Social Justice, Libertarianism

The Case of the Missing Callous Libertarians

If you only read academic philosophy discussing orthodox right libertarianism, you might expect that libertarians are callous and indifferent to poverty. Academic philosophers tend to think that self-described libertarians have the following view:

Cartoon Libertarianism: Protect self-ownership and abide by Nozick’s entitlement theory, though the sky falls! (And many starve.)

If libertarians really believed that, then it would seem hard to explain why so many of them are preoccupied with showing how markets, under the right conditions, end poverty.

Even Ayn Rand, of all people. In Atlas Shrugged, the most productive and innovative members of society–tired of being told they exploit everyone else–go on strike. The American economy collapses. This sends a clear message: the less talented need the more talented more than the more talented need the less talented. So far, there is nothing here to excite a high liberal or a person concerned with social justice.

But notice that Rand is at pains to show that the strikers only hasten an inevitable collapse. In Atlas Shrugged, socialist economies have been collapsing long before John Galt calls a strike. And Rand goes at great lengths to illustrate that the people who suffer the most from these collapses aren’t her heroes (they all lead happy lives in the mountains), or the unheroic rich (they use their connections to exploit others), but instead the least talented and least advantaged members of society. So, in Atlas Shrugged, the bad guys try to exploit Rand’s heroes, but Rand makes it clear that the innocent poor are the ones that suffer the most as a result. If Rand were utterly unconcerned for the poor, or anyone else––as she is often taken to be––why would she do this? As a mere reductio or taunt? (Rand, in thick Russian accent: “I couldn’t care less if the poor starve. But I know you socialists dislike it.”)


All of the libertarians I’ve met believe that in a libertarian minimal state or anarchist society, markets and other institutions of civil society would make nearly everyone better off, the poor would not be left behind, and that there would be significant progress. I’m not here interested in discussing whether they’re right about these empirical claims. I’m just curious what role these beliefs play in their political philosophies, given that they explicitly disavow social justice.

So, suppose markets work the way libertarians think they do, and thus make everyone, including the poor, much better off. What import does this have for libertarians? Some options:

  1. It’s just a fun fact of no moral significance.
  2. It’s part of the justification for market society, but not a matter of justice. (If so, then what role does this play?)
  3. It’s a matter of justice that the institutions of the basic structure of society should provide for all, including the poor, and the best way to do that is through libertarian institutions.
  • Steve Horwitz

    I cannot agree more with the point about Rand. I’ve always argued that the most powerful scene in the book is the tunnel collapse PRECISELY because of its consequentialism! It shows that the real problem with the state is the set of negative consequences it produces for the innocent and most vulnerable. What ever Ol’ Ayn said about her work, it’s rhetorical power lay in just the things you’re talking about here.

  • Jay, you ask about #2 — “what role does this [that the poor do well] play?” For my part, it might provide a certain kind of confirmation or vindication that social arrangements that are just — not as a matter of some macro-level institutional property (as social justice views have it), but as implementing micro-level just relations between individuals across society — also are congruent with (and perhaps at least partially causally responsible for) outcomes that we have reason to seek and appreciate. That doesn’t make the outcomes themselves matters of justice, any more than the fact that such a society might also produce people who are well-educated makes it a matter of education. There are numerous close relationships such a fact might have to justice without itself even partially constituting what justice requires.

  • benjamin buchthal

    the way i see, libertarianism wants to find out one thing: what is the (!) best (most peaceful, most productive) order under which humanity (ALL human beings) can live and flourish?
    this already includes the idea that we want to find something that allows EVERYBODY to prosper – not just a few or a distinct group of people. this is the somewhat egalitarian basic assumption – we care about the happiness of each person to the same degree, no one is privileged or discriminated.
    ever since plato the concept of justice has been linked to questions of ORDER in society so that the rules of justice are simply those rules that establish or constitute this ideal order.
    for that matter justice already has an eye on the least well off insofar as it is the manifestation of a set of rules which generates the best overall outcome. there is simply no set of rules the introduction of which would end all poverty by tomorrow. but with a little understanding of economic knowledge and especially the insight that everybody in society benefits from massive capital accumulation (not only the “owners” of capital), we could/should all be able to accept the Humean rules of justice as principles which lead as fast as possible to social outcomes which no other “menu” of rules could compete with over a significant period of time.
    that being said – libertarianism per se looks at all individuals in society and justice being linked to a set of ideal rules with regard to social output is equally involved with the well being of ALL the people.

    introducing a new concept – lets call it social justice – and with it a rival set of regulative rules would thus only hurt the effectiveness and efficiency of the original set of rule (justice) providing society with an incoherent and systematically unsound system of rules which impairs social coordination processes and leads to a relative decrease in social output and wealth for all.

  • Your distinction re: Rand is a very useful one, but it’s lost on most of her readers.

    Forgive my cynicism, but I think it’s worth mentioning the fact that libertarianism has been appropriated as a philosophical cover for I’ve-got-mine tribalism.

    Look for self-identified libertarians all across this great internet (especially in the comments sections of mainstream media sites) and read the complaints about people on food stamps who have nice shoes, “moochers,” “parasites” and the rest.

    That sort of talk is usually followed with some statement to the effect that taxation is theft, specifically theft by government in order to keep the poor in new Nikes.

    These are tribalist concerns cloaked in Randian vocabulary.

    When a “libertarian” talks about poverty as some form of moral turpitude or government-sponsored vacation from responsibility, I tune out. When I hear a libertarian talk about how the poor may be poor because the institutions of the state and society make it hard to escape poverty, I have to listen.

  • Fernando R. Tesón

    I find that many egalitarian liberals simply ignore the economic theory and massive evidence showing that open markets help the poor. Some of the leading writers, such as Rawls, jump from the philosophical view that justice requires improving the worst-off to the institutional conclusion that this can only be achieved by forced transfer payments. This, of course, does not follow; it is a purely empirical issue. If one believes in social justice one has to be open-minded about the best institutions to achieve it, and not prejudge in favor of the welfare state. (By the way, I take this to be the central argument in Daniel Shapiro’s book; Guido Pincione and I discuss this fallacy in ours as well.)

  • Two issues, though I think TheOtherChuckD did a nice job with similar thoughts:

    1. You’re talking mostly about ivory tower libertarians who may indeed spend a lot of time trying to make the numbers work. But many of us were exposed in our undergrad days to what you might call the “frat-boy libertarian” — as long as my beer’s cold, I don’t really care about anything else. And they might even use Rand’s work to justify their right to urinate out a dorm window. (OK, maybe that’s just my dormmate from freshman year.) These “libertarians” grew up to become dishonest political operatives or simply the obnoxious Web commenters TheOtherChuckD describes.

    No, it’s not fair to judge every “libertarian” by these examples, but the “callous libertarian” is indeed out there.

    2. Trickle-down economic theory has taken quite a beating in the past few decades. The USA has one of the least progressive taxation systems in the West, and the gap between rich and poor is growing at a ridiculous rate. If the poor were still living comfortably, great, but the poor are in horrid schools and horrid neighborhoods. The solution may not be from government handouts — hence a lot of the interest in this new blog from people of diverse ideologies — but it’s not likely to come from an unfettered market. And what we typically hear from self-described libertarians is little more than denial of these facts.

    In short — there are a lot of scumbags out there calling themselves libertarians. They’re all too real.

  • Carleton Wu

    So, in Atlas Shrugged, the bad guys try to exploit Rand’s heroes, but Rand makes it clear that the innocent poor are the ones that suffer the most as a result. If Rand were utterly unconcerned for the poor, or anyone else––as she is often taken to be––why would she do this?

    This seems relatively obvious to me- *if* we start from the thesis that Rand & libertarianism are all about ‘gimme mine and fu’, then:
    1)It’s important that the lower social orders think that the wealthy are working to their benefit, even if this is not the case. A book where the privileged get theirs at the expense of the downtrodden is telegraphing to the downtrodden a bit too much.
    This sort of thing is common in many ideologies that are transparently exploitative. In fact, I don’t think I can name any governing ideologies which fail to claim that they help the masses.
    2)Also, psychology is important. People like to think that they’re helping others, and in my experience the selfish are no different. They just like to pretend that their selfishness is helping others.
    (Admittedly extreme) example: many abusive parents cloak their terrible motives as a desire to set a child straight.
    So a fictional story about how the selfish are really helping everyone out can certainly appeal to those who want to justify their selfishness.

    That isn’t to say “those things are true”, just that they’re not hard to come up with if one starts with a negative view of Rand and libertarianism.

    All of the libertarians I’ve met believe that in a libertarian minimal state or anarchist society, markets and other institutions of civil society would make nearly everyone better off, the poor would not be left behind, and that there would be significant progress

    For the sake of thoroughness- all of the libertarians you’ve met *claim* to believe this. I’m sure that a significant subset of them do. But this assumes good faith, which is something that those ideologically opposed to Rand are not likely to give- again, an important component of the understanding of other viewpoints that you’re seeking here.

  • Brian Bergfeld

    Great post. If I were a libertarian politician, I would be campaigning pretty hard on #2.

    The principles of libertarianism matter, but when you are selling a political philosophy to a broad range of people, it is important that it have good outcomes. Fortunately, libertarianism tends to have great outcome, including on social justice issues that tend to be the domain only of those who prefer state solutions. Why not attack issues of social justice head on and say “Hey, social justice is not a principle of my political philosophy, but it is an outcome of my political philosophy. So if you really care about the poor, then my system delivers the best results for you.”

  • Carleton Wu

    I find that many egalitarian liberals simply ignore the economic theory and massive evidence showing that open markets help the poor.

    I find that many people suffer from confirmation bias. 🙂

    I mean, I suspect we’ll find very few people in Brennan’s bucket no.3 (ie libertarians who are primarily libertarians bc it is best for the masses, and who would switch politico-economic allegiance if they changed their mind on that point).
    And if that’s the case, then we would have this puzzling outcome:
    1)people who (claim to) place the most value on helping the masses mostly chose systems that are suboptimal for this purpose
    2)people who (claim to) place the most value on the morality or practical efficiency of free markets mostly choose a system that fortuitously helps the poor the most as well

  • M

    Hans Herman-Hoppe was essentially expelled from academe for being callous, so there may be a selection effect here. Haidt of political psychology fame has a preponderance of evidence showing that libertarians claim to care less about the well-being of others than liberals or conservatives, although that of course does not necessarily give us a glimpse of their actions or inner experience.

    That aside, I would be very surprised to find that libertarians are in fact callous overall (although they may be comparatively moreso at the margin.) The intellectuals of every ideology have in general (and, I see no reason not to assume, sincerely) maintained that it’s for the benefit of everyone, including the explicitly inferior. (Nazism and other ethnic eliminationisms might be the exception here – or perhaps it isn’t one and their subsequent narrative role as villains has blinded us to the extent that they tried to portray themselves as good guys even from a humanitarian perspective.) So non-libertarians who accuse libertarians of being callous are just engaging in another universal feature of political rhetoric: assigning negative personal features to their opponents.

    (Assorted asides: 1. the US’ tax system is actually considerably more progressive (as distinct from the progressivity of its effect on post-tax income, which depends on magnitude) than those of larger welfare states. The same applies to the spending side. 2. somewhere on the internet right now there are socialists wondering “my, isn’t it odd that libertarians, who claim to primarily value freedom and who strawman us as not, actually support a system that undermines it?” you can of course say that as a matter of fact they’re wrong; but I assure you that the conversation is happening. 3. The main point of the fate of the poor in Atlas Shrugged isn’t to demonstrate the superior outcomes of capitalism, but the superior intelligence of capitalists. Rand, as a considerable minority of people of any political stripe are, was in fact callous (and her fame and influence may be why this is the second most common ad hom thrown at libertarians, after the related accusation of Asperger’s.))

  • M

    (And 4. the real paradox (at the level of intellectual commitment; certainly not at the level of political economy) is why liberals/social democrats and libertarians/liberals are spending more effort disagreeing with each other over the size of the welfare state than agreeing over open borders, since immigration restrictions are by far the most poor-trampling policy choice (both in terms of economic and non-economic welfare) that industrialized nations are making today.)

  • “If libertarians really believed that, then it would seem hard to explain why so many of them are preoccupied with showing how markets, under the right conditions, end poverty.”
    I’m a callous libertarian (I suppose I’m too much of a Stirnerite to be a true Scots^H^H^H^H^H libertarian). And I argue on similar grounds because other people aren’t. Other people aren’t going to embrace TGGP-egoism and arguments on that basis won’t fly, so I take a contractarian perspective of trying to make a deal with others (I also like Robin Hanson’s term “dealism”). Ultimately I’d like to achieve something like seasteading where there is an honest-to-goodness social contract not subject to the Lysander Spooner critique. I think that would a be a good setup for a lot of people, and I’m a person. I’m not influential enough to demand a setup particularly favorable to me and not others.

  • Jason Brennan


    It seems to me that libertarians take it for granted that borders need to be open. I once watched a prominent libertarian political philosopher scold some prominent Rawlsians on this very point.

  • Aeon J. Skoble

    Tastes great, less filling. Academic philosophers (including me) need to be concerned with justificational and foundational issues, so it matters in some contexts whether libertariansim is justified because “it’s morally best regardless of consequences” or “it’s best because it produces the best consequences,” but it’s certainly possible that it’s morally right and produces the best consequences. So we don’t have to choose. It helps the poor _and_ it’s the right thing to do. Interesting you brought up Atlas Shrugged; another example would be The Fountainhed: Keating is incapable of building the low-income housing project despite caring for the poor, but Roark is happy to do it as well as capable.

  • Dan Kervick

    Well, from my perspective over here on the egalitarian social democratic left, there are two very, very different kinds of libertarians, who share an adventitious partnership under one public policy umbrella, but who have very different philosophical orientations.

    There are libertarians who simply believe, to simplify matters, that “markets work”. Whenever there is some debate about social choices regarding the arrangement of our society’s economic institutions, these libertarians tend to go with the solution that employs the freest and most unregulated markets. They almost always prefer private enterprises to public enterprises, and market-set price mechanisms to deliberate policy agendas. And they disparage efforts to introduce any measure of social planning of outcomes or strategic public investment in long-term social goals. They tend to believe that government expenditures are almost always more wasteful and inefficient than some combination of private expenditures that could be substituted in their place.

    These are the kinds of libertarians with whom I can usually have a reasonably productive discussion, because there is a broad range of outcomes about whose desirability or undesirability they don’t always differ so widely from me. They just have different views on the best means to the ends. They are amenable, for the most part, to arguments from experience and empirical observation, even if there is some abstract mathematical model of the economy which grabs them. Sometimes I learn something from them; sometimes maybe they learn something from me.

    A very different kind of libertarian is all about the preciousness and autonomy and self-determining nature of the individual person, and the inherent evil of pretty much every form of coercion. They are fixated on property rights – and pre-positive, seemingly natural “rights” of all sorts. They seem to find onerous the very existence of sociality, and systems of mutual commitment, mutual obligation, and sanction-enforced legal regimes. To my way of looking at things, they tend to drastically overestimate the contribution their own productive efforts have made to the values of the items that happen to fall into their lap as their property. They seem to be in a perpetual state of anxiety about being absorbed into “collectives”. They lack what I would describe as “team spirit” when it comes to their political community or nation, and are inherently fearful of The Government, about which they can find almost nothing good to say, ever. Even a thoroughly democratic government organized on real and effective principles of one person, one vote and majority rule – if such a society could ever exist – seems to strike them as a hideous authoritarian tyranny.

    These are folks with whom I usually don’t find discussion very useful, since their libertarianism is grounded in deep emotional and moral-conceptual commitments that I just don’t share. By the way, some of the most extreme exemplars of this latter outlook are on the Chomskyan libertarian left: self-described “anarchists” or “libertarian socialists”. I confess I find their outlook on the world to be emotionally stunted, almost adolescent. And they irk me particularly, because I hold the rise of this version of so-called “socialism” during the period from the 60’s through the 90’s to be a key reason why there is now no effective political left in the United States.

    It always seemed to me that these two kinds of libertarian have much less in common than they, themselves, seem to believe, and that their self-application of the same label is a highly contingent historical fact reflecting a marriage of convenience around the support of free markets.

  • Mark

    “If libertarians really believed that, then it would seem hard to explain why so many of them are preoccupied with showing how markets, under the right conditions, end poverty.”

    No it wouldn’t! C’mon! Perhaps they’re not only callous, but also cynical, and therefore happy to assure people that their preferred policies are best for the poor, simply to convince more people to support those policies.

    I’m not saying that they *are*, but if “they aren’t callous” is the only explanation you can come up with for the fact “they claim not to be callous”, well, that’s not very imaginative of you.

    One thing I find really weird is how hard it is to get a natural-rights style libertarian to state that *even* if it turned out that radically free markets left some people much much worse off than they are in your typical first-world mixed economy, radically free markets would *still* be a moral imperative.

    Why is that? One explanation is that they are so thoroughly not callous that it actually pains them to consider the possibility that their preferred policies might hurt the poor. Another explanation is that they are quite callous, very aware of that fact, and unwilling to be tricked into admitting it.

  • I don’t take it for granted that borders need to be open (although admittedly I’m arguably not a libertarian). Ideally all property would be privately owned and then it would be the owners decision whether to let people in. I do think less sentimentally governed places like the Gulf States or Singapore are better able to handle large influxes of foreigners than, say, Sweden as described by Tino:
    I link to that post because it’s the latest, not because it’s more worth reading than his others on immigration.

  • Carleton Wu

    One thing I find really weird is how hard it is to get a natural-rights style libertarian to state that *even* if it turned out that radically free markets left some people much much worse off than they are in your typical first-world mixed economy, radically free markets would *still* be a moral imperative.

    People who are psychologically dependent on the fantasy of being held back by smaller men (“philosophy of capitalist inadequacy”) are IME the ones who refuse to accept a critique from either moral or practical grounds, and thus find themselves rejecting even hypotheticals involving flaws in one of those areas.
    Those who do not have a psychological dependency lack this defensive response. Again, IME.

  • Academic philosophers tend to think that self-described libertarians have the following view:

    Cartoon Libertarianism: Protect self-ownership and abide by Nozick’s entitlement theory, though the sky falls! (And many starve.)

    As I understand it, *some* libertarians do believe that, or something like it. Maybe they don’t think Nozick’s theory is exactly right, but they think there are strong limits on what it is morally permissible for the government to do that are independent of the consequences.

    Personally, I lean towards being a full-blown consequentialist, but I understand why most people aren’t and wouldn’t label a view a “cartoon” view just because it’s a non-consequentialist view.

    I would assume that the reasons that libertarians try to show libertarianism has good consequences are too fold:

    (1) Some libertarians are sincerely motived by consequentialist considerations.

    (2) People who’s view of an issue is driven by non-consequentialist considerations still tend to like to believe their view has good consequences. Cf. the PETA supporter who believes meat is murder, but likes believing not eating meat has good consequences.

  • Very interesting post and discussion. In my mind #2 is the right answer. A libertarian theory of justice doesn’t maximize wealth but is just about maximizing negative liberty. As for an egalitarian theory of justice the goal is to maximize equality regardless of wealth.
    If poor coditions have moral relevance it might be a subordinate moral relevance. Coeteris paribus (where coeteris paribus means: for the same level of negative liberty) we can set our institutions in order to alleviate those conditions.

    Agreed with Aeon Skoble when he says “it helps poor_and_it’s the right thing to do” where the production of best consequences has minor moral relevance and become valuable coeteris paribus.

  • LarryM

    I tend to agree with other that most libertarians are 1 or 2, or are in fact callous libertarians (there are more of those than the post admits).

    Those that do fall into category 3 end up as either Roderick Long type anarchists (imprecise term for him, but people who know his writings understand what I’m getting at), or as minarchists + safety net libertarians (of course a very respectable position held by many or even most of the key modern libertarian thinkers/writers).

    Why? I think it’s REALLY hard to credibly argue that a minarchy sans safety net is the optimum set up from the point of view of the poor. You support a minarchy sans safety net either (a) if you are a callous libertarian, or … well, I was going to say (b) a strict rights libertarian, but honestly I have always had a tough time seeing how a strict rights libertarian can support even a minimal state. I mean, I understand the argument (just enough state to allow rights enforcement), but I think that that is ultimately a consequentialist argument.

    Of course, people still try to argue that minarchy without a safety net will be better for the poor. I think these arguments tend to end up being pretty cynical and dishonest (especially when contrasted with a minarchy plus safety net option, as opposed to the status quo).

  • NathanP

    I thought of a number of points I’d like to raise, but most of it was already brought up in the discussion thread that has already developed. (I’m impressed with the quality of discussion in the comments to this post.) One thing seems to have been missed by all, though. It’s a minor point but it deserves to be noted. Even if the majority of libertarians were found to be callous, that would not in and of itself mean the philosophy was bad. Callousness can serve as a memetic immunization that protects people from emotional propaganda. It is a negative trait in the majority of circumstances, but by no means all circumstances, and I am of the opinion that callous people can contribute positively to our culture.

    Not every hard-hearted person is a secret sociopath. Emotionally blunted is not the same as lacking emotions. It’s not even the same as cynical. People of strong principles can have roughened personalities too.

    Also, personally, I’m a libertarian on consequentialist grounds. I do believe that the non-initiation of force is a moral value. But the things that really make me a firm libertarian are the causes of human immortality and prosperity. I believe that statism will doom individual humans to needless, immature deaths after grinding lives of poverty. I believe by contrast that an unhindered market will both raise people out of poverty and that it will value healthcare far more than any government. This will bring with it a distinct increase in the human lifespans.

    Immortality is the greater of these two causes to me, though I don’t think they’re so easily separated. Without material abundance, it’s hard to fund research to the degree that we need, and the benefits of success would only accrue to those in power. Advocating a philosophy that entwines the causes of prosperity and immortality seems the most efficient way (to me) of bringing the greatest lifespan to the greatest number.

  • Brad P.

    The morality of free association and non-aggression is unassailable whether or not it makes the poor better off.

    However, critics of libertarians correctly point to the centralizations of wealth lead to gray areas where people are not necessarily victims of aggression, but aren’t exactly freely associating either. So, since they believe that libertarian prescriptions for free markets leads to such wealth centralization, they also necessarily take libertarianism to be an absurd self-refuting philosophy.

    When you consider that libertarians take the opposite approach to modern liberalism, that government attempts at maintain equality ultimately results in advantageous positions for politically connected individuals, (and the fact that liberal arguments usually revolve around explain why the market deviates from their personal preferences) it is easy to see why liberals might be inclined to lump all libertarians in to the callous category.

  • Joe

    “If libertarians really believed that, then it would seem hard to explain why so many of them are preoccupied with showing how markets, under the right conditions, end poverty.”

    With the point that I’m not generalizing to all libertarians, I don’t find it particularly hard to see why a hard-right libertarian would work that angle with a vengeance. Its the “know your audience” principle.

    Every political group has a strong incentive to recruit others. But the vast majority of people are not disposed to being hard-right libertarians. When you propose eliminating welfare, they may support you as regards the “unworthy poor,” but they don’t want to leave the “worthy poor” out in the cold. The argument that libertarianism solves poverty cuts off that objection without having to make politically unpalatable arguments.

    I’m not claiming this is just a libertarian phenomenon. Modern conservatives want to cut taxes, but they don’t want to trumpet spending cuts that would be needed. And so there are 10,000 think tanks devoted to proving that tax cuts increase government revenues. Pacifist liberals want to minimize our involvement in foreign wars and stop us from using torture on moral grounds, but they know its unlikely to beat out an argument about the dangerous foreign threat. And so they are very vocal that their policies reduce terrorism.

  • DK

    I am more or less a libertarian, and of course I can only speak for myself, but when I think or speak about the plight of the poor, it is far more than a “taunt” aimed at some perceived soft spot in my audience. It is my opinion — and I believe the evidence overwhelmingly supports it — that statist welfare policies designed to help the poor do the exact opposite by incentivizing things that lead to more poverty. I believe that in many cases, even private charitable organizations just end up incentivizing things that lead to more poverty. When one person helps another out of love and kindness, it can be transformative for both parties, and can be one of the most powerful things in the world. But organizational attempts to address systemic problems through alms and relief funds and transfer payments and such just seem to make the problems worse, more often than not.

  • Carleton Wu

    DK- this is kind of the point: you go through your statement without saying whether you prefer libertarianism because it has superior outcomes (for everyone, or for the poor, or whatever) or because you think it’s morally superior. I doubt anyone here actually wants to debate the proposition that libertarianism helps the poor, that’s been done to death more times that I can count.
    The question is: if you became convinced that libertarianism wasn’t the best deal for the poor, would you still support it for other reasons? Would your support be less strong? Would you want to modify your positions at all to account for this change?

  • Joe

    DK – Carleton got most of my point on this.

    I’m not saying that people who raise any of the arguments I mentioned necessarily do so in bad faith or that they are “taunting” people.

    What I am saying is that when you have a strong ideological belief, you naturally resist challenges to it by gaming your own assumptions and coming up with beneficial side effects.

    To put it another way, there are a ton of people looking to cut taxes that have concluded it raises revenue, but there are very few people looking to raise revenue that have concluded they should cut taxes.

    Likewise, I’ve met many libertarians that are convinced that their reforms would end poverty, but I haven’t met anyone studying poverty who came to the conclusion that libertarian solutions worked best across the board (though occasionally they would agree on a program or 3).

  • DK

    It’s hard for me to answer that, because my moral framework has changed so much since I embraced libertarianism. I became a libertarian as an anti-establishment secular humanist while in college, I remain a libertarian as a Christian father of two. The libertarian thought I am drawn to most is economic, i.e., primarily consequentialist; and I have to say Ayn Rand mostly repulses me. However, the thing that has remained most constant throughout my libertarian journey, as it were, is a deep distrust of the urge to power, which of course goes right to the heart of “moral” libertarianism. I honstly don’t know, I am trying to be as honest as I can here, the confirmation bias thing comes into play, I am sure, but it feels like there is more cohesiveness to it than that.

    I’m starting to wonder if maybe ALL libertarianism isn’t ultimately consequentialist. I’ve probably made a statement like, “Freedom/Liberty is a moral good in its own right”, and earnestly believed it, hundreds of times. But as I think about it right now, I’m not sure it’s true. Freedom is essentially a nullity, it’s just the absence of a coercive authority. Or, put another way, there is no positive value to negative liberty. But freedom as nullity operates in opposition to a dark moral force, namely the urge to power, and for that it is quite useful. Maybe that’s just restating deontological libertarianism, but I suspect that deep down for me it is really about outcomes — people controlling each other coercively leads to misery. Not so much at the micro level (I can’t say that with every piece of policy on every issue, the “libertarian solution” will always necessarily result in the greatest good), but on the macro level, yes. And that micro/macro distinction might just be how we distinguish pragmatism from ideology. In any case, if there’s something in all this I positively believe in, perhaps it is in the sufficiency and capability of free people to solve their individual and collective problems.

    Or perhaps rather than ramble, I might have just said, “I’m not sure there’s such a clear line to be drawn between an outcomes justification and a morality justification.”

  • Tibor R. Machan

    If confess(?): I am mainly concerned with securing for all their basic individual rights, leaving it to them to decide how they will exercise these. Some may insist on using their lives and resources to create and build, some to have new experiences, some to support their children, some to do a mixture of all this and some. One size does not fit all. And it is secure property rights that make the choice as to what one will do with one’s life and resources safe from intruders, meddlers, regimentation, etc. So, I am a proud to be “fixated on property rights” since it is these rights that are the most enabling legal devices for us all, regardless of the particular peaceful objectives we choose to pursue. Disparaging these rights contributes to efforts to restrict the freedom to choose whether the choices are conventionally admirable or not. And that is clearly political malpractice.

  • xsvlmt

    So, suppose markets work the way libertarians think they do, and thus make everyone, including the poor, much better off. What import does this have for libertarians?

    As a libertarian, then I can be charitable. What the State takes from me by force is not and cannot be charity. And I despise that some third-party selected by some second-party decides the fourth party (statistically someone else in the middle class) that gets the money that’s taken from me.

    I believe that if that money were not taken from me by force then I could use it to aid those much more deserving than the current recipients.

  • Beth Haynes

    “So, suppose markets work the way libertarians think they do, and thus make everyone, including the poor, much better off. What import does this have for libertarians?”

    4. It’s a manifestation of the fact that the moral is the practical. Create a political structure that is aligned with man’s nature and his requirements for flourishing–protection of individual rights to life, (negative) liberty and property– and he will flourish. If the evidence showed that political and economic freedom did not lead to greater prosperity for all levels of society, then one’s premises would need to be re-evaluated.

    Far from being callous, equal protection of (negative)individual liberties is the root of community and compassion. The difference principle supports turning some into the unwilling means of another’s ends–a result which is not compassionate, nor does it promote community or good will.