I wouldn’t have written such a self-centered post but for the fact that Matt listed me as the main exemplar of contingent (“weak”) BHL –the view that support for libertarian institutions is only contingently related to their effect on the poor and vulnerable. I can understand why Matt portrayed my views as such, but I think the portrayal is inaccurate.
I start with the premise, noted by David Sobel in his comment to Matt’s post, that surely no political philosophy cares only about the poor and the vulnerable. Many of these discussions (no doubt under the influence of Rawls) give the impression that all that matters is how political arrangements affect society’s worst-off. In my view at least, institutions should be arranged to allow everyone to pursue their personal projects, and libertarian institutions do the best job at achieving this goal relative to alternative arrangements. By “libertarian institutions” I mean here institutions that allow all kinds of mutually beneficial arrangements, which include exchanges in private markets and government-induced correction of market failures, along with constitutional constraints on the power of government to avoid government failure.
Now I also believe that libertarian institutions help the poor as a class. This is part of what I said above about the market doing the best job at enabling personal projects: in a libertarian society the poor improve their chances of flourishing, assuming the truth of standard economic theory. My position reads something like this: “I support libertarian institutions because I believe that they enable everyone, including the poor, to pursue their personal projects.” The normative premise is that persons should be allowed to pursue their projects; the empirical premise is that the market enables persons to do this better than feasible alternative arrangements.
Suppose, for the moment, that the empirical premise is true. Do I support libertarian institutions for contingent reasons? Well, yes, if by that one means that I take into account reliable social theory in my evaluation of institutions. But I don’t think anyone is entitled to support institutions using only non-contingent reasons (as G.A. Cohen points out, one is entitled to support a non-contingent principle of justice, but not a non-contingent rule of social regulation, an institution.) So the poor figure in my justification of libertarian institutions as a subset of those whose personal projects are enhanced by those institutions. This means that part of the reason for my justification of libertarianism is that libertarian arrangements benefit the poor. To deny that the poor do not figure in the justification implies the (to me implausible) view that justice should care only about a subset of persons to whom those institutions apply.
Now suppose that someone asks the question that worries Matt: would you support libertarian institutions if they worsened (or failed to improve) the chances of a significant subset of persons to pursue their personal projects? The answer is no. Those institutions (in that hypothetical world governed by different laws of economics) would fail my test. It is true, then, that the laws of economics play a crucial role in my defense of libertarian institutions. It is false, however, that I would support those institutions if they harmed the poor and vulnerable. I don’t know if that is enough to put me in Matt’s category 3.
This idea can be expanded in a number of directions, some of which would show my disagreements with left-wing liberals. The most important of these is my rejection of the luck-egalitarian principle according to which the talented don’t deserve their gifts and for that reason must compensate others. But I think this is enough for now.