Should I use consequentialist arguments ?

I've been arguing with many people about politics, and, over the time, my argumentation power has steadily decreased. This may seem paradoxical, as I should be gaining experience but here is what happened.

As David Friedman says, people are generally more convinced by consequentialist arguments. Not all people are though. I was exposed to many consequentialist arguments, stemming from economics for a long time. I even wasconfronted with libertarians arguing this way but I never really espoused their views. And why should I have, there were also convincing arguments from other economists. When I was exposed to libertarianism as a moral theory of right, I became an ancap in a matter of days.

When I first started to argue with people on this topic, I was relying extensively on consequentialist arguments. I would generally start with a moral argument and then end up pointing out the "good" consequences brought by this position. I had some moderate success with that approach, but the more I was  using it, the more I grew disatisfied with it. I realized that all I was achieving - when I was successful- was to convince people that certain policies should be or should not be followed. While a very practical goal, I felt it was not what I was looking for. I wanted to convince people to be moral, to recognize the immorality of agression in all its forms. When presenting  a moral argument tied to a consequentialist argument, I felt I was cheating by providing the consequentialist argument as a carrot. Fiat justitia ruat caelum, but I will only reassure you about the sky once you accept justice.

I don't want people to accept moral ideas because there are good consequences, I want them to recognize that they ought to be respected. Sadly, the only way to do that is to refrain from using any consequentialist argument, which I started  doing. This is when my argumentation started becoming less and less effective. To be sure, if someone claims that anarchy couldn't work, I feel answering the question is not cheating as one cannot claim that morality requires the impossible. The basic requirement of morality is that we can live moraly. I do, however, refrain to try and convince people anarchy would be a merry happy place. This should  be reserved for dessert : they have to eat  the ethical meal first... only once they're done accepting justice can I tell them the sky will not fall.

While my approach may seem a bit quixotic, I believe it is not. One of my goal for example is to encounter someone similar enough to myself so that, when exposed to the same argument, he will become an anarcho-libertarian on the spot. I am really following a very skewed strategy : low success-rate, but total success once in a while. Although these types of strategy may be depressing during long losing streaks, they are useful. There's also an argument, from Rand, to which I agree ... to a certain extent. She somewhat famously opposed Milton Friedman's tract on rent control as it did not rely on property right but on altruistic considerations to attack the policy. While I do believe the net effect of teaching people about the economic problem of rent control was positive, I agree with Rand that it is a dangerous path. (More powerful ? No, quicker, easier, more seductive)

Consequentialists arguments are very efficient because people are generally willing to change their mind easily on those matters... but what make them successful also makes them weak : they can be replaced with other consequentialist arguments. Moral arguments are much tougher to make because people are more reluctant to accept a new moral philosophy, but they are also much more stable, and will likely be successfully passed onto children. Every consequentialist argument however is a step away from freedom as an end instead of freedom as a mean. On the long term, the fate of the new belief is unknown... it may  be replaced with an economic fallacy. It's negative effect on morality will always be damaging though.

To go back to my initial problem, my rate of success has indeed considerably dropped, but I believe I am doing the right thing. While consequentialist arguments may be useful for short term political goals, as long as conquering the noosphere is concerned, I believe they should seriously be avoided.

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My own switch

This story is likely to change, because I am trying to reconstruct imperfectly remembered events. I became a libertarian approximately when I was thirteen or fourteen or fifteen. I'm not sure exactly when. The switch was moral, not consequentialist. I may be misremembering, but I think two things happened, or two sides of the same thing.

One, I stopped thinking of the state as a morally special entity. It became no different, morally, from any other entity. This meant immediately that the state had no right to do anything that an ordinary person had no right to do. The consequences of this one change were sweeping, as I'm sure you understand.

The other moral epiphany that I had could be roughly described as the realization that other people did not belong to me, to you, or to anyone else. They were not mine to order about.

And maybe a third epiphany, but I think of it as part of the second: their property was theirs. It was not mine to take and to redistribute as I would like. It was theirs because they created it. Now, that is only an approximation of how property comes to be, but it is a good one. The basis of ownership is creation. Marxists understand this very well and so they spin a story according to which the proletariat is the creator of everything and the bourgeoisie are parasites. Marxists claim to be scientific but their account of the economy is clearly an appeal to the moral sense. They realize that in order to justify the massive seizure of property that they propose, they must concoct a story according to which the seizure is in fact the recovery of property by its rightful owners. I'm not going to get into why I disagree with Marxists, since my point is, my political transition was moral.

It's also probably relevant that I transitioned to libertarianism from mainstream welfare-state liberalism with sympathy for communism. However, I was a fairly young person with such views, and they were fairly inchoate. So essentially, I've always been a libertarian to the extent that I have really been anything.

Why Marxism is immoral

“Marxists claim to be scientific but their account of the economy is clearly an appeal to the moral sense”

Absolutely ! In fact, any political view may start with an appeal to the moral sense, since people who are not satisfied with the status quo usually qualify it as ‘injustice’ or ‘unfair’, whereas people who like the status quo will qualify it as ‘just and fair’.

Constant, can you give me some of your arguments why Marxists are wrong in thinking the workers should own the mill ?

I’m asking, because I always thought that in a free market, with plenty of competition, if one didn’t like one’s job (i.e. if a worker felt ‘exploited’ by its employer) one could always leave for a competitor offering better conditions.

Of course, regulated markets (i.e. corporatism or politicians creating protected markets for their corporate friends) usually prevent this. From this, Marxists seem to conclude that when dealing with valuable resources that are scarce, it is morally just to distribute these resources evenly (i.e. ‘fair’) amongst the stakeholders.

Apparently, modern Marxists do no longer rely on a political party and worker committees to do the planning and distribution but they seem to rely on the compromise solution of ‘direct democracy’, the workings of which can be seen in the development of open software like Linux, or an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia.

I’m not to thrilled about the quality of these products, but they are not totally useless, and people contribute to them at their own free will. That is why, as a libertarian, I would like to have a moral argument why Marxism is wrong.

I would rather not

It is hard to argue against Marxism as such because it is a hydra. You cut off one head and it sprouts two more. In the past I have argued against specific claims made by specific people. Those are fairly easy to deal with. But it is hard to say, "Marxists say X and X is wrong because of Y," because some Marxist will inevitably say, "you are misrepresenting Marxism."

That said, in my experience Marxists strongly reject the legitimacy of interest - the legitimacy of exchanging ten dollars today for eleven dollars one year from now. Marxists are not the first group to reject interest. The charging of interest was in the past looked down upon and called "usury", which today means the charging of "too much" interest but in the past mean the charging of any interest, where any interest was considered immoral.

In contrast to Marxists, I (along with many others) see interest as the legitimate fee for a truly wealth-creating activity. It is counterintuitive but true, and there are many intuition pumps available to see this. I am not going to try to prove the point here. I am just pointing out directions. The relevance is that the capitalist's profit is close kin to the lender's interest. To understand how the banker creates new value by lending is to understand how the capitalist creates new value by investing, and vice versa.

Marxists also strongly reject the subjective concept of value. The subjective concept of value is also counterintuitive but there are intuition pumps for this as well. Here is why it matters: with the subjective concept of value, it is possible to see that an exchange can make both parties to the exchange better off. Thus, the exchange can be truly wealth-producing. If someone tries to understand exchange with an intrinsic theory of value, then in any exchange, one of the parties can be made better off only if the other party is made worse off. Thus exchanges are very likely to be nothing more than an exploitation of one party by the other. Capitalists grow wealthy by engaging in a series of exchanges, so they are in a sense middle-men. The subjective concept of value allows us to more easily understand the positive, wealth-creating role that these middle-men play in the economy. Someone lacking this concept is likely to see middle-men only as unproductive leeches.

I have not proven my point here, because I believe that these are difficult subjects, too difficult for a blog comment to fully tackle.

As you say the rejection of

As you say the rejection of interest predates marxism. The marxist objection relies on a  flawed economical arguments around the labor theory of value and therefore that interest are stolen from the borrower since he is deprived from his positive liberty to borrow at no cost...

This view was famously defended by an opponent of marxism, socialist anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon was originally opposed to private property, so his criticism of interest does not make sense as he could just as well criticize repayment of principal... still, it is interesting to note that by the end of his life, Proudhon's philosophy had changed a lot, he became an ardent indiviudal anarchist, claiming taxation was theft and that the only saveguard of the individual against the state was private property...

This part of the story often remains untold by the classical anarchists. Anyway, one of the reason Proudhon probably changed his mind was the eloquence with which Frederic Bastiat challenged his view on interest payments : http://bastiat.org/fr/gratuite_du_credit.html There are probably english translations out there, I'll try to find one.

 

A moral argument ?

Thanks, Constant ! Of course I am looking for a moral argument.

If I understand you correctly, Marxists do not accept the capitalist notion of value creation. In that case, as you say, based on intrinsic value the exchange of private property can only lead to one group becoming richer while the others become poorer.

Now, while this wealth inequality has occurred, it is also a fact that the poor are wealthier nowadays than in the past. But I presume Marxists would insist the increase in wealth that the poor experienced would have been far greater had the exchange been based on the intrinsic value instead of the subjective value. Capitalists on the other hand, would argue that with a more even wealth distribution the increase in wealth would have been far less, as there would not have been enough investment capital available to enable the economic growth.

It seems to me the capitalist notion can be proven correct, and the Marxist notion wrong. Do you happen to know of any economist who has scientifically disproven Marx ?

Also, what do you think of a moral argument like this: if (economic) decisions that impact the individual are made by the collective, the collective in fact owns (part of) the individuals life, as only an owner has the right to decide what is to be done with his property. In a direct democracy as advocated by modern Marxists, the collective tries to reach a compromise solution based on consensus but it can never guarantee this compromise will not harm an individual. Of course the collective will only decide to harm the individual if this means others can be spared. But is it morally right to hurt somebody against his will to save the group, if the other option would have been to leave the individual in peace and ask each member of the group either to save him/herself or to work together to counteract the threat ?

In Stephen King’s Storm of the Century (1999) this dilemma is depicted most vividly. During a blizzard a small island community is terrorized by a stranger with supernatural powers. The stranger threatens to kill the entire community if they do not give him one of the eight children on the island (“to carry on his work when he can no longer do it himself”). One of these children happens to be the son of the local policeman and his wife. After the stranger has demonstrated his powers and several people died a town hall meeting is held and the people decide to give in to the stranger’s demands. Only the policeman argues they should join and fight the stranger, but all others are scared and on his own the policeman is powerless. The stranger organizes a random drawing and of the eight children the policeman’s son is chosen. The stranger leaves the island with the kid and although the policeman and his wife are devastated the rest of the community is saved. Or so it seems, because this collective decision now haunts each individual for the rest of his/her life.

Disproof and moral argument

Do you happen to know of any economist who has scientifically disproven Marx?

I'm the wrong person to ask that question. I'm not really sure what it would be to scientifically disprove Marx. Certainly some of his famous predictions did not come to pass. Does this disprove Marx? Apparently a lot of Marxists don't think so. I've heard that Karl Popper thinks that Marxism cannot be scientifically disproven because only a scientific theory can be scientifically disproven, and Marxism is no such thing. Popper did not mean this as a compliment or as a defense of Marxism. My own view is that Popper had a good point.

Also, what do you think of a moral argument like this: if (economic)
decisions that impact the individual are made by the collective, the
collective in fact owns (part of) the individuals life, as only an
owner has the right to decide what is to be done with his property.

I agree with what I think is your point, that the collective is the de facto (if not rightful) owner of the individual in such a state of affairs, and I consider such a state of affairs a nightmare. It is very like slavery.

But is it morally right to hurt somebody against his will to save the
group, if the other option would have been to leave the individual in
peace and ask each member of the group either to save him/herself or to
work together to counteract the threat ?

We had that discussion some time ago on this blog. My answer is that it is not morally right because the person is not mine to sacrifice for my own sake. I might nevertheless (to save my own skin) go ahead and murder someone, but (thankfully) I have never been and probably will never be faced with such an obviously artificial choice. The gods that demanded human sacrifice (e.g. among the Aztecs) were imaginary. They were nothing more than excuses for humans to indulge in murder. I notice furthermore that these scenarios are typically all-or-nothing emergency scenarios. What about more realistic scenarios? Apparently, utilitarians (a technical term for advocates of human sacrifice) do not trust people to come to their favored, pro-human-sacrifice conclusions in any scenario other than extreme, artificial, utterly bogus all-or-nothing choices in which a single life is balanced against the existence of a planet. The goal of the argument, of course, is to get people to accept human sacrifice on a daily basis for trivial reasons.

“The goal of the argument,

“The goal of the argument, of course, is to get people to accept human sacrifice on a daily basis for trivial reasons”

You’re absolutely right ! Thank you. This will help me a lot when arguing with Marxists and others with similar beliefs.

It's also probably

It's also probably relevant that I transitioned to libertarianism from mainstream welfare-state liberalism with sympathy for communism. However, I was a fairly young person with such views, and they were fairly inchoate. So essentially, I've always been a libertarian to the extent that I have really been anything.

That describes me surprisingly well, too.

I even was confronted with

I even was confronted with libertarians arguing this way but I never really espoused their views. And why should I have, there were also convincing arguments from other economists. When I was exposed to libertarianism as a moral theory of right, I became an ancap in a matter of days.

Indeed, there are convincing non-libertarian economic arguments. However, I would point out, there are also convincing non-anarcho-capitalist theories of right. My friend and professor Sasha Volokh once described to me his moral progression. There was an article, I don't recall the name, that pointed out that believing in the Pareto principle put one in conflict with all non-utilitarian theories of what is moral. The point of the article was simple: the Pareto principle is a good principle, therefore you'd be a nut to reject it and believe in anything but utilitarianism. Sasha agreed with the message: you couldn't believe in desert and the like and still believe in the Pareto principle. But he concluded it was the Pareto principle (and with it, economic efficiency) that had to go, which is odd coming from an economist.

Libertarianism as a Secular Religion

Arthur’s post and the response it generated explains a lot. Now I understand why so much of the reasoning I see on this web site seems opaque. The terminology that others act like it they think is the usual King’s English, but is uttered only by the elect. There is the hysterical blindness to common sense when the subject of government or state is brought up. The ridiculous assumption that all state activity is aggression. Are you saying if you have to put a leash on your dog the state has committed aggression against you? If others think the state sanctions to prevent the discharge of raw sewage onto the land is valid, and they didn’t ask you is it immoral? How are they supposed to ask you? You don’t believe in elections so how is this opinion supposed to be registered.
The answer is that we are dealing with a religion. This also explains the presences of libertarian cannon law, its saints and endless splitting into sects and sub-sects. The kingdom of God will be brought about by God’s power. The most incoherent thing about libertarianism is that it excludes from validity of the very thing that can bring about the changes it wants, power, democratic or otherwise.
I am attracted to liberty because I believe it has the consequence of being beneficial to me and most people. I believe in the older form of libertarianism as idealized in the American Constitution, not the pantywaist libertarianism you are talking about which is supposed to be a cost free moral entitlement. So wake up.
Dave

False

The ridiculous assumption that all state activity is aggression.

No, only some state activity is aggression. You have demonstrated you have poor comprehension of libertarianism.

 

Still a Skeptic

I am skeptical of most political theories such as Marxism or Rawls’s ideas about morally based political regimes. I have been unable to understand why I should make a leap of faith as many of you have to libertarianism on moral grounds if it means doing away with government.

I think that you are blind to the vital role of government in maintaining security. Thus I and most people would be wary of philosophers who hold that their abstractions are applicable wholesale to every day life. The everyday conditions of life which you experience are present because law, custom, and established government ordinarily conceal from you the fundamental reasons that make government essential. Thus you seem to lack full insight into the criteria by which the legitimacy of existing government should be measured. Mere denial that the above is true is not a convincing response.

 

More simply, the grass is not greener. Don't throw out the baby.

 

Dave

Dave, Libertarians split

Dave,

Libertarians split themselves into anarchists and minarchists. The latter agree with you that government is necessary for security, or if not necessary, at least desirable.

Law and Order - On the Free Market

Dave,

You state that government has a vital role in shaping and maintaining law and order. However, this monopoly in making and maintaining laws is not required at all for a free society, anarcho-capitalist David Friedman and others have made this very clear (see below).

If you realize laws and security are products and services like any other, you’ll acknowledge they should be developed according to the specific needs of the many different user groups in society. Therefore, not only is there no reason at all why free enterprise should not be able to provide them at a satisfactory level, the ‘customer-satisfaction’ should also be very much greater than when a monopolist like the government provides a uniform one-for-all (almost former GDR) level of laws and protection, not at all suited for specific niche markets and user groups.

David D. Friedman, ‘Police, Courts and Law – On the Market’ (Chapter 29 of The Machinery of Freedom)

David D. Friedman, ‘The Machinery of Freedom – Guide to a Radical Capitalism’ (1989)

David D. Friedman, ‘Law’s Order – What Economics Has To Do With Law And Why It Matters’ (1999)

Oh really

I think that you are blind to the vital role of government in maintaining security.

I was a minarchist for many years before I was finally persuaded of the possibility of anarcho-capitalist institutions. So how exactly am I "blind to the vital role of the government"? Furthermore, as Scott points out, you seem to think all libertarians are anarcho-capitalists.

The everyday conditions of life which you experience are present
because law, custom, and established government ordinarily conceal from
you the fundamental reasons that make government essential.

Assertions like these are easy to make. I could say exactly the same of you. You live in a society that works and works rather smoothly, and you do not really know why it works, and you have latched on to a wrong theory of why it works. You are like those who look at US currency, see that it has government marks on it, and jump to the false conclusion that money would be impossible were it not for government. You would not believe how many people have said to me that money requires government. Or maybe you would, since you might for all I know be one of them. You are also like those who look at the dips and rises of the US economy and immediately blame or credit the President of the United States. You are a victim of an all too common cognitive bias.

OK, so you've made your condescending statement, and I've made mine.

You would not believe how

You would not believe how many people have said to me that money requires government

Nor would he believe the amount of people in the former Soviet Union who thought government was absolutely necessary for the production of bread.

There are two kind of criticism however. The naive one ignore that justice and protection are merely services, and that disappearance of government does not necesseraly imply disappearance of this services. The second one acknowledges that justice and protection are indeed services but claims that they cannot be produced by a government... (restatement of the hobbesian thesis, conflicting agencies, warlords would take over, and so on).

 

Privately Produced Law

Dave,

You may also find this article about the history and principles of privately produced law, interesting:

Tom W. Bell, Privately Produced Law (73 kB PDF)

Dave

I'm glad you're a skeptic. We need more on this blog.

I disagree, I think we

I disagree, I think we should stone the unbelievers.

There was a bigger crowd

I don't know what happened, but there was a bigger and more cantankerous and fun crowd earlier and it really thinned out. My main sense is that the domain name change is to blame. Or am I just imagining it? My secret fear is that it's my fault, because I'm such an asshole.

Yeah, the domain thing hurt

But we also jump on a lot of people, case in point, in this thread in response to Dave. Any post he makes, he'll get like 5 responses against him. It's intimidating for people to post anything anti-message in such an environment.

It'd be nice if we had honest-to-goodness non-libertarians posting on the aggregator. If you guys know any, invite them over.

Feedback Appreciated

I don’t know how I got into following this website but it is a habit now. It does act as an antidote to the leftist mindset that pervades so many sites. Since I can’t keep my mouth shut, I end up being a frequent commenter. I do appreciate it when some of you like Jonathan, Constant, Arthur and others take the time to engage with my non- orthodox opinions. At least I don’t get banned for stepping on someone’s ideological toes, like some sites.

The ideas discussed here are mind expanding and challenging. There are a lot of seeming geniuses or near geniuses represented here. ( OK don’t get swell headed, some geniuses are crazy.) There is quantum leap in quality of thought going on here with what I experience in every day life. So I try to keep up, to my benefit. People in my neighborhood don’t sling around terms like deontology and Pareto. They would get beaten up.

It was good that you opened up the community weblog. If I write these things it helps to publish them because that forces me to organize my thoughts. Maybe someone will read them even if it pisses them off. Of course no feedback may make some people think they are wasting their time.

 

Dave

I didn't become interested

I didn't become interested in libertarianism (or politics) until I was already 23 years old. I have no idea what I thought about before then. Girls, mostly.

Every prominent libertarian's personal story I come across involves them finding liberty at some ridiculously young age.

What does this say about me? I'm an idiot, aren't I? You can tell me.

Nah don't worry, same story.

Nah don't worry, same story. I didn't become interested in libertarianism or politics until I was 22. Before that I was, hum looking for a girlfriend. Full time. I really became a libertarian around 23... before that I was vaguely a social democrat, but I didn't really put any thought into it... the first time I ever "was"  something, I was a libertarian. However I was an individualist from the ridiculous age of 5 as far as I  can remember.

You beat me by a year, age

You beat me by a year, age wise. I didn't become a libertarian
until 2007, and I still spend more time on girls. A friend loaned me
a collection of essays by Vin Suprynowicz. The essays dealt with how
vindictive the government can be, especially the bureaucracy who
aren't elected--horror stories that are no doubt the outliers, but
real life horror stories nonetheless. It was a similar realization to
the one Constant described, where I saw the government was no more or
less moral than anyone else and shouldn't be held to a different set
of standards. From there, Suprynowicz made a lot of mention of the
Libertarian Party and I kept working my way backwards (I don't know
if backwards is the right word, but I feel the process is akin to
working backwards chronologically through bands listed in liner
notes) to places like Catallarchy, Reason, Cato, the Mises Institute,
etc.

Go for a moral stance

Arthur,

I think you’re right. In the end, a moral stance will always be the most lasting. Utilitarian views change constantly. Churchill considered it acceptable to burn 75,000 innocent German children in order to break nazi morale. Today we may think differently.

I am not entirely sure a free society will offer maximum prosperity. I can give you an example from the country I live in (The Netherlands). Centuries ago Dutch people could live in the Northern coastal areas only by building small artificial hills on which houses and even little villages were constructed. The surrounding farmland was not very productive because of regular flooding by the sea.

When individual farmers could afford it they would construct small dikes around their little pieces of farmland, thus preventing regular flooding and boosting productivity. When these private dikes touched on the seaside it became possible to remove the inland dikes in order to increase the area of farmland, boosting productivity even more.

But now proper maintenance of the sea dike became of vital importance as there were hardly any inland dikes left to stop the flood in case the sea dike breached. As many inland farmers were protected by this dike, situated on the land of a few farmers closest to the sea, it seemed reasonable everybody should contribute to the sea dike’s maintenance. That way the high cost was more easily covered and a high level of safety assured.

Later on, dike maintenance and even ownership was taken over by a water management agency established and controlled by the owners of the land inside the polder. In fact these agencies were the first democratic organizations in The Netherlands, predating regular government. The agencies were allowed to levy a tax for dike maintenance. This tax was compulsory to avoid any free-riders.

So you see, the farmers were taxed and lost a bit of their freedom in exchange for a higher productivity of their land.

Personally, I would prefer more freedom even if it meant less wealth, but most people will tolerate oppressive governments if these do not empoverish people too much (I guess in Zimbabwe, with its record 1700 % inflation, we may see a revolution anytime now). In affluent countries like the US and the UK oppressive laws with major impact on peoples lives and privacy will probably continue to be tolerated for a long time.

A visionary cartoon Ron Cobb made in 1968:

Thanks for your support. I

Thanks for your support. I am not very familiar with the dikes in the Netherland... I know the guys who work on them produce interesting risk management papers but that's it :)

On a first glance, it seems to me that when the dam where built, allowing the polder to be used they homesteaded some rights over the land, and I am not sure I see this particular payment as an illegitimate "tax". This is merely a very first impression from the few informations you gave.... If you could make a detailed article about it that'd be extremely interesting I think.

Free-riders, a threat to libertarianism ?

I might do that. It may take some original research though. I don’t think the development of polders was ever looked upon with a libertarian view even though there are plenty of libertarians in Holland.

Meanwhile, you must be familiar with the lighthouse example. Many people who are convinced government is an enabler that actually can increase wealth usually come up with this example of a typical public service. Public goods cannot by definition be provided for by free enterprise, because with a public good people are able to use it without paying for it. This free-rider problem, which I think is a key issue for libertarianism, typically occurs with infra-structural facilities like dikes and lighthouses, or their modern day equivalent like GPS satellites, and of course, national defence.

In fact, intellectual property that can easily be put in digital form is now very much like the light from a lighthouse. Use of a lighthouse does not reduce the ability of others to use it. And it is nearly impossible to exclude others from using a lighthouse. So owners of this modern type of intellectual property are faced with the challenge of how to exclude non-paying customers from using the ‘light’ from their ‘lighthouse’.

Now when Ronald Coase did his famous research on the privately owned lighthouses of the British Isles, apparently proving public goods CAN be provided for by free enterprise, he was a bit sloppy. In fact, there are two kinds of lighthouses, those that guide ships in port, and those that warn ships away from hazardous points. The first kind are a service used only by the users of the port, they are paid for by the port authority, and one collects revenue for their upkeep by going round to the ship when it docks. Usually this fee is bundled with the rest of the port services. The second kind however, are pure public goods that can never be provided for by free enterprise.

Ronald Coase on rights, resources, and regulation

The second kind however,

The second kind however, are pure public goods that can never be provided for by free enterprise.

There are many non-coercive ways to avoid free-rider problems, ostracism is one. An organisation could set up lighthouses on hazardous area an ask for voluntary contributions from port authorities or shipowners. It could be viewed as a shameful practice not to pay for the lighthouses. I would venture around $1,000,000 is paid in taxi tips in New York, every single day... tipping a taxi cab benefits everyone since the institution brings better service but anyone could benefit from it without tipping since the odds of getting the same driver twice are quite low. A too simple theoretical framework would predict it would fail because of free riding, but it doesn't.

Besides, a government does not solve public good problems, it actually create an even bigger public good problem which is the control and limitation of government.

What about the free-riders ?

“An organisation could set up lighthouses on hazardous area an ask for voluntary contributions from port authorities or shipowners”

Yes, it could. But this would not eliminate free-riders. And as cost-advantage is important in free enterprise free-riders would benefit from the voluntary contributions from others, possibly competitors. Eventually, because of competition, everybody would try to become a free-rider, and the system would collapse.

That’s also why polders with dikes could never have been established or maintained without compulsory taxes. These people in the Northern coastal areas of the Netherlands would still be living on their artificial hills, farming their regularly flooded and less productive land, if it weren’t for compulsory taxes.

The analogy with open software development holds. Freeware, shareware, and open software in general, will never outgrow the hobby phase and become serious business as long as users are kindly asked to contribute whatever amount they see fit to cover the cost and to support further product development. That is why the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights is vitally important.

Usually the open software route is chosen because of the difficulty in protecting one’s product. Developers don’t bother, throw their product into the world and hope for the best, i.e. enough gullible users that sent their money so the developer can pay the rent. Or they simply forget about making any money on the software itself and turn to services around the product (in fact, that's how the majority of socalled 'professional' Linux businesses work).

Obviously this is not how capitalism works, and IMHO libertarians should fundamentally reconsider their position on IP rights. If one has put time, effort and money in developing a product, it does not make sense that anybody can copy the idea without paying the original developer. This can be viewed like nothing but theft.

and the system would

and the system would collapse

Or maybe people wouldn't want to be free riders because most of them want to be honest  or fear to be perceived as dishonest and are thus ready to pay a fair price for the service. Or maybe people would abstain to trade with free-riders...

I gave you the example of taxicab tipping to show that your reasoning is to simple to capture the reality.

Victimless crime

I don't get that, Arthur.

Why would people abstain from trading with somebody offering a cheaper product or service, if that low price comes from a victimless ‘crime’ ?

It’s not as if these free-riders get their cost-advantage from slave labour.

I didn't say they should, I

I didn't say they should, I said they could and maybe they would. Boycott is not morally "worse" than free-riding.

IP rights

Obviously this is not how capitalism works, and IMHO libertarians should fundamentally reconsider their position on IP rights.

We haven't had a big discussion on IP rights in a while. Is it time? Or not yet? Are there enough people on both sides of this to make a discussion? My guess is, no, not on this blog.

 

The libertarian position on IP

There is no libertarian position on IP. Some libertarians may claim that theirs is the libertarian position on IP, but there's no consensus among libertarians on whether we should have IP at all, or if so what kind.

Back to basics

You’re right, but based on libertarian principles there can only be one position regarding intellectual property.

All property is the result of one’s time, money and efforts to produce it. This applies to material as well as intellectual property. So an idea, condensed in and expressed through whatever medium the owner chooses, can be just as well viewed as property as a physical object.

It does not matter that others can copy the idea without restricting its use by the original owner, what matters is that only the owner may decide what happens to his property. Others have no right to do anything with it without the owners consent.

This is fundamental in libertarianism.

All property is the result

All property is the result of one’s time, money and efforts to produce it, but the converse is not true. Indee property represents the just separation between right and wrong when conflict arise on rivalrous ressources. Property is about separation, exclusion which only make sense on rivalrous ressources.

Libertarian weaknesses

Besides IP rights there are other issues that should have been solved ages ago.

Like animal rights. David Graham provided the definite arguments why animal rights do exist. Therefore the libertarian discussion should now be on how to safeguard these rights.

David Graham, ‘A Libertarian Replies to Tibor Machan’s ‘Why Animal Rights Don’t Exist’’ (2004)

From these arguments the libertarian stance on abortion should also be clear. From the very moment of its conception the fertilized egg cell has unique DNA and can no longer be viewed as part of, or property, of either one of the parents. That this human being ‘under construction’ has no moral capacity (yet) is irrelevant, as we know from the animal rights argument. Based on the non-aggression principle, now applicable not only to human beings but to all entities that can suffer, abortion should be illegal, right from the moment of conception. The only exception being in the case of rape, when a woman has been made pregnant against her will (defective condoms do not apply as this is a known risk). Becoming pregnant after being raped would compare to someone leaving a baby on your doorstep. You are not obliged to look after this baby and you cannot be held responsible when this baby dies after you removed it from your doorstep and left it in the street.

Some issues that remain are:

1. The free market ‘lottery’. By definition a free market cannot operate without scarcity. Therefore there can never be a 100% fit between supply and demand. The libertarian slogan that everybody can become a millionair is correct in the same sense that everybody who participates in a lottery can be a winner. As the free market applies to the workings of charity as well in a libertarian society there will always be a number of people down and out (i.e. dying in the street). Particularly, as the ‘lottery’ also applies to safeguarding an individual’s fundamental rights.

2. Free market ‘democracy’. Just like a political democracy the free market operates under its own ‘democracy’. Mass produced products and services are cheaper than similar ones made to individual order. Therefore the more people like a particular (mass produced) product the more available it will become to others. Just as in politics the outcome for an individual’s life depends on the choices others make. The only way out would be to become totally self-supporting. This would provide more freedom but less wealth. Generally speaking, freedom not only depends on the rules, it also very much depends on what other people’s abilities are.

3. Free market monopolies. Because of the cost-advantages of economies of scale free market dynamics tend to produce ever larger companies through independent growth but mainly through mergers. The smaller spin-off companies produced by the large corporations are in a later stage again absorbed by the big ones when the spin-off has proven its viability. Since the world is the final limit to growth in the end there will be only a few very large corporations left to supply us with everything we need. This seems a less desirable situation than when there would be unbridled competition in a market place with a lot of smaller independent suppliers.

4. Interventionism. This particularly applies to people with limited mental abilities (children, and demented elderly, or mentally handicapped people). What does ‘limited’ mean ? And do we apply the norm, the lowest or the highest standard ? Do we have to protect every child/handicapped/moron from him/herself ?

Edwina in court: “Why do you have to regulate every single detail of our lives? I know we have railings to prevent stupid people from running into the street and killing themselves. But we are normal people, we don’t do that. Why don’t you have a stupidity tax and only tax the stupid people?”
Judge: “That is not relevant to this case. You are to pay 50,000 pounds in parking fines within 14 days. Next!”

(Absolutely Fabulous)

David Graham provided the

David Graham provided the definite arguments why animal rights do exist.

No he didn't. At best he refuted a few arguments against animal rights. But there's nothing in there that could reasonably be construed as an airtight case for animal rights.

From the very moment of its conception the fertilized egg cell has unique DNA and can no longer be viewed as part of, or property, of either one of the parents.

Non sequitur. When you catch a cold, the infected cells have unique DNA, but they're still part of you. When you plant a tree, it has unique DNA and is not a part of you, but it's still your property.

Based on the non-aggression principle, now applicable not only to human beings but to all entities that can suffer, abortion should be illegal, right from the moment of conception.

Unless you're arguing that a zygote or blastocyst has the capacity for pain, you can't justify fetal rights from the point of conception based on a prohibition against causing suffering.

Regarding your other points, briefly:

1. While it's true that not everyone can be a millionaire (at least, not in real terms, with today's technology), it doesn't follow from this that anyone must be poor. It's likely that there will always be poor, because some people make bad choices, and some are physically and/or mentally dysfunctional, but these are biological and cultural problems, not a flaw inherent in capitalism.

2. I don't understand this one.

3. See the relevant chapters of David Friedman's Machinery of Freedom for a detailed rebuttal of these points (I generally don't like referring people to books not available on-line, but it really is an excellent treatment of the subject). The gist of it is that while there are economies of scale, there are also diseconomies of scale, and at some point an increase in size actually reduces a firm's competitive advantage. There's more to it than that, but IIRC most of it is elaboration on that point. Also, I don't think there's ever been even one case of anything like what your theory predicts actually coming to pass.

4. Fair enough, but this isn't really a weakness of libertarianism, specifically. I don't think there's any political philosophy that provides easy answers to questions like these.

Freedom is not for Free !

Thanks for your input, Brandon ! Let me respond briefly on these many issues.

“there's nothing in there that could reasonably be construed as an airtight case for animal rights”

The Argument from Marginal Cases seems pretty airtight to me. I’ve never seen it refuted by a libertarian, or anyone else for that matter.

“When you catch a cold, the infected cells have unique DNA, but they're still part of you. When you plant a tree, it has unique DNA and is not a part of you, but it's still your property”

No, the tree is your property because either you paid for it, it was given to you as a present, or you homesteaded it. By libertarian definition a child, characterized by its human DNA, can never be bought, be given as a present, or be homesteaded.

In the infected cell the human DNA has partially been recombined with the DNA of the virus, making the cell an inhuman crossbreed. Therefore the human being that carries these cells can do with them whatever he likes (i.e. kill the virus with medication). The fertilized egg cell, however, is characterized by its fully human and unique DNA. That makes it a human individual ‘under construction’ and the libertarian non-aggression principle applies.

“Unless you're arguing that a zygote or blastocyst has the capacity for pain, you can't justify fetal rights from the point of conception based on a prohibition against causing suffering”

No, obviously in the early stages, without proper development of the brain and nervous system, there can be no pain. But then the Argument from the Marginal Cases applies. Just as we don’t do organ-harvesting on patients in a deep coma, we don’t kill a human individual ‘under construction’.

Regarding the 4 other issues you responded to:

1. The fact that a 100% fit is not possible IS a flaw inherent in capitalism. With government coercion this flaw can be lifted. In theory that is, because in practice also government coercion is not able to provide a 100% fit.

2. In a free market economy all individual’s actions are interlinked. For instance, if many people like a particular new car model and buy it, the cost of this car will go down. This allows less wealthy people to buy it as well. However, if you favour a less popular model of similar quality, you end up paying more. In the end it may be that your preference is so unique you can no longer afford the product of your choice. If only more people would prefer what you do your life would be a lot easier, and much less expensive. Same as in politics.

3. “The gist of it is that while there are economies of scale, there are also diseconomies of scale, and at some point an increase in size actually reduces a firm's competitive advantage.”

No, it doesn’t. Modern global corporations have a cell structure with hundreds of small and flexible business units with their own P/L responsibility. These BUs operate in constantly changing networks that not only comprise BUs from the same corporation but also from external suppliers and consultancies, as well as customer’ organizations. Key issue is the fact that the customer experiences the high flexibility and service level from a small independent local supplier, but also has the price advantage and technology support only the largest of corporations can offer. In fact, there is no economic or technical limitation on how large a corporation can become (market share wise). As I said the world is the limit.

4. Many people would consider the reluctance libertarians have to intervene a serious flaw. Of course there will not be much debate whether a responsible parent should pull its child away from a hot stove, but do we condone sex between a 65 year old man and a 12 year old girl ? Even adults do pretty stupid things they probably would not have done had they been properly educated, of if their mental capacity would have been greater. So if libertarians don’t address interventionism in a better way we may win Edwina (quoted above) but not the many people that think governments rule our lives for our own protection.

Explain it to me

The Argument from Marginal Cases seems pretty airtight to me. I’ve
never seen it refuted by a libertarian, or anyone else for that matter.

The marginal case is as follows: So-called
“marginal cases” are humans who lack the ability to reason or be held
accountable for their actions but who are still considered part of the
moral community and have a right not to be killed or made to suffer except
in self-defense.

Examples of marginal cases are: babies and people in comas.

From my point of view, babies do not actually have rights. Parents have rights, babies are their property, and the legal respect that non-parental adults pay to babies is the legal respect that other adults pay to the property of adults.

Adults in comas are adults, and adults have rights. Therefore adults in comas have rights. The respect that we pay to people in comas is the same, and has the same reason, as the respect that we pay to people who are asleep, and this is in turn the same as the respect that we pay to people who are inattentive for a second. This respect all derives from the rights of adult humans. Just as you have no right to kill me when I am not looking, so do you have no right to kill me when I am asleep, and so do you have no right to kill me when I am in a coma. These are all me, and I have rights.

In contrast, if a body has never been conscious but has been raised in an unconscious state from a fetus, then there is no rights-possessing person who is it.

Of course there will not be much debate whether a responsible parent
should pull its child away from a hot stove,

Actually, a responsible parent will pull its child away from a hot stove. That is a matter of definition, not law. (Of course, it might be argued that a responsible parent will actually let the child touch the hot stove in order to teach the child a valuable lesson, which will save its life later on.)

but do we condone sex
between a 65 year old man and a 12 year old girl ?

No, because the girl is the property of the parents and the parents do not wish it. Adults have full rights. The rights of non-adults derive from their relationship with adults. If a society treated 12-year-olds as adults, then it would be entirely legal for a 65-year-old man to have sex with a 12-year-old girl, just as it is entirely legal for a 65-year-old man to have sex with a 21-year-old girl (who is legally adult, having crossed the final barrier of the drinking age). Once someone becomes an adult, then they gain the rights of an adult, and this includes the full right to have consensual sexual relations with any other adult, of any other age, without either partner being punished by law. That it is illegal for 65-year-old men to have sex with 12-year-old girls is an unmistakable sign that 12-year-old girls are not adults. That it is legal for a woman to have an abortion is, similarly, an unmistakable sign that a fetus is not an adult. These both (the illegality of sex with children and the legality of abortion) are aspects of the same legal reality, which is that the so-called rights of non-adults are derived from their relationship with adults.

Rights are based on force, because natural rights are derived from the ESS on the use of force in a state of nature. Therefore a creature too stupid and/or too weak to be able to guarantee its rights by force (this can be proxy force), does not get its rights respected. A creature unable or unwilling to respect the rights of others similarly does not get its rights respected, because the respect of the rights of others is conditional on quid pro quo, because the basis of that respect is self-interest. If you attack me, then it ceases to be in my self-interest to respect your rights, and so I will cease to respect those rights. If you attack me, then everyone around me will support me if I eliminate the threat and will furthermore learn to respect me even more, so I gain nothing by bending over backwards to continue to respect your rights and everything by doing away with you. (This is not you the reader but a convenient label for any attacker.) Natural rights are a kind of informal and uneasy truce in the war of all against all, and those who violate the truce forfeit the participation of others in that truce - that is, they forfeit their own rights. Insufficient brainpower is an extreme liability, because it takes brainpower to understand and participate in the truce.

Rights are a kind of truce, a kind of balance in the use of force between independent entities. An alternative balance is conquest. This is the relationship between the state and its subjects. The state is conqueror, and the subjects are conquered. Humans exist in a kind of universal truce with other humans. Humans exist in a state of war and/or conquest with other animals.

Since rights are based on a combination of force and intelligence, then children are at a distinct disadvantage. No one would voluntarily agree to a limitation on purely consensual relationships between himself and other consenting adults. Therefore, if 12 year old boys and 12 year old girls somehow managed to get themselves considered as adults, then they would reject any attempt to place a legal limit on consensual relationships between themselves and other adults of whatever age. However, the result would not be an epidemic of relationships between 12 year olds and ancients, for the same reason that there is not now an epidemic of relationships between 21 year olds and ancients. There will be at most very rare exceptions. The young far prefer the company of the young.

People are not owned by

People are not owned by other people, and the same goes for children and parents. A bizarre consequence of parents owning their chilren is that it would be acceptable to eat them. What parents, or tutors do own is a bundle of right and duties implicitely granted by the child. It can be abandonned by the parents, sold or transferred, but the child himself is  no one property but his.

children are not people

For the sake of argument, grant that people are not owned by people. This is granted as part of the definition of "people". Then children are not people. The special laws around children are expressions of parental interest and extensions of parental ownership. It is illegal to sell alcohol and cigarettes and porn to children because parents, not children, wish it so. The special law that applies to children is one more arm of the parent. Parents do not eat children because parents are disinclined to do so. I have given reasons by grounding my assertions in a theory of morality as a biological phenomenon, which theory allows us to see where, and why, it has its limits. Your response is mere assertion.

The special laws around

The special laws around children  are either illegitimate or need to be reformulated. 

When a child grants his parents a bundle of right and duties to raise him - bundle that HE can revoke at anytime should he state unambiguously that he wants to - one of the right is to protect him from his ignorance of the world. If in a community, it is customary that parents do not let their children buy cocaine, then it means the children accept as part of their concession to their parents this restriction. In this case, when a child goes to a store and tries to buy cocain, if he is sold  the product, the parents can sue because they hold the child's right to buy cocain, a right that was accepted by the clerck from someone who didn't have it. The only way for a child to buy cocaine would be to get the permission from his parent or revoke their authority by requestion emancipation.

Adults living with parents

You are describing an adult who wishes to remain for a while with his parent. For example, a teenager. A child (roughly, a preteen) is not a miniature adult, unlike a teenager, who is. It starts out as a newborn, which is incapable of granting anyone any legal anything, let alone guardianship over itself, and takes a while to become an adult.

You are describing an

You are describing an adult who wishes to remain for a while with his parent

I am describing a person who whished to remain for a while with his parents. A child is not a miniature adult biologically but that is not the relevant criterion for rights. The newborn being physically unable to grant explicitely anyone anything we have to assume for the best. When someone is in a coma and has failed to give instruction, this is what happens as well, you make the best assumption. As soon as a child is old enough to correct the assumptions he can of course do so.

Fictions

First you wrote:

When a child grants his parents a bundle of right and duties to raise
him - bundle that HE can revoke at anytime should he state
unambiguously that he wants to - one of the right is to protect him
from his ignorance of the world.

Then you wrote:

The newborn being physically unable to grant explicitely anyone anything we have to assume for the best.

This proves that your first claim is a fiction. The child did not, in fact, grant his parents any such thing. Being fictional, the grant is not, in fact, the basis of parental rights, since real things do not come from fictional things. It is a fiction, like the social contract, which is also a fiction. (You might, by the way, try to attack some of my explanations as fictions, since I use terms like "truce", but I am intending these as helpful analogies, and believe I am able, if so required, to rigorously state directly what is actually going on, without relying on the analogies. For example, the "truce" is in fact nothing other than all the players each following the stable strategy.)

So, can you drop out of the fiction and state what is really happening, without relying on fictitious grants of bundles of rights and duties?

In all the animal kingdom, parents lovingly care for their children, not because of any bundle of rights and duties, but because they are so inclined, and they are so inclined for evolutionary reasons. The care that parents provide to their children is vastly older than the biological phenomenon of rights, which is a recent, human adaptation, somewhat similar to but more complex than the territoriality of non-human animals. Parents care for, and refrain from harming, their children not out of duty or respect for rights, but out of parental love.

In contrast, adult humans respect the person and property of non-related adult humans, not out of love, but to avoid retaliation (which might be the negative retaliation of non-cooperation - e.g., ostracism - or might be positive retaliation). This is the basis of rights. It's quite different from the basis of parental care for children.

So, parents refrain from harming their own children out of parental love. And non-related adults refrain from harming the children to avoid retaliation from the parents. It is the parents, not the children, who are feared. It is therefore the parents, not the children, who are the individuals who are being respected by non-related adults when the non-related adults refrain from harming the children.

As children grow into adults, they become more intelligent, capable, and independent-minded. At this point, children become able to threaten non-cooperation with or even physical retaliation against their own parents. It is at this point that the children come into their own as adult members of society with their own rights, as opposed to mere property of the parents.

Libertarian basics

Constant,

From your response I understand you and I have very different assumptions on what are libertarian principles and what not. So let’s try to reach a common ground first.

As I understand it, libertarians presume that human individuals have certain inalienable rights, such as the right to self-ownership and self-determination, as well as the right to own justly acquired property and determine its use. These rights are not granted by any higher authority as there is none, the human individual is the highest authority on its own existence. It is true that these rights cannot always be upheld, but they exist in any case.

In order to respect these rights libertarians apply the non-aggression principle, which means that the use of force is legal only in self-defence and the defence of one’s property against aggressors.

Now there is a fundamental and important difference between rights and privileges. Rights are inalienable, only privileges can be granted. Not many people seem to grasp this. If you happen to be one of them pse spend some time listening to libertarian Michael Badnarik as linked below. A human individual can grant somebody else privileges that violate his rights, but these privileges can be revoked anytime for whatever reason the individual sees fit.

Michael Badnarik’s Constitution Class

Issue is not what the rights are, but what creatures have them

The question that you bring up and that I am addressing is not the rights per se, but what creatures have those rights. You believe that non-human animals have those rights. I do not. I am in agreement with the vast majority of libertarians. You are not.

Learn Chinese !

“You believe that non-human animals have those rights. I do not”

You don’t have to believe anything, Constant. The Argument from Marginal Cases proves that non-human animals have the same rights as humans. Pse refute the argument.

“I am in agreement with the vast majority of libertarians. You are not.”

Are you aware that, while you support a political philosophy built entirely around the individual, you now resort to democracy (also known as ‘mob rule’) ? Pse take this argument back.

“Learn Chinese ! 1,3 billion people cannot be wrong !”
(Sorry about that, I’ll try to keep our further discussion more serious)