Comment Rescue: Once More, with Feeling
“But how can a libertarian believe that any system that transfers wealth by supporting social safety nets, public school funding, or progressive taxation is just?”
Ultimately, he can’t (unless all that stuff you mentioned is voluntary). However, contrary to popular belief, many (dare I say, most?) libertarians are realists. When we get caught up in these heated debates, we often sound like radicals, but most of us realize you’ve got to face reality and compromise when you actually want to get things done.
So, when we adamantly say things like “taxation is theft” and “public education [is] bad”, we mean it sincerely, but we’re usually willing to compromise as long as we’re moving at least a little in the direction of more liberty. So, we might agree to public education/welfare/healthcare if they’re done at the state or local level. We might agree to taxes, but we’d prefer a sales tax over income tax.
Given the constraints on the executive branch, what would we reasonably expect at the end of President Paul’s first term? A federal budget of about the same size (perhaps executive branch appropriations cut significantly), much fewer military operations overseas, and all federal prisoners incarcerated for drug possession released (unless they committed violent acts). That’s probably about it.
Brian is basically right, I think. (My own preferred setup would be a no-deductions negative income tax with a substantial guaranteed minimum income, minus the entire welfare state, but I digress.)
To me, a libertarian can be almost anyone who accepts that just about all state action is in a sense not 100% ethically right, whatever its good effects may be, and whatever moral catastrophes the state really does serve to avert. (And these can both be quite real.)
Libertarians also agree that much state action is perfectly inexcusable, averts no moral catastrophes at all, and is itself a moral catastrophe. What’s wrong with the state? It violates individuals’ rights, understood as including property, security of person and effects, and general human autonomy. Some of these violations may actually be unavoidable, but at least we should still be appropriately embarrassed about them. Perhaps we’ll eventually find a way out of having to do them, but admitting the problem has to come first.
We have a state because we are flawed, ignorant, cruel, and short-sighted. But those flaws apply to the state as well. Often more than to individuals. Necessity does not make virtue, and the appealing fiction that we all consent to everything won’t get us there either.
That said, we libertarians are not all radicals. Many of us have a rationalistic side, and libertarian theory has convinced it of some fairly radical conclusions. But we won’t necessarily know how to implement those conclusions, and it’s best to be candid about that. We all have an empirical side as well, and that side recognizes that we should work on the really big, really easily solved problems first. Perhaps we will learn things along the way that will allow a more fully informed, more careful, more empirically justified approach to the heights that our rationalistic side already declares that it can see.
Or maybe we’ll never get there. Maybe time and experience will show us that the rationalistic conclusion was false. Some subtle flaw along the way just grew and grew until it wrecked everything else, as often happens in rationalism. (Some people are pretty sure that this is already the case, but keep in mind, that too is a hypothesis that it will take considerable convincing to get across, if it ever does, and whether or not it should get across.)
Anyway. The point is simple. I’m not actually on a seastead, smoking meth, clad only in a Gadsden flag wrapped around my wiener. I’ve got some ideas, some suggestions, and here I am, making them. Let’s end the War on Drugs. Empty the prisons of nonviolent drug offenders. Marijuana, mushrooms, peyote, the other “soft” drugs — legal for sale to adults. For the hard stuff, do like Portugal did, and adopt a public health approach. The sky didn’t fall, only the crime rate. We all know the War on Drugs hurts the poor and racial minorities disproportionately, which makes it even less excusable. Just be done with it already.
End the War on Terror. Rescind the president’s free-floating warmaking power, which he has enjoyed for way too long (I take for granted that this would end much if not all of our drone warfare as well. But if it doesn’t, just end that too.). Bring the troops home and put these smart, talented people to work in the United States instead, in the private sector. Close Gitmo and the secret prisons, end the extraordinary renditions, the military commissions, and the assassinations. Let the court system do the job it was intended to do, to separate the guilty from the innocent the best we know how.
Simplify the tax code, simplify zoning and land use requirements, simplify occupational licensing and business regulations. Shorten copyright and patent terms, and restrict the range of patentable “innovations.”
These are the things that I think are by far the most important, right now. Much of the rest I can take or leave. (Example: If I were asked to surrender same-sex marriage, and if it meant I could remake drug policy exactly how I wanted, I’d do it. Instantly.)
But a funny thing tends to happen around here, and just about everywhere else where libertarians find themselves in a mixed political crowd. I hate to be grumpy after such a conciliatory post, but I’m gonna.
Conservatives, to the extent that they remain at the League, tend to welcome the economic points of the above program, even as they disagree about the drug and the foreign policy suggestions. “You’re maybe about half right,” they’ll say, in effect, “and we respect that. We can work with you. Let’s talk.”
Liberals don’t even give us half credit. “It’s not worth talking to you. You never do anything right, or when you happen to do something right, it doesn’t count, because you’re too small a group. And also you’re evil. And you’re insane. Oh, and by the way, why do you always seem to tilt conservative? Because I find that suspicious.”
I feel as if the answer to that last question is just hanging in the air. I really, really don’t want to be a conservative, but you know…