how to become a libertarian
August 22, 2004 3:53 PM   Subscribe

"Libertarianism is the hottest philosophy on the internet! Many famous people are libertarians, including John Stossel and Dave Barry. It seems like everyone is becoming a libertarian, and now you can, too! The answer lies in several simple steps, which anyone can learn. Read on, and you, too, can become a libertarian!"
posted by reklaw (60 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Why a backslash against libertarianism? There are bigger fish to fry. All of these points are contestable, but why?
posted by fletcher at 4:09 PM on August 22, 2004


In other news, (insert generalization, wild conjecture, and stupid stereotype here)...
posted by BlueTrain at 4:13 PM on August 22, 2004


Finally, read the Libertarian Party Platform without laughing or staring at your screen in amazement.
posted by ilsa at 4:17 PM on August 22, 2004


bah, small-l vs. big-L, at least make a distinction.
posted by dorian at 4:22 PM on August 22, 2004


So, you've decided you want to straw-man libertarianism? Marvellous.
posted by ed\26h at 4:26 PM on August 22, 2004


Finally, read the Libertarian Party Platform without laughing or staring at your screen in amazement.

Okay, now what?
posted by majcher at 4:38 PM on August 22, 2004


Now send money. Isn't that obvious? =)
posted by ilsa at 4:47 PM on August 22, 2004


I think one of the points is that far more people call themselves "libertarians" than there are actually members of the Libertarian Party. Most Libertarians I encounter, especially in the "blogosphere," are either Democrats who really, really, really love the war, or Republicans who accept gay people and want to smoke pot.

There's probably as many people who aren't actually Libertarians who call themselves Libertarians as there are actual Liberals who never call themselves Liberals.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:49 PM on August 22, 2004


Republicansconservatives who accept gay people and want to smoke pot

yes, this is what we like to call 'civil-libertarians' ^_^
posted by dorian at 4:59 PM on August 22, 2004


a few criticisms of their case against libertarians...

1. libertarians believe you should be able to drive unsafe cars because protecting other people's lives (rights) is not something they honor.
my understanding was the reverse is true... im not a libertarian, but everything ive read says they believe that liberty should extend only as far as one is not infringing on another's rights. You could probably get a libertarian to agree that any dumb ass should be allowed to risk his life all he likes but should be restrained where he endangers others.

2. Heavy drug users are more likely to turn to crime.
When X becomes illegal, heavy users will turn to crime. X can be alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, vicodin, viagra etc. Id welcome anyone to try to argue that making a product with high demand illegal will not automatically create the social ills the author talked about (organized crime, robbery etc).

the extra credit stuff amounts to name calling...
this kind of tickled me: "Learn that single examples can be extrapolated into wide generalizations." The implied wording is "you all make generalizations". golden.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 5:36 PM on August 22, 2004


The banning of nuclear warhead ownership by private citizens has led to a highly dangerous black market for weaponized plutonium. Clearly, lifting the ban on this item, in high-demand by terrorists everywhere, would alleviate the problem that this black market has caused.

(to avoid a few posts, that's meant as reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate that the social ills caused by prohibition do not always offset the ills caused by the thing itself.) Personally, I'd support legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, but think doing the same for crack and heroin would be a bit silly, even if interdiction is fraught with problems. And I'd want to see legalized marijuana regulated to a point that I reckon would make most libertarians blanche.

but I have to agree with fletcher on this one, at least in American politics right now. Yes, libertarian philosophy often seems naive with regard to their absolute faith in the free market. But faced with the likes of Ashcroft and Bush, libertarians are more likely than ever to form a coalition, however uneasy, with centrist Democrats. Howard Stern's swing is instructive to that end.
posted by condour75 at 6:19 PM on August 22, 2004


There's probably as many people who aren't actually Libertarians who call themselves Libertarians as there are actual Liberals who never call themselves Liberals.
That's one for the MetaFilter Book of Quotations.
posted by wendell at 6:21 PM on August 22, 2004


condour75 - thank you for supporting what I was saying, but you defused an argument i wouldn't have made. Im not advocating legalization of everything - just saying that if you'd like to make a case for something being illegal, don't base it on the ills that stem from its prohibition.

i guess i should have gone on to say that 'victimless crimes' as they are called should not be illegal.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 6:43 PM on August 22, 2004


Just like communism or universal adoption of a single religion, libertarianism is a nice idea, because it would lead to harmony and peace and happiness. But just like other ideologies, it only works as long as every single person in the group is committed to the values and ideals of the ideology. It doesn't scale up to a society, because in any social model whatsoever, we get exploiters, free-riders, malcontents and power-seekers.

Abandon your foolish ideologies, o ye sinners, and embrace rational assessment of actual cause and effect. Stop coming up with these fanciful ideas of how people "ought" to behave; consider what people actually do, and make what adjustments are necessary to reduce the causes of harmful effects (like starvation, resentment, and class immobility), and promote the causes of good effects (like innovation, happiness, and useful ambition).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:14 PM on August 22, 2004 [1 favorite]


Extra Credit Step Two : Learn that single examples can be extrapolated into wide generalizations.

um, but didn't you just...
posted by dig_duggler at 7:43 PM on August 22, 2004


Abandon your foolish ideologies, o ye sinners, and embrace rational assessment of actual cause and effect.

Rational assessment of actual cause and effect is not incompatible with "ideology". Dogma is probably a more correct term to use in your comment.

However, one theory suggests that, by nature, we seek logical harmony and, therefore, an ideology to explain and maintain our social, political, economic order. Which, if unchallenged, leads to dogmatic reasoning and potentially absurd formal social constructs.

It's cyclical. The problem is, you never know where you are in that cycle. Writers, philosophers, thinkers can guess, but who do you trust to measure society's health?
posted by BlueTrain at 7:49 PM on August 22, 2004


aeschenkarnos - libertarianism doesn't flow from some utopian ideal of how people should behave but rather from a core belief that the individual owns his or her self and actions and that others whether they be individuals or governments have no place imposing their will.

I'm not sure how "I can do what I want with my property so long as it doesn't encroach on your property and the only just purpose of government is to ensure we keep that bargain with each other" breaks with scale, but I would point out that democracy and all other known forms of governance are their own ideologies and equally susceptible to exploiters, free-riders, malcontents and power-seekers. So should we also give up on that then? What then?
posted by willnot at 7:58 PM on August 22, 2004


"libertarianism is a nice idea, because it would lead to harmony and peace and happiness...[OK, but] stop coming up with these fanciful ideas of how people "ought" to behave; consider what people actually do" - In the same vein "communism" was a great notion that - because it was mostly just that, a notion, and because it ran so strongly against the grain of instinctual human nature - gave birth to monsters.

willnot - I'd be more comfortable with a form of Libertarianism based on actual discoveries about human instinctual nature. Humans do have an instinctual nature, and part of that involves a social matrix - whether of states, cities, or tribes.
posted by troutfishing at 8:17 PM on August 22, 2004


Old and busted: Green party.

New hotness: The Libertarian party.

I really do get a kick out of so-called Libertarians who goto school on the public dime, have had dealings with protectionist patent policies and copyrights, and endorse the social safety net and public safety laws.

It does sound pretty could when you tell people "Hey man, I'm a Libertarian" though. Its a classic drama queen moment.

Sure, there are real libs out there, but they sure as hell aren't the yuppies in your town. If they followed their own advice they would be on a semi-autonomous community somewhere. Just don't say "commune" as that's old fashioned hippie talk.
posted by skallas at 8:40 PM on August 22, 2004


would someone explain to me how libertarianism is out of step with human nature? also how it fails to scale?

i mean, is this general skepticism or are there legitimate concerns?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 8:41 PM on August 22, 2004


What really gets me is that it relies on this blind trust of corporate america and blames all government regulations as the root of all evil, yet we have seen deregulation lead to corruption, monpolies, etc over and over.

I would think government regulation tends to be a good thing (ignoring corruption which there is no magical cure for other than regulating donations - ack more regulations!) and the lassiez-faire theory are as out of touch with reality as hard-core communist theory.

The market does as excellent job of not staying free, libs.
posted by skallas at 8:52 PM on August 22, 2004


"I can do what I want with my property so long as it doesn't encroach on your property..."

All property is theft.

I used to self-identify as a libertarian when I was in college, but once you actually think about how humans operate in a society, the hard edges rub off, and I was left with something closer to the "civil libertarianism" mentioned above. I'm all for people given full control over themselves and their stuff, but at the same time, making people's lives not suck has some pretty dramatic effects on a society as a whole. Public education is really good for everyone. Public health care is really good for everyone. And so on. "Stealing" some of my income to pay for stuff that makes life good all around is okay - just lay off the "victimless crimes", and we'll be happy here.

I'm still torn on the whole free market angle. On one hand, freedom to do stuff is good, and governments are corrupt; on the other hand, corporations make life shitty for lots of people, and are at least as corrupt as governments. Who do you want to rule your life, the guys with the biggest guns, or the biggest checkbook? Or both? Whee! Yeah, we're just screwed. Time for another drink, I guess.
posted by majcher at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2004


Tryptophan-5ht - well, to begin with : it's well established that humans developed as a social, tribal species. Libertarianism - at it's core - rejects notions of interdependence. But, interdependence is now one of the most fundamental principles recognized by biologists.

In short, Libertarianism is ideologically retarded for being out of step with on-the-ground scientific discovery.

Libertarianism fails to scale insofar as it fails to acknowledge that humans are dependent on other ( non-human) species for our very survival.

At the most basic level : where does the Oxygen we breathe come from ?
posted by troutfishing at 9:16 PM on August 22, 2004


"I'm imagining a half dozen of the world's most prominent Neoclassical economists shrunk down to shrimp size and placed in one of those Self contained "Eco-Spheres" on my desk : I'm imagining that one out of the six is advocating using the plants inside the "Eco-Sphere"(which produced the Oxygen they were breathing) as raw economic inputs to grow their little "economy" : that this genius wanted to turn all those plants into comfy bedding.

How long before the other five turned on the one ideologically-blinded asshole of the lot and ate him for dinner?

posted by troutfishing at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2004


None of which really addresses majcher's point.
posted by troutfishing at 9:22 PM on August 22, 2004


"Libertarianism - at it's core - rejects notions of interdependence"
i wasnt aware of that.

can we simply say that the root of libertarianism is that 'you are free to do what you like as long as you aren't violating anyone else's rights'? where is the problem with that?

to address majcher - those safety nets wouldn't be wiped out under a libertarian system. you and who ever else wished to participate would be free to do so. You would simply be without the authority to *FORCE* people to participate.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 9:41 PM on August 22, 2004


Most of the self-described libertarians I see on the net are all in favor of big government intervention when it's clearly in their favor. Especially if it's business-related.

(re majcher's point - I also haven't ever seen a good description of what the difference, in libertarian philosophy, is between a "government" (bad) and a "corporation" (good). The old 'monopoly on use of force' is becoming less and less true, if indeed it was ever true.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:43 PM on August 22, 2004


Out of curiousity, which way are self-described libertarians here voting this time around? Any thinking of switching from one party to the other?
posted by condour75 at 10:37 PM on August 22, 2004


if i was to venture a guess, id say Kerry - though i could be very wrong.

Bush has pissed all over what many libertarians would call 'cherished values' (fiscal responsibility, limited government, civil rights etc etc)
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 11:09 PM on August 22, 2004


The problems with 'you are free to do what you like as long as you aren't violating anyone else's rights' are multiple and complex.

Firstly, rights themselves. You cannot hold your rights in your hands, you cannot harvest your rights like fruit from a tree, you cannot show me your rights like you would show me your eyes, and infringement of your rights triggers no reaction in your central nervous system. You do not have rights glands. They're imaginary, like money in a bank account or points on a scoreboard. Rights are social constructs. You on your own in the proverbial wilderness do not have rights. Rights are only useful in the presence of other rational actors, specifically, other people. If a tiger attacks you it cannot be said to have infringed your rights. If no-one actually can infringe a right of yours, it is irrelevant whether you possess the right. Rights are only a hedge against the potential actions of other persons.

Rights prevent actions in a similar way to the rules of chess preventing a knight from being moved one square. There's nothing whatsoever physically stopping you from doing it, it's just that you cease to be playing chess if you do. Similarly if you infringe a person's socially constructed rights, you have broken the rules of your society. You have become a wrong-doer. It's even possible that nothing physically changed in you, and/or nothing physically changed in them. The measure of the infringement of rights is social approval or disapproval, which is a feedback-driven process: social approval creates rights; recognized rights become socially approved. A right nobody approved of would be unenforceable.

One of the problems of libertarianism is that it rests on a set of rights--like 'property', and 'freedom'--that are purely axiomatic, and in practice tend to be very fuzzily defined. Either the society accepts the definition or it doesn't, they can't be logically proven by reference to anything other than themselves. The word "self-evident" is a pointer to an axiom. These axioms can be shifted about, and in fact this happens: shift the property axiom of libertarianism down to zero, and you have a culture like pre-Empire Australian Aboriginals, or perhaps an Amazonian tribe, where the concept of a right to prevent another from using an object that he/she wants to use is unknown.

But this is true of every dogma/ideology: it depends on axioms, certain "truths" held "self-evident". Which means that, when it collides with another dogma/ideology that is based on other axioms, something has to give. Somebody's "truth" goes away. Now, this is the central proof of utilitarianism's value: the "truth" that goes away, eventually, is the one that doesn't actually work.

I think this in itself is enough to disprove Tryptophan-5ht's root of libertarianism: If Al and Bob's axioms are different, hence leading to Al and Bob having different views of their individual rights, joint rights, and rights as against each other, who is correct? In practice, a society has a mechanism to resolve such conflicts--otherwise it isn't a society--and so either Al or Bob or both will be disappointed, but this pulls the carpet out from under the inherent correctness of libertarianism.

So, because your opinion of whether or not you are violating someone else's rights is biased and wildly variable, and so not good enough, a society has to have an external source of rights. There has to be a list somewhere. New technology (camera-phones in changing rooms for example) will constantly test the boundaries of rights, so those rights have to be continuously updated. Social mores change, slowly and haphazardly: consider the history of the right "not to have to listen to offensive language", which most people will agree that they possess. So, a libertarian society will, as problems arise to threaten it from within and without, turn into a society that compromises between the rights people want for themselves, the rights they are willing to grant each other, and the practical ability of the whole thing to work.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:00 AM on August 23, 2004


Oi, a libertarian flamewar. Nifty. Guess I'll toss my hat into the ring.

Libertarianism, like uh, well, most political philosophies, doesn't deny interdependence. It merely dictates how that interdependence should operate.

Now, personally the reason I'm a really bad libertarian right now is the ongoing merger of corporate and government power. So long as the government can be bought, the government will be bought. I don't really see any non-radical solutions to solving that problem, and the radical ones mostly seem to end in killing, either directly or indirectly, a bunch of people, which makes them morally unacceptable, at least to me.

One thing that I've learned over the years from studying Marx and company is that at least one way to change society is to change the technological sub-structure which allows society to function. So, I'm inclined to believe that the way to solve that problem with the least amount of bloodshed is to move to a truly post-industrial society by the diffusion of capital (in the classical sense of the means of production) into the body politic through the evolution of technology. That is, when we can all carry around nano-factories all day long that produce the goods we require, libertarianism and anarchism might be viable options. It wouldn't be a truly post-economic system, but it would separate the ability to attain political power from the possession of capital.

I mean, uh, Communism Suxx012Z, or whatever we're arguing about now.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:19 AM on August 23, 2004


Identify yourself with (or equally, rage against) an -ism, and you lose before you even open your mouth. By all means study and read and think, but don't join, for goodness sakes.

[You know, IMHO. The preceding humble opinion is not directed at anyone in this thread. I'm just pontificating again.]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:50 AM on August 23, 2004


I self identify as a libertarian, though I am not a member of the party. Frankly, I don't agree with all aspects of the current platform. I identify myself as one, though, because I think they most closely match my beliefs.

If you take any ideology and look at it in its pure form you will be able to poke it full of wholes. I mean, look at Democracy! The ideal? Every person thinking and voting independently for the common good. The reality? Many people are easily influenced by powerful institutions and individuals and often vote against the common good.

I guess my point is that most systems indeed fail unless everyone really understands and buys into the ideology. I would argue that the same is true of capitalism, too. In essence, the best we can do is fight for the things we believe in and try to ally oursleves with others who share our beliefs.

Oh, and I will probably vote Kerry, but I discussed that in another thread.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:03 AM on August 23, 2004


Libertarians I know (serious, Cato types, not LP dreamers or Ayn Rand misanthropes), are breaking close to even on Kerry v. Bush. While they all hate Kerry, they all hate Bush, too.

Their votes are splitting up basically on their appraisal of how a Kerry administration might shake out. Those who think that Kerry has firmly thrown his lot with the moderates, and who think that anti-tax and anti-regulation Republicans will retain a blocking position in Congress, are going to be voting for Kerry. Those who see Kerry as a lifelong leftist playing a six month game of misdirection, and who fear the depth of Republican anti-tax/anti-regulation strength in Congress, are going to vote for Bush.

Although I can't imagine it's going to move the dial any in the polls, Kerry didn't do himself any favors with the libertarians with his aggressively war-friendly talk. Kerry's basically convinced them that he's every bit as happy to bomb Mulsims for a few weeks (and then run their sewage system for a few years) as Bush, and that's given them the clearance to go ahead and vote for Bush despite hating Bush's war-friendly ways.
posted by MattD at 5:39 AM on August 23, 2004


Didn't Paul Bremer and the neocons try to impose a libertarian utopia scenario in Iraq?
We DO know how wonderfully that succeeded, don't we?
posted by nofundy at 5:44 AM on August 23, 2004


Hilarious! Next let's link to lists about how stupid and wrong socialists/Republicans/Democrats/whatever are. Because strawman infested punching fests are always fun.
posted by kavasa at 6:22 AM on August 23, 2004


stavros - you're doing one of two things with that statement.

1. Engaging in a practice I find most detestable, wherein any degree of earnestness is grounds for dismissal, or

2. Mistaking a step taken for convenience for something else. If someone believes in x, y, and z propositions then it's just easier to say "I'm an xyzian" rather than explain the whole damn thing. No one worth talking to is going to go "holy shit an xyzian, you are dumb."

Also - seriously, reklaw, this is a terrible link. Awful, inexcuseable bullshit, in no way the best of the web, and the only reason it's not the worst is because there are so many crazy "the Jews are controlling my brain from outerspace" people.
posted by kavasa at 6:28 AM on August 23, 2004


This thread needs a picture of a puppy.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
posted by darukaru at 7:00 AM on August 23, 2004


Also, libertarian more like LOLbertarian, am I rite?
posted by darukaru at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2004


Stavros, that was one of the most insightful comments in the thread. So much of the discourse in the thread assumes that all of these "libertarians" buy into the extreme elements of the ideology. As with conservatism or liberalism, libertarianism and authoritarianism represent a range of values, with most adherents not being at the extreme edge. The libertarian ideal of less government intervention is hardly radical in the US. Some may take it to its logical extreme, as the straw man link in the original post. When polled, the group think here at MeFi fell to being fairly liberal and libertarian. I seriously doubt many here would advocate many of those straw man positions from nickp. If you treat any system of ideas as absolute and as stavros suggests you lose before you open your mouth.
posted by caddis at 7:19 AM on August 23, 2004


Didn't Paul Bremer and the neocons try to impose a libertarian utopia scenario in Iraq?

Uh, no. Using military force for anything other than the direct defense of the country violates the libertarian principle of government being limited to an absolute minimum.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2004


I just gotta ask, why do you people get so upset at Libertarians? I mean, here is a philosophy that tells you that you can do whatever you wish as long as you dont harm others? I mean, who really can be against that?

Plus, doesn't everyone love Libraries? How could you come down so hard on librarians?
posted by Dantien at 7:52 AM on August 23, 2004


I mean, here is a philosophy that tells you that you can do whatever you wish as long as you dont harm others? I mean, who really can be against that?

Those who feel there is an ethical or simply expedient duty to do more than simply avoid harming others but to actually try to help others. And even more than that, those who feel that selfishness is such a massive element of human nature that it's not enough to simply expect that people will help each other. That assistance must be taken through threat of harm and managed centrally to achieve the most benefit.
posted by willnot at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2004


Let me help you or I'll arrest you?

Real intelligent thinking there I must say.
posted by Dantien at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2004


I mean, here is a philosophy that tells you that you can do whatever you wish as long as you dont harm others? I mean, who really can be against that?

It's the "don't harm others" point. Libertarians don't seem to believe in it other than being opposed to the most basic forms of theft and assault. They're quite happy to let corporations "harm others," as long as it isn't overt and direct. And as willnot, points out, libertarians don't do much about sins of omission, such as not looking out for your employees, not helping the poor and needy, not educating people, etc. A lack of help can be a form of harm, particularly when you're a rich libertarian hoarding all the resources.
posted by callmejay at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2004


By the same token, callmejay, socialists seem to be more concerned with stealing money and power from the citizenry to distribute as they see fit.

Reducing, namecalling, and hating is obviously the best answer to ideological differences.
posted by kavasa at 9:06 AM on August 23, 2004


darukaru:

I guess the old saying is true. On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog. ;-)
posted by ilsa at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2004


callmejay, So you feel we should legislate assistance? Punish people who don't help?

I dont feel that the Libertarian position supports your claims (though I admit I could be misled), but let's look at what you are saying. You imply that the libertarian position of "not educating" or "not helping the poor and needy" is wrong. So in that case, you are advocating the policy that we MUST help educate and MUST help the poor? That if we do not, we break the law?

I believe that the position Lib's hold is that you cannot legislate morality and while the government should be required to assist it's citizens in the basic human necessities, no one should be REQUIRED to do so. If you want to go and spend all your money on yourself, that's fine! You don't have to help anyone. Of course, your religion, or family, or coworkers may look down upon you, but the nation wont create any laws to force it.

Ideally, we would all work together for the betterment of each other, but if we begin telling citizens how to behave based on moral teachings, well, how long before a law is enacted making consensual sex illegal? Or the use of harmless substances? Or where to spend your money?

Oh wait, that's already happened!
posted by Dantien at 10:19 AM on August 23, 2004


Dantien, what are you talking about? Where do you get this idea that anyone is advocating a law saying that individuals have to help others or risk breaking the law? In liberal societies we help others through the government, as for instance Food Stamp programs.
posted by caddis at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2004


"Identify yourself with (or equally, rage against) an -ism, and you lose before you even open your mouth."

"-Isms", in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an "-ism". He should believe in himself.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:42 AM on August 23, 2004


Where do you get this idea that anyone is advocating a law saying that individuals have to help others or risk breaking the law?

I have to pay taxes that go towards public assistance programs and education and, and, and...

That's a law. I have to do it, or the government will have my wages garnished and I may be put in prison.

Now, it can be argued that I benefit from these things. You can put it into the context of me paying for services that I enjoy. But, at it's fundamental root, it is a law forcing me to help my fellow citizens.
posted by willnot at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2004


That is not, I believe, what dantien was talking about. He seemed to be railing against potential laws requiring that he as an individual, rather than as a forced contributor to the group, would have to educate and help the poor.
posted by caddis at 12:10 PM on August 23, 2004


I doubt that's what he was talking about, because it doesn't make any sense. Who would be arguing against these imaginary laws?

willnot has it.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2004


So in that case, you are advocating the policy that we MUST help educate and MUST help the poor?

In fact, I do. Hence, public schools and welfare. That, and the fact that I'm as scared of huge corporations and people in positions of power as I am of the government, is why I'm not a libertarian.
posted by callmejay at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2004


willnot has it not. Let us ask Dantien himself. However, you can figure it out yourself. Dantien asked whether we should legislate assistance and punish "people" who don't help, and further asked that if they didn't whether they would be breaking the law. That is different than legislating a welfare state. You are right it does not make sense and that is why I asked what he was talking about. I think he misread callmejay. In any event, this is getting too silly and off topic. Let Dantien speak for himself or leave it be.
posted by caddis at 2:17 PM on August 23, 2004


caddis: Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I have anarchist/left-libertarian leanings, but I always run my head up against this question of state-organized social improvement and wealth redistribution. The pro-welfare state argument as I see it: laissez-faire market economies are not completely "smooth"; there are market irregularities (distance, perceived quality, social networks) that give some producers advantages over others. If the increased profits from those advantages are then continually reinvested to further exploit such irregularities, those more fortunate producers will eventually become wealthy enough to actively distort the market in their favor. This marks the transition from markets to capitalism. Left to its own devices, a free market economy will inevitably develop into a capitalist one, which will in turn develop into an economy of oligopolies and monopolies as firms eliminate their competition through acquisition, the erection of market entry barriers, and tacit agreements among the biggest players. This also creates a situation where the rich are well-positioned to get richer, and the poor will get poorer, indefinitely (since wealth, poverty, and the value of money are all relative). The result? Suffering and oppression.

What can be done? The only entity that is powerful enough to rein in corporate power and redistribute wealth is the state. Therefore, the argument goes, the state should tax those with excess wealth, and put that money into helping everyone else, especially the poorest among us. Thus progressive taxation and the welfare state.

The anarchist/libertarian in me blanches at the enlarged and permanent role that this gives the state in our lives (ideally, one should be legally able to live one's life completely free of all contact with the state, if one so chose), and wonders whether this would all really be necessary if corporations were democratic rather than authoritarian. How can we expect the state to wither away if we depend on it for health care and education? Shouldn't we be supporting alternative, progressive, non-statal systems to provide these necessities? I also shake my head at the way that welfare-state theory has diverged from a painful American reality: that the middle-class is now taxed more, in real terms, than the very wealthy, who employ excellent accountants and create the best tax shelters. Poor people, who are the least able to afford it, are still taxed, even on their income. The largest corporations, for their part, have so much political influence that they can buy their own tailor-made tax loopholes. And so, it seems, the state may not be the most reliable dispenser of social justice. But it's better than nothing at all, isn't it? And so I go round and round.
posted by skoosh at 2:21 PM on August 23, 2004


skoosh, I could not agree more. In economics I would prefer for efficiency to leave markets to themselves as much as possible, but as you say, without some correction from the state they will eventually get out of whack. That is precisely where the liberal influence overtakes the libertarian. Socially, I prefer a positive role from the state, i.e. little negative interference in private behavior while still providing assistance for the less fortunate and needy. Government also needs to protect the common good, such as the environment as the harms inflicted thereon are not reflected in the cost of doing business.
posted by caddis at 2:55 PM on August 23, 2004


I really dont have an issue with the redistribution of wealth via taxation since the benefits of taxation in many cases apply to the individual (better roads, healthcare, etc). The issue I was focused on is the legistation of morality. While taxation is, to an extent, forceful assistance, the government is necessary to the successful existence of a safe state (via police, firemen, EMTs, etc) and to protect vs. corruption (real estate land grabs vs public parks). This is not morality but practicality.

As a Libertarian, I object to the creation and enforcement of laws that dicate what I can and cannot do based upon religious beliefs. Prostitution should, therefore, be legal. So should drug usage. Consensual crimes should never be outlawed. In fact, I think guns are a big societal problem, but I also feel that if someone wants to own one, that's fine!

Don't punish unless the crime can be shown to hurt others. I dont know what I think about noise ordinances (even with my neighbor's dogs barking incessently). I don't know what to think about the support of drug-rehab programs. And heck guys, I don't have any answers about some of the other issues you brought up. But for all the philosophies out there, Libertarianism is the most logical for me.

We should not be judging others based on political philosophy. Rarely is a person truly in agreement 100% with their admitted philosophical bent. I don't have all the answers, but why should I be punished for something that does nothing to harm anyone else except their sensibilities?
posted by Dantien at 12:55 PM on August 24, 2004


I regret being on vacation during the beginning of this thread. The misunderstanding of libertarian philosophy manifested in this thread had convinced me that libertarians have failed to accurately present their philosophy.

And because I hold you in substantially higher regard than I hold the usual suspects:
troutfishing-- Libertarianism - at it's core - rejects notions of interdependence.

Maybe, maybe, you've highlighted a contradiction in Randian egoism, but you've seriously mischaracterized the libertarianism of Mises and (even) Nozick.

Free trade and voluntary association are part and parcel of the libertarian philosophy. It's true that the urbane bourgeoisie and the throwback militiamen are strange bedfellows, but they share a philosophy that, at its core, reveres natural order and its byproducts.

Furthermore, many serious libertarians acknowledge that, in systems and societies where most or all participants know one another, a communal arrangement can be effective. Wanna round up 50 of your best friends and grow organic produce? No libertarian would stop you.

Self-reliance and interdependence are not opposites.
posted by trharlan at 9:39 PM on August 24, 2004


Aw, Christ, I can't help myself:

nofundy: I used to think that you were looney, but now I'm convinced that you are simply out of your depth. Bremer? Libertarian? The same Bremer that advocates confiscation of weapons and the welfare state?

Sounds like he's an old-fashioned Leftist. You and Bremer should be buddies!

skallas: What really gets me is that it relies on this blind trust of corporate america and blames all government regulations as the root of all evil, yet we have seen deregulation lead to corruption, monpolies, etc over and over.

Either you're being disingenuous, or you have no idea what it is that libertarians believe. Libertarians believe that government makes corporations dangerous. We abhor corporate welfare. Libertarians (and anyone with half a brain who reads the news with a critical eye) realizes that regulation unfairly slants the playing field in favor of large corporations, and against start-ups-- a forty-year old idea that is totally lost on most leftists. Further, we realize that regulation distorts the market, and has unwnated side effects. And monopolies? You mean those things that government creates and encourages?

If you could point me toward genuine deregulation of an industry (and the energy industry doesn't count, because it hasn't been deregulated) that has harmed consumers, I'd appreciate it. Because it has never happened.

Of course the market doesn't stay free! The government keeps fucking with it!

I'll make you two a deal-- I'll dust off and pore through my copy of Das Kapital if you go to the library and borrow Man, Economy, and State.
posted by trharlan at 10:15 PM on August 24, 2004


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