Chris Bertram’s case for libertarianism
(Note: This post is NOT part of our current Democracy Symposium. If you want to follow the Symposium – and you should! – you can find it here.)
They say that one man’s Modus Ponens is another’s Modus Tollens. Chris Bertram, a left liberal from over at Crooked timber, unwittingly paints a fairly strong case for libertarianism:
Some of you, I know, are worried about this so-called 1 per cent, and even about the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent: the people who own lots of stuff. Not only do they own lots of stuff, but they own the kind of stuff that is useful if you want to own even more stuff…
…Now I suppose you want to do something about that? Yes? One option would be to let them hang onto all their existing assets – after all, they got them justly (or at least non-criminally) according to the rules of the system they themselves helped to formulate – but to introduce a new system of rules (call it a “basic structure” if you like) that works to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged. Assume you have the knowledge to design it with the distributive effects you want (big assumption that!). Let that system grind away for long enough – a few generations perhaps – and you’ll have shifted things a little bit in the right direction…
… If you really want a shift in the distribution of wealth and income, if you really really want it, then realistically you’re going to have to use state power to do a bit of ex post redistribution. You’re going to have to take stuff from some people and give it to others. Doesn’t necessarily have to be that total Marxian expropriation of the expropriators: a comprehensive programme of debt cancellation would fit the bill. Life is about making choices: and you’re going to have to choose. Is it outrageous to dispossess someone of the wealth they acquired under the rules of the game; or are you going to say that substantive fairness sometimes matters more?
He concludes the post with:
If robbing the rich appals you, become a libertarian instead.
And down in the comments is this gem:
Look folks. There’s a reason why Hayek, in The Mirage of Social Justice exempted Rawls from his strictures against “social justice”, and that was because Rawls’s programme involved embedding redistribution into the design of a system of rules knowable ex ante by persons., thereby conforming with Hayek’s conception of the rule of law.
Of course I think Bertram et al underestimate the value of the rule of law. But if you are going to throw Rule of law under the bus in order to achieve redistributive goals, it says something about your ideological blinders. Of course, none of this is truly sufficient to make my point, but since this post is just a quickie, I will assume that it can be shown that we cannot throw the Rule of Law under the bus the way Bertram thinks we should.