Libertarianism: Some Clarifications

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320 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    I may be the only libertarian in the world who mostly rejects all three of those sources as provenance of his libertarian beliefs.

    You’re not alone. Me (if I count as a libertarian) as well as some of the guys at Bleeding Heart Libertarians (whom I agree with a lot) come from a place different from the standard Nozick, Rand, Austrian triumvurate

    edit: You might want to call this Arizona School Libertarianism. It tends towards drawing from neoclassical or even mainstream neo-keynesian economics, public choice theory, and at the philosophical end draws from more consequentialist, prioritarian or even more explicitly Rawlsian philosophyReport

    • James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

      Two questions.

      1. Why the Arizona school (I’m more inclined to think of it as the George Mason school, although before William Riker passed away I might have called it the Rochester school). I’m not sure what the connection to Arizona is.

      2. Can new-keynesianism, public choice, and Rawls be a coherent enough combination to be called a school?Report

      • david in reply to James Hanley says:

        A note: New Keynesianism (Mankiw, Romer, Woodford…) is a very different beast from neo-Keynesianism (Hicks, Samuelson, Modigliani…).

        Both can imply a role for government that appeals to neoliberal instincts, however (interventionist in broad, macroeconomic strokes but refraining from micro-intervention).Report

      • I think New Keynesian, public choice and Rawls actually are pretty coherent when put together. Procedurally it’s kind of a scale argument, where you look at intervention on a societal level versus on a micro-economics scale and try to account for failures in the aggregate, rather than on a case by case basis.Report

      • Murali in reply to James Hanley says:

        The connection to Arizona is David Schmidtz who heads the philosophy department at University of Arizona and also the Freedom Centre. Guido Pinicione and Gerald Gaus are also there as well. Even Arneson may have some libertarian leanings (if I am not wrong). In addition, a good bunch of the guys over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians i.e. Matt Zwolinski, Jason Brennan and John Tomasi were acolytes of Schmidtz. Tomasi is also associated with the freedom centre. People previously associated with the centre are Zwolinski and Brennan as well as Kevin Vallier (also a frontpager at BHL) as well as Kyle Swan, who together with me and Chandran Kukathas (from LSE) are the most prominent Libertarians in the department of philosophy at NUSReport

    • James K in reply to Murali says:

      I’ve never read Nozik or Rand and have only passing familiarity with Austrian economics (save some of Hayek’s stuff). Hayek’s definitely an influence on me, but the others aren’t.Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    Do Libertarians Want to Eliminate Government?
    Some do.

    Well…maybe. It depends on how you define “government.” Most libertarian “anarchists” don’t actually want to eliminate government—they just want it to be provided by competing private firms.Report

  3. Brandon Berg says:

    Nozick: Rationally ignorant voters are an example of market failure due to the public good problem, since figuring out which candidate will be best for the country and voting for him means producing a public good with a very large public.

    I don’t think it’s accurate to call this market failure, since it’s not a market outcome. It’s a failure, certainly, but it’s a democratic failure, not a market failure.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I get your point, but I think Nozick’s point is not so much that this is a market, but that the political process fails for the same reason a market might fail, so that it’s inconsistent to worry about market failure while having faith in democratic processes.Report

  4. NewDealer says:

    What are libertarian stances on:

    1. Antitrust law.

    2. Tort law.

    In my view, both should be fully supported by Libertarians. Antitrust law protects that free market and competitive process by creating civil and criminal penalties for business practices that can amount to “unreasonable restraint on trade” such as horizontal price fixing and do not compete agreements.

    Tort Law also seems justifiable by a libertarian standards. Place a product on the market but if it injures people, be prepared to suffer the consequences.

    Yet many self-proclaimed libertarians seem to echo Republican talking points on antitrust and tort reform law. Is the free market to be protected or the ability of business to do as they please? These are not always compatible in my view.

    Likewise, I often hear many libertarians proclaiming the benefits of freedom of contract when it benefits the employer but they go quiet when the contract being broken is a pension fund with the employees.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


      I welcome other libertarians chiming in on this, but here’s my quick take.

      1. Anti-trust Law. I think most libertarians will not trust anti-trust law because they’ll see it as an unnecessary fraud. They will argue that contra conventional wisdom, the market does not tend to create monopolies, so anti-trust law is unnecessary and at least in most cases ultimately serves only to actually limit competition. E.g., if I sell something for a lower price than you, a libertarian would say I’m being competitive, while an anti-trust attorney would say I’m being anti-competitive (because I’m trying to drive you out of business).

      There’s an old joke about three guys sitting in a courtroom for hearings on anti-trust violations. They ask each other what they did, and the first guy says, “I charged less than my competition, so they charged me with predatory pricing.” The second guy said, “I charged more than my competition, so they charged me with price gouging, being a monopoly price-setter.” “Wow,” said the third guy, “I charged the same price as my competition, and they charged me with collusion.”

      That joke, in a nutshell, is pretty much the libertarian view of anti-trust law.

      But that doesn’t mean libertarians support monopolies; they’re just not persuaded that freely competitive markets really do lead to monopolies.

      2. Tort Law. Do you mean as in “You ran off the road and ran me over while I was watering my lawn?” I think most libertarians would favor it in general, although some of its manifestations they would dislike. Having a tendency to believe in individual responsibility, I’d guess–emphasize guess–most libertarians wouldn’t like strict liability rules, but would support a negligence-based standard.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

        Once again, I hit the wrong button and my new comment is a reply.

        I suppose my own cynicism about some aspects of human nature make me cynical towards libertarianism. I do see it as a utopian scheme and am firmly anti-utopian.

        I know a lot of tech-utopians. They think of all technological innovations as being inherently good and leading to happy shiny rainbow land. They love to talk about how automation and other stuff will free us from the soul-crushing nature of work and all humans will move on to loftier pursuits than figuring out where the rent is coming from. Amazon and the end of retail will lead to much better uses for land than retail stores, the free-for-all aspect of information on the Internet will lead to less taboo, etc.

        This is all bullshit. Automation is not bad per se but it does not always lead towards a life of leisure for everyone. Now I think we are seeing technological process make a lot of jobs redundant without new jobs being created. This is not leading to lofty pursuits but stagnant wages and a lot of Calvinist moralizing from the “Masters of the Universe”. I think that local shopping creates a viable sense of community and goods/services tailored towards the immediate needs and wants of the community instead of whatever the big box store has. The free-for-all information aspect of the Internet has not lead to tolerance, rather it has lead to more tribalism and a return of the stock and pillory.

        This is where my liberalism sounds suspiciously like conservatism. I think that economics is important, capitalism is good(ish) but needs to be backed with a healthy welfare state to make sure people do not live in misery, and people have a right to privacy,Report

        • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

          Tech-utopians are fishing nutters. That’s my two cents, anyway.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

            They laughed at Tesla, now everybody is using his power.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

              It isn’t so much that I mind the technological advances but I think tech-creators do not understand the changes wrought.

              Tech change is inevitable. I am not a luddite. But we need to be realistic about the fact that does currently seem to be producing wage staggnation, if not suppression, and more unemployment.

              There needs to be a solution and if that solution is the welfare state, so be it.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

              They laughed at Tesla, now everybody is using his power.

              Yeah, but I still laugh at his music.Report

          • A post scarcity society would, I think, be the closest you can bring to a libertarian ideal, really.

            Vulgar libertarians point to Star Trek and cry socialism, but the truth is with Replicators and cheap energy, the notion of material property rights is no longer an important basis for society and thus was voluntarily abolished as an important consideration.Report

            • greginak in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              Star Trek is a libertarian ideal in many ways.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

                A massive interstellar navy as the libertarian ideal? Maybe I interpreted Star Trek differently than you did. 😉Report

              • Federation Starfleet is really kind of small in comparison to the scale of the civilization we’re talking about.

                I think it’s more the society outside of Starfleet within the Federation that’s admirable. People are basically free to do whatever they want, so long as they’re not harming anyone else. Heck, crazy civilians are even allowed to take a ship and travel into Borg space.Report

              • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Federation citizens can live on Earth or the other advanced worlds which have eliminated need through high tech. They can go live with Ferengi’s, Klingon or whoever they want. They can find an empty planet and live by themselves or form a colony with who ever they want in whatever form they want. They can be Luddites in they want. Sea Steading…pah…that is nothing compared to having a planet, in or out of the Federation, all to your self. All that advanced tech leaves people with the ability try to maximise themselves in a society or to be so independent they don’t need anybody.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

            Though I will point out that my cynicism tends to be an equal-opportunity annoyer.

            I also often annoy my liberal friends by wondering about the sustainability or workability of stuff like etsy, kickstarter, the current DIY movement*, and large aspects of OWS**.

            *I like a lot of the products from the DIY movement but as New York Magazine wrote “people who make 10 dollar jars of jam are not the people who buy 10 dollar jars of jam.” There is an unsustainable/utopian aspect of the DIY movement that wants to turn everyone into artisan-yeoman who barter and trade for goods instead of using cash. This will not work.

            There is a likewise anti-realist aspect to OWS. I sympathize with there feelings and believe in more regulation for the financial industry but their pleas to transfer to “noble” credit unions are deaf to my ears. Also the grad school language they use sometimes is quite stupid. They have a similar barter and trade, commune utopianism that I find to be unworkable.

            I’m not sure what this says about my economics or political views except I perceive myself to be a realist. Whether others do or not is not for me to say. I’ve been told my views often come across as too cynical and pessimistic.Report

            • Simon K in reply to NewDealer says:

              Credit unions are a good deal, for the most part. But I don’t think they’re fundamentally very different from banks in their business practices. They may make somewhat less determined efforts to rip off the financially desperate/illiterate, but they’re still trying to make money for the depositor members in the end.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Simon K says:

                I don’t think they are bad.

                I just like the convenience of using a bank with ATMs across the country.

                Buying local can be good in many contexts but sometimes a national or global business can be good as well.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

                There’s a national network of credit union ATMs, so that just about wherever I go I get fee-free access; neither a charge by the local CU for using their ATM or my own CU for using someone else’s ATM.

                The only drawback is it takes a little more work to find a CU ATM than a bank one, but not necessarily more work than finding a specific bank’s ATM.Report

              • Simon K in reply to James Hanley says:

                My credit union actually refunds ATM fees, a trick that seems rare even with smaller banks in the US for some reason. Sadly they eventually limited to $3.00 a pop, but that at least covers most bank ATMs, if not the $15 a time fee you get for at rock festivals.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

                Those depositors are an entirely different animal than, say, the shareholders and board members of Citibank.

                As is the nature of their investments. Credit unions, by their very nature and charter, simply have a different approach than a bank. Well, than a modern mega-bank. I’d imagine it’s quite similar to local banks of 40 years ago.

                I note in passing that while I’ve been a member of two seperate credit unions, none of them tried to scam me in remotely the way Bank of America has. (I really, really hate Bank of America. But they ended up with my mortgage. It’s done wonders for me trying to pay it off early).

                Mostly, I’d imagine, because if they tried some of the crap Citibank or BoA has tried, their despositers would revolt.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Morat20 says:

                I’m not really sure why BofA has any depositors. I can only conclude that people are stupid. I’m not sure they’re typical, but then they’re the only US bank I’ve ever really dealt with.

                But the basic nature of a bank is to lend money to some people and use the profits to pay for money from other people in some form. Credit unions do the same thing. While their business practices may be preferable, there’s no fundamental difference. I know for a fact that my credit union tries to sell borrower’s loans they probably can’t afford and retirement products that are not really suitable for them, for example. They don’t spring random fees on people or have a universal default policy, but I’m not sure they’re totally on the side of the angels.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

                They bought the company that bought the company that bought the company I got my home loan through. I’m stuck with them unless I want to refinance.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

              I have mixed feelings about DIY. One the one hand, economic independence is the road to poverty, because none of us actually can do it all. On the other hand, I love doing stuff myself; being able to step back and say, “I did that.”

              As to your cynicism, I would just reiterate that if you’re cynical about human nature, you can’t avoid being cynical toward a government run by humans.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m not cynical on human nature. I believe in people. We will all do good things and bad things. Sometimes government institutions will do the right thing, other times not. Same with businesses and the market. I think all are necessary to balance each other out. I believe that government is a natural institution formed by people trying to avoid anarchy and misery. I am not an anarchist.

                I’m a mixed market kind of guy, more of a mid-century liberal like Hubert Humphry. Reasonable regulations that make sense and enough of a welfare state to give everyone basic decency and dignity. So yes for single-payer and healthcare, social security, Glass-Stegal , and public transportation. Having manicurists need licensing is silly. Having lawyers and doctors be licensed is not. Food trucks are good but they need to prove cleanliness.

                As to the DIY crowd, you are right that I basically think it resembles poverty. If people do not want to do office work that is fine, all the power to them. Just be realistic that we cannot all be DIY and as much as I like the iron, wood, and edison bulb aesthetic, it is not going to be around forever.

                I’m fully comfortable with the rational ignorance of being a good office worker and then allowing people with better taste buds and cooking skills make jam for me. Same with clothing and other goods.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

                I have a friend who has bees and collects honey. I like the idea of having bees and collecting honey. Last week he had a hive go crazy and swarm him, stinging him 9 times through his protective clothing. And I decided I really like the idea of trading him money or a hockey ticket for a jar of honey.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

                Pretty much.

                When I was in elementary school, we used to go to a place called Old Bethpage. Old Bethpage was a non-profit enactment of life in the early to mid 1800s. So you saw the hat maker, cheesemaker, and everyone bartering and trading. I will fix your window if you give me some cheese, etc.

                This is the kind of sustainablity that the DIY crowd wants but is impossible to achieve. Maybe you can have a few small towns here and there do this kind of stuff but nothing big. I’m a fan of big cities. New York could not survive on this model.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

                Though I suspect a lot of these views are tempermental and about psychology as much as anything else.

                I know a lot of people who think that the only way to combat inequity is by dropping out of the system entirely.

                I think I can be a lawyer, help do good, while still having a decent lifestyle.

                People in group one would probably consider me part of the problem. I consider people in group one to be wrong that their protesting helps do anything besides declare their own purity.Report

              • Johanley in reply to NewDealer says:

                I hear you.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

        I meant that but no a bigger scale. Pharma company puts a drug on the market for pregnant women. Said drug causes birth defects in children born to mothers who took the drug. Pharma company needs to pay up for the injuries caused.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

          Yeah, I’m on board with that. There’s a popular conception that libertarians would tend to jump off at that scale, saying caveat emptor. Truthfully, I just don’t know. There are enough nutters out there that maybe there is a sizable contingent that would oppose tort law in that case. If so, I rather regret their existence.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

            Probably unfairly, a lot of liberals tend to view libertarians as Republicans who like to smoke pot.

            This is not completely true of course. I admire Randy Balko’s journalism and work for civil liberties and against police brutailty. However, there are lots of libertarians that seem to have the basic adolescent “Let’s annoy the liberals” that some or many Republicans have. There was a libertarian law professor (not anyone at the Vololkh conspiracy” who once wrote on the comment section of his blog that he favored a policy “because it annoyed liberals.” Nothing about whether said policy was good or not, just a kind of 12 year old adolescent boy whose reason of existence is to piss off perceived authority figures. The whole nanny state troop is tiring but I prefer the freedom of minorities to fully participate in civil society than the freedom of bigots to act on their prejudices. I don’t profess the ability to change hearts and minds but there is the ability to prohibit discrimatory action.

            I found your response to Kazzy below to be very sincere and thoughtful at expressing limits to the Libertarian philosophy. Tim Lee is also good now and then at finding places where liberalism works best like funding the construction of subways. However, many libertarians seem to have very glib responses to every liberal concern.Report

  5. NewDealer says:

    I am on the anti-trust side. Note I currently work in anti-trust.

    I don’t think you see the old-fashioned trusts that you saw in the late 19th century but there is still plenty of firmly anti-competitive behavior and it can be one industry fixing prices against another industry. There are also market share issues.

    Suppose businesses in Industry X need widgets to make their product. Say that there are 6 companies around the world that make 75 percent of the world’s widgets. It is incredibly hard and expensive to break into the widget making industry because a widget factory costs hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and takes years to build. Very few people have the power to raise that kind of money or wait that long to make a factory. Those six companies or even two or three of them can engage in a lot of unscrupulous practices without and hurt the free market but not be a pure monopoly.

    I suppose my fall out with libertarians is that I am highly suspect of the idea that the market cures all or that market failure does not deserve correction by action. I’ve never been a fan of the wait and let things work out for themselves approach to things.

    As to your joke, I can’t give direct examples because of confidentiality rules but I have seen examples of blatant price-fixing among alleged competitors.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

      New Dealer,

      I don’t doubt price-fixing sometimes happens, but I think there’s a good chance our current anti-trust regime does more harm than good. That doesn’t mean it never does the right thing or that businesses never do bad things, just that on net the regime causes more harm than it fixes.

      There tends to be a real big gap here between anti-trust lawyers and economists. Anti-trust lawyers tend to see anti-competitive activities everywhere, while economists frequently scoff heartily at what they see as anti-trust lawyers’ incomplete understanding of economics.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to NewDealer says:

      “Those six companies or even two or three of them can engage in a lot of unscrupulous practices without and hurt the free market but not be a pure monopoly.”

      Which means, in free-market orthodoxy, that the price widgets were selling for was too low after all.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto says:

    In a nutshell, libertarians do admittedly to tend to overplay their hand on markets (note Friedman’s agreement on that), with many of them being much too quick to dismiss the existence of market failures. Unfortunately, the average libertarian is probably no better educated in economics than the average liberal or conservative. But libertarianism doesn’t require believing that markets are perfect. All that’s “core” belief for libertarians, is having more confidence in markets and less confidence in government than does the average liberal.

    The bolded strikes me as a big problem.

    This would be akin to someone subscribing to biblical inerrancy having not read the bible.

    Particularly of note is the example for monopolies. Natural monopolies are a basic function of microeconomics. Yet there’s a conceptual problem in believing that markets can produce monopoly outcomes and overreliance on claiming there must be a government protectionist racket.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      This would be akin to someone subscribing to biblical inerrancy having not read the bible.

      Which also happens all the time. And likewise with proponents of evolution who clearly don’t understand the theory they are propounding. And Keynesians who don’t get that tax cuts are an example of Keynesian stimulus.

      And on and on and on….Report

      • MikeSchilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        And Keynesians who don’t get that tax cuts are an example of Keynesian stimulus.

        And people who consider “Keynesian” a curse word with that same blind spot, of course.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        What Jason said. Sure, it’s a problem anywhere it occurs, including among “my” people.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I’m sure there must be Keynesians who believe tax cuts aren’t an example of Keynesian stimulus, but I haven’t met one. I have met a number who feel they tend to be inefficient stimulus with a low multiplier, which seems born out — at least given the US tax structure and the tax cuts passed during the Great Recession.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Morat20 says:

          Bingo. I’m one of the most leftist people on here, but even I understood why Obama extended the tax cuts another year (there was nothing else the GOP would stand for and otherwise boom goes the economy), but I’d prefer about 26 other things to boost the economy first over cutting taxes.

          But, if you have to make deals with a nihilistic death cult that holds a majority in one house of Congress….Report

    • James K in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Honestly, the only way to make sense out of the world is to understand that almost no one understands the beliefs they claim to hold.Report

  7. Shannon's Mouse says:

    Reason #7144 for Why I No Longer Consider Myself A Libertarian: That three guy anti-trust joke. It’s glib nonsense.

    A monopolist suddenly faced with upstart competition will temporarily engage in predatory pricing to kill the upstart. Otherwise they will price gouge.

    Firms that don’t have monopoly power will often find it in their best interests to collude rather than compete. There’s a pretty high-profile instance of this in the news right now, FFS.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

      A monopolist suddenly faced with upstart competition will temporarily engage in predatory pricing to kill the upstart. Otherwise they will price gouge.

      That’s one of those things the general public believes happens a lot, but economists tend to be dubious about.Report

      • Shannon's Mouse in reply to James Hanley says:

        I didn’t mean to imply it happens a lot. My comment was only meant to counter the implication in the “three guys” joke that anti-trust is a jumble of incoherent policy. Under certain circumstances it might make sense to lower prices or raise prices. I believe collusion happens more than price gouging happens more than predatory pricing. Upstart competitors will really only emerge if they offer something better/different than the dominant firm that doesn’t rely on competing on price.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

          Upstart competitors will really only emerge if they offer something better/different than the dominant firm that doesn’t rely on competing on price.

          And upstart competitors understand that, so predatory pricing rarely becomes an issue. The amazing thing is that if you look around, there are startups starting up all the time, even in our current economy, and even though the U.S. actually has a much lower rate of small businesses than we actually think we do. A bigger obstacle than GloboCorp is the courage (or craziness) required to start your own business.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

            I’d say the biggest impediment is “pre-existing condition”.Report

            • Rod in reply to Morat20 says:

              Yep. My wife had a kidney transplant 37 years ago and is now a cancer survivor. Our only health insurance option is a large-employer group plan. So I’m stuck as a wage slave, like it or not.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rod says:

                An only slightly more accurate description of your predicament would add that the government made things this way. By tying health insurance to employment through the tax system, it in effect guaranteed that there would be no other options for you.

                It amazes me, in this context, that people will still claim that taxes are a negligible infringement on individual liberty.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Are you freaking serious? What insurance company in it’s right mind would offer an individual policy to a cancer surviver with a donor kidney?

                It’s not “taxes” on the policy that makes it unaffordable — it’s the actual COST OF THE POLICY. Assuming you can get one at all.

                Hint: Insurance companies don’t want to offer people like that policies, because the odds of it costing them more than they get are way too high. Unless the government altered basic actuarial tables, they’re not involved in this.Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Morat20 says:

                If insurance were not tied to one’s job such that changing jobs means getting new insurance and getting rid of old insurance, but were instead something that you own for yourself, in perpetuity, then once you had insurance, you would be able to always keep it; you wouldn’t be able to change insurers, to be sure, but that’s a far smaller problem than being forced to choose between staying in the same job forever (and hoping to never get laid off) in order to keep insurance, and changing jobs but permanently losing insurance.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                I’m not persuaded by that, Mark. Unless you specifically bought an “in-perpetuity” policy, I think it would be easy for an insurer to drop you, just as my auto insurer can drop me if I have too many wrecks.

                I have to agree with Morat here. Although it could be argued that excluding pre-existing conditions is just insurers’ way of battling back against the adverse selection problem, so that they’re justified in doing so, it still remains the case that their incentive is to do do.Report

              • I’m not at all certain about this, actually- an insurer wouldn’t be able to just drop you the second you got a condition that would be expensive to treat- that would defeat the entire purpose of insurance, right?

                If you’ve become diagnosed with a chronic condition, then the insurer similarly would not be able to just drop you without first agreeing to pay the full costs of that chronic condition. The only way around this would be for insurers to offer policies that don’t cover chronic conditions at all, which I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy (and, FWIW, I can’t imagine an individual insurance system in which regulations don’t require such coverage).Report

              • Simon K in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                John Cochrane proposed a structure in which health insurers sell term limited policies, but there is a separate market in premium insurance, such that individuals get a large lump sum if their primary health insurance premium ever rises above a certain level. I think he’s thinking of the primary health insurance being high-deductible insurance for actually random events, rather than the fee-for-medical-service arrangement we have now.

                It seems like this would work – the primary health insurance becomes like auto insurance, with a normally distributed payout when something bad happens. The premium support insurance is basically like like insurance or catastrophic injury insurances – a long term thing that eventually pays a very large lump sum with a pretty high degree of predictability after a long time, but may have to pay up much sooner.

                The only place I see that this would fail is with treatable conditions that are predictable, eg. because they’re environmental or genetic in nature.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                That’s a naive view. Dropping you the minute you start filing expensive claims is an excellent way to increase shareholder value!

                The purpose of an insurance company is to take more money from you than they spend. As much more as possible. In an ideal world, you’d pay until you were 90, never get sick, and die instantly from a meteorite strike. Such a person is the ‘ideal customer’.

                However, you’re right. The insurer can’t drop you for developing an expensive illness that’s covered. Instead, they’d drop you because….you didn’t tell them you saw a doctor for acne when you were 15. Totally unrelated to that cancer you just came down with, it’s just they were reviewing your paperwork to process that chemo claim and, gosh darnit, you didn’t dot some i’s.

                Good luck with the cancer, we won’t know, because we’re canceling your policy.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Morat20 says:

                “What insurance company in it’s right mind would offer an individual policy to a cancer surviver with a donor kidney?”

                If you know what your healthcare needs are going to be, then why do you need insurance? Why not just get money?Report

              • Rod in reply to DensityDuck says:

                It’s not that you know in advance that you’re going to spend X. It’s that you have a much greater likelihood of spending large, unknown, amounts.

                Being a transplant patient means that you have to take immune-suppressant therapy for the rest of your life. The pills are relatively cheap (at least the ones my wife takes, generic) but it makes you more vulnerable to any and every damn bug that comes your way. She gets sick more often and when she does it takes her longer to recover; a one-day flu for me will put her down for several days. And then there’s the fact that your immune system also protects you against cancer so there’s a good chance that her ovarian cancer was a consequence as well.

                She’s been lucky overall. No rejection episodes, which are statistically very common and to go 27 years without one is really rare, and she’s had a fairly normal life overall, even giving birth to two kids. But any insurance company is going to look at her and say “Not just no, but HELL NO.” And that’s perfectly rational on their part.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’ve never understood what law it is that prevents insurance companies from offering non-employment-based group health plans.Report

            • Johanley in reply to Morat20 says:

              Morat, without in any way trying to diss you, I disagree. Not to downplay the problem for people with pre-existing conditions, but most people don’t have one and some who do don’t have health insurance already. No doubt that is a serious roadblock for some real live individuals who would otherwise go off on their own, but I think for most it’s a matter of courage, or if that sounds too disparaging, not having an entrepreneurial spirit.

              And that’s really not being pejorative, since it’s something both my wife and I lack, like so many others.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Johanley says:

                Morat, that comment above is actually me.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                No offense, but you’re not as interesting as I had started to imagine.Report

              • Johanna in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Gee thanks…..maybeReport

              • Morat20 in reply to Johanley says:

                Epilepsy here — haven’t had a seizure in 15 years. I can’t get individual insurance, or couldn’t. Also have a genetic propensity to blood clotting disorders.

                My wife? PCOS — controlled or not, her risk of diabeties and heart attacks are too high.

                My friend? asthma, of all things.

                Prior to the ACA, even if we could afford insurance that would cover our most likely catastrophic medical bills, actually getting them to pay would lead to recission attempts.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

                Again, I agree it’s a real issue. I just don’t think it’s the most common roadblock to entrepreneurship.Report

              • clawback in reply to James Hanley says:

                Some would say it’s the marginal incentives that matter. Or at least they do when we’re talking about taxes.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

                I cannot start a small business, because I cannot get health insurance outside of a large business.

                I am not alone. I am not uncommon. We can quibble about “most common”, but to claim “I work here because I need the insurance” isn’t a common facet of many, many American lives is just a denial of reality.

                And that’s not “government regulations” or “tax breaks”. It’s because insurance companies, smartly, won’t issue insurance to people like myself without pooling.Report

    • I’m familiar enough with the game theory of competition to tell you that predatory pricing just doesn’t work. If a gap in the market exits, people will keep trying to fill it. The only way to stop them is to keep prices low permanently, in which case the monopolist can no longer profit from their monopoly.

      Now a theory isn’t enough for me to conclude it can never happen, but you have to consider how predatory pricing and anti-dumping laws (which are just the same thing across national borders) can be misused. An incumbent accused an entrant from another industry or country from driving down pries unfairly, and in doing so protect themselves from competition. I’m not saying antitrust should be scrapped by but predatory pricing regulations in particular are a bad idea.Report

  8. wardsmith says:

    James, I haven’t studied your OP in the depth it deserves but congratulate you on the effort. Too many comment threads have bogged down in, “your side thinks this”, “No it doesn’t”, “Yes it does” etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    Re: your penultimate paragraph. Why not have someone in the commentariat provide their /own/ definitions of Liberal and (someone else) Conservative? I had started something along this line attempting to define all three myself but quickly came to the realization that I would most likely be offending all of them instead of achieving my intended goal of, as you have I believe, clearing the air and sweeping aside generalizations. Ultimately it comes down to standing. Only a Libertarian has standing to define same and therefore only a Liberal and Conservative have standing to define their ground. Since you already defined Libertarian my work is already done. 😉Report

  9. Jason Kuznicki says:

    The really great advance that Nozick made in thinking about utopia is to take the idea of out of the realm of pattern and into the realm of process.

    He freely admits — and I’ve freely drawn on — the fact that no one knows what utopia is like. The best we can do is to set up social structures that allow for the easy formation (and exit from) voluntary communities. Incentives will lead to improvement in these communities, but there is no reason to think that the process will ever stabilize.

    This is akin to his theory of distributive justice, which likewise values process over pattern, and even his theory of state formation, which again is a process rather than an agreement on a pattern. He might have better titled the book Pattern and Process, bringing out the less-than-obvious theme that unites the three sections of the book.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    Question: How do libertarians suggest addressing the historically egregious denial of basic rights to groups such as African-Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese-Americans? Some of the fundamental rights most championed by libertarians were denied those groups in a way that still resonates today. How, if at all, can or should these be corrected for?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      A quick and easy way is to point out that the biggest and egregiousest denial of basic rights were written into law by the legislature, signed by the executive, and upheld by the courts. How this is turned into an argument criticizing Libertarianism rather than the regular abuse of power by government is something that rarely makes much sense to me.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        Please don’t read my question as a criticism of libertarianism. Far from it! Had libertarians truly had their way, as James notes below, there would have been no denial of rights. My question is a question and nothing more… If Libertarians were to rule the country (is that an oxymoron of some kind?) and Native Americans or African-Americans or Japanese-Americans were to stand up and say, “Hey, you know all that rights stuff your pushing now? What about us,” how would libertarians respond?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          First off, I’d ask for clarification. “What do you mean by ‘what about us’?”

          If they mean “we require damages for pain/suffering under the old regime!”, at the very least we should sit down at the table and ask what they think would be appropriate.

          Are we talking a cash payment? Ancestral land returned? 50 particular people hung from lampposts until the rope breaks?

          There are some things where an accommodation can be reached.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            I’m not pretending to know the answer. But less than pain and suffering, how about return of that which was taken, be it land or property or time value of labor? I’d start the conversation there. I just wonder if libertarians will join in.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

              You’re willing to go back to Europe and give clear title to all land between Reboboth Beach and Big Sur to the Navajo, Cherokee, Iroquois, etc?Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

              One problem with reparations is that the taxpayers are in most cases wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. Most of the actual offenders are either dead or retired and not particularly wealthy, so we can’t get them to pay up. No matter what you do, someone’s going to get screwed over. That said, when there’s a strong case for reparations, it seems fair to spread out the screwed-overness rather than leaving it concentrated with the victims.

              Japanese Americans actually were compensated, both for the internment and for confiscated property. $20,000 after 40 years strikes me as inadequate, and I wouldn’t be opposed to paying more to the actual survivors.

              I am in general opposed to reparations for heirs, especially when they’re more than one generation removed from the actual victims. We all have ancestors who were victims of something or other at some point in history. If these wrongs could be compensated costlessly, or at the expense of actual wrongdoers, I’d be on board with that. But when we’re talking about taking money away from people who actually earned it and giving to certain people just because their ancestors were wronged, that strikes me as doing more harm than good.

              So while I’m not on board with reparations for slavery or the crimes against aboriginal people, I do think it would be fair to compensate eldery southern blacks for the treatment they received under Jim Crow.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I actually think aboriginal people have some of the strongest claims against the government. There are several specific treaties that were outright violated with little or no compensation. The tribes can point to specific legal documents, giving them what would seem to be a strong legal case.

                I would disagree that we have yet reached a point where we can say, “You are no longer victims,” especially if we look at prolonged actions like Jim Crow. For a long time, blacks couldn’t attend quality schools or own property. That has an impact on the gap between white and black educational achievements or white and black property ownership. The likelihood of attending college or owning property is much higher if your parents did. While I do think there does exist a point where you can say, “Enough time has elapsed,” I’m not sure if we are there yet. Of course, that is in part because of (both government and non-governmental) policies that might not have been necessarily and explicitly racist, but were just as effective at being racist. These, admittedly, are the harder, perhaps impossible ones, to account for.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                actually think aboriginal people have some of the strongest claims against the government. There are several specific treaties that were outright violated with little or no compensation.

                Again, we all have ancestors who got screwed over at some point. Unless they can show that they, personally, have been wronged as individuals, I don’t think it’s fair to take money from taxpayers who earned it to give it to people whose ancestors were harmed (actually, we already do this via programs like the IHS).

                Also, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that British colonization of the US and Canada has been a net benefit for the descendants of the aboriginal people. We can’t run a controlled experiment, of course, but outside of Europe, only Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have successfully reached first-world status without having been long-term British colonies, so the odds weren’t good.

                The likelihood of attending college or owning property is much higher if your parents did.

                A lot of this appears to be driven by genetics and/or cultural factors rather than by any economic advantage conferred.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                “A lot of this appears to be driven by genetics and/or cultural factors rather than by any economic advantage conferred.”


              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                For starters, check out this review of Susan Mayer’s What Money Can’t Buy, which summarizes the major findings.

                Really, though, it’s on the people making claims based on the correlation between parental income and children’s success to do basic due diligence and control for obvious confounding factors like the heritability of cognitive skills and personality characteristics. The raw correlation doesn’t really tell us anything interesting.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Do you believe that inheritable intelligence is distributed equally amongst/across the races?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised either way.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, isn’t the argument that the gap between blacks and whites in home ownership and college graduation is, in part, attributable to genetics predicated upon some gap in heritable cognitive skills? If heritable cognitive skills are equally distributed, than what relevance does it have to the conversation?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                I had actually gotten sidetracked and was talking about the correlation between parently income and their children’s achievements generally, rather than specifically in terms of the racial gap.

                As for the racial achievement gap, cultural factors are one possible non-genetic explanation. Culture is inheritable in the broad sense, but I assume that you were asking about genetics, and peer groups exert at least as much cultural influence as parents, so that portion at least isn’t heritable.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to Kazzy says:

                Brandon beat me to it, but I was going to say, regardless of the genetics passed on, you still have the culture problem. If we gave back everything we took from the Native Americans, the effect for most would be temporary. They wouldn’t know what to do with the money. They’d be fleeced. It would take generations to change the culture problem or things we’re not willing to do, or both. That’s an extreme example, but if Project Mayhem worked, what came after would not be what we’d think of as equitable.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think all of those factors are in play. I think they are exacerbated by historical discrimination (both explicit and implicit). There is a lot of chicken-and-egg. Do certain cultural groups put less emphasis on home ownership because there is something about that culture that simply doesn’t value it? Or did the culture adapt that aspect because home ownership simply wasn’t a reality for much of its development? Probably both/and. And if we’re speaking specifically about African-Americans, I think we also need to be mindful of the fact that black culture (nor any other race-based culture) is not monolithic. Rural blacks in the Hampton Roads have some distinct differences from urban blacks in Compton. One of the prime unifying experiences is which systemic discrimination. Which is why I struggle to attribute all or even most to culture.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Mr Blue, as I just said, how much of that culture is directly informed by their experiences as a discriminated group? Ideally we wouldn’t simply go Project Mayhem and hand them all the money and the keys to the city. Ideally, we’d go back in time and negotiate with them in good faith. Obviously, that’s not possible.

                Or is it…?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Making a really crass analogy, it’s sort of like saying we should just keep eating cows without question because if we let all the cows go, they’d be picked apart by wolves within days anyway. Well, yes, but largely because of what we did to cows. They were doing pretty well before we domesticated them.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not sure saying disadvantaged groups suffer from bad culture really speaks either way to the question of reparations. Having people show up and take your stuff using a variety of tricks you’re not really prepared for does mess with your culture. As does being kidnapped, sailed across the atlantic and forced to pick cotton with other people you can’t even communicate with.

                I don’t think I’m in favor of reparations as such, but there’s certainly some kind of responsibility to at least not continue to put these groups at a disadvantage.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to Kazzy says:


                Not disagreein’, really. As our good friend Trumwill says, no culture wakes up one day and decides to be deficient or counterproductive. It’s all tied up in response to what happened before and what’s happening now. To look back and Native Americans for a sec, is there any doubt that they are where we put them, culturally as well as geographically? Maybe they coulda just risen above, but that’s a hell of a lot to expect of anybody.

                While all of that is relevant to the justice of reparations or a reset, it doesn’t say much to the practicality of it. Even if whites are 100% responsible for where they are culturally, that doesn’t change what happens next, if what happens next is what I think happens next. Flash forward a decade or two, money is mostly back in the hands of the people who have it now, then what? Then we’re right back where we started. We can still blame it on the cultural box we put them in, and it would still have a similar amount of truth to what it does now.

                Hell if I know what we should do about past injustices. In case you can’t tell, I sometimes have a bit of a nihilist streak about me.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                “According to one study of black families, (Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925), ‘Five out of six children under the age of six lived with both parents.’ That study also found that in Harlem between 1905 and 1925, that only 3 percent of all families were headed by a woman under thirty and 85 percent of black children lived in two-parent families.

                The question raised by these historical facts is: if what we see today in many black neighborhoods, as claimed by reparation advocates, are the vestiges and legacies of slavery, how come that social pathology wasn’t much worse when blacks were just two or three generations out of slavery? Might it be that slavery’s legacy and vestiges have a way, like diabetes, of skipping generations? In other words, for example, that devastating 70 percent rate of black illegitimacy simply skipped six generations; it’s a delayed effect of slavery….”


              • Mr. Blue in reply to Kazzy says:


                As our culture shifted, the dissolution of family had different impacts on different groups. Changes in the economy, economic policy, criminal justice policy, the sexual revolution, and all that had unequal impact. It could easily be said that within these waves struck, slavery and racism and Jim Crow simply made blacks more vulnerable to the tide. They were closer to the edge.

                That doesn’t explain everything. It’s still not easy to separate 100 years of slavery and another 100 of hostility to where their culture ended up. There may be some uncomfortable questions about what role our social policy played in it, but it’s pretty hard to leave it at that.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                Few are aware of Herbert Gutman’s work on the black family: As recently as 1950, marriage and employment rates were very similar regardless of race.

                This should come as good news, not bad, that the “cultural dislocations” are not 400 years old but more like 60—
                Gutman’s work can be a more coherent starting point for figuring what the hell happened than is the Middle Passage.

                [Middle passage = the slave trade]Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Mr. Blue-

                Sound points. Which is why, at best, I’m a soft and squishy supporter of addressing past injusticies, stopping short of full-blow reparations. I think it is an important conversation to have, especially for an ideology predicated upon defense of individual freedom, property rights, etc. Realistically any attempt to truly address marginalized groups/”deficient cultures”/what-have-you needs to happen on a variety of levels. Which is why it is so unlikely to happen.

                And, yes, I do think there is a place for a conversation on what Black Americans or Native Americans have to do to get their house in order. I just feel those conversations should happen first and foremost within those communities. They don’t need a white guy like mee preaching from on high when they haven’t asked for it. So the extent to which that is absent from my argument is based on my feelings on the place and time of that conversation, not on the need for it. I’m more concerned with white folks getting our own house in order, as it is far from spotless on this or other matters.Report

              • Johanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Brandon, I think, has a very representative libertarian approach here, and reveals the essential tension. An agreement that wrongs were done, but also an awareness that both the perpetrators and the direct victims are long gone.

                Should we return land to tribe X? We don’t actually know that the direct victims’ current descendants would still hold that land if it hadn’t been stolen, or that they would be benefiting from any money (great) grandpa made off its sale. Anytime we start thinking in terms of groups rather than individuals things get squishy. But I don’t think it’s any mystery why liberals find that unsatisfactory, because there are in fact individuals today whose troubled position can be traced back to what happened a century and a half ago.

                That said, I’m all for reinstatement of broken treaties. But that will affect lots of innocent landowners today, so it would need to be done with an eye toward not harming them. It would be expensive as hell, but a combination of eminent domain and renegotiation of the treaties could accomplish it. Political will/pressure is the sticking point.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Johanley says:

                The comment bore is actually from me.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Uhm, above, not bore. Although I worry about how accurate “comment bore” might be.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Johanley says:

                The U.S. government is currently holding a lot of money in trust for the Crow or the Sioux (I can’t remember which) over the Black Mountains in South Dakota.

                The tribe does not want the money. They want their ancestral lands back from the Federal government.

                This is also true of Native American artifacts in museums. The tribes don’t want money for the artifacts. They want their history and culture back. There is a federal law dealing with Native American tribes being able to reclaim their artifacts back.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

      Good question. Tough question. Libertarians find it pretty easy to say what should have happened in the first place; i.e., no denial of rights. But they tend not to have compelling solutions to the compensation issue. Rather, they tend to jump from the atrocities of the past to a “here’s what we should do to make things work well for future generations” outlook, without a good “what do we do right here right now for the actual victims?” At least that’s my take, and I don’t blame liberals for being frustrated by that response.Report

      • North in reply to James Hanley says:

        Yes I’ve noticed that. Libertarianism is very much a forward facing ideology. “Assume” they say “that we’re all starting out equal. This (libertarianism) is the most effective way forward.”

        “But,” the liberals will cry, “this group or that group or this minority aren’t equal. They were forced and frauded to the nines and the scars of those crimes have shattered their societies and sent devastating cascading effects on them through generations!”

        Then the conservatives sneer something about identity politics and class warfare (and allude to genetics when they’re feeling especially nasty). The libertarians either look uncomfortable or hoot in agreement, then the liberals lose their temper pick up their well worn (overused likely) bigot and racist beat sticks and things go downhill from there.

        All that being said ideologies that face forward are still pretty useful things.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to North says:

          Hayek’s criticism of conservatives was pretty much that they were only backward looking, and let themselves get dragged along by liberals/progressives–anything in their rear-view mirror they tended to accept, even though once upon a time they would have rejected it because it wasn’t (yet) in their rear-view mirror.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to North says:

          This is a good summation. And I have no problem with forward-thinking ideologies. In fact, I would tend to favor them over backward facing one. I just think there are some very specific grievances that have yet to be addressed. And I’m not talking about abstract, impossible to prove ones like “The War on Drugs is really the War on Blacks”. I’m talking very specific instances that can be documented. One of my critiques of what is often put out there as libertarian philosophy is that they are willing to look backwards, but often only so far and for certain people. However, I am more than happy to leave those folks out of the conversation.

          I have often said that I would have few qualms with a “libertarian reset”. Everyone gets X acres of land, Y dollars, and goes on their merry ways. If you manage to acquire 5X land and 10Y dollars through legitimate means, good for you! If a particular race or group of people all somehow manage to squander away their resources and assume a marginalized roll in society… well, that’s unfortunate but there is only so much that can be done. But no one I’ve seen proposes that. They want libertarian rules going forward after centuries of very non-libertarian rules. And while many libertarians hold themselves up as the true victims of our non-libertarian social/political/economic structure, their struggles often pale in comparison to the aforementioned groups. Which just leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. That and the fact that many (though more often conservatives than libertarians) tend to argue that we already pushed an “equality reset” button after the Civil War or during Reconstruction or in the 1960 or in November 2008 or whatever other day they claimed we became colorblind/postracial/reverseracist.

          (Sorry, got a bit ranty there, with little of it meant as legitimate critiques of libertarianism and none of it aimed at James. Really, I could get behind libertarianism much more confidently if there was SOME way (even if it was less-than-perfect) of addressing the past. And lord knows that is exactly what Hanley wants… me on his side!)Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

            “And while many libertarians hold themselves up as the true victims of our non-libertarian social/political/economic structure, their struggles often pale in comparison to the aforementioned groups.”

            I should clean this up. My point is that non-libertarian elements of our political/social/economic structures work against the interests of vast swaths of society. Folks that tend to identify as libertarian likely have had fewer of their interest violated than other groups if we look at a long enough timeline. Which doesn’t make their objections any less legitimate… but a bit of perspective is in order.Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

              Folks that tend to identify as libertarian likely have had fewer of their interest violated than other groups if we look at a long enough timeline.

              I believe that homosexuals and Jews are both pretty strongly overrepresented in the libertarian movement, but I can’t find a source for this at the moment.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

            Everyone gets X acres of land, Y dollars, and goes on their merry ways.

            Serious question: If someone immigrates after the reset, do they get X acres of land and Y dollars? Why or why not?

            As I’ve said before, I do wonder how different things might look if the immigrants had gotten the forty acres and a mule. I wish I could find it, but compensation to the tribes indicated that there was some difference. What would have happened if the former slaves had been given economic power?

            (At the risk of being a Confederate Flag Waver, I also wonder what would have happened if more effort had been made to industrialize more of the south, an actual reconstruction, after the war. A lot of influential southerners – the ones that owned land and didn’t want any sort of social restructuring from the order they were on top of – and a lot of influential northerners – who were just fine with a completely uncompetitive south – made sure this didn’t happen, but I wonder what might have happened if it had.)Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

              “Serious question: If someone immigrates after the reset, do they get X acres of land and Y dollars? Why or why not?”

              Well, that would be physically impossible unless a reserve was kept and/or currency constantly devalued. I suppose an argument could be made saying, “You immigrate here will full rights and freedoms but bring with you that which you have.” If people are fully informed of this before entering, I don’t necessarily see a problem with it.Report

              • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Unless the Great Reset was completed with perfect laws ( an impossiblity we would all agree) it itself will have groups that have system based advantages and disadvantages. How do we correct the problems with the Great Reset? What happens to the people who got a raw deal in the Great Reset?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

                What problems do you mean?Report

            • North in reply to Will Truman says:

              Will as I understand it (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) the basic climate itself in the south was a significant impediment to industrialization. It’s only with the development of inexpensive climate controlled buildings that industry has taken off in the hot climes.Report

          • b-psycho in reply to Kazzy says:

            Your mention of the problem with enshrining prior accumulation as legit reminds me of something:

            The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

            Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

            -Karl Hess, writing in The Libertarian Forum, 1969

            Unfortunately since then the willy nilly defense has become all too common. That “No more robbery starting…now!” lacks appeal is no shock in light of this.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to b-psycho says:

              Wow. Yea, that just about sums it up. Hess nailed it.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:


                My answer is that the sooner we shift from destructive zero sum redistribution games to positive sum creation games the better. The dynamic of zero sum games is brutal and self amplifies destruction and waste.

                My silly answer is that since only non libertarians would steal and enslave people. That non libertarians should all be assessed a fine and then they can argue who gets what out of it.

                By the way everyone in my family that came from repressed people thinks the idea is laughable. “what good would come of that?” is the usual response.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                I should say I’m not necessarily arguing for reparations or that the lackthereof dooms libertarianism. I am, at times, a soft and squishy supporter of some form of rectifying or accounting for the sins of the past, though will concede I have yet to see or devise a truly satisfactory model. And I’m okay with libertarianism lacking this or thoroughly considering the proposition and rejecting it. The problem I have is when the conversation is never even engaged. It often seems to border on a real-life manifestation of the FYIGM caricature.Report

              • Jason M. in reply to Roger says:

                How do square your positive sum creation ideal with the zero-sum reality of property? John Schnatter, the Papa John’s founder, held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney at his lakefront estate, and Romney alluded to it in his speech:

                “You know if a Democrat were here he’d look around and say no one should live like this, you know? Republicans come here and say everyone should live like this, all right. This is a real tribute to America, to entrepreneurship.”

                Of course this is impossible, because there are a limited number of lakefront properties here on planet Earth. Capitalism can create new wealth, but it can’t create new land. Technology has not yet rendered land irrelevant to food-consuming, shelter-seeking hairless apes like us.Report

              • Rod in reply to Jason M. says:

                That’s why I’m a Georgist.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Rod says:

                Really? Because that’s awesome. Now we just need to find a wobbly and we’ll have the full set.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jason M. says:

                I would not deny most things are scarce.

                If we design the competition and cooperation properly we can build systems where people are expected to create value for others to attain the wealth necessary to bid for scarce resources.

                In free enterprise you specialize in solving problems for others that they mutually agree to exchange something else for. Everyone directly involved wins.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

            I have often said that I would have few qualms with a “libertarian reset”. Everyone gets X acres of land, Y dollars, and goes on their merry ways.

            I strongly suspect that if actually carried out, this would lead to the decimation of our economy’s capital stock, resulting in a permanent downward deviation from the GDP trend line, and that it would have no permanent effect on the shape of the Gini curve.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              English please! 🙂Report

              • Simon K in reply to Kazzy says:

                Most wealth is not either land or dollars, but accumulated capital. Built stuff. Buildings, machinery, cars, railways, transmission lines, roads, networks, computers, and so on. The steady accumulation of capital is the primary cause of economic growth. If you simply shared out all the money and land, even if you then somehow also allocated the capital, you’d find it was not used efficiently and possibly even destroyed. This has happened, eg. in Zimbabwe when they started confiscating stuff from whites and in the former soviet union when they “privatized” much of their state run infrastructure. This would devastate economic growth.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Simon K says:

                Oh… sure. Yes, my plan would also distribute all forms of capital and property. And most assuredly would be disastrous. If you gave everyone exactly one railroad tie, the likelihood of having a functioning rail system would appear to be nil. My broader point, as expressed in the Hess quote offered by bpscyho, is that libertarian ideology seems to work much better starting from a point of relative equality grounded in libertarian philosophy. We don’t have that. Libertopia has its appeal. But how do we get there from here?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Simon K says:

                Actually, the model I had in mind is that you would distribute wealth in the form of cash and stock. What would happen, though, is that individuals with high time preference would sell their stock and use it to buy consumer goods. The spike in demand for consumer goods would drive a shift in production towards more consumer goods and fewer capital goods. Consequently, there wouldn’t be enough investment to replace physical capital as it broke down or became obsolete.

                Eventually we’d end back up with a distribution of income that looks an awful lot like the one we have now (though not all the same people would be rich), except we’d all be poorer, or at least poorer than we would have been if we hadn’t done the mass redistribution.Report

  11. trizzlor says:

    I would be interested in what libertarians think about confronting market failure. Is there ever a situation where market failure justifies state action? How do we know if the conditions for state action have been met? How do we know if government has done too much or too little?Report

    • James Hanley in reply to trizzlor says:

      1. Is there ever a situation where market failure justifies state action?

      For some libertarians, no. Some foolishly believe there’s no such thing as market failure. Others hold to the non-coercion principle so strongly that they don’t think anything justifies granting anyone a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, or, perhaps more correctly, that the concept of the legitimate use of violence is a non-sequitur.

      But for libertarianism more generally, yes, there are situations where market failure justifies state action.

      2. How do we know if the conditions for state action have been met?

      Heh, about the same way liberals and conservatives do? That at certain points it doesn’t feel right to us and at others it does? Theoretically I would argue that it’s when government cannot only ameliorate the market failure but can also avoid a government failure that creates an outcome as bad or worse than the situation under the market failure. But measuring that precisely is essentially impossible, so we go with intuition, most likely. All of us, libertarians, liberals, and conservatives. But libertarians and liberals tend to interpret the cost of the market failure and the net benefit of government action very differently.

      3. How do we know if government has done too much or too little?

      If it acts, it’s done too much. It can never do too little. No, just kidding! Of course you can find libertarians who would say that’s no joke. Truthfully, though, that’s a heavy question. Speaking very vaguely, I would say that if it limits liberty too much or perverts the proper functioning of the market too much, then it’s done too much. But then we’re back to that difficult issue of measurement and interpretation. For me, at least, it’s generally a case-by-case analysis, although some broad classes of actions are probably definitionally off-limits, like arbitrary and capricious bureaucratic decision-making, express discrimination based on inappropriate characteristics, damn near any kind of corporate subsidy. In some of that we obviously overlap with liberals, so I’m not trying to claim those solely for us libertarians.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to James Hanley says:

        Thanks for the explanation, James, though I think this implies too much that liberals and libertarians have the same first principles but merely differ in their preferred solutions.

        I feel that one unique first principle that liberals have is the belief that a voluntary exchange can still be coercive (and therefore require state action). Some examples: workplace sexual harassment (“sleep with me or you’re fired”); voluntary sweatshop labor; private businesses engaging in racial discrimination. Some liberals call these things market failures and try to justify state action based on libertarian grounds, but I think libertarians disagree. In short, can a voluntary exchange still be coercive? Does the state have a role to play in regulating any voluntary exchange?Report

        • Simon K in reply to trizzlor says:

          Whether apparently-involuntary exchange can be coercive is certainly a point of disagreement between liberals and libertarians, but its not necessarily a difference of first principals. Some libertarians, certainly, would rule out the possibility a priori just because by definition nothing other than force or fraud can be coercive.. That’s not James’s position and its not mine (although I’m a libertarianish liberal, not really a libertarian), though, and I don’t think its very interesting.

          What’s more interesting is where libertarians and liberals who are both generally some-kind-of-utilitarian in their thinking disagree about this. That disagreement comes about because we’re applying the same general principals to different mental pictures of what’s going on.

          When the libertarian pictures say, racial discrimination, he’s likely to think about in terms of a single, small, business owner who wants to hire people with particular cultural attributes, or wants to project a certain image, or merely is prejudiced. He’s also likely to think about it in the context of a vibrant market economy where jobs are not scarce and prejudice is not widespread, so there’s considerable incentive and no cost to others hiring the person discriminated against. He’s likely to conclude that the business owner, even though he may be doing wrong, is likely harming only himself.

          When a liberal thinks of racial discrimination, he’s like to think instead of a setting in which racial discrimination is systemic even if not legally sanctioned, one where people of discriminated-against races tend not to mix much with the more priveleged. He’s also likely to think of a context where jobs are scarce and getting them is difficult. In this context, it might be hard for even a merely self-interested business owner not to discriminate, and its clear those discriminated against do suffer harm.

          Faced with the libertarian’s scenario, the liberal is likely to decry it as unrealistic. Faced with the liberal’s scenario, the libertarian is likely to complain its not the fault of the individual business owner if his society is crappy. They both have a point, but they’rev not actually operating from different priors, merely different assumptions about context.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Simon K says:

            That’s a good description. In 1964, the United States was the latter, which is why the libertarian criticism of the CRA rings so hollow.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              That’s true, of course, and there’s a regrettable history in the US of using libertarian ideas out of context to justify conservative or downright reactionary positions. Personally I think you can make a perfectly good libertarian (albeit anarchist) case against segregation even if its based purely on private property owner’s activities, but I’m apparently more or less alone in thinking that.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Simon K says:

                Perhaps this is a bit too utilitarian, but doesn’t the freedom to discriminate in hiring have to be balanced against the freedom to pursue employment? No one has a right to employment, but surely everyone has a right to seek employment, no? Indulging absurd hypotheticals, suppose every business owner opted not to hire blacks. A law prohibiting this would impose on these business owners’ right to be racist or whatever it is called. But their collective exercising of that right would impose on the rights of black people to seek employment. A rights conflict if there ever was one. It seems obvious to me that the harm done to one side grossly outweighs that done to the other. But perhaps that is just my own bias/blinders at play.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Here’s some tension that I see. If I have a building storefront that I want to lease, I shouldn’t be able to discriminate against whomever wants to rent my storefront. The only thing that matters is whether I get my deposit and whether I get my monthly rent.

                On the other hand, it seems to me that I should be allowed to say “no hookah stores” or “no massage parlors” or similar.

                If I’m renting out the mother-in-law apartment (that I don’t have) in my basement, I should be able to discriminate against whomever I damn well please.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                It is all very tricky, admittedly.

                Can I refuse to hire a black guy because I don’t like black guys?
                Can I refuse to hire a neo-Nazi because I don’t like neo-Naxis?
                Can I refuse to hire a neo-Nazi because I think I’ll lose customers over his presence?
                Can I refuse to hire a black guy because I think I’ll lose customers over his presence?
                (Yes, one of those is fungible and one is not but hopefully you get the broader point…)

                To your specific instances, I think it is personally reasonable to limit a storefront rental based on the long-term usage of their impact; thus, a hookah bar makes sense to have the right to discriminate against but the massage parlor I’m not so sure about. I presume the ability to discriminate with the MIL apartment has to do with their proximity to/presence in your home. Would you extend this to rental property you do not inhabit? If so, would you extend that same right to property sales?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m sure you know about the story from England where a funky hairdresser place refused to hire a Muslim who wore a headscarf. They wanted a funky atmosphere and the claim was that the hijab is unfunky and did not fit in the hip and happ’n’n environment they were cultivating.

                This seems like it’s within the purview of the establishment owner. “You must be at least this funky to work here.”

                Would you extend this to rental property you do not inhabit?

                At that point it gets tricky, doesn’t it? If I have a house I’m renting out, it seems to me like I ought to be allowed to go through multiple applicants and pick one. It also seems to me like I should be able to say “no, I don’t want you to rent my house” to someone with, say, a swastika face tattoo.

                But it does seem different if it’s a condo or apartment complex or other business. If your job is to provide rooms for rent, the main thing that the business ought worry about is about whether the rent is there on the first of the month.

                As for property sales, it seems to me that it ought to be a black box. You see the house for sale for X, you tell your realtor that you’ll pay X-Y and you want the guy to fix the damn light fixture at the top of the stairs, his realtor says X but I’ll pay your closing costs and fix the light, you tell your realtor “deal” or “I’m walking” and repeat.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                “no hookah stores” or “no massage parlors”

                But I repeat myself.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to Simon K says:

            Simon, I think your point about world-view is spot on, but I’m really starting to lose the distinction between liberal and libertarian if “voluntary exchange is a civil right” is not part & parcel of the latter.

            I guess what I’m looking for is a sort of first-principles equation like libertarian = (liberal) + (government cannot infringe on voluntary exchange) + (market solutions preferred in all but extreme cases) or conservative = (liberal) + (government has the right to dictate culture) + (gradual change takes precedence over social justice). From your description I’m just getting libertarian = (liberal) + (market solutions preferred), which frankly doesn’t seem like a significant enough distinction … are there other principles that could be added or taken away there?Report

            • Simon K in reply to trizzlor says:

              Well, I’m probably not the best person to answer that, because I don’t think there is a hard and fast distinction between liberalism and libertarianism. There’s a certain kind of libertarianism, with its roots in individualist anarchism and Austrian economics, that tries to create such a distinction, but I don’t think it really succeeds. The libertarianism it tries to create is ethically sound only in a world that doesn’t really exist where no-one ever obtained anything except through hard work and luck, but it flounders in the real world.

              That said, “market solutions preferred” doesn’t quite capture it. All libertarians would probably say something like “minimize coercion”, or “minimize government” instead. Markets as such are just an example of voluntary institutions. In many of the workplace related issues people have raised, for example, libertarians would say (and I would firmly agree) that collective private action is a better solution than state action.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                Simon, I’m with you on the lack of a hard distinction between libertarianism and liberalism. Both come out of the classical liberal tradition (for that matter, so does much of American conservatism), but with different influences along the way. Another way to put it is that they have a common ancestor but have evolved along different paths.

                Liberalism has been more influenced by communitarianism, but even so it maintains quite an individualistic core, hence it’s defense of non-group based civil liberties like free speech, etc. and after flirtation with socialism it’s come back (or never wholly left) an essentially market-based focus, but with more influence from Keynes and Galbraith, while libertarians are more influenced by Hayek.

                We may be fighting cousins, rather than kissing cousins, but we’re cousins nonetheless.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

                What is “state action” other than “collective private action” writ large?Report

              • Simon K in reply to Morat20 says:


  12. Liberty60 says:

    This is as good a place as any to expand on my comments in the other thread about compulsive engagement v voluntary engagement.

    In short, in the other thread Hanley defined the ideal libertarian state as a world in which there was no need for coercive measures by the state. Therefore all engagements would be voluntary.

    I assert that this is not ideal, and in fact should not become the ideal. I assert that there should always be some aspect of our engagement with society that is voluntary, but also some aspect that is compulsory, even in the most idealized state.

    In other words, self-ownership, autonomy, and sovereignty, are not and should not ever be complete and absolute and that shouldn’t be a goal.

    I saw this today at Balloon Juice (which is a way of saying I haven’t personally read the original, and am relying on someone else’s research- feel free to correct me if this is not accurate):

    “All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.”

    Benjamin Franklin, letter to Robert Morris, December 25, 1783

    It pretty well illustrates the idea that we belong to a group, and simply by virtue of being in the group, have a preexisting claim, a lien on our freedom.

    The claim on all of us, by all of us, creates a healthy interdependence- that the fate of one of us affects the fate of all of us.
    In a society where all engagements are voluntary, there exists the possibility of severance- that someone can choose to disengage, or never engage at all. Being able to divorce ourselves from our fellow citizens creates a doubt, that perhaps our fates aren’t tied together, and we don’t exist for a common purpose. But a society is nothing if not a group of people who declare, “We exist for a common purpose.”Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

      But a society is nothing if not a group of people who declare are told, “We exist for a common purpose.”

      Is that a correct or an incorrect edit?

      I find the mandatory tying together of our fates to be frightening, a seed for authoritarianism and a recipe, if not outright justification of, tribalism.

      What about my Swiss ancestors, who became anabaptists and told their community, “Fish you, we’re going to America”? They explicitly declared that their fate ought to be and was severable from their community, and left to form their own voluntary community in the new world.Report

      • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, your point about societal obligations harboring the seed of authoritarianism is exactly correct.
        When cultural conservatives speak about “traditional” manners and mores, we have all seen how the boundaries of civil order can easily become suffocating and cruel.
        Yet, we also see, right here in our own society, how much we desire and need an order that binds us all.
        The biggest cultural struggle today is not people demanding unbidled sexual freedom, but gay people demanding the right to marry and form bonds of obligation and weave their lives into the fabric of compulsory social engagement.

        This is why I say the ideal is not the maximizing of either individual freedom or cultural obligation- they each harbor injustice in them, and the balance needs to be constantly adjusted.

        I freely admit that this viewpoint is very much an article of faith- but it is a faith that is nearly universal, and I wouldn’t claim I am alone in holding it.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:


          But if I may be pushy, you really haven’t answered any of my questions.

          Who’s denying the value of social order? I’m arguing that most social order arises voluntarily, and that if sufficient order order arose voluntarily, then compulsion would be both unnecessary and undesirable. Advocating social order doesn’t address the issue because I’m not arguing against it or proposing a condition in which it’s absent.

          And what about my Swiss ancestors? What about gay folks, as JB notes? I don’t think you are advocating oppression of homosexuals or denial of religious freedom, but I don’t think your position provides any purchase for objecting to those things when they are the expression of the society.

          I wonder if this idea of yours reveals the element of you that caused you to once be a conservative? It sounds like an inherently conservative approach to me. That’s not meant as an attack or even a criticism; just curiosity about whether there’s a connection.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

            As I read it, his approach to these questions is entirely pragmatic. Insofar as traditions and social order are stifling and oppressive, we should break them down. Insofar as Liberty leads to coarcive or unjust workplace dynamics, destruction of the commons and whatnot, we should step in and place limits upon it. There’s no abstract distinction here, only an interest in results that are consistent with general human welfare and happiness.Report

            • Liberty60 in reply to Don Zeko says:

              That’s pretty much it. Yes, the social order can become oppressive, and has, to gays, Anabaptists, and a million other outcast groups.
              So just making appeals to the social order isn’t enough.
              I think the idea that a social order can arise voluntarily isn’t supported by history, but even if it could, it isn’t enough.

              I’m arguing to the rightness and necessity for complusory engagement, even while acknowledging the danger inherent in it. The value of allowing society to have a portion of control over me, and intertwining my fate with everyone else’s, is greater than the value of maximized reedom.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

                So who gets to decide when it’s stifling? How big a minority do you have to have before you get to legitimately claim being stifled?

                I’m pretty OK with the pragmatic approach, but that requires that we able to debate what the limits are. So just about everything has to be on the table, right? So criticizing Jaybird for asking how much obligation he has, that’s not really a pragmatist’s approach, is it?Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Terrific quote Liberty60! What Franklin said in a paragraph I couldn’t even get out over a dozen posts in JB’s question on obligation.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

        How awesome is it when you imagine someone saying “I’m gay” in such a society?

        It pretty well illustrates the idea that we belong to a group, and simply by virtue of being in the group, have a preexisting claim, a lien on our freedom.

        You ready to start haggling? I’ve a few examples from what the culture thought it had a lien upon in living memory. Think I can make you say something that sounds libertarianish?Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Mucho correct, Lib60, although there can be no “lien” on unalienable rights.

      In context: Franklin in 1783 is complaining about widespread tax avoidance—people aren’t paying their taxes atall! Certainly we all agree that society has a lien on our abundance.

      Except, you know, Wesley Snipes, et al.

      Now, I think you have a strong point here about what Barack Obama didn’t say [?!] but Ben Franklin did:

      But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition.

      Bold face mine. The question would be what the welfare of the Publick “demands,” not just what it desires and recall that Articles of Confederation government was just coming ut of the revolution [and non-payment of taxes was a big reason the A of C gov’t was doomed for that of the US Constitution].

      Now, Ben Franklin had the nicest house in Philly, filled with treasures from the continent. By any measure, he was one of the richest men in Philadelphia, if not the colonies.

      Certainly, he didn’t feel terribly guilty about clearly being one of the 1%, although that carried a noblesse oblige, so it’s no coincidence Franklin starts Philly’s first hospital and its first university.

      True, too, he was definitely into the dignity of work thing, industriousness, the Protestant work ethic, even to the point of observing that the Catholic countries of Europe—which on the whole were more charitable, were also the most indolent.

      Of England:

      “Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.” –Benjamin Franklin, letter to Collinson, 1753

      So there’s that.Report

    • Roger in reply to Liberty60 says:


      I suggest you consider what would happen to pie baking activity if all excess pies were common property. If you think that leads to your kind of world please feel free to volunteer to live that way. Will you kill me though if I refuse to join? I suspect your answer is no. You’d just compel me.

      If you really want me to join I suggest you persuade me.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

        If the means of persuading you hurts the overall project, I’d rather just compel you.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

        I suggest you consider what would happen to pie baking activity if all excess pies were common property.

        But that’s not what he’s saying, of course. It’s not that the state must take all the excess pies as common property, but that the state could do so.

        That’s not a trivial difference. Especially given your views on rights as conventionally agreed upon constructs.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Liberty60 says:

      I just woke up from a (pretty awesome) nap and realized:

      He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages.

      This is Franklin pulling the “Somalia” crap.Report

  13. Kazzy says:

    Reading the comments here, which generally do seem to be written in good faith, I think it is fair to say that libertarianism is held to a very high standard. Which is more likely the result of it being the new kid on the block than anything specific to the ideology. But a lot of people (myself included) seem to be saying that if libertarianism doesn’t offer a perfect response on issue X, it is inherenty flawed. Of course, these same people might say the same of other dominant ideologies, but I thought it worth pointing out.Report

  14. Roger says:

    Amazing post both in content and tone, James. Absolutely first rate.Report

  15. Kris says:

    1. What do you think about the Lockean proviso and the ownership of natural resources?

    I would love to lay claim to my fair share of all the oil, coal, timber, etc. in the U.S. but I don’t get to. I am not free to take oil from someone else’s well, but it is not clear why that person has a right to the well and I don’t. Maybe his parent got their first and gave the well to him, but it is not clear where my freedom to take that oil has gone to.

    If you’re. left-libertarian, then you think we all own an equal slice of all the natural reaources in the country, and the fact that a small few has gained the control over those resources is a massive injustice that requires massive redistribution of wealth to solve. Indeed, left-libertarianism looks like it collapses to left-leaning Rawlsianism or just classical liberalism.

    This is a huge conceptual problem, as you surely know. See for a nice discussion.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kris says:

      I drank your milkshake.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Kris says:

      As you may know, Nozick more or less gave up on actually showing that Locke’s proviso holds and instead waved his hands over the whole issue and said “Well, someone has to own stuff ..” and carried on as he’d established reasonable initial conditions.Report

    • Murali in reply to Kris says:

      Also the Rawlsian case for libertarianism is stronger than the Nozickean one if not the strongest justification for Libertarianism. Admittedly, the version of libertarianism it justifies is a moderate version, but most libertarians are not so hardcore as to deny the need to provide genuine public goods as well as some kind of social safety net.Report

      • Kris in reply to Murali says:

        Lots of good points here.

        In what sense is Rawls a libertarian?

        My argument is that if libertarianism incorporates control for local bullies and redistributes communally owned natural resources, then it collapses into liberalism. Bleeding heart libertarianism is just liberalism.Report

        • Murali in reply to Kris says:

          In what sense is Rawls a libertarian?

          I can think of at least 2 ways if not more.

          1. The description Rawls provides for his favoured institutional form, property owning democracy (POD), is sufficiently open ended that it is not clear that it is not consistent with a number of varieties of libertarian institutions.

          In a POD, people will be guaranteed a set of basic liberties which include personal liberties, civil liberties and political liberties. In addition people will have the right to private property in both personal possessions as well as productive assets. Rawls rather explicitly says that the market is to be free. Command economies, according to rawls violate his first principle of justice.

          Further comments by Rawls indicates that he finds welfare capitalism problematic because it redistributes property after the fact. His aim is instead to get his preferred distribution of property without resort to redistribution. While he doesn’t specify how to do this, one key difference he draws between POD and the current system is that productive assets are more widely distributed. What this means is that fewer people work for wages and more people are in business for themselves.

          Its not difficult to imagin that according to the descrition Rawls gives, there will be fewer regulations and barriers to entry for businesses in a POD. It is not clear what Rawls makes of a univesal basic income (whether he classifies it as part of welfare capitalism or not) but certainly if it is in fact consistent with POD, is also endorsed by many libertarians.

          2. But maybe I’m worng about this. Maybe Rawls in order to make POD work needs large inheritence taxes. So, it is possible that i have missed something and POD really isn;t that libertarian even by rather squishy moderate standards. A lot of philosophers sem to think so.

          If that is the case, another aspect of the Rawlsian argument for libertarianism is that libertarian institutions do a better job of fulfilling Rawls’s 2 principles of justice than POD.

          3. But let us suppose that I am mistaken about the second point as well. Let us suppose that the 2 principles of justice as expressed in Justice as Fairness do not really restrict how the state may regulate market transactions and private property. Yet another argument is that people in the original position would choose principles which actually do have more bite in this regard. The argument here is that having a significant range of control over one’s productive property is important to the pursuit of one’s conception of the good (and thus to the development of one’s moral powers) Note that the latter is not some crude argument to the effect that people behind the veil of ignorance would choose something like Nozick’s principles of acquisition, tansfer and restitution, but that there would be independent weight given to the freedom to possess private property apart from its propensity to maximise the prospects of the worst off. This weight need not preclude some amounts of taxation to provide social safety nets where necessary. Yet, it does preclude too high levels as very high levels would in fact interfere significantly with people’s freedom to do what they want with their productive assets.

          My argument is that if libertarianism incorporates control for local bullies and redistributes communally owned natural resources, then it collapses into liberalism. Bleeding heart libertarianism is just liberalism

          This really depends on what you mean by control and local bullies. Libertarianism does take a stand against private coercion. Not only is the state not allowed to force you to worship, neither is your neighbour. I wouldn’t venture to say more until you’ve filled in the blanks of how you think liberals would interfere with local bullies and libertarians wouldn’t. Even though the perception is that libertarians tend to favour institutional structures that take power from distant centralised authority and would give them to more local authorities, I think this is if not a mistaken perception, is not a hill that libertarians need be willing to die on. Libertarianism is about individual rights not state rights.

          As for redistribution, there are people who call themselves Georgist libertarians. I certainly don’t think Rawlsian principles require that natural resources be shared as common property. On the question of redistribution in general, we can put the difference between liberalism and libertarianism down to a matter of degree. Jaybird’s notion of libertarianism as a vector is also instructive here:

          • Kris in reply to Murali says:

            “Further comments by Rawls indicates that he finds welfare capitalism problematic because it redistributes property after the fact.”

            That’s not quite right, IMO. Here is what the Stanford Encyclopedia has to say on the matter:

            “For the difference principle Rawls says that the goal is an economic order that maximizes the position of the worst off group (e.g., unskilled laborers, or those with less than half the median wealth and income over their lifetimes). Given that institutions realizing the prior principles are already in place, this should be approximately achievable by, for example, varying marginal rates of tax and exemptions.

            Rawls explicitly rejects the welfare state. (JF, 137-40) Welfare state capitalism leaves control of the economy in the hands of a group of rich private actors. It therefore fails to ensure for all citizens enough resources to have even roughly equal chances of influencing politics, or to have sufficiently equal opportunity in education and employment. The welfare state tends therefore to generate a demoralized under-class. Laissez-faire capitalism is even worse for equality than the welfare state along these dimensions. And a socialist command economy puts too much power in the hands of the state, again endangering political equality and also threatening basic liberties such as free choice of employment.

            Justice as fairness, Rawls says, favors either a property owning democracy or democratic socialism. The government of a property owning democracy takes steps to encourage widespread ownership of productive assets and broad access to education and training; democratic socialism is similar but features worker-managed firms. The aim of both systems of political economy is to enable all citizens, even the least advantaged, to manage their own affairs within a context of significant social and economic equality. “The least advantaged are not, if all goes well, the unfortunate and unlucky—objects of our charity and compassion, much less our pity—but those to whom reciprocity is owed as a matter of basic justice.” (JF, 139)”

            In other words, laissez-faire capitalism is unfair and not redistributive enough. A welfare state is also not redistributive enough and not egalitarian enough. It gives too much power and control of wealth to a few. The poor need to be given ownership of property or we need “democratic socialism.” The POD that Rawls is talking about and the government backed redistribution of property that would be required to get there is a million miles away from anything that a fiscal libertarian would accept. Rawls is generally vague on the POD and what it would look like, but it requires institutions in the basic structure that redistribute wealth and power to protect “the worst off.”Report

          • Kris in reply to Murali says:

            I like the idea of a liberal-libertarian spectrum rather than a hard line distinction.

            The real question is what sorts of redistribution are justified and what sorts of paternalism are justified.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Kris says:

              For myself, where I part company with libertarianism as a whole is in thinking that the key questions are predictability and fairness. I would, for instance, be fine with a flat income tax rate with a rebate large enough that everyone who currently gets EITC or pays nothing received rather that losing money. That’s quite redistributive, but has the huge virtues of fairness and transparency, where the current system allows many people to fall through gaps in the safety net, and means that some of us don’t actually know what our marginal tax rate will be until December after we’ve already paid most of our taxes.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:


                Do you think libertarians would necessarily reject a flat income tax with a rebate?

                That’s a sincere question; I don’t know the answer.Report

              • Simon K in reply to James Hanley says:

                I know some would. If you hold to a hard Lockean line, there’s never any justification for taking from one person just to subsidise another, right? Because you’re treating the person taken from merely as an means. You can object to this on the basis that justice in acquisition and transfer have been violated so many times in the past, but this tends to cut no ice with those who take this line – after all the person paying the taxes doesn’t in fact bear any demonstrable responsibility for that. Mike Farmer might well feel this way. Maybe even Jason.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                Goddam philosophical libertarians! 😉Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


      I can’t answer your question in a way that will be satisfactory. I don’t do state of nature theory. I used to be intrigued by it, but eventually gave it up as a bad job. So from my perspective the Lockean proviso is irrelevant.

      Consider it this way. Following Coase, we know that in a world without transaction costs, all property would flow to their highest valued uses, no matter what the initial distribution of property rights. So the proviso doesn’t actually matter because it doesn’t affect the long-range outcome. Now we can argue that no transaction costs isn’t realistic, but of course neither is the Lockean state of nature. In fact that’s probably further fom reality than the absence of transaction costs, because at least we sometimes approach the latter.Report

  16. Kris says:

    2. What do you think of the problem of “the liberty of local bullies.” See for a nice introduction.

    The crooked timber guys were getting at this problem when they brought up the problem of a boss who demands that his female employees sleep with him or be fired. Notice, if we don’t ban this practice, it will occur fairly regularly. (Local employers will and used to require c hildren to work, many people to work unsafely, many people to work for exploitative wages, etc.) Local bullies can be defeated with collective action, e.g. by unions or legislatures or both requiring work-place safety, no sexual harasment, no child labor weekends off, etc.

    Maybe you think in a truly libertarian society, parents wouldn’t allow their children to work and individual women would stand up to their harrasing employers. Or perhaps you believe employer-bullies only act this way because of government coercion. If so, I would argue that you are guilty of believing in some naive myths about human nature that you say are not part of human nature.

    Or maybe you think collective government action is justified in stopping local bullies. If so, I am not sure how your libertarianism is distinct from classical liberalism or Rawlsianism that advocates for personal freedom in general but some paternalism and coercion to protect individuals from entering into abusive employer-employee relations.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kris says:

      I think problems like this highlight the problems with libertarianism for me.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Kris says:

      There’s no inherent libertarian problem with unions or other collective action. There is a problem with involving the government, since its a coercive institution.

      As a point of fact, sexual harassment is probably a straightforward breach of contract between the manager and the employing firm, and between the owner and the employee if that fails, in any kind of reasonable libertarian world.

      There’s no hard and fast distinction between liberalism and libertarianism. There’s a continuum with individualist anarchism on one end and Rawlsianism on the other, and Locke somewhere in the middle.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

        Bear in mind, the government got involved in unionization in the first place because the violence was getting ridiculously out of hand.

        Better the government get involved, because the status quo was dead people — the history of unionization is a violent one, and despite the mythic “union thugs”, it was not — and is not — even remotely one-sided.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

        My point being is that, historically, government got involved for a damn good reason. To stop people being killed.

        Now, at least in the first world, the violence is likely to be considerably less lethal. However, the problem remains that there are a huge number of coercive practices a business can indulge in to prevent collective action by employees — which includes, first and foremost, prevention of unionization.

        I’m not sure how to address that absent government oversight. You might argue it shouldn’t be addressed, but that leaves in place a rather vast power differential — and I don’t see a significant difference between “Sleep with me or you’re fired” and “Try to unionize and you’re fired”.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

          Morat, keep in mind that both unionization and the violent response were reliant on a common factor, a massive surplus in the labor supply caused in part by the dislocations of industrialization (the mobilization of labor, moving it from agriculture to industry) and in part by very high levels of immigration.

          If there was a labor shortage, there’d be little need for a union, and if employees did want one the employer would have little choice but to go along (if their demands weren’t too great).

          The world we live in today in the U.S. is in-between, which is why there is some union demand but less than in the past. What happens in the future if population growth slows will be interesting to see.Report

          • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

            Suppose unemployment goes down to 3%. That’s about as low as we can get, even in a super awesom, laissez faire econmony. You can’t reasonably do better for labor shortage than that. At that point, boss X says to employee Y, sleep with me or be fired. Y consults her contract and finds that nothing there prevents boss X from doing so.

            Should boss X’s behavior be illegal? Should government have passed a law allowing Y to so or forcing X to pay fines, etc.

            Notice, even at low unemployment, X still has a great deal of power that he can use to manipulate Y. He is a local bully. In a sense, Y is free to leave. But X will likely give her a horrible reference. Maybe, Y has children and can’t afford to be without income even fairly briefly. So Y cannot leave, even when unemployment is at record lows.

            Government has a legitimate interest in preventing local bullies from exerting power over employees. Note that businesse could -if they weren’t barred from doing so- make it part of your contract that you agreed to not join a union on pain of firing and a zillion dollar fine. Businesses that would do so are local bullies. And really, collective action is sometimes required to coerce the bullies into not bullying weaker actors.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Kris says:

              You’re tacitly assuming that employees have no choice of workplace. This directly contradicts your stated assumption of 3% unemployment – in the US economy any level of employment below 5% basically means everyone who wants a job has one. The remaining unemployment is due to the time taken for employers and employees to find one another. If you can’t afford to be out of work for enough time to find a new job in that kind of economy you have some fairly extreme issues somewhere.

              This is an example of what I said up-thread about liberals and libertarians not disagreeing because of different priors but because we’re picturing different scenarios when exercising our ethical intuition. Libertarians don’t disagree with you because they think your scenario is fine and dandy, but because they don’t think its very likely, and therefore not a great basis for developing political ideas.

              I don’t really count as a libertarian, but I suspect I’m in agreement with, say, James or Mark in saying that if you find yourself in a situation where employers collude to write non-unionization and pro-sexual-harassment clauses into employment contracts, and somehow they get away with it, then yes, fine have the government prohibit it.

              But they (and I) would say in the same breadth that this isn’t the sort of thing we expect to happen in a libertarian world. Indeed, if it did happen, we’re quite probably wrong about something more fundamental. I would expect that in a more libertarian world there would be a great diversity of different kinds of collaboration, beyond waged labor with is really rather inefficient and unsuitable for many kinds of work. There should be more self employment, more worker ownership, and more short term project work. I would also expect to see a greater diversity more generally of different ways of living. There should be more communes, more unconventional households, more communities somewhere between normal neighborhoods and communes.

              In short I would hope and expect that a libertarian world would disassemble the narrow conventionality that bullies tend to hold to in order to exercise power. In a sense, it would be a world were “local” was harder to define and thus harder to exploit.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                Everything Simon said. I would just add a real world example of labor shortages and the effects. In the late 1990s, the unemployment rate in the Dakotas was less than 3%; essentially all unemployment was short-term transitional, as workers quit jobs to look for better ones.

                Companies interested in getting in on such a booming economy would call up local chambers of commerce, which would tell them not to expect to pay the minimum wage–the effective minimum wage was about a third higher than the legally required minimum wage.

                Now, I’m an employer in that situation. I’m struggling to hold onto good employees, and having to pay more than I previously did to keep them. Is my next action really to demand that they sleep with me or they’re fired?

                And you talk about them giving the employee a bad reference; what about the reference the employee gives them? Do you really want to be an employer who’s having a hard time finding good employees, and then have added on top of that a reputation for sexually harassing them?

                Yes, some people will do that, but they’re not typical abusive employers; they’re sexual predators. And sexual predation should be illegal.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                What if your female employees are only 10% of your workplace and are on the lower end of the pay scale and easily replaceable? Plus, if you’re the boss, you know other bosses and can make sure you tell the “real story” about Missy, Helena, and Maria about how they always make trouble.

                Again, I don’t know how libertarians and libertarian-ish people ignore the fact that since the beginning of time, employers have taken every inch they can, whether it’s the treatment or pay or workers.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                As I said, two comments ago, “You’re tacitly assuming that employees have no choice of workplace”. If that’s actually true, I also already said, “yes, fine have the government prohibit it”. And James agreed with me. So you win. Now we can discuss something more interesting, like why this is the only scenario you’re interested in?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                Because more employees have no real choice of workplace than libertarians and libertarian-ish people like to admit. And some of us even think that people shouldn’t have to leave a job they like just because they’re boss is a sexist ass.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                Oh for goodness sake, Jesse. Please, read what I already wrote: “But [I] would say in the same breadth that [legally protected sexual harassment] isn’t the sort of thing we expect to happen in a libertarian world. Indeed, if it did happen, we’re quite probably wrong about something more fundamental.” If this is the only thing you’re interested in discussing, then I agree with you. But if you want to argue that this means libertarian ideas don’t work, you need to make the more interesting argument that this scenario is likely. You’re assuming it is, but you haven’t shown it.

                Also, how on earth could you like a job where your boss was a sexist ass?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                Of course ya’ don’t. But in a world where any contract can be signed as long as it’s not under duress (and a lack of job wouldn’t be considered duress in libertarian land I’m sure), I have no problems believing more than a few companies either wouldn’t care about sexual harassment complaints in the workplace or write iron-clad contracts w/ NDA’s making it almost impossible to bring a civil claim against a company.

                Again, that’s because I believe that human beings as a rule, when in power, will take as much as they can get, depending on the cost-benefit ration. Sexual harassment may be bad for the company, but what if the harasser is the top salesman and bringing in tens of millions dollars in business and the harassee is a receptionist?

                To your second point, I know plenty of people who like their actual jobs, but hate their bosses. I assume the same with people who enjoy their careers, but would enjoy it a lot better if their boss wasn’t trying to grab their ass.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                I believe that human beings as a rule, when in power, will take as much as they can get,

                So why isn’t government just as problematic as business?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                You can vote out a government. You can’t vote out your boss.

                And it’s not as if I don’t believe governments should follow the same rule as businesses and be subject to the same fines and penalties as regular businesses if they’re shown to be breaking the law.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                don’t know how libertarians and libertarian-ish people ignore the fact that since the beginning of time, employers have taken every inch they can, whether it’s the treatment or pay or workers.

                Fortunately, employees have never tried to take even a millimeter from employers. They never slack, shirk or steal. Pure innocent angels wholly at the mercy of the vicious demons of management, with no recourse at all, to hear you tell it.

                Plus, if you’re the boss, you know other bosses and can make sure you tell the “real story” about Missy, Helena, and Maria about how they always make trouble.

                Jesus, do you really think all the bosses have a special communications system where they pass that kind of information around and that they all believe each other? Do you know any business owners? Get involved in your local chamber of commerce; you’ll find it’s like any organization, composed of people who form a set of overlapping cliques, with great amounts of enmity. The abused employee is more likely to get, “Oh, you worked for Joe? He’s a pig, isn’t he? Welcome aboard,” than “Sorry, one of my brethren in the managerial line denies he sexually harassed you, so of course I believe him over you, even though I know him and know what kind of person he is.”

                To a large degree, the world you think is out there isn’t actually out there.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Again, this is what it comes down too. I look back at the history of this country and the current state of employer-employee relations in this country and all I’m going to say, is that you have a lot more faith in employers than I do.

                All I’m going to say about your first paragraph is that of course, no employer would ever say that untruthfully about an employee that they slacked off or stole from them.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Jesse, Are you going to tell me you don’t think employees rip off their employers all the time?

                Don’t get me wrong; I don’t particularly care. I don’t have any burning sympathy for the employers. But are you implying that employee slacking, shirking, and theft is not real, that it’s just employers’ lies?

                For god’s sake, man, open your eyes and you’ll see it all around you! I’ve seen it in every job I’ve ever worked at. I had a roommate who worked at Tower Records in San Francisco who would regularly walk out with 5-10 lps and cassettes in her backpack. I worked at a building supply store where some of my fellow stockclerks regularly went up to the break room without clocking out, and took their regular breaks on top of that. I knew a college prof who repeatedly offered a class that almost never got enough students to run, a nice way of reducing her workload that didn’t result in reduced salary (although it did eventually cost her her job, despite having tenure).

                Heck, I regularly print out personal stuff at work because it’s cheaper than paying for paper and ink for my home printer.

                I’m not saying employees are worse than employers, and I’m not saying stealing pencils is as bad as sexual harassment. But you are pitching us this “all or almost all employers are evil and employees are defenseless sheep” line, and it doesn’t match up with the world that I’ve worked in. Hell, I’ve had some bad bosses, but they were mostly just stupid, not evil overlords gleefully planning how to exploit me.

                You need to put away the Karl Marx comic books and get out into the real world a bit more.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I know employees do stuff to their employers. But, I also think it’s not even apples and oranges, but rather, baby peas and those monster 500lb pumpkins in comparison.

                I never said most employers were evil. But, yes, I do think many employers, especially larger corporations pay as little as they can and get as much out of you as they can. And that the law has been twisted over the past thirty years to make it easier for them to do so.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                I do think many employers, especially larger corporations pay as little as they can and get as much out of you as they can.

                The odd thing is that you find that odd. Of course they do. Why would I pay you any more than I needed to? And if somebody else is willing to do the job for less than you are, is it fair to him for me to hire you?

                And let’s be honest, employees generally are trying to get as much pay as they can and do as little work as necessary. From a moral perspective, I’m not sure why that’s less problematic.Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                I am glad that you agree that “sleep with me or your fired” is predatory and should be illegal.

                But the bosses that say that are just saying “sleep with me or be fired.” They are offering a contract. They aren’t using violence to force the women to have sex. If you accept that this offering of a contract (sex for employment) should be illegal, because its “predatory” you accept that the government should prevent at least some contracts from being entered into when they are predatory. That is a liberal position and direclty against the libertarian position that the role of government is to enforce contracts not to act like a nanny and tell people what contracts they can and can’t enter into.

                I would argue that usurious loans, offering poor people money for their children’s labor, offering poor workers low wages to work in unsafe factories, offering drug addicted people money for their organs, etc. are all similarly “predatory” behavior and should be banned. I’d also argue that forcing people to sign “i will not join a union” clauses are predatory and so governments need to protect the right to unionize.Report

              • Kris in reply to Simon K says:

                I am curious about something. Surely you admit that even when the U.S. economy is doing well and unemployment is low, bosses sometimes do say to their employees “have sex with me or you’re fired.” And often, the women will do it. Sometimes its more like “let me grope you or be fired” but thats really almost as bad, and if it occurs continually, it can be worse.

                Why do you think the women don’t just say “no” and get another job if its fairly easy to do so when employment is low. I mean, in general, why would they accept this? (You agree it does happen.) I’d say its because the can’t afford to give up the job, especially if they are afraid of being labelled a bad employee, etc. Indeed, I’d argue that individual employees are often in an incredibly weak position and can be bullied into accepting horrendous work conditions.

                But if you argue that they aren’t bullied into it, they chose it willingly, no? If so, Isn’t it these women’s fault that they were abused? I mean, I think its not their fault; they were coerced with the threat of losing their job and were under the reasonable fear that they would not find a new job and could become homeless. But if you don’t agree that they were bullied, then how is it not their fault for not just up and leaving?

                You might ask me why bosses would do the bullying, even though its illegal now. And I’d respond that punishment isn’t harsh enough and the law isn’t enforced enough, and the bullied are not empowered enough to even report their bullies.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Kris says:

                Why do some women tolerate sexual harassment even when unemployment is low? Sadly the short answer to that is probably “patriarchy”. Or if you don’t like the word (I certainly don’t use it much) then many different, individually minor, reasons – women feel they can’t be assertive, have stronger family commitments, are paid less, may be less likely to believed by law enforcement, and so on.

                Is it their fault? No. Probably in some sense they “should” be more assertive and take advantage of an (in our hypothetical) good negotiating position. But its difficult for the reasons above.

                I should be clear and say I don’t think sexual harassment laws are harmful. Mostly they give employers a direct and immediate reason to do what they want to do anyway – fire abusive employees for cause. Without very much trouble, I think you can create non-coercive institutions that would serve the same purpose eg. via unions or other employee organizations or through voluntary assessment of some kind.Report

        • Simon K in reply to Morat20 says:

          “Sleep with me or you’re fired” is obviously not in the interests of the business, so provided the business and the manager are distinct legal entities, the manager who does it should be fired, right? Or the business’s investors should sue. Seems fairly obvious.

          Unionization is different because it may very well be in the interests of the business to prevent it. However, without all the weird requirements of the LRB process, which obviously libertarians oppose, I can’t really see how unionization could be prevented without the kind of employer-sponsored violence that happened in the early 20th century, or specific contractual provisions against it. Remember that in a libertarian world the kinds of tricks employers typically use – spying and intimidation – would be straightforwardly illegal. Of course, there’s be nothing to prevent employers from firing striking or unionizing workers, but in the absence of regulation, there’s also be scope for much more damaging industrial action.

          Whether all this would be a net benefit to unions is debatable. On balance I think you’d probably see more unionization, although it would likely still be very difficult for very low wage industries due to the great ease of firing workers and the extremely low profit margins employers have in those businesses.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to Simon K says:

            “Remember that in a libertarian world the kinds of tricks employers typically use – spying and intimidation – would be straightforwardly illegal. ”

            What enforcement mechanism do libertarians envision for this sort of law? Something similar to the existing DoL? Individual tort actions?Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Don Zeko says:

              It’d be like…maybe some sort of board, that you could go to with complaints. And they could, like, levy sanctions or fines or something.

              But not like the NLRB. Perfect and shining, pure. private.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Don Zeko says:

              We have these people called police who enforce the criminal law. Remember them? Threatening people with violence was a felony last time I checked.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Simon K says:

                How many police? What level of funding? How exactly do they go about investigating workplace violations like this? My point here is that any government body capable of effectively deterring employers from employing such tactics looks an awful lot like, well, a much better funded and more effective version of the NLRB. So either this isn’t actually a smaller government, or we’re sweeping under the rug the fact that many of these rights would not be practically enforceable for most workers. Which is it?Report

              • Simon K in reply to Don Zeko says:

                “How many cops” would be an area where libertarians differ. The baseline minarchist version would be “as many as necessary”. If that’s not affordable, well then libertarianism is wrong or at least inapplicable in the context. Reducing the financial size of the state is not a libertarian idea as such, really, although its assumed to be a consequence of libertarian policies.

                I don’t know, though, that such a system would look much like the NLRB. I don’t know how familiar you are with what they do, but a great deal of it is to do with supervising unionization campaigns and investigating violations (organizing on company time, discriminating against union organizers) that wouldn’t be illegal in a libertarian world unless specifically in the contract.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

              What enforcement mechanism do libertarians envision for this sort of law? Something similar to the existing DoL? Individual tort actions?

              Courts and cops–the minimal state has both. Just as in the current world, it’s possible there could be either criminal or civil (or both) legal responses.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                “Oh, hello fine laborers. We’re from the firm of Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe. It’s come to our attention you’re suing your employers for intimidation and spying on you as you tried to organize into a union after your criminal action got scuttled after a nice donation from your company to the local city council and the reelection fund of the judge hearing your case. Well, here’s our 500 page countersuit, our 200 page filing for discovery into all of your personal effects, and just for fun, we’re suing the union for these actions. Oh, and by the way, you guys have the resources for 10 lawyers. We have 50 in this satellite office. See you in court!”

                Yes, it’s stunning some of us would want a larger body that has larger resources to investigate.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesus Jesse, that’s the world we currently live in! You want to make it out to be a special problem of the libertarian world, but that’s what is actually going on right now in our much more liberal dominated world!

                And since you obviously didn’t read, go back and see that I said “cops” and “criminal…case” in my comment. Would that be the “larger body [with] larger resources to investigate” If not, then just what in the world are you talking about?

                It’s really a pisser to just want to clarify a few issues about libertarianism, then have it devolve into you throwing out yet more strawmen about libertarianism. You’re just being a total dick at this point. If you don’t have the decency to not play these kinds of games, then please just go away.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Considering it’s been almost seventy years since the passage of Taft-Hartley, I’d hardly call union rights a place where we’ve had a “liberal dominated world.” Throw in the last thirty years of neoliberal and conservative domination and again, it’s a laugh to call employer-employee relations anything close to “liberal dominated” world.

                I’m sorry though if pointing out that libertarian land wouldn’t be nirvana for a whole lot of employees is me being a dick. Especially considering our current world with the relative little regulation we have for employers isn’t doing so great for employees either.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse, the whole legal system surrounding employment has a vast amount of liberal supported regulations. It’s not your ideal system, no doubt, but for Christ’s sake you even have a Department of Labor. It’s hardly a libertarian system! That disparity in legal firepower is happening in your system, and yet you want to blame libertarians for it. That’s just pathetic.

                What’s you being a dick is you making shit up about libertarians and pretending what is a current problem in a legal system where there are specific legal protections for unions is a libertarian problem.

                Again, instead of telling us what libertarian is, why don’t you sincerely ask, and then listen to the answer? We’re repeatedly telling you your misinterpreting it, and you remain smugly sure that you’re getting it right. Does it never occur to you that maybe on the issue of what libertarianism is, you might not actually know as much as the people who are libertarians, or those with at least some leaning in that direction, like Simon K?

                I truly don’t give a shit if you think we’re empirically wrong about how a libertarian world would work out. I’m an empiricist, so I know it’s possible we’re wrong. But I do give a shit when you blame a libertarian world for a problem that’s occurring in a substantially liberal legal order.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, I blame conservatives and neoliberals for the current problems with employment issues in this country.

                I just think libertarian solutions would make things even worse.Report

    • Roger in reply to Kris says:


      I took part in the various crooked timber conversations.

      My take on it was that the various economists kept reminding the CTgang of unintended consequences of regulation and wages.

      My opinion is that there are some clear employer abuses that we could broadly agree to regulate. No forced Sado masochistic sex with dead animals not disclosed in employment contract for example. A lot of the abuses could be eliminated via noncoercive rating agencies and some probably shouldnt be prohibited at all as they will backfire on the workers.

      In other words regulations should do more good than harm and coercion should be the last resort not the first.

      Does anyone disagree?Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

        If nobody disagrees with your statement, doesn’t that mean that it’s devoid of policy content? I think this is one of the many areas where the difference between liberals and libertarians is primarily about our empirical beliefs and differences in what data we trust and how we evaluate it, not anything abstract.Report

      • Liberty60 in reply to Roger says:

        I disagree.
        Only insofar as my comments upthread express my criticism of using “coercion” an being inherently bad.
        There’s a legal principle I am thinking of, whereby the degree of intrusiveness onto people’s liberty is balanced by the compelling need. It sets freedom from coercion up as merely one of many competing freedoms along with the “general welfare” of the state, that change according to circumstances.Report

      • Kris in reply to Roger says:

        I think that’s not going to work. Here’s where people accuse libertarians of being too optimistic.

        Is there any empirical evidence that a work-place ratings agency has worked to prevent bosses from sexually harrassing employees. If anything it might give cover to the bosses who work there: “Hey, you knew this place was a place where employees got harrassed and you know you’re attractive. So, if you took the job, you consented to me harrassing you and requiring you to sleep with me or or be fired.”Report

        • Roger in reply to Kris says:


          I gave three suggestions depending upon the seriousness and conformity of opinion on the nature of the transgression. You ignore two of the three and dismiss the third because it is has not been tried yet in this capacity even though it has been used successfully countless times in other areas.

          The key to solving social problems is to experiment. Regulation is a last resort for several reasons well documented by Public Choice theory.Report

          • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

            And hey, if some women lose their jobs or dignity while we work out the kinks of said agencies, it’s a small price to pay for the sanctity of the free market.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Right, because we all know sexual harassment laws work perfectly there’s no point trying anything else.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                They don’t work perfectly. But yes, the evil statist government being able to say, “don’t do this or we’re going to cost you a whole bunch of money” is a wee bit more efficient for the laborer than having to look up eighteen different competing rating boards “chance of getting groped” score.

                That’s not even getting into the second order problems of without the Sword of Lawsuit Damocles over their head, how many companies would simply smear employees who try to push complaints about sexual harassment out to said rating boards. “Oh Julie. Yeah, she’s claiming I did this and that, but did you know that this is her third job in five years and she got divorced a couple of years ago. Plus, she has a slight issue with the *makes drinking motion.* Sad story. On the other hand, I give lots of money to community efforts and have a seat on the local church board.”Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesus Christ, Jesse. Mercy.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Please see my point above about liberals and libertarians visualizing things differently when trying to exercise their ethical intuition. You’re imagining a world just like out current one except there are no sexual harassment laws. That’s not what the libertarian wants or expects if his ideas are applied, so its not a fair way to address those ideas. What they want and expect is a world in which its easy to walk away from an employment relationship – something lots of well-intentioned laws currently make difficult – so sexual harassment short of things that are or should be illegal anyway becomes no more an issue than any other crass, boorish behavior. Actual unwanted groping, by the way, is assault and doesn’t require any special laws. Sexual harassment exists to cover more subtle hostility.

                I’m not actually a big fan of Roger’s rating board idea. I’d expect a more libertarian world to have a much more active and effective union movement, providing both protection from bad employers and some amount of mutual aid, and I would expect that to deal with these issues.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                I was using groping as basically the worst possible scenario, but that actually makes my point. Most sexual harassment is more subtle than that and even harder to prove. And it happens to a shockingly high amount of people even with the State being there and saying, “no.”

                But, I think you underestimate the cost of finding a new job or just quitting a current job for the vast majority of the population, especially in a libertarian world with no effective welfare state.

                Or, since I’m a cynical liberal, unions would be outlawed because it violates the idea of a free contract between employee and employer and coerces employers into giving more of their hard-earned capital to laborers than the free market would give.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                Simon, I appreciate your defense, but Jesse’s right. We libertarians really do want a world where bosses can call the bitches into the office for a mandatory blow job. In fact we want them to be able to make the women clock out before they get to the office so it’s not on company time and the bosses don’t even have to pay them for their time.

                Walking around the factory randomly kicking guys in the balls is OK, too. Desirable even.

                And, yes, we really do want Exxon to be able to crash an oil tanker in your front yard and not have to compensate you.

                I guess we might as well get that all out in the open, since from Jesse’s comment it’s pretty clear the liberals have got it all figured out anyway.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I don’t think you want that. You just seem to believe your actions won’t lead to that. I do.

                But, again, let’s move away from sexual harassment. What’s more dangerous to a greasy spoon diner. The Local Board of Health shutting them down for a week with signs plastered outside the front window that they’ve been closed for violations A-X or the one out of every 100 customers who get sick from the odd rat dropping in their soup?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                Do libertarians oppose health codes? I guess so, since in your world libertarians oppose everything, and you’re just going to assume they oppose every single action government might take no matter how often you’re told something different.

                God forbid you might actually ask some libertarians and listen to their answers. It’s easier and more emotionally satisfying to just wrap yourself in your moral superiority and continue just making shit up. Honesty apparently isn’t the best policy when the subject is libertarians.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I assume that libertarians in a perfect world want a voluntary non-coercive agreement among all restaurants owners to meet minimum standards with the ability to fine said restaurant if they don’t meet standards, not the intrusive state telling restaurants what standards they have to meet.

                But, if health codes are OK, then why aren’t codes that say, “sorry, you can’t harass workers or we’ll fine you like a motherfucker” too much of an intrusion on the free market?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                I assume that libertarians in a perfect world want a voluntary non-coercive agreement among all restaurants owners to meet minimum standards with the ability to fine said restaurant if they don’t meet standards,

                Actually, not quite. What we’d expect is that the lack of information about a restaurant’s cleanliness would create a market opportunity, because the information is valuable. So you could start a business certifying restaurants, and since I want my customers to know my kitchen is clean, I’d ask you to check me out and put me on your clean list. And Joe Citizen, worried about his kids getting food borne pathogens, checks out the list. Jane Doe, being a bit of a daredevil, doesn’t bother. Her choice, no problem.

                Would the system be perfect? No, and you can easily point out the ways it can go wrong. But is our current system perfect? Hell no, food poisoning happens a hell of a lot more often than most people know. To make sensible arguments, we have to compare real world outcomes, not just point to the flaws in one system and assume an alternative system will fix those flaws (the Nirvana fallacy–yes, libertarians do it, too; lots of folks do; you do it in spades).

                But, if health codes are OK, then why aren’t codes that say, “sorry, you can’t harass workers or we’ll fine you like a motherfucker” too much of an intrusion on the free market?

                I can’t even begin to make sense of this.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                1) Health codes aren’t perfect, but they’re reasonably effective. So, if you want to destroy a system that is working reasonably well for another system that is untested, you better have proof it will work far better than the current system, not just maybe work slightly better than the current system eventually.

                2) I mistyped. My point was, “why is it OK for the state to intrude into the free market to tell restaurants you can’t do this or that or we’ll fine/closed you, but the state telling employers you can’t sexually harass employees or we’ll fine you is too much of an intrusion into the free market.”Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Jesse, but the system isn’t untested. You’re not looking at the real world. We already have organizations like ANSI, Snell, Green Seal, ISO, Zagat, and the favorite of liberals, Consumer Reports. How liberals can praise Consumer’s Union and not realize that non-governmental standards and ratings organizations can’t play a huge role in the market is nothing short of a mystery.

                I bought a couple of bike helmets recently. In the past, every helmet I bought had stickers of approval from Snell and ANSI. No longer, apparently. Now they have stickers saying they meet CPSC standards. OK, I’m comfortable with that. Am I more comfortable than I was before? Why on earth would I be?

                This is what makes me marvel: the claim that a system that is in fact operating all around us and has been for decades–to the point that most of us make use of it casually, without really even thinking about what they represent–is believed to be untested.

                And you think we are unrealistic, when you aren’t even aware of the reality that is out there at this very moment.

                why is it OK for the state to intrude into the free market to tell restaurants you can’t do this or that or we’ll fine/closed you, but the state telling employers you can’t sexually harass employees or we’ll fine you is too much of an intrusion into the free market.”

                Well, fuck. Simon K and I both already said that most libertarians probably think this should be illegal. But once again, you know better than we do about what liberals think. Or once again, you’re so ideologically driven to hate that you can’t take the time to listen to what we actually say.

                Why on earth should I waste any more time with you, or if I do, why on earth should I even be minimally courteous to you, given this type of dickishness on your part?Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                “What we’d expect is that the lack of information about a restaurant’s cleanliness would create a market opportunity, because the information is valuable.”

                And the restaurant would then find it cheaper to bribe the reporting organizations rather than clean up its act.

                And, of course, nothing like that ever happens with the objective disinterested government-run standards bodies, right? (Shut up, Goldman Sachs.)Report

              • Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                If you really think libertarians would outlaw unions you’re hopelessly confused about who they are. Please try to understand your opponents position. Its much more difficult than just mocking it, but leads to much better conversation.

                If it were actually the case that it became more difficult and costly for most people to find a new job in a more libertarian world, I personally would consider that to be the final nail in the coffin of libertarianism. The fundamental premise of libertarianism (at least the sane variety, which is all I have any interest in defending) is that protecting negative liberty is the best way to promote actual freedom. If that were to fail in such a fundamental way, we could consider the whole thing deader than communism.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                I understand libertarians like Hanley have no problems with unions. But I’ve been in enough Internet Arguments w/ self-professed libertarians who believe that a contract is between employer and employee and that any sort of representation beyond that is coercion.

                I’m not saying those people are right about what actual libertarianism is, but since I’m guessing libertarian land is still a democracy instead of a technocracy, those are the libertarians that will be listened to by politicians, especially when lobbyists from corporations make the same argument, backed up by unlimited campaign donations.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:


                You missed Simon’s point–he said libertarians wouldn’t outlaw unions. Sure, libertarians don’t much like unions, on the whole, but we wouldn’t outlaw them. If you can’t grasp why, then you need to stop pretending you know the first thing about libertarians. If you can grasp why, then slow down, and instead of being so eager to just bash, start thinking about what’s being said.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                In a libertarian technocracy run by you, sure.

                But in a more libertarian-leaning society where politcians still have to get votes, raise money, and stay in office? I heavily doubt it, especially when many layman libertarians seem to think unions aren’t a needed part of a libertarian society.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                There you go again, Jesse, telling us libertarians what libertarians really believe and would do.

                Well, I think in a liberal-dominated world you’d nationalize all industry. Doesn’t matter what you liberals actually say, I know it’s true.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Simon K says:

                Actually, in a more socially democratic-like society, I’d think we’d hopefully maybe not nationalize some companies, but in effect, turn them into public utilities and in the long run, I’d think it’d be a good thing for the nation.

                Just like in a more libertarian-like society, I’m sure many government programs would be privatized and most libertarians would think it’s a good thing for the nation.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:


                That whooshing sound? That was the joke going right over your head.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

      Here’s something that bugs me about that example.

      Let’s say that there is a government that says the following:
      (historical example of thing that actually happened)

      Let’s say that they went on to do the following:
      (historical example of thing that actually happened) and used as justification for this act (historical example of thing that actually happened).

      To what extent should we go out of our way to make sure that we avoid policies that are similar to the ones that resulted in (historical example of thing that actually happened)?

      How offensive are these questions? How deliberately provocative are they? How *UNFAIR* are they to ask?Report

  17. Kris says:

    The hard-core libertarians bite the bullet on both the problem of the Lockean proviso and the problem of local bullies. They say that the natural resources belong to the people who got to them first and/or their descendants and not you. And they say if you let a bully manipulate you into having your kids work 18 hour days that’s your fault as a parent. If you agreed to it, even if you felt you had to to keep your pay check, that’s a contract and the governments only job is to enforce it, not to help you.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kris says:

      They can suck it then.

      Reality needs to be recognized and a society in which this happens is unjust and coercive.Report

      • Kris in reply to NewDealer says:

        Yeah, I agree. Or imagine a society that’s even worse, some kind of Dickensian nightmare where little people lack any economic power and have to accept jobs where their bosses can require them to have sex, work 24 hours a day, slog around in a stew of carcinogenic chemicals, etc. Imagine in this world a group of 100 people own everything and pass it on to their children. You can imagine such a society existing and if it existed its not clear how the libertarian could conclude that it is unjust. People enter into contracts. The wealthy pass on their fairly accumulates wealth.

        Such hypothetical thought experiments show that liberty is a wonderful thing but libertarians have the wrong conception of justice.

        Rawlsianism is a much better political philosophy, IMO.Report

        • North in reply to Kris says:

          Kris, I personally cannot imagine the world you’re hypothesizing. Setting aside that the masses would rise up long before the wealth was boiled down to 100 people even under strict economics would drain the wealth out of those 100 people (or more specifically prevent them from accumulating it).Report

          • James Hanley in reply to North says:

            Ironic that Kris comes up with that scenario in response to ND saying reality needs to be recognized.

            I’m sure I could come up with a hypothetical world in which liberalism is shown to be all wrong, too.Report

          • John Howard Griffin in reply to North says:


            “In 2007, it was reported that the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or 30.5 percent of all American families.

            And in 2010, as the Walton’s wealth has risen and most other Americans’ wealth declined, it is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined.”Report

            • James Hanley in reply to John Howard Griffin says:


              I don’t get your point. The Walton’s being fabulously wealthy isn’t a good analog to making people work 24 hours a day while giving blowjobs to the boss.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to James Hanley says:

                I was posting in response to North’s comment:

                “Kris, I personally cannot imagine the world you’re hypothesizing. Setting aside that the masses would rise up long before the wealth was boiled down to 100 people even under strict economics would drain the wealth out of those 100 people (or more specifically prevent them from accumulating it).”

                which was in response to Kris’s comment:

                “Imagine in this world a group of 100 people own everything and pass it on to their children. You can imagine such a society existing and if it existed its not clear how the libertarian could conclude that it is unjust. People enter into contracts. The wealthy pass on their fairly accumulates wealth.”

                It may not be 100 people owning everything, but it is a a very small group of people who own (family wealth) more than the bottom 50 million people combined. It may not be the same thing, but it sure does rhyme. I don’t see any wealth draining out of the Walton’s. In fact, I see the opposite.Report

            • Great FSM do I hate this statistic:

              Do you rent an apartment and own some crappy furniture, maybe a crappy car? Congratulations! You too are wealthier than nearly the same number of Amerians as the Waltons.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Thank you, Mark. I find it astonishing to realize that my net wealth is just about zero. My remaining student loan debt and the remainder of my mortgage roughly offset the value of my house and my vacation property in the Rocky Mountains. I guess that means I’m really really poor, except that nobody who’s not Walton rich would ever think so.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                I see that you didn’t read the linked article.

                But still, these critics charge, the Walton wealth comparison is unfair because the negative net-worth families distort the whole calculation. Anyone with positive net worth, even $1, they point out, has more wealth than millions of American families.

                Let’s take these critics’ suggestion and remove all the negative values at the bottom of the distribution, extinguishing the value of their debts that exceed their assets and assigning them a zero net worth instead. What does the comparison look like then? Not that different: After making this adjustment, about 15.4 million families (13.1 percent of the population) have zero net worth, no small number to be sure. But the Walmart heirs’ $89.5 billion is still equal to the combined net worth of the bottom 33.2 million families (about 28.2 percent of the total), even after extinguishing all negative net worth values in the SCF.

                Again, it should be noted that this modification of the SCF is just not an economically sound thing to do; the negative net-worth observations in the SCF data represent economic information (let alone the realities of millions of families) that cannot just be discarded because people think that the number of families that need to have their wealth added together to sum to the Walton family’s total is arbitrarily “too high” in some way.

                To address these points in one last way, take the wealth of the Walton family ($89.5 billion) compared to the wealth of the median American family—that family that is wealthier than half of all others and less wealthy than half. In 2010, median wealth was $77,300 (down from $126,400 in 2007). How many of these “typical” American households (i.e., those with median wealth—wealthier than fully half of the overall population) would you need to lump together to reach the Walton family’s wealth? About 1.16 million, up from 580,000 in 2007.

                Shorter Mark Thompson: “Is your American family wealth at the median in 2010 ($77k)? Congratulations! The Walton’s are about 1.16 million times as wealthy as you are. But the Walton family wealth is meaningless, because the poor are wealthier than the same number of Americans as the Waltons.”Report

              • Johanna in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                Shorter John Howard – This is one of those issues where as a Liberal I am embarassed. Instead of dealing with the actual causes and issues of the poor, you call attention to wealth disparity. The fact that the Waltons can spend my annual income in a day without blinking is neither relevant or helpful in a conversation about issues of the poor. It is obvious that current policies and support for the poor are not effectively dealing with the problem, so instead of trying to understand why, or considering ideas or options from competing ideological stand, you choose to divert attention in an attempt to place blame elsewhere. Shame on you.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to North says:

            This is a point that most libertarians are unwilling to address: a society has to worry about the distribution of outcomes. If too many are relatively too poor for too long, the mob will level the outcomes (not in a good way). Just my opinion, but I’m inclined to the view that both Bismarck and FDR can be credited with saving laissez-faire free-market capitalists from their own excesses.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Michael Cain says:


              The question is what “relatively too poor” means. Compared to the Walton’s I’ve got dick. Compared to my dad I’m doing considerably better. Compared to my grandpa I’m doing flipping fantastic. Compared to my needs, I’m doing really well, and compared to wants I’m not doing too bad.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                If the Walton critique were only sour grapes envy, I would agree with you.

                But when there is such a wide disparity in outcomes as we have now, aren’t people justified in asking if we in fact don’t live in different nations from the Waltons, that our fates are different, and we have no interests in common?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:


                I do have interests in common with the Waltons; cheap shit from China.

                Turns out, we also have a common interest in the environment and education reform.

                I don’t have to sit around a campfire with them and sing kumbaya before the evening group hug, do I?Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                You are confusing noblesse oblige with shared interests.

                Their financial interests are more closely aligned with the fate of the Chinese billionaires than the American middle class.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

                Ah, I see. You get to define which of their interests really count for alignment with mine and which don’t.

                Sure, that approach can’t be rigged at all.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


      I’m not going to bother with a thorough response because your questions are too ideological and leading. So the hard core libertarian does X. Why do you focus on the hardcore instead of, say, the median libertarian? Because it’s an easier position to attack? Congratulations on taking the easy approach instead of taking on a more challenging task.

      Also, your question really is, if the world is the way I think it is, how can the libertarian approach possibly work? But I doubt many libertarians think the world is as you think it is. Most libertarians think that in a libertarian world there’d be greater economic vitality, do if your boss demanded sex it would be easier to walk away, less costly because there would be more alternative opportunities. Now you may think they’re wrong about that, and that’s fair, because perhaps they are. But you can’t legitimately demand they provide a solution to a problem they don’t think is real. (That is, the attempted sexual harassment may be real, but the difficulty of switching jobs wouldn’t be.)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Why do you focus on the hardcore instead of, say, the median libertarian?

        Obviously, the real goal of libertarianism is the society depicted in their bible, Atlas Shrugged, and the so-called “moderate” libertarians are either consciously concealing their real intentions or simply useful idiots. (Make the obvious substitutions, and you have something many people still believe.)Report

      • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:


        I am sorry you don’t want to engage. These are pretty standard problems for libertarianism, so I am surprised you don’t want to engage with them.

        Really, I wanted to see if you were a hardcore libertarian or a moderate one. And if you were a moderate, whether you had any philosophical differences with classical liberals, who value liberty but are okay with some paternalism and government intervention.

        The problem of the Lockean proviso shows indeed show a conceptual problem with the libertarian, Lockean account of the social contract. But a lot of the intuitive appeal of libertarianism comes from that Lockean story about where the social contract comes from. If you give that intuition up, libertarianism is left with little.

        My thought experiment is just ta hypothetical way of illustrating the problem with local bullies. Alter the details as you see fit. (It is certainly imaginable, just as 1984 is imaginable or as horrible oligarchies have been very real.)Its perfectly acceptable to use hypothetical thought experiments to prove that X is not a good definition/account of Y.

        Now, I recognize that a lot of theories of justice, e.g. Hobbes’s, certain kinds of classical liberalism, have the same problem. All of them fail as definitions. But that’s really no defense of the libertarianism that you have laid out. If anything its a tacit acceptance that imperfect political ideologies are at best a messy guide to real world disputes. Libertarianism needs to be blended with Hobbesianism and Utilitarianism to form a good acoount of what a just society would look like. Do I know how to make that blend? Nope. (I’d argue Rawls comes closest.) But I am no more likely to accep libertarianism than Hobbesianism because both are flawed.Report

        • Roger in reply to Kris says:


          Why does the Lockean Proviso negate consequentialist versions of libertarianism?

          I’m fine with people choosing the rules behind a veil but I don’t think many would be as risk averse as Rawls. Personally I would choose a society which allowed me the opportunity to optimize my personal success with minimal risk of catastrophic failure.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

          The problem of the Lockean proviso shows indeed show a conceptual problem with the libertarian,

          If the Lockean proviso is taken seriously, perhaps it would be a problem. But since it’s just a normative claim about a non-existent world, I can’t see how it’s possibly a real problem for libertarians.

          I’m afraid you’re in the position of a religious person telling an atheist that God is a conceptual problem for their moral belief system. It might sound right to the religious person, but it’s a total non-sequitur to the atheist.Report

  18. Rufus F. says:

    Do Libertarians Have an Optimistic View of Human Nature?

    I’ve often thought that the philosophical stance most suited to libertarianism is stoicism. Maybe Jason would understand what I mean by that.Report

  19. Johanna says:

    And how is any of this a Libertarian issue? I may be far more liberal than my spouse but you are discussing issues where liberal policies are failing. This is a social issue, and contrary to your belief that Libertarians would approve of work place harassment you are merely confirming that Liberal policies and current law are ineffective.Report

    • Kris in reply to Johanna says:

      I don’t think libertarians approve of harrasment itself.

      I think they disapprove of laws that ban harrasment, and without those laws harrasment will be even more common than it is now.

      Of course, we have laws against harrasment, but they aren’t always well enforced, and victims feel so disempowered (which is my point) that they often don’t report it. Employees need to be empowered.

      Full employment (or as near to it as possible) helps stop harrasment (I think),but even at full employment, employees (especially the unskilled, poor, who are supporting families) will often lack the power to leave their job to avoid sexual abuse. I could prove this by finding even a few cases of sexual abuse, where the victim didn’t quit, that occured during times of relatively low unemployment. (I don’t know how to find that info, but my guess is that it will show good labor markets don’t stop local bullying. Maybe it limits local bullying. I am unsure.)Report

      • Johanna in reply to Kris says:

        I think you are using a problem that currently exists and making an erroneous assumption that Libertarians would not be interested in enforcement or employee empowerment. I think that the Libertarians here have very clearly stated a desire to enforce laws against harassment and there is no evidence that they feel otherwise or would reverse laws which make it illegal.Report

  20. Johanna says:

    Darn nested comments. My comment was in reply to Kris regarding employer harassment.Report

  21. Kris says:

    Well, this was a good thread.

    I also have a Third worry about libertarianism, in addition to the problem of local bullies and the Lockean proviso, but its not well worked out.

    3. People are not as capable of making free, rational choices as libertarians suggest.

    Libertarians accept that children and the extremely mentally ill and extremely mentally handicapped need to be protected, and presumably the state will have to guarantee those protections. (I mean people’s parents die, their friends aren’t always trustworthy to protect them, etc. The state has to enforce protections for kids, the mentally handicapped, maybe even those with really bad addictions, etc.)

    But why protect them? A.) They aren’t capable of making rational choices. Their behavior is too easily manipulated and controlled. B.) They lack self-control and the ability to overcome immediate impulses. So, C.) They shouldn’t be held responsible for bad decisions.

    But lots of people, at least at some point in their life, fit A, B, and C even if they aren’t mentally handicapped.

    When I was a teenager I suffered from depression and anxiety. And I drank too much and did really dumb stuff, but I was not institutionalized or considered without any legal responsibility, Sometimes I was pretty with it, but sometimes I struggled and did stupid shit. My story is a common one. Now, imagine somebody figured out that I’m pretty depressed and a dumb teenager , and that I’m making likely to make bad decisons, and that I have some serious need of cash and offers me a deal: they’ll loan me 10,000 at 200% interest per month. If I can’t repay, I promise to allow them to take a massive lien on all my future earnings. And the contract I enter is such that I can never escape the debt through bankruptcy. I sign it, and then of course I can’t repay it, and the interest becomes a tax that follows me through the rest of my life.

    Now, shouldn’t that be illegal? Shouldn’t I be protected from my teenage self by anti-usury laws, restrictions on certain kinds of debt, and predatory lending practices. I’d say yes.

    Granted, this is just one example, but I don’t think usury laws ar a whole different from certain health laws that libertarians rail against. I am glad businesses can’t sell food that’s too tainted with toxins, because when I was young and a little crazy/dumb, I’d have eaten it.If some private board recommended I don’t eat it, I would’ve eaten it because I was not smart enough, strong willed enough, and rational enough to make a choice.

    And even now that I’m an adult, I have bad periods. Not with booze, But depression and anxiety can make you do really dumb stuff and its good that you are protected from at least some stuff doing stuff that’s too dangerous in those bad times.

    I get that ther’s a slippery slope problem here. The government can go over the line in protecting us from ourselves. But given how common it is for people to suffer from bouts of anxiety, depression, and just plain bad judgment, I think some minimal nanny-statism is justified.

    Surely at least libertarians will agree that anti-usury laws should be in effect.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kris says:

      I made this argument before in another thread and was blasted about how dare I think people won’t always make the most effective choices about their own lives and indeed, it’s impossible that experts in a field might have a better idea on how to get out of poverty than a single mom with three kids and two jobs.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


      Now this is a comment I don’t mind responding to. I agree this is a problem. I’ve often said that the weak point for libertarians is children, because libertarianism is a system designed for rational adults. And of course the child problem extends to the mentally retarded, folks with schizophrenia, etc. I had a cousin with Downs’ Syndrome who died a few weeks ago, having lived into his early 50s (an unusually long time). He was lucky in that his parents cared for him his whole life, but of course that’s not true for everyone like him.

      That’s one of the areas where my libertarianism gets really heavily moderated and I end up overlapping pretty tightly with liberals. Not all libertarians do, but then I have a feeling most of them avoid thinking carefully about that particular problem, precisely because it’s an awkward point (and don’t we all like to avoid dealing with the awkward points in our beliefs?).Report

      • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

        Thanks James,

        All in all I liked your post, despite using it as an opportunity to push you a bit on what I see as problems with libertarianism. This will be my last comment as I have bombed the thread.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


          Thanks. And sincerely, I’m totally comfortable with this last comment of yours. It’s a valid criticism; one for which I wish we had a better libertarian answer.Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to Kris says:

      Kris, I would go one step further and assert that even when it is possible for people to make informed rational choices, they:
      1. Shouldn’t always have to, and ;
      2. In some cases, shouldn’t be allowed to.

      Regarding #1, being forced to play the Wise Consumer, is incredibly inefficient for conducting business; For example, in my sector of the conomy, real estate and construction, real estate developers and builders are the prime beneficiaries of things like building codes, professional licensure, and so forth.
      When a developer wants to purchase a building and remodel it, the last thing he needs or wants is yet more risk – knowing a building was designed by licensed engineers, and conforms to building codes offers a quick and efficient method of reducing investment risk. The “freedom” associated with an end to these things is a freedom no one needs.

      As for #2, it gets back to the concept of our mutual interdependence; if a person chooses to eat at the Olde Salmonella Factory restaurant, they don’t just harm themselves; Sick people are a tremendous drag on the economy. We as a society have decided that whatever freedom is associated with not complying with health code regulations, it isn’t worth the price we all pay for it and choosing to eat there is defiend as a Choice You May Not Make.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:


        I don’t know why you assume that in a libertarian society I, as a consumer, would have to be on my own to figure out whether the guy claiming he’s qualified to design my house truly is qualified or not. This is really one of the more mysterious things believed by liberals.

        You’re right that this would be very inefficient for me. So inefficient that I’d be willing to pay someone to figure it out for me. Or, if I’m the qualified engineer, so inefficient that I’d be willing to pay to give customers confidence in me.

        That means there’d be a perfect market space for someone to certify qualified housing designers/engineers.

        Would that be better than the current system? I’m no ideologue, so I’m not going to stomp my feet and insist that it would be. It’s an empirical question, and neither of us has enough information to know the answer, so please accept that I’m not making that claim.

        The claim I am making is that such an obvious market need would be filled, so to assume such a need would go unfulfilled in a libertarian free market paradiseTM is wildly erroneous.

        It’s a particularly surprising oversight given that certification already exists, even though we do have licensing regimes. See, for example, here (note: the author favors licensing over certification, so I’m not sending you to a link that satisfies my ideological preferences, but one that despite not satisfying my ideological preferences demonstrates the empirical accuracy of my claim and the empirical inaccuracy of your assumption).Report

        • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

          Certifications are a good example of things that only work if they are universal, and compulsory. Most of what makes a building quality, are things hidden and undiscoverable after the fact. A trained professional can look at an old building, but no one can say what is inside the concrete.

          So with a voluntary, hit and miss system of certifications, the real estate industry is burdened with a new and terrifying level of risk and uncertainty, in exchange for what benefit?

          I think its telling that no one in our industry is promoting the idea of switching to a voluntary system of permits and credentials.

          I’m quite sure that there are alternatives to our current system of licensure and credentials and permits. But I’m not sure what problem we would be trying to fix.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

            You’re making assertions without providing any supporting explanation.

            Compulsory? Why? If you choose not to get certified, you don’t get on the list of certified people, and I don’t fishing trust you and don’t hire you.

            new and terrifying level of risk

            Emotional buzzwords, designed to scare. The certification is already there–there’d be nothing new and terrifying; there’d be the same old thing.

            I think its telling that no one in our industry is promoting the idea of switching to a voluntary system of permits and credentials.

            A cynic might agree that it’s very telling…a story of rent-seeking.

            Mostly, though, you’re acting as though certification would be something new and untested, when in fact it’s already been in place for a long time. This is the kind of game I really dislike, the game of saying “the other side’s proposing something “new and terrifying,” when it’s not new, nor has it terrified anyone yet.Report

  22. Roger says:

    To any liberals still reading…

    James set out a moderate view of libertarian thinking. Along the way some folks brought up the argument that libertarians are more tolerant of sexual harassment issue that started over at CT.

    Just to clarify… Libertarians are just as bothered by sexual harassment as you are. We simply believe that many, but not all, regulations have negative unintended consequences that bite back. We are substantially more likely to believe that many regulations designed to help workers will actually backfire and make workers worse off in terms of wages, opportunity, market dynamism and so on.

    For me, this means that I approve of regulating some obviously offensive abuses. I would try to find non regulatory methods for others, and I think some things are best left to adults to decide on their own.

    In summary, in general the reason we reject token regulation is that we sincerely believe that the unintended effects will often be worse for the workers than the intended effects. In other words we are critical of regulations which do more harm than good, and we are more sensitive to unintended harms.Report