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View Full Version : What are the philosophical merits of libertarianism? (jimM47 & hamandcheese)


Bloggingheads
03-24-2010, 04:08 AM

bjkeefe
03-24-2010, 05:35 AM
Here: http://apollo.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/26977

nikkibong
03-24-2010, 12:12 PM
Recorded: December 29 Posted: March 24





we at least talking december 2009?

jimM47
03-24-2010, 12:55 PM
This diavlog was beset by numerous technical difficulties. I'm told that it was delayed in an attempt to fix one of them.

Don Zeko
03-24-2010, 01:58 PM
Well it's good to see another Apollo DV, even if it was even more absurdly delayed than my DV with PMP.

PreppyMcPrepperson
03-24-2010, 04:19 PM
Well it's good to see another Apollo DV, even if it was even more absurdly delayed than my DV with PMP.

And no warzone-technology-impairment excuse.

hamandcheese
03-24-2010, 04:57 PM
The classic example of the advertisement collective actual problem which I forgot to mention was the tobacco industry. When tobacco advertisements in the US were banned their revenues universally increased. Joseph Heath's The Efficient Society has a good discussion of it.

dieter
03-24-2010, 06:48 PM
This was the first apollo diavlog I enjoyed as much as the better regular diavlogs. (insightful, fluent and cogent conversation)

I haven't seen status goods, collective action and taxation put together in this way.

@hamandcheese:
Are there any estimates about the volume of non utility status spending?

My moderate libertarian argument for specific taxes is that you need to tax some things anyway. Given constant spending, you can easily employ Bastiat's classically liberal concern about the seen and the unseen. The unseen being the tax that would have to be levied instead in this case.

Most libertarians are truly arguing like anarcho-capitalists. They always list all of the problems with a specific tax or tariff to protray themselves as being more free market and non interventionist and to feel good about themselves.

JonIrenicus
03-24-2010, 07:55 PM
In terms of consumers and purchases, the more rational the less margin and profit. Meaning fewer jobs, meaning even less capacity to purchase.


Anyone who buys a mac has paid more than would they could have paid for a comparable specced pc in most cases. But is that a bad thing for society? Would it be better than people only ever bought pcs with the most razor thin margins, only what they needed and nothing more?


That may be more rational, not sure that would be better.


So long as basic needs are a good chunk less than peoples total income, failing to create value in things other than basic needs would seem to retard the flow of capitol from people to the economy instead of hoarding it in their accounts.



On who cares about environmentalism, irrelevant. Who can afford to DO the most about environmental issues is the wealthy.


In another example, it may be true that people who donate money to aid programs may care more about the problems of people who are less fortunate, but the people promoting trade and industry in those countries actual DO more. Inherently more selfish in scope, and yet it does more actual good.


edit (again)

incidentally, I am not philosophically opposed to a tax if it leads to a better outcome. Anyone who is either for or against a policy solely due to principle and not results is a slave to principle over reality.

I look at principles more as preferences, there are probably many different solutions to a problem, but some are more preferable to others depending on the individuals issues inside peoples heads.

JonIrenicus
03-24-2010, 08:13 PM
The classic example of the advertisement collective actual problem which I forgot to mention was the tobacco industry. When tobacco advertisements in the US were banned their revenues universally increased. Joseph Heath's The Efficient Society has a good discussion of it.

And how does he propose minimizing that effect?

There will not be a ban on generic advertising on non controversial and negative health products, put a tax on advertising?

hamandcheese
03-24-2010, 08:34 PM
There will not be a ban on generic advertising on non controversial and negative health products, put a tax on advertising?

Exactly. Unfortunately I don't have the book in front of me, but he proposes an adjustment to the way ad. expenses are tax deductible.

There is nothing inefficient with advertisement generally, it's just a matter of returns for the scale. A small tax on advertisement costs wholesale, however, would become a big tax on humongous advertisement budgets, especially if the tax was progressive.

failing to create value in things other than basic needs would seem to retard the flow of capitol from people to the economy instead of hoarding it in their accounts.

This is a good point. Given the fact that virtually everything denotes some social status, I'm definitely not arguing that "status taxes" are at all practical, and they would muddle with the flow of money pretty significantly, outside of a handful of obvious cases.

The example of a country club is pretty clear cut, though, such that if you ask why the owners why their fees are high they'll more or less say "to keep the peasants out" (or something like that). By imposing a tax the country club gets what it wants (an upper-crust membership). The fees are not to finance anything; only to create a barrier to entry, so why would they miss them?

But the point wasn't to advocate this as a good source of tax revenue. I was just trying to give an example of a tax which is not particularly coercive, in rebuttal to the idea that taxes are definition-ally coercive.


Are there any estimates about the volume of non utility status spending?


Not to my knowledge, but I imagine its quite high. I also imagine that it would be very hard, if not impossible, to measure precisely. But if you or anyone else find studies on the subject I would be very interested in reading them.

Thanks for the nice comments!

JonIrenicus
03-24-2010, 08:42 PM
http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/24/gms-two-seater-en-v-concept-makes-urban-mobility-hip-again/

Don Zeko
03-24-2010, 11:00 PM
The example of a country club is pretty clear cut, though, such that if you ask why the owners why their fees are high they'll more or less say "to keep the peasants out" (or something like that). By imposing a tax the country club gets what it wants (an upper-crust membership). The fees are not to finance anything; only to create a barrier to entry, so why would they miss them?

Wouldn't this fail to account for competition between country clubs? After all, I don't think that cc's have particularly absurd profit margins, so they're clearly spending the money on something that increases the club's attractiveness to wealthy potential members.

jimM47
03-25-2010, 07:17 AM
The example of a country club is pretty clear cut, though, such that if you ask why the owners why their fees are high they'll more or less say "to keep the peasants out" (or something like that). By imposing a tax the country club gets what it wants (an upper-crust membership). The fees are not to finance anything; only to create a barrier to entry, so why would they miss them?Wouldn't this fail to account for competition between country clubs? After all, I don't think that cc's have particularly absurd profit margins, so they're clearly spending the money on something that increases the club's attractiveness to wealthy potential members.

I didn't press Sam on the country club example in the diavlog, because it was useful shorthand for veblen goods, which do indisputably exist. A true veblen good isn't subject to the normal pressure you describe because, at the margin, it has a positively-sloped demand curve, meaning an increase in price, unrelated to any underlying change, causes an increase in demand.

But as to the specific example, I agree with you. None of the country clubs I have ever been were even remotely veblin goods (though I suppose there's a selection bias at work here, since I would be kept out of any that were).

But this is part of a larger point! There are multiple types of status goods. Rather than a veblen good, a country club membership is more apt to be a highly positional good. That is to say, there are a limited number of membership spots available, so if I get a spot, that's one less available for you. Prices get bid up high, and it may appear there is a strange relationship between price and demand, but what is really going on is scarcity.

But of course I've committed a basic fallacy in that last paragraph by assuming that the number of spots in country clubs is static. But in fact, high prices induce greater supply. New country clubs with new spots become viable when profits are driven up by scarcity — unless, of course, those high prices paid aren't passed on to suppliers as high payments received, say if there is an intervening luxury tax.

And that's important for understanding the effects of what Sam is proposing with respect to status goods that are not veblen goods. The tax he is advocating effectively functions like collusive action by status-seekers to actually increase the positionality of high status-goods. The tax makes the supply more inelastic, preventing high prices from yielding a normal increase in the availability of the good. This means that getting into that prestigious country club will mean more in terms of relative status because there won't be that other less-prestigious country club out there giving the Joneses something nearly as good. But it also necessarily increases the degree to which status-seeking money creates only relative gains, rather than absolute gains.

As I understand Sam's position, he tends to think that in many consumer choices the desire to achieve relative gains in living standard from the purchase already overwhelms the goal of absolute gains. Therefore, with the actions he proposes you can induce lots of people to simply drop out of the relative status game and behave more "rationally."

My opinion is that absolute gains are, if not the only factor at least a significant factor, in nearly all consumer choices, and so it is not so easy to get people to drop out of the status game, to the extent it forms part of the motivation for purchases, because there is still the absolute component. Instead you only increase the resources that go to relative status and reduce absolute gains to the mass of society. Which is why I bring up my concerns that social progress may be jeopardized by things that inhibit absolute gains from reaching broad distributions in society.

jimM47
03-25-2010, 07:55 AM
Most libertarians are truly arguing like anarcho-capitalists. They always list all of the problems with a specific tax or tariff to protray themselves as being more free market and non interventionist and to feel good about themselves.

To be clear, my objection to the form of taxation Sam is proposing isn't especially an market-oriented objection. To the extent that there is really an economic rent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_rent) present as Sam describes it, and such a phenomenon is reliably identifiable, this sort of tax is, from an economic perspective, the best kind.

My objections come more along the line of wariness about 1) the cultural judgments that appear to motivate a condemnation of certain spending as 'luxury' and 'irrational' and 2) the ability to be certain that the tax won't actually distort things. Obviously you have to pay for government somehow, but simple taxes spread across a large base (i.e. general income and sales taxes) are thought to be more desirable because they are more reliable, more stable across time, less prone to corruption and rent-seeking, have more uniform effects on the market, and they require less information to administer.

hamandcheese
03-25-2010, 05:31 PM
Those are some very insightful responses, Jim, and I'll have to take some time to consider them, but in the context of the original premise of our discussion, the merits of a generic libertarian view of coercion, I regret bringing up these specific hypothetical examples instead of sticking to the issue of coercion.

I think I've found a way to express my argument in 3 sentences:

1: Just like State-endorsed slavery + sweatshop wage-labour are extreme examples of coercion, one legal, one economic, an 8% sales tax + Walmart undercutting your mom-and-pop store are obviously not as insidious or violent.

2: Libertarians (the more extreme the better) evaluate coercion based on the source of coercion, as oppose to the strength or effects of the coercion.

3: Rather, I say we should group types of coercion and draw moral equivalence in the way I've done with underlines above, if we are truly serious about liberty.

JonIrenicus
03-26-2010, 01:51 AM
Another thought on these two, Jim seems to be playing the role of the Comedian to Hams Ozymandias.


(Need to have watched the Watchmen movie for that to have the slightest chance to make sense)


It was MUCH more extreme in the movie, but The comedian was skeptical and doubtful about the capacity of Ozzy to manage the ups and downs of conflict from on high.


Ozzy in the end had a more "State" coercion style approach. And in the movie, it looked like it was going to work, for all the downsides, save that wrinkle at the end. The Comedian won in the movie, but maybe Ozymandias is better for real life in some areas.



Please someone tell me some of this makes sense (lie if you have to)

themightypuck
04-03-2010, 05:18 PM
Isn't the classic coercion argument like this.

Libertarian: Coercion is wrong as a matter of natural law.

Socialist: It is perfectly natural for a group of people to gang up on an individual. Real laws are created by people to prevent such things.

Libertarian: OK fine, even if you don't agree with my natural law arguments let me put it in terms you understand [bunch of consequentialist arguments].

Socialist: But your arguments give too much weight to future generations. What about people today?

Libertarian: With your logic we'd still be living in grass huts.

Socialist: (wistfully dreaming of grass huts) Sorry what did you say?

Libertarian: This is the problem with you socialists. Always with the dreaming. Try the real world.

Socialist: NO U!!!

Libertarian: No Yer Mama!!!

Socialist: Don't talk about my Mama. *takes a swing*

Libertarian: *ducks* Now we see the violence inherent in your coercive system.

**violence ensues**

themightypuck
04-03-2010, 06:05 PM
If you accept that free markets occasionally produce bad outcomes--like peacock tails--the question becomes whether intervention can produce better outcomes. This generally devolves into arguments about what is a better outcome. In all the arguments I have about this sort of thing, the philosophical bedrock of libertarians is that freedom is a value in and of itself. Consequentialist arguments are always tactical. I know there are a number of libertarians who don't appear to think this way (Will Wilkinson or Brink Lindsey among the BHTV crowd) but I tend not to meet such people in the wild (surely a failure on my part).

jimM47
04-04-2010, 10:57 PM
If you accept that free markets occasionally produce bad outcomes--like peacock tails--the question becomes whether intervention can produce better outcomes. This generally devolves into arguments about what is a better outcome. In all the arguments I have about this sort of thing, the philosophical bedrock of libertarians is that freedom is a value in and of itself. Consequentialist arguments are always tactical. I know there are a number of libertarians who don't appear to think this way (Will Wilkinson or Brink Lindsey among the BHTV crowd) but I tend not to meet such people in the wild (surely a failure on my part).

Two responses:

1) I think that if you accept that free markets sometimes produce bad outcomes — which I do accept —*there are two questions that result: the question whether an intervention will produce a better outcome, and the meta-question how certain you can be of your answer to that first question.

2) The position that freedom has value in and of itself is not at all incompatible with consequentialism. Far from it, the degree to which a system produces meaningful freedom can be (ought to be) one of the consequences by which the system is judged.

It's hard to know what your claim that consequentialist arguments are merely tactical means without a more concrete example. Is there something in this diavlog that you are referring to?

themightypuck
04-04-2010, 11:48 PM
Good point with 1 although I think it folds into the value discussion. All action is under some level of uncertainty and that always has to be part of the calculus. On the other hand, there is no natural order of things to fall back on.

I agree with 2. The question is whether a libertarian cares at a philosophical level whether freedom leads to better outcomes when you take freedom itself out of the outcome calculus. This is what I meant when I said things devolve into arguments about how to value outcomes. I probably shouldn't have said "devolve" as it implies that there is something wrong with these arguments.

As for all consequentialist arguments being tactical, I overstepped. It has been my personal experience that many libertarians use consequentialist arguments even though, by definition, there exist no consequentialist arguments that could defeat them. Neither you nor hamandcheese did anything like this and I didn't mean to imply it. Mea culpa.

hamandcheese
04-05-2010, 01:47 AM
In response to Jim, I whole heartily accept the knowledge problems in all forms of government policy. Like I say in the video, an argument for libertarianism will have to be made on a practical level. My main arguments were a rebuttal to ethical rejections of state solutions on the basis that they're operationally non-voluntary, or the irrelevant moral distinction between the centralized and decentralized.

In some cases I do think are there places that the knowledge required to act with precision is quite ascertainable by bureaucrats. States are big fans of insurance schemes precisely because they yield a high level accuracy with a minimum level of reflex.

The strength of the Libertarian we're talking about really determines my examples. I know many anarcho-capitalists who would be opposed to even the state creation and auctioning of property titles, preferring all property arrangements to be spontaneous. In other words, depending who I'm talking to the definition of "intervention" ranges dramatically.

I would, however, propose an action principle to philosophical scepticism. You may be familiar with the stories about the ancient Greek sceptic Pyrrho. He was so sceptical that, reportedly, if he saw a man drowning in a river he would walk by, unconvinced that the man was really there or really drowning, and if so whether his intervention would be of any use. The mistake Pyrrho made is that decisions without perfect knowledge are inevitable in life, and, as the Rush song goes, if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. How much money should have been spent on stimulus to restore employment? I have no idea. But standing back and musing over the uncertainty of human action is itself an action that has consequences and deserves its own evaluation.

On consequentialism:

I'm not a consequentialist or strict utilitarian, myself, though I lean that way. I think those philosophies miss huge swaths of human nature in favour of a sleek scientific morality. I do, however, propose a kind of consequentialist filibuster.

To illustrate, suppose you could establish a deontological basis for absolute property and contract rights, as some Libertarians and Anarchocapitalists think they have. I think if it were the case that the dialetics of such a society were to invariably deteriorate into monopoly or depression then that would in effect discredit and filibuster it morally.

A clarification on the Great Depression point I made in the video:

Its not an issue of whether the GD would have happened without the government or not. My point was that the violence of the great depression was decentralized and effected people through the dynamics of economic systems, and was, I think demonstrably perpetuated by a reluctance to meaningfully intervene. This is only to highlight the fact that "violence" is not necessarily interpersonal. It was an attempt to anticipate the Libertarian rebuttal that real violent coercion requires a human agent.

Unit
04-05-2010, 07:17 PM
In response to Jim, I whole heartily accept the knowledge problems in all forms of government policy. Like I say in the video, an argument for libertarianism will have to be made on a practical level. My main arguments were a rebuttal to ethical rejections of state solutions on the basis that they're operationally non-voluntary, or the irrelevant moral distinction between the centralized and decentralized.

In some cases I do think are there places that the knowledge required to act with precision is quite ascertainable by bureaucrats. States are big fans of insurance schemes precisely because they yield a high level accuracy with a minimum level of reflex.

The strength of the Libertarian we're talking about really determines my examples. I know many anarcho-capitalists who would be opposed to even the state creation and auctioning of property titles, preferring all property arrangements to be spontaneous. In other words, depending who I'm talking to the definition of "intervention" ranges dramatically.

I would, however, propose an action principle to philosophical scepticism. You may be familiar with the stories about the ancient Greek sceptic Pyrrho. He was so sceptical that, reportedly, if he saw a man drowning in a river he would walk by, unconvinced that the man was really there or really drowning, and if so whether his intervention would be of any use. The mistake Pyrrho made is that decisions without perfect knowledge are inevitable in life, and, as the Rush song goes, if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. How much money should have been spent on stimulus to restore employment? I have no idea. But standing back and musing over the uncertainty of human action is itself an action that has consequences and deserves its own evaluation.

On consequentialism:

I'm not a consequentialist or strict utilitarian, myself, though I lean that way. I think those philosophies miss huge swaths of human nature in favour of a sleek scientific morality. I do, however, propose a kind of consequentialist filibuster.

To illustrate, suppose you could establish a deontological basis for absolute property and contract rights, as some Libertarians and Anarchocapitalists think they have. I think if it were the case that the dialetics of such a society were to invariably deteriorate into monopoly or depression then that would in effect discredit and filibuster it morally.

A clarification on the Great Depression point I made in the video:

Its not an issue of whether the GD would have happened without the government or not. My point was that the violence of the great depression was decentralized and effected people through the dynamics of economic systems, and was, I think demonstrably perpetuated by a reluctance to meaningfully intervene. This is only to highlight the fact that "violence" is not necessarily interpersonal. It was an attempt to anticipate the Libertarian rebuttal that real violent coercion requires a human agent.

Ham,

first the distinction between centralized and decentralized is not as irrelevant as you might think. For instance when govt doesn't act, a lot of people still act, so "something gets done". The whole point is to decide between decentralized action and authoritarian solutions. The trouble with bringing up historical examples is that one runs the risk of comparing some "ideal" authoritarian solution to some "messy" and "real" turn of events. Note that authoritarians decisions can be taken at various levels: Federal, Fed Reserve, states, etc....so it's not enough to look at what the president says.

On a practical level, the objections to authoritarianism are multiple. There's the slippery slope effect: you give the govt the job of correctly (ideally) identifying and taxing negative externalities and pretty soon the govt will take this as an opportunity to bail-out friends and punish enemies. There's the ratchet effect: it's not just the size of govt that is worrisome, but its scope as well. Add to this that voters in the voting booth only really worry about "ideals" (there is no immediate feedback) and you see how the system is biased towards authoritarian solutions ("there outta be a law!"). One sensible proposal (Hayek) is that the higher up the legislative body the more general the character of its laws should be, i.e., it's safer not to give too much discretion to highly centralized powers. Unfortunately, we're going in the opposite direction, e.g. now people want the Fed Chairman to be in charge of assets prices as well, etc...Places like Canada are more insulated from this "little-Fuhrers" model: often their boards are populated by anonymous figures whose names are known to almost no one. During the Great Depression Canada had no bank failures and yet it didn't have a Central Bank. Yet it's counter-intuitive to say that in order to have a more stable economy we need more decentralization. People are natural control-freaks. This may very well be a god trait in their private life, but it's disastrous when you try to apply the same philosophy to systems of huge, oceanic, complexity.

Flaw
04-08-2010, 03:20 PM
I found it annoying that hamandcheese would switch topics when he was losing an argument. I found it to be "logically rude". I wish Jim would have insisted cheese stay on topic and make his point inside an area of shared knowledge.

hamandcheese
04-08-2010, 10:39 PM
Flaw:

Are you particularly referring to this part (http://apollo.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/26977?in=42:18&out=42:36)? Because that clip bothered me too. The excerpt I linked to is Jim summarizing my view after several minutes of trying to clarify it, and even though I seemingly ignore him, what he says is exactly what I was arguing, and my reply would have been better-off if it had started with "Precisely, Jim" and then my elaboration.

There is also a moment when Jim corrects me by pointing out that all intervention into a market is distorting. He's right. What I meant to say was coercive, and that makes sense in context. The purpose of the golf club case, and the whole reason to bring it up (and I did find golf clubs, for example, that require you purchase a 13million dollar house off the fairway just for membership) is to rebut the libertarian line that tax is always violent and coercive theft. The ritzy golf club, however, is premised on there being a meaningless and unnecessary premium. By replacing that premium with a tax no one is being coerced, because the members want to pay it and the owners want it applied. Like I wrote above, I regret that discussion switched from ethical philosophy to public choice theory, a subject of feasibility, not morality, but which was nevertheless stimulating.

If this isn't what you were referring to, I would like you to please give the specific instance when I switched topics to avoid losing an argument so that I may address the point. Far from feeling I was losing any argument, I scarcely considered what Jim I did as arguing in the first place. He rightfully pushed back at times but I nonetheless get the feeling that Jim and I predominately agree. Indeed, his notion that Libertarians should be on board with Employment Insurance, certain regulations, etc. accepts that governments can do things right, some of the time -- my only fundamental claim. My arguments are specifically a reaction to the Ron Paul and Austrian wing.

wreaver
05-06-2010, 02:30 AM
I just started watching this (and about 6 minutes in), but wouldn't it make the conversation more productive to have at least one libertarian in the debate?

At about 6 minutes in it looks like there are 2 people debating about libertarianism, but neither seems to actually understand what libertarianism actually is.

I.e., they seem to be creating straw man arguments.

wreaver
05-06-2010, 02:51 AM
@hamandcheese:

When libertarians are talking about coercion they are talking about physical coercion. I.e., punching someone in the face, or stabbing someone, etc.

They are not talking about a person going and getting a job because that person wants a certain life style.

If you conflate the two, then you will not "get" libertarianism.

AemJeff
05-06-2010, 09:48 AM
I just started watching this (and about 6 minutes in), but wouldn't it make the conversation more productive to have at least one libertarian in the debate?

At about 6 minutes in it looks like there are 2 people debating about libertarianism, but neither seems to actually understand what libertarianism actually is.

I.e., they seem to be creating straw man arguments.

I think Jim might have something to say about whether he himself to be a libertarian. If you think you see a fallacy, wouldn't it be helpful to indicate what you believe to be fallacious?

jimM47
05-06-2010, 03:43 PM
I think Jim might have something to say about whether he himself to be a libertarian.

You can't truly be a libertarian until at least one other person claiming to be a libertarian purports to evict you from the movement. I believe it's in the by-laws somewhere.

Don Zeko
05-06-2010, 04:19 PM
You can't truly be a libertarian until at least one other person claiming to be a libertarian purports to evict you from the movement. I believe it's in the by-laws somewhere.

Libertarians have by-laws? That sounds dangerously close to letting Leviathan into the Libertarian organization. You, sir, are no Libertarian.

jimM47
05-06-2010, 05:09 PM
When libertarians are talking about coercion they are talking about physical coercion. I.e., punching someone in the face, or stabbing someone, etc.

That distinction — between coercion that is or is not backed by the threat of physical force — is actually more difficult to flesh out than it appears to be at first blush, and it makes the pursuit more pragmatic than some care to admit.

First, most coercion is physical coercion only in an attenuated sense. If I get a speeding ticket, the physical coercion forcing me to pay it exists only at the end of a long causal chain. I have to refuse to contest the ticket, refuse to pay it, refuse to pay it again, get arrested, and resist arrest or incarceration before I am gonna get anyone punching me in the face. When we count that as being physical coercion we need to remember to follow the same chain for everything. When we do, we run into two problematic cases: economic coercion and social coercion.

At base a lot of economic coercion can be reduced to saying, 'you can't come on my land, use my things, or eat my food unless you have my permission, and if you do, I'll get the state to come in and punch you in the face.' In order to distinguish this from physical coercion we need a concept of property that will define the initial transgression as the coercive act. Naturally, we will have some concept of property, and its broad outlines are easy to define, but it turns out that the classification of individual cases of economic coercion can turn on the precise details of our property definition. Some libertarians simply stipulate this and move on. Other libertarians make consequentialist arguments for how we should define property rights. (In both these cases you move from coercion being what you are really talking about though).

Still other libertarians try to keep a rigid focus on coercion by asserting that some definition of property rights is natural and inherently true. i.e. that state isn't engaging in coercion by defining and enforcing property rights because the definition of those rights is independent and pre-existant of the state. The problem with this argument is that good property rights are notoriously hard to define. There is a danger in making rights too flexible and allowing people to agree to unconscionable bargains, or allowing people to fragment property between so many hands that it cannot be reassembled toward productive uses. But there is also a danger in making rights to rigid and preventing people from working out deals that would benefit everyone.

This difficulty is reflected in actual legal history. Even in the halcyon days when the Natural Law position was the dominant force in American jurisprudence, and radical Positivism was just a shadow lurking over the horizon, property law was considered a matter of positive law, defined by the sovereign. The most famous natural law cases out there tend to involve property rights; they simultaneously assert a natural and inviolable right to acquire, hold and keep property while at the same time asserting that the scope and definition of those rights is a matter of state law.

The second case is social coercion, and if you trace it back far enough, much social coercion can be recast as 'do this, or the next time you need help there will be less chance I'll give it.' You can certainly draw a principled distinction between acts and omissions, but where does that get you? If I say to you 'conform yourself to my oppressive conception of a woman's role, or the next time someone tries to carry you off and rape you, I won't stop them' I am probably not limiting your freedom less than if I was threatening you with harm myself. Yes, that's an extreme example, but I think it shows generally how we can conceive of a great deal of social coercion as being more attenuated of a threat, but not different in kind.

You can try to overcome this by distinguishing between 1) omissions where there is no duty to act and 2) overt acts plus omissions where there is a duty to act. But this kicks the can down the road and runs into the same problem as property. It's very hard to define what sort of duties to act we hold toward other people, and which people we owe them to.

Now, as I indicate in the diavlog, I am much more optimistic about social coercion being escapable than state coercion, and I am more optimistic about social coercion trending toward better outcomes than state coercion. But given the rather pernicious social institutions that have at times prevailed in this country in the past — Jim Crow is the most obvious example — I don't think it is misguided to recognize a continuum between social coercion and physical coercion and stand vigilant there.

If you conflate the two, then you will not "get" libertarianism.

As I think I say in diavlog, "coercion" — as it is used in libertarian discourse — is a term of art. Some privately-emergent economic realities can be more constraining on freedom that some laws backed by a state monopoly on the use of force are. So when we call something coercive, in the libertarian sense, we are talking about the kind of coercion, not the magnitude of it.

As I understood his argument, Sam isn't denying that this is the distinction Libertarians make, he is trying to present his argument for why it is not a valid distinction: why one should look to the magnitude of coercion, not it's source.

I think it is an argument worth hearing over, because in fact many libertarian thinkers do acknowledge and worry about forms of coercion that are of a high magnitude but which do not originate in the state. Oppressive cultural norms are one example of this (though often they come up in the context of government action fostering bad cultural norms).

jimM47
05-06-2010, 05:14 PM
Libertarians have by-laws? That sounds dangerously close to letting Leviathan into the Libertarian organization. You, sir, are no Libertarian.

Thanks, Zeke, but it doesn't count when you expel me. It has to be someone who knows the secret handshake.

AemJeff
05-07-2010, 10:02 AM
Thanks, Zeke, but it doesn't count when you expel me. It has to be someone who knows the secret handshake.

Which one?

wreaver
05-08-2010, 11:50 AM
You can't truly be a libertarian until at least one other person claiming to be a libertarian purports to evict you from the movement. I believe it's in the by-laws somewhere.

My apologies. I just didn't get the impression that you were a libertarian (at 6 minutes into the video).

hamandcheese
05-10-2010, 01:00 AM
I fully endorse and agree with Jim's post, the one that begins with "That distinction".

If you ignore the causal chain then the state is only ever coercive on the margins -- on those civil disobedients and criminals who defy the law. The other 99 out of a 100 people pay their taxes and smoke their weed in private, only occasionally feeling as if they're being "forced" to do anything, it's in our human nature to simply go with the flow.

My arguments were addressed specifically to the crowd who think the only legitimate way to organize society is in a way altogether voluntary -- not those libertarians who simply say "well, a smaller government just works better." And I did so by trying to point out that their constant focus on government interventions ignores the huge anti-libertarian forces of, say, cultural homophobia.

Ireland has blasphemy laws, for example, that any good libertarian should be opposed to. But if one removes those laws to reveal beneath a society that ostracizes and boycotts anyone who heresies than by what measure has one increased the liberty in a society? Perhaps culture is more malleable, as Jim suggests (thats dubious at best. its certainly easier to pass a law freeing the slaves then it is to eradicate racism). But what of the here and now?

Depending on the situation we might need more adamant norms, in the form of laws. The first amendment comes to mind. Modest social safety nets are also important, in my opinion, not only to minimize the perversities of an occasionally arbitrary and volatile market place, but also to place economic security in a more solid and egalitarian foundation, not subordinate to the whims of private charity.

In short, I want to argue for a more robust understanding of both liberty and coercion.

Don Zeko
05-10-2010, 01:39 AM
If you ignore the causal chain then the state is only ever coercive on the margins -- on those civil disobedients and criminals who defy the law. The other 99 out of a 100 people pay their taxes and smoke their weed in private, only occasionally feeling as if they're being "forced" to do anything, it's in our human nature to simply go with the flow.

I agree with your overall point wholeheartedly, but I'd be a bit more careful with language here. In an ideal state, as designed by you, myself, or most other Liberals, this is true, but most states as they actually exist do exert coercive power on more than just the margins, not to mention unfree states that coerce on far more than the margins of society.

hamandcheese
05-10-2010, 11:51 PM
I agree with your overall point wholeheartedly, but I'd be a bit more careful with language here. In an ideal state, as designed by you, myself, or most other Liberals, this is true, but most states as they actually exist do exert coercive power on more than just the margins, not to mention unfree states that coerce on far more than the margins of society.

Actually I would argue that even comparatively repressive regimes are only coercive by a casual chain. That is, their populations self-regulate and self-censor because of fear with very little direct coercion exerted on them.

In this sense even state coercion is, for the majority, a type of social or cultural coercion. Bare in mind that I'm not using this to justify state coercion, but to scold the libertarians who fall for the idea that only direct coercion counts. Pulling in the chain is a must.

Unit
05-12-2010, 02:25 PM
Actually I would argue that even comparatively repressive regimes are only coercive by a casual chain. That is, their populations self-regulate and self-censor because of fear with very little direct coercion exerted on them.

In this sense even state coercion is, for the majority, a type of social or cultural coercion. Bare in mind that I'm not using this to justify state coercion, but to scold the libertarians who fall for the idea that only direct coercion counts. Pulling in the chain is a must.

But where do you stop? Suppose you're willing to pay no more than a dollar on an apple and yet it costs 1.05, so you forgo the apple. Is that coercion? I mean, we do live in a society, my action influences everyone else's actions, even if marginally so.

hamandcheese
05-13-2010, 02:41 PM
But where do you stop? Suppose you're willing to pay no more than a dollar on an apple and yet it costs 1.05, so you forgo the apple. Is that coercion? I mean, we do live in a society, my action influences everyone else's actions, even if marginally so.

If you want to say the 5 cent difference is on a spectrum of coercion, I'm fine with that, I just don't think its warranted much moral concern, in the same way I wouldn't consider a 5% sales tax to be very morally egregious either, especially if its used to provide useful services. This is the point I'm making.

So yes, you could consider it coercion (it's ultimately up to which semantics you choose) but I don't consider it to be immorally so. Why? Because the consequences are not having an apple, as opposed to death or alienation. And the cost of avoiding the consequences are, as you point out, extremely low.

The gist of it is to question the notion that there is the state, and then there is freedom; and to posit that non-governmental forces, including peers, can be just as detrimental to our liberty as g-men. The exact formulation of how and why this is so is of secondary importance to me.

AemJeff
05-13-2010, 04:37 PM
If you want to say the 5 cent difference is on a spectrum of coercion, I'm fine with that, I just don't think its warranted much moral concern, in the same way I wouldn't consider a 5% sales tax to be very morally egregious either, especially if its used to provide useful services. This is the point I'm making.

So yes, you could consider it coercion (it's ultimately up to which semantics you choose) but I don't consider it to be immorally so. Why? Because the consequences are not having an apple, as opposed to death or alienation. And the cost of avoiding the consequences are, as you point out, extremely low.

The gist of it is to question the notion that there is the state, and then there is freedom; and to posit that non-governmental forces, including peers, can be just as detrimental to our liberty as g-men. The exact formulation of how and why this is so is of secondary importance to me.

That was well said h&c.

Unit
05-13-2010, 04:54 PM
If you want to say the 5 cent difference is on a spectrum of coercion, I'm fine with that, I just don't think its warranted much moral concern, in the same way I wouldn't consider a 5% sales tax to be very morally egregious either, especially if its used to provide useful services. This is the point I'm making.

So yes, you could consider it coercion (it's ultimately up to which semantics you choose) but I don't consider it to be immorally so. Why? Because the consequences are not having an apple, as opposed to death or alienation. And the cost of avoiding the consequences are, as you point out, extremely low.

The gist of it is to question the notion that there is the state, and then there is freedom; and to posit that non-governmental forces, including peers, can be just as detrimental to our liberty as g-men. The exact formulation of how and why this is so is of secondary importance to me.

There is a difference though between private plunder and govt plunder, which I think makes govt plunder "morally" worse. If tomorrow I'm mugged at the street corner I can try to fight back, and my act of self-defense will be recognized as legitimate by the larger society. But no one can fight back govt plunder. You might point to voting, but that's such a weak remedy from an individual point of view that it becomes almost irrelevant.

This is the point I wanted to make with supply and demand: you can call it coercion, but I don't, I call it coordination. Other cars on the road make me drive in ways that I don't like (say, make me put my foot on the breaks) but that's not coercion, it's coordination. Again, if my neighbors kidnaps me and makes me his slave, society's norms deem this unacceptable and will back me up if I try to fight back, or people will try and come to my rescue.
Likewise, there's a range of govt actions that have consequences on individuals, more or less serious. Take for instance eminent domain where private property is transferred to other private individuals on the account that they might generate higher tax-revenues. That to me is not 'coordination', in fact it's the opposite, because it crowds out the private arrangements that would have emerged if the govt hadn't stepped in.

hamandcheese
05-13-2010, 06:21 PM
There is a difference though between private plunder and govt plunder, which I think makes govt plunder "morally" worse. If tomorrow I'm mugged at the street corner I can try to fight back, and my act of self-defense will be recognized as legitimate by the larger society. But no one can fight back govt plunder. ...

Your mugger analogy is seriously flawed. Trying defending yourself against mobsters and oligopolies, or price gauging of inelastic services, or "pre-existing conditions", or debt collectors and drug lords. Its not quite as easy.

You might point to voting, but that's such a weak remedy from an individual point of view that it becomes almost irrelevant.

The history of the unionist movements around the world are, in the eyes of the members, attempts to resist the muggers. And they do so by giving workers a vote on the nature of their employment. So, ironically, you apparently think the remedy against some types of private coercion is almost irrelevant too.

Again, if my neighbors kidnaps me and makes me his slave, society's norms deem this unacceptable and will back me up if I try to fight back, or people will try and come to my rescue.

This might be true. Libertarians will further argue that in a market private power is limited through competition. Some Austrian economists even deny private natural monopolies as being possible. They too must think private power is a bad thing for them to spill so much ink trying to refute it as being even possible in their personal utopias.

Yet I agree with the libertarian that a well oiled market, and the work of individuals in society, is extremely capable at suppressing the imposition of power of one over another. I only argue that it is not flawless.


This is the point I wanted to make with supply and demand: you can call it coercion, but I don't, I call it coordination.

I agree with you that markets are more like a system of co-ordination than coercion -- when they're working. Its only ever been in areas of market failure (monopoly power, costs not being fully accounted for, information asymmetries, discrimination and inequality, surpluses and shortages, races to the bottom, boom and busts, property and contract violation) -- areas where supply/demand gets thrown out the window, that I bring up the notion that the market can be violently coercive, and the state a freedom enhancer.

Unit
05-14-2010, 02:33 AM
Your mugger analogy is seriously flawed. Trying defending yourself against mobsters and oligopolies, or price gauging of inelastic services, or "pre-existing conditions", or debt collectors and drug lords. Its not quite as easy.


I didn't deny the existence of private plunder. So you bringing up examples of it is curious. I'm sure you can think of govt monopolies that are just as hard to defend against. My point stands: you have more options if the mugger is a private entity, than if it's the govt with the law on its side.



The history of the unionist movements around the world are, in the eyes of the members, attempts to resist the muggers. And they do so by giving workers a vote on the nature of their employment. So, ironically, you apparently think the remedy against some types of private coercion is almost irrelevant too.


Again, this is a strange example. I'm sure you've heard of violence that unions themselves perpetrate on workers that try to break a strike, haven't you? Unions are cartels of workers that try fend-off competition from would-be workers. They work best when they represent a small work-force with a lot of bargaining power. Unfortunately govt regulation usually is geared to allowing unions to "coerce" workers in various ways (to join, to strike etc...). By the way, since you cited the history of unionism, it has several unsavory chapters. Here is one, from an article on Aparthaid in South Africa:

Whites formed labor unions in the early 1900s to guard against this persistent tendency, and the South African Labour Party (SALP) was formed in 1908 to explicitly advance the interests of European workers. The SALP and the unions with which it allied, including the powerful Mine Workers’ Union, were all white and avowedly socialist; the British Labour Party formed the model for the SALP. These organizations opposed any degradation of “European” or “civilized” standards in the workplace, by which they meant the advancement of blacks willing to undercut white union pay scales.
(http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Apartheid.html)


This might be true. Libertarians will further argue that in a market private power is limited through competition. Some Austrian economists even deny private natural monopolies as being possible. They too must think private power is a bad thing for them to spill so much ink trying to refute it as being even possible in their personal utopias.

Yet I agree with the libertarian that a well oiled market, and the work of individuals in society, is extremely capable at suppressing the imposition of power of one over another. I only argue that it is not flawless.


I agree with the Austrian economists that private monopolies are hard to define. But the more important point is not to deny that bad stuff happens, it's to point out that more often than people care to believe, bad stuff is "regulated" to happen, through govt meddling that grants privileges, and yes, monopolies, to certain outfits and not to others. The argument is not that, say, slavery never happened but it's to say that govt regulation made it all the more cruel and entrenched.


I agree with you that markets are more like a system of co-ordination than coercion -- when they're working. Its only ever been in areas of market failure (monopoly power, costs not being fully accounted for, information asymmetries, discrimination and inequality, surpluses and shortages, races to the bottom, boom and busts, property and contract violation) -- areas where supply/demand gets thrown out the window, that I bring up the notion that the market can be violently coercive, and the state a freedom enhancer.

I don't deny that markets fail, I just don't believe that govt is the solution. And in fact, in most examples, you can always find the govt in the causes as well. Markets do fail, but the solution is not to be found in govt (I don't claim to be speaking for libertarians.)

wreaver
05-15-2010, 07:38 PM
Seems there's been a number of people replying since I last took a look.

jimM47: Before replying to you, I will point something out, with the intent to avoid confusion (and to make the conversation more productive). (I've noticed that often when people have discussions, they are actually not arguing the same thing, but do not realize it. So let me say the following, to try to lower the probably of that situation happening here.)

Based on your reply, what you have described as libertarianism is different from my (personal) "flavor" of libertarianism and different from what I'm most familiar with what others I know (on a face-to-face basis) that describe as libertarianism. Which isn't to say I'm "right" and you are "wrong". And is not to say that the "flavor" of libertarianism I'm most familiar with is representative. (And isn't to even say that I'm not familiar with what you have described as libertarianism.) But only to point out that there are differences among people who self-identify as libertarian.

Years ago, there was a time, when I spent what seemed like more time than before, trying to resolve what I perceived to be logical inconsistencies in my moral framework. Long story short, eventually I came to something which I think would be best described as libertarianism. (I actually didn't "accept" the label of "libertarian" for quite a while, for various reasons, but that's probably too long a story to go into right now.)

Note, I'm not claiming I got to this point in a vacuum. And not claiming that I know that I have no contradictions left. But only pointing out that logical consistency is important to me; that not having contradictions in my moral framework is important to me. And that this motivation what got me to accept a moral framework that I think would be best described as (a "flavor" of) libertarianism.

For me, I reject the notion of moral authority of a state, because based on the moral axioms I accept, it is not logically consistent to accept it. To me, (many of) the people who make up the state are the moral equivalent of a thieves, murderers, extortionists, and kidnappers (depending on what actions they are performing, for their stately actives). Which doesn't mean that I think no one benefits from the state. Nor do I think that the state is arbitrary. But, to me, those things are irrelevant insofar as the moral axioms I accept are concerned.

So, perhaps if you keep those things in mind, it will make my responses clearer.

ALSO NOTE THAT THERE SEEMS TO BE A 10,000 CHARACTER LIMIT FOR REPLIES, SO I WILL HAVE TO BREAK UP MY REPLY BETWEEN MULTIPLE POSTS. THE NEXT PART IS A REPLY TO THIS POST.

wreaver
05-15-2010, 08:25 PM
CONTINUED FORM THE PREVIOUS POST BECAUSE OF THE 10,000 CHARACTER LIMIT PER POST.

NOTE THAT I ONLY RESPOND TO NOTIONS OF LIBERTARIANISM IN THIS POST. AND REPLY TO THE PARTS ABOUT SAM'S ARGUMENT IN A FOLLOWING POST.

jimM47: Note that I'm largely replying from the point of view of my "flavor" of libertarianism. And not (in general) trying to do a broad coverage of what people who self-identify as libertarian think.

That distinction — between coercion that is or is not backed by the threat of physical force — is actually more difficult to flesh out than it appears to be at first blush, and it makes the pursuit more pragmatic than some care to admit.

First, most coercion is physical coercion only in an attenuated sense. If I get a speeding ticket, the physical coercion forcing me to pay it exists only at the end of a long causal chain. I have to refuse to contest the ticket, refuse to pay it, refuse to pay it again, get arrested, and resist arrest or incarceration before I am gonna get anyone punching me in the face. When we count that as being physical coercion we need to remember to follow the same chain for everything.

I can't speak for others, but I would never call this physical coercion. But would instead call this the threat of physical coercion. (I.e., it's the punch in the face that's the physical coercion. The parts before it are the threat of physical coercion.)

For me, this is an important distinction.


When we do, we run into two problematic cases: economic coercion and social coercion.

At base a lot of economic coercion can be reduced to saying, 'you can't come on my land, use my things, or eat my food unless you have my permission, and if you do, I'll get the state to come in and punch you in the face.'

I think many people who self-identify as libertarian would protest the notion that they would ask a state for anything. (Since many people who self-identify as libertarian reject any moral notation of a state.) It is a matter of perspective, in the moral sense. But is an important one.

But you could have replaced "the state" with "the owner", "someone the owner hired", etc. So it's probably not an important point, in terms of your overall argument.



In order to distinguish this from physical coercion we need a concept of property that will define the initial transgression as the coercive act. Naturally, we will have some concept of property, and its broad outlines are easy to define, but it turns out that the classification of individual cases of economic coercion can turn on the precise details of our property definition. Some libertarians simply stipulate this and move on. Other libertarians make consequentialist arguments for how we should define property rights. (In both these cases you move from coercion being what you are really talking about though).

I've actually had a number of debates about the concept of property and libertarianism. (And initially didn't "accept" the label of libertarian because this point.)

Consequentialist arguments are not going to appeal to those looking for a logically consistent moral framework (such as myself). I've found that for those who seek logical consistency, concepts of property need either come in the form of an additional axiom (or axioms) or a system built on top of the existing axiom(s).

Still other libertarians try to keep a rigid focus on coercion by asserting that some definition of property rights is natural and inherently true.

This is a libertarian argument I've come across most frequently, and not one I accept (given my interpretation of what "natural" means in this context).

But, speaking for myself, in "finding" libertarianism, I was not trying to seek something "natural", but instead trying to find something logically consistent. (Although my endogenous nature may have affected various choices.)


i.e. that state isn't engaging in coercion by defining and enforcing property rights because the definition of those rights is independent and pre-existant of the state.

Again, replace "the state" with "the owner", "someone the owner hired", etc.

The problem with this argument is that good property rights are notoriously hard to define. There is a danger in making rights too flexible and allowing people to agree to unconscionable bargains,

Such as?

or allowing people to fragment property between so many hands that it cannot be reassembled toward productive uses. But there is also a danger in making rights to rigid and preventing people from working out deals that would benefit everyone.

If I understand you correctly, you are making a utilitarian argument. Correct?

This difficulty is reflected in actual legal history. Even in the halcyon days when the Natural Law position was the dominant force in American jurisprudence, and radical Positivism was just a shadow lurking over the horizon, property law was considered a matter of positive law, defined by the sovereign. The most famous natural law cases out there tend to involve property rights; they simultaneously assert a natural and inviolable right to acquire, hold and keep property while at the same time asserting that the scope and definition of those rights is a matter of state law.


The second case is social coercion, and if you trace it back far enough, much social coercion can be recast as 'do this, or the next time you need help there will be less chance I'll give it.'

From my point of view, I see nothing immoral about this. (Although I may find some instances of this to be distasteful or unfortunate.)

You can certainly draw a principled distinction between acts and omissions, but where does that get you? If I say to you 'conform yourself to my oppressive conception of a woman's role, or the next time someone tries to carry you off and rape you, I won't stop them' I am probably not limiting your freedom less than if I was threatening you with harm myself.

From my point of view, this is not a moral concern.

Yes, that's an extreme example, but I think it shows generally how we can conceive of a great deal of social coercion as being more attenuated of a threat, but not different in kind.

Perhaps this betrays my background in mathematics, but I've found that it is easiest to show problems with an argument by looking at extremes. So an argument that looks at the extremes can be quite apt.

But, like I said, from my point of view, I see nothing immoral with inaction. (Even if I find it distasteful or unfortunate.)

You can try to overcome this by distinguishing between 1) omissions where there is no duty to act and 2) overt acts plus omissions where there is a duty to act. But this kicks the can down the road and runs into the same problem as property. It's very hard to define what sort of duties to act we hold toward other people, and which people we owe them to.

From my point of view, from a moral perspective, I would say no one has any duty to act. But that does not mean I do not prefer for people to act, in many of these situation.

Now, as I indicate in the diavlog, I am much more optimistic about social coercion being escapable than state coercion, and I am more optimistic about social coercion trending toward better outcomes than state coercion. But given the rather pernicious social institutions that have at times prevailed in this country in the past — Jim Crow is the most obvious example — I don't think it is misguided to recognize a continuum between social coercion and physical coercion and stand vigilant there.

I don't think I agree, that there is a continuum (assuming I understand you correctly). But this could be dependent on your moral framework. Could you elaborate?

THE REST OF THE REPLY TO FOLLOW.

wreaver
05-15-2010, 08:34 PM
As I think I say in diavlog, "coercion" — as it is used in libertarian discourse — is a term of art. Some privately-emergent economic realities can be more constraining on freedom that some laws backed by a state monopoly on the use of force are. So when we call something coercive, in the libertarian sense, we are talking about the kind of coercion, not the magnitude of it.

Agreed.

As I understood his argument, Sam isn't denying that this is the distinction Libertarians make, he is trying to present his argument for why it is not a valid distinction: why one should look to the magnitude of coercion, not it's source.

What does Sam mean by "valid"? Morally valid? (If so, that would depend on your moral framework, would it not?)

I think it is an argument worth hearing over, because in fact many libertarian thinkers do acknowledge and worry about forms of coercion that are of a high magnitude but which do not originate in the state. Oppressive cultural norms are one example of this (though often they come up in the context of government action fostering bad cultural norms).

I'm not the type of libertarian who believe that all the evil in the world comes from governments :-)

And I do think one should consider the magnitude of the physical coercion and even the whether it was intentional or not, when deciding to seek revenge or retaliation or not. (For example, if a 9 year old kicks you in the balls, perhaps you could forgive him, even if his act was immoral.)

And I do agree that I do see some problems with cultural norms.

However, these do not seem to be moral issues to me.

But perhaps I've misunderstood the topic of the diavlog. (And perhaps I should watch it again.)

wreaver
05-15-2010, 09:03 PM
hamandcheese: I'm replying from my own point of view and moral framework. (And not trying to do an overview of all people who self-identify as libertarian.)

Please interpret my replies below as such.

I fully endorse and agree with Jim's post, the one that begins with "That distinction".

If you ignore the causal chain then the state is only ever coercive on the margins

Agreed.

-- on those civil disobedients and criminals who defy the law. The other 99 out of a 100 people pay their taxes and smoke their weed in private, only occasionally feeling as if they're being "forced" to do anything, it's in our human nature to simply go with the flow.

My arguments were addressed specifically to the crowd who think the only legitimate way to organize society is in a way altogether voluntary -- not those libertarians who simply say "well, a smaller government just works better."

I would be of the former type.

And I did so by trying to point out that their constant focus on government interventions ignores the huge anti-libertarian forces of, say, cultural homophobia.

Ireland has blasphemy laws, for example, that any good libertarian should be opposed to.

And I am.

But if one removes those laws to reveal beneath a society that ostracizes and boycotts anyone who heresies than by what measure has one increased the liberty in a society?

Using the terminology of "positive liberty" and "negative liberty". I believe you are talking about "positive liberty", where libertarians would be concerned with "negative liberty". In the situation you have described, "negative liberty" has in fact been increased. Even if there are some (from my point of view) distasteful and unfortunate outcomes.

Perhaps culture is more malleable, as Jim suggests (thats dubious at best. its certainly easier to pass a law freeing the slaves then it is to eradicate racism). But what of the here and now?

Depending on the situation we might need more adamant norms, in the form of laws.

What do you mean by "we need"?


The first amendment comes to mind. Modest social safety nets are also important, in my opinion, not only to minimize the perversities of an occasionally arbitrary and volatile market place, but also to place economic security in a more solid and egalitarian foundation, not subordinate to the whims of private charity.

So, would it be correct to describe what you are saying here as... I have a "goal", and I want you to have this "goal" too (and reject any "goals" you had before)?

In short, I want to argue for a more robust understanding of both liberty and coercion.

What do you mean by "robust"?

wreaver
05-15-2010, 09:05 PM
Actually I would argue that even comparatively repressive regimes are only coercive by a casual chain. That is, their populations self-regulate and self-censor because of fear with very little direct coercion exerted on them.

In this sense even state coercion is, for the majority, a type of social or cultural coercion. Bare in mind that I'm not using this to justify state coercion, but to scold the libertarians who fall for the idea that only direct coercion counts. Pulling in the chain is a must.

(Assuming by "direct coercion" you mean ""physical coercion"....) From my point of view, direct coercion isn't the only form of coercion that matters. But it is the only form of coercion that is a moral issue. (I.e., other forms of coercion are outside the realm of morality. And it is not legitimate to "deal with them" in immoral ways.)

hamandcheese
05-15-2010, 11:23 PM
(Assuming by "direct coercion" you mean ""physical coercion"....) From my point of view, direct coercion isn't the only form of coercion that matters. But it is the only form of coercion that is a moral issue. (I.e., other forms of coercion are outside the realm of morality. And it is not legitimate to "deal with them" in immoral ways.)

Exactly. If you believe that only direct coercion is immoral than you have fallen for the trap my and Jim's posts have both warned you about. Based on the above quote, and the one where you reject social coercion as morally relevant, you should be able to be a statist and be morally consistent by your own standards. This is the whole point of my argument. You must yank in the chain of causality for it to make sense, and in doing so to remain consistent, one must start including non-state phenomena too.

In the situation you have described, "negative liberty" has in fact been increased.

How? If you already agree that most state 'coercion' is indirect, threat based, or the population simply self-regulates, conforming to the law, than why are anti-blasphemy laws bad, but cultural witch hunts aren't?

What do you mean by "we need"?

Jim made a comment that culture is more malleable. I was making the point that while bad laws may be more permanent than bad cultures, the same is true of good laws and cultures, and that sometimes its better when the rules are hard to change.

A few other other quick comments on things you said, wreaver, not directly tied to the diavlog:

But only pointing out that logical consistency is important to me

1. The logical consistency of a moral framework does not make the framework valid. An infinite number of ethical systems is possible on the basis of consistency. At best consistency is only a necessary property, not sufficient.

2. I would even question whether perfect logical consistency is even available to, let alone desirable for a system of ethics. Morality is inescapably linked to our innate moral sentiments preinstalled by evolution, and while we needn't submit ourselves to our intuitions, there is little reason to think our most fundamental intuitions have to be logically consistent. Psychology and morality alike have plenty of room for technical contradiction. In attempting to create a morality of pristine logical clarity you will build a morality that is highly artificial, probably too demanding to adhere too, and one that ignores important facets of the human condition.

3. You use the term extortionist to describe some members of the state negatively. How is extortion immoral in your framework? Extortion cannot violate anyones negative rights and it is specifically an indirect form of manipulation, which often utilizes omission and inaction.

jimM47
05-15-2010, 11:33 PM
There are indeed many flavors of libertarianism. Broadly speaking, though, these variations can be represented by two archetypes, which I think you describe well when you use the words: "axiomatic" and "consequentialist."

No person is a pure version of one of these archetypes, of course, but I would generally describe myself as holding the 'consequentialist' position: what I care about is human welfare, defined in reference to the preferences of each individual. So I am looking for systems of rules, which, when implemented in the real world, are reletively stable and will lead to the greatest amounts of freedom.

What you've said so far could be generally described as an 'axiomatic' position: you care about constructing a rational and self-consistent position. I think it emerges in the conversation between Sam and myself that most of his criticisms are directed more toward an axiomatic position, and that when he issued his initial diavlog challenge, a position like yours is what he was looking to debate. Since you appear to be such a person, perhaps you two should do a follow-up diavlog.

I don't at all mean to demean the contributions of libertarians who disagree with me, but: For my own part, I am highly skeptical in general of the idea that it is within the capability of humans to rationally construct rules of society. (see Hayek's attacks on 'scientism') It isn't of inherent value that a model relies on a very few propositions, expanded logically. For instance, using different starting propositions, one can construct many different systems of algebra or geometry that will be fully self-consistent, but which shed no light on the material world. We use the system we use, not because it is somehow the most axiomatic, but because it is the one that actually describes reality. Similarly, there is no way to look at a set of moral axioms except with reference either to their fit with our moral intuitions, or to the consequences they engender. That being the case, we must look consequences somehow.

Still, all that said, the positions I hold on what is the best public policy are ones that fit within the libertarian label, and the heuristics I use for judging potential policies closely parallel the axioms that would be put forward by someone holding a pure archetypal axiomatic position. Thus, I felt it was still useful for someone like me to be the interlocutor trying to explore the point Sam was trying to make, and make practical critiques of the places it brought him.

(Response to your point-by-point posts to follow.)

jimM47
05-16-2010, 01:51 AM
(And the point-by-point analysis)

[I]t's the punch in the face that's the physical coercion. The parts before it are the threat of physical coercion.... For me, this is an important distinction.

I am not sure I take your point as to this distinction. Coercion is by its nature a threat — a threat to make a threat of violence is just a type of threat of violence. Your distinction seems to imply that if a state achieves its ends by threatening force, and it must occasionally make good on that threat, the state is illegitimate; but that if the state threatens force so great or so persuasively that it never has to use that force, the state is legitimate. I make no such distinction.

I've found that for those who seek logical consistency, concepts of property need either come in the form of an additional axiom (or axioms) or a system built on top of the existing axiom(s).

In my experience it isn't really possible to build a concept of property merely from contractarian axioms. What is required is an additional axiom, which not only supplements the requirement of voluntariness, but actual precedes it in order of importance. Thus rights of property must to defended by means other than that the use of force (without consent) is evil.

[In comparing the value of alternative conceptions of property], you are making a utilitarian argument. Correct?

'Utilitarian' is a tricky label; I wouldn't use it to describe my arguments. What I am definitely saying is that property is a multidimensional concept and that, depending on the time and place, certain conceptions of property, which vary across certain of those dimensions, will lead to outcomes that are better or worse by nearly any metric — they make everyone's wallets and lives richer, and they do a better job of minimizing random hardship visited by fate — but that there is no objective, a priori, or timeless solution to this problem.

And to be clear, I am not talking about redistribution here. These are things like: how are you allowed to divide rights to property in time? how are you allowed to divide rights to property by its uses? what non-tangible things are property? when is something a promise and when is it a presently-held right to property that will exist in the future? how do you resolve conflict between joint-owners? when does theft become ownership?

A really simple rule would be that you can't divide anything at all — you can only own a tangible thing, you can only own all of a thing, you can only own it alone, and you can only own it at the present time. But this turns out to prevent all sorts of voluntary arrangements that people currently enter into: easements, rents, post-mortem gifts, intellectual property, etc.

Another really simple rule would be that anything goes — you can own anything that can be defined if someone will sell it to you, you own any part, use or aspect of a thing, any number of people can own the same thing at the same time, and you can own something in the future, even something contingent on an event happening in the future. The problem with this is that it is very stultifying. Property get locked into bad uses by the dead hands of those long dead. The costs of voluntary exchange of property goes up and are eventually prohibitive as the number and type of owners rises. The costs of dealing with strangers goes up as we allow more speculative types of property to be traded.

Finding a zone of possible conceptions of property is a matter of balancing transaction costs based on current realities. What worked for feudal England isn't what works for 21st century America. What works in a literate industrialized society is not what works in an illiterate agrarian society.

From my point of view, this [a hypothetical example of a freedom-limiting social institution] is not a moral concern.

This seems like an odd definition of morality. It seems fundamentally unjust to me that because a person has the misfortune to be born into the wrong status, or because she makes a private choice which harms no one else, that we should see her systematically denied the opportunities and basic security that everyone else receives with no productive reason for such discrimination. It doesn't necessarily follow that either you or the state can or ought to do something in response, but it does seem to be an issue of morality.

To put it another way: the distinction between positive liberty and negative liberty is generally useful when discussing the legitimacy of state action. But the distinction is much less applicable when discussing the morality of an action or the desirability of an outcome.

wreaver
05-16-2010, 04:17 AM
I don't at all mean to demean the contributions of libertarians who disagree with me, but: For my own part, I am highly skeptical in general of the idea that it is within the capability of humans to rationally construct rules of society. (see Hayek's attacks on 'scientism')

I didn't think that's what I was doing. (Assuming that's what you were implying.)

A logically consistent moral framework does not make anyone do or not do anything. It is just a perspective. It is a way of "calculating" whether something is immoral or not immoral.

You could ask... what's the point of having this perspective if I don't expect people to "follow" it?! And I would say, I actually don't expect most people to. Given my current understanding of genetics and psychology, I think most of the time, with most of the population, you are not going to get this kind of behavior. (I suspect libertarianism and logically consistency tends to only appeal to a certain portion on the population.) But that's not the point. The point is that, if I am to even accept a notion of morality (as opposed to being amoral), then it needs to be logically consistent. The point is that, my moral framework will affect my actions. (And that includes when I choose to "punch someone in the face", and not just what I refrain from doing.) And will affect who I choose to associate with.

Even if I were to hope people would not commit immoral acts (under my moral framework) more often than not, I am still not being prescriptive. (I.e., there are still many many different ways for societies to organize.)



It isn't of inherent value that a model relies on a very few propositions, expanded logically. For instance, using different starting propositions, one can construct many different systems of algebra or geometry that will be fully self-consistent, but which shed no light on the material world. We use the system we use, not because it is somehow the most axiomatic, but because it is the one that actually describes reality. Similarly, there is no way to look at a set of moral axioms except with reference either to their fit with our moral intuitions, or to the consequences they engender. That being the case, we must look consequences somehow.

I would say that it is true that there exists many logically consistent moral frameworks. (And not just one.)

And I do suspect that people who care about logical consistency (including myself) will pick from the possibilities based in part from the consequences. (But I'd also say I'd imagine various instincts likely come into play too, affecting their choices.)

(It's a bit late, so I will get to your other reply tomorrow.)

wreaver
05-17-2010, 02:33 AM
A couple of clarifications...

I didn't think that's what I was doing. (Assuming that's what you were implying.)

A logically consistent moral framework does not make anyone do or not do anything. It is just a perspective. It is a way of "calculating" whether something is immoral or not immoral.

You could ask... what's the point of having this perspective if I don't expect people to "follow" it?! And I would say, I actually don't expect most people to. Given my current understanding of genetics and psychology, I think most of the time, with most of the population, you are not going to get this kind of behavior. (I suspect libertarianism and logically consistency tends to only appeal to a certain portion on the population.) But that's not the point. The point is that, if I am to even accept a notion of morality (as opposed to being amoral), then it needs to be logically consistent. The point is that, my moral framework will affect my actions. (And that includes when I choose to "punch someone in the face", and not just what I refrain from doing.) And will affect who I choose to associate with.

Even if I were to hope people would not commit immoral acts (under my moral framework) more often than not, I am still not being prescriptive. (I.e., there are still many many different ways for societies to organize.)

Here, when I talk about the point of my moral framework, it's somewhat similar to being an agnostic. (To be specific, my usage of the word "agnostic "here means: not believing the statement "a god exists" is true and not believing the statement "a god exists" is false. I.e., taking it as an unknown.) Given what I know of genetics and psychology, I do not expect most people to become agnostic. I expect most people to have religiosity. But that's not the point.



I would say that it is true that there exists many logically consistent moral frameworks. (And not just one.)

And I do suspect that people who care about logical consistency (including myself) will pick from the possibilities based in part from the consequences. (But I'd also say I'd imagine various instincts likely come into play too, affecting their choices.)

(It's a bit late, so I will get to your other reply tomorrow.)

What I'm saying here is that a consequentialist argument is not going to make me reject my desire for a logically consistent framework. But you are quite correct that consequentialist notions have affected what moral axioms I accept. (Perhaps I chose my words poorly.)

wreaver
05-17-2010, 03:45 AM
[i]t's the punch in the face that's the physical coercion. The parts before it are the threat of physical coercion.... For me, this is an important distinction.
I am not sure I take your point as to this distinction. Coercion is by its nature a threat — a threat to make a threat of violence is just a type of threat of violence. Your distinction seems to imply that if a state achieves its ends by threatening force, and it must occasionally make good on that threat, the state is illegitimate; but that if the state threatens force so great or so persuasively that it never has to use that force, the state is legitimate. I make no such distinction.


You are correct. Under my moral framework, with your later case, no individual in that group would have done anything immoral (as part of their stately actions).

I don't see this as a problem. So if you believe this to be an important point, please elaborate.



I've found that for those who seek logical consistency, concepts of property need either come in the form of an additional axiom (or axioms) or a system built on top of the existing axiom(s).
In my experience it isn't really possible to build a concept of property merely from contractarian axioms. What is required is an additional axiom, which not only supplements the requirement of voluntariness, but actual precedes it in order of importance. Thus rights of property must to defended by means other than that the use of force (without consent) is evil.

This is actually the issue that had me not "accept" the label of "libertarian" in the past.

Other people that I know (on a face-to-face basis) have a notion of property in a form where they seem to consider their property as a piece of themselves -- more or less as part of their body. (I've argued long, in the past, about various problems I perceive with this.)

And I do believe you are correct, that you can construct this by adding an additional preceding axiom.

Alternatively....

Another way of having a concept of property though is to build it on top of the moral system. This would imply that it is not legitimate to use physical coercion when someone (only) violates your property. But you could instead use things like social norms, markets, architecture, inclusion, exclusion, or creating a situation where the would be thief has to commit physical coercion to steal (thus enabling you to legitimately use physical coercion against them).

(I think you could probably call this decreasing the thief's "positive freedom" while not infringing on their "negative freedom".)


On a personal note... I was surprised when I first realized that a concept of property did not naturally flow from the moral axioms I was left with after removing the logical inconsistencies I became aware of. To be honest, I would have liked it if the concept of property was a moral issue. But my desire for logical consistency is greater. And I submit to the logic, so to speak.



From my point of view, this [a hypothetical example of a freedom-limiting social institution] is not a moral concern.
This seems like an odd definition of morality. It seems fundamentally unjust to me that because a person has the misfortune to be born into the wrong status, or because she makes a private choice which harms no one else, that we should see her systematically denied the opportunities and basic security that everyone else receives with no productive reason for such discrimination. It doesn't necessarily follow that either you or the state can or ought to do something in response, but it does seem to be an issue of morality.

To put it another way: the distinction between positive liberty and negative liberty is generally useful when discussing the legitimacy of state action. But the distinction is much less applicable when discussing the morality of an action or the desirability of an outcome.

I do not see a logically consistent way of never violating both "negative freedom" and "positive freedom". (And actually, I do not see a logically consistent way of never violating "positive freedom" all by itself.) If you are aware of a logically consistent way of never violating "negative freedom" and "positive freedom", I'd actually be very interested in "hearing" it.

listener
05-21-2010, 06:30 AM
Lest we forget (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/37266469#37266469) 1964 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48K5Y0421Ig)...

ledocs
05-23-2010, 02:13 PM
To answer the question posed in the topic, the philosophical merits of libertarianism are exiguous. From an Augustinian point of view, I suppose that it is better that one can know the good and do its opposite, contrary to the Socratic point of view. And there, in a nutshell, lies any philosophical merit that libertarianism might possess. Libertarianism is for nutcases.

optimizer
01-11-2011, 11:41 AM
I would like to hear comments on how the Fair Tax proposal would affect all of this.
Optimizer