Meeting Real Live Poor People
September 5, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

 
Another good way is observing what corporations (and rich people) actually do when they are unregulated, evade regulation or have achieved regulatory capture. (Hint: it isn't massive amounts of charity.)
posted by DU at 9:34 AM on September 5, 2013 [41 favorites]


"How I learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace White Privilege"
posted by dudemanlives at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


blue_beetle: "How I Outgrew Libertarianism"

Usually the reason for this is "I turned 30 and realized I'm not invulnerable".
posted by mkultra at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [39 favorites]


See also: fellow mefite zompist's essay on libertarianism.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:39 AM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's good that he's come to see the flaws in his previous perspective. He puts it, though, in terms that seem self-aggrandizing, when he talks about his own "overwhelming empathy," or how "the scales feel from his eyes." Also, how he talks up making a living as a jazz trombonist, or talks about how intelligent and articulate he is.

Leff, I'm happy that you've taken one more step down the road. But you still have a journey ahead of you.
posted by JHarris at 9:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU: Another good way is observing what corporations (and rich people) actually do when they are unregulated, evade regulation or have achieved regulatory capture. (Hint: it isn't massive amounts of charity.)

Yeah, it took the 2008 implosion of the economy for me to see it.
posted by no relation at 9:51 AM on September 5, 2013


Usually the reason for this is "I turned 30 and realized I'm not invulnerable".

Good God, does it usually take that long? For me it was all over even before I went off to college.

I'm pretty sure my subscription to Reason magazine had something to do with it. A big clue was when they praised South Africa's bantustans as fantastic libertarian laboratories.
posted by Naberius at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the long run, nothing works. Nothing has ever worked. Nothing ever will work.

If this was true, we wouldn't be here.
posted by klanawa at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it took the 2008 implosion of the economy for me to see it.

You and Alan Greenspan.

Not that being wrong will cause that lesson to stick in Greenspan's case.
posted by dglynn at 10:05 AM on September 5, 2013


"Who does that Siddhartha Gautama think he is? He didn't even discover the existence of the poor until he left his palace, and now he's all preaching Noble Truths and Eightfold Paths and meditating under a Bodhi Tree? He should Check his Privilege."
posted by Apocryphon at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2013 [63 favorites]


To be fair, unless you actually meet "poor people" and observe them going about their business of being poor, there's no possible way to comprehend that other people have different lives.

Seriously - didn't he even have a high school reading list?

Long road ahead, indeed.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2013


Lately, I've been thinking of the old* Churchill quote, "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain." I have gone the opposite direction in some ways, but then I was raised by super-conservative people and had to break out of that strait-jacket first. Never was a Libertarian, except for maybe a week and half in my late teens before I thought it through.

My 90s Gen X political indifference couldn't withstand the "patriotic" swing to the far right after 9/11, never mind the hijacked 2000 elections, and
  • The crazier-than-usual people taking over the Republicans and the Democrats moving farther right than what the Republicans used to be.
  • Wars and rumors of wars.
  • Orwellian "security" programs.
  • Prisons filled to bursting thanks to dual wars on drugs and on people of color.
My 30s found me on the left, but I have turned farther and farther left** as a result of the crap my country keeps pulling, both here and abroad.

Now in my 40s, I can't tell if it's morally defensible for me to stay here futilely railing against the craziness. Or should I move to some saner country to start over?***


* I suppose all Churchill quotes are old. He is producing many fewer nowadays.

** Social democrat if not full-blown socialist. The worse things get, the more I want to grab a red banner.

*** But every country in the world has its problems. The combination here in the States is becoming less and less tolerable to me as the years go by, but I also know that when you feel helpless, you also want to do something even if it's ultimately useless.

posted by Celsius1414 at 10:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [25 favorites]


Maybe not the best article, but I still sent it on to my 18 year old son, who is flirting with libertarianism.. Maybe it will be like a booster shot to the philosophical inoculations we gave him his whole life.
posted by Biblio at 10:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


should I move to some saner country to start over?

If you find it and figure out how to get them to let you stay, let me know.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Being poor and living around white people on welfare, as well as dealing with corrupt civic bureaucracies turned me libertarian.
posted by TSOL at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Libertarianism offers nothing but dog-eat-dog. That's humans' default state. Stasis is not a solution.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Celsius1414 : I've similarly gone from being a moderate Democrat to a hard-core leftist in the last few years. What really did it for me was the first two years of the Obama administration, when there was a Democratic president and Democratic control of both houses of Congress but not much progressive legislation. No card-check, no climate change legislation, no bank nationalization in response to the financial crisis, and watered-down healthcare reform by the skin of its teeth and then only with enormous effort. The government's reading all my e-mails and listening to all my phone calls is not exactly a moderating influence on me. I now think of myself as an anarchist. I'll bet a lot of people who identify as libertarian are actually anarchists.
posted by Lefty68 at 11:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


it always weirds me out that some very smart, kind people i know are libertarians.

it's just such a disconnect that i don't get how they don't see that.
posted by sio42 at 11:16 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


This pretty much mirrors the arc of my life experience going from libertarian to socialist, although I don't think the author has gone that far. When he concludes that "he scales fell from my eyes and for the first time I saw all my unearned advantages" I tend to think he is on the right track though. A libertarian world would be absolutely cruel. The best I could say for it would be that I would still prefer libertarian capitalism over state sponsored capitalism that is so widely embraced today but I'm still holding out for proper socialism.
posted by dgran at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot people, particularly the more pretentious types who call themselves "classical liberal", just think the government and big public institutions are inefficient, corrupt, and harmful. There's a strong American streak for liberty since Jeffersonian times. It's embedded into the mythos. For that reason, I think it's less about "libertarianism" (which is a huge ideological umbrella unto itself), and more about minarchism- that is, the impulse for smaller, limited government.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2013


Libertarianism offers nothing but dog-eat-dog. That's humans' default state.

Not exactly. Libertarians vociferously support property rights (at least, a certain conception of them). True dog-eat-dog would simply be a system where physical force could violate property rights at will.
--
it's just such a disconnect that i don't get how they don't see that.

Libertarianism is wrong but very clear and logical and accords with basic individualistic and anti-authoritarian intuitions. It gives a simple, satisfying tennis racket with which to thunk at any issue.

Whereas many liberals are often really bad at giving clear, logical reasons for their values; they can't explain why government intervention and redistribution shouldn't be taken to the logical extreme and go to communism or on what principle to stop it before that; and they often are sentimental or guilt-ridden in their arguments, which logical temperaments see as a sign of weakness.
posted by shivohum at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Who does that Siddhartha Gautama think he is? He didn't even discover the existence of the poor until he left his palace, and now he's all preaching Noble Truths and Eightfold Paths and meditating under a Bodhi Tree? He should Check his Privilege."

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."
posted by Errant at 11:33 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am certainly an anarchist, but I generally call myself a "libertarian socialist" so that people understand I am talking about political philosophy and not some sort of mythical state of indiscriminate violence. It's also fun to watch people blink in confusion when they can't imagine how you could be both "libertarian" and "socialist" at once.

It's really not that complicated, though: a socialist society is the goal, and enabling cooperation by replacing hierarchical structures of control with individual liberty is the means. Or, you could say, liberty is the goal, and it takes collective action to break the power of hierarchical control structures, therefore socialism is the means of achieving liberty. But the goal is the same either way: let's create a better society by minimizing coercion and maximizing mutual aid.

Anarchism is a philosophy, an ideal, not a recipe.

also, I think Apocryphon is right: most of the people I've met who call themselves libertarians are less interested in some pure ideal form of libertarian philosophy and more interested in simply reducing the power of what they see as an overwhelming, inefficient, coercive central government. I agree with them in that, but I see a whole lot of other overwhelming, inefficient, coercive organizations which are not governments, and I see no point in lopping off one of the hydra's heads if you're not going to bother with the rest.

What I really mean by anarchism is to simply build the society I want to live in up from the bottom, not directly fighting with the big powerful corporations and government organizations, just slowly rendering them irrelevant by getting together with my friends and neighbors and making something better.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:33 AM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


Outstanding essay.

There are a LOT of vigorously rustled Libertarian jimmies in those comments.

BUT BUT BUT BUT that's not REALLY what Libertarianism is about!
posted by edheil at 11:36 AM on September 5, 2013


it's just such a disconnect that i don't get how they don't see that.

Sometimes I think it is symptomatic of a self defense mechanism of sorts. It offers the same salve of religion -- you can assign accountability to "the market" instead of "God" and liberate yourself from feeling guilty about purposefully doing nothing for your neighbors so you can instead pursue your own self interest. It's prosperity theology for atheists.
posted by deanklear at 11:38 AM on September 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


A lot people, particularly the more pretentious types who call themselves "classical liberal", just think the government and big public institutions are inefficient, corrupt, and harmful. There's a strong American streak for liberty since Jeffersonian times.

I've thought a lot about this, and about the appeal of libertarianism's promise of easy rules and easy answers... and I guess I come out believing in a very boring, middle-aged liberalism that acknowledges that real-world solutions to problems are usually imperfect and difficultly-reached. It's unsatisfying, but I think it's better and more responsible than trying to fit the world into a box to fit an appealing ideological framework.

Like, I can see how it's satisfying to say "city bureaucracies are corrupt! So fuck 'em!" You get to feel good for your moral purity and for being above it all (and on some level, for being right- bureaucracies can really suck). But you solve nothing, and you reject the possibility of solving anything. And I don't think that's constructive.

I just think it's braver to engage with an imperfect process, accept that it's going to be wrong a lot, and try to steer things toward a net positive.
posted by COBRA! at 11:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


US-centric, but this was my trajectory to age 30:
Raised Republican -->Libertarian -->Anarcho-Socialist -->Socialist -->Green Party
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:50 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, I'm sure there are plenty of libertarian ideologues who just want to burn it all down, but there certainly can be intelligent ones out there who believe in reform to reduce government power and control. Who are more measured in their libertarian beliefs. On the other hand, I do think the kneejerk minarchism in American political discourse is one of the most harmful impulses out there. And kneejerk minarchists, like free market idolaters, are often the dominant voices in the discourse.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:55 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No resourcefulness, no connections, no education. Crappy genes, crappy family.

Whoa-- crappy genes, really? That part of the essay reads less to me like an acknowledgment of the privilege Leff grew up with and more like a claim to be inherently superior to other people.
posted by BibiRose at 12:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I spent a little time as a self-professed libertarian. At some point in college, enough people told me, "you're fiscally conservative but socially liberal. You're a libertarian," that I decided it must be true. That definition was really enough for me for a long time. It was nice to have a label as I grew increasingly disenchanted with the Republican Party, with which I had identified since Junior High. And I had a lot of Democrat friends, so it seemed to help me fit in better.

But now, having spent 15 years as a local government employee in Parks and Recreation (which I now view as a social service), and having married a pretty liberal lady, and growing up and thinking about stuff more, I'd have to say that I find Libertarianism pretty distasteful.

Someone once responded to my claim of libertarianism by saying "Ah Yes. That's what embarrassed Republicans like to call themselves now."
posted by Shohn at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's a drag to be in the center.
posted by joseppi7 at 12:11 PM on September 5, 2013


BibiRose I took it to mean that the man's family had a history of health problems and he'd inherited some. Bad enough in general, plenty worse in poverty without insurance.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the early commenters on Leff's blog says it all about Libertarianism, "a properly functioning economy is able to create wealth for all".

Economies don't create wealth, they shovel it around. They do create money, but confusing that with wealth is probably our civilization's biggest dysfunction.
posted by maniabug at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or should I move to some saner country to start over?

Fortunately for you there are two very good properties available right here on the blue-mberg real-estate listings:

Kitsault: a time capsule ghost town waiting to come back to life

great little fixer-upper
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:48 PM on September 5, 2013


Ron Swanson noooooooooooo
posted by Apocryphon at 1:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


they can't explain why government intervention and redistribution shouldn't be taken to the logical extreme and go to communism or on what principle to stop it before that

Possibly because we believe it is wrongheaded to govern by principle. You don't sit up, say, "The world should work this way, a priori, and here is an easily-understood, logical argument why, damn the practical results". Unless you're a libertarian, I guess. Policy exists to facilitate results, not the other way around, and in the real world, the effects of things can be pretty hard to predict and sticking to "principle" can be quite harmful to real, actual people.

One of the early commenters on Leff's blog says it all about Libertarianism, "a properly functioning economy is able to create wealth for all".

This is a religious pronouncement, an article of faith.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


"At some point in college, enough people told me, "you're fiscally conservative but socially liberal. You're a libertarian," that I decided it must be true."

This is pretty much why I identified as a libertarian for a while in high school and college, that combined with a pox-on-both-their-houses feeling toward Dems and Republicans. I also was a bright kid surrounded by idiots, and being a libertarian is certainly an ego boost when it comes to that.

But over time, I came to realize that what I meant by "fiscally conservative" wasn't the same as what they meant; I'm not a free market fundamentalist. Things like the robust safety net of welfare, food stamps and medicare do end up saving us all money and leading to a better life for citizens — I'm conservative in that I want to preserve them and other systems that work.

And what really helped was taking poli sci classes in college, not least because every single class had at least one libertarian asshole in it who always wanted to argue. You cannot seriously engage with political history and remain a libertarian. I don't think you can honestly or seriously engage with political history and remain a Leninist or Maoist either — all of them require privileging theory over the world as it exists.

"One of the early commenters on Leff's blog says it all about Libertarianism, "a properly functioning economy is able to create wealth for all".

Economies don't create wealth, they shovel it around. They do create money, but confusing that with wealth is probably our civilization's biggest dysfunction.
"

Well, no, a properly functioning economy does create wealth, it doesn't just move it around. A properly functioning economy allows each actor to exchange their resources for what they value more (incredibly simplistically) and by doing so, creates a surplus of value. That increase is what creates wealth. The only way a properly functioning economy would not create wealth is if it was a zero-sum system, which it is not. Every exchange should have both parties come out better than they were before.

However, a lack of regulation does not ensure a properly functioning economy; that's putting ideology before the horse, so to speak.
posted by klangklangston at 1:11 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


@ dudemanlives:

How about "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Class Privilege"?

As someone once said, the rich are mean, and in my observation and experience, the capacity to flash a tan does nothing to mitigate it.

...but I forgot, I'm in America, and here we must not talk about class: it must be dressed up in cohort pieties with a suitable bete noire (which keeps the middle and lower classes divided and conquered vis a vis the upper classes, which in turn must never be inconvenienced).
posted by cool breeze at 1:16 PM on September 5, 2013


Blame Eve for eating that apple.

Gotta get past that too, pal.
posted by telstar at 1:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This comment further down the page says it all:


We are a political/economic philosophy that recognizes that Taxes are violence . They are, necessarily taken by force or threat of force, otherwise they would be donations. How much violence are you willing to inflict on your fellow humans to do what you think is right?

Translation: Fuck society, I can't be bothered with it. Also, I can't see past the end of my own nose, and I don't have a grasp on the term "violence".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.

-- François Guizot (1787-1874)
Here, republican means "supporter of the French Republic".
François Pierre Guillaume Guizot was a French historian, orator, and statesman; a dominant figure in French politics prior to the Revolution of 1848, a conservative liberal [look that up in your Funk and Wagnall!] who opposed the attempt by King Charles X to usurp legislative power, and worked to sustain a constitutional monarchy following the July Revolution of 1830. He then served the "citizen king" Louis Philippe, as Minister of Education, 1832–37, ambassador to London, Foreign Minister 1840–1847, and finally Prime Minister of France from 19 September 1847 to 23 February 1848.

-- WP
Guizot's epigram has no bearing whatsoever on the terms or principles of "liberal" and "conservative" as they are understood in contemporary politics in either the US or Europe.

The paraphrase attributed to Churchill makes no sense coming from that personage. He'd never have said that. There's no context or stage of his life at which he'd have said that.
This quotation is frequently but mistakenly attributed to Churchill. It is anyway unlikely that Churchill would subscribe to this philosophy: He was a swashbuckling soldier at 20, and a Conservative member of Parliament at 25. A couple of years later he switched to the Liberal Party (which was not liberal in the modern sense), and later went back to the Conservatives.
People who earnestly quote this 'quote' need to say what they mean and support it. Mis-quoting an incorrectly attributed bromide is no argument.

You might just as well quote Dylan ("when you aint' got nuthin you got nuthin to lose") and Waters ("I'm alright Jack keep your hands of of my stack") as astute political thought.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


"We are a political/economic philosophy that recognizes that Taxes are violence . They are, necessarily taken by force or threat of force, otherwise they would be donations. How much violence are you willing to inflict on your fellow humans to do what you think is right?

Translation: Fuck society, I can't be bothered with it. Also, I can't see past the end of my own nose, and I don't have a grasp on the term "violence".
"

Yeah, it's weird. It's more a philosophy that asserts that taxes are violence without a coherent definition of violence, but rather because violence is circularly defined as bad.

Because if any intervention of the state, coming with the implicit imprimatur of legitimized force, is violence, then property is violence as it requires the state (or private actors) to resort to force to preserve it.

It's a bit like nudists declaring that they're a philosophy that recognizes that pants are violence.
posted by klangklangston at 1:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


In the long run, nothing works. Nothing has ever worked. Nothing ever will work.

If this was true, we wouldn't be here.


Some things don't work better than other things don't work.
posted by tommasz at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's more a philosophy that asserts that taxes are violence without a coherent definition of violence, but rather because violence is circularly defined as bad.

I think in this case violence is defined as, "someone making me do something I don't want". It's the kind of hyperbole kids use when told to go to bed before they are ready or eat their vegetables.

It's almost like...libertarians are...children...

Huh.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:59 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because if any intervention of the state, coming with the implicit imprimatur of legitimized force, is violence, then property is violence as it requires the state (or private actors) to resort to force to preserve it.

Well, yes, this is an old idea, usually phrased "property is theft" since Proudhon popularized it that way in 1840. This is an element of libertarianism I fully agree with: coercive state intervention is always backed by a threat of violence and is therefore morally suspect.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I can't see past the end of my own nose, and I don't have a grasp on the term "violence".

I think in this case violence is defined as, "someone making me do something I don't want".


I used to have somewhat libertarian leanings, and outgrew them. That said, I don't think it serves anyone's purpose to just point and laugh at the silly children. Taxes are taken by threat of force. You can easily test this, by not paying your taxes (you may have to wait for a while, since the IRS is very busy and frankly underfunded). Eventually, you will either have the money taken from you or you will be sent to jail, etc.

And to me, as an ex-libertarian, I think it's worthwhile to acknowledge this. Rather than just laugh at this as a broadly overextended use of the word "violence", I think it's better to acknowledge that in any social unit, there will be some non-zero level of coercion, and that some violence is more justifiable than other violence.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's many paths to libertarianism. I was briefly an LP member and a Ron Paul supporter in the mid aughts because I felt that the libertarians were the best, though very small, hope of countering the Republican / Bush juggernaut of the time. Democrats were being deeply ineffective at countering anything or at getting elected, and they were being mostly silent or wishy-washy or even supportive regarding the wars, torture, domestic spying, Guantanamo, the Drug War and militarized police, etc.

I didn't suddenly become less of a leftie. I had no desire to see the social safety net dismantled or an end to corporate regulations. I just saw libertarianism as the only philosophy which offered an out from the inexorable slide which both parties were enabling. The fact that most libertarians were completely insane on economic issues, and often racist and homophobic idiots to boot, is what finally opened my eyes and I got the hell out.

However, I'm still sympathetic to those who are still in the movement primarily for the reasons I listed above. Their heart is definitely in the right place even if the libertarian movement offers a false hope.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Taxes are taken by threat of force.

Taxes can also be looked at as fulfilling a social contract - being a member of a society means having certain responsibilities, and one of those is contributing monetarily commensurate with your wealth.

In return for your taxes, or along with them if you like, are all the benefits that taxation gives society: Education. Roads to drive on. Clean air and water. Local protection via police, fire, and code departments, and military protection against foreign threats, not to mention help in recovering from disasters. Investment in science, medical, and technological research. Weather prediction. Lots of other stuff. Everything from the sidewalk outside your house to the satellites in space.

(In most industrial societies, this contract also includes medical care. For some people, this is somehow treasonous talk that is as bad as Hitler and Stalin put together. Interestingly, not paying your taxes to the point of landing yourself in prison means you will get free food, shelter, and medical care.)

If one chooses not to fulfill one's end of this social bargain, one will face consequences. But unless the argument is that all of those societal benefits are bad, or shouldn't be a government's business*, then the "taken by threat of force" sounds more like complaining one's right to dump toxic waste in a river is being denied by the big, bad government.

* The reason we want these things done by governments and not corporations is that we have some means of redress with governments via our votes and other means. Corporations have no leashes except legislation, and "voting with your money" presupposes a fairy-tale even playing field.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Bingo. Taxes are part of the social contract, a term that libertarians and much of the right refuse to acknowledge. ( Funny how the government requiring taxes is violence, but a boss exercising his "violence" by firing you is A.O.K. I mean, he held it over your head while demanding performance, no?)

"Me, me, me" is a shitty way to develop a society.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you don't pay your taxes, and you refuse to talk to the IRS when they call you to complain about it, and refuse to settle, and continue to refuse to pay, eventually they will stop asking. At some point, if you continue to be difficult about it, they will call federal marshals, who will show up with guns. How that's not violence, I'm not sure.

The True Scotsman of libertarians assumes that this is not just violence but Initiation of Force, and that since all government is funded this way, all government is necessarily illegitimate. (Essentially, if I walked up to you with a gun and said "give me your money" that would properly be termed robbery, and if I can't do it, how can I then delegate the power to someone else (the government) to do it?) What precisely constitutes legitimacy I'm not sure, since governments were considering themselves and others legitimate for thousands of years before the libertarians came along and decided they were illegitimate.

There are plenty of things that government at all levels does that are legitimate in the sense that the majority of voters have decided they need to be done -- roads, fire protection, water, national defense, schools, &c. (As an online friend once put it: the purpose of government is to ensure that projects in the commons get funded that otherwise would never happen because they're unprofitable.)

While I don't like paying taxes, I do like driving on good roads, ensuring that my child and others have at least a minimal education, the fact that I can turn on very nearly any water tap in very nearly any household in the US and get clean drinkable water from it, and many other things, so I do it.
posted by no relation at 4:09 PM on September 5, 2013


If you don't pay your taxes, and you refuse to talk to the IRS when they call you to complain about it, and refuse to settle, and continue to refuse to pay, eventually they will stop asking. At some point, if you continue to be difficult about it, they will call federal marshals, who will show up with guns. How that's not violence, I'm not sure.

Well, I think you answered your own conundrum. It isn't violence because there are a bunch of steps the IRS will take before getting to the armed Federal Marshal stage. "Violence" might be one end result of that process (and in truth only if you decide to resist the gun-toting Feds), but there are a bunch of other outcomes there.

Again, this is no different than any other crime or anti-societal behavior. To use my example from earlier, those same marshals will probably show up if you defy the EPA -- and by extension, all of your neighbors and the rest of the people in your society -- by repeatedly dumping toxic waste in your local river, refusing to pay fines or for cleanup, etc.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:20 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are some problems with the original essay, already noted in this thread, but I'm enjoying reading a bit about how various people's political views have changed over time.

I guess I must be a outlier of some sort, because I have pretty much the same political/economic views I've always had - something along the lines of a New Deal/Great Society liberal Democrat.

Of course, that puts me well to the left of much of the current Democratic Party - I continue to believe in a system of progressive taxation, a government that undertakes projects serving the common good, the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions - all that kind of squishy stuff.

Like most avowed liberals, I'd tend to agree with libertarians regarding personal freedoms (i.e., I don't want the federal government in my bedroom, doctor's office, and certain other places). But libertarian views on economics, property rights, etc, to me either feel like elaborate justifications for selfishness, or the ideas don't seem to scale up large groups very well, or at all.

And I'm not even sure what a libertarian foreign policy is supposed to look like - completely non-interventionist and designed to spend as few resources as possible? Bombing Syria is a bad idea, but sending humanitarian aid to Haiti or some other disaster-stricken place isn't, and from what I understand, staunch libertarians would oppose both.

I suppose I'd be willing to vote for a candidate from a viable Green or Labor party, if such things actually existed in the USA, but for the time being, I find the Democrats to be the less-harmful alternative, and they occasionally manage to do some good.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Hey, let's simplify a complex economic philosophy down to, 'I don't like to eat paste.'"

Seriously? While this might be a reason why this specific, particular individual doesn't like what his idea of libertarianism is, but it's not a real good or coherent argument against libertarianism.
posted by docjohn at 4:27 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Well, yes, this is an old idea, usually phrased "property is theft" since Proudhon popularized it that way in 1840. This is an element of libertarianism I fully agree with: coercive state intervention is always backed by a threat of violence and is therefore morally suspect."

Yeah, I know Proudhon, though he's more of an idiosyncratic anarchist (aren't they all?) than a libertarian. I do support the idea of private property, not least because it's part of getting buy in from people on political projects. It's very hard to imagine any project without personal property happening without a lot of violence, and it's hard to imagine it sustaining itself without a lot of sandbagging.

"Taxes are taken by threat of force. You can easily test this, by not paying your taxes (you may have to wait for a while, since the IRS is very busy and frankly underfunded). Eventually, you will either have the money taken from you or you will be sent to jail, etc."

Again, by using that definition of violence, you can say that pants are violence because the state can make you wear them in public, through force of arms if necessary (and generally, you'll see that force of arms quicker than you would if you weren't paying taxes). It inherently defines all state or public interaction as violent, while ignoring the parts that libertarians would preserve, e.g. private property and contract rights.

Further, it ignores the very real violence inflicted by a lack of legitimate state power, either through direct means (people assaulting each other) or through structural means, e.g. inadequate medical care. These things actually affect mortality rates; taxes do not.

So, a definition that would include the absurd and exclude the real is a terrible definition to argue from, no matter how emotionally appealing it is to see the tax man as a gun to your head.

As for legitimacy, I think you can make a decent case that state legitimacy rests on how much people voluntarily comply. Libertarians are a minority of citizens with regard to their taxes=violence views; most people do not put much effort into evading taxes even if it's not very difficult. Most people accept that taxes — while they're always "too high" — are a bargain price for modern civilization. That does, in a democracy, make them legitimate.
posted by klangklangston at 4:42 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Whereas many liberals are often really bad at giving clear, logical reasons for their values...

I just tell them that being liberal is simply the Christian thing to do. Then walk away to avoid my feet being crushed by the collective jaws hitting the ground.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Taxes are violence, just like being robbed at gunpoint" utterly ignores context, something libertarians seem rather good at. You are made aware as you join society what the benefits and obligations are of doing so; the same is not true of being robbed at gunpoint. "Your money" wasn't created or earned in a vacuum, it required a society, and a society requires taxes. Withholding them ("But I don't want a functioning society!") until they are taken from you is hardly a mature act.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Withholding them ("But I don't want a functioning society!") until they are taken from you is hardly a mature act.

To be fair, that's not what libertarians argue. The majority of them argue that the government can only legitimately be a night watchman state (military and police), and some of the extreme ones (the anarcho-capitalists) argue for not even that much. To them, society imposes a mafia-like contract on them: pay or go to jail that shouldn't even be called a contract, since it isn't voluntary.

The functioning society, they argue, would happen just as well or better without government support, and whatever good was lost would be more than compensated by the corruption and coercion that was avoided. Competition would be a better and freer way of providing services. The corruptions of corporations today, they'd argue, is precisely because of the power of the state to interfere in the marketplace. If the state simply kept aloof and regulated property rights strictly, it couldn't be corrupted into, for example, providing agricultural subsidies or bailing out big banks, etc.
posted by shivohum at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, those arguments have no more basis in reality than declaring that without the state, the Court of Queen Mab would rule us all beneficently.
posted by klangklangston at 6:58 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Somehow, it seems, every generation in the US has to re-discover such basic shit. What is it that makes us blind again?

nobodys ever taught you how to live out on the street
and now you’re gonna have to get used to it.
You said you’d never compromise
with the mystery tramp
but now you realize,
hes not selling any alibis
as you stare into the vacuum of his eyes,
and say do you want to
make a deal?

posted by Twang at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2013


Yeah everyone knows Mab's a total tax and spend liberal.

You can have my wrought iron when you take it from my cold dead hands.
posted by PMdixon at 7:37 PM on September 5, 2013


The majority of them argue that the government can only legitimately be a night watchman state

So where does the money come from to create this "night watchman state"? Are you supposed to be able to opt out of paying whatever word they want to use aside from taxes, so in the event of an invasion the government can decline to defend your house personally from the bombs while defending everyone around you?

The functioning society, they argue, would happen just as well or better without government support

Yes, they argue. With zero evidence, as in many things they argue, as klangklangston says.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:51 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The functioning society, they argue, would happen just as well or better without government support, and whatever good was lost would be more than compensated by the corruption and coercion that was avoided

Of course, that's super, super easy to say when the chances of that ever actually happening in their lifetimes is virtually nil, unless they decide to up and move to some country where there is little or no government support, and we all know what those places look like. And if that were to happen, I would bet any amount of money that it wouldn't be long before they would be willing to move back to America, where you can pay a small portion of your income and in return, live in a highly functioning society with a great standard of living. Libertarianism is a first world problem.

Because for all the talk of the "violence" of taxation, I don't really see libertarians honestly complaining about the violence of being forced to drink clean water, drive on smooth and well-maintained roads, generally be able to walk down the street unassaulted or anything else that they take for granted but which doesn't come for free.

In theory it's all a free market utopia.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd tend to agree with libertarians regarding personal freedoms (i.e., I don't want the federal government in my bedroom, doctor's office, and certain other places).

The Pauls, among many other important (and sometimes electable) Libertarians, want the STATE government in your bedroom, doctor's office and certain other places. That's where many so-called Libertarians ignore Human Rights in favor of States Rights.

Personally, I find "State Governments" to be mostly unjustifiable. All activities and powers of A Government should either be granted to the most Local jurisdiction possible or the most Universal. Picking which goes where is the interesting part. But "States"? That was America's FIRST and BIGGEST mistake.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:58 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


All activities and powers of A Government should either be granted to the most Local jurisdiction possible or the most Universal.

Really? Consider water rights and management and enforcement of such. You'd really claim that should either be federal or municipal?
posted by PMdixon at 8:02 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


States Rights is just GOP racism and misogyny all wrapped up in plausible deniability.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


(show me a Libertarian, and I'll show you someone with a sheltered upbringing).

Ain't that the truth.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:56 PM on September 5, 2013


Taxes are not violence, they're a scaled cover charge. If you want to party at club America, to take advantage if the abundant resources it offers and have the opportunity enrich yourself in the process, you have to pay to play. Otherwise, find another club -- I hear club Somalia down the street could really use some of your bootstrappism, and the cover charge is low low low!
posted by charlemangy at 2:19 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Matt Bruenig has a relevant and interesting short essay that points out the following:

"In practice, libertarians often slip into left-liberal understandings of voluntariness when it is convenient for them to do so. Consider income taxes for instance. Libertarians claim that income taxes are theft because they involve government force. But in a purely procedural sense, that is not true. Whenever someone enters into an employment arrangement, they agree to have the employer withhold income taxes. They are not forced to make this kind of agreement. If they do not want to make it, they can refuse to sign the agreement and not work at all.

Sure, they will die if they do not work, but that is not a relevant consideration under libertarian ideas about voluntariness... A libertarian might come back and say that the employer is being forced to withhold taxes. If the employer refused to do so, then the government would use force against them, and so that is where the involuntary taxation comes into play. But this too is not true. The employer has the same choice the employee does: they can choose not to run a business... A more level-headed analysis would point out that not working and dying is not really an option, at least not in any normal sense of the word. But that kind of nuance puts you outside of libertarian ideas about voluntariness and into left-liberal ideas."

Worth reading alongside his other essay, "There is no such thing as redistribution".
posted by lucien_reeve at 4:24 AM on September 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a really terribly written essay, from someone who doesn't seem to have thought much about anything, ever.

I disagree with them, sure, but I also disagree with half a dozen or more mefites who disagree with libertarianism, and they could shit out better content than this in their sleep.

Just because something meets your ideological biases does not make it good writing. But it's a great straw man, with a side of No True Libertarian, which is always fun.
posted by corb at 5:57 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, that's super, super easy to say when the chances of that ever actually happening in their lifetimes is virtually nil, unless they decide to up and move to some country where there is little or no government support, and we all know what those places look like.

Yup, very true.

--

In practice, libertarians often slip into left-liberal understandings of voluntariness when it is convenient for them to do so.

This was a pretty terrible essay. The libertarian notion of voluntariness focuses not on whether there is technically some "choice" but on whether their version of property and bodily rights are being respected or not. A threat to either based on some choice is, to them, violence. This is pointed out amply in the comment section of that post.

I prefer to acknowledge that government absolutely does do damage to property rights, and that this is a bad thing, but that it's necessary to prevent even worse things.
posted by shivohum at 5:59 AM on September 6, 2013


dealing with corrupt civic bureaucracies turned me libertarian

The hilarity of this statement is that you are saying that individuals choosing to enrich themselves via other individuals or private concerns is a problem. If a cop is taking money to do something wrong, it's corruption; if it's a security contractor, it's the cost of doing business. Not that this doesn't illustrate the problem with the logic of a lot of libertarians (or more accurately, conservatives that don't wan't to align themselves with the dominant conservative party in their country and call themselves libertarians) , but it is darkly amusing.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:03 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I prefer to acknowledge that government absolutely does do damage to property rights

Without a government there would be no property rights.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:22 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Without a government there would be no property rights.

Not true. Rights may well exist independent of a government. If two people are on a desert island, and one of them punches the other, it's still a violation of "bodily rights" even though there is no government around. If one of them laboriously gathers nuts for days on end, and the other just one day takes them (let's assume he's not starving), it's still a violation of property rights even without a government.

Without a government, though, there may be no effective property right enforcement. That much is definitely true.
posted by shivohum at 6:26 AM on September 6, 2013


Not true. Rights may well exist independent of a government.

The statement that rights exist outside of any framework for enforcing them is another religious belief. You have the rights that other people agree that you have and can, ideally, be enforced through a legal framework. Otherwise you are basically just shouting, "Help, help, I'm being repressed." You can say, "I have rights," as much as you want. If the rights you claim have no bearing on the world as it exists, they are illusory.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's rather vapid reasoning. Rights most certainly do have a bearing on the world as it exists, with or without a government.

Why don't you address my example above? Are you really saying that without a government one has no right not to be stabbed? And if that someone tried to stab you, you would have no right to defend yourself?

Rights are part of morality, and morality does not originate with the government. It is extra-governmental, which is why it can be used to evaluate governments, and if necessary depose them (as with the American Revolution).

Moreover, if there were no rights outside of government, then you could never say "the government is doing something technically legal, but it's still violating rights." That statement would be, under your terms, nonsensical.
posted by shivohum at 7:37 AM on September 6, 2013


If a cop is taking money to do something wrong, it's corruption; if it's a security contractor, it's the cost of doing business.

I think the problem is actually the disparity of power.

So, let's take the cost of the cop. Let's say the cop is taking money to do something wrong - oh, ignore a murder or assault, let's say, when you want them to investigate it. Even if you find out, you have little recourse. You might - and I say might - be able to get them investigated by Internal Affairs, but they're usually not going to send someone right out to right the wrong. Because the state holds a monopoly on the use of force, you're not able to have someone that is being paid by you to keep on the case until they find the guy, so you're just SOL.

Now let's take the problem of a security contractor. If they are taking money to do something wrong, when you find out, you do have recourse - you can boycott them and take your business to their competitors, who have every interest in seeing that you are well taken care of. There is no monopoly, so if you want to pay your smart brother-in-law or what have you to take on the case, you can absolutely do so.

On the off chance that you're talking about the cop taking money to do something right - pay for play - it's still a problem, because the cop is the same one who prohibits you by force from going to his competition, thus forcing you to pay once through taxes and twice through bribes.

Now watch. Five dollars says if zombieflanders disagrees, while his response will be totally wrong, it will still be better than this mealymouthed article.
posted by corb at 7:42 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of monopolies and monopsonies in the private sector, and it's only by virtue of government breaking them up that there aren't more. It's a leap of faith to believe that consumers enough information to make informed decisions, or that there will always be a competitor that is doing right by their customers.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:50 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Two points:

1) Rights - this is a dispute over terminology that can only serve to obfuscate the substantial points at issue:

If two people are on a desert island, and one of them punches the other, it's still a violation of "bodily rights" even though there is no government around. If one of them laboriously gathers nuts for days on end, and the other just one day takes them (let's assume he's not starving), it's still a violation of property rights even without a government.

Not really. In your example, it would of course be wrong for man A to punch man B, or to steal from him. But a "right" is a creation of law. It's a way of crystalising morality into something that an individual can be said to possess. These men might have "rights" recognised by governments that are not present. But there is no meaningful sense* in which they walk around with rights in the absence of a legal system.

Those who argue that rights transcend individual legal systems see them as the expression of a transcendant legal order - whether produced by God, nature or reason.

I'm not sure that there is much to be gained by twisting language so that we talk about one thing (rights) as if it was something else (ethics), or to reduce the range of available meanings.

2) Corb.

- you are right that the article is not particularly well written, as other posters have already pointed out. Nevertheless, it appears to be a sincere and personal account of the ways that libertarian philosophy failed this man.

- you just complain that it erects a straw man, without showing how or why. It would make your position look more substantial if you provided some points, or even hard evidence, to back it up, rather than just insulting the quality of the original. You might not agree with the conclusions this man drew from his experience, but you don't really explain why.

- your argument/example/thought experiment about the cop is not convincing, even if we restrict ourselves to considering the very narrow example you have given, i.e. a cop and a security contractor who both take money not to investigate some wrongdoing.

You seem to be changing the terms of the issue. The point is that both cops and security contractors can be corrupt, so the rosy and one-sided picture that libertarians paint of private enterprise is not correct.

Rather than providing hard evidence to argue e.g. that security contractors are not as corrupt as police, you construct a rather elaborate hypothetical situation. This is not a convincing way to argue. It means that you can rig the situation to your advantage.

In this case, you seem to be assuming that you are the employer of the security contractor. As an employer in a capitalist society, you would have an immense amount of power over the contractor that nobody has over the police.

However, most people who have dealings with security contractors do not employ them directly and have no power as a "customer" over them. Under those circumstances, you, as a member of the public, have far more power over a cop than you do over a random security guard. To the extent that you have power over the security guard, it is because you can go to the police.

If you are arguing that public police should be replaced by security guards entirely, then you are also assuming that in this environment your security guards would not laugh at you when you tried to fire them and tell you that you should shut up if you know what's good for you. This seems rather naive to me, given the way that the Praetorian guard behaved in Rome and military and mercenary forces have behaved during coups throughout history.

I'm not sure that your arguments really amount to much more than the claim that the private sector is always better because it allows choice. Actually, in practice, for most people, the public sector vastly increases the range of choices available to them, and by intervening to regulate the market, increases the range of choices before the consumer (e.g. by competition regulation).
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:19 AM on September 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


* Footnote!: there is at least one meaningful sense, of course, in which rights have a bearing on your dispute between the two island-bound men: they might think about right and wrong in terms of rights. In which case, their ideas have a sort of meaningful reality, and furthermore they form a kind of society with a rough-and-ready understanding of what its law should be - so to that extent, they could be said to "have" rights.

But all this is really very nebulous and unsatisfactory.

The problem with thinking about people having "natural rights" is that it tends to muddy the waters about what is right and wrong. It is frequently used as a way of covering up the essential distinction between "possessions" and larger-scale "property" claims.

It might very well be right for a man to possess his house, his tools, things he has been given etc. etc. and at the same time be completely wrong for him to possess so much land that nobody else has anywhere to settle or a right to someone else's labour.

The whole language of "rights" can obscure this essential ethical distinction by suggesting that possession is scaleable and that your "right" to keep or sell that table you made is the same as your "right" to do whatever you like with the three hundred acres you inherited from your father who got them by killing the natives or driving the peasants off the common land.
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why don't you address my example above?

Because I find it in turn rather vapid and illustrative of another libertarian tendency, which is to avoid talking directly about quite complex things and instead offer up an extremely simplistic issue in its place and pretend that they are both basically the same thing.

However, lucien_reeve covered it mostly. In the absence of enforcement, it makes no sense at all to talk about rights. If someone goes to stab you, you can stop them or not, as you choose, but in that situation the idea of "rights" is utterly meaningless.

If you say that the government if doing something illegal, but which is still a violation of rights, you are necessarily making reference to some agreed upon rights framework, such as the the Bill of Rights or Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or else the person to whom you are speaking may go, "what rights," at which point you will have to come to an agreement on what these rights are or there will be no "rights" to speak of outside your own head, where they affect nothing at all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


- you just complain that it erects a straw man, without showing how or why. It would make your position look more substantial if you provided some points, or even hard evidence, to back it up, rather than just insulting the quality of the original. You might not agree with the conclusions this man drew from his experience, but you don't really explain why.

Sure, I'll take a swing at it.

First, he claims that he had a problem with the "hypocrisy" of people being both idealistic, and choosing a governmental system that would benefit them. But in fact, there doesn't need to be any contradiction - for example, many people believe democracy is the correct governmental system while still believing they are personally benefited by democracy. In fact, I think often people can experience their first thoughts about how they are served by the system in question by determining how it affects them personally, and moving outwards from there.

Secondly, he talks about what "Real Libertarianism" is. And that's quite simply, not true. There are a lot of different brands of libertarians, with a lot of different ideas. Some libertarians do shrug at the problem of the poor, others do not. Some believe an unfettered free market will float everyone higher, and some believe an unfettered free market is simply the moral thing to do, whether or not it floats everyone higher. By claiming that he alone has the definition of libertarianism, it's easy for him to claim no one meets it, but it is not correct.

Thirdly, he acts as though believers in libertarianism think that it will bring about a utopia. That may be true, but I've never met a single libertarian who thinks that libertarianism will be objectively better for everyone and that there will be no problems with it. And I've met a lot of libertarians and attended libertarian conventions, so I'm really curious where he's meeting all these libertarians who are purely starry-eyed.

Fourth, because he himself had never met a poor person until recently does not mean this is the case of all libertarians. Libertarians come from all backgrounds and walks of life.

He acts as though it were a sudden shock to him that some of the things in his life came from his parental advantages, and acts like that's something that doesn't happen to other libertarians. But I'd argue that most if not all libertarians acknowledge the advantage of generational building - that's why they want to accomplish it without governmental interference.

I think the real takeaway from this is in his opening. "I was a libertarian in college." Which is kind of like being an anarchist in college, or a socialist in college, or temporarily bi in college, or a host of other things that people take up for four years, irritate everyone around them who actually belongs to that group by being essentially a tourist there, and then decides to get down to the business of thinking other thoughts completely once they walk out the door.
posted by corb at 8:33 AM on September 6, 2013


First things first:

Five dollars says if zombieflanders disagrees, while his response will be totally wrong, it will still be better than this mealymouthed article.

My first impulse here was to just say you're a wrongy wrong wrong from Wrongton, WR (in the ZIP code 2876wrong), founded by Ephram Hezekiah Wrong, who arrived in America on the Good Ship Mistaken, the future site of Wrongton Wrongiversity, home of the Fightin' Incorrecters (h/t Chris Sims). Mainly because I just wanted to use that in a conversation, but also because it means you are simultaneously both right and wrong and therefore someone can make a Schroedinger's Argument joke.

NOTE: I hope it's obvious that I'm joking with corb here, not trying to pick a fight.

Now let's take the problem of a security contractor. If they are taking money to do something wrong, when you find out, you do have recourse - you can boycott them and take your business to their competitors, who have every interest in seeing that you are well taken care of. There is no monopoly, so if you want to pay your smart brother-in-law or what have you to take on the case, you can absolutely do so.

This assumes that (1) there is viable competition, and (2) there isn't such thing as a monopoly. It's quite possible that there may be competition somewhere, but it's not available to me because I don't have the resources, or the rest of the neighborhood disagrees with me, or for a number of reasons the potential competition won't or can't enter the market. It's far from certain that they'll have any interest, let alone every interest in taking care of me. The illusion of choice would just replace the imperfect application of power.

It's an admittedly imperfect (though hopefully not mealymouthed) analogy, but the company towns of the 18th and 19th century illuminate the problems here. If I'm a miner for Fat Cat Mining, Inc. and I think the Pinkertons (or whoever) that they have hired are doing something wrong, my options are practically non-existent. I can't hire someone else to come in and do the job since I don't control FCM, or maybe my money is only company scrip that no one will take. There may be other security companies out there, but I don't have the power to bring in their business. I can leave FCM and work for someone else, but that may be extremely difficult due to resources available to me or the local (geographically and economically) power monopoly FCM has. In an ideal world this wouldn't be a problem, but when it's put into practice the problems have cropped up and I'm just as SOL as I would be were I to deal with cops and IA and the like. Now, of course, this becomes less of a problem if there's a central monetary authority higher than FCM (i.e., a government), moreso if there's a regulatory authority that prevents monopolization of resources. Yes, there's a chance that those authorities can be subverted through improper external forces, but at that point it's both a hypothetical problem opposed to the very real problems I'd be facing and is offering me a better chance than the situation I'm currently in.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:38 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not really. In your example, it would of course be wrong for man A to punch man B, or to steal from him. But a "right" is a creation of law. It's a way of crystalising morality into something that an individual can be said to possess. These men might have "rights" recognised by governments that are not present. But there is no meaningful sense* in which they walk around with rights in the absence of a legal system.

This is a semantic game. The point is that it is wrong for the punch or the theft to occur. And given that violation or attempted violation, the offended person has the right to defend themselves or take back possession or whatever.

That's the point. Those who say that "property rights" only exist with a government are wrong, because no -- they actually exist even without a government.

If you want to say "that's not rights, that's ethics!" that's fine, but that's really terminological hair-splitting, because all the effective moral implications are identical.

The whole language of "rights" can obscure this essential ethical distinction by suggesting that possession is scaleable and that your "right" to keep or sell that table you made is the same as your "right" to do whatever you like with the three hundred acres you inherited from your father who got them by killing the natives or driving the peasants off the common land.

Rights often conflict with each other, or with more utilitarian considerations. That doesn't mean rights don't exist.

--
If you say that the government if doing something illegal, but which is still a violation of rights, you are necessarily making reference to some agreed upon rights framework, such as the the Bill of Rights or Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

Ever looked at the Declaration of Independence?
posted by shivohum at 8:42 AM on September 6, 2013


Yes. I don't believe in a Creator who can endow men with unalienable Rights. The Declaration is precisely the sort of mutually-agreed-upon framework of rights that I am talking about. They held those truths to be self-evident. Yeah, well, King George disagreed, hilarity ensued.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:51 AM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


King George disagreed, hilarity ensued.

BRB, editing "American Revolution" on Wikipedia.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:53 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"That's rather vapid reasoning. Rights most certainly do have a bearing on the world as it exists, with or without a government."

That's a long-held historical position ("Hold these truths to be self evident"), but it generally relies on the idea of there being rights bestowed by nature. It ends up being really easy to challenge, in part because it generally requires a theist grounding, and as we've moved on from the classical liberal position on legitimacy of governments, that area of rights has been viewed as more and more circular (the classic status justification for rights is that we have them because it is fitting to have them). Outside of metaphysics, it's very difficult to ground status rights.

Why don't you address my example above? Are you really saying that without a government one has no right not to be stabbed? And if that someone tried to stab you, you would have no right to defend yourself?

It's easy to respond: You're using "rights" in an unnecessary way, and consequentialist arguments are just as effective — you don't need a right to justify action; we agree that it would be better for both people on the island if they didn't go around stabbing each other. (Likewise, the insecurity of property for both parties weighs against the coconut stealing.)

Rights are part of morality, and morality does not originate with the government. It is extra-governmental, which is why it can be used to evaluate governments, and if necessary depose them (as with the American Revolution).

This is also circular. Morality precedes rights — this can easily be seen in a historical context, where Athenian democracy had no real conception of individual rights, but certainly had morality and duty. Applying rights as part of morality there is unnecessary.

Moreover, if there were no rights outside of government, then you could never say "the government is doing something technically legal, but it's still violating rights." That statement would be, under your terms, nonsensical.

That's a fair point, but it can be stepped around pretty easily by arguing that the state and "rights" are both social constructions that are not necessarily congruent. You can have rights outside of legality if two conditions are met there (though I'll cop to one of them being circular): that holding those rights would generally benefit society, and that society generally recognizes said right.
posted by klangklangston at 10:02 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


If one of them laboriously gathers nuts for days on end, and the other just one day takes them (let's assume he's not starving), it's still a violation of property rights even without a government.

There is another way to look at that situation: that in taking the nuts, the second person is exploiting the labor of the first, probably through some sort of force or threat of force, and that this exploitation is morally wrong. Viewed this way, it is the labor, not the nuts, that belongs to the nut-gatherer.

The concept of "property" is a legal one in that "ownership" of property describes a set of legal rights that the owner has with respect to the property. Those legal rights are never absolute. Although I own my car, I don't have the right to use it without displaying a license plate, getting an emissions inspection, having a drivers license, etc. I may own a parcel of land, but I still have to comply with zoning requirements. Pace the hard-core libertarians, most people are OK with that. The obligation to pay taxes on the car and the land is one limitation on my property rights, but it is not the only one.
posted by Lefty68 at 10:34 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's quite possible that there may be competition somewhere, but it's not available to me because I don't have the resources, or the rest of the neighborhood disagrees with me, or for a number of reasons the potential competition won't or can't enter the market. It's far from certain that they'll have any interest, let alone every interest in taking care of me. The illusion of choice would just replace the imperfect application of power.

This is honestly a totally valid point, and I'm not going to pretend it's not. That the choices might be out there, but you might not be able to access them, for whatever reason - such as your Joe Miningtown example. It's a reasonable critique, particularly if you're looking for an ideal world which will take care of everyone. I could come up with things that could be done in response (trading labor for security, banding together, etc) but all of these things are going to be things that at least someone, somewhere, has no ability to access. If someone is friendless, resourceless, and without the particular talents that would aid them, they'd be just as SOL as a situation where the policeman is obliged to pretend to care about them but in fact does not.

Honestly, libertarianism has never come up with a great solution to "what happens to the least resourced of the poor." It's got great solutions for the able-bodied poor, or the charismatic poor, or the ninja Batman poor.. (alright, maybe not that last one) but it does not, in fact, guarantee that the ideal libertarian society will guarantee happiness for those people. The most hope it offers is that people will feel moved by compassion and offer charity - but as charity is often dependent on whim, it means the less attractive or the ones least willing to put up with patronizing attitudes are also going to be out of luck.

I think, perhaps cynically, that any society that promises everyone will be happy in it is selling something and not being as honest as they could be. Personally, that's one reason I'm actually attracted to libertarianism - because sure, it promises a rough and potentially dangerous life, but a clean one, free of violence and lies. It doesn't promise to take care of you. It promises you a fighting chance and the ability to make your own choices, and then washes its hands and says "Go with God."

I think a lot of people see this kind of attitude as "I don't care about people poorer than myself," but at least from my perspective, it's less that and more a prevailing cynicism about the nature of idealistic government dreams in the first place.

Also you are so wrong you don't even know that the correct phrasing is Wrongy Wrong McWrongerton, of the Clan Wrongsauce. Sheeesh.
posted by corb at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2013


(To focus on just one facet of this issue)
corb this is such an obvious problem to me that I'm sure some smart person has tried to address it, perhaps you can recommend some sources for me?

How do you envision a libertarian society dealing with the problems of monopolies?

Say your hypothetical libertarian paradise has a judicial mechanism in place that the most obvious anticompetetive tactic of brute force ("send in the Pinkertons and smash up the shop") wouldn't work. What about methods like buying up the entire supply of a commodity or deliberately selling something at a loss to force a smaller competitor with less cash reserves out of business (then once the competition is gone jacking up the price of course)? What about secretly buying up "competitors" and using them to advance the monopoly? In a hypothetical libertarian society where all modes of transit are privitized, what's to stop a monopoly from buying up a transit bottleneck, say the Panama Canal or a major highway, and refuse to allow competitors to use it (or charge them for the privilege)?

The common response to this I see is shifting the argument to the Milton Friedman line that almost all monopolies are built by exploiting goverment intervention but even if that were true (a point I don't concede) it doesn't address my question.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:10 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


...it's less that and more a prevailing cynicism about the nature of idealistic government dreams in the first place.

I do get that cynicism about idealism. Totally do.

I have both streaks in me: cynicism and idealism. In fact, I have postulated in the past that the most pessimistic people are former optimists who've had their hearts broken in some way.

At its heart, Libertarianism reacts to the very real traps of utopianistic thinking by saying, "Get rid of all of it! Level the playing field! Only then will we all be equal!" Which is a very understandable conclusion to come to.

The trap of that line of thought is that there are existent power blocs that, in the absence of government regulation, would happily behave in all sorts of sociopathic ways to make money (i.e. amass more power), to the ultimate enslavement of and doom of society. Real-world examples abound in this country, as mentioned above. There's a reason creepy people like the Koch Brothers contribute millions to Libertarian and anti-government organizations.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:12 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"because sure, it promises a rough and potentially dangerous life, but a clean one, free of violence and lies."

No, it doesn't.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on September 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


No, it doesn't.

Well, technically it does, for a few, for a while.

But the hierarchy (and structural violence implicit in such) is an inevitable emergent property of any propertarian (property = the essential unit of society) system. That's just maths.

Anarchism is a philosophy, an ideal, not a recipe.

I prefer to (try and) think of it as a razor, similar to Occam's: The more implicit and persistent hierarchy a solution to any given problem involves, the less it should be favoured; unless there are convincing arguments otherwise. Anarchism is best annealed with pragmatism. Sometimes hierarchy based solutions /are/ actually the best: Chomsky's kid running out into the road being one example, or a goose flying into an engine when you are taking off from St. Petersberg (for a more pop-culture reference).
posted by titus-g at 4:01 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


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