Taking a break from the blogging break to post this. I’m reading through Orson Scott Card’s Ender quintet series, currently on Speaker for the Dead (read for free here). Here’s a quote from one of the characters, who gives away the secret weapon (heh) of governments.
“My beloved father, this has always been the way of things between the secular
authority and the religious. We must be patient, if for no other reason than this:
They have all the guns.”
The “they” pronoun refers to the Starways Congress, the governing authority in the book. That’s the difference between the state and every other human entity: a gun. Fictional characters don’t speak for their authors most of the time, but I thought the insight was interesting seeing as Card is not a libertarian.
Back when mises.org had the forums, someone posed an hypothetical situation (ugh) of a “uncoerced exchange” between a young boy and a group of pedophiles. The boy has no means of acquiring resources somehow, so he exchanges sex with the group of pedophiles for food and shelter, etc. The idea with this situation is that free market libertarianism cannot say this exchange is immoral because it is voluntary on both sides (for the record, I don’t think it does qualify as moral either; that an exchange between consenting parties doesn’t necessarily make it moral but the consent is necessary for it to at least be not immoral).
Making this kind of argument ends up being a roundabout way of necessitating a state, as though dilemmas like this can be decided by the presence of coercive authority structures. Stefan Molyneux mentions it here lays out the problem the 7:45 mark, pretty much until the end, in response to this article in the New York Times. Besides the misunderstanding of the basics of free-market libertarianism, the critique is clumsy and appeals to cheap emotionalism.
I can understand the need to find a “universal moral constant” that can apply in every situation, but coming to a satisfactory moral rule from such unapplicable hypotheticals won’t help in everyday life choices. The idea that there’s a roving horde of heartless pedophiles and one boy and there’s no normal community of people somewhere within walking distance that would take the boy in is ludicrous on its face. The anthropology of human society just doesn’t work like that. Just because it can be conceived on an abstract level doesn’t mean it could happen de facto.
This isn’t to mention, too, that people in these goofball ethical scenarios are always in survival mode. I’m going to doubt that a ten year old is going to really give too much of a damn about playing catcher for a bunch of dudes/women if it means he gets proper food and shelter.
What I find is that most people that argue like this really, that are fine with governments, end up providing arguments against the state—the very thing they set out to support. Seeing as the state is defined by the exclusive use of the initiation force, there can’t be anything moral about its existence or anything it does.
Human minds were not created to handle the scope of what modern democratic or representative governments have become, and politicians are not made of more robust intellectual material than anyone else, and certainly no more robust moral material. There’s too many moving parts and moving parts within those moving parts for a group of oligarchs to maintain a sense of what’s going on. Free market economists relate this concept to their studies by calling it a “fatal conceit“—knowledge and expertise about things is too dispersed for it to be centrally controlled, and the fatal conceit is the phenomenon that those in power assume the proper accumulation of relevant knowledge to craft “effective policy,” which is state-speak for “the most productive direction to point our guns.”
The point is, in certain circumstances, like America’s, the collapse of the government won’t mean much to people. We can go on living our lives and deal with issues that come up, and the people that have become attached to their precious state will have to resolve it internally as they would the death of a loved one. But practically speaking little will change in their actual lives, because government collapse does not equal social or economic collapse: roads will somehow be built, security will somehow be provided, the food will somehow end up on plates—all assuming there is a demand for it in the first place. Or something may come along that will render technology once used by governments obsolete and unwanted. The demand for whale fat fell dramatically when the light bulb was produced.
Don’t ask me how. I only know how to design a usable website and write with some lucidity. But think about it: there’s millions of people in this country (and even more in other countries, so I’m told) that will be the same person tomorrow if the government vanished overnight. I’m sure someone, somewhere will figure out a way to solve a problem. It’s not rocket science, unless you’re launching rockets—which you don’t need a government to do.
The further point is, all of the resources that the government owns—buildings, vehicles, weapons, computers, politicians with a salvageable skill for the real world. Stuff doesn’t just disappear. All these things go somewhere. Where do they go?
Images of non-disappearing objects stolen from Internet websites.
If I can offer an uneducated answer: the reason nations don’t “do” libertarianism is because politicians are dis-incentivized from doing so, as it puts their wealth/power/status in jeopardy. Small/no government means less/no livelihood for those in positions of power; their whole socio-economic circle disappears, and it’s rather unreasonable to expect ethical behavior from a politician.
But not only are politicians dis-incentivized towards libertarianism, they are also have the means to ignore it*. Since politicians are the ones in control of the sanctioned use of force, they can structure the political environment as they see fit. They can essentially dictate the terms of their employment. This is a semi-fancy rephrasing of “politicians have guns so they can do what they want.”
For some reason, the finger-waggers at Salon think they’ve got us stumped with this one: “If your approach is so great, why hasn’t any country in the world ever tried it?”
So this is the unanswerable question? What’s supposed to be so hard about it? Ninety percent of what libertarians write about answers it at least implicitly.
Let’s reword the question slightly, in order to draw out the answer. You’ll note that when stated correctly, the question contains an implicit non sequitur.
* This point is so important that I bolded, underlined, and italicized it. I can be incentivized to have $1 million in my savings account but it doesn’t mean much if I don’t have the means to fulfill or even reasonably pursue that incentive.
Medieval Iceland image stolen from Wikipedia.
Many people who self-publish right now are simply uploading their files and hoping for the best. I am self-publishing as if I were my own actual publishing company and doing every aspect of this perhaps even more professionally than a publishing company does things. I plan on describing the step-by-step in a separate post on what things I did here that are different than the average self-published (or even mainstream-published) book. So that’s why I decided to keep June 3 as the official release date.
That said, the book is ready now, I’m fascinated by Bitcoin as a “Choose Yourself” currency, and didn’t think it was a big deal to release it this way three weeks early. I don’t expect a lot of people will buy via Bitcoins (I don’t think that many people have Bitcoins) but I liked the idea of being the FIRST book in history to be, for a couple of weeks at least, only available on Bitcoin.
That CT sided with Tolkein is no shocker—just look at the post title. CT’s reader base is evangelical-heavy, so any hint of straying from the default position on political issues is going to spark an unrelenting shipstorm of strongly worded emails.
Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Part of Tolkein’s response. CT emphasized some of it but I’m too lazy to do the markup:
The horror of the Christians with whom you disagree (the great majority of all practicing Christians) at legal divorce is in the ultimate analysis precisely that: horror at seeing good machines ruined by misuse. I could that, if you ever get a chance of alterations, you would make the point clear. Toleration of divorce—if a Christian does tolerate it—is toleration of a human abuse, which it requires special local and temporary circumstances to justify (as does the toleration of usury)—if indeed either divorce or genuine usury should be tolerated at all, as a matter of expedient policy.
Under your limitations of space you have not, of course, had opportunity to elaborate your “policy”—toleration of abuse. … A Christian of your view is, as we have seen, committed to the belief that all people who practice “divorce”—certainly divorce as it is now legalized—are misusing the human machine (whatever philosophical defense they may put up), as certainly as men who get drunk (doubtless with a philosophic defense also). They are injuring themselves, other people, and society, by their behavior. And wrong behavior (if it is really wrong on universal principles) is progressive, always: it never stops at being “not very good,” “second best”—it either reforms, or goes on to third-rate, bad, abominable
I side with Lewis much more here, obviously, but what bothers me is that Tolkein (who described himself, philosophically at least, as a kind of anarchist) doesn’t connect “group of people x should” with “the government should”.
Maybe he had thought, as many other Christians do, that the use of the state is presumed. It’s my belief that the burden of proof lies on them: prove to me why the church at large needs to petition secularized, man-created entities that wield weapons as its distinctive feature to accomplish its goals, to accomplish her goals*.
* Offering “there have always been governments,” or “religious people have always been involved with governments” as arguments is not a good idea.
Ben Pike tipped me off to this blog post, “Abortion Rights are Logically Required by Libertarianism“. Below is the email I wrote back to him. It was a rough email, not intended as post material, so it’s kind of jumpy. But the thoughts are there.
Basically, reading this and the original post over a few times, I think the questions are these: how does exiting the womb and being detached from the mother make it a self-property rights owner? Why does the fetus not own itself before birth? I don’t think concepts like “viability” really address it but I’m open to correction.
She rightly addresses the question of whether a fetus is an individual, which, if it is, then the rights of self-ownership (and the NAP) apply to it. But she calls the fetus a “potential” human without explaining why it’s just a potential and not an actual human. She just declares it, which is a pretty darn important presupposition since the fetus/baby’s status as rights-retainer rests on this. Maybe she has worked the fetus’ not-actual, potential humanity out somewhere else but this is an extremely important girder in her framework.
In the same paragraph she states “[a]t birth, the fetus is biologically autonomous and becomes a self-owner with full individual rights.” But there is no explanation as how it is fundamentally different other than being outside and not physically attached to the mother…and I can’t see how that difference transforms the fetus into a human. In a sense she is justifying the mother’s abandonment of the baby, because most of us would think she has moral imperative to provide care (or to seek care) once the baby is born. The mother still has to provide her own property to care for it, her resources: time, money, and sometimes her own body (arguably more resources than during pregnancy, but I don’t think amount is the issue). The only real difference is that the fetus is beyond the borders of her body-property.
In this case she has to establish that being inside that body makes it her property, which seems an extremely difficult situation to steer toward your side. That would mean any thing that lands in my yard is my property, even people. Though, a fetus doesn’t “land” inside a woman. It grows there. Could it be considered like a plant that spontaneously grows in my garden without my consent (it’s implicit that when I bought my house and land that things like that can happen). If a human sprouted up on my lawn ex nihilo, and that kind of generation was implicit when I bought the property, would I be morally responsible for its survival?
I’m just thinking through this here. Sorry for the disjoint. The conception/birth of a human doesn’t have a proper ethical analogy, it doesn’t seem. It’s its own special case and I don’t know the philo-ethical scholarship that has been applied to it. So, really, I don’t have an answer, except that I am pro-life (categorically) by logical means: if it’s indeterminate whether it’s just a clump of tissue or an actual human, it would be too morally risky to aggress upon it by default, “just in case” it’s a human…but sometimes I’m not so sure of the strength of that argument.
About the Ron Paul quote: did you have a link to that? I’d probably agree with it but I want to check the context.
Hey, speaking of tablets, which one would you recommend? I’m on Verizon and I know next to nothing.
Most of all, an understanding of Austrian economics reveals that mainstream economics is the exact opposite of what it claims to be: it is not science, but scientism. Relying on crude imitation of 19th-century physics, it implicitly or explicitly assumes that human actions can be understood in the same way that natural scientists understand the motions and interactions of material particles, chemical substances, and electrical currents. Unfortunately for mainstream economics, human beings — unlike particles, chemicals, and currents — have purposes, which they choose and may change, as well as a capacity for creativity in their choice or invention of means for the attainment of their chosen ends. Only a science that recognizes the essential nature of human beings, and how they differ from material particles and electrical currents, can achieve an understanding of human action. Neoclassical economics hides its epistemological nakedness beneath a massive cloak of symbolical representations and mathematical manipulations in formal models. Once one comes to understand what is being done, and presupposed, in this nursery of playful idiots savants, one comes to see that hardly any of it will bear critical scrutiny.
There’s probably a million lists like these online that will try to guilt you into riding a bike, making it seem like your world will sprout into a fantasy land of happy fairy-turtles and streets made of edible rainbow chocolate if you would stop destroying everything with your car—but there’s probably not a lot that also offer reasons not to bike, like I do below.
1. You will save money. Probably lots of it.
If you have a car just for commuting, you’re paying the full gamut of all that stuff. Imagine the savings™!
2. You will get exercise.
3. You might meet some interesting people.
4. You’ll appreciate being outside and being inside more.
When it’s hot outside you’ll appreciate that climate-controlled office more. When it’s freezing out you’ll appreciate that climate-controlled office more. When it’s windy out…
1. You think you are saving the earth.
Don’t forget that manufacturing and delivering the bike might not be too enviro-friendly in itself. You just can’t win. Just walk everywhere (not in shoes, those are probably harmful, too).
2. You have a medical condition.
3. You live too far from where you work to make biking practical.
4. You don’t want to or know when to break the rules.
So what does this have to do with breaking rules? Well, sometimes you might need to bend those traffic laws to keep safe. If a real winner in an overblown pickup truck is tailgating you, do you think it’s okay to blow through that stop sign (assuming you’ve determined it’s safe to do so), or to risk getting wrecked by a fender in your back tire?
Here’s another situation: most bicycles aren’t massive enough to trigger traffic lights to turn green. Is it okay to cross on the red light if you bike, say, early in the morning when you might have to wait five minutes for a car to arrive to trigger the light change?
The point is, use your own sense of risk assessment and management to navigate questionable situations. You can’t rely completely on static signage to address every problem you might face on a bike.
Links for your consideration:
With six kids and no car, this mom does it all by bike
10 reasons Congress must save bike/ped funding – as a libertarian I don’t want Congress or any bureaucrat doing much of anything, but the post has some salient points.
Six Pittsburgh Businesses Earn National Bike Friendly Recognition – this is more my style: skip dealing with politicians and instead work with normal, productive people.
Photo by crankyuser.
I’ve seen this image appear in my facebook feed at least a few times every week. The idea is that it’s best (according to some) to spend our money on local businesses because the business owners will extract more practical or “moral” utility, where the CEO will just squander it. The only problem is that in the situation the image describes, where you spend your money is irrelevant.
If the CEO does squander his salary foolishly, people benefit in the same way the small business would—he would be injecting it back into the economy by buying the expensive car or by building another house. That’s more factories and more construction work for the providers of working class* families, and more business for smaller companies he patronizes. In some situations, more people would be better off if more business went to the CEO’s corporation than the small family business.
But let’s assume you spend your money patronizing the small business, and that somehow you know they will use the revenue in ways the image proposes. The catch-22 comes because the small business pays taxes (sooner or later—the government has a way of getting money from you). These taxes paid can be used by the government at all levels to benefit the small business’ larger, corporate competitors. Essentially, you would help funding small- and mid-sized businesses pay the government to keep their business from growing.
It’s not your fault, though, nor is it the business’. A company can only get so big the “right” way, by filling consumer demand and creating wealth, before it has to cajole non-market forces into working in their favor. This non-market force is the state, which is able to build walls against the competition coming from smaller companies through legislation and taxation. Thus, CEOs can afford themselves things like exhorbitant bonuses instead of growing their business (creating jobs) because there’s more incentive to rent-seek, which benefits a corporation’s owners primarily and the business secondarily, and less incentive to fill demand, which benefits consumers and the corporation as a whole, from the CEO down to factory janitors.
The best solution, naturally, is to remove the state from the market process by extracting its coercive power and expansive tax levying, and let consumers decide how big or small business will get, through consumption and investment. That way the economic climate reflects demand more accurately and resources are aligned with less recklessness. That’s a tough cookie to bite because the politicians have no incentive to shrink the power of the organization they work for.
*I normally don’t use Marx-inspired class warfare language like this but it fits given the context.