A Thing I Do Not Understand about Libertarians


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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188 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Isn’t this kind of the scenario in the Diamond Age where nano-machines could provide things cheap, practically free? The solution in the Diamond Age was that there was a base minimal life that everybody was entitled to but if you wanted more you needed to work. This solution should be acceptable to nearly everybody except the harshest reactionaries.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      It’s exactly the scenario of Diamond Age, but there is no obvious reason why things should stop where they did. Mass replication is going to make intellectual property harder to enforce and therefore probably a lot less legally protected in the future, not more.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think the obvious reason why things had to stop there was that Neil Stephenson and a book to write and couldn’t think about the full implicatiosn of nano-machines without hitting writer’s block.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          In one of my many abortive attempts to write fiction, I tried tackling this problem myself and found myself too influenced by Diamond Age to be confident I was expounding my own ideas rather than simply recapitulating Stephenson’s.

          And when I tried to move beyond it I too hit the problem that there seemed to be no driver for conflict other than interpersonal interactions like love and friendship and religion.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            This pretty much reflects my isssues with fan-fiction. A lot of fan-fiction writers aren’t exactly the world’s best thinkers when it comes to what is necessary for writing fiction. Even some really bad authors think a lot more about the implications of nano-machines or whatever than a lot of fan fiction writers. This means that fan-fiction authors tend towards using somebody else’s ideas to fuel their fantasies. There is nothing wrong with that in a moral sense but I wish that people would put more effort into creating their own fiction rather than relying on work laid down by others.

            I also tend to be something of a canonists when it comes to literature. A lot of fan-fiction involves fans correcting “mistakes” made by the author. Usually this comes down to fans being match-makers and changing the canonical romantic relationships. I’m not really fond of this, people do not have to like the choices an author makes but it takes a certain amount of unpalitible arrogance to correct an author’s mistakes.*

            *This is more true when a work as one authors and is more or less limited in scope. I make something of an exception for long-term collaborative projects, i.e. comic books. There its a bit more reasonable for fans to complain about author’s messing up relationships becase the multiple-authorship means that nobody’s vision is being violated.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The problem with the government saying “X is a right!” is generally that the government doesn’t have to competence to provide X (assuming X is a positive right). I mean, if the government said “Aspirin is a right!”, I’d suddenly suspect that we’d find ourselves in the middle of an aspirin shortage.

    And my saying “well, you don’t exactly have a *RIGHT* to aspirin” should not be interpreted as me saying “therefore I have the right to come into your home, shoot your dogs, and take your aspirin from you” (which is where a lot of “you don’t have a right to X” statements end up going).Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I think you can clean a lot of that up by saying, “You have the right to PURSUE X.” The government can’t stop you from trying to buy aspirin, but it is not required to provide you with aspirin nor is it an injustice if your pursuit goes unrewarded. That is not the case for all X’s… I do think there are some that the government should provide for us or at least the means to acquire it and which unrewarded pursuit is an injustice.Report

    • Libertarians want a legal system that tolerates any choices people make in their personal pursuits of happiness unless (and this is the “negative rights” part) those choices are to initiate violent threats or actions. This toleration extends to economic choices. A libertarian legal system would enforce this tolerance: it would include a legally enforceable right to make these choices free from violent aggression.

      Specifically a libertarian legal system would enforce your right to collect any manna from heaven, rainbows pooped by nanobots or to do anything else so long as you refrained from violent aggression. A libertarian legal system would protect your right to make both economically productive and economically unproductive choices, regardless of who did or did not benefit from your choices.

      Rights are all about the relationship between people within the context of a legal system. If person X can legally force person Y not to initiate violence against them we can say, “Person X has a negative right”. If person X can legally force person Y to provide them with “essential” economic goods or services then we can say, “Person X has a positive right”.

      In Jason’s thought experiment where nanobots poop rainbows, there is no need for “positive rights” since there are no needs for “essential” economic goods or services that are left unfulfilled. All that needs to happen is for the legal system to enforce negative rights to be free from violent coercion when choosing whether or not to collect the rainbow poop.

      I sincerely don’t believe Jason understands what a positive right is. Postulating a world where economic desires can be fulfilled with practically no work is not at all the same thing as saying that world is one where it is “arbitrarily easy to grant extensive positive rights to everyone in society”.

      And in the real world it is not in fact “arbitrarily easy to grant extensive positive rights to a very small number of very unfortunate people”–these positive rights by their nature can never be enforced, for a large number of people or a small number, without violating the libertarian principle of tolerance. You might think it is worth doing it, but you should never say that it “arbitrarily easy” to enforce “positive rights”.

      Looking at some of his other questions…

      The ideal of tolerance at the core of a libertarian legal system has absolutely nothing to say about the opinions one should have of other people’s choices. Nor does have anything to say about whether one should choose to actively encourage or discourage the particular choices of others–as always, provided that the encouragement or discouragement is done without initiating violent threats or actions.

      Personally, as a libertarian, I would both tolerate anyone else’s choice not to be “economically productive” and would celebrate the fact that technology had allowed them to better pursue their own happiness as they saw it. Other libertarians might try to persuade everyone to be productive–and they too would still be libertarians if in the end they were willing to tolerate, even if unhappily, someone else’s choice not to be productive.

      This whole post suggests that Jason may be confusing objectivism (and its belief that it is morally good for every person to be a creative, productive individual) with libertarianism (and its tolerance of *all* choices, even “economically unproductive” ones, other than choices to initiate violent threats or actions).

      If you really want to understand libertarianism then focus on the core belief in tolerance that we share: we should, individually and in groups, tolerate any choices that do not initiate violent threats or actions, even if we do not personally agree with those choices.

      Libertarians go wrong when they mistakenly put other things (nationalism, current patterns of property distribution resulting from a very un-libertarian history, etc) ahead of our core ideals of tolerance and non-aggression. Perhaps this is why others seem to be confused about libertarians…Report

      • Avatar The Cardiff Kook says:

        “If you really want to understand libertarianism then focus on the core belief in tolerance that we share: we should, individually and in groups, tolerate any choices that do not initiate violent threats or actions, even if we do not personally agree with those choices.”

        Is this because tolerance is good as an ends or a means? What if the world changed in such a way that, hypothetically, it became destructive as a means? Would this change your views? In other words are your values instrumental, or absolute?Report

        • Avatar Russell M says:

          is this stealth Rodger?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          This is why I think limiting it to “violent threat or action” is a bit too far.

          Chopping down a tree isn’t a violent threat or action and, assuming it isn’t my tree you’re chopping down and are not doing so in such a way that it falls on me or my property, I ought to tolerate your action even if I am bothered by it.

          Nor is chopping down ALL the trees, provided you do so in the same manner. However, leaving me with no oxygen to breathe because of all your tree chopping certainly does seem like something I need not tolerate.Report

          • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

            Yeah, I agree. I think that restricting violence, threats and fraud are great “rules of thumb,” or conventions. But if the universe became a worse place by allowing non coercive freedom, the argument for it collapses. Often a BIG “if”.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Yea. Part of the problem, though, is that folks would look at the horrors of cutting down ALL the trees and reason that no one should cut down any trees. Which would be problematic as well. And that leaves us stuck in the middle, trusting individuals and/or the government to determine the right number of trees to cut down and who should be able to do so.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Another example being CO2. Nobody releases enough CO2 to make any difference. But collectively, all those small amounts add up to an emergent problem.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                So what do we do?Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Depends on the issue. Property rights are often quite effective as they align the interest of the owner with the property and thus discourage wasteful behavior while encouraging preservation. Taxes can be set which try to account for the externality.

                On global warming, I like the new ideas presented by Alan Savory to use livestock herds to reverse desertification and use the CO2 capture of plants to reverse man made CO2 to levels below that at the advent of industrialization. Food, greenery and no global warming.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Woops. Sorry.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                (as Clouseau) “the prob-lame is solv-ayed”Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Check out the link. A fascinating talk from someone who admits to killing tens of thousands of elephants through good intentions gone awry.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Chris, this is a thoughtful comment, but I have a few quibbles. You wrote

        In Jason’s thought experiment where nanobots poop rainbows, there is no need for “positive rights” since there are no needs for “essential” economic goods or services that are left unfulfilled. All that needs to happen is for the legal system to enforce negative rights to be free from violent coercion when choosing whether or not to collect the rainbow poop.

        First, the mere existence of these nanobots doesn’t entail that all basic economic needs are met. It only entails the possibility that they are. That is, nanobots could eliminate an entire spectrum of so called “positive rights”, but only if they were utilized towards those ends. So Jason’s question is this: do libertarians think government ought to utilize nanobots in just that way?

        Second, you say all the government needs to do to enforce negative rights in this scenario is to refrain from using force wrt rainbow pooping nanobot technologies. But that seems to beg at least one important question, namely, if the only way government can implement the nanobot initiative is via coercive revenue collections from taxpayers, then libertarians are confronted with a conflict between violating negative rights and maximizing non-economic liberties (social justice, etc).Report

  3. Well done, Jason.

    As a libertarian-ish sort of guy, I’ll take a quick stab (with the caveat that I reserve the right to change my answers after more thought):

    Now comes the government, which declares that not only is this something to be happy about (and of course it is![4]), but also that people have a right to these things.

    Libertarians: Is that so, in your view?

    I don’t know if I’d say people have a “right” to them, but, essentially, yes, that’d be about where I stand (because property rights are imaginary! hee hee).

    Even if you’re not a rights-talking libertarian, would there still be any reason to connect “work” and “bread,” if “bread” could be had as easily as air?

    Nope. I’d definitely say not.

    But what would we think of people who did absolutely nothing but consume free stuff for the rest of their lives? Would we look down on them?

    This is tougher; I’d say maybe. However, it’s not about the consuming free stuff part, it’s about the doing absolutely nothing else part. There’d probably still be good works to be done within society, and I might judge people who don’t do that… but I’m kind of getting in the weeds here, so maybe I’m not really properly addressing your question. I guess a better answer would be, I don’t know.

    If your answer is “no,” then what about today?

    Since my previous answer was a bit of a cop out, I’ll give a go at this one, too.

    I don’t know. I don’t think we should think less of such people, but I’m inclined to think that if you can provide for yourself (for lack of a better term), you should. But I am cool with trying to provide some level of income for most everyone.

    Now – what if the post-scarcity future doesn’t come overnight? What if, instead, advanced technology just gradually comes to provide for more and more people, through its own autonomous working, and through the entirely voluntary actions of the rest of us?

    …Isn’t that a rather gigantic problem? That your ideology may not only suffer from plausibility decay, but also that it appears clearly to break down right now, at least for a few?

    Yeah, it seems like a problem. I’m not against sharing abundance or “spreading the wealth around” (I think there was some dude 4 or 5 years ago who said that). Figuring out how we choose who get provided for will be tricky.

    All in all, if we can defeat scarcity and make all my libertarian economic opinions obsolete, that’ll be pretty great. It’ll just give us more time to fight Hate Speech laws.

    (I don’t know how well I answered your questions, or if I’m kind of missing things, and I’m sure that with more reflection, I’ll start to see some contradictions in various positions I hold. But this was an honest attempt to answer your questions, and I think there’s value in an initial gut-reaction kind of response.)Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    pooping rainbows

    I want the right to urinate in different colors!

    Travestieis, Tom StoppardReport

  5. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    I’m a little unclear on why you think that libertarians would look at a post-scarcity society and want to re-invent scarcity.

    “what if the post-scarcity future doesn’t come overnight? What if, instead, advanced technology just gradually comes to provide for more and more people, through its own autonomous working, and through the entirely voluntary actions of the rest of us?”

    It is not *libertarians* who think that society needs to be protected from genetically-modified food, experimental pharmaceuticals, nuclear energy, and high-capacity telecommunications.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      As I said, quite often — even usually — libertarians are technophiles. But this sits a little awkwardly with the idea that people ought to work, that work is character-forming, and that there is a moral problem with providing free goods for people. Even if, as in the example, those free goods are not provided through coercing someone else.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        See, that’s the problem.

        “people ought to work” is not the libertarian ideal.

        It’s more like “people WHO WANT SOMETHING THEY DO NOT HAVE ought to work TO ACQUIRE THAT THING”.

        And in your proposed post-scarcity instant-gratification future, there is no such thing as “want something they do not have”.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          I find this statement hilarious.
          This might have something to do with the “libertarians” I know.Report

        • Avatar Christian says:

          Jason, I am here with Jim. I think your post is rather nonsensical (as in, I just don’t understand what you are trying to get at). Do you think that most libertarians need some sort of labor theory of value for their libertarianism to work? While many libertarians (and many people) may believe that work is character building, etc., that is independent of their political views about libertarianism. Most libertarians, in general, just try to adhere as best as possible to the non-aggression principle which is absent above. Can you please explain further what, exactly, you are trying to get at?

          And as a side note, while I won’t question the assumption of positive rights, why do you assume that government is necessary in a post-scarcity future?Report

          • Avatar Addie says:

            Also, libertarianism isn’t about “working” for “stuff.” It’s more concerned with voluntary mutual exchange, in other words, providing value. If the value you provide to someone else is your “work” then, by all means, you should exchange “work” for what you want. If the value you provide (people will pay you to do it) is singing music or playing basketball, then you should do that, even though you may not consider it “work.” If your society is one where ones needs can be fulfilled without coercing others or without providing value, than so be it. I wouldn’t condemn that person just like I currently don’t condemn trust fund babies for living off of value provided by their parents.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        I mean, let’s take the sun, which really *is* something you can get for free (so long as you don’t have clouds or night, of course, and there isn’t really much humans can do about those, although your beliefs about global warming may differ from mine.)

        Libertarians do not look at people sitting in the sun and call them useless light-suckers who are moral failures because they don’t do anything to *earn* all that Vitamin D they’re getting.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        the idea that people ought to work, that work is character-forming, and that there is a moral problem with providing free goods for people. Even if, as in the example, those free goods are not provided through coercing someone else.

        Are you sure about this part, Jason? Speaking for myself, if TANSTAFL is largely “repealed” via technology, I don’t see why I care if everybody has free ice cream; as you say, that ice cream wasn’t taken from anybody else. Terms like “moocher” and “freeloader” only have weight when they are “taking” from someone else. If they are “taking” from the aether, well, who cares?

        I may find it *distasteful* if people just sit around on their hoverchairs, Wall-E style, and doing nothing, but I don’t think it would be my job to do anything about it – I am still free to pursue whatever ends (creative, etc.) I choose.

        Humans being novelty- and status-seeking animals, I suspect enough people would still choose to do something semi-productive at least some of the time, so I don’t think progress would stop and we’d all become infantilized.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Humans being novelty- and status-seeking animals, I suspect enough people would still choose to do something semi-productive at least some of the time, so I don’t think progress would stop and we’d all become infantilized.

          This. I suspect that there’s actually an awful lot of these people who currently are bound to laboring over stuff that they are good at and all, but it’s not soul-affirming to them the way it would be if they could just chuck all that crap and do performance art.Report

  6. Avatar James K says:

    I have no problem with your hypothetical. But then, I already support welfare under current conditions, so I may not be the target of this post.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Okay, imagine someone winning the lottery and winning one of those big-enough jackpots that we’re not reading one of those horror stories about people who win the lottery.

    What does this person do? Well, let’s get past all of the boring “paying stuff off” items on the checklist and go to the fun stuff: Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll. A party lifestyle.

    So now let’s have everyone win the lottery. (Let’s ignore inflation concerns for the sake of the argument.) Suddenly, partying is less of an imperative. You’re not doing anything that anybody else cannot do. There’s no particular status conferred by throwing one. Sex? Well, there’s no longer a “I can provide material comfort for you and your/our children” angle to interpersonal relationships. Everybody has all the material comfort they need. People would trade on how attractive they are, maybe… but a lot of the dynamics would just up and disappear. Having no material wants would mean a lot more single-space units… full of people who are, presumably, in a pleasant stupor.

    So in this Diamond Age, I suspect that everyone would be living the lives of well-kept cats, sleeping, catnip, pound one out, eating, and repeat (except maybe change the order around a bit).

    And there would be a tiny second generation and the third generation would likely be the last because… what language skills would it have? What skills at all?Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      Get the message? DON’T DATE ROBOTS!Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I don’t think it would shake out this way.

      I think we would wind up with The Useless, to be clear. But we already have them now, and they show up to work and generate more work for the rest of us anyway, so having them live lives of well-fed cats isn’t terribly distressing to me from a personal utility standpoint.

      However, I do think that there is a very large amount of tension between the people who work because they want to work and the people who work because it enables other things.

      I think that the people who work because it enables other things are largely wasting a huge chunk of their Chi grinding away at freeing the small bit of it to go do what it’s actually supposed to do.

      I suspect that we’d wind up with a lot more cool art, music, sculpture, dance, philosophy, science, mathematics… basically everything that I think is kind of cool. Much less of everything I think kind of sucks.

      That there are a chunk of people who could not adapt to it (The Useless and the Power Mongers, mostly), well, it might not be a bad thing.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Sure. That’s the first generation. How many kids will these people have?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Probably quite a bunch considering they’d be looking for something to do. But most likely we’d expand outward and Star Trek would become considerably more prescient looking.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            looking for something to do

            Why? Endorphins?

            I’ve got endorphins right here. No effort required.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Maybe, but I gather there’re many people who find child rearing fulfilling and enjoyable. For those people material concerns are what hold them back. Many of us would be (blissfully) childless but some would likely blissfully have entire broods.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Having kids was the best thing I ever did for myself. If I had unlimited time and resources, I’d certainly have had more.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Yeah, I was going to say, if I didn’t have to work, and money was simultaneously no object, raising kids would be a lot more fun, not less.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      …sleeping, catnip, pound one out, eating, and repeat (except maybe change the order around a bit).

      This doesn’t sound particularly bad. But there are limits. As one ages the refractory period increases and the need for food decreases. So the problem is one of ennui — you can only sleep so much, you can only wank so much, you can really only drink and eat so much. Now, you’d probably get really good at these things.

      What we’d see more of is what people do now for hobbies. They would explore things, build things, learn about things, because they enjoy them. The result of this would be more art, more toys, more music, much as Pat predicts in a comment above. (This would test the bromide that artists must suffer for their art.)

      Nor would we see an end to a need for useful professions — crime does not go away, and neither does sickness and injury. In our society of plenty, there is no need for property crimes, but there are still sex crimes and crimes of passion and crimes against public morality. What if you don’t get along with your neighbor and he destroys your nanoreplicator? There must be a punishment for this, there must be some sort of deterrence for it. So we need cops, and judges, and lawyers, and prisons. Diseases become less of a problem resulting from malnutrition or lack of access to medicine (we can replicate all the vaccine we want) and maybe if the technology is miraculous enough it can create nano-bots that hunt down and destroy viruses like herpes and AIDS. But other things happen seemingly spontaneously, like cancer.

      In a society with everyone’s material needs met, how can we reward people for taking on these unpleasant jobs? Prestige and status seem like the only answers.

      And someone’s got to learn how to program the nanobots.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        You left out teachers. Children don’t educate themselves. I’d hope that in a non-money-based world, that’s a profession that would get the respect it deserves.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Excellent point.

          One wonders what will happen to scholarship, particularly the humanities, after all the autodidacts start publishing things. Is there really a flood of new creative ideas outside the academy that aren’t being developed because people have to work day jobs? Or will research and citations standards simply diminish but nearly all the content will continue to be expositions on John Rawls?Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Yawn. Okay, on a different thread we were talking about dilentantes.
            I know a guy who comes up with good research questions. He gets other people to do the research (and take the credit, naturally). Not that he doesn’t do research in the humanities, and get it published (not in journals, necessarily).Report

    • Avatar Russell M says:

      dude not to have to worry about the bills and be able to pursue any dream I want?

      Is this a trick question?

      I will grant i may take a day off more often and just enjoy, but this here is how i do that. and sharping my mind on the whet stones around here helps every day.

      why would people free to seek the limits of their inner light turn into tubby orange lasagna eating cats?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        They wouldn’t. The idle wealthy don’t now and they essentially live in that world of plenty already. Sure we’d wallow around on the lower levels of Maslow from time to time. But invariably we’d escend back up the pyramid and do interesting and constructive things once we got our fill.Report

        • Avatar Russell M says:

          that’s what i was going for. just like to use garfield when i can.Report

        • Avatar LWA says:

          “The idle wealthy don’t now and they essentially live in that world of plenty already. ”

          This is the point I think is interesting.

          Why need to theorize about a post-scarcity economy? We have the empirical modle already- right here, right now- in front of us.

          There is a group of people, who live in a world where they have more money than they can possibly spend in 10 lifetimes; there is, almost literally, nothing they cannot have the moment they want it.

          Don’t ask “How would people behave?” Instead, look at the living models and ask “How are they behaving?”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        why would people free to seek the limits of their inner light turn into tubby orange lasagna eating cats?

        Because the holodeck is just so very pleasant. Set up the “achieve your goals!” storyline. Press play!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        why would people free to seek the limits of their inner light turn into tubby orange lasagna eating cats?

        Yeah, we’ll all be liposuctioned to perfect skinniness, with fake muscle implants so we look strong, and our faces will be carved into perfect forms by plastic surgery computers-operated lasers. It’s going to be fishin’ aweeessssommmmeee, baby!Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        “why would people free to seek the limits of their inner light turn into tubby orange lasagna eating cats?”

        this presumes most people have an inner light that’s not a hedonism crater.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          If it’s heritable then in a post scarcity world it’d become more scarce and the more productive/creative/non-idle people would become more numerous.
          If it’s both non-heritable and inherent to the entire species. Hmmm I don’t think that’s likely considering human history.Report

          • Avatar dhex says:

            perhaps. it’s a fairly unlikely scenario to begin with, so who knows, but my guesses are a bit uglier than most.

            the nearest current analog would be internet pornography and i think we see a pretty harsh hedonism treadmill/crater going on there. what about people whose inmost light are suffering and pain, and expressions of dominance small and large?

            it’s a world where rapists are actually more free to rape; folks who pick fights with strangers at bars aren’t going to do less “what are you looking at?” punch punch bang bang stuff. if anything, hierarchy will become even more important since all that’s left is peacock plumage – housing, cars, sex partners, etc.

            actually, this question ties in a bit with what i personally don’t understand about libertarians – the overwhelming involvement with sci fi*. the overlap on that venn diagram seems both stereotypical and true (in my experience). i find it so incredibly weird. (i think the prog rock thing is true but less so as the population ages)

            * the folks who insist on using sf over sci fi are the “you wouldn’t call your country a c*nt” fratboys of the 700 volume series about robots industry. 🙂Report

            • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

              Classical liberals are intellectual systematizers, and are over represented in nerdy, even autistic fields.

              In Fiske’s Models of Human Relations, they lean strongly toward the fourth type of relationship, the most complex of the hierarchy.


              The Fiske hierarchy leads to some fascinating questions on the future of how humans interact. Are classical liberals more advanced or more aberrant? Are they pointing to the future or to a dead end? Or both?Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                see, i don’t agree with that, as there’s far more nerdy things than sci fi going on in the world of literature. and in general, the more esoteric and abstract literatures would tend to be frowned upon by a mainstream libertarian. trust me, i’ve focus grouped the hell out of this. it’s all “ugh postmodernism oh man more robots! and i’m only on book 14!” me and my “fck* robots let’s postmodernism” shirt is dateless at the minarchist prom.

                my assumption would be that it’s simply a cross cultural association/tradition, similar to how an 80s goth would have a copy of les chants du maldoror sitting in their room.

                * i find these shorthands hella unnatural but when in rome…Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                How did you focus group it?

                I fail to see why you assume postmodernism would appeal to a systematizer. Programming. Collecting bus schedules. Building sand castles of the mind. These appeal to libertarians

                But not postmodernism. That is the philosophy of the critic, not the systematizer. The critic never actually builds anything which others can tear down, he instead flourishes on amassing an arsenal of tools that give him the power to destroy and criticize everything everyone else has built.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                mostly by being friends with a bunch and having online discussions on this very topic dozens of times. i am the (seemingly) rare person with minarchist leanings who prefers the modernist/wacky to the futuristic.

                and it’s all well and good to make up this sort of autist category, but it’s kinda undermines your point and underlines the general “it’s weird” of my stance – if all that were true, the more abstract literature is what you’d expect to find in this grouping. but you don’t. (it’d also erode any actual reason for a non-obsessive to even begin considering limited government ideas, so i’d be wary of promoting it even if it were true)

                none of this is bad, but it is weird to me. why would my beliefs about the role of the state have any bearing on my beliefs about what’s fun to read?

                your last paragraph is basically insane, but creatively so. it bears the same relationship to modern literary criticism that 9/11 truthers have with modern metallurgy. 🙂Report

  8. Avatar Jesse Forgione says:

    Libertarians would (will?) rejoice with everyone else in a world without scarcity in material goods (and we often argue it’s only free trade that brings us ever closer to that noble goal).

    What libertarians oppose is the initiation of force. You simply do not have the right to take property by force. That basic principle underlies civilization itself. It’s where all other rights come from. You have “freedom of speach” because you own your body, and you can use it to say what you like (which does not give you a right to someone else’s microphone or printing press, etc.).

    This does not imply some kind of puritan value placed on work itself. Nor does it mean libertarians oppose charity, generosity, etc..

    Other things being equal, it’s always better to have things at as low a cost as possible. And many people value their fellow man enough to provide aid when it’s needed (or even when it would just be helpful as in the case of scholarships, and other non-emergency projects that are funded by donation).

    In fact, even in the case of charity, the market is better than government (which comes as no surprise to libertarians who see the state as a criminal gang). Charities are more efficient when the people funding them have a say about how the money is spent, and shop for organizations they can believe in.Report

  9. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    John Ringo has series of SciFi Books (The Council Wars) that start out with the Post Scarcity world (which then subsequently falls apart, hence providing the drama needed for a fun story). If I recall correctly, his world had the population drastically reduced (people live for a long time, birth control is five-9s reliable, and there is no longer a biological clock ticking), and most people worked on whatever struck their fancy.

    Or didn’t.

    Which, I think, was what some of the characters thought was the whole problem, thus they created the failure of the system.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Yeah the Dune universe is predicated on the assumption that there was a post scarcity galaxy spanning civilization. Some humans who were utter douchebags then seized control of the robots that provided this abundance and carved out their own empires. Then subsequently some of those douchebags ended up altering the robots so fundamentally that they themselves became aware and enslaved mankind, then there was the Butlerian Jihad, thinking machines were banned and Dune happens. Ugh.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “I didn’t expect a sort of Butlerian Jihad.”

        “No one expects the Butlerian Jihad. Our chief weapon is fear, fear and surprise. Our two chief weapons are fear and surprise, and cunning. Among our chief weapons are fear, surprise, cunning, and a really big pair of vise-grips.”Report

  10. Avatar Ralph says:

    I find this article boggling. I’m not sure where you’ve learned what you think you know about libertarians but I’d wager it wasn’t from a libertarian.

    Libertarians are not opposed to giving people things. We are opposed to taking things from people. If you can find a way to give people all the things that doesn’t require taking those things from someone else…great. No libertarian will stop you.

    That you seem to think otherwise is baffling to me.Report

  11. Avatar Kim says:

    Bad Advice Dog is not a pet. Put Bad Advice Dog back where you got him.Report

  12. Avatar Citizen says:

    The old libertarians walked the bones of the earth long before the first tools were put to use. The nano bots basically fill the steps that micro organism have been treading. Food was supplied upon searching. In those times I can only imagine we lived, played, loved and sang much as we do today.
    I will ask you, what has changed?Report

  13. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Perhaps I ought to add as a caveat to commenters: I am very well aware that libertarianism is commonly founded on a non-aggression axiom of some kind. Indeed, I am a libertarian, and I find this approach a very useful one. “Anything that’s peaceful,” as Leonard Read used to say.

    The problem arises when certain thick libertarian claims about the dignity and moral value of work meet up with extreme cases where there just isn’t any need to work. It’s not as large a problem with libertarianism as all that, but it may be a problem, I think, for some.Report

    • Avatar Cardiff Kook (roger) says:

      I have no issue with people that don’t need to work pursuing other interests. My main issue with your scenario was the introduction of the word “right” into the issue. I would say it is reasonable that a society can deem it reasonable to give everyone a claim on this non scarce resource. But who needs to argue over the right to air? We just assume it is available.

      I suspect that there will be all kinds of problems with this type of society. Problems which we are as incapable of understanding as Condorcet or Madison were in the 18thC of the issues we actually face today. To prepare for thriving in this mysterious world I suggest open competition and freedom of choice. Not because they are valuable of themselves, but because they are tools or paths to experiment and discover the social institutions we will actually want to live in.

      Evolution and progress can’t be over planned. It needs to be discovered, and over planning can actually interfere with the exploration.Report

  14. Avatar Ralph says:

    I did miss that you were playing a bit of devils advocate here Jason, apologies.

    But I think you are mixing up notions of “protestant work ethic” with libertarian principles. I’ve never seen those notions expressed as foundational to libertarian thinking in any source I respect.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I’m not a libertarian and I don’t think that the “Protestant Work Ethic” is exactly foundational for libertarianism as I understand it. However, man of the less philosophically-inclined libertarians*, that is those who treat libertarianism as holy writ, do have a tendency to rant a bit about moochers when it comes to talking about social safety net programs. You see this more in the people who derive their libertarianism from fiction rather than intellectual trestises. From this you get an impression that one reason why libertarians think that the welfare state is bad is because it provides goods and services “unearned” to people who didn’t work for them. These libertarians might recoil with some kind of horror at the post-scarcity future.

      To use the obvious example, Ayn Rand and her fans often get into long rants about moochers and takers. It might be better to rephrase Jason’s questions in terms of Objectivists rather than Libertarians becausee even though they are offically atheist, Objectivists do have a “Protestant Work Ethic”.

      *Another way of putting this might be people who are libertarian without thinking too much about it.Report

      • Avatar Ralph says:

        Well moochers and takers ARE a problem — in todays scarcity based economy, because being compassionate people means its hard to let individuals suffer the consequences of their own actions and so providing the grasshoppers with food for the winter means stealing it from the ants.

        But in a post scarcity society there is no consequence to being a grasshopper, so there’s no need for compassionate people to steal to help them…so the very word “moocher” ceases to.have a meaningful definition.Report

  15. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    I think this got missed in my earlier comment, so I’ll repeat it, because I think it’s what Jason was actually talking about.

    “what if the post-scarcity future doesn’t come overnight? What if, instead, advanced technology just gradually comes to provide for more and more people, through its own autonomous working, and through the entirely voluntary actions of the rest of us?”

    It is not *libertarians* who think that society needs to be protected from genetically-modified food, experimental pharmaceuticals, nuclear energy, and high-capacity telecommunications.

    So, no, libertarians would not say “we should not strive towards a world where everyone gets a good life for free”.

    They might ask why we keep doing things that stop us getting there.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I’m pro nuclear energy and anti-“the end of the world”
      Simply because you have less vision than I do, doesnt’ mean that you have better vision.Report

  16. Avatar zic says:

    Jason’s been reading Banks. I always presumed his books a skewer at libertarians; so someday, perhaps we can discuss that; I’d be grateful. I know no fans in person, though I’ve tried to create some.

    Seriously, however, I do agree we are reaching that point of superflous labor, though in fits and starts. We have now more laborers at hand then needed to cover production of humanity’s basic needs. It’s really a distribution of labor/goods/resources problem, not a problem of exceeding subsistance. (Is that the right word here?)

    It makes me sad, then, that we so little value the arts and the crafts; that we prefer the perfect, machine-stamped plates over the plates thrown by the potter down the street. The mp3 over the musician upstairs in my house. If I tried to sell my hand-knit goods, I’d only be able to earn pennies per hour for my labors. So such a future as Banks and Jason suggests will, I hope, value some quality of human attention and mastery that mostly seems waylaid today.

    Yes, the nanobot can make a perfect hat in nearly no time. Mine is knit, stitch by stitch, always at least one mistake that I can tolerate, every so slowly. But it suits my mental health, keeps my hands functioning despite disability, and the design process challenges my mind. There is value there, even if it’s not monetary.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      You’re quite right, Iain M. Banks was a huge influence here.

      The problem I have with Banks is that if your critique of libertarianism requires technologies that we can barely even imagine, well, that’s just not a very strong critique. I’d abandon everything and join the Culture in an instant, if I could.

      I tried here to make a more down-to-earth critique, albeit starting with the sci-fi and working backwards.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I think you did a good job.

        There are, seemingly, more and more unneeded people about, or so our unemployment problems would indicate; despite the backlog of undone maintenance about us.

        This is a growing concern, and one I don’t take lightly. For those people still have worth.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Not just technology either. The Culture has free energy, so he actually invented new physics to prop up his social model.Report

  17. Avatar Chad says:

    I think there’s a more interesting question that can be placed before libertarians based on your thought-experiment’s premise: in the absence of scarcity, what value does freedom have?

    In other words, for “pragmatic” libertarians who view liberty not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to a more peaceful, prosperous society, do they still consider themselves libertarians in a world where prices are meaningless, the knowledge problem is no longer an issue (let’s assume as well radical super-computers who can read and respond to our thoughts instantly with safe, mind-altering drugs, ubiquitous 3D printers, and nanotechnology), etc…does the argument against big government still apply? Basically, the “Matrix” question without the deception element. Everyone knows these thoughts are being read, but all of their needs/wants are provided for.Report

    • Avatar Cardiff Kook (roger) says:

      In a world with no scarcity and no problems I see no value in better problem solving systems.

      In a world where we instantly know the answer to every math problem, we no longer need math.

      Reality is that there will always be problems, and material scarcity is just one narrow subset of our problem set. The reason for this is that solutions lead to new problems. First it does so because answers lead to new insights and questions. Second, because solutions imply values, and as long as we have multiple values, then a solution on one dimension often creates problems on another. Third, a solution for one entity can be a problem for another. Fourth, you can never be sure a solution is a long term solution unless you can see its eternal results. It requires omniscience. Finally, solutions create secondary and tertiary effects, which themselves can turn into new problems, especially when amplified (think CO2).

      In other words,we will always have problems, and thus always need variation and experimentation in ways which minimizes harmful effects on others. Liberty is the name for this freedom of experimentation within limits.Report

  18. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I’m not actually prepared to give thought to the question, but I do want to give all available kudos to the way you wrote the post.Report

  19. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect, it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being. Thus, I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure. I have since come to understand that the answer eluded me because it required a lesser mind, or perhaps a mind less bound by the parameters of perfection. Thus, the answer was stumbled upon by another, an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche. If I am the father of the Matrix, Ayn Rand would undoubtedly be its mother.Report

  20. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I really didn’t think that the import of nor reaction to your immediately previous post was so great that a corrective was required to restore balance to The Force (though perhaps that need was outstanding from prior ones), but this is an interesting post.Report

  21. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Very interesting post, Jason. My initial thoughts are that I share some of the commenters views that giving stuff away for free isn’t a problem for libertarians. I think the problem is when it comes to according citizens a right – an in, an entitlement? of these nanobots. And that’s a problem because, presumably, these scarcity-obliterating nanobots are the product of private, for profit, firms. Why is that a problem? Well, if price (and profit maximization) is a function of supply and demand there will be scarcity of nanobots. So government intervention will constitute a taking on private property, and negative market interference, and so on, which libertarians will oppose.

    Maybe I’m not seeing as far into this as you are, but that seems like the point where a libertarian would get off the bus. But … on the supposition that the cost of nanobot production would be trivially low, and that intellectual property is open-source, and etc, and the question is ‘should government provide (as an entitlement?) nanobots for every man, woman and child?’, I can’t help but think that the (stereotypical) libertarian response would be that doing so constitutes a taking on private firms. Not on their property, but on potential property in the form of profits.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      What do you suppose that libertarians would have to say about the government deciding to go into direct production of the nanobots for public distribution, deeming this an unambiguously utility-enhancing activity given their low production costs and massive productivity, assuming over time the design and manufacture specs become public knowledge as you say. Wouldn’t the objection have to be to the taxation necessary to do that?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Yeah, I think that’s right. It seems to me that the redistribution of tax revenues – a taking! – to fund the nanobot initiative would just have to come into play. Because it always does! So the first order, or primary (I guess?) takings imposed on individual taxpayers would be a serious and maybe even decisive point of contention for (some) libertarians.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          And to fill that out some, I think the rationale for opposing the nanobot initiative for some libertarians would be presented as an objection to governmental takings and market interference and so on. But more plausibly that rationale (it seems to me … in the hypothetical!) is a rationalization for an individual preference for economic systems which maximize competition and market dynamics, and for – ultimately – preserving an institution where financial rewards are the dominant motivator of individual actions.

          (Hmmm. Lots to think about here. Very nice post, Jason.)Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Also, I think behind much objection among some libertarians but not only among libertarians, would likely to some extent be what Jason points to – a (possibly Puritan/Calvinist) desire to maintain the dependent connection between (hard and/or long) work and material prosperity.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        If they’re really so cheap, and awesome, and unambiguously utility-enhancing, then government doesn’t need to get involved. There’s no meaningful public-goods problem here. A small group of charitable people could bootstrap a charity to serve the world’s poor.

        In a true post-scarcity world, redistribution is pointless. If people are pushing for government redistribution instead of just donating from their infinite pool of riches, then we still have scarcity.

        And that’s why libertarians balk at this sort of thing. We know full well that long before we see the end of scarcity, we’ll see premature “post-scarcity” rhetoric used to justify redistribution of scarce resources.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          So it would just be the same debate as now – whatever the results of the government action, if the action is not “needed,” then government’s action is objectionable.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            Except that while the debate is happening, someone would go off and solve the problem the proposed government intervention was intended to address. Or not, because advocates were lying about how much of a no-brainer it was.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              Well, they would or they wouldn’t. And it wouldn’t have to be only because government getting into the business of more broadly and rapidly distributing the nanobots wasn’t a no-brainer. In that kind of situation, where the material product of some or many firms was exploding into goods of every conceivable kind and variety but the means of that kind of production was also available to the general public, there might be some debate among libertarians, but I don’t think that debate would actually hold up the government from getting into the act of trying to help realize the new sense that no one should go seriously wanting for material comfort. There might be something of a race to get everyone what they wanted (though at the same time, as scarcity disappeared and with it prices, the incentive for private firms to stay in that race might dry up, perhaps leaving a place for direct government production). I think Jason’s question was, is there anything to object to if such a race actually came into being?Report

            • Avatar Alan Scott says:

              Brandon, half a century ago, car companies were buying up light rail and destroying it just so people would buy more cars.

              The enactment of a solution doesn’t necessarily follow from its existence. If the people who control the solution derive more utility from suppressing it than from embracing it, they’ll suppress it. Under our current supply-and-demand driven market, there’s nothing especially immoral about it. But does that change when supply-and-demand goes away.

              Lets say you have infinite apples. Literally infinite. You have tree apple trees that grow new apples the instant that the previous ones were picked. You didn’t do anything specially to get those apple trees. This isn’t some special apple tree you created yourself, or bought with your own money, or anything like that. One night you went to sleep with an empty lawn and when you woke up it had three special apple trees on it.

              Given that, is it theft when your neighbor reaches over the fence and takes a few hundred apples? Is it theft if the government takes one of the apples, plants the seeds, and grows a new miracle tree?Report

              • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

                “is it theft when your neighbor reaches over the fence and takes a few hundred apples? Is it theft if the government takes one of the apples, plants the seeds, and grows a new miracle tree?”

                Is it theft that you expect to be paid for the work you do? After all, there’s plenty more work in you where that came from. All you need to do is sleep and eat and you can do more work, no problem. I mean, it’s not like the energy is really *yours*, it was just chemical potential in the glucose. You merely happened to surround it with your body and exploit its natural breakdown.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          …But that does raise a question that is unclear in the post – once the government declared that the people have a right to some particular amount of the fruits of the nanobots, what actions pursuant to that finding is Jason saying the government would conclude are justified by it and would be taken, in order to bring distributional reality into accord with the declared material desserts of the population?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      What would “profit” provide that the nanobots wouldn’t also be able to provide?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Do people who try to maximize profits in the marketplace, particularly the financial marketplaces, seem to you to do so only and uniformly because of the material benefits that such profits make available? I.e. does Warren Buffett do it literally just for the stuff he can buy?Report

    • Avatar Matty says:

      I thought the nanobots were meant to be self replicating. Why would either government or business be involved once the first batch was out?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Why would either government or business be involved once the first batch was out?

        Well, bacteria are self-replicating. So … revise the thought experiment a bit to refocus it on what Jason is trying to highlight: given that these nanobots are self-replicating in the societal wilds, do libertarians think government should ensure that everyone in fact has them, or should government prohibit them completely? (Or something like that.)

        Really, I think Jason’s thought experiment is trying to reveal a tension between economic liberties and social goods in certain strains of libertarian thought. It’s not a trivial worry, it seems to me.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Matty, here’s a nice summary of the tension I think Jason is encouraging people to think about (it’s sorta inside-baseballish for libertarians but still pretty accessible). It’s from Jason Brennan over at BHL. The whole essay is a good read even tho the specific issue being discussed isn’t directly related to nanobots.

          Surely, the more firmly and broadly we entrench capitalist economic freedoms in the [Rawlsian] first principle of justice, the less space there is for us to realize social justice through the [Rawlsian] second principle. At the extreme, imagine that we put in the first principle the very same economic rights that Murray Rothbard believes us to have. In that case, no amount of institutional tweaking of property rights, economic redistribution, taxation, etc., would be permissible. Thick economic liberty excludes social justice.Report

  22. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s perhaps worth noting that libertarians are now arguably the people who are least resentful of idle heirs. In this hypothetical situations, everyone has the wealth needed to live as an idle heir. I imagine most of us would be equally tolerant. It’s leeches that we dislike, not sloths.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Because breeding psychopaths is a good idea.
      No, sorry, people don’t have the wealth needed to live as an idle heir.

      The key diff between the hypo and an idle heir is that the idle heir is better than everyone around him, and gets everything he pleases.

      In the future, a man would be expected to distinguish himself — be someone, if you will, in order to get chicks. As a woman, I guarantee it.Report

  23. Avatar zic says:

    For these nanobots to do what they would need to do for this world to be, they would have to be sentient.

    And if nanobots are sentient, they would, at some point, begin to concern themselves with their rights, with the notion that the humans were mooching on them. The humans might abandon their work ethic for pure hedonism, but the nanobot awakening would bring that all crashing down. In a world of excess, how do you pay a nanobot for its services?Report

  24. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    I actually put a bit of thought into this, because well, I have a 15-minute walk to my bus stop from work. So, here’s my basic thoughts on how this would actually work. It’s also kind of wacky, so just bare with me.

    It would be gradual, but would happen as robots/nanomachines/etc. get smart enough and good enough to replace low-level manufacturing/service/etc. jobs is first, we’ll have a time of just seemingly permanent 15%-20% official unemployment and 25-30% ‘unofficial unemployment.’ At first, not realizing the world is changing, the government will try to fix it by extending unemployment, expanding job retraining, and so on until eventually even the US has unlimited unemployment benefits.

    Then, I think, things will eventually shift and within a decade or so, people will realize that at the very least, we’re going to have a permanent 20% of people that are unemployable because they simply don’t have the skills to do anything but the jobs that have been taken over by machines completely.

    So, one way I’ve come up with fixing it is simply taxing the ‘savings’ companies have gotten out of replacing workers with robots. For example, McDonald’s. Not because I think they’re evil, but because they’re fairly simple. Also note all numbers are kind of pie in the sky.

    Say, you’ve got 20 workers, each making $20,000 each a year because most of them are either teenagers working a few hours and such. That’s $400,000 in payroll. So, if a robot costs $50,000 and you need 10 robots to run a McDonald’s, they aren’t going to do it, even if you’ll pay off the sunk costs in a few years. It’ll have to wait until the robots are say, $10 or 15,000 each.

    At which point, that McDonald’s has basically $400,000 in extra profit a year, less any costs of maintenance for the robots. I can see a law being passed where, say, 50% of the savings that companies have gotten as a result of eliminating human jobs are taxed to pay for a GMI for the permanent underclass. At first, this GMI will likely be capped at say, 80 or 90% of your prior wages because of our puritan tendencies and the belief that there’ll still be a way to get back to regular employment levels. Hell, I can even see a situation where if you go to job retraining, college, or actively seek employment, you get a higher GMI from the government.

    At a certain point though, more and more jobs will not need humanity, so the ‘permanent’ unemployed will grow larger and larger to a tipping point where we either hit the singularity and it’s a post-scarity world for everybody or we get into a situation where the top 30 or 40% of the population in permanently paying for the continued existence of the other 60% and that might get dirty.

    Most likely, if the latter happens, we’ll have government mandated sterilization and birth control for the underclass, since after all, we don’t need a population of 300 million anymore so a negative birth rate will be a good thing.

    At a certain point, I can even see a two-tiered system occur, where there are “GovBucks” for the underclass to get the necessities and such in life and actual US dollars are for luxuries and actual consumer items.

    Or it could all go wonderfully. Who knows. 🙂Report

    • Avatar The Cardiff Kook says:

      Patrick has shared similar concerns in the past. I have been skeptical, but admit it is possible, especially if there are structural barriers that get in the way of the market clearing.

      In brief, I suspect that in an open market, massive wealth creates massive comparative advantage. People with wealth will have the money to find creative ways to employ those without. In addition, philanthropy will scale well.

      But it is the future we are talking about, so my opinion is worth squatReport

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        There are structural barriers that get in the way of the market clearing. National borders prevent the flow of labor, but they don’t do much to prevent the flow of capital.

        Also, worker knowledge can’t be traded at zero cost.Report

        • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

          And there are minimum wages, mandatory benefits, regulations against the entry into many self employed occupations, union closed shops, and distortionary effects of income transfers. These may all be good things, but collectively they can lead to distortions which lead to long term unemployment and which reduces our ability to respond to this unpredictable future.

          In other words, one value of markets is that they are complex adaptive systems which solve the problems of unprecedented changes. If our world is shifting to something entirely different, we need to preserve the adaptiveness of this problem solving system.Report

  25. Avatar b-psycho says:

    In a society in which no need to work exists, giving people the stink eye for choosing not to makes no sense.

    Besides, it assumes that only work as we currently define it, work for a boss, means anything. I’d actually say the inverse is closer to being true: we work for others because we generally have to for living money, if we didn’t…we wouldn’t. Not being productive in a way reflected in GDP isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    As for today: the measurable impact of people sitting on The Dole as we define it is, to my understanding, two tears in a bucket. Are there people who abuse the system? Of course. But when it comes to welfare, I’m more worried about high finance & big oil than Leroy with the questionable disability claim or Darlene the single mother. The all too common assumption that the only thing standing between us & a free market is aid to the poor is what I personally do not understand about (most) libertarians.Report

    • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

      You sure won’t hear that from most of the classical liberals on these pages.

      I think cronyism and corporate welfare is the bigger danger. But both are dangers. The problem with aid isn’t that it helps those that need help, it is that if constructed poorly it will encourage soul destroying dependency, and interfere with the complex adaptive problem solving ability of the market.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        encourage soul destroying dependency

        You need to unpack this nugget for me, Roger.

        And yes, this is a trick question; for I suspect it reveals the shaky foundation upon which much of your ideology rests.Report

        • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

          It is all good. I value the friendly push back.

          There are always trade offs with safety nets. They effectively and intentionally reduce the negative outcomes of not having a full time job, as an example. Obviously this is a good thing. We are trying to reduce the destruction that comes out of losing one’s job, or being unable to find one. However, the side effect of this is that the better the quality of the net, the more it interferes with the natural incentives to find, create or keep a job. It is a balancing act. Too extreme of restrictions on the net would make them ineffective and cruel, too extreme of a size and extent of the net would discourage work and encourage dependency.

          I am sure we can argue where the nets should be, but I doubt anyone would deny this balance is a valid consideration in theory.

          The soul destroying part of the comment applies to the fact that dependency is self destructive to human nature. People resent those that they are dependent too more than they appreciate them. Furthermore, by not learning or practicing productive, cooperative types of interaction inherent in positive sum, win win interactions of commercial activity, they lose out on the cultural knowledge of how to deal cooperatively and respectfully with others. Those that are systemically cut out of the marketplace miss out on the bourgeois values of economic life. They don’t learn to be timely, courteous , respectful of authority and customers, dependable, and so forth.

          Excessive safety nets can lead to dependency, resentment, and dysfunctional cultural attitudes. Long term dependency becomes generational as those with dysfunctional cultural attitudes pass these same attitudes onto their kids. Vicous cycle.

          I am in absolutely no way arguing for no safety nets. I am arguing for effective safety nets which do not promote dependency and resentment. Details available upon request.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            All well and good. But Jason’s scenario posits what is essentially the ultimate safety net. No one is required to work; they can do what they want.
            Do you believe that in this situation that your negative externalities would no longer exist? That people en masse would fail to learn how to be timely, courteous , respectful of authority and customers, dependable, and so forth. Or would these virtues no longer have salience/value in a post scarcity world?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I suspect that people who are have at least X Points in their Introvert Stat will pretty much stop interacting with strangers entirely and will limit interactions with others severely.

              Maybe I’m projecting again.Report

            • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

              Yeah, I branched onto Psycho’s probe and Zic’s follow up.

              Going back to the soul destruction comment within Jason’s hypothetical…

              I believe people cooperate for a reason. It is that humans can produce more, or solve more problems together/socially than they can alone.

              In a world of no scarcity and no problems, there is no reason to cooperate other than for the sake of cooperation. But if it is for the sake of cooperation, then we are expressly defining cooperation as a scarce good. The extreme version of Jason’s world is that there is no scarcity at all. In which case the system would have to deliver unlimited supply of free opportunities to cooperate. Material goods are not the only scarce goods.

              In a limited version where it is only physical goods which at unlimited, then the struggle shifts to the non material goods such as status, respect, intellectual and creative stimulation, and such. I have no idea how this would look.

              I do suspect that the route to limitless experience is ahead of us via virtual reality. Cultural institutions need to stay extremely adaptive and flexible as we learn how to evolve with these new opportunities and challenges.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Hmm. So when people rent-seek in safety nets, it’s ‘soul destroying.’

            But when they rent-seek in markets as corporations? For instance, subsidizing the costs of Big Slurps of HFCS via the health care system? That’s called denying people their right to Big Slurps, and holding Big Slurp producers/sellers responsible for their product is considered meddling in markets.

            In my community, there are two politically active libertarians who illustrate my problem with ‘soul destroying.’

            One is an engineer; he lives off the grid, generates his own power, contributes to many community projects, aids people in need and teaches people skills that help them better their own self-sufficiency. I’m proud to call him a friend, and find him quite inspiring.

            The second lives in a subsidized housing project, makes women uncomfortable with his inappropriate touching and talk, and goes around complaining about moochers. I’ve told him that if he approaches me again (always while I’m alone, never when I’m with my husband), I will file a complaint with the police.

            The first knows there are people trapped in dependency, but that most (not all) would prefer to contribute, and circumstances and lack of skill have trapped them; he is a giver. The second presumes everyone is like him, that I’m a bitch because I won’t let him stand too close and touch me while he complains; he is a taker.

            We all judge others by our own yardstick. It takes a lot of work to see other’s yardsticks, to listen to them without judgment.Report

            • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

              I do not argue with you that there is something very very wrong with rent seeking by corporations. I already agreed above it is a worse problem than dependency in poorly operating safety nets. So we agree there.

              I also agree that there are admirable people and total pervs. We agree there.

              You have not commented though on where you agree or disagree with me on the destructive nature of poorly designed safety nets. What are your thoughts on that matter?Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Or are you asking me in a nice way if I am a giver or a taker?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I don’t know, which are you? Why should I care? Would it change the worth of your opinions expressed here?

                It seems to me that you often judge others as takers if they’re victim or poor without giving it much thought; you could sometimes be more generous considering opposing views, and you enjoy being contrarian.

                But you usually do listen. You’re often entertaining. And that’s the coin of this marketplace of ideas.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                I keep getting this picture in my head of Glenda coming down in a magic bubble and asking “are you a gooood libertarian or a baaaad libertarian?”

                I am sure I could be more compassionate and I am most definitely prone to be contrarian. If everyone else here was a gooooood libertarian I woul probably act like a baaaad one just to rock the boat.

                That said. I genuinely believe I care for the poor and unfortunate, and wish to balance making their lives better without making them dependent. I think you would not approve of my methods though even if you agreed to my goal.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I’ve repeatedly said that governing is a process; an on-going effort, and requires constant evaluation. (Hanley, much of this I’ve said to you, so please feel free to chime in,) and my distress is that we don’t budget for evaluation as part of the governing process, much as a well-run business budgets review and refinement into their business apparatus.

                I’ve said over and over that when you identify problems, you fix the problems, you don’t necessarily through the entire system out because of difficulties at the margins.

                I think the ‘destructive problems of poorly designed safety nets’ a drop in the bucket compared the the problems of businesses implementing soul-destructing behaviors in search of profit motive by controlling markets instead of competing markets. The numbers of rent-seekers in the social safety net and the amount they seek are quantifiable and should simply be planned for instead of wasting resources constantly at loggerheads over it. Mostly, pissing about safety-net issues is a distraction from the very real theft of opportunity for those individuals built in to the distorted markets; with Wal Mart’s soul-destroying practices while leeching on the social safety net a prime example. I think too-big-to-fail is a common problem, it stretches beyond finance, and I’d like to see some real effort put into identifying and breaking up monopolies or even industries controlled by a handful of competing firms throughout the economy; I don’t think the gains in ‘market efficiencies’ are worth the costs in opportunity. And I thinkt the real soul-destroying trap of modern economies is companies too big to challenge, to bit to start-up and compete with. We need constant sprouting to keep us independent.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

                Sounds wise. I too would place strong value on “evaluation.”

                I am a really big fan of Donald T. Campbell. He lays out an algorithm for learning. In brief it is a feedback loop of variation, selection and retention, where the output from each cycle feeds in as input to the next. Evaluation is of course a form of selection. It involves comparing results to what was expected, or what preceded it or what others were able to attain.

                And like I said, I too agree that cronyism and rent seeking among corporations is a bigger danger than dependency among people.

                I also don’t necessarily blame the individuals, though I see value in the concept of blame. The reason I don’t blame individuals is that I see dependency as a result of improperly constructed institutions which foster dependency. And no, I am not suggesting throwing out the institutions. Just perfecting them via a process of variation and selective retention.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh. That’s what I do, train networks. Hopfield Neurons are not always the best approach. Backprop networks have a fundamental weakness: they can be over-trained, what we call “brittle” in the trade. Real world example: a system was trained to hunt main battle tanks, looking for them hiding in treelines. But it wouldn’t work on cloudy days. Brittle network.

                Chess software knows how to cope with good moves. Often, it’s incapable of capitalising on spectacularly bad moves, especially weird openings or strange end games.

                I sure wish the Libertarians were as angry about corporate tyranny as they were about state tyranny and fraud. Money was always power, the power to twist government power to one’s own ends. From where I sit, the Libertarians have become Useful Idiots, seemingly as wilfully ignorant of market realities as the Communists. Using the symmetric property, what’s the practical difference between the State’s power to tax and the Corporation’s power to enforce wage slavery? None that I can see.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              But when they rent-seek in markets as corporations? For instance, subsidizing the costs of Big Slurps of HFCS via the health care system? That’s called denying people their right to Big Slurps, and holding Big Slurp producers/sellers responsible for their product is considered meddling in markets.

              This here is a perfect example of the reason why leftists think that libertarians don’t really care about corporate welfare. It’s because your anti-corporate bias leads you go around labeling all sorts of things as “corporate welfare” when they’re nothing of the sort. Then when we only agree with you on a small minority of things that you label as such, you conclude that we don’t really care about corporate welfare.

              But you know what? You’re right. As much as they may look like individual welfare programs, Medicaid and Medicare are really corporate welfare programs in disguise. So let’s abolish them.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                You know what, I pay for my insurance. As do most people who are not in poverty or retired. So that ‘rent seeking’ hits me in the cost of my private insurance, not just Medicaid and Medicare.

                I’m leftist? Stop calling people who disagree with you or people who you think you disagree with names, Brandon. It’s ugly. I don’t find much you have to say worth reading, and that name calling stupidity is why. Nothing after matters, it’s not a discussion, it’s a lecture.

                At least Roger engages in good faith to discuss, and I value that.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                “Leftist” is name-calling? It’s the most neutral way I know to describe people who are generally left of center. What term would you prefer?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                You use it the way Cheeks used it.

                It’s name calling. You just did it again on the wage thread.

                You could say ‘liberals,’ you could say, ‘progressives,’ you could say, “Democrats,’ but no, leftists. It’s rude, I think you intend it to be rude and dismissive, and everything you say after the ist is just blah blah blah without meaning.

                I suspect you know that; that it’s a tribal signifier.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I won’t use “liberal” because it’s not accurate. For one, I consider myself liberal and only avoid using the term to describe myself because it confuses people. There’s nothing liberal about government taking money away from some people and giving it to others, or interfering in voluntary contractual relationships. Besides, many leftists seem to regard “liberal” as mildly offensive, or at least potentially so, because of its history of being used as a term of derision. Isn’t that what Cheeks called you guys?

                And “progressive” is both inaccurate—the sort of government interventions into the economy favored by leftists retard progress—and smugly self-congratulatory.

                And not all leftists are members of the Democratic party, or even consistent Democratic voters. Or Americans, for that matter. I’d otherwise be happy to use “Democrats,” but as it is it presumes too much. I guarantee you that I’d have people complaining (and rightly so) about me

                I don’t have much respect for leftism insofar as it diverges from libertarianism, nor do I pretend to. But I’m not twelve years old, and I don’t play word games. I call it “leftism” and its adherents “leftists” because it’s the only value-neutral, inclusive, and widely understood term I know. If you have an alternative that meets those criteria, I’d be happy to use it to describe you, and consider it for more general use.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I guarantee you that I’d have people complaining (and rightly so) about me…

                …calling Democrats when they really aren’t.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Isn’t that what Cheeks called you guys?

                “Commiedems”, I think. And he used it affectionately!Report

            • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

              “One is an engineer; he lives off the grid…[t]he second lives in a subsidized housing project, makes women uncomfortable with his inappropriate touching…”

              And yet you call both these people “libertarians” and take your opinions of that philosophy from them.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                No, I don’t take my opinions from them, and I cannot imagine why you would think I did, except that you need to find a way to discredit me because you don’t want me attacking your sacred cow.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                When I’m in a bad mood, i take what “libertarian” means as coming from a troll.

                When I’m in a rather lighter phase, I take what “libertarian” means as coming from the Koch brothers.

                Both are… shall we say… a little inaccurate.Report

            • Avatar b-psycho says:

              For clarification sake: big slurps of HFCS are so cheap because corn is so cheap. Corn is so cheap because we subsidize the living crap out of it. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much of it in everything. Banning large sodas is ridiculous nannyism, but it’s also aiming at the wrong target, individuals’ choices rather than the rigging of the system in which those choices are made.

              I see examples of this every time I go to the grocery store. Juice is expensive, whereas “juice cocktail” or “juice drink” is cheap. The latter contain an actual juice content of 5-10%, the rest being HFCS, water, & food coloring. I read the labels because I’m a dork, that isn’t common behavior among people on tight budgets.

              That said, sometimes people just want what they fishing want. Information is great, may we all get the info we need to make our choices. But dammit, if I want fried chicken, I want fried chicken, it’s not supposed to be good for me, and complaints that it isn’t shall be ignored.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Agreed. Any state intervention in obesity should, logically, begin with the termination of our food subsidies on fattening food products. Otherwise you’re bailing out the boat with one hand and bailing it in with the other.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Hmph. If you’d rather be logical than make a statement, we’ve got no room for you in our politics.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Like both subsidizing and heavily taxing tobacco, and on top of that paying for public health campaigns against its use? That would really be dumb.Report