Reason debate excerpts, w/ my two cents...
Aiight, first off is Richard Epstein, questioning a lack of regard for consequences:
"Perhaps the most fundamental question we face is how to think about liberty. Some libertarians stress the formal power of logic to resolve hard questions. They insist that all rights and duties flow from a necessary conception of individual autonomy or self-rule that allows all individuals to do whatever they wish with their own lives so long as they do not interfere with the like liberties of other individuals. No person may use force or deception against other people, either for his own advantage or for the advantage of third persons. This moral imperative holds seemingly without regard for its social and economic consequences....Unfortunately, this principle of personal guidance does not supply us with a comprehensive theory of social organization. First, there is the question of philosophical foundations. Can we really support any kind of political order that pays no conscious attention to the consequences it generates?"
I can understand the frustration here. Even the most hardcore pro-freedom type occasionally wonders about the result of the spontaneous order they envision. I'm sure many of us have uttered words to the effect of "they can do what they want, but it's still stupid", I do that myself. Dissappointment at effects you cannot control doesn't make you a fascist; it makes you human. The thing to keep in mind though is this: on a larger scale, our politicians (and everyone else's really) are just as powerless. Yes, they have force on their side, but even slaves won't do exactly as they're told. Our psychological tendencies make guiding human beings exceedingly difficult, it's a root reason why the more advanced a society has been the less stringent the control has been.
"If our ultimate criterion asks what arrangement leaves all parties better off than they are under the next best alternative, there may be cases where the dominance of agreement over coercion should be displaced. In fact, there are: Some contracts are suspect, and some force is justified."
Of course. Talking a hands off approach to deals that if the most basic details were known never would've happened is just to throw all semblance of standard out the window. The only real difference between an act of fraud & an outright mugging is that one is more physically messy.
Now he gets to specifics...
"The libertarian prohibition against force does not take into account the possibility that successful cooperation in key situations can be thwarted by individual holdouts. It will not be possible to build a railroad from point A to point B solely by getting the cooperation of 99 out of 100 private landowners along the way. The last one (indeed all) must be brought into line, and the way to do it is to compel the purchase by paying them the highest value of the land in any alternative use whose value is not dependent on the railroad that is about to be built. The public, including those whose property is condemned, gain the benefit of the railroad, but if compensation is correctly calculated -- a big if -- no individual suffers financial deprivation in the process. State coercion is used to create the win/win situations found in private contracts.
The assumption being made here is that the 100th property owner is somehow, by keeping their property no matter what the price tag given (which happens many times, though conveniently brushed aside here), depriving others of theirs, even those who aren't in on the deal at all
. After all, if the ones that matter are the other 99 and not bystanders who allegedly would benefit, then the entire case stands the modern interpretation of democracy, not to mention the basic point of a free market, on it's head: intervening for the personal financial interest of a majority to take from a minority when they've done nothing wrong? What makes them less worthy to keep their land than the others are entitled to sell theirs? For any
arguement to support eminent domain there would have to be a careful analysis available of the situation where the primary gain would be to those in the surrounding area, otherwise it's just private interests butting heads: no legitimate government has a dog in this fight.
"In light of the justifications that have been put forward here, one could ask the question whether these concessions to state power amount to a backhanded capitulation to the modern welfare state, where any claim of the government to action in the public interest is sufficient to justify state intervention. The short answer to that question is no....
It is easy to see why the state should keep its hands off the substantive terms of labor contracts in a deductive libertarian world. Hence we should get rid of minimum wage, antidiscrimination law, collective bargaining statutes, and mandatory pension and insurance regulation."
Now, I do believe that there are flaws with anti-discrimination law becoming overbearing. Quotas & kid-glove treatment are not acceptable tradeoffs. But consider this: if we're going to switch emphasis to results, how come it applies to overriding a refusal to sell but it doesn't apply to racial prejudice? Which one has a wider effect on the society as a whole? Generally the US system is thought of as a form of meritocracy: you get what you earn. Though the specifics may be questionable, the intent of addressing prejudice is helpful to this view. If discrimination were simply ignored then unless minorities deliberately retreated from the rest of the country & formed enclosed homogenous communities, there would be a gradually rock-hard racial hierarchy no different than the caste system that used to be in place in India. Can individual freedom seriously withstand large-scale group judgement?
Randy Barnett basically focused on Epstein's statement about eminent domain, particularly the question of who's interest really matters:
"The consequence of rent-seeking -- of interest groups using the coercion of the state to acquire unearned benefits for themselves -- matters as much as the consequence of failing to build a road. Ask the residents of Poletown, whose Detroit neighborhood was destroyed by eminent domain to build a General Motors assembly plant. Ask the Atlantic City client of the Institute for Justice who successfully resisted the condemnation of her house to erect a parking lot for Trump Towers.
I know that Epstein’s theory of the Takings Clause would restore the requirement of "public use" that would prevent using eminent domain to transfer rights from A to B, and I agree his approach is better than what we now have. But who’s to say that these takings for the "public good," as opposed to public use, do not increase aggregate welfare? Who’s to say that the welfare created by General Motors remaining in Detroit is not greater than the welfare of the families who must leave their homes? Who’s to say that the parking lot to be used by thousands does not create greater welfare than a house used by just one woman?
Due to limitations on our knowledge, we have little choice but to rely on the principle of freedom of contract to answer these questions, however imperfectly."
Those examples say a lot, and that's not the half of it. Political connections can play a factor as well, there are many areas where people are forced out not because of even the semblance of arguement of "common good", but just because the one opposing them was good at furnishing bribes. Until it is possible to get people in office who are truly seperate from these type of interests, it's too much of a risk to allow. The current "wall of seperation" mentioned in punditry & debate is that between church & state, while (from my perspective at least) what is needed as well is a wall between state & business. These people are every bit as big a threat to the free market as overzealous politicians are, if not moreso since their actions are what triggers the justification for the latter. To paraphrase a line from Michael Lind, capitalism requires capitalists
David Friedman advances (again) the view that even minimalist government is too much, and should be abolished completely:
"If most people have at least roughly similar values, and if libertarians are correct about what sort of society libertarianism would produce, we need not justify our own values in order to argue for libertarianism. All we need do is to show that a libertarian society would be more attractive, by widely shared standards, than any alternative -- wealthier, wiser, freer, more just, better for poor as well as rich. That is, after all, what most libertarians believe.
Having adopted that strategy, I am sympathetic to Epstein’s approach: Derive a legal and political system from the practical requirements for achieving the things humans want to achieve. My disagreement is with his conclusions....he is too pessimistic about the possibility of achieving important objectives without the state. Consider his claim that "the public enforcement of private rights and the creation of infrastructure through condemnation both need money that only compulsory exactions can supply."
The rights half of that claim assumes that private rights must be publicly enforced, despite a considerable number of societies where rights enforcement was produced privately."
On paper, since the enforcement is just a threat at its core, this seems reasonable. Yet, try to imagine a society that, lacking a singularly recognized latent enforcement arm, had to constantly back up every single self-defense warning. One can bring up arguements about arbitration, but they forget that the concept exists as it does now as a supplement
to public law & not as a total substitute: removing part of the mix in civilization, as in chemistry, is very unlikely to preserve the original result. As I see it, the inherent tension in such a society is something I doubt most would want to live with if they tried it.
"Even if we accept those assumptions, the conclusion still does not follow. To justify taxation we need the additional assumption that rights enforcement cannot be done by the state at a profit, despite historical examples of societies where the right to enforce the law and collect the resulting fines was a marketable asset, and that the government cannot charge enough for the use of its roads to compensate the owners whose land was condemned."
To an extent I sympathize with the "abolish the state" view: I've contemplated scrapping it numerous times....only to scrutinize this rhetoric & reject it at the last minute. Say that rights enforcement were privatized, and people "bought" the government they wanted: you have just transferred all of the issues that annoy people with corporate america in right behind it. Suppose in this anarcho-capitalist system I have my favored enforcement arm & then it gets acquired in a hostile takeover? What do I do? Or what if I'm cheated out of something in the process? Who do I go to about it? What if an oligopoly or a de facto cartel forms, raising the price of my portable governance beyond what I can afford? Am I just on my own? If so, what's the point in the first place? And if it becomes a monopoly, then aren't we back to square one -- an official government?
The problem is not that rights enforcement cannot be done for profit. Rather, it's that introducing profit to the concept full-scale is impossible without also bringing in the forces that affect any other business. The private sector as we know it is snapped at enough for adjusting to reality, do we really want to get ourselves into a scenario where our "Government Inc." is joining the act? That'd be enough for anyone to want "stability", yeesh...
Besides, if you think about it rights enforcement is already "privatized", or rather competitive. If you don't feel that the nation you're living in is defending your rights the way you would like, you can always move -- and if the US government would rediscover the constitution, especially the 10th amendment, you could do this between
states, or even between towns if you wanted to. It's not the same as switching grocery stores, but lacking lunch meat doesn't get you killed.
Jim Pinkerton, pretty much the closest thing to a "mainstream-acceptable" libertarian, wonders aloud if Epstein, and the movement in general, is too hung up on economics:
"On the biggest issues of the day, Epstein is silent. I looked in vain for words such as drugs, pollution, immigration, foreign policy, terror, Iraq, or even Bush. That, to me, is the definition of a narrow piece. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I believe libertarians have an important contribution to make on the hottest of the hot-button issues: drug laws, immigration controls, environmental regulation (including the reality that the United States is involved in a host of international agreements that affect America, no matter what we do), biotech and stem cell research, and, most of all, the "war on terror," which affects everything from civil liberties to federal spending to the ongoing war in Iraq.
By comparison, the issues Epstein wants to grapple with fall mostly within the realm of economics, including the minimum wage, antidiscrimination rules, collective bargaining statutes....Opposition to all these statist measures is firmly in the libertarian tradition; as Epstein says, it’s all part of his plan to "reduce if not eliminate much of the welfare state."
Yet while it’s fine to pound away on any and all of these issues one more time, I wonder what the ROII -- Return on Intellectual Investment -- will be. Most people, certainly most economists, accept the general proposition that markets work..."
I've seen this pattern myself, and sadly, the reason for it is not very rational: many libertarians on those hot-button issues are content to stay with the flock so closely that they become almost unnecessary to mention. Feedback loops like this are what keep libertarians out of power, we forget how to do more than preach to the choir. Whenever I speak of libertarian views in public, I don't assume that the person I'm talking to is going to "get it" right away. Quite the opposite really: I adjust for who it is I'm talking to, and emphasize certain things that are most likely to get their attention. For example: a friend of mine who's not much interested in politics but occasionally mentions things having to do with race, I explained to him how in effect Social Security forces blue-collar-class blacks to subsidize the retirement of upper-middle class whites. In another case I spoke to a religiously devout person and explained how the reason their chosen values are attacked in their child's school is because as a federally-funded & controlled public school their mere existence violates the constitution, yet instead of realizing this the administrators are trying to obey the 1st amendment within breaking the 10th.
Nowadays, many people are thinking about terrorism. It only makes sense to address it. Although, I would hope that isolationist libertarians would take care not to make it seem that 9/11 was our "punishment" we deserved & hawkish libertarians would remember that it's possible to have doubts about the strategy being taken up without being dismissive of the entire war on terror. If not, we won't be convincing anyone.
"...for the most part, the national agenda has shifted away from economics to other issues that seem more pressing. Indeed, the U.S. seems to have settled into a complacent Clinton-Bush consensus that accepts the idea that if the economy is booming, federal revenues ought to be spent -- and then some. Today prospects for reducing, let alone eliminating, the welfare state seem poor."
True, violence tends to be more urgent than money to most. Also, one could even say that peace has the opposite effect, w/ the nuts & bolts of economics squeezing in after the last round of "...but so'n'so is going to kill us". The best evidence to show that would be to consider that the end of welfare as a "right" happened during the brief respite between the end of the cold war & the beginning of the war on terror -- and with a Democrat in the whitehouse, even.
"At the same time, prospects for expanding the warfare state -- which will, in turn, further ex-pand the welfare state -- seem excellent....A government arrogant enough to lie, big time, will never be a modest government. And then, of course, having made more enemies around the world through offensive wars, Washington must spend more on "defense," including homeland defense. Finally, after pledging a welfare state for Iraq (Washington is now a gold rush for lobbyists and contractors brandishing newfound expertise in anything "Middle Eastern"), it will be impossible not to keep and expand the welfare state here at home."
We're already hearing this in the presidential campaign: "why can we give Iraqis all these public works projects but can't supply _____ to americans?" It's a statement based on two absurd assumptions -- that the average american's current standard of living is, in terms of urgency, equivalent to Iraqis that, incase it was forgotten, we bombed quite a bit; and that our government can even guarantee these type of things regardless of it being here or there -- but as well all know in politics, image is usually louder than reality. Realistically speaking, as long as we're at war, the welfare state will grow.
In other words, the most effective strike to the welfare state we could make just may be to definitively wrap up this conflict so we can go home and break out our calculators in peace.