Saturday, September 11, 2010


And then there are those of us who'd rather no government at all: economic libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and their ilk.

Mark Rosenfelder explains very well many of the problems with these positions, practically and morally. It's an erudite article, and if you're not overly familiar with these ideas it's probably the best layman's explanation I've found — it's certainly biased, as his goals are to discredit libertarians and their ideals, but as far as I'm concerned said ideals were never worth crediting in the first place.

The short version is that libertarianism favours the elimination of government regulation and the absolute freedom of citizens. It's based on the idea of absolute individual sovereignty and, relatedly, absolute property rights. Sounds nice and dandy, but this extends to the abolition of market regulations, safety regulations, and all public services on the one hand, and the view of all taxation as theft and law enforcement (no matter what sort of case or whether the "victim" is guilty) as the immoral "initiation of force" on the other. The general hope is that the market forces will ensure a fair outcome overall; but these idealists are poor economists. The practical results we see when libertarian tenets are actually implemented are a ballooning gap between rich and poor, increasing poverty overall, and the erosion of workers' rights. Furthermore, taking power away from "the government" doesn't mean the power itself goes away. It is usurped usually by corporations and landlords, and to a lesser degree by churches and social organisations, none of which have the legal accountability of a government — especially when that government is small and powerless.


While my own ideals are quite authoritarian — indeed, I'm in favour of certain restrictions on personal liberties that have appalled more mainstream ethicists — I do believe in the basic premises of liberalism: that everyone is entitled to his own conception of the good, his own ideal to which he aspires. Of course, you can't stop people from holding beliefs no matter how hard you try, short of killing them. But the idea is that insofar as to act on your beliefs interferes with nobody else's similar rights, nobody has the right to stop you. Libertarian policies demonstrably do interfere with the rights of others, by removing the checks and balances on power and the citizen's recourse to the law when he is treated unfairly. The question we must therefore ask is, is there a way in which a libertarian could act upon his own conception of the good, without treading on what we consider the rights of citizens of an effective and (by design, at least) benevolent State?

I think there is. Subject, of course, to whether the libertarian's conception of the good is genuinely the absence of state interference in his life, or just his desire to grab the biggest share of the pie, to which end he sees embracing libertarianism as the quickest means. Fortunately, this solution also enables us to discriminate between these two, and as an added bonus can be structured so as to actually teach a few of them a Valuable Lesson™. I'll go over it in detail on Tuesday.

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