many, many more. In addition, PorcFest’s “Agora Alley” has become (in)famous as a real-life example of a free-wheeling free market in action.

Here are some after-action reports I’ve been able to dig up:

Next year, I’m so there. And you should be too.

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I have great respect and (in many cases) affection for my friends at Bleeding Hearts Libertarians. But I am not a bleeding heart libertarian, and from the outset I have resisted its siren song, mostly over its endorsement of “social justice” as a moral and/or political ideal. Unlike Hayek, I do not think the concept is incoherent. But I think Hayek has a point, and my resistance to the concept I think tracks at least some of Hayek’s motivation. But that resistance is normative, rather than conceptual. Recent exchanges on BHL have helped me clarify my thinking about the point that concerns me.

Kevin Vallier posted this week on the topic, responding to challenges from David Friedman as to the cogency of the concept. The discussion that follows Kevin’s post is excellent, and I am highly sympathetic to many of those resisting Kevin’s analysis. However, I would mount an objection slightly different than those on offer there.

Start with a point of agreement. Kevin says,

I take it that the term “social justice” can be used to cover individual rights-violations. For instance, if John rapes Reba, he has committed a grave injustice, one that could be called a social injustice. However, this is not the conceptual home of the concept of social injustice.

He is surely right about this. Individual rights-violations are, by their nature, unjust. Since they are transactions between two individuals, they are also social, and we can, if we like, uselessly append “social” to our description of actions as unjust. If that is all “social injustice” means, there would be no quarrel here. As Kevin suggests, we need to look elsewhere for its “conceptual home.”

Kevin thinks that “conceptual home” is in the class of emergent properties. Here is his central claim:

Social injustice is an emergent property of certain kinds of social, moral and political practices. Let’s illustrate with the familiar example of institutional racism. I take it that an institution is racist insofar as it reliably outputs states of affairs where a racial group fails to receive its due based solely on the racial properties of its members. Thus, even if no one in the institution is racist, they participate in practices that result, say, in blacks having fewer opportunities than whites simply because they are black. In other words, the institutional rules operate such that unequal outcomes are caused primarily by racial differences, even if no one person is acting in a racist fashion. Institutional racism is a paradigmatic case of social injustice. It is an emergent property of a social institution that commits an injustice without any individual acting in an unjust fashion.

Emergent properties are an important class of properties, but Kevin’s proposal is unusual in deploying the concept in this way. Why? He is proposing that a normative property — social injustice — is emergent from non-normative properties (perhaps the distribution of “opportunities,” however those are measured). And this is curious. The typical deployment of the notion of emergent properties would, I think, involve the emergence of non-normative (let’s call them “natural”) properties from other natural properties. Many of the spontaneous orders we see in both natural and social science are of this sort. The structure of crystals is an emergent property in the sense that crystals have that structure because of other physical properties they have. Language-use is a property that humans have in virtue of various neurological and other biological properties we have. And so on. Nothing to see here. Emergence of normative properties from other normative properties is also, I’d think, unproblematic. That would be, for example, the liberal analysis of slavery. We see the large scale pattern of injustice as caused by an assortment of unjust individual attitudes, beliefs, and courses of conduct. Again, nothing to see here.

But the proposal that normative properties might emerge somehow from natural properties oughtn’t to be dismissed simply because it is unusual. If you work much with normative concepts, you become accustomed to the idea that things work differently when you are contending with reasons, norms, and the like rather than causes. If the world is a causal order, and it has normative properties, then somehow we have to end up with normative properties emerging from natural ones. The form of emergence that moral and other philosophers typically deploy is supervenience. Normative properties like goodness, rightness, and so on supervene on natural properties, in the sense (some sense; different theories give different accounts of this relation) that the normative properties occur somehow because the natural properties occur. If you are a hedonist, for example, you think that badness supervenes on pain, goodness on pleasure. Something (an act, a state of affairs) has the property of badness precisely because it also has the property of being painful.

And this gets us to what is interesting. Remember that, if the concept of social justice is going to be at all interesting, it cannot simply be redescribing the sort of injustice that occurs when individuals violate the rights of others. What does the social injustice supervene on? The crucial point is: whatever the answer to that question, it is not a property of individuals.

Is that a problem? I’m not sure. I am inclined to think that the essence of individualism at the heart of liberalism is a kind of moral individualism — the idea, roughly, that all sources of value, obligations, and so on are individuals. Does Kevin believe that? Here’s what he says:

I can’t speak for my co-bloggers, but from my vantage point libertarians all too often ignore social injustices because of their sometimes flat footed (dare I say “cartoon”?) moral individualism. I’m a moral individualist in the sense that I think injustices can only be done to individuals, families or to voluntary associations. In a real sense, I don’t think injustices can be committed against “Americans” or “blacks” understood as groups defined independently of their members. So traditional libertarians are right that emphasize that the idea of social justice can sometimes be deployed in inappropriately collectivist ways.

But social injustices can be committed independently of human design. That’s a significant claim that departs from many threads of libertarian thought popular today. And my view on the matter is one of the reasons I joined the blog.

How does the moral individualism Kevin endorses differ from “cartoon” moral individualism? I’m not sure.  Is it an aberration that in a previous paragraph he spoke of “a racial group failing to receive its due”? I think it is not an aberration, but a natural slide invited and made possible by adversion to social justice.

I believe (and I think Kevin believes) that groups are per se not due anything. There are certainly moral and political positions (positions worth engaging) that disagree. But these are certainly not within either the classical liberal or libertarian tradition, and they require a rejection of the moral individualism that I think is worth endorsing, and to which Kevin is paying lip service. And the issue here isn’t the defensibility of such a claim, but whether or not those committed to libertarian ideals and principles should embrace or reject the use of the concept of social justice.

Is this then just an unfortunate slip? The problem is, without the thought that the normative property (the social injustice) supervenes on facts about groups, rather than individuals, there is no injustice here to be found. And that’s just where the BHL’ers would like to be able to find injustice. It’s tempting to revert to the idea that the individuals in the groups in question suffer, say, from a deprivation of opportunities. But either those deprivations are by individuals, to individuals, in a way that violates the rights of the injured parties, or those are not. If they are, then we have plain old injustice, without a need to appeal to “social justice.” And if they aren’t, then it’s hard to see where the moral complaint is, nor what individuals are “committing” the social injustice. Here the view Kevin is proposing is trying to have it both ways. Skeptics about social justice think that is endemic to the concept.

It’s worth noting that in Rawls’ hands the problem has to be located in a different place. I can’t see that Rawls ever locates the injustice of social injustice in properties of groups. (Though groups figure into the specification of the remedy, in the form of the Difference Principle, I take this to be a feature of the solution to the problem, not part of the formulation of the normatively problematic state of affairs — the social injustice — itself.) In that sense, Rawls’ moral individualism is intact. To get to social injustice, as I understand him Rawls has to build the social properties at issue into the obligations of justice we have as individuals. That is, part of what it is for us to treat each other justly, as individuals, is on his view to establish and sustain social institutions with the properties called for by principles of justice. That way of conceiving of social justice has its own problems, not for this post (which is already too long as it is). Is it compatible with thinking that social injustice is an emergent property (to return to Kevin’s basic proposal). Perhaps. But if so the emergence is a 5th wheel: all the work in generating the social injustice is done by individuals failing, in effect, to act justly in establishing institutional arrangements that satisfy the principles of justice. I am skeptical that we do have obligations of justice of the sort that this interpretation of Rawls requires. One reason for doing so is that (like Nozick) I suspect that these obligations of justice are incompatible with obligations of justice I am much more confident we have toward each other (such as obligations generated by desert). That’s why I think there is something deeply problematic about the Rawlsian conception of social justice. Those reservations are not alleviated by recourse to thinking that social justice (or injustice) is somehow emergent.

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Last time I was here, I had a lot of fun teasing American libertarian readers, at least until the earthquake brought my guest blogging to an abrupt halt.

Support for liberty is a lot like support for GMO-free food. If you survey people, they’ll tell you how much they love it. They might even tell you it’s the most important thing in the world for them. But make them pay $0.50 extra to have it and they’ll choose the next product on the shelf. A few pay extra for the GMO-free tags, but if you’d probably be disappointed if you launched a GMO-free brand based on a survey of how much people claimed to hate genetically modified foods.

Jason Sorens and William Ruger have done great work in showing the substantial differences in experienced freedom across the 50 US States. A lot of libertarians live in New York; New York tends to come last in these surveys. Moving someplace that doesn’t keep trying to ban large sodas would mean giving up easy access to Broadway shows. It’s fine to be a pluralist and to weigh Broadway shows against personal liberties in some great personal utilitarian calculus, but it’s not exactly consistent with ‘Live Free or Die’ rhetoric.*

Absolute differences across American states are perhaps not large enough to make it worth moving. But if that’s the case, what are we to make of libertarian activism in the less-free states? It’s exceptionally unlikely that even the most effective activist in New York could move the state more than a point or two in the ordinal rankings, but that same person could take an oil job in North Dakota and move from worst to first while working there to help make North Dakota even better.

I’ve also argued, and often, that American libertarians should consider moving to New Zealand, which ranks first in the worldwide index weighing civil and economic freedoms. Why not choose to live free, or as free as is possible in the current world?

The Honours thesis I’m supervising this year will examine the price of liberty. The international ranking above gives a nice cross-sectional snapshot of differences in liberty across countries. Some of the measures can be extended backward in time. My student, Chris Read, is going to add these measures to international migration data to estimate the elasticity of migration flows to measured liberty and compare that elasticity to things like expected income differences across countries. Most people are messy pluralists; I’m really curious to see how things here pan out. Hopefully by the end of it, we’ll be able to say “A unit increase in civil liberties, all else equal, has about the same effect on inbound migration as a $X increase in median income.” That X will be close to a revealed preference measure of the price of freedom.

Later this week, I’ll post reassessing some of my Kiwi-enthusiasm in light of the post-earthquake policy experience. I’ve been pretty disappointed with how things here have panned out. We are not as far outside of the asylum as I had thought.

* I count myself as a messy pluralist of this sort too; I’m not trying to disparage it! Freedom matters, other stuff matters too.

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The media has covered Paul’s CPAC address by playing a simple sound byte: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”  Yes, that is in the speech, but there is much more. You can read the full transcript here. A few selections:

On drones:

Eisenhower wrote, “How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?” If we destroy our enemy but lose what defines our freedom in the process, have we really won? If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it our brave young men and women are fighting for?

On the future of the GOP:

The Republican Party has to change—by  going forward to the classical and timeless ideas enshrined in our Constitution. When we understand that that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then we will become the dominant national party again. It is time for us to revive Reagan’s law: For liberty to expand, government must now contract. For the economy to grow, government must get out of the way.

The address is rather casual and has the feel of a stump speech. One can only wonder if Senator Paul is getting serious about seeking the GOP nomination for 2016. If so, does he stand a fighting chance?

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One of the regular Pileus bloggers asked me to elaborate on a claim I made briefly in my earlier discussion of BHL. I had said “there is an intra-libertarian debate [that it is useful to have about philosophical justification: is a system of individual rights ultimately justified because it accrues the best results for the poor, or is it justified for some other reason(s), and has the beneficial characteristic of accruing the best results for the poor?” and suggested I thought it was the latter. The idea that the social order can only be justified if it brings about the best results for the worst off, which is a prominent feature of Rawlsian welfare-state liberalism, has been employed as a rationale for classical-liberal non-redistributionist policies. I certanily like the irony that the chief heuristic of redistributionist theory undermines redistributionist institutions. And, as I said in the orginal post, I appreciate the positive outreach effects of noting that free market policies help everyone prosper, especially the poor. But I am hesitant to agree that the Rawslian principle is why we should have free markets. For one thing, I think we should have free markets for the same reason I think we should be free generally. I do not differentiate “civil liberty” and “economic liberty.” The latter is simply the manifestation-in-transactions of the former. Without the freedom to transact, my “freedom to choose” is pretty superficial. Rawls himself argues that we must have a system of equal freedom to choose and believe and think and speak – rights that cannot be trumped by social utility. It is only trading and acquiring rights that he says can be interfered with. But as Nozick demonstrated, you cannot interfere with transactional freedom without simultaneously interfering with freedom of choice. There are not two kinds of liberty, civil and economic, there’s just liberty (although there are of course different contexts in which we talk about liberty). And I think liberty is a necessary component of human flourishing. Humans cannot achieve virtue and happiness by coercion. “Rights” should be understood as a way to secure the possibility of self-directed activity in the social setting. The social order is thus justified if it is one which protects individual rights, and unjustified otherwise. That is the why of classical liberalism. The fact that classical liberalism and free markets help the poor better than redistributive statism is a great thing, both intrinsically and in terms of explaining its virtues to others. But the justification must be something else, something universal. Put it another way: if everyone were wealthy, would individual rights no longer be important? Of course not.

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One of the most significant developments lately in terms of framing libertarianism has been the advent of the “Bleeding-Heart Libertarian” blog. I know most of the contributors personally (and I’m electronically-acquainted with all of them), and there’s not one I don’t respect. Their mission statement says they are “libertarians who believe that addressing the needs of the economically vulnerable by remedying injustice, engaging in benevolence, fostering mutual aid, and encouraging the flourishing of free markets is both practically and morally important.” The reason that’s a great point to make is that often, people who advocate the moral superiority of the free society are accused of not caring about the poor. One response to that is to bite the bullet and say “right: I don’t care about the poor qua poor, I care about all people qua people, and all people’s rights must be protected.” That’s a legitimate stance, but it’s not hard to see why some critics of liberalism find it less than compelling. So it’s helpful to say, as they do, “no, you don’t get it: we do care about the poor – that’s why we advocate free markets and individual liberty.” To be sure, there is an intra-libertarian debate to have about philosophical justification: is a system of individual rights ultimately justified because it accrues the best results for the poor, or is it justified for some other reason(s), and has the beneficial characteristic of accruing the best results for the poor? This is not unlike Socrates’ second refutation of Euthyphro: the pious is loved by the gods, but that’s an attribute, not a definition. As President Clinton (correctly!) put it, it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is. I think it’s right and important for political philosophers to have that argument (and for the record, I say it’s the latter), but inasmuch as we ultimately want to persuade as many people as we can of the good sense of our position, I think this sort of debate should not overshadow the many ways in which we can show that good sense.

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Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Lawyers, Guns, and Money had a “diavlog” with me on bloggingheads.tv. We covered Pileus, the Conor Friedersdorf essay on why he can’t vote for Obama, libertarianism and foreign policy, and secessionism. This was my bloggingheads debut, and we hope to do more of these in the future.

(Embedding doesn’t seem to work, so here’s the link.)

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At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Jason Brennan takes up the question of which country is most libertarian and lodges a complaint against global “economic freedom” indices:

This index may understate how anti-libertarian the United States is. After all, the index penalizes countries if their governments spend large amounts on social insurance. Yet classical liberals and neoclassical liberals are not in principle opposed to government social insurance. [That is, they will accept it under certain conditions.]

Thus, suppose we separate the idea of the administrative state—which tries to control, regulate, manipulate, and manage the economy—from the social insurance state—which provides tax-financed education, healthcare, or unemployment insurance. On the Index of Economic Freedom, many countries that rank lower than the US have far less extensive administrative states than the US. For instance, Denmark ranks much higher than the United States on property rights, freedom from corruption, business freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and many other countries beat the US on these measures as well. Thus, many other European countries might reasonably be considered more economically libertarian than the US.

Jason makes a legitimate point here: a dollar transferred to a social security recipient is less violative of freedom than a dollar spent hiring a drug enforcement agent or antitrust litigator. This is so even for those declassé Rothbardian absolutists, for whom the immorality of taxation is compounded when it is used to fund further violations of people’s rights.

However, even a bleeding-heart libertarian should see really existing welfare states as problematic for two basic reasons. First, (more…)

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Political libertarians are a motley lot in terms of their moral philosophies. There are three dominant strands – utilitarians like Milton Friedman, deontologists like Robert Nozick, and teleologists like Ayn Rand – but I’ve also met egoists, postmodernists, and Rawls-style egalitarian consequentialists. In debates over moral foundations, Randians often ally themselves with the deontologists in support of “natural rights” (a bit of a misnomer, as deontologists prefer not to locate the source of rights in “nature” but in reason).

Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman, a utilitarian, used to say that rights libertarians are more dogmatic than utilitarians on questions of social science. He was extremely skeptical of the line of argument, commonly found in Rothbard, that libertarian policy X is justified on the grounds of both liberty and utility. What are the chances that the world just happens to line up in such a way that perfect justice and liberty also maximize social welfare in every instance? He calls himself a “post-libertarian” in part because he believes that the empirical evidence is unsettled as to the frontiers of the proper (i.e., utility-maximizing) roles of government. And he believes that it is a mark in favor of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy that rights libertarians are extremely reluctant to admit that any of their policy conclusions might not maximize social welfare.

Now, I would make several points in response. First, (more…)

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I agreed with the first half of Jessica Flanigan’s essay on “A Feminist Libertarian Dilemma,” but then nearly choked on my invisible coffee when I read this:

Bleeding heart libertarianism doesn’t rule out public policies that help women with families succeed in the workforce, like affordable public childcare, subsidized family leave, elder care, or a universal basic income.

So how exactly does bleeding-heart libertarianism differ from mushy-pated, Swedish-style social democracy?

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I’ve recently returned from the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, held February 23-26 in Nashua, NH and sponsored by the Free State Project. The two evening keynote speakers were libertarian free-range farmer Joel Salatin and investor and recent U.S. Senate candidate Peter Schiff. In addition, session speakers included school-choice economist Angela Dills, former Libertarian Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Ken Krawchuk, jailed marijuana activist Marc Emery’s wife Jodie, economist John Lott, Institute for Justice litigator Clark Neily, libertarian-anarchist feminist Sharon Presley, and Laissez-Faire Books publisher and former Mises.org editor Jeffrey Tucker.

Unfortunately, I had to help take care of a sick child, and I missed most of the talks, including Joel Salatin’s Saturday-night address. However, I did get to hear Jodie Emery, Ken Krawchuk, and Peter Schiff, and, perhaps more importantly, to catch up with many New Hampshire friends. The event received a good bit of local press coverage. Some examples:

Wire NH:

Events like this and their annual summer Porcupine Freedom Festival not only serve to promote the Libertarian mindset, but also create conversation that Free State Project president Carla Gericke says is of the utmost importance to the group’s goals.

“We are striving to live as free as possible,” Gericke said. “With freedom comes great responsibility. Sometimes, when I think about the movement, it’s almost like a form of localization on steroids.”

Gericke believes the Free State Project is attractive to people because the idea of collecting Libertarians to make a difference in government is a practical one. She added that, since her election as Free State Project president in 2011—three years after her own move to New Hampshire—she has been less focused on getting signatures on the statement of intent.

“Some of my focus has actually moved toward attracting people to move,” she said. “It’s great that they signed the pledge, but in terms of things on the ground, the more bodies we have here, the more we can actually accomplish.”

Nashua Telegraph:

The forum, in its fifth year, is the annual meeting for the New Hampshire Free State Project. Free Staters already living in New Hampshire and those thinking about moving here make up most of the participants, but everyone is invited, said Chris Lawless, a Hopkinton resident and the Free State Project’s forum organizer.

“We want people to come meet us, see we don’t have horns growing out of our heads,” Lawless said.

Nashua Telegraph #2:

Freedom to live as one chooses is a powerful ideal, and a conference exploring the concept was worth the drive from New Jersey for Marcus Connor, 37.

“Liberty is dying every day in the United States,” Connor said.

The government is killing it, he said.

That view was espoused in speeches throughout the morning. It was the drumbeat that would sound throughout the various programs of the forum.

One of the day’s first speakers, John Bush, talked of the need to abandon the U.S. Constitution, which he said was written to protect the interests of the nation’s founding fathers, who were “the privileged elite at the time.”

Bush represented Agora 21, described as “a counter-economic approach to building a free society in the 21st century.”

Bush acknowledged the Constitution marked civilization’s best achievement toward limiting government, but added, “I think we can do better. I think we can do much better.”

Patch.com:

Keynote speaker Friday is economist Peter Schiff, CEO of Connecticut-based Euro Pacific Capital Inc., who will talk about the current economic business cycle (a sham), what mistakes have been made (too many to count), what to expect next (something worse than the last collapse), and what you can do to prepare (buy gold, vote for Ron Paul, invest in foreign currency).

As you may have guessed, if you’re looking for someone to paint a rosy picture of the country’s gradual economic recovery since 2008, Schiff is not your guy.

“The future is bleak,” said Schiff in a recent phone interview with Nashua Patch.

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If one were to base one’s world view on the MSM coverage of the Occupy movement, one would have to conclude that a growing percentage of Americans fear big business and are looking to the government for a solution. The new Gallup Poll suggests otherwise.

According to the poll, “the 64% of Americans who say big government will be the biggest threat to the country is just one percentage point shy of the record high, while the 26% who say big business is down from the 32% recorded during the recession.”

One might assume that all of this is good news for Ron Paul, the GOP candidate who has devoted the past several decades to making a powerful case against leviathan, and bad news for those who have promoted state expansion.

One might assume…

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  • Libertarianism.org – Finally! A non-technical, one-stop shop for the major ideas in the philosophical tradition of liberty. Cato Institute project.
  • Governance Without a State: Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood (Columbia UP) – File under “order in anarchy.” Mostly European scholars giving somewhat different takes than you get with the UK-US “economics of anarchy” research. Nothing blindingly new to students of Olson, Ostrom, and Axelrod, and many of the contributions simply address political economy issues in developing countries, not “failed states” or “anarchies” strictly defined, but the chapters by Schuppert and Chojnacki & Branovic are worth reading.

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That’s from the lede of a new story in Mother Jones about the Free State Project, entitled “City on a Quill.” Mother Jones is definitely coming from the left, but the story is meritoriously free of those lazy, paranoid arguments ad Kochum that we’ve seen about Free Staters from The Nation (no, I’m not going to provide a link, they don’t deserve it). The Mother Jones story doesn’t appear to be online yet. With just a touch of ironic deprecation, the story elaborates accurately the main factional divide among libertarian activists in New Hampshire, between civil-disobedience activists mainly living in Keene and political activists spread throughout the state:

In recent years, Keene residents have been cited for violating the city’s open-container law (during a city council meeting), for indecent exposure and firearms possession (simultaneously), and for smoking marijuana (inside a police station). These incidents share a common root: They were orchestrated by members of the Free State Project–a plan, hatched in 2001, to get 20,000 libertarian activists to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and relocate to New Hampshire en masse.

The reporter also interviewed Free Staters who’d been elected to the legislature:

Dan and Carol McGuire relocated to New Hampshire from Washington state in 2005… Political novices, they both won seats in the House of Representatives (Carol in 2008, Dan in 2010).

They’ve taken different approaches to fighting tyranny. Carol’s goal for the 2011 session was culling anachronistic laws that have remained on the books through bureaucratic neglect. She succeeded in axing an 1895 statute, the result of lobbying by Big Butter, that requires margarine to be served in triangular containers so that diners don’t confuse it with the real thing. Dan had his sights on something of potentially much greater consequence. He and a few allies succeeded in passing a bill to eliminate the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which is planning a high-speed line to Massachusetts. Their argument was simple: Government shouldn’t be in the business of building railroads. The state’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, vetoed the bill.

After summing up the disagreements among Free Staters on strategy and end goals (no government versus limited government), reporter Tim Murphy concludes: “And therein lies the problem with attempting to create a libertarian utopia: No one–least of all libertarians–can agree on what it looks like.” You might say that’s a problem for any effort to create a utopia.

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