Over the weekend, my good friend Pete Boettke wondered why it was necessary for us to call ourselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” when the whole history of classical liberalism (from Smith forward) is full of thinkers who clearly cared about, for example, the condition of the least well-off.  My response was that “yes, that might be true, but most observers of libertarianism don’t know that, and too many ‘true believers’ talk about libertarianism as if it’s all about self-interest to the exclusion of other values.”  In response, Pete gave me the same eyeroll he’s been giving me for more than 25 years.

As if on cue, we get Jeff Sachs writing about libertarianism this weekend and saying:

Yet the error of libertarianism lies not in championing liberty, but in championing liberty to the exclusion of all other values. Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — all are to take a back seat.

Well Pete, there you go.  Jeff Sachs is a smart guy, right?  Look at what he thinks libertarianism is.  This is exactly why we need to put an adjective in front of what we’re saying and doing, precisely so that we can remind even smart guys from the Ivy League that this is not what libertarianism means.

And now, for Dr. Sachs:  you’re wrong.  At least bleeding heart libertarians (and I think many though not all libertarians-without-adjectives) do not believe those other values are substitutes for liberty but rather complements.  We believe in liberty because we think liberty not only improves the condition of the poor, weak, and vulnerable, but because a free society is more likely to be one in which all of those other virtues are practiced in a serious and meaningful way (see: McCloskey, Deirdre).

Furthermore, if the alternative is the use of the state or other forms of coercion to achieve a society that better cares for the poor, weak, and vulnerable, Professor Sachs cannot just assert that a society with less liberty will produce more of the other values, he’s going to have to show it.  It’s not at all clear to me that the welfare state, for example, has in fact improved the lives of the poor, weak, and vulnerable, nor that it and other forms of state intervention have served the causes of compassion, honesty, etc..  If we’ve learned anything, it’s that government and the political process are hardly the homes of such virtues, while it is the private sector and civil society in which they seem to flourish.

Take a typical urban housing project, in which liberty has been traded off for all kinds of often well-intentioned attempts to achieve other values and care for the least well-off.  When we look at its ratty government-funded apartments, ineffective welfare state support systems, human capital destroying public schools, racist drug war battle zones, and labor markets full of job-destroying minimum wage and occupational licensure laws, we certainly do not see a place in which the “poor, weak, and vulnerable” have seen real improvement in their lives or in which the virtues that are supposedly opposed to liberty are on display.  This, despite decades of doing exactly what Sachs says libertarians won’t but should:  giving up liberty in the name of other values.  How’s that working our for you and those poor folks Professor Sachs?

Denying liberty seems to, empirically, undermine the very virtues and concerns that Sachs sees as opposed to liberty.  That said, we still bear the burden of showing that liberty is not an alternative to a humane and virtuous society, but the means to that end.  Until we have, and until even Ivy League smarties like Sachs recognize that libertarians do not see more liberty trading off against those values, I will continue to annoy my good friend Pete by using the phrase “bleeding heart libertarian.”

Thank you Professor Sachs for the reminder of why.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19002050 Jameson Graber

    That whole article by Sachs was a  big straw man argument.

    • Damien S.

       It seemed spot on to me.

    • Anonymous

      Tyical liberal non-response.

    • http://www.facebook.com/c5c5c5 Cari Beth Lucas

      Jameson,

      You are correct. Not only is it a non-sequitor as Dr Horwitz described, it also is one gigantic strawman.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rjvg50 Kirk Holden

    When I talk to Libertarians I get a pretty stiff doze of the Fountainhead. 

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

      What’s the Fountainhead?? I’m a card-carrying Libertarian and I have no idea of what you’re talking about.

      • Anonymous

        Rand novel – an earlier version of Atlas Shrugged.

        I get what Kirk is saying and I think it reinforces Steve’s point. It’s like they never learned that one can make great arguments for liberty and still make arguments for a good social structure that includes social support mechanisms that are consistent with liberty.

        I’m reminded of a line from a song “and liberty just mean the freedom to exploit any weakness we can find” (or close). Let’s not continue sending that message unless that’s really what one believes and then maybe find an adjective of your own.

  • Damien S.

    Serendipity: today I learned about Krueger’s Great Gatsby curve, suggesting that income-inequal societies are class societies, with low intergenerational social mobility.
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/the-great-gatsby-curve/
    Does this have any implications for BHL?
    Or the top of the world quality of Finland public education, where private schools aren’t even allowed?

    I’d agree that public housing projects, at least as implemented in the US have been a failure (don’t much of Hong Kong and Singapore live in public housing?) , but  there’s no liberal commitment to such projects; if housing vouchers or general income support work better, we can switch to those.  I’ve yet to see libertarians wrestle fairly with the success of non-US public schools or health care systems.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

      I haven’t read many libertarian articles/books on education, so I can’t cite anything. But I will offer my opinion. I don’t see why libertarians should have to “wrestle” with the “success” of non-US public schools. I have no doubt that there are public schools right here in the good ol’ US that perform spectacularly; no need to look abroad. But just because they are “successful” in terms of test scores (or whatever criteria you prefer), doesn’t mean they are efficient. I use the word efficient in terms of subjective cost to the individual forced to pay the taxes to support them. Of course, inner-city schools in the US are a disaster. I have first-hand experience. Do you think the Scandanavian model can easily be grafted upon the US? If not, then you have much to wrestle with yourself.  

    • http://secondarygeneralist.com MikeRussellMcK

      It isn’t quite true that Finland doesn’t allow private schools, but – more importantly – they do allow school choice. My understanding is that any Finn parent can choose to send their child to virtually any Finnish public school. Try that in the United States without moving. They’ll send you to jail (for an example google Kelley Williams-Bolar).

      I would argue that – even with state-supplied schools – the Finnish system is more free, since Finnish parents have the right to remove their children from ineffective schools. In many, many ways the Finnish system is more neo-liberal (and arguably more in line with Libertarian ideas) than the American system. Sachs is right in saying that the simplistic explanations are often wrong – although it is funny reading that from Jeff Sachs.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for these further enlightening facts.

      • http://traditionalliberalism.blogspot.com/ classicalliberal

        There are pros and cons when comparing Finnish and American school systems. You have provided some good insight on that.

        I would add that Sweeden has some good traits since they enacted their reforms. They have added non-profit and for-profit schools to compete with State schools. 

        Summary:
         For-profit schools benefit students from all socio-economic backgrounds, but they produce the largest benefits for students from less privileged backgrounds.• School competition in Sweden has increased levels of educational achievement.• Free schools enjoy higher levels of parental satisfaction than government schools.• Competition from free schools has improved conditions for teachers.• The profit motive provides strong incentives for entrepreneurs to enter the schools market and to expand their businesses. Banning for-profit schools risks dramatically reducing the number of free schools that are created, thereby limiting the benefits of competitio

        http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Schooling%20for%20money%20-%20web%20version_0.pdf 

      • http://traditionalliberalism.blogspot.com/ classicalliberal

        There are pros and cons when comparing Finnish and American school systems. You have provided some good insight on that.

        I would add that Sweeden has some good traits since they enacted their reforms. They have added non-profit and for-profit schools to compete with State schools. 

        Summary:
         For-profit schools benefit students from all socio-economic backgrounds, but they produce the largest benefits for students from less privileged backgrounds.• School competition in Sweden has increased levels of educational achievement.• Free schools enjoy higher levels of parental satisfaction than government schools.• Competition from free schools has improved conditions for teachers.• The profit motive provides strong incentives for entrepreneurs to enter the schools market and to expand their businesses. Banning for-profit schools risks dramatically reducing the number of free schools that are created, thereby limiting the benefits of competitio

        http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Schooling%20for%20money%20-%20web%20version_0.pdf 

      • http://traditionalliberalism.blogspot.com/ classicalliberal

        There are pros and cons when comparing Finnish and American school systems. You have provided some good insight on that.

        I would add that Sweden has some good traits since they enacted their reforms. They have added non-profit and for-profit schools to compete with State schools. If governments are going to fund education (like the vouchers system) for everyone, I would argue that this kind of diversity in choice is freer than Finland and America.

        Summary from a study by the IEA:
         For-profit schools benefit students from all socio-economic backgrounds, but they produce the largest benefits for students from less privileged backgrounds.- School competition in Sweden has increased levels of educational achievement.-Free schools enjoy higher levels of parental satisfaction than government schools.-Competition from free schools has improved conditions for teachers.-The profit motive provides strong incentives for entrepreneurs to enter the schools market and to expand their businesses. Banning for-profit schools risks dramatically reducing the number of free schools that are created, thereby limiting the benefits of competition.

        http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Schooling%20for%20money%20-%20web%20version_0.pdf 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t begrudge you the adjective, but another reason to clarify as much as possible (a point that I think would be obvious) is that classical liberalism and libertarianism are not synonymous. You all aren’t the only ones that claim the classical liberal tradition.

    I was surprised about the backlash to the Sachs article. I thought it was quite fair as pieces on libertarians go.

    This has only further convinced me that libertarians will never be happy with any explanation of libertarianism written by any non-libertarian, and they won’t be happy with probably 50% of the explanations of libertarianism by libertarians.

    • gaffigubbi88

      “This has only further convinced me that libertarians will never be happy
      with any explanation of libertarianism written by any non-libertarian,
      and they won’t be happy with probably 50% of the explanations of
      libertarianism by libertarians.”

      Probably true. I consider myself a libertarian on some level, but I recognize some of the absurdities some varieties of libertarianism (particularly those heavy on formal property rights and the sanctity of contract) seem to logically lead to. Then when a non-libertarian points out those absurdities, I say “But that’s not MY kind of libertarianism!”, even when I fully well know that prominent libertarians like Walter Block would fully embrace them.

      I still cling to the label, because I can’t call myself a liberal (in the modern sense) or progressive anymore, and I’m not fully comfortable with socialist, anarchist or conservative either (although all of these do have several definitions). Libertarian, despite the presence of doctrinaire propertarians who believe in things like voluntary slavery, seems alright to me. Liberty is nice.

      • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

         If you own yourself, why can’t you sell yourself? That’s how a number of white people got over here from Europe. It was called indentured servitude; another name for time-limited slavery. In many respects, a job is slavery. You sell 8 hours of your day, and the boss gets to control much of what you do during that period.

        I think you’re trying to say that voluntary slavery is absurd because that’s where the logic leads you. But the logic that goes there also goes to indentured servitude and employment. Are you going to argue that people shouldn’t be allowed (or shouldn’t choose to) sell their time for money? It might be a logical consequence of prohibiting voluntary slavery, but you’re going to convince many people of the surdity of your logic. (surely surdity is the opposite of absurdity, isn’t it??)

        • gaffigubbi88

          Well, in a free and prosperous economy I could see the logic of enforcing “slavery” contracts between people who completely consent to it (other one isn’t, for example, a dirt-poor immigrant forced by consequences into it), and certainly I hope most people wouldn’ be stupid enough to do so. But there is no way such contracts in today’s world and economical disparities are desirable.

          It’s the same reason I’m against sweatshops. I know it’s a superficially consensual agreement, but in reality big corporations get their oppressive status by rent seeking in the third world. I’m not a paternalist who thinks the first response should be to ban such agreements, but I am pointing out that they are at least symptoms of greater problems.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

            ” … but I am pointing out that they are at least symptoms of greater problems.”

            Yes, and the “greater problem” is again tied to income taxation, both the lack of understanding of U.S. income tax evolution (even by IRS agents and tax attorneys), as well as to insufficient enforcement.

            The fact is that U.S. corporations are getting away with murder (even as they push for lower corporate tax rates and try to convince us that lower rates will result in more jobs) because most corporations should be paying 3 different income taxes, not one.

            In addition to the tax on the privilege of running a business in the corporate capacity, corporate “legal persons” should also be paying: (1) a currency regulation tax, like us “natural persons” have been doing since the New Deal era; and (2) a tax on “income derived from property sources,” depending on the extent to which they have extracted natural resources from the earth.

    • gaffigubbi88

      *double post

      • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

         *double reply.

    • Anonymous

      I have a challenge on my blog: http://factsandotherstubbornthings.blogspot.com/2012/01/more-on-sachs-article-and-request-to.html

      To provide a definition of libertarianism that includes most libertarians but doesn’t include me. I don’t think such a definition is possible unless it sounds something like Jeff Sachs’s definition. In the next post, I share a few previous attempts at a definition – some less impressive than others (http://factsandotherstubbornthings.blogspot.com/2012/01/definitions-of-libertarianism-contd.html). The most useful definition I found, by Nigel Ashford, is a tenfold definition. I match all his qualifications except for one, and the one qualification for being a libertarian that I don’t match is the exact one that Sachs points out that Steve is so upset with here: the prioritization of liberty over other political values.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

        We don’t need definitions; we need arguments. Some libertarians, like Jan Lester (Escape From Leviathan) argue that libertarianism is the absence of proactive impositions. He is an anarchist. Are you an anarchist? Or do you favor democracy? If so, you don’t mind proactive impositions. See his articles defending his thesis on the Libertarian Alliance. Here is a video:  http://vimeo.com/11824242

      • Steven Horwitz

        Sorry Daniel, but once again your apparent refusal to take seriously the plain text in front of your face is why I will not respond to your challenge. 

        “Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in
        the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic
        responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival
        of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — all are to take a back seat.”

        What the hell else can Sachs mean by this OTHER than that libertarians would prefer to be “free” no matter what happens to the poor, weak and vulnerable, and no matter how uncompassionate, unjust, irresponsible, dishonest, indecent, arrogant, and disrespectful the free world is?

        “ALL ARE TO TAKE A BACK SEAT”  Seriously, what else can he mean?  He’s not talking about marginal tradeoffs, he’s claiming libertarians prefer a corner solution. 

        Aside from the ignorance of the claim by generations of libertarians that this is NOT a tradeoff, it’s just downright offensive to think we are that monstrous that we would prefer a “free” but nasty world in the way he suggests we do.

        Just like your readings of Keynes and the Keynesians, you are a linguistic contortionist of world-class skills and I’m just not interested in that game.

        • Gordon Graham

          Steven,
          Precisely. Apparently, Mr. Suchs doesn’t know the difference between libertine and libertarian. I was going to say that his remarks are childish, but at least children are curious! Mr. Suchs’ mind appears to be well and truly closed.As a non-sociopathic libertarian, I am highly interested in this blog. I own and operate a 40-unit rooming house hotel in Victoria, BC. The tenants tell me that I am the kindest, most generous person they have ever met. I go above and beyond the call of duty all day long to not only provide, safe, clean and affordable housing but to instill a sense of family in the hotel. The majority of the guys in the hotel have no one. They all have various forms of mental illness and addiction problems. The next step down is the street. Essentially, I have 40 sons, and enough heart-warming stories to fill a book. In my experience, liberal ideologues such as Mr. Suchs, and the poverty industry in general, are theoretically empathetic and usually extremely territorial with their “poor, weak and vulnerable.” For these reasons, roughly, I’m not so keen on the “bleeding heart” label. To have a bleeding heart is not a virtue, IMO. To wit, perhaps – please see Runaway Slave (http://www.runawayslavemovie.com/site/). “Thinking heart” might be better. Overall, do-gooders cause no end of misery, mostly because people attracted to helping others do so to satisfy some personal need, which typically renders them useless in actually providing genuine help. I have seen countless cases in which the social worker gets so involved with the subject’s problems that they need help! It is a huge self-selection problem.Doing good is not the same as feeling good! Do-goodery ain’t easy!Sorry for the grandstanding, and the rant, but comments like Mr. Suchs’ do start to grate after awhile. One of our daughters is at McGill and she will attend your Economics Mythbusting seminar on Jan 28. Thank you!Gordon Graham

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

      It’s easy to exclude you from a definition of libertarians: Libertarians believe that every value worth defending extends from liberty, and that if you give up liberty, you give up ALL other values.

  • Damien S.

    ratty government-funded apartments: true

    ineffective welfare state support
    systems: ineffective how?  People get money, and spend it on food and utilities.

    human capital destroying public schools: some are.  Yet other public schools, even in the US, are top in the nation, that people spend extra on housing to be able to send their children too.

    racist drug war battle zones: true, but not all uses of the government are related to the “welfare state”. Who’s more likely to be an ally in ending the drug war, a welfare state Democrat or a tax-cutting Republican?

    labor markets full of job-destroying minimum wage and
    occupational licensure laws: real world evidence on this seems mixed at best.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

      People get my money and spend it on food and utilities. Some are worthy of my help; some are not. It’s quite easy to get food stamps on the black market. Why would a needy person sell them?

      • Anonymous

        I find your reply demonstrates Adam’s point below. Is your objection to the welfare state moral or that it is not efficient (money goes to people who don’t need it). If the latter, then you delve into an area where the answer could be argued is in making it more efficient by more state interference and surveillance in peoples’ lives to find out who is truly needy and who is not.

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

       If you doubt that minimum wages destroy jobs, then explain why the least-qualified workers and minority workers and the least-qualified minority workers suffer the most unemployment. In the absence of a minimum wage, these workers get paid less. Now, the *marginal* unemployment caused by a minimum wage increase is extremely difficult to discern from all the other causes of changes in unemployment because minimum wages are never increased by much. If you want to see serious increases in unemployment, double the minimum wage. Funny, but progressives never want to do that.

    • Anonymous

      Damien,
      When Presoident Clinton signed the welfare reforms act in 1996, he said this: “A long time ago, I concluded that that the current welfare system undermines the basic value of work, responsibility, and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help.” This statement reflected a great deal of social science research, starting with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous memo to LBJ back in the mid-’60s.

      As for the minimum wage, what part of “if you charge more for something, poeple will buy less of it” (including inexperienced and unskilled labor) do you not understand? Since you are so fond of resorting to the authority of “mainstream economists,” surely you recognize that the overwhelming weight of such opinion is against the minimum wage, right?

      Since we are on the subject of whose heart really bleeds for the poor, let me quote Milton and Rose Friedman from Free to Choose (p.238), written more than 30 years ago:

      We regard the minimum wage rate as one of the most, if not the most, antiblack loaws on the statute books. The government first provides schools in which many young people, disproportionately black, are educated so poorly that they do not have the skills that would enable them to get good wages. It then penalizes them a second time by preventing them from offering to work for low wages as a means of inducing employees to give them on-the-job training. All this in the name of helping the poor.”

      • Damien S.

        I agree that standard economic logic says a minimum wage should reduce jobs, and that it would seem a poorly aimed poverty-reduction measure compared ot simply giving poor people money (as advocated by Milton Friedman).  I also know that people have tried to study the actual effect, and not found clear support in real world situations.  A possible complication is that higher income to that class gets spent largely on goods provided by labor from that class, thus raising the aggregate demand and equilibrium supply of such jobs.  At any rate, evidence trumps theory.

        Standard welfare had flaws, but I don’t think Clinton’s reform worked well either, and it’s not like a moderate Demorat is some liberal guru.

        As for your Friedman quote, it contains a basic philosophical error.

    • Anonymous

      Damien,
      When Presoident Clinton signed the welfare reforms act in 1996, he said this: “A long time ago, I concluded that that the current welfare system undermines the basic value of work, responsibility, and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help.” This statement reflected a great deal of social science research, starting with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous memo to LBJ back in the mid-’60s.

      As for the minimum wage, what part of “if you charge more for something, poeple will buy less of it” (including inexperienced and unskilled labor) do you not understand? Since you are so fond of resorting to the authority of “mainstream economists,” surely you recognize that the overwhelming weight of such opinion is against the minimum wage, right?

      Since we are on the subject of whose heart really bleeds for the poor, let me quote Milton and Rose Friedman from Free to Choose (p.238), written more than 30 years ago:

      We regard the minimum wage rate as one of the most, if not the most, antiblack loaws on the statute books. The government first provides schools in which many young people, disproportionately black, are educated so poorly that they do not have the skills that would enable them to get good wages. It then penalizes them a second time by preventing them from offering to work for low wages as a means of inducing employees to give them on-the-job training. All this in the name of helping the poor.”

    • Anonymous

      Damien,
      When Presoident Clinton signed the welfare reforms act in 1996, he said this: “A long time ago, I concluded that that the current welfare system undermines the basic value of work, responsibility, and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help.” This statement reflected a great deal of social science research, starting with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous memo to LBJ back in the mid-’60s.

      As for the minimum wage, what part of “if you charge more for something, poeple will buy less of it” (including inexperienced and unskilled labor) do you not understand? Since you are so fond of resorting to the authority of “mainstream economists,” surely you recognize that the overwhelming weight of such opinion is against the minimum wage, right?

      Since we are on the subject of whose heart really bleeds for the poor, let me quote Milton and Rose Friedman from Free to Choose (p.238), written more than 30 years ago:

      We regard the minimum wage rate as one of the most, if not the most, antiblack loaws on the statute books. The government first provides schools in which many young people, disproportionately black, are educated so poorly that they do not have the skills that would enable them to get good wages. It then penalizes them a second time by preventing them from offering to work for low wages as a means of inducing employees to give them on-the-job training. All this in the name of helping the poor.”

    • Anonymous

      Damien,
      When Presoident Clinton signed the welfare reforms act in 1996, he said this: “A long time ago, I concluded that that the current welfare system undermines the basic value of work, responsibility, and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help.” This statement reflected a great deal of social science research, starting with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous memo to LBJ back in the mid-’60s.

      As for the minimum wage, what part of “if you charge more for something, poeple will buy less of it” (including inexperienced and unskilled labor) do you not understand? Since you are so fond of resorting to the authority of “mainstream economists,” surely you recognize that the overwhelming weight of such opinion is against the minimum wage, right?

      Since we are on the subject of whose heart really bleeds for the poor, let me quote Milton and Rose Friedman from Free to Choose (p.238), written more than 30 years ago:

      We regard the minimum wage rate as one of the most, if not the most, antiblack loaws on the statute books. The government first provides schools in which many young people, disproportionately black, are educated so poorly that they do not have the skills that would enable them to get good wages. It then penalizes them a second time by preventing them from offering to work for low wages as a means of inducing employees to give them on-the-job training. All this in the name of helping the poor.

    • Anonymous

      It’s an ineffective welfare state system because it results in increasing concentrations of those needing assistance in urban areas which then drive up demand for low income housing which cannot be provide in the local urban area easily. It also provide the support in a way that requires one to learn skills about getting the support by using the bureaucratic system rather than helping the recipient develop/improve the skills that would help their success.

      While it’s true that most people get support short term, getting over the stumble they experiences, and then move on. There’s clearly also a core that seems to remain and grow — and I suspect we also can find something of revolving door case where some subgroup is in and out of the system frequently over a long period of time.

      I think the ineffective aspect is the enculturation process that is leading some to lives of dependency and not lives of independence.

  • Haytham Yaghi

    I might be as limited in view here as Jeffrey Sachs, but I feel that a lot of libertarians only acknowledge oppression or suffering as long as is it directly related to state actions. If oppression were to take place in more complicated ways, and where a “free” market is involved, they try to downplay it or plain ignore it. Maybe by pointing out free market problems, they worry that someone might involve the state in the solution.

    For example most (all?) libertarians acknowledge the racism of the drug war, because it can be directly tied to the actions of the state. However I’ve met lots of libertarians who refuse to see a problem with the fact that African Americans earn less than Caucasians, or that women earn less than men, or that homosexuals are socially outcast in some instances, just because these seem to be more complicated problems that are not caused (solely) by the state in an obvious way.

    Where do Bleeding heart libertarians or classical libertarians stand on these issues?

    • http://twitter.com/picinicant chris

      Well I agree that libertarians ought to focus on more than just ‘liberty’ or the NAP. And many explicitly do so. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/12/libertarianism-thick-and-thin/

      But it is also worth remembering that there is no free market and the State touches nearly everything we do. Black people earn less than white people in large part because racism has been and continues to be institutionalized. There were economic reasons for the Ruling Class to perpetuate racism, sexism, anti-semitism. (That isn’t to say there weren’t other reasons as well.)

      Civil Rights were won by ordinary people demanding them.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Thanks for the reply, I perfectly agree with what you said. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=833943 Sean Malone

      1. I have been deeply involved in libertarian circles for about a decade, at an increasingly national level… And frankly, the experience that I’ve always had is that the vast majority care deeply about all of the issues Sachs claims we don’t care about at all. It’s only a handful of old-timers and Libertarian Party guys left-over from the 70s who appear to be this way. I’ve yet to meet a single libertarian from my own generation that don’t look at the philosophy as hugely beneficial to individuals and as a means of reducing inequalities.

      2.
      However I’ve met lots of libertarians who refuse to see a problem with the fact that African Americans earn less than Caucasians, or that women earn less than men, or that homosexuals are socially outcast in some instances, just because these seem to be more complicated problems that are not caused (solely) by the state in an obvious way.”

      These problems are complicated, and Steve Horwitz – and myself, among many, many others – has commented directly on them numerous times. For example, on the topic of income inequality between men & women, the reality isn’t so much about discrimination as it is about the differences in choices people make: 

      In brief, in case you don’t watch Steve’s video, women actually tend to make less than men because they do not focus on their careers (historically) in the same way men do. They take time off to get married and have children and often do a disproportionate amount of housework while men will go to conferences and do more work-related activities at home.

      Of course, these choices are a product of culture and one can easily make the case that they are discriminatory – in that men & women should share household duties more evenly, and more men should take time off of their work lives to contribute to raising children, etc. That’s not an issue the state can solve though… even if it “should”. 

      The other point here is that if we impose price or wage controls trying to correct these kinds of problems, what ends up happening is not beneficial to the individuals involved. For example, take race-based wage disparities of the 1940s or 50s (or potentially even today). In a free market – as opposed to a Jim Crow, government-controlled market  – these lower prices for black individuals’ labor would be a reason for businesses to hire those people if they were comparably qualified.Business owners generally want to pay as little as possible for qualified employees, and as callous as it may seem, this is a compelling reason for white racists to get over their racism at least a bit and hire black people. If you impose a price control and say that blacks & whites *must* be paid the same in such a setting, what you’re actually doing is creating a situation where jobs are ONLY available to whites… and not coincidentally, if you look at the history of wage controls, union rules and other laws around that time period, that was *precisely* the point.

      What this ends up meaning is that in a very real sense, by using the state to try to correct some of those social injustices, you run a very real risk of making them much worse and more entrenched.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Thanks for replying. And again, I perfectly agree with everything you mentioned (as well as the points raised in the video). I’m not trying to involve the state in the solution nor am I saying that wage disparities are a clear and deliberate action taken by all men to oppress all women. It just turns out that the end result in a society with restrictive social expectations on men and women ends up hurting women more than men (for all the reasons you and the video mention). I also support intellectual research and investigation into the causes, just like Horwitz did. It just seemed to me that some libertarians try to deny the problem, because it’s not the state that’s mandating a lower income for women. It’s refreshing to know (as you pointed out) that lots of libertarians are in fact interested in oppression beyond the coercion of the state.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=833943 Sean Malone

          There’s no question that a lot of libertarians do not seem very concerned about that non-state oppression… but I actually think they’re increasingly in the minority.

          I’m 28. 

          I know hundreds of libertarians, most between college age and their mid-50s. Pretty consistently, the younger they get, the more they care very deeply about the issues usually talked about at BHL. The older you get, the less this is true, but even most of the professional economists I know who are in the older group, actually *do* care about this stuff… In general, it’s only the really old guys (70-80 year olds) that I’ve met while dropping in on local Libertarian Party meetings that tend to care mostly about the basic “my taxes are too high” kind of stuff.

          I came into libertarian philosophy pretty naturally, from deductive reasoning. I don’t really want to condense several years of thought on this topic, but in essence it boiled down to me asking the question “Who owns you?” and concluding that we are all self-owners. Accepting that premise, there’s a long chain of other questions that need to be asked about what that means and when it’s ok to control other people’s behavior by force… the conclusion I reached was that it’s never ok to force someone else to do what you want outside of immediate self-defense.

          Since the state is the most concentrated institution that initiates force against people, the state is the biggest concern. But if you’re like me and you reasoned through the philosophy… you can’t just be concerned with the state, since the state isn’t the only institution that initiates force.

          But I think to a degree I’m an anomaly. Most of the younger crowd I meet coming up are less concerned or clear about the philosophical points… but they do care about the positive results of freedom. 

          It’s not that hard to see that when you pass legislation that – for instance – requires a $2,000 license to open a food cart, that the people who are hurt by that are never the people running McDonald’s or Burger King… The people hurt by it are the poor, plain & simple. And nobody buys the idea that licenses like that are really doing anything beneficial for consumers.

          So I think people just start to look at some of this stuff pragmatically and they come into libertarianism because they care about a lot of social issues – but instead of accepting the stock progressive view of using the state to “correct” social ills, they’re starting to see how counterproductive that can be.

          • Haytham Yaghi

            Yeh, I agree. Again, thanks for taking time to explain and express the ideas very clearly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=833943 Sean Malone

      1. I have been deeply involved in libertarian circles for about a decade, at an increasingly national level… And frankly, the experience that I’ve always had is that the vast majority care deeply about all of the issues Sachs claims we don’t care about at all. It’s only a handful of old-timers and Libertarian Party guys left-over from the 70s who appear to be this way. I’ve yet to meet a single libertarian from my own generation that don’t look at the philosophy as hugely beneficial to individuals and as a means of reducing inequalities.

      2.
      However I’ve met lots of libertarians who refuse to see a problem with the fact that African Americans earn less than Caucasians, or that women earn less than men, or that homosexuals are socially outcast in some instances, just because these seem to be more complicated problems that are not caused (solely) by the state in an obvious way.”

      These problems are complicated, and Steve Horwitz – and myself, among many, many others – has commented directly on them numerous times. For example, on the topic of income inequality between men & women, the reality isn’t so much about discrimination as it is about the differences in choices people make: 

      In brief, in case you don’t watch Steve’s video, women actually tend to make less than men because they do not focus on their careers (historically) in the same way men do. They take time off to get married and have children and often do a disproportionate amount of housework while men will go to conferences and do more work-related activities at home.

      Of course, these choices are a product of culture and one can easily make the case that they are discriminatory – in that men & women should share household duties more evenly, and more men should take time off of their work lives to contribute to raising children, etc. That’s not an issue the state can solve though… even if it “should”. 

      The other point here is that if we impose price or wage controls trying to correct these kinds of problems, what ends up happening is not beneficial to the individuals involved. For example, take race-based wage disparities of the 1940s or 50s (or potentially even today). In a free market – as opposed to a Jim Crow, government-controlled market  – these lower prices for black individuals’ labor would be a reason for businesses to hire those people if they were comparably qualified.Business owners generally want to pay as little as possible for qualified employees, and as callous as it may seem, this is a compelling reason for white racists to get over their racism at least a bit and hire black people. If you impose a price control and say that blacks & whites *must* be paid the same in such a setting, what you’re actually doing is creating a situation where jobs are ONLY available to whites… and not coincidentally, if you look at the history of wage controls, union rules and other laws around that time period, that was *precisely* the point.

      What this ends up meaning is that in a very real sense, by using the state to try to correct some of those social injustices, you run a very real risk of making them much worse and more entrenched.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

      African American women earn more on average than African American men. Do you have a problem with that? Or that Jews earn more on average than gentiles?

      • Haytham Yaghi

        No and No. I have a problem with oppression and social structures of power. In many cases, wage gaps are an indication of an imbalance in social power dynamics. The two cases that you pointed out are the few exceptions. 

        In the case of white vs. black wage gap, the gap itself is an indication of a history of slavery and racism. I don’t see how black women have a history of oppressing black men.

        Also true in the case of european jews, who have been historically discriminated against by state and society. Interestingly enough that same discrimination forced them out of what was considered respectable labor (artisans and military) into the more lucrative financial sectors.

        It’s also true for Indian immigrants to the USA, who as an ethnic group earn more than others. That doesn’t mean that they’re not oppressed.  It’s just an indication that the USA immigration laws are oppressive against Indians in such a way that only the most educated are able to immigrate and end up getting paid more as a result of their higher education. 
        My point is that oppression and discrimination should be rigorously studied and not simplistically dismissed, nor subjected to simplistic one liners such as: “the state isn’t behind it, then it’s not oppressive”, or “as long as jews make more money, then they can’t be discriminated against.”

        • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

           “oppression and social structures of power”. <—- *exactly*. That's why I think we should be distributing power rather than concentrating it in a state.

        • Haytham Yaghi

          Actually come to think of it, wage imbalance across groups is an indication of some flawed dynamic in society, your examples not withstanding. You’re trying to get me to blame the group with the higher earnings which isn’t always the one at fault or the cause of oppression. That doesn’t mean however that there is no agent of oppression behind the gap.

          Even in the case of wage gap of black women vs black men, it might be due to the high incarceration rate of black men, which most (all?) libertarians agree is racist/oppressive.
          To sum up, in the cases you presented and the cases above, a form of oppression was behind the wage gap across groups. It just doesn’t mean that the group who seems to be earning more is the one behind the oppression.

        • G. R. Bud West

          +1 on Social Structures of Power… There’s a thesis hiding in there, somewhere!

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

      I don’t see the point of replying logically to anyone who puts “free” into their free markets. Since you’re not using logic in the first place, logic needn’t play a part in any answer. So, I say to you, “pthththththththththt!”

    • Anonymous

      Check out this quote from Penn Jillette:

      “It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the
      government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and
      suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to
      give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous
      bullying laziness.

      People need to be fed, medicated, educated,
      clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but
      you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is
      right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at
      gunpoint.”

      • Haytham Yaghi

        I agree but at the same time taxing people with the power of guns to fund a state that only defends liberty and no other value seems arbitrary in the choice of values to me. By taxing people at gunpoint in order to fund the police and the military, you’re not particularly convincing them to support other people’s liberties, you’re just bullying them to.

        • Anonymous

          This is how I view it: The state (in our scenario) only intervenes when you start attacking someone. To defend any other value would be to defend that people are born with a claim on the property of others, including their bodies. So I don’t really see liberty as an arbitrarily chosen value.

          I have no good answer with regards to taxing people to fund the police and military. But that doesn’t prevent me from being a libertarian; I might be wrong on many issues, but I doubt I’ll wake up one day and believe I own my neighbor’s body.

          • Damien S.

            In your scenario, how do people gain property, and thus gain the right to attack other people for “trespass on my land” or “taking my property”?

  • http://twitter.com/picinicant chris

    Great post IMO. For more on the topic of how government systematically hurts poor people see Scratching By: How Government Creates Poverty As We Know It by Charles Johnson http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/scratching-by-how-government-creates-poverty-as-we-know-it/

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam

    Its interesting to read a critique like this from Sachs. Though more right-leaning libertarians and conservative folks probably dismiss him as some type of Neo-Marxist or radical leftists he is fairly centrist and is an advocate for free trade. He is the type of person who seems like a possible convert to libertarianism (of one type or another).  

    I am personally very attracted to certain flavors of libertarianism. 
    However, my critique would center on these issues. My critique does not apply completely to all libertarians and I believe that as an epistimic community libertarianism is quite diverse. These are intended to be general critiques. Also, I’m not trying to “disprove” libertarians or ruffle any feathers for its own sake, rather I would like libertarians to think more thoroughly about some of these issues. 1) Libertarians make a profound moral argument. Then, libertarians make empirically testable  arguments based around economic efficiency. I don’t understand this way of thinking.  If you have a strong moral argument stick with it.  Opening up to testable, empirical arguments opens up an entirely new can of worms.  This is not to say that the can can never be opened, but we must tread carefully when making blanket statements. As the always-incendiary Damien S. correctly points out, Finnish schools are entirely public and possible the best in the world. Singapore, which also has a very effective school system, puts something like 1/4 of its national budget into education. I am sure there is good empirical research on this topic that Mr. Horwitz, as academic faculty, could easily locate. It is unlikely that all studies have found that private education out performs public education. The moral logic may be quite compelling, but as soon as you jump to empirical arguments to justify your moral logic (or as a addendum to increase the power of your argument) your ideas become testable using statistical techniques. Chances are, your empirical argument will be both right and wrong, such is the murky world of the quantitative social sciences. To me, its a tough tightrope to walk. 

    2) Libertarians often propose macro-level ruptural change but have essentially no theory of transition. Seriously, transitioning to a global gold standard or dismantling the welfare state has enormous consequences.  This is not say say that people can’t advocate for ruptural change BUT someone should start to work out a theory of libertarian transition (“dictatorship of the liber-tariant?”). 

    3) Related to #2, I don’t understand the libertarian focus on seizing political power and creating ruptural macro change. It seems implausible that a marginal political movement,without a violent coup, will be able to seize power and implement enormous changes in a democracy with separated powers. I don’t understand why libertarians don’t focus more on smaller-scale activism. 

    I find the bloggers and commentors on this site to be very reasonable people. I frequent this site to learn more about libertarianism and, unlike some other forums, the folks here generally don’t get angry or call you a “statist” or “socialist” if you pose some difficult questions or attempt to suggest that libertarianism could refine its thinking. I look forward to some informed commentary. Thank you for reading my post. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

      Libertarian Jan Lester ably defends a “deontological consequentialism” in _Escape From Leviathan_. See video intro to his ideas here: http://vimeo.com/11824242

    • Dan Carvajal

      Your points 2, and 3 have a lot of weight and part of the problems they pose to libertarians is just how heavy they are.  I do find the policy recommendations in Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose a good starting point for building a libertarian theory of transition.

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

      There is no hope for Sachs, as long as he is willing to trade liberty for security. As Ben Franklin pointed out, that trade never works. You lose your liberty and don’t get security.

    • Anonymous

      “Finland” is the state school system’s dreamy exotification aimed at silencing critics and wowing adherents with statistical sophistry.  Even if test scores are higher than most of the world– few admirers have a clue as to the true cost of getting there, nor of the value attained, economically speaking. 

      The US government could tax/spend a trillion dollars and provide every child with a jet pack. But would it be economic?  Without the market mechanism at work–as in public schooling– there is no feedback about the efficacy of resource allocation. No entrepreneurship. No economic calculation. No socially validated and integrated actions. And no economic accountability– like profit/loss sheets. How do the seizure of resources from the public, taxes etc, to pay for these schools effect the  target population’s ability to pay for heat, shelter, food, security, entertainment, healthcare?  How many mechanics v surgeons v artists v teachers might be demanded by the public? And of course, what about jobs?  What good is it to educate the bejeesus out of a kid if it means their parent is put out of work, all because the public school system has drained away entrepreneurial capital?  There is a disconnect between public schools and what education, the kind and intensity, might be desireable from a social standpoint. 

      No matter how you look at it, public schools are a travesty.

      There is little reason to believe that these tests of the touted test scores are of any social value as well. They are created and administered by arbitrary fiat. It is a fatal conceit to invest these scores with social objectivity.

      At any rate, Finland is only 5m people, of a very homogenous variety too. The labor market is very restricted and protectionist. Part of the reason why kids stay in school is because it is hard for them to even find a part-time job. The economy is very liberal, for exports. Finland gains 1/3 its first world level GDP via exports.  This is the sector parasitized by the public school system. But for all the education going on– it has not produced much knowledge intensive industry. Internally, it is highly neo-corporatist (but not militarist- thus saving more resources for other socialist aims).  Big business, the state and unions rule conjointedly.  The individual person is more politically identified by what economic organization they belong to rather than by geography.

      The Finnish public school system is highly protectionist and selective of teachers:  they have strict licensing/guild procedures. many reformers in th US idealize this system– but since they have no economic knowledge they do not know what it would mean to try to replicate it in the states. What if most current US teachers failed the new exams?  How would teachers be made/found?  How would the enormous increase in pay necessary effect all of the economic/social issues addressed above?

      It is ironic how so many self-identifying empiricist commenters are so conveniently selective of facts. Nonetheless, data does not speak for itself. It is the quality of the theoretical tool applied to the facts that matter most. Without economic concepts then analysis of the Finnish system could make any conclusion it wanted– and who could say what is correct?  This might be why empiricists hate economics– it says to them:  the state is not a god.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam

        Mr. Tuna, 
          I think we are in agreement. Its difficult to conclusively prove that public education produces worse outcomes that private education because context matters so much and there is a great potential for omitted variables (like, as you mentioned, the ethnic and cultural homogeneity of a country). And, of course, there are other variables of substantive importance like cost to consider. 
           I think you mistook the nature of my post. I was not suggesting that education in the US be reformed using the Finnish system as a model (or the Singapore system for that matter). I was trying to point out the difficulty is systematically proving propositions like “public education produces worse outcomes than private”.  That proposition could be operationalized in a number of ways, but it would be hard to show that there is a systematic relationship across time, geography and culture. 
           Does this “debunk” the libertarian argument against public schooling? I don’t think so. But it does suggest that our empirical arguments should be careful and nuanced. 
            Of course, libertarians could be asking more fundamental and critical questions about education other than “who pays for it?”…..but that is another matter entirely….. 

           

        • Anonymous

          You may be in agreement per my observations but not in my methodology. I arrive at these conclusions through aprioristic reasoning as discussed before. On this logical ground I can indeed assert that  public schools are illegitimate on economic grounds. Morally, is an easier issue. Public schooling requires forced taking– taxes, fiat regulation, compulsory attendance:  all violations of personal sanctity and conscience.

          The libertarians involved in education matters that I know of go much deeper than the ‘who pays for it’ question. They look at the Prussian roots of public ed, their use in Bismarck’s Kulturkampf (suppression of Catholicism), and its transplantation to the states. They see it was and is a tool of control and privilege. Maybe the term “education” as applied to “public” is Orwellian.

  • Anonymous

    But by putting the adjective, are you not saying that “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism” is different that regular “Libertarinism” in the sense that bleeding heart libertarianism cares about the well-being of people where standard libertarianism does not. That is the point of an adjective, to distinguish. In this case, distinguishing on the basis of caring about the well being of others. So when you declare yourself a “Bleeding Heart Libertarian” are you not validating Sach’s argument about standard libertarianism?

    -luke

    • Steven Horwitz

      I think the adjective is necessary for two reasons and distinctive for a third:

      1.  There are, in fact, some libertarians who meet Sachs’ stereotype.  Sean Malone above rightly notes that they are very much more likely to be in the over 35 crowd than under.  My experience is that the stereotype is disappearing with the younger folks. 

      2.  Adding the adjective is jarring to those who think like Sachs even if his stereotype is largely untrue.  If the whole phrase seems oxymoronic, then it does its job in challenging those stereotypes.

      3.  If one thinks the philosophical justification for any society is how well it does by the least advantaged, then that IS a different way of making the argument for libertarianism than most do, and have.  Yes, classical liberals were historically pretty attuned to the needs of the least well off, but is that how they actually justified their preferred system?  Not so much.

      • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

        I think that libertarians see liberty as a precursor to the other values, while non-libertarians see liberty *as* one of the values, and has no problem giving up liberty to get more of another value. That’s why the discussion always moves away from the other values to liberty. And that’s why Jeff Sachs thinks libertarians only care about liberty — because when he talks about giving up liberty, libertarians hear him wanting to give up ALL the other values.

      • Anonymous

        “This is exactly why we need to put an adjective in front of what we’re saying and doing, precisely so that we can remind even smart guys from the Ivy League that this is not what libertarianism means.”
        I completely agree with the intent of the second half of your above statement, and completely disagree with the method prescribed in the first half.  When I first heard the term “Bleeding Heart Libertarian” I thought of it as a self proclaimed branch of libertarianism, not an attempt to influence libertarianism at large. I actually saw it as something of a jab at more traditional libertarianism. In effect saying that traditional libertarianism is, in fact, as Sachs describes. You can find videos on youtube of Friedman on the Donahue Show arguing against the evils of state welfare, on the grounds that welfare perpetuates poverty. So, I think the “bleeding heart” aspect has been a strong theme in libertarianism for long time. 

        I guess my beef with the adjective, is that it may be seen as a separate classification of libertarianism. Some may believe that you are starting your own classification of libertarianism because “bleeding heart libertarianism” is something different than what you believe libertarianism to be.

        I agree that there are some who may fit into Sach’s stereotype, but I think that conceding the title of simply “libertarian” to that philosophy, while declaring yourself separate, by virtue of the adjective as a “Bleeding Heart Libertarian” could be detrimental to “remind(ing) even smart guys from the Ivy League that this is not what libertarianism means”.

    • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

       People are unwilling to actually talk to libertarians to find out what they think. Why should they, when they already know that libertarianism is only about liberty (hence the name)? “Bleeding heart libertarianism” is necessary to shock people out of their rut.

      • Anonymous

        In that sense I can understand the adjective, As a conversation starter or reason for embracing traditional libertarianism (if there is such a thing). I would just caution on the ease in which BHLism could potentially be marginalized as an off shoot of traditionalism libertarianism, undermining what BHL is trying to do, in educating people on the social benefits to libertarianism. 

  • bill woolsey

    Sachs’ worst offense was the claim that ethical libertarians believe that if a rich person gives money to a poor person it is debasing to the rich person.    Perhaps there is some libertarian somewhere who takes that position.    Also, it has some resemblence to the objectivist argument that rich people should not give to the poor out of a sense of guilt.   Of course, Rand herself explained that it is fine for rich people to give to poor people out of human sympathy.   And there are plenty of nonobjectivist libertarians who do believe that it is morally praiseworthy, or even obligitory, for the rich to give to the poor.   Sachs contrasted the libertarian view with Christianity and Buddism.  Well, there are plenty of Christian libertarians.

    A better way to describe the most common libertarian view is that it is wrong for a third party (like the state) to compel a rich person to give money to a poor person.    It is also true, that nearly all libertarians believe it is wrong for a poor person to take from a rich person.   However, this is part and parcel of the view that it is wrong for a rich person to take from a poor person.    In fact, unlike Sach’s framing of the issue, libertarians tend to recognize that throughout most of history, having a few rich people take from many poor people has been a very serious problem.   And we are also very concerned about one rich person taking from another rich person, one poor person taking from another poor person, and takings to and from the mddle class as well.   Many libertarians frame much of today’s politics as being just such a takings free for all–it is called a rent seeking society.

    There are plenty of libertarians, including me, that are not too worried about the injustice of modest taxpayer support of the poor.    What is special about “bleeding heart libertarians” is that they generally see this as something other than a compromise of principle.   In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.  

        

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      “In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.”
      Yes, Bill, and this view is actually supported by subtle U.S. income tax law distinctions, which have (somewhat torturously) evolved after the 1895 Pollock case, mainly because the Constitution created two classes of taxation and made it so difficult for the federal government to levy direct taxes on property “because of ownership.”

      The two major income tax law distinctions which allow re-distribution of wealth to the poor are: 

      (1) taxation and regulation of employERs under Helvering v. Davis (1937), … simply because the employer controls the labor of others … and the 16th Amendment assures that such a tax is not a direct tax on human labor.

      (2) regulatory taxation on the “incoming transfer” of non-Treasury-Direct currencies on the employEE portion of the Social Security tax (which does not require support from the 16th Amendment), under which we can alleviate suffering of the poor by creating minimum income tax filing thresholds, establishing low tax rates for taxpayers near the poverty line, create various tax credits and deductions, create very high tax rates for excessive salaries, etc. 

      Also, as you say, as a BHL I’m generally “not too worried” about these methods to support the poor. However, I do get concerned when, because the #2 tax scheme makes money-creation so convenient for government, our legal system obscures the benefits of demanding Treasury-Direct currencies and has thereby effectively locked the poor into perpetual poverty (because so long as a working poor person’s wages are considered to be income, they can’t be personal property). 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      “In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.”
      Yes, Bill, and this view is actually supported by subtle U.S. income tax law distinctions, which have (somewhat torturously) evolved after the 1895 Pollock case, mainly because the Constitution created two classes of taxation and made it so difficult for the federal government to levy direct taxes on property “because of ownership.”

      The two major income tax law distinctions which allow re-distribution of wealth to the poor are: 

      (1) taxation and regulation of employERs under Helvering v. Davis (1937), … simply because the employer controls the labor of others … and the 16th Amendment assures that such a tax is not a direct tax on human labor.

      (2) regulatory taxation on the “incoming transfer” of non-Treasury-Direct currencies on the employEE portion of the Social Security tax (which does not require support from the 16th Amendment), under which we can alleviate suffering of the poor by creating minimum income tax filing thresholds, establishing low tax rates for taxpayers near the poverty line, create various tax credits and deductions, create very high tax rates for excessive salaries, etc. 

      Also, as you say, as a BHL I’m generally “not too worried” about these methods to support the poor. However, I do get concerned when, because the #2 tax scheme makes money-creation so convenient for government, our legal system obscures the benefits of demanding Treasury-Direct currencies and has thereby effectively locked the poor into perpetual poverty (because so long as a working poor person’s wages are considered to be income, they can’t be personal property). 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      “In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.”
      Yes, Bill, and this view is actually supported by subtle U.S. income tax law distinctions, which have (somewhat torturously) evolved after the 1895 Pollock case, mainly because the Constitution created two classes of taxation and made it so difficult for the federal government to levy direct taxes on property “because of ownership.”

      The two major income tax law distinctions which allow re-distribution of wealth to the poor are: 

      (1) taxation and regulation of employERs under Helvering v. Davis (1937), … simply because the employer controls the labor of others … and the 16th Amendment assures that such a tax is not a direct tax on human labor.

      (2) regulatory taxation on the “incoming transfer” of non-Treasury-Direct currencies on the employEE portion of the Social Security tax (which does not require support from the 16th Amendment), under which we can alleviate suffering of the poor by creating minimum income tax filing thresholds, establishing low tax rates for taxpayers near the poverty line, create various tax credits and deductions, create very high tax rates for excessive salaries, etc. 

      Also, as you say, as a BHL I’m generally “not too worried” about these methods to support the poor. However, I do get concerned when, because the #2 tax scheme makes money-creation so convenient for government, our legal system obscures the benefits of demanding Treasury-Direct currencies and has thereby effectively locked the poor into perpetual poverty (because so long as a working poor person’s wages are considered to be income, they can’t be personal property).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      “In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.”
      Yes, Bill, and this view is actually supported by subtle U.S. income tax law distinctions, which have (somewhat torturously) evolved after the 1895 Pollock case, mainly because the Constitution created two classes of taxation and made it so difficult for the federal government to levy direct taxes on property “because of ownership.”

      The two major income tax law distinctions which allow re-distribution of wealth to the poor are: 

      (1) taxation and regulation of employERs under Helvering v. Davis (1937), … simply because the employer controls the labor of others … and the 16th Amendment assures that such a tax is not a direct tax on human labor.

      (2) regulatory taxation on the “incoming transfer” of non-Treasury-Direct currencies on the employEE portion of the Social Security tax (which does not require support from the 16th Amendment), under which we can alleviate suffering of the poor by creating minimum income tax filing thresholds, establishing low tax rates for taxpayers near the poverty line, create various tax credits and deductions, create very high tax rates for excessive salaries, etc. 

      Also, as you say, as a BHL I’m generally “not too worried” about these methods to support the poor. However, I do get concerned when, because the #2 tax scheme makes money-creation so convenient for government, our legal system obscures the benefits of demanding Treasury-Direct currencies and has thereby effectively locked the poor into perpetual poverty (because so long as a working poor person’s wages are considered to be income, they can’t be personal property).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      “In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.”
      Yes, Bill, and this view is actually supported by subtle U.S. income tax law distinctions, which have (somewhat torturously) evolved after the 1895 Pollock case, mainly because the Constitution created two classes of taxation and made it so difficult for the federal government to levy direct taxes on property “because of ownership.”

      The two major income tax law distinctions which allow re-distribution of wealth to the poor are: 

      (1) taxation and regulation of employERs under Helvering v. Davis (1937), … simply because the employer controls the labor of others … and the 16th Amendment assures that such a tax is not a direct tax on human labor.

      (2) regulatory taxation on the “incoming transfer” of non-Treasury-Direct currencies on the employEE portion of the Social Security tax (which does not require support from the 16th Amendment), under which we can alleviate suffering of the poor by creating minimum income tax filing thresholds, establishing low tax rates for taxpayers near the poverty line, create various tax credits and deductions, create very high tax rates for excessive salaries, etc. 

      Also, as you say, as a BHL I’m generally “not too worried” about these methods to support the poor. However, I do get concerned when, because the #2 tax scheme makes money-creation so convenient for government, our legal system obscures the benefits of demanding Treasury-Direct currencies and has thereby effectively locked the poor into perpetual poverty (because so long as a working poor person’s wages are considered to be income, they can’t be personal property).

  • bill woolsey

    Sachs’ worst offense was the claim that ethical libertarians believe that if a rich person gives money to a poor person it is debasing to the rich person.    Perhaps there is some libertarian somewhere who takes that position.    Also, it has some resemblence to the objectivist argument that rich people should not give to the poor out of a sense of guilt.   Of course, Rand herself explained that it is fine for rich people to give to poor people out of human sympathy.   And there are plenty of nonobjectivist libertarians who do believe that it is morally praiseworthy, or even obligitory, for the rich to give to the poor.   Sachs contrasted the libertarian view with Christianity and Buddism.  Well, there are plenty of Christian libertarians.

    A better way to describe the most common libertarian view is that it is wrong for a third party (like the state) to compel a rich person to give money to a poor person.    It is also true, that nearly all libertarians believe it is wrong for a poor person to take from a rich person.   However, this is part and parcel of the view that it is wrong for a rich person to take from a poor person.    In fact, unlike Sach’s framing of the issue, libertarians tend to recognize that throughout most of history, having a few rich people take from many poor people has been a very serious problem.   And we are also very concerned about one rich person taking from another rich person, one poor person taking from another poor person, and takings to and from the mddle class as well.   Many libertarians frame much of today’s politics as being just such a takings free for all–it is called a rent seeking society.

    There are plenty of libertarians, including me, that are not too worried about the injustice of modest taxpayer support of the poor.    What is special about “bleeding heart libertarians” is that they generally see this as something other than a compromise of principle.   In other words, they would argue that it is sometimes right for third parties (the state) to take from the rich (and the middle class?) and give to the poor.  

        

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5MR6G6XGFM3AXZKRBKWHU5XPOE LeeW

    I would agree with you but we do have public relations problem. Steve is trying to overcome that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

    I like the adjective “bleeding heart,” but I prefer the adjective “Lockean” simply because that’s the one supported by U.S. Constitutional law (and it’s much harder to argue with the law than with philosophers).

  • http://twitter.com/russnelson Russ Nelson

     Also, libertarians see liberty as a precursor to the others of Sachs’ values. So any discussion with a non-libertarian founders on the shoals of liberty. They think you can/should/must trade liberty in order to get those other values, while a libertarian thinks that you must NOT give up liberty, because if you do, the other values will suffer. Generally, people don’t argue about things they agree on, so the topic of the other values never comes up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1457760294 Robert Fellner

    Well said, Steve!

  • Evergreen Libertarian

    Steve minimum wage laws may destroy jobs, but one issue we overlook is the lack of adequate urban transit services to get to a job opportunity in the first place. From my own experience supervising lots of low income people over the last 19 years I can assure you that the lack of transportation is just as much a problem if not more so than the wage issue. I know of lots of kids who rode bikes in the winter rain and snow after getting off work at 11 p.m. because there was no bus service to our facility.

    • Steven Horwitz

      No argument, but even here the question is about causes and cures.  Most “public” transportation systems are local monopolies, including cabs, making effective competition and better service and lower prices much less likely.  Again, more liberty would help address this problem.

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  • Garth Luke

    Steve,  you really do need to get out more.  There are many countries that have much better outcomes for poor people, better educated citizens, greater social mobility, less violence and a stronger sense of community and security than the US and they have achieved this despite higher rates of taxation, publicly funded schools and health systems and what you might see as less freedom.  As an example why don’t you come and live in Australia for a while?

  • Anonymous

    Steve,
    I love this blog and believe that most of the posts have been of very high quality. So, please take what follows in the friendly spirit in which it is offered. I fear that the BHL moniker may involve a little bit of false advertising. As Matt and other have explained it, a libertarian is one who (roughly) accepts the idea of “pure procedural justice” (PPJ), i.e. after the implementation of any necessary rectification, whatever distribution of wealth that evolves through voluntary exchange is just (or at least not unjust). A BHL is one who accepts the principle of PPJ except when it produces outcomes that conflict with the requirement of social justice, particularly with respect to the needs of the worst-off. But, until one of the BHLs supplies us with a way to integrate what seem to be competing if not conflicting theories of justice into a coherent whole, I fear a “bleeding heart libertarian” may be a little like a “married bachelor.”

    Interestingly, Nozick, who most count as amongst the hard-core libertarians, may have come closest to providing a plausible way to combine a very stringent concept of natural rights (including with respect to property) with due regard for the essential interests of the worst-off. I refer here to his “Lockean proviso,” which he derives from Locke’s notion that original appropriation is only just if it respects the equal right of non-appropriators to self-preservation. Thus, says Nozick, an agent cannot justly appropriate all the water in the desert, and if he only owns one of a hundred watering holes and all but his dry up, he can’t hold everyone else hostage (ASU, 180-1). From here, it is possible to argue that the institution of full capitalist property rights took all other forms of property ownership off the table, triggering some comparable right of those disadvantaged by this not to be denied “water in the desert.” Strangely, Nozick’s critics seem to be more alert to this aspect of his thought than his potential allies. See e.g. Jonathan Wolff, Robert Nozick, p. 111.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not really sure why Steve Horwitz’s response is so hostile.

    The account of Libertarianism which Horwitz deems so offensive would seem to me to apply strictly to only one variety of the three types of Libertarianism Sachs outlines – the ethical variety.

    On the basis of his brief sketches, both the economic and the political justifications seem to ground the priority of liberty on grounds other than the ethical supremacy of liberty alone.  

    The economic justification is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that liberty is most conducive to prosperity.  The overriding concern is what best brings about prosperity, not liberty-an-sich.

    The political argument is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that failure to respect liberty leads to tyranny.  The overriding concern is what best prevents tyrannical rule, not liberty-an-sich.  (Totalitarianism and tyranny, of course, consists in much more than just the deprivation of liberties.  And the deprivation of liberties alone does not necessarily imply the existence of totalitarianism or tyranny.

    To reconstruct Sachs’s argument, it would seem to me that his point is that the ideological focus on liberty, in both the case of the political and economic arguments, blinkers out attention to the empirical evidence which belies the primacy of liberty.  In other words, those who justify their libertarianism on economic or political grounds should not take the hardline ethical libertarian position Sachs starts with, but rather what could very well be some variety of BHL, where the attachment to liberty must itself be justified in terms of other principles, rather than dogmatically asserted as the solution to all of life’s problems.

    As to the challenges of Sachs empirics, sure, neither Steve nor Joe can really just assert whether liberty is always consonant with prosperity or whether the welfare state is overall good or bad.  And yet they both do so, each relying upon general knowledge of the empirical evidence in support of… both sides of the debate.  You can’t prove everything all the time, and it’s ridiculous to expect someone to try in a piece like either Sachs’s editorial or Horwitz’s response.

    So in fact Sachs’ article makes a similar point to the whole BHL project.  There is a bogeyman called ‘libertarianism’ simpliciter which seems to pride liberty at the expense of all else, and then there are more nuanced theories which are pro-liberty because being pro-liberty is the best way to achieve other goals as a matter of practice, though those theories could, admittedly, end up being wrong on the facts.

    Sachs would call that not-Libertarianism.  Steve would call it BHL or classical liberalism or whatever.  And their decision to look favorably upon the moniker Libertarianism seems to be intimately connected to their appraisals of the relevant facts which would serve to justify an attenuated, non-dogmatic focus on liberty.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not really sure why Steve Horwitz’s response is so hostile.

    The account of Libertarianism which Horwitz deems so offensive would seem to me to apply strictly to only one variety of the three types of Libertarianism Sachs outlines – the ethical variety.

    On the basis of his brief sketches, both the economic and the political justifications seem to ground the priority of liberty on grounds other than the ethical supremacy of liberty alone.  

    The economic justification is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that liberty is most conducive to prosperity.  The overriding concern is what best brings about prosperity, not liberty-an-sich.

    The political argument is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that failure to respect liberty leads to tyranny.  The overriding concern is what best prevents tyrannical rule, not liberty-an-sich.  (Totalitarianism and tyranny, of course, consists in much more than just the deprivation of liberties.  And the deprivation of liberties alone does not necessarily imply the existence of totalitarianism or tyranny.

    To reconstruct Sachs’s argument, it would seem to me that his point is that the ideological focus on liberty, in both the case of the political and economic arguments, blinkers out attention to the empirical evidence which belies the primacy of liberty.  In other words, those who justify their libertarianism on economic or political grounds should not take the hardline ethical libertarian position Sachs starts with, but rather what could very well be some variety of BHL, where the attachment to liberty must itself be justified in terms of other principles, rather than dogmatically asserted as the solution to all of life’s problems.

    As to the challenges of Sachs empirics, sure, neither Steve nor Joe can really just assert whether liberty is always consonant with prosperity or whether the welfare state is overall good or bad.  And yet they both do so, each relying upon general knowledge of the empirical evidence in support of… both sides of the debate.  You can’t prove everything all the time, and it’s ridiculous to expect someone to try in a piece like either Sachs’s editorial or Horwitz’s response.

    So in fact Sachs’ article makes a similar point to the whole BHL project.  There is a bogeyman called ‘libertarianism’ simpliciter which seems to pride liberty at the expense of all else, and then there are more nuanced theories which are pro-liberty because being pro-liberty is the best way to achieve other goals as a matter of practice, though those theories could, admittedly, end up being wrong on the facts.

    Sachs would call that not-Libertarianism.  Steve would call it BHL or classical liberalism or whatever.  And their respective decisions to look favorably (or not) upon the moniker Libertarianism seems to be intimately connected to their appraisals of the relevant facts which would serve to justify an attenuated, non-dogmatic focus on liberty.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not really sure why Steve Horwitz’s response is so hostile.

    The account of Libertarianism which Horwitz deems so offensive would seem to me to apply strictly to only one variety of the three types of Libertarianism Sachs outlines – the ethical variety.

    On the basis of his brief sketches, both the economic and the political justifications seem to ground the priority of liberty on grounds other than the ethical supremacy of liberty alone.  

    The economic justification is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that liberty is most conducive to prosperity.  The overriding concern is what best brings about prosperity, not liberty-an-sich.

    The political argument is based on the pragmatic, empirical argument that failure to respect liberty leads to tyranny.  The overriding concern is what best prevents tyrannical rule, not liberty-an-sich.  (Totalitarianism and tyranny, of course, consists in much more than just the deprivation of liberties.  And the deprivation of liberties alone does not necessarily imply the existence of totalitarianism or tyranny.

    To reconstruct Sachs’s argument, it would seem to me that his point is that the ideological focus on liberty, in both the case of the political and economic arguments, blinkers out attention to the empirical evidence which belies the primacy of liberty.  In other words, those who justify their libertarianism on economic or political grounds should not take the hardline ethical libertarian position Sachs starts with, but rather what could very well be some variety of BHL, where the attachment to liberty must itself be justified in terms of other principles, rather than dogmatically asserted as the solution to all of life’s problems.

    As to the challenges of Sachs empirics, sure, neither Steve nor Joe can really just assert whether liberty is always consonant with prosperity or whether the welfare state is overall good or bad.  And yet they both do so, each relying upon general knowledge of the empirical evidence in support of… both sides of the debate.  You can’t prove everything all the time, and it’s ridiculous to expect someone to try in a piece like either Sachs’s editorial or Horwitz’s response.

    So in fact Sachs’ article makes a similar point to the whole BHL project.  There is a bogeyman called ‘libertarianism’ simpliciter which seems to pride liberty at the expense of all else, and then there are more nuanced theories which are pro-liberty because being pro-liberty is the best way to achieve other goals as a matter of practice, though those theories could, admittedly, end up being wrong on the facts.

    Sachs would call that not-Libertarianism.  Steve would call it BHL or classical liberalism or whatever.  And their respective decisions to look favorably (or not) upon the moniker Libertarianism seems to be intimately connected to their appraisals of the relevant facts which would serve to justify an attenuated, non-dogmatic focus on liberty.

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  • Glen Whitman

    Sachs is being disingenuous.  He gives a *very* narrow definition of libertarianism.  And then, in his refutation of that vision, he offers Hayek and Friedman.  Well, surely Sachs knows that Friedman and Hayek are generally considered libertarians by other libertarians.  Sachs must, therefore, have known that he was offering a narrow caricature of libertarianism rather than a definition that encompasses most actual libertarians. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FA5VTJQZ7GISXC2JZLXFKDOZJY Tina

    libertarians suffer from a tendency to overstretch basically good insights, as well.  One overwhelming example is the basic truth of the knowledge problem against central planning.  This kernel of insight, which should serve as a warning against excessive zeal on the part of legistlators and bureaucrats, has been stretched from “central planners have a knowledge problem” to “the knowledge problem of central planners if so total and overwhelming that everything they endeavor to accomplish will be hopelessly flawed beyond use by this lack”.  This is distorting, and goes a long way towards explaining the shocking apparent differences of success in different socialist experiments (public schools in one country vs another).  There are many similar examples.

    • Anonymous

      The knowledge problem camp, Hayekians, as well as the Friedmanites, have been too forgiving of public schools actually.  Mises was against public school, period.  When you combine the obliteration of economic calculation (a lack of property issue) with the disincentives to act socially that government run anything represents, not just public schools, then you know why. Half-way measures that neo-liberals (market socialists) and voucher advocates offer do not resolve either of these core insurmountable issues.

      This is not to say that half-way measures can’t produce half-way results. But why bother?  And why call a socialist experiment a success?  The only way they “succeed” is through parasitical destruction. The market can live without public schools, but public schools cannot survive without something to feed on.

      • Damien S.

        It’s called a success because it succeeds in educating the children.  Crazy, that.  Finland gets top PISA test scores *without even trying*.  Even the disadvantaged immigrants.  Unlike demographically similar Norway, which has a system more like America’s mix, and correspondingly crappier scores.

        The socialist system actually builds in one big incentive: if you can force the elite to get the same education or health care as everyone else, then they have a strong incentive to make sure everyone gets excellent education and health care.  Pulling off that forcing is the tricky bit but apparently it can be done in an egalitarian democracy.

        • Anonymous

          During the Great Leap Forward, the egalitarian Chinese government managed to feed hundreds of millions of people through its democratic grain procurement program.  Never in history had so many been fed by so few, statistically speaking.  

          • Damien S.

            Desperate non sequitur.

            Public food provision has almost always been a failure.  Public education  and health care have often been a success.  Public military likewise.  It’s almost as if there’s something different about these various goods, making markets more effective in providing some than in others.

          • Anonymous

            You win the prize. Frank DiKotter has a great book on the famine. I am showing by sarcastic example some of the holes in Damien S.’s method. For my statement  is true: “Never in history had so many been fed by so few, statistically speaking.”  But it does not begin to tell the story. Damien does not even admit that the incentive structure of a government v. market institution might be corrupted. The same disincentives at work in the Great Famine are at work in public school apparati.

            My next statement was going to be on the wondrous success of the modern German National Socialist state in relocating millions of unwanted persons.

          • Anonymous

            I am arguing that through Damien’s empiricism– one can put up ‘evidence’ to support any contention.  “Look. Millions of kids are educated in public schools every day. It works.”  Without economic reasoning, how would one evaluate such a claim with more certainty? For answering with “Look. Millions of kids are under-educated in public schools everyday. It doesn’t work.” is equally valid from a statistical point of view. This is probably why Damien– and all those seeking to create and exploit state power for whatever purpose– rejects economic reasoning.

            As I said before, your idea is definitely preferable to what Damien advocates. But still not far enough for me.

          • Anonymous

            Because taxation is a cornerstone of what is wrong in the first place. It would be conceding a point for Damien even under your system. It would have to be enforced somehow. These enforcers will exploit this power; play favorites; exempt some for kickbacks– and off we go towards the giant state once more.  Further, without any ideological change– people would probably continue to allocate taxes towards institutions that are antisocial and inefficient.

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  • Andrew Prock

    Despite the assertion that “bleeding heart” is in some way a proper adjective to apply, the posts here (and especially the comments) make the same frequent mistakes that lead to the generally correct perception that libertarianism holds individualism high, and above all else.  Ideologically incoherent screeds which attempt to equate taxation with theft, and value freedom of association ahead of free markets, are exactly the sort of thing that critics are responding to.  In that regard, there is a serious need for dogmatic libertarians to “grow up” and come to understand that society is in fact greater than the sum of it’s parts, just as an individual is more than a collection of atom.  At the core, it matters very much how things are put together.  The idea that the optimal solution is the individual solution is not only naive, but provably wrong.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, not up on Prock-tology. 
      Taxation is not only theft, but a violation of the market.  Either way, taxation is antisocial from a moral and economic standpoint. Your support of free markets is rather diminished– questionable really– by your support for forced taking and involuntary servitude.
       
      What kind of ideological self-trickery do you employ to prove to yourself that taxation is not theft? Would you prefer a different term, like involuntary servitude?

      • Andrew Prock

        Not really sure it’s best to respond to someone who opens with vulgar insults, but it does seem par for the course when dealing with those who are insecure in their ideology.  While your rambling rhetoric isn’t going to convince me of much, that’s not the task at hand.

        If dogmatic libertarians want the wider world to take them seriously, they are going to have to do a much better job of making their case.  And while you may feel it deep in your heart, you’re going to  have to make a more robust case than bald assertion if you want to convince people on the merits.  

        • Anonymous

          Playing victim?  That’s your argument?  How sad.  You can hurl ‘their just full of ideologically incoherent screed’ and not expect a counter battery? OK, putting aside the friendly banter for a moment, let’s see if you follow my reasoning. Notice the non-ideological nature of the very first point:
           
          Only individuals act. Not “states”. Not collective entities. Therefore, all taxation is one individual levying against another individual. The targeted individual has to pay the tax on threat of forfeiture, jail or death. In the case of payroll taxes, etc., the state (the individuals claiming state authority) forces companies (the individuals therein) to do the collecting– on threat of forfeiture, jail, or worse. This here latter situation is uncompensated labor, otherwise known as  involuntary servitude.
           
          You, as the pro-tax guy, have to prove that individuals claiming ‘state’ authority are morally exempt from the golden rule. The burden is on you, Prock.
           
          And, as I mentioned earlier, you have to show how taxation is good for or part of the market. Good luck.

          • Damien S.

            Taxation, wisely levied and spent, is good for *society*.  There’s more to society than markets.  Though things like roads and highways and inspectors and environmental corrective pricing can also be good for markets.

          • Anonymous

            Society is cooperation. This can be forced, as you suggest in provision of “roads and highways and inspectors and environmental corrective pricing”.  Or it can be based on voluntary relationships, of which, the market is the great economic example. It would not matter, forced v. voluntary cooperation, if one did not care about the level/rationality of production. Nor of  liberty.  Forced cooperation cannot deliver on either account.

          • Damien S.

            Which of course is why human history has been dominated by the superior productivity of totally free societies, and not by societies that use a mix of voluntary and coerced interactions.  Oh, wait, that’s not human history at all.

            Your voluntary relationships simply can’t do everything needed to make a secure and efficient society.  Ideal markets are great, real ones suffer from asymmetric information, externalities, and anti-competitive incentives or behavior, which is why the most productive societies use government to make markets work better or operate where they don’t.

          • Anonymous

            The market, as a developed concept, is relatively new on the historical scene. It gets a bad name because government by state–democratic or whatever– has enabled more crime by its harnessing of capital productivity. But you would not see this because you lack the economic tools by which to analyze history.

            Nobody who prefers the market to statism claims it is perfect– for we are talking about humans here. But it is illogical to elevate imperfect humans to a higher political status in order to correct imperfect conditions. It only adds fuel to the fire. Politics is even more imperfect and abusive. At first, one should maximize market conditions in order to overcome environmental and pricing issues. And even if there are problems still around– and no doubt there will be– it still does not make the case for a state system.

          • Andrew Prock

            I appreciate that you feel strongly about your position.  But please do refer to the topic of the post.  The problem here isn’t how I feel.  The problem is that libertarians are perceived as … well … um … perceived as people like you.

            Now, whether you are the person you present yourself as here, or whether you in truth hold a more nuanced and broader views, the issue is how you present yourself.  Reading your responses here, one certainly can see that Jeff Sachs forms his views of libertarians based not on fantasy or imagined positions, but based on people who present themselves as you do.

            It’s not my job to change the worlds perception of you.  It’s not even my job to change the general view of libertarianism, despite being a libertarian myself.  But if libertarian is to escape the echo chamber where you dwell, it’s going to have to take that more nuanced and enlightened view of society.

            Until it does, it will be a marginal movement.

          • Anonymous

            The relative acceptance of a movement does not measure the rightness of its content. Anti-slavery activism was largely unpopular even when most people considered the institution wrong.
            Nonetheless, you did not even address my attempt to discuss the issue of taxation from a logical point of view.

          • Andrew Prock

            To the extent that “rightness” is an issue, it is one that libertarians need to either communicate more clearly, or correct among themselves.  Broader society does not hold that the “right of free association” trumps the “right of market access” as many libertarians do.  While you and other libertarians may hold this view, anti-slavery activists did not.

            It’s not up to me to convince you of anything.  As our host noted in the original post, it behooves libertarians to communicate that their motives and methods can be integrated into society as a whole.  This is something they have not succeeded in doing.

          • Anonymous

            You are the one that brought up taxation. And it was good that you did, minus the way in which you did.

            Without the right of free association there is no market. The market is not the end all be all of life, though. If some folks go off and start a commune that bans the use of money, so be it. As long as it is a self-selected group that allows exit.  

            If there is funny business– e.g. enslavement– going on in that commune, the situation does become tricky. Ought to intervene? How to intervene?  In no case does injustice rationalize the state, however. Using slavery to end slavery is nutso.

            I will say this. I am not settled on the self-ensalvement issue.

            On the practical matter of trying to get people to believe in freedom. If one compromises the core values and reasons underpinning the movement, then the movement no longer exists. It has morphed. This is why Cato and the Libertarian Party can be such downers.

          • Andrew Prock

            “On the practical matter of trying to get people to believe in freedom.”

            Again, this is exactly the sort of condescension that leads people to easily dismiss libertarians. People DO believe in freedom.  However, broader society does not agree with how libertarians characterize freedom.  It’s not an issue of getting to people to believe in the things they already believe in.  It’s convincing them that the libertarian conception of freedom is the correct one.  The idea that demeaning their beliefs and dismissing their positions out of hand without any sort of rhetorical argument is what turns people away.

            Libertarianism, as noted above, tends to be an echo chamber.  It’s a place where, if you believe is some of the curious framings that libertarians promote, you’ll find a lot of support.  But if you don’t, you’re likely to be faced with anything resembling a coherent argument that takes the views of broader society into consideration.

            Despite the stated goal of the hosts, the rhetorical gulf is still remarkably wide.  Until the hosts themselves can step away from much of the overloaded terminology and jargon, and speak directly to the concerns of broader society as a whole, this project seems destined to remain a funnel in the echo chamber instead of a platform for persuasion.

          • Anonymous

            I grant you. People do believe in freedom, generically speaking. Getting them to recognize libertarianism as the  legitimate way there is more the issue. As Stefan Molyneux has stated, one really only needs to stick to the moral issue– it hits ‘em emotionally. If people could see the depravity of taxation and statism from an emotional/moral standpoint, maybe their actions will follow. All this free market economics stuff can wait.

          • Damien S.

            For most people, the moral issue is that libertarians insist on the freedom to let children starve to death.  That hits them emotionally.

          • Anonymous

            Your statist approach guarantees that children will be starved to death. In great numbers.

          • Andrew Prock

            This blog would probably be one of the better examples of attempts to narrow the gulf.  Likewise, I would also point to the political writings of Tony Blankly as another example of someone trying to do a better job of communicating than the average dogmatic libertarian.

          • Anonymous

            Who let the dogmatics out?

          • Damien S.

            ” I am not settled on the self-ensalvement issue”

            The temptation is to snark at yet another example of libertarian friendliness to slavery.  Freedom is Slavery!

            More substantially, you come so close to enlightenment for once.  For a key issue is, there is no monolithic freedom one can maximize.  Short-term and long-term liberty are in conflict.  If you maximize short-term liberty at every point, it becomes impossible to make binding contracts.  If you maximize the ability to make long-term choices, you enable self-enslavement.  Where to draw the line is not obvious, especially to people who recognize the risks of economic coercion.

            Similarly, true apriori economic reasoning includes the Prisoner’s Dilemma and relatives, showing how maximum individual freedom can preclude rationally choosing optimal outcomes.  The individuals with full choice are bound to defect, or to pollute, or to shirk.  By binding each others’ choices, they can reach superior outcomes like less jail time or cleaner air or being able to fight off enemies.

            Heck, this is true of property, too.  The freedom to fence off some land and shoot people who trespass comes at the natural freedom of people to go wherever they can walk.  There is no clear point that maximizes “freedom”, there’s just tradeoff between different forms of liberty.

          • Anonymous

            Economic reasoning assumes that people will consciously act to reach subjectively chosen and valued ends. The actual quality or “rationality” of action is another element altogether. The asymmetry of the prisoners’ situation already has the ‘optimal’ built in to it. In real life– noone knows the optimal action at any given time since it can only be realized through hindsight, if that. The state planner is in the same asymmetric position as the entrepreneur. But only one, ceteris paribus, has recourse to economic calculation in helping to guess the future demands of consumers.

    • Anonymous

      You refer to: “Ideologically incoherent screeds which attempt to equate taxation with theft.” This rhetoric leads me to question whether you are familar with Nozick’s argument (at ASU, 168-72) that “taxation of earnings from labor are on a par with forced labor.” Do you think you have a rebuttal to this argument? If so, I am happy to discuss it rationally with you.

      • Andrew Prock

        It’s not a matter for me to rebut, but a case for libertarians to make.  Equating taxation with forced labor is an analogy, and a poor one at that.  It’s not clear to me why I would be swayed by a bad analogy.  Analogies as rhetorical devices are rather weak ones, and when care is not taken to ensure a one-to-one correspondence between domains, what results is a mish mash of nonsense.  However, they are able to carry a certain amount of emotional resonance, and thus are often used not as a means of demonstrating logic and reason, but as propagandizing.

        • Anonymous

          At least admit that taxation is one-sided, coercive taking.  We can leave aside the question of right/wrong for the moment.
           

          • Andrew Prock

            Somehow admitting things which are not generally true doesn’t seem like a good step along the path of understanding.  I suppose in the realm of Robin Hood and Prince John this may have been the case, but in representative democracies, this is by no means a given.

          • Anonymous

            OK. Now I see. You don’t believe the taxing act is coercive. Then why is there an IRS that deploys heavily armed special police? Or people in prison for not complying with taxation?  The state is only enforcing voluntarism?  (Btw, Mussolini used ‘voluntary’ in the same way that pro-tax people use voluntary).

            Or is that you think that because voting occured that all that follows after is voluntary?  What if one believes democracy to be illegitimate forced taking in of itself and as a process? 

            Then there is Lysander Spooner’s crushing blow to the so-called validation in democracy…

            Anyway, thanks for your honesty. It is good to know where someone stands.

          • Andrew Prock

             You might recall that I was responding to your false claim: “taxation is one-sided, coercive taking” not your updated “You don’t believe the taxing act is coercive.”

            I suppose that by putting words in my mouth, you’ll be able to do an admirable job of defeating imagined positions.  

            Your response here does that much more to illuminate the problem.  People like Sachs view libertarians as they do exactly because of the way people like you choose to engage in discussion.  Until that changes, people like Sachs are not going to change their views.

          • Anonymous

            You avoid the issue once more. And who cares about Sachs?  His day in the sun is over. Establishment boot-licking limp-wristed neo-liberal artificial boom exploiting pseudo-market jackwagon shallowness cannot be won over. Trampled, pushed aside and made irrelevant maybe.

          • Andrew Prock
          • Anonymous

            haha! ok.

          • Damien S.

            What if one believes private property to be illegitimate forced taking?  “Property is theft.”

            Not to mention that, even granting the idea of private property, it’s hard to see how any land titles in the USA are legitimate.  Libertarians talk a lot about principle, but rarely about returning their land to the closet relatives of the last known legitimate owners, the Indians…

          • Anonymous

            Private property is neither legitimate or illegitimate without the context of how it came into possession. Whereas taxation implies forced taking– illegitmate immoral transfer. There cannot be theft without the concept of property to begin with anyway.

            That said, you bring up a great point. That of past injustice in transfer and how to rectify it. I do believe there are Objectivists who see all collective forms of property as not only illegitimate but ripe for the taking by the more civilized, which really amounted to collectivistic US Cavalry and railroad corporate welfare recipients in the Native American case. 

            There has to be proportion involved, which is obviously lacking in some Objectivist thought. And here is where empirical research can do its job in figuring out who did what to who and when. At what point does one say ok, what could be alleviated of past wrongs has been done, holdings have been (re)connected to the market as much as possible (including the US government’s holdings), and solid market based structures have evolved to hopefully stave-off future tragedies?   It is tricky. 

        • Anonymous

          Right, so you haven’t read ASU or any of the relevant literature on this subject. My guess is that, based on your curious dismissal of arguments based on analogy, that you’ve taken few if any philosophy courses. Yet, despite your apparent ignorance, you are happy to pop-off about “ideologically incoherent screeds.” There are many commentators on this blog who are both familiar with the literature and coversant with the philosophical method. If you want anyone here to take you seriously, I suggest you study-up.

          • Andrew Prock

            Remember, this isn’t about me convincing you, or about you convincing me. It’s about the broad perception of libertarians as illustrated by Sachs, and what to do about it.  I suggested moving away from incoherent ideological dogmatism, and in response I got … incoherent ideological dogmatism.

            You’ve done a great job of being dismissive and demeaning, while simultaneously providing no rhetorical or logical presentation of your position.  I’m sure you believe with all your heart that you’re right, but if you want libertarianism to expand outside the chamber in which it echoes,  efforts must be made to reach out instead of push away.

            The idea that I need to be an expert in philosophy to recognize absurdities is the sort of intellectual arrogance that one might expect from ivory tower acolytes.  If you are in fact so wizened and learned, I’m sure you’ll be able point me to the best *refutation* of the taxation is theft mantra.

          • Anonymous

            Avoiding the issue.  Taxing is an act. What sort of act is it?

          • Andrew Prock

            If you’d like to argue that all laws and policies are to some degree coercive, you’ll get no argument from me.  If you’d like to argue that therefore there should be no laws and policies, then you are not a libertarian, but an anarchist.  That would go a long way towards explaining your inability to illuminate libertarian principles.

          • Anonymous

            I can only reason with people by using, well, reason. A person who starts by accusing libertarians of “ideologically incoherent screeds” w/o even understanding the arguments involved is not someone with whom I can reason.

          • Andrew Prock

            I can see how you might feel that way.  And you’re certainly free to “take your ball and go home.”  But that sort of behavior isn’t going do anything to change the broad perception of libertarians as ideological irrationalists who ignore the broad structures of society in their promotion of individualism.

            In fact, it only reinforces that perception.

  • Damien S.

    ” It’s not at all clear to me that the welfare state, for example, has in fact improved the lives of the poor, weak, and vulnerable”

    So, I’m reading Sachs’ new book _The Price of Civilization_, and on page 53 I see

    “The War on Poverty had its most lasting effect on two groups, the elderly and African Americans.  Medicare and the expansion of Social Security effectively ended the persistent high poverty among those over sixty-five.  In 1959, the elderly poverty rate stood at 35.2%; it fell to 25.3% by 1969 and just 9.7% by 2007. African American poverty rates fell from 55.1% in 1959 to 32.2% in 1969 and 24.5% in 2007.”

    which strongly suggests, though does not prove due to the possibility of conflating factors, that while imperfect the War on Poverty was in fact a large scale success.  Growth in a certain form of visible urban poverty (public housing ghettos) may be more than offset by reductions in other forms of urban and rural poverty, say.  The particular methods chosen might not be optimal — housing vouchers, or outright cash transfers, might be better than housing projects — but the War would statistically seem to be an improvement over the government doing nothing.

    • Anonymous

      Your caution about “conflating factors” is certainly justified…in spades. Most elderly/retired persons in 1959 had spent a substantial portion, if not the majority, of their working lives in the Great Depression and WWII, so we would expect them to be poor when compared to the elderly of 1969 who enjoyed more of the post-War boom, when we had the only industrial base that survived intact. Moreover, SS existed both in 1959 and 1969, so this couldn’t be responsible for reducing poverty amongst retirees, right? Finally, as any set of economic statistics will reveal, our standard of living has improved substantially from about 1789 onwards due to the advance of science and technology, so a great deal of Sach’s figures are simply the result of the steady march of progress (trains, planes, automobiles, computers, antibiotics, robotics, etc., etc.).

      Much of the above applies as well to African-Americans, but here the more relevant test is how are they doing relative to their white counterparts, and I believe the results are completely unimpressive. Mostly, I believe, because white liberals insist on sending poor and working class black kids to the public school that is located closest to them, regardless of its quality, teaching philosophy, values, and so on.

      • Damien S.

        SS existed in all three years, yes, but it has been expanded over time.  It was originally written so as to largely exclude African Americans and women, via not covering occupations they tended to have.  That was fixed, then potential retirement ages were lowered, then inflation indexing was added in 1972.  Medicare of course was created in 1965 and is rather a big deal.

        Standard of living has improved, but I think poverty levels are measured in relative terms not absolute dollars.  Besides, for most of the period since 1970, median income hasn’t improved even though mean income has.

        Anyway, we don’t have the information here to actually settle the matter.  But if one implements poverty reduction programs and poverty is then reduced, that’s at least a promising correlation, and shifts the burden of proof for “it didn’t work” claims.

        “white liberals insist on forcing poor and working class black kids to attend the public school that is located closest to them”

        Funny, what happened to busing and integration?  And of course you’d blame liberals for all the failings, and not conservatives and libertarians for trying to cut the school funding…

        • Anonymous

          I have no idea what it means to measure poverty in “relative” terms. If “A” starves to death and “B” is severely malnourished, B may be better off than A, but he is still impoverished. Let me give you some real, meaningful data. According to official U.S. government data, from 1939 to 1957 (before the “War on Poverty”) the median salary of white workers went from $868 to $3107, while for blacks it went from $327 to $1866; see Historical stataistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957, p.168. So by your impeccable logic,  “if one [DOES NOT] implements poverty reduction programs and poverty is then reduced, that’s at least a promising correlation, and shifts the burden of proof.” 
          With respect to education, according to a recent study done by the Third Way, a “moderate Democratic” think tank affiiated with many prominent Democrat politicians, average 2010 per pupil funding in affluent school districts was $11,925; $10,349 in middle class districts and $11,799 in low income districts. Their complaint is that the middle class is getting screwed. See Tess Stovall and Deidre Dolan, “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade,” Third Way, September 2011, http://thirdway.org/subjects/143/publications/435. So, please, no more ill-founded complaints about discrimoinatory funding unless you have better data than this. Its not money, it the monopoly system that harms students from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds.

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