Both theory and history indicate that government management of resources leads to waste and even absurdity. People view traffic jams, water shortages, power outages, deforestation, endangered species, and fishing rules as facts of life. But they are not necessary. On the contrary, they are perversities produced by government management. Private markets are not perfect, but competition and private ownership give the best possible framework for an efficient use of scarce resources.
This column is exceptional.
Don’t accuse me of utopianism. I don’t foresee a future of new human beings who consistently respect the rights of others. Rather, I’m drawing attention to the distinction between crime and tort — between offenses against the state (or society) and offenses against individual persons or their justly held property. We’re so used to this distinction, and the priority of the criminal law over tort law, that most of us don’t realize that things used to be different. At one time, an “offense” that was not an act of force against an individual was not an offense at all.
What happened? In England, the early kings recognized that the administration of justice could be a cash cow. So they grabbed on and never let go. As a result, the emphasis shifted to punishment (fines and imprisonment) and away from restitution (making victims or their heirs as whole as possible).
Liberty-minded people should regret this change. Yet again, the ruling elite exploited the people. It needed wealth to buy war materiel and allegiance, so it took it by force from the laboring masses, and corrupted the justice system in the process. …
Tom plays the novice and David offers some introductory arguments.
KHOU reports that a Houston subdivision has hired private security to replace government police. The result? Half the crime for half the cost.
And while it’s not reported, incidents where the police shoot unarmed neighborhood residents have also likely been cut to zero.
Dave Albin recently covered the issue of private security for Mises Daily.
The always intelligent Bonnie Kristian has published an insightful post this morning; a snippet:
In the wake of the government shutdown, I’ve noticed many libertarian types cracking jokes about how we’d love it if the shutdown were permanent — if the “non-essential” employees stayed permanently furloughed.
And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Politics creates some of the most absurd situations we ever encounter in real life, and sometimes you just have to make fun of stuff. I’ve even engaged in a little of this myself (but then, who wouldn’t when it involves Ron Swanson, amirite?). Plus, we do actually want the government to be a whole lot smaller, and on a gut level, this feels like a step in the right direction.
But an unintended consequence of all this joking is how off-putting it can be to those who are actually, you know, furloughed. By most estimates there are about 800,000 government employees temporarily out of work right now — only about 20% of the federal government’s total payroll. And, given that they possess natural human feelings of wanting a livelihood, they don’t really like it when we say we want their jobs to disappear.
This is understandable. If I said, “I’m worried that I might not be able to keep my job,” and you replied, “Hahah, good, I hope your job disappears forever,” I would probably not be your biggest fan.
So that’s why I think it’s so important for us (libertarians, conservatives, civil libertarians of all stripes — anyone who wants a significant cut in any part of government activity) to stop a second and say:
We don’t want you to be unemployed.
We want you to have a job you like which will take care of your family.
We just think that your current job does things which would be better done by the private sector, not the government. You might even make more money if it were, and we’re 100% in favor of that.
So when we post memes and quotes and commentary apparently rejoicing in the government shutdown, it’s not because we think you aren’t valuable. It’s a rough, political-humor way of saying, “We think there are better ways for you to use your skills and expertise than working for the government, and we’d like to have a national debate about that.”
A few points I’d like to offer in response.
First, it’s not just a joke when we say “we’d love it if the shutdown were permanent.” Some of us take the concepts of libertarianism to their logical conclusion. We believe in the concept of self-ownership and we understand that the more free a society, the more peaceful and prosperous it becomes.
Second, our primary goal - or, rather, my goal which many others share - is not necessarily to have a “national debate.” I appreciate that such a sentiment is well-regarded by precisely those who would be offended at our stance on the government “shutdown,” but that’s not at all what many of us want - particularly as bracketed by giant arbitrary geographical borders. What is a debate but democracy, and political democracy is illegitimate. A debate presumes there’s some winner, some loser, and/or some compromise - but what we want is justice, and there isn’t likely to be much compromise to be had there. If one side wants to stab me a lot, another side wants to stab me a little, and I don’t want to be stabbed at all, what reasonable compromise would result from a debate?
Third, ridiculing the state truly is one of the most important things a citizen can do. Fundamental and lasting political change does not come from voting, petitions, protests, or town hall meetings. What must come first is education and understanding - and the most effective way to push back against a leviathan state is to marginalize those who presume to run our lives: mock them, disobey them, and ultimately ignore them (all, of course, peacefully and without harming our fellow man).
I often quote Étienne de La Boétie, and it’s worth quoting him again:
"Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces."
So with regards to Bonnie’s soft finger-wagging at our gleeful mockery of the state - I respectfully disagree. The more we belittle and jeer and scoff and mock and laugh at the state, the less seriously others will revere it - and in turn, fewer will support Colossus.
However, Bonnie is right that we should be mindful to not alienate others too much if we wish for our ideas, which we value, to find greater acceptance. We attract more flies with honey and all that. And her post serves that end well: much of it is clarification to preemptively undercut the inevitable non-sequitur that the media and other state-allies use to caricature our position. We’ve never advocated that these people should be jobless and starving in the street - but she’s right that that’s exactly the narrative state-sympathizers (usually on the left) use against us.
So, yes, we would love for those who find employ with the country’s largest employer, the federal government, to relinquish their status as societal parasites and instead find productive jobs in the private (i.e. voluntary) sector.
I know that sounds scandalous, but it’s true: government jobs are characteristically not productive and as such government workers qua government workers are societal parasites.
Of course, there are government workers who perform important and valued work. But these are exactly the type of “essential” jobs would still exist in a free society - absent the threat of violence to demand funding. Who doubts that there would be demand for firefighters or civil engineers or weather analysts or medical researchers in a voluntary society? But so long as these jobs are funneled through the inherently corrupt and inefficient state, they are not - and can not be - productive.
If you work in the private (i.e. voluntary) sector, you know that your job is a productive one because people have subjectively determined it as such and proven such determination through the act of voluntarily asking you (and paying you) to perform said job.
I work in television. The producers pay me because they value my work. The producers, in turn, are funded because the studio likes the product we produce. The studio funds the show because the network values the product. The network values the product because the viewers watch the product, which in turn allows the network to sell ads. The advertisers buy ads because they value the viewers’ attention and have determined such expenditures help lead to future sales. The consumers buy the advertisers’ products because they have determined, ex ante, that they would be better off with the product than with the money. Money which said consumers earned most likely by selling their time, talents, or property to willing buyers.
This complex patchwork of voluntary interactions is part of what we refer to as the free market. It is the foundation of a peaceful and productive society.
Note how, unlike with governments, there’s no threat of violence compelling people to make exchanges. This is how we can determine that government workers - even those who perform important functions that would nonetheless be fulfilled absent state coercion - are societal parasites. Their employment is predicated on the forced extraction of wealth of others - wealth that is mostly the result of time and labor. Which means that the non-government workers are indentured servants: portions of their lives are spent laboring for others without compensation. If 30% of my income is taken away without my consent, and that income represents the portion of my life that I labored to earn it, then that much of my life is in effect also taken away. I am, to that degree, a slave.
Still, as a matter of political strategy, Bonnie is right: if we revel at the disemployment of certain people (however temporary and simply meant for political posturing), they are not likely going to be interested in much else we say. But if they’re unwilling to shoulder the truth of what exactly they are relative to the rest of us, we aren’t likely reaching them anyway.
Ultimately, their disemployment from government is indeed something worth celebrating, but I would agree that their reintroduction to the voluntary sector of society and finding productive employment outside the state merits even greater celebration.
"But What About the Roads?!": Road Provision in a Voluntary Society
Great beach reading…
Finally getting around to reading Morris and Linda Tennehill’s The Market for Liberty.
So far, it’s great - though they have a completely incorrect understanding of the concept of “sacrifice.”
They note: “The opposite of self-interest is sacrifice which is always wrong because it’s destructive of human life.”
In truth, the opposite of self-interested action is aggressive coercion. Sacrifice - when voluntary - is as self-interested as any other voluntary act.
I discussed this a few weeks ago in an io9 comment (regarding a review of Game of Thrones):
"If I sacrifice my life to save my daughter, it’s because a world in which my daughter is alive and I am not suits me more than one in which I am alive and she is not. If I give to charity, it is because it suits me that I spend my money on said charity more than on any other purpose.
This is not selfishnesses, this is simply human nature: we all observe and experience the world through the prism of our own minds and aim to achieve our own desires (for good or ill). Preferences are subjective and we all act in order to reach (or, more accurately, attempt to reach) some desired end. Any action that is voluntary reveals our preferences, which is to say our voluntary actions are always what suit us.”
The authors seem to understand the distinction when they sum up their arguments as “[Man] must not be forced to sacrifice, not even for “the good of society.”” (emphasis in original) They key word is “forced.”
Though this lapse in logic - seemingly stemming from their overt revulsion of religion - serves to sully their otherwise excellent argument, their conclusions regarding force and society are still sound:
"If a man is not free to use his mind, his body, and his time in any action he wishes (so long as he doesn’t initiate force or fraud), he is in some degree a slave. The right to liberty, like the right to property, is an aspect of the right to life."
- Morris and Linda Tennehill, The Market for Liberty.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this very quotable book.
Some interesting reading I’ve come across while sitting on a chair in the sky…
- Lew Rockwell’s manifesto of peace.
- Aeon Skoble’s thoughtful contributions to the subject of libertarianism and war.
- Glenn Greenwald on the endless war on terror.
- Has the Left made peace with the warfare state?
- John Whitehead on the war on terror and the surveillance state.
- Jeffrey Tucker on the dangerous “witchcraft” of central banking.
- Hunter Lewis on the essence of Keynesianism.
- Walter Williams notes that taxes destroy transactions and thus jobs.
- The Minimum Wage: An Unfair Advantage for Employers
- The Minimum Wage Harms the Most Vulnerable
- “Economics isn’t rocket science; it’s a lot harder. We should admit as much and when asked to measure things we cannot measure, we should admit our ignorance.”
- Richard Ebeling: The Federal Reserve’s “Exit Strategy” is just more monetary manipulation
- George Smith defends the non-aggression principle: “Libertarianism is a political theory that deals with the concept of justice. It does not deal per se with establishing what is and is not “morally permissible.” That is the realm of ethics, or moral theory, which is a much broader discipline than political theory.”
- Tom Woods on progressive confusion of “society.”
- David Friedman on democracy, partisanship, rational ignorance, and why he believes things.
- Jonah Goldberg admits that the president probably didn’t ask the IRS to target political opponents - but they were an agency after his own heart.
- Tim Lynch and George Will offer some “empirical evidence” on IRS political manipulation.
- Doug Ross compiles a timeline on the IRS scandal and concludes: “1. Steve Miller lied to Congress, 2. Lois Lerner lied to Congress, 3. Barack Obama lied to the American people”
- Audit reveals disturbing new information on IRS abuse scandal.
- The IRS has a long history of political abuse.
- Obama apologetics in full force: New Republic blames the Tea Party for the IRS Scandal, NY Times claims that IRS targeting of Tea Party only proves Republicans are desperate, Nancy Pelosi thinks people are making a big deal about this because “the president is such a great president.”
- Mike Riggs shares the Drug Policy Aliiance’s “An Exit Strategy for the failed War on Drugs”, noting 75 ways in which to make the Drug War less awful (of course, there solution is much more simple: end prohibition of all peaceful activity. Period.).
- Shikha Dalmia on the Myth of the Scientific Liberal: “The core trait of a scientific mind is that when its commitments clash with evidence, evidence rules. On that count, what grade do liberals deserve? Fail, given their reaction to the latest evidence on universal health care, global warming, and universal preschool.”
- "[C]ollege students run up big bills to pay for educations unlikely to deliver payoffs to match the money invested. It’s no surprise that delinquency rates on those student loans are soaring. So, what’s the federal government’s response [included in Obama’s budget next year]? [I]t plans to expand a program that encourages students to take on debt with promises that taxpayers will assume the burden.”
- Americans who favor gun control incorrectly believe gun crime has increased.
- The case for legalizing horse meat.
- How zoning kills affordable housing.
- Read this if you still think teachers’ unions and educrats care about kids.
- Missouri Legislature Nullifies All Federal Gun Control Measures by a Veto-Proof Majority
- John Stossel notes: “Forty-three million Americans moved from one state to another between 1995 and 2010 — about one-seventh of Americans. … [They] have moved away from high-taxed, heavily regulated states to lower-taxed, less-regulated states. Most don’t think of it as a political decision. They just go where opportunities are, and that usually means where there’s less government.”
- How big business depends on big government.
Anthony Gregory does yeoman’s work collecting books, essays, and opinions on the libertarian stance on war.
Read it, click the copious embedded links and spend a few days reading those, and be sure to bookmark it for future reference. It’s a veritable bounty of knowledge and insight…
People do not agree on what laws are desirable and what laws are undesirable. An anarchic society would either result in new states taking power or endless combat (most probably both). Furthermore, decentralization is weakness. Good luck defending your small town against a much larger political entity. No, anarchism is simply not realistic.
It’s true that there is a difference of opinion on which laws governments pass are legitimate or warranted or desirable - but there is a minimum that essentially all people agree to be just. As I explained in my post on unjust laws, “the only just law is that which initiates aggression against none. In other words, one that echoes natural law; that is, one that protects and respects the life, liberty, and property of all equally. Any violation of a person’s self-ownership is illegitimate. So laws against theft, assault, battery, murder, slavery, rape, fraud, trespass, destruction of property, and the threats thereof are all legitimate because they would exist irrespective of a state. They are axiomatic consequences of human self-ownership.”
Furthermore, only states fight wars. It’s not the anarchy that would cause combat it would be the states, or rather foolish people believing it is legitimate to force other people to live and behave a certain way, defer authority to the majority’s (or the mighty’s) chosen rulers, and submit to their un-peaceful decrees all in the name of preventing some foreign entity from doing the exact same thing.
In truth, it is your position that is unrealistic: believing humanity is incapable of living peacefully and voluntarily yet granting some of those same ignoble members of humanity great power over others.
Perhaps a power vacuum would quickly be filled, and the toppling of one tyrannical state could leave an opening for another. The weak who believe in the supremacy of a state will blindly fight to maintain the status quo. And again, the problem here is states. But that is why the fight for voluntarism is first and foremost an intellectual one. The desire to be free from force and conflict and servitude (the hallmarks of all states) must first foment in the minds of individuals, before it can manifest itself into anything that lasts.
“Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows — to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.”
[F]rom the point of view of justice and morality, the State can own no property, require no obedience, enforce no contracts made with it, and indeed, cannot exist at all. A common defense of the State holds that man is a “social animal,” that he must live in society, and that individualists and libertarians believe in the existence of “atomistic individuals” uninfluenced by and unrelated to their fellow men. But no libertarians have ever held individuals to be isolated atoms; on the contrary, all libertarians have recognized the necessity and the enormous advantages of living in society, and of participating in the social division of labor. The great non sequitur committed by defenders of the State, including classical Aristotelian and Thomist philosophers, is to leap from the necessity of society to the necessity of the State. On the contrary, as we have indicated, the State is an antisocial instrument, crippling voluntary interchange, individual creativity, and the division of labor. “Society” is a convenient label for the voluntary interrelations of individuals, in peaceful exchange and on the market. Here we may point to Albert Jay Nock’s penetrating distinction between “social power” — the fruits of voluntary interchange in the economy and in civilization — and “State power,” the coercive interference and exploitation of those fruits. In that light, Nock showed that human history is basically a race between State power and social power, between the beneficent fruits of peaceful and voluntary production and creativity on the one hand, and the crippling and parasitic blight of State power upon the voluntary and productive social process. All of the services commonly thought to require the State — from the coining of money to police protection to the development of law in defense of the rights of person and property — can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary.
[F]rom the point of view of justice and morality, the State can own no property, require no obedience, enforce no contracts made with it, and indeed, cannot exist at all.
A common defense of the State holds that man is a “social animal,” that he must live in society, and that individualists and libertarians believe in the existence of “atomistic individuals” uninfluenced by and unrelated to their fellow men. But no libertarians have ever held individuals to be isolated atoms; on the contrary, all libertarians have recognized the necessity and the enormous advantages of living in society, and of participating in the social division of labor. The great non sequitur committed by defenders of the State, including classical Aristotelian and Thomist philosophers, is to leap from the necessity of society to the necessity of the State.
On the contrary, as we have indicated, the State is an antisocial instrument, crippling voluntary interchange, individual creativity, and the division of labor. “Society” is a convenient label for the voluntary interrelations of individuals, in peaceful exchange and on the market. Here we may point to Albert Jay Nock’s penetrating distinction between “social power” — the fruits of voluntary interchange in the economy and in civilization — and “State power,” the coercive interference and exploitation of those fruits. In that light, Nock showed that human history is basically a race between State power and social power, between the beneficent fruits of peaceful and voluntary production and creativity on the one hand, and the crippling and parasitic blight of State power upon the voluntary and productive social process.
All of the services commonly thought to require the State — from the coining of money to police protection to the development of law in defense of the rights of person and property — can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary.
— Murray Rothbard
We were on the verge of obtaining a reasonable degree of liberty. We were going to get our taxes slashed and simplified but not abolished, the military budget reduced and the troops brought home, drugs decriminalized and managed via harm reduction, a significant liberalization of immigration controls without totally open borders, new restrictions on the Fed’s central planning powers adopted in 2008 and 2009, some more flexibility on pharmaceutical testing and health insurance, moderate patent reform, a diminution of pages in the Federal Register, prison reform, genuine oversight and remedies for police misconduct, strengthened due process and warrant requirements in national security cases, a plan to phase out massive entitlements, some fair-minded school reform, and a scaling back of federal gun laws. We were on the cusp of this moderate but significant step toward liberty, where we would not get all we wanted, but we would get much of what we wanted. But I ruined it all. I cited Murray Rothbard and Lysander Spooner. I made the perfect the enemy of the good, and now the liberty that was in our grasp is lost forever. Sorry, everyone. My selfish desire to adhere to ideological purity has spoiled our chances at increased freedom once again.
Imagine that someone proposed that the key to establishing social justice and restraining corporate greed was to establish a very large corporation, much larger than any corporation hitherto known—one with revenues in the trillions of dollars. A corporation that held a monopoly on some extremely important market within our society. And used its monopoly in that market to extend its control into other markets. And hired men with guns to force customers to buy its product at whatever price it chose. And periodically bombed the employees and customers of corporations in other countries. By what theory would we predict that this corporation, above all others, could be trusted to serve our interests and to protect us both from criminals and from all the other corporations? If someone proposed to establish a corporation like this, would your trepidation be assuaged the moment you learned that every adult would be issued one share of stock in this corporation, entitling them to vote for members of the board of directors? If it would not, is the governmental system really so different from that scenario as to explain why we may trust a national government to selflessly serve and protect the rest of society?
Reminds me of the Hoppe quote I posted a few days ago.