As some of you may know, I have long argued that humanitarian intervention is morally and legally permissible (see here). I stand by those arguments, and that is why I firmly believe that we should not intervene in Syria. I have several reasons, but two are prominent.
1) A justified intervention must be on behalf of those who have a just cause. In Syria, the available evidence shows that neither side has a just cause. The government is your standard Middle Eastern oppressor, while the rebels are dominated by Al Qaeda and similar sinister characters.
2) It is unjust for our government to tax American citizens to try to help people who do not want to be helped and who, even after they have been helped, instead of thanking us for liberating them, they viciously turn against us for domestic political gain or some other spurious motive. Iraq and Afghanistan are cases in point. The U.S. and their allies helped them get rid of their tyrants, only to see the new governments posture about how bad Americans are. When this happens, our response should be simple and direct: we will leave you alone to lead your miserable lives. And if you dare attack us, we will kill you or bring you to justice.
[Editor's Note: Kevin Currie-Knight is a PhD Candidate at University of Delaware's School of Education. He specializes in the history and philosophy of education. His dissertation, From Laissez-Faire to Vouchers, is an intellectual history of (market) libertarian thought pertaining to American education.]
In my field of philosophy of education, it is difficult not to come across the ethical theory of care ethics, a position to which I’ve grown pretty sympathetic. But neither folks in education nor care ethicists are usually sympathetic to markets (at least not for things like educational services or other “basic needs”). Now, to me, some of the things markets do best – like encourage people who may not otherwise cooperate to meet each other’s needs – jibe pretty well with an ethic of care. Let me explain.
For those not familiar, care ethics is a theory (or maybe a set of similar theories) arguing that the morally important feature of any act between people (or sometimes, between people and things, like the environment) is whether they create or nurture caring relationships between parties. While care ethicists differ regarding whether care is more about intent (Michael Slote), achieving a “caring” result (Daniel Engster), or some of both (Virginia Held), one thing that isn’t (very) controversial among care ethicists is that we care most directly and effectively for those who are close to us such as family and friends. The more we attempt to extend care outward to distant others, the more a stronger “caring for” becomes a weaker “caring about.” This becomes a problem when care ethicists argue that care ethics can extend from a theory about personal relations to one about social justice.
Because care is most effective the “closer to home” it is, care ethicists tend to argue for decentralized systems of governance: that local community members are in the best position to assess and respond to the needs of other community members. Sadly, this enthusiasm for decentralization does not generally extend to the idea that markets might offer care more effectively than governments. I think it should, and here’s why.
Care Ethics + Markets
First, if care ethicists generally recognize that we are partial in caring most naturally for those close to us, then markets may offer a way to get folks cooperating in a caring way toward unknown others. This is a similar position to Adam Smith’s, who several care ethicists argue developed a sentimentalist moral position that is a forerunner to care ethics (without paying much attention to Smith’s market liberalism as an extension of his moral theory). . Smith took very seriously the idea that humans’ sympathy for others is limited the farther removed the person is from us (geographically or otherwise), and that if this is so, markets may offer a way to align our interests in a way that allows people to satisfy others’ needs without solely depending on people taking on the difficult task of extending their sympathies farther and farther outward. (This might be controversial with those care ethicists for whom the purity of caring motive matters more than producing results that meet people’s needs. But as I’ve said, care ethicists differ on whether and how much intent or result matters more.)
Second, there is reason to believe that, by inducing people to cooperate who may not otherwise, markets may well create genuinely caring relations that wouldn’t arise otherwise. There is increasing evidence that markets are actually quite good at creating and nurturing caring and empathic relations between people, the expressed goal of many care ethicists. Also, while markets are often criticized by care ethicists and others for being impersonal, markets may be best described as impersonal when they need to be, and personal when they need to be. If consumers value the ‘personal touch’ as part of what they are buying – as they do in rewarding companies with good customer service, and will likely demand when shopping for things like education or medical care – then the most successful companies will likely be those who cater to that demand. (This point warrants more elaboration than I can give in this post; I will return to it in a future post.)
Lastly, governments are often less likely to be responsive and attentive to needs than private actors in markets. One reason I think care ethicists would do well to take markets more seriously is because, as a student of public choice economics, I am well aware of the many instances and reasons why government services often tend to serve the interests of the providers before the recipients and become more bureaucratic and inflexible over time. (In my field of Education, Myron Lieberman, E.G. West, and Arthur Seldon have provided vivid examples of this tendency and the reasons for them.) If care ethicists value attentiveness and responsiveness to needs on the part of the carer, it may not be the best idea to put care into the political realm, stripping it of price signals (to let providers know how they are doing in serving consumers) and risking the bureaucratizing of care.
Those are just a few reasons why I think that taking care ethics seriously (as a theory that has something to offer as a framework for thinking about political and social institutions) means taking markets seriously. As I see it, the big takeaway here is that markets may not only achieve a more socially just world, but engender a more caring world where people are driven to attend to others’ needs not via coercive governmental policies, but reciprocal and positive-sum transactions that can help forge caring relations between people.
My friend Adam Martin asked me to post this advertisement for the Carl Menger Essay Contest that FEE runs each year. It looks like fun!
The Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, in collaboration with the Foundation for Economic Education and the Charles Koch Foundation, is pleased to announce the fourth annual Carl Menger Essay Contest.
The purpose of the contest is to recognize and encourage undergraduate scholarship in the Austrian tradition and the broadly catallactic approach to social science which it represents, an approach common also to the Scottish Enlightenment of Smith and Hume, the French Liberal School of Say and Bastiat, the Virginia School of Buchanan and Tullock, the UCLA price theory of Alchian and Demsetz, and the Bloomington School of Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, among others. We invite essays that explore, advance, challenge, or apply the ideas of these and related schools of thought.
The catallactic approach emphasizes exchange and the rules in which exchange takes place. James Buchanan articulates this approach in his famous article, “What Should Economists Do?” (Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 30 (1964), No. 3). Peter Boettke’s Living Economics describes the catallactic approach as the “mainline of economics.”
Three winners will each receive $500 conditional on attending and presenting their essays at the Society’s meetings at the Southern Economic Association conference (southerneconomic.org). The conference takes place on November 23-25, 2013 at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel in Tampa, Florida. Accommodations will be provided at the conference hotel and the cost of the SDAE dinner will be covered, but winners are responsible for registration. Travel scholarships may be available.
The contest is open to undergraduate students and recent graduates from any discipline. Entrants must be enrolled in undergraduate coursework at some point during the 2013 calendar year, and must not hold a Bachelor’s or equivalent degree as of January 31, 2013. Those graduating at the end of the spring or summer are eligible. Former winners are not eligible. Former entrants are, but must submit new essays.
Essays must be in English and the sole and original work of the entrant and not previously published. They should be in the format of a scholarly article, with any standard citation format. Essays may either be written specifically for the contest or arise from previous coursework (e.g., term papers, research projects, senior theses, etc.). They should be between 4,000 and 12,000 words long, including notes, abstract, and bibliography.
Any topic related to the themes addressed by the above or related schools of thought is acceptable. Those composing original essays are welcome to address any of the following questions that are of particular interest to the Prize Committee. These are merely suggestions:
1. The relationships between government spending, government debt, and economic growth have been debated extensively in both political and academic forums recently. What insights from the work of the late James M. Buchanan could help to improve these debates?
2. Among the oldest questions in economics is: why are some nations rich and others poor? How might the ideas of the late Armen Alchian help to better answer that question?
3. Monetary policy has been used extensively in the past few years to combat the business cycle around the world. What insights can the catallactic approach to social science bring to bear on this issue?
Essays should be submitted in .doc or .pdf format by September 2, 2013. The author’s name, address, email, phone, and school should appear only on the first page of the document so that submissions may be judged anonymously. Title and abstract should appear on the second page.
(Please excuse the shilling, but a lot of potential applicants are among this blog’s readers!)
The Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in the Theory and Practice of Constitutionalism and Federalism at McGill University in the Department of Political Science and the Research Group on Constitutional Studies is open to established or emerging scholars in political theory and political science, and open with respect to methodology. The Chair will pursue research in constitutionalism broadly construed; an interest in federalism in particular is desirable but not necessary. The ability to engage with scholars and students across methodologies—normative, empirical, intellectual-historical, jurisprudential, and formal, for example— is more important that particular areas of emphasis. The Visiting Fulbright Chair takes an active part in the intellectual life of RGCS and normally delivers one public lecture as well as one research paper to a works-in-progress workshop.
The stipend is $US 25,000 for a one-semester or one-year stay in 2014-15. Open to US citizens who do not reside in Canada. Application deadline is August 1, 2013; application information is here: http://www.fulbright.ca/programs/american-scholars/visiting-chairs-program.html Those interested in applying are welcome to contact Jacob Levy email@example.com and Caitlin McNamara CMcNamara@iie.org .
Here are the projected introductory paragraphs of the book we have (almost!) completed with Loren Lomasky:
What do we owe distant others? In this book we offer a simple answer to this question: what we owe others is to leave them alone. Our central claim is that all of us, but especially the world’s poor, are saddled with a host of coercive barriers that impede flourishing. These barriers are quite diverse: political oppression, exploitive institutions, and burdensome regulations, both within and without borders. In particular, we suggest that the plight of the world’s poor is caused (mainly) by bad domestic institutions and ineffectual corrupt governance, and not by the failures of rich countries to help. To be sure, rich countries harm the world’s poor in three ways: first, by maintaining unjustified protectionist and immigration barriers; second, by sometimes unjustly interfering by force; and third, by sometimes cooperating with unjust regimes. But we maintain our primary diagnosis: most of the ills that afflict large populations in the world are homegrown. It follows that, in contrast with the dominant literature, the recommendations of this book are addressed not only to persons in rich countries. They are mainly addressed to the local elites who unjustly interfere with the lives of their subjects. These elites, in other words, must honor the obligation to leave their people alone. Persons in rich countries should do the same, leave people alone, but at the same time exercise prudent pressure for reform in order to get the local elites to desist from the unjust interference with their subjects’ lives.
The dominant approach to global justice is essentially regulatory. On this view, redistribution of global wealth is required by justice. Accordingly, the main ills of the word, unfreedom and poverty, should be addressed by appropriate national and international regulation. The dominant approach is to enlarge state institutions and international agencies in order to enforce justice, coercively redistribute wealth, and correct the supposed injustices and inefficiencies of markets. Most of the debate is how to do this effectively –whether by robust state-initiated foreign-aid schemes, or by reinforcing international redistributive institutions. Strong labor and environmental regulations complete this picture. The world’s poor, it is thought, will be best served by substituting good coercion for bad, ineffectual coercion, and, above all, by enforcing the duties of global justice that citizens in rich countries are supposed to have toward the world’s less fortunate. So this strategy is dual: on one hand, states must be improved by enlarging them so they can carry out internal duties of justice. On the other hand, international agencies should be likewise empowered to coerce people in rich countries to transfer resources to the poor.
We dissent. We believe that what the poor need is less regulation, less coercion, less state presence in their lives. They need, in other words, more political and economic space where they can engage in the positive-sum games that trade, mobility and commerce offer. We agree that they need good institutions, but those institutions should be liberty-friendly, and especially market-friendly.
This classic-liberal vision is usually characterized as callous because it does not recommend foreign aid or forced redistribution. Yet, a view, like ours, that supports a liberal world order is far from being callous and indifferent to the plight of the poor. On the contrary: we think our view is truly humanitarian. We firmly believe that freedom will help the poor and vulnerable more than the alternative regulatory vision. We are convinced that the majority of writers on global justice have simply misdiagnosed the problem and for that reason have recommended ineffectual or counterproductive solutions. As we shall see, we agree with the preponderance of writers that justice is cosmopolitan. But justice requires, not that we coercively transfer resources or increase international bureaucracies, but that we leave people alone to pursue their personal projects. This duty of noninterference is global in scope. As we indicated, governments and citizens of rich countries sometimes unjustly interfere with the lives of distant persons. But the main culprits, the unjust interferers par excellence, are the local elites who have captured their societies’ resources for their own benefit.
The recent news about so-called NSA surveillance programs brought back a familiar argument. Liberty and security, we are told, need to be balanced or traded off against each other. People on different sides of this debate help themselves to this image. Some (well really, more and more people) use it to claim that some of our liberty should be sacrificed at the alter of security. Others, often invoking Benjamin Franklin’s famous line, use the same argument to resist these programs.
Whether you endorse or fear the NSA’s activities, this talk of trading off freedom for security or a need to “balance” the two is really not helpful. Here are two reasons.
Suppose that there is a genuine tension between liberty and security. Does that mean we can simply trade off one for the other? Does it mean a balance (whatever that might mean) ought to be struck between the two? Not necessarily. Most of the freedoms at stake here are rights-protected freedoms – or at least they ought to be. As a rule, rights-protected things cannot be simply traded off for other valuable things.
So even if we could purchase more security with the currency of liberty (more on that in a moment), such a move may simply not be morally available. Quite frequently the rights of others get in the way of what we want. And quite frequently we want the things we do for good reason. But that does not take away from the importance of these rights. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Of course it is possible that the value of security is an exception to this rule. But that needs an argument, one we are yet to hear. I guess that the most promising line of thought here would be that we not only have rights to our freedom, but also a right to security? Maybe this is true. But security is a gradual thing. So you really ought to say we have a right to this much security. Which brings up the question: do we have a right to a little more security than we are enjoying right now? Again, we need to hear an argument why. Simply talking about trading off one value against the other won’t do.
But there is perhaps a more fundamental reason to resist this talk of trade offs and balancing acts. In many ways liberty and security are not antithetical values. Secure societies are free societies, and free societies are secure societies. Rights of due process, requirements that police and security agencies obtain warrants before infringing our privacy, the principle of habeas corpus are indeed often called protections of liberty. But their main function is to provide citizens security against another real source of threat: government power. (It is a depressing fact that we know of more examples of abuses of these powers than examples of prevented acts of terrorism.)
Much the same is true outside of the context of standard civil liberties. Freedom in general protects us against threats and harms. Your freedom to open a business is security against having to please “the community”, government bureaucrats, or whomever. Your freedom to own your property is protection against being continually at the mercy of the demands of others. Your freedom to choose your occupation is protection against horrible work environments. And so on.
So it is not just that individual freedom is too important to be balanced against the desire for more security – although that too is surely true. It is also that freedom is instrumentally necessary for, and constitutive of security. You simply cannot get the one without the other.
Oh, and if all that doesn’t sway you, perhaps the views of this guy will.
[Editor's Note: The following is a guest contribution by Felix Bungay, a student at the University of Cambridge reading an MPhil in Intellectual History and Political Thought.]
When looking at contemporary liberal political thought, philosophers like Samuel Freeman and John Tomasi like to play up the difference between classical liberals, like Hayek and Friedman, and high liberals, like Rawls and Nagel.
I happen to think there’s more common ground between the two groups than is commonly perceived. Let’s say, to engage in a thought experiment, we locked Rawls, Freeman, Friedman and Hayek in a room and we asked them to come up with some public policy positions. We’ll give them food and water, but they can’t leave the room until they all unanimously agree on a position. What policies (if any) would arise – or would they all just be stuck in the room arguing for eternity?
If I said they would agree to scrap the minimum wage, have a wholly private school system funded by vouchers and scrap most welfare and replace it with a simple negative income tax, would you believe me?
When discussing fair equality of opportunity in A Theory of Justice, Rawls says that the “Government tries to insure equal chances of education and culture for persons similarly endowed and motivated either by subsidising private schools or by establishing a public school system.” Significantly, Rawls himself does not think that the government needs to provide education or necessarily establish a public school system to fulfil the requirements of equal opportunity; a fully private school system is not ruled out. As Samuel Freeman says, Rawls’s “writings imply that a publically funded and regulated but still entirely private education system (for example, a voucher system) would be compatible with FEO.” Milton Friedman would be jumping for joy.
What about the minimum wage then? Well in an interview with PBS, Samuel Freeman said Rawls was opposed to the minimum wage (meanwhile the Economist tells us that Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage makes him a Rawlsian – that’s poor scholarship): “He [Rawls] thought we ought to get rid of a minimum wage and let the labor market just go as low as it would and let employers just pay two, three dollars an hour if they could and let the government come in and supplement that.”
And what form did Rawls believe this supplement ought to take? Well, he again drew on Milton Friedman and argued for a negative income tax. When discussing the institutions associated with the second principle (chapter 5 of ToJ), Rawls says that “the government guarantees a social minimum either by family allowances and special payments for sickness and unemployment, or more systematically by such devices as a graded income supplement (a so-called negative income tax).”
So while Rawls, Freeman, Friedman and Hayek may not be best buds, there is perhaps more ground for positions associated with the “free market right” to be found in the work of Rawls than either classical or high liberals commonly discuss. Rawls the deregulatory school choice enthusiast is quite a different tale from the one you normally hear.
Pew polls reveal that switching from a Republican to a Democratic president causes Republican enthusiasm for NSA surveillance programs to fall by 23 percentage points – and likewise causes Democratic enthusiasm for NSA surveillance programs to rise by 27 percentage points.
My Rawlsian comrades sometimes accuse me of being too quick to see statist opinions as culpable rather than as being the result of reasonable pluralism. I think these results show that we shouldn’t be too quick to exaggerate the extent of the realm of political innocence.
I spent last weekend at the inaugural conference of a new organization for libertarian women called Libertia. We talked about a lot of different things, but a topic we kept returning to was why it matters whether women are engaged in the conversation about liberty. One of the reasons it matters is that when different kinds of people are involved in conversations different kinds of questions get asked.
Here are some of those kinds of questions about various events from this week that I really wish were being asked.
- How might the mass collection of data affect people who do not have socially acceptable sexualities? We might think about this in relation to the approaching “gay propaganda” ban in Russia, or in relation to those who engage in, for example, consensual but violent sex here in the U.S?
- What does this mass collection of data do to those people who are trying to, for example, escape from an abusive relationship and who may well have personal safety reasons not to want their movements tracked? Some of them may be using underground networks in order to escape. What happens to their safety? What happens to those networks?
- Snowden appears to have made a choice between what looks like a very happy personal life and the opportunity to confront the state. How does one make that decision? How do we weigh those risks?
- I have seen a few others ask this, but it can’t be asked often enough. Why all the shaming for Snowden for his GED and his unfinished community college education? He’s making $200,000 a year and is being called a slacker?
- If a justice system is stacked against one—because of race or gender or sexual preference or the nature of one’s offense—and if that system has a history of engaging in torture, indefinite detention, and the execution of citizens without a trial, does the rule of law oblige one to cheerfully volunteer to serve out whatever sentence may be handed down?
Someone is sure to argue that these questions aren’t particularly “women’s questions” or about “women’s issues.” But that’s the point. The value of a diverse conversation about liberty is its diverse and unpredictable questions and approaches. Go ask something new.
(And if you have some questions of your own about this week that you think haven’t been asked enough or at all, leave them in the comments. Maybe someone will try to answer.)
- A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarian Thought
- Academic Philosophy
- Blog Administration
- Book/Article Reviews
- Current Events
- Rights Theory
- Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty
- Social Justice
- Symposium on Free Market Fairness
- Symposium on Left-Libertarianism
- Symposium on Libertarianism and Land
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
Tagsacademic philosophy anarchism bleeding heart libertarianism Bryan Caplan charity coercion corporatism crooked timber economic liberty education eudaimonism exploitation feminism foreign policy free market fairness Friedrich Hayek Herbert Spencer history inequality John Locke John Rawls John Tomasi left-libertarianism liberalism libertarianism liberty marriage Murray Rothbard non-aggression principle Occupy Wall Street poverty property-owning democracy property rights public justification public reason Robert Nozick Ron Paul self-ownership social contract theory social justice Students for Liberty sweatshops Thick Libertarianism war work