Rights Theory, Liberty

The Administrative State vs. the Social Insurance State

In Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, I examine the question of which country is the most libertarian. I argue briefly that while the United States has the highest percentage of self-identified libertarians and uses the most libertarian rhetoric, it is not the most libertarian country in terms of its actual policies. Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and some others are much more libertarian (especially classical liberal-libertarian) than the United States.

Here’s a brief excerpt from an earlier draft:

The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation produce an annual Index of Economic Freedom. They rate countries for their respect for property rights, freedom from corruption, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, fiscal freedom, and government spending. Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Chile, Mauritius, and Ireland have higher scores than the United States. The United States ranks only 10th overall.

This index may understate how anti-libertarian the United States is. After all, the index penalizes countries if their governments spend large amounts on social insurance. Yet classical liberals and neoclassical liberals are not in principle opposed to government social insurance. [That is, they will accept it under certain conditions.]

Thus, suppose we separate the idea of the administrative state—which tries to control, regulate, manipulate, and manage the economy—from the social insurance state—which provides tax-financed education, healthcare, or unemployment insurance. On the Index of Economic Freedom, many countries that rank lower than the US have far less extensive administrative states than the US. For instance, Denmark ranks much higher than the United States on property rights, freedom from corruption, business freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and many other countries beat the US on these measures as well. Thus, many other European countries might reasonably be considered more economically libertarian than the US.

The administrative state directly interferes with citizens’ economic liberty. To expand the scope of the administrative state’s power just is to limit the scope of individual citizens’ economic liberty*.

What about the social insurance state, especially one that works pretty well? If you regard all taxation as theft, then you’ll see the social insurance state as a direct assault on property rights. But, even then, the social insurance state does not, in itself, directly curtail most economic liberties. (Of course, if the government taxes almost all of your income away or sets a limit to how much you can own, then that will limit your effective economic liberty.)

We could imagine a political-economic regime in which there is a completely or largely unregulated free market but in which the government taxes people to provide social insurance and some other welfare benefits. On its face, this regime seem much congenial to classical liberalism than a regime that provides no welfare benefits, but which regulates most enterprises, sets prices, controls entry into markets, and imposes licensing rules.


*On economic liberty:

Libertarians claim that, as a matter of basic justice, people have the right to acquire, hold, use, give, and in many cases destroy personal property. They may decide what to eat, drink, and wear, and determine what kinds of entertainment and cultural experiences they will consume. They may acquire wealth for themselves or for others. They have the right to enter into a wide range of contracts for the exchange of goods and services. They may enter into and negotiate employment contracts (including wage rates, hours worked, working conditions, and so on) as they see fit. They may decide for themselves how to balance leisure and work. They may choose to join unions or not. They may manage their households as they see fit. They may create things for sale. They have the right to start, manage, and stop businesses, to sell franchises in such businesses, and to run such businesses for their own private ends in the way they regard as best. This includes the right to form certain kinds of joint ventures, including certain kinds of corporations and workers’ cooperatives. People may own private productive property, such as factories or machinery, and develop property for productive purposes. They may acquire, lend, take risks with, and profit from capital and financial instruments. They have the right to determine their own long-term financial plans, including retirement saving and investments in certain forms of insurance. Libertarians even believe that people have the right to sell sexual services or their own body parts, such as kidneys.


  • One possible counter-argument is that in the U.S. relatively libertarian policies in some states are offset by non-libertarian policies in other states and at the national level. However it’s also possible that even the supposedly libertarian states aren’t all that libertarian either, they’re more low-tax jurisdictions with “business-friendly” policies (e.g., “right to work” laws, direct or indirect subsidies to particular industries, etc.).

    •  “However it’s also possible that even the supposedly libertarian states
      aren’t all that libertarian either, they’re more low-tax jurisdictions
      with “business-friendly” policies (e.g., ‘right to work’ laws, direct or
      indirect subsidies to particular industries, etc.).”

      Bingo!  For instance there’s a libertarian case that “right to work” is just another word for “denial of freedom of association” and “business-friendly” is another word for “state approval of offloading costs onto non-participants.”

      I’m not saying one’s right and the other’s wrong.  Just that “business friendly” is still state intervention.  More specifically, it’s administrative state (we’ll protect them from you when their effluent poisons your well) more than insurance state.

      Nothing libertarian about that at all.


    • j r

      Are right to work laws really more libertarian?  They tip the scale from union power to non-union power and libertarians tend to like that, but I don’t see how “right to work” laws are any more libertarian than closed shop laws.  They both legislate as to which arrangements between employers and employees are permitted and which are not.

      The libertarian solution would be that the law remain silent on the topic altogether.  If a company negotiated a closed shop with a particular union, isn’t that well within the purview of the employer and the employees to regulate their own standards.

      • I should have been more clear: I myself am skeptical whether “right to work” laws are truly libertarian; I see them more as an example of the libertarian rhetoric of freedom and liberty being used to justify policies that businesses happen to favor for their own non-libertarian reasons.

        • martinbrock

          If a corporation contracts with a union (or another corporation) for specified services, and if the contract specifies that the union (or another corporation) exclusively will provided the specified services, a law entitling someone else, who is not a member of the union (or an employee of the other corporation), to provide the same service simply voids this contract.

        • right to work laws have nothing to do with liberty (freedom to associate anyone?) and everything to do with business owners using the state as a coercive tool in what should otherwise be a private sector negotiation**.         (**okay gov. jobs the obvious exception)  

          • AaronWat

            Jim. I respectfully disagree with you. Right to work laws DO have EVERYTHING to do with liberty. The law neither forces an employee to join a union, nor punishes an employee for not joining a union. It defends freedom of association. You as an employee choose to either be in a union or not be in a union. You are not penalized either way. Right to work no matter what your union association. It’s up to you.
            Non-right to work states force workers to join a union. Employment and Union membership are seen as one in the same. If you don’t join the union, you can’t work there, period.

          • martinbrock

            Non-right to work states do not force workers to join a union. They refrain from forcing employers not to contract exclusively with a union for specified services. If you don’t want to join a union, you don’t work for a corporation with this sort of contract with a union.

            A state prohibiting anti-competitive covenants between corporations and similar entities more generally might advance individual liberty somehow, in theory, but I doubt that “right to work” laws actually have this effect.

          • AaronWat

            I’d also like to clarify that I do not think right-to-work law is a perfect law. I’m sure there are circumstances where this law could be used to impede liberty, but generally speaking it was designed to protect the worker’s liberty to choose between joining or not-joining a union. Of course unions despise this law because it prevents mandatory membership, which diminishes their power over buisnesses in right-to-work states.
            Which sounds more like liberty to you? Freedom to choose, or mandatory membership?

          • I fail to see why this would be a problem.  The union could represent only those workers willing to pay dues.  Those didn’t want to pay dues wouldn’t be represented by the union.  I dislike laws that force people to do or not do things that aren’t harmful to anyone else.  In the case of the labor unions versus right to work, why can’t the union just represent the dues paying members and not represent those who don’t want to belong?

    • FYI, we discussed right to work laws earlier on this blog, here: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/06/libertarianism-and-the-right-to-work/

  • dL

    Planning for Competition vs Planning Against Competition.

    If the State Agency only exhibited the properties of (1), then there would be no body of political thought called libertarianism.

    The problem: what credible mechanism can you propose that will enforce the State Agency’s commitment to be bound  by (1)?

    The problem with (2) is that it can be rationally modeled, particularly if the Administrative State is centered around a political economy of a military industrial complex, as a agency for rent-seeking political competition(and where rents are not fully dissipated, meaning our agency/firm is actually redistributing something) whose ends are the maximization of discretionary power. This is the “total state” equilibrium.

  • 3cantuna

    “Yet classical liberals and neoclassical liberals are not in principle opposed to government social insurance. [That is, they will accept it under certain conditions.]”

    This is too narrow of an interpretation. When seen as a historical development that included wide-range opposition to the system of status, inherited privileges, monarchical rule, the Ancien Regime, etc., classical liberalism cannot be nailed down to merely the political views of Hayek, Friedman and BHLs.  Surely Bastiat, Mises, and many many others that would likely oppose the principle of social insurance were indeed classical liberals. If JS Mill was a classical liberal, so were the laissez-faire types. Is this an attempt by BHLs and their friend Tomasi to shape history to fit the battle for their current preferences?  Do I detect presentism?

    “What about the social insurance state, especially one that works pretty well?”

    How do you know that the social insurance state works well?  If you employ Popperian empiricism  then the opposition may counter with the same stats but different conclusion. Damien S., resident state socialist, may reply that people are free and prosperous because of the state and more is needed. Who is right?  Human society is just a big experiment and the same rules that apply to natural sciences apply to humans, right?  As Hayek intimated, in one reading anyway, human society is complex and makes it harder to impose Popperian guidelines, but Popper is right nonetheless. How do you exit this empiricist merry-go-round? 

    On the other hand, if economics is an aprioristic science, contra-Hayek and Popper, one can deduce that these freer societies that have national health systems of some sort– are  freer because of an overall less hampering of the market, period.  Scandinavian countries, although mired in corporatism and restricted labor markets (Finland), have very strong market oriented aspects– especially exports. Most importantly- they do not have the militarism and imperial burden of the US.  (Though Sweden spends a lot on military).  People are freer and more prosperous in spite of the state– any modern taxing state!  The reason why states can be so big is because they have so much to parasite. The material wealth comes from the market. (Hoppe)

    Dr. Brennan, what methodology are you applying that allows you to be so confident about state run social insurance (if insurance is even the righ term)?

    • I didn’t advocate state-run insurance. I’m just making a set of conceptual claims.

      • 3cantuna

        Then how would the conceptual claims be supported?

      • Ilya Somin

        I think much here depends on how large the social insurance state is and where the money goes. A minimal social insurance state that transfers money to poor people genuinely unable to support themselves is vastly different from a bloated one that transfers huge amounts of money to the wealthy and middle class. The former (might) be defensible on some sort of libertarian grounds. The latter surely not. Obviously, real-world insurance states (especially in Europe) tend greatly towards the latter.

        The extra regulation in the US relative to most Western European states is much smaller than the extra “social insurance” provided by the latter. I also have more confidence in the indices measures of comparative government spending than in their measures of comparative regulation. For these reasons, I think it’s a mistake to discount the difference in “social insurance” and focus only on differences in regulation. I’d much rather have a modest increase in regulation than a massive one in “social insurance” – especially since the latter is often accompanied by restrictions on economic liberties as well (e.g. – mandated benefits for worker, mandated taxes paid on employees’ salaries, etc.). 

        Finally, I would note that the US’ 10th place ranknig in these surveys is historically atypical. For much of the previous 30 years, the US ranked somewhere between 1st and 5th or 6th. It remains to be seen whether the pattern of the last few years is going to become the new normal.

    •  I think you want to use a very broad interpretation of “social insurance.”  For instance I’d probably include municipal utilities as well as hospitals but exclude zoning as well as dress codes because those are administrative state functions.


      • 3cantuna

        Actually, no I don’t.  The question is:  government or market?

        • Are you excluding everything else? Some things involve neither coercion nor market forms, and other things involve both.

          • 3cantuna

            There are nuances indeed. Even a corporatist government regulated industry sells goods on a market, even if the buyers have been taken advantage of by exogenous state circumstances. Even the public school might buy property from a market entity that exists in yet more non-market circumscription (zoning capture…).  There are voluntary forms of non-market influences too– religious based, etc.  Yet, at least there is the possibility of (less distorted and more socially robust) monetary calculation in voluntary forms– even if people choose not to. State providers cannot make this claim.

            I am looking at the structural imperative in provision. Government or market?  This distinction helps in analysis rather than obscures it.


        • How cliche and simple.

    • Damien S.

      “Damien S., resident state socialist”

      Someone can’t tell the difference between a state socialist and a social democrat.

      “classical liberalism cannot be nailed down to merely the political views of Hayek, Friedman and BHLs”

      Equally, it can’t be nailed down to merely the political views of Mises et al.  Fact is, many classical liberals have in fact been friendly to social insurance.

  • Very nice distinction, Jason!

    Given that the overall “American Tradition” was founded by and continues to be based on Plymouth-area colonists who came here for the express purpose of creating an absolutely draconian model of a (theological) Administrative state then, yeah, it’s not a surprise that we don’t rate very high on indexes of libertarianism.

    As long as I’m on the subject, the model for governance in the early U.S. was secularly Congregationalist, with the nominally libertarian idea that individual polities (a.k.a. congregations) would have almost absolute autonomy.  But with the decidedly non-libertarian proviso that the elected leader (a.k.a the pastor) would have basically unlimited authority with only limited veto powers by a board of senior “electors” (a.k.a. elders or deacons) who could basically only hire and, under certain circumstances, fire the pastor.

    And that model is still what gives me total #%!#%ing hives about posers like Ron Paul who’s notions of “libertarianism” tend to focus only on opposing national-level government while being almost cheerfully willing to let individual state governments and local municipalities exercise almost unlimited power over their own citizens.  In other words he’s still an administrative state-ist, but only at the state level.

    It’s also why I always feel like vomiting on the shoes of the kind of “libertarians” who say only property rights matter.  Because, as I point out from time to time, Singapore is amazingly “libertarian” about property rights… but it’s such a down-to-the-bare-metal Administrative State that legal there for the government to literally beat you with broom handles if you for chewing #%!%!-ing gum!  (True story: a friend from Singapore said the police called him at his new job to let him know they’d towed someone who’d broken into his apartment.  From a pure property-rights standpoint it’s great that the cops wanted to let him no.  From a libertarian perspective it’s unbelievably disturbing that that they had access not only of every ordinary citizen’s name and address and kept real-time track of where they worked.)

    Meanwhile, as you say, Canada, Denmark, Holland, Australia, and a number of other countries are very high-level social insurance states without imposing the kind of burden on their citizen’s personal lives that we see in Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or the early U.S.

    There’s a nice BHL connection there, obviously, with pretty much none of us wanting an Administrative State but fewer of us objecting in principle to Social Insurance because it’s just infrastructure support.

    Mundane example: very few libertarian gated-community residents object to paying maintenance fees, even though sometimes the fees go to repair parts of the community the owner doesn’t go.  That’s “social insurance.”  On the other hand its hard to imagine being able to respect a libertarian who didn’t object when gated-community association dictated what colors residents could paint their houses or whether they couldn’t (or alternately had to) put up holiday lights on his or her property.  That’s Administrative State behavior and therefore insufferable.)

    Are there gray areas?  Sure.  It’s not clear whether it’s Administrative State or Social Insurance State that says you can’t pour toxic waste down the sink, throw paint bombs at billboards, or refuse to serve law abiding citizens because of their race, religion, national origin, orientation, or sex.  But while those instances tend to generate a lot of heat they’re actually a relatively small slice of the overall administrative vs. insurance state landscapes.


    • 3cantuna

      “There’s a nice BHL connection there, obviously, with pretty much none of us wanting an Administrative State but fewer of us objecting in principle to Social Insurance because it’s just infrastructure support.”

      False dichotomy, between Admin State and Social Insurance. What does it take to have state run social insurance but state admin?  All of the things inherent to government bureaucracy apply.  The analogy with a condo association fails because people enter into tangible contracts; not so with the state admin.  Infrastructure support?  Not necessary. 

      Maybe it is time for this blog to drop the libertarian label?

      • Guinevere Nell

        False dichotomy, between Admin State and Social Insurance. What does it take to have state run social insurance but state admin?”

        I think you’re missing the point. A very simple cash transfer takes almost no admin. Like 0.1% of the current budget would be required and very little bureaucracy – much less, for example, than is required to run courts, police property rights or run jails for property-rights offenders.

        There is a clear distinction between the admin state and the social insurance state, if you’d be willing to see it.

        • 3cantuna

          How long would this simple cash transfer last until 1) transfers got larger 2) transfers were attached to political loyalty/favors 3) transfers moved on to add bureaucracies for ‘necessary’ associated tasks?  Power corrupts. 

          By what means would transfer payments be proven to be better than market based aid?  With taxation and forced transfer, the economic means of evaluation– profit/loss and cost accounting based on entrepreneurship decisions tied to voluntary exchanges– gets muted, deranged or thwarted entirely.  There is no substitute for this way of rationing resources, dealing with opportunity costs in a world of massive scarcity.  Transfer payments would be a way of trying to have cake and eat it too. 

          Besides a moral plea– what do UBI adherents reasonably fall back on?

          • There is a problem that medical fraud accounts for something like 10% of all health care costs in the USA.  I consider this figure to be on the “conservative” side going by my own personal observations. 

          • 3cantuna

            “Medical fraud” can be a lot of things.  I worked with a Medicare (CMS) investigator that estimated CMS fraud to be in double digits– depending how you read it.

            Some docs claim that they lie to CMS so that they can make up for shortfalls in reimbursements for people in need. Robinhoods?

            What do you mean to encompass by “medical fraud”? Frivolous lawsuits? 

            At any rate, the non-fraud but non-market aspects of health care drive up costs more than ‘crime’ in the States. 

  • Hi Jason,

    You say: “suppose we separate the idea of the administrative state—which tries to control, regulate, manipulate, and manage the economy—from the social insurance state—which provides tax-financed education, healthcare, or unemployment insurance.”

    As you no doubt realise that is a very difficult distinction to make. Here in the UK, for instance, the government taxes us to pay for the health care that it provides for us. What that means in practice is that we cannot decide what health care we get. Instead those decisions are made for us by doctors and administrators on the basis of priorities that they have set (after some negotiation with the government and hence also with a bunch of vested-interest pressure groups). If I am suffering from a complaint that is not favoured by the current coalition of vested interests, I get little or no relief, and I may be left to suffer or die. If I have something that pressure groups have made a high priority (AIDS or some problems  specific to women, for example), I may be overwhelmed by the quantity, and perhaps even the quality, of care that I get. Either way, I am a victim of the administrative state, which tries to control, manipulate and manage the economy. In the meantime, because the health bureaucracy does not offer its services in open competition, a large proportion of the massive tax funds that are allocated to it are wasted.

    • Damien S.

      “I may be left to suffer or die”

      Or to pay for it in private health care, out of pocket or with private insurance, which I know exists in the UK.  And the UK spends 8% of GDP on health care, while the US spends 16%, so I’m not going to buy “but high taxes limit my ability to buy private health care” as an answer.

      • shemsky

        So don’t buy it, Damien. But high taxes do limit one’s ability to buy private health care (and a lot of other things). State spending is not limited to just health care.

        • Damien S.

          High taxes in general might, but those taxes here are paying for things beyond health care.  The taxes for the universal health care system itself can’t be hampering the ability much, since they’re half of what we spend with our more market system.  Heck, the UK gov’t spends less than the US gov’t on health care, but covers 100% of the people.

          • The US system has more “overhead” for one thing.  For another there is a built in “incentive” to overtreat due to malpractice lawsuits.  A lot of MRI’s, CAT scans, etc., are done because of “defensive medicine”.  Plus the private insurance system costs more because of stockholders demanding dividends, CEO’s receiving multimillion dollars salaries, salesmen on comission.  Plus much more “paperwork” both by insurance companies and by doctor’s staffs.  All of this adds up.  Certainly Libertarians could do a lot better since we don’t buy into government regulation as being the “solution” to problems.

          • Damien S.

            Funny.  You describe lots of problems based entirely in the market nature of US health care, then assert Libertarians could of course do better because you don’t believe in government solutions.  That’s not even wrong, it’s a non sequitur.

      • I don’t have time to look up the figures at the moment. Health spending accounts for about 20% of taxes, and taxes are high here, so the cost of our national health service (NHS) takes a substantial amount out of people’s income. This leaves them much less able to buy private care. Obviously, richer people can and do pay for private care.  Poorer people cannot afford to: they are the ones who suffer most.

        The reason health spending is low here is precisely because it is paid for by taxes. Even though people want more spent on health (few people are satisfied with the NHS), they  do not want to pay higher taxes to provide the money. This is rational too. For there is no connection between what a person pays in taxes and what they get back.  Who gets treated depends on the professionals’ priorities, not on the priorities of the people who are paying the taxes. You could pay much higher taxes for health and still be one of those who is left to die. Also there is an endemic problem of waste and inefficiency in the NHS. Throwing more money at it does little to improve it. For as long as I can remember governments have been pledging to improve the NHS; and every new government sets out a new programme of reform (they all largely fail). It is a sluggish and wasteful bureaucracy: the incentives are all wrong. If you take the waste out of the 8% figure you quote, the spending that is really on care for patients in the UK is even less. Even the money that is actually spent on care for patients is often not well spent. Poor and abusive treatment of patients in hospitals is a recurrent scandal.

        • Damien S.

          Just remember you’re spending less than half as much as the US per capita, while living slightly longer. 

          One estimate for *our* waste and inefficiency was 1/3, due to profit-driven unnecessary testing and procedures, including aggressive diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer even though it rarely gets a chance to kill anyone.  (Nice way of inflating our male cancer survivorship rates, though.)

  • CFV

    Australia and Canada much more libertarian? 
    Canada has, for example, the Canadian Wheat Board (as of August, 2012 membership will become voluntary). Although Australia privatized his Wheat Board in 1999, the private company is more or less the same: it has veto power over any other prospective exporters of wheat.  

    As far as I know, there is no single libertarian country on Earth.

    Now Peter Thiel, Pay Pal founder, is trying to create a floating libertarian country in international waters:



    Jason, You say: “But, even then, the social insurance state does not, in itself, directly curtail most economic liberties.” However, this is true only on a restricted understanding of “economic liberty.” In defining economic liberty, you say later,  [Libertarians believe] “they have the right to enter into a wide range of contracts for the exchange of goods and services.”

    Correct, but the right to “enter into a contract” includes the right NOT to enter into a contract. A social insurance program is a contract forced on me by the state, i.e. for retirement savings, medical coverage, etc. So these mandatory insurance programs do, it seems to me, directly infringe economic liberty.

    As you may know, Nozick has a specific argument that they were unjust, likening particpation in them to the right to emmigrate. Only totalitarian states prevent citizens from leaving, and if it is wrong to restrict my freedom to leave a state, why is it not also unjust to prevent me from opting out of these social insurance programs?

    • martinbrock

      Leaving a state leaves a package of benefits. Might a state justly permit you to opt out of one social insurance program only if you opt out of all of them? Might it require you to opt out of the enforcement of property rights?

    • j_m_h

      Mark, the “NOT to enter” is a problem every structure, including most anarchies, face. Why would the particular case Jason presents be more or less onerous than the alternative you suggest.

      Why can I not opt out of the system or property rights your state imposes on me? At some point every society will have certain features for which opting out simply doesn’t apply if you want to coexist in the same geographic area as others.


        Hi JMH,
        Sorry, but I don’t understand your first paragraph, especially the part about “the particular case Jason presents.” He is speaking from within a libertarian framework and would (I think) agree with me that you do not really enjoy freedom of contract if the state can force you to enter into contracts against your will.

        Your second question seems to call for a justification of libertarian philosophy generally, i.e. why do we have the moral right to “opt out”?  This is too large a question to address here, other than to say that I believe that Nozick supplies the most convincing answer.

        • martinbrock

          He seems to ask what are you opting out of, not why you may opt out of it.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You have, on libertarian principles, the right to opt out of anything that you did not voluntarily agree to join, i.e. all are entitlement programs, among other things. 

          • martinbrock

            So I may opt out of an obligation to respect your patent for example? How about your designation of an heir to title to a parcel of land? May I opt out of respect for your heir’s claim? According to Locke, hereditary title requires loyalty to a nation-state.

            I haven’t read much by Nozick, but I think I understand the essential theory, and I don’t think it’s as complete as some followers of Nozick suppose, even if I share many of their conclusions.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I’m sorry, but I don’t really see your point. Obviously, your rights limit my rights. As Nozick put it, I have the right to swing my knife around as I please, but not into your chest. I don’t have the right to “opt out” of your right not to be killed with my knife.

            Are there gray areas? Yes, and IP is one of them. If this is what you mean by “formal systems of sufficient complexity are generally incomplete,” then I agree.

          • martinbrock

            That was my point, and I’m referring to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Fair enough. I am not intimately familiar with Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem because the best grade I ever received in a math class was “incomplete” (or worse).

          • martinbrock

            Real nerds major in math … and then apply for foodstamps.

        • j_m_h

          Mark, yes I think Jason is speaking within a libertarian framework. The concept to “taking” from one to give to another follow directly from a particular implementation of property rights.

          For instance, the current view seems to be “all my income belongs to me”. I think that stems for the belief that markets are in fact relatively just in distribution even though neither market theory or statement from people like Hayek really support such a view. Markets are good at allocating but that’s different. 

          What if one were so live in a society which was libertarian and market-ordered but most believed that the distribution of incomes the result from this structure is just as likely to generate incomes that are under or over rewarding by over 10%. Therefore the rule emerges that 10% to the total income for society is collected and divided up amount everyone as some type of UBI.

          If you were born into that society chances are you’d accept it as a reasonable approach to an imperfect world. 

          Note, there’s no attempt here whatsoever to identify who is over compensated in society and who is under compensated. It will, in a market society have the effect of transferring wealth from those with higher incomes to those with lower incomes if a similar distribution of income exists as we see in the USA today.

          Now, how could you opt out of that system?

          Your claiming that you know you deserve 100% of your income would seem to presume a level of knowledge that is unknowable by anyone.

          Similarly, the same hold when you claim someone should be free to opt out of your vision of a libertarian world. If I disagree with the particular structure you have for property rights I cannot simply “opt out”. That would leave the two of us in constant conflict because we would never be in agreement on who was trespassing on whom.

          That being the case I don’t think your suggestion to opt out of the “contract” (and for most social institutions the is not and never will be any explicit contract) or the option not to “contract” knocks down ALL social orders. It’s not a legitimate question/critique in this particular context.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks for this, and your point is now much clearer to me. In response: my claim about the right to freely contract (or not) is an abstract, philosophical claim. In a state of nature, where there are no governments and thus no past or current institutionalized injustice, all relationships between competent adults, including contracts, should be entered into on an entirely consensual basis. Obviously, this is a moral claim, the substance of which I will not attempt to defend here. Do you disagree with this claim?

            In the real world there are states, and thus past and current injustice, so it is possible that the above-referenced right might have to be limited to address this. So, I don’t necessarily believe that “all my income belongs to me.” However, I don’t think that moral rights are nullified by what other people think about them; even if 99% agree on a particular idea, they may be wrong.

            So, for your example to persuade me, it would have to be based on some actual injustice that would cause me to set aside the general moral principle that income gained by a person through entirely voluntary transactions has been justly earned. And, absent strong reasons to the contrary (see above), I claim that people are entitled to retain justly earned income. In other words, this income is “deserved” in the morally relevant sense–there is no need to worry about certain activities being over or under rewarded.

            Thus, I think it is irrelevant whether or not, “If you were born into that society chances are you’d accept it as a reasonable approach to an imperfect world.”  If I did actually accept it the issue would never come up because I have consented. And, if I don’t consent, then the resolution should depend on whether there is an actual injustice in play that would justify disregarding the broad moral principle just outlined.

            If you have an actual moral right, there is no need to “opt in” to it; it is simply yours by right. By the same token, other people do not have the right to “opt out” of respecting my rights. But I do have the right to opt out of unjust programs that the state forces on me, unless required to correct an injustice that I have in some way contributed to or directly benefitted from. Our current entitlement programs simply heap further injustice on top of pre-existing wrongs.

          • j_m_h

            Mark, I’m having a bit of a challenge in how to respond because your requirement to show some the existence of injustice where there’s no basis for defining the just outcome.

            Hayek’s idea that one cannot make a justice evaluation of the distributive outcome from markets has been pointed out several times in this blog. If we cannot make judgement regarding the justness of income distribution then the demand that some injustice be identified doesn’t appear applicable as we have no basis for such an assessment.

            Turning this around, if we use the concept of reservation wage then anything a person earns more than their reservation wage has to be justified; clearly those on the buy side want to pay less if they can so justify why they should pay you more than the minimum you require to participate in the economic process.

            What criteria do you suggest we use to identify just from unjust? How do you prove that’s the true and correct way of doing so?

            This is why I suggested the idea of identifying who was unjustly getting the benefit and who was being unjustly penalized was not part of the institutional structure. Still, I did want to point out that the hypothetical alliterative would tend to be one that benefited the “worst off” in the society — which is the BHL aspect.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I don’t have too much more to say here. As previously stated, my guiding moral principle is that, absent some background injustice, the results of voluntary transactions between competent adults should not be disturbed. I can’t “prove” this, but I think Nozick has a pretty good argument for it.

            Hayek thought that we did not have to (as you say) “make [a] judgement regarding the justness of income distribution” precisely because in a truly free market (one not infected with institutional injustice) the distribution of goods will directly follow the value that an agent provides to others. He expressly and quite clearly rejected the idea that any distribution had to be justified from the moral perspective: “Our objection is against all attempts to impress upon society a deliberately chosen pattern of distribution, whether it be equality or inequality.” CL, p. 87 (and see all of Chapter 6).  It is the value provided others in free transactions that justifies the resulting distribtion.

    • If you compare the return on Social Security to what you could obtain by purchasing relatively safe investment instruments, it is obvious that the present social welfare system doesn’t really do all that great.  I invite everyone reading this to pay a visit to the Vanguard website.  Look for the two bond index funds.  One is heavy in federal bonds, the other in corporate bonds.  Both of these over a period of a decade have doubled in value according to the graph provided.  Even during the worst of the “Great Recession” they did fairly well. So a person who invested 15% of their income into these two funds over their working life would be able to retire with a much bigger “benefit” than Social Security can provide.  Also the principle of these assets can be passed on to your heirs.  Not so with Social Security.  The only possible benefit from Social Security that you can’t get from these investments is that Social Security offers a disability coverage and an early death coverage for your children that obviously Vanguard’s index bond funds can’t match.  However you can buy term life insurance rather cheaply when you, and you can buy disability insurance too.

      • 3cantuna

        I have heard this line over-and-over from the Cato Institute.  It is deceptive. There is no such thing as safe investments with the Fed Reserve around. And Cato does almost nothing to fight the Fed. Makes me think that Cato is paid by Vanguard, etc. When SS is “privatized” in the Cato/Bush II sense, it means government favored banks and investment interests will get the money.  It does not mean a return to market in a full sense. It ends up rather corporatist. (It is the same deal with Cato school reform, choice and vouchers). I am not saying this is what you meant, Jerry. But the way you said it sounds exactly like the Cato brochure.

      • Damien S.

        No, Social Security has the benefit of being absolutely safe, not relatively safe.  Well, not *absolutely* safe — political winds might shift and tear it down — but it’s not subject to stock market vagaries, which even broad index funds are, nor to inflation (given cost of living adjustments) which bonds are.  The closest match in security would an inflation-indexed bond, which AFAIK is offered only by the government…  SS is also mostly proof against your own short-term temptation, or against fraud; no one can swindle you out of your SS rights.

        So yes, you can get higher ‘return’ elsewhere, but for higher risk.  The unavoidable tradeoff.


          Not “political winds,” but inevitable demographic realities will dramatically change SS over the coming years. There are WAY fewer employees now paying into the system relative to retirees receiving benefits than 30-40 years ago. Somethig will have to give.

          • We had this conversation a few months ago, IRIC. There’s a lot more to consider here. First of all, regardless of how it were paid for — SS or private savings — the shifting balance between retirees and active workers would determine the ability of the economy to provide the demanded goods and services in any case. The rest is just numbers in databases. But there’s reason to be optimistic since we’ve also seen a lot of productivity growth in those decades. We also have something like 10 – 20% real un- and under-employment so it’s not like we don’t have the labor resources.

            The only reason for this to be a crisis is if we decide to make it a crisis. That’s a purely political issue and it’s instructive to note who’s screaming the loudest and maybe try to suss out why they’re hollerin’.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Sorry, but its not “just numbers in a database,” i.e. the public/private retirement systems are radically different.

            Consider this, from the SS Administration’s own website: http://www.ssa.gov/history/idapayroll.html. It tells the story of Ms. Ida May Fuller, the first recipient of regular monthly retirement benefits.  From 1937 through 1939 she contributed a total of $24.75 into the program, and received her first check for $22.54 on January 31, 1940, almost recouping her entire contribution.  But she would do much better than that. The lucky Ms. Fuller lived to be 100, and collected a total of $22,888.92 of other people’s money.  Not even Warren Buffett can hope to match this return on investment!

            She was not alone. According to Robert Samuelson, the longtime “Newsweek” economic columnist, by 2005 SS retirees had taken $16.5 trillion more out of the system than they had paid in. A system that can pay way more to people than they contribute, can also pay them way less. Besides this, where do you think that $16.5 trillion came from? Do you think this deficit has no impact on the economy.

            When SS started the tax was 1% from employee and 1% from employer, for a (you guessed it) 2% total. Voters were told the total tax would never exceed 3%. Now it is 12.4%. Do you think that this has no implications for the economy?

            If we must force people to save for their own retirements, why don’t we simply require them to set up IRAs, which would avoid the above-described crazy and arbitrary side effects of the SS system?

          •  Yes. That’s because it’s an insurance plan, not an retirement investment plan, and as such, there’s no particular reason to expect that what you get out will match what you put in. If you want a government retirement plan either, a) work for a gov. agency and retire, or b) open a IRA and put T-Bills in it. Seriously, Mark, it’s like you’re complaining about a cow because it’s not a horse.

            From the very beginning the program has been on a pay-as-you-go basis with current workers paying for current retirees and other beneficiaries.

            As to the tax rate increasing more than they first anticipated that has two main causes: 1) the program has been expanded in important ways over the years to include, for example, disability payments, and 2) life expectancy has increased faster than anticipated. I would hope you could admit that the later isn’t exactly a bad thing.

            Additionally — and this is crucial to wrap your head around — it became apparent in the late ’70’s that the demographic bulge of the baby-boomers was going to play hell with the system’s solvency. So President Reagan and Senator Moynihan crafted a plan to have the boomers bear most of that cost. They doubled the SS tax so that generation would be effectively paying for both their parents as well as putting away funds for themselves.

            There is now $2.6 T socked away in “special” Treasury bills. They’re special because they earn a defined ROR but are not marketable. They can only be redeemed directly by the Treasury. Before you complain that that’s bogus, ask yourself this: Would you really like the Feds to be stomping around in the private equity markets with $2.6 T to play with? Yikes! Instead, that $2.6 T is money the government didn’t have to borrow elsewhere, so that $2.6 T actually stayed in the private investment sphere without any government control. The bogus part is that they immediately started conflating the SS surplus with the deficit in the general fund making the budget deficit look smaller than it really was.

            Bottom line is the SS system, viewed in isolation, actually is in not half-bad shape; nothing a little tweak in rates couldn’t fix. On the other hand, the general Federal debt is actually worse than advertised by $2.6T.

            So now we’re approaching that inflection point where SS outlays will begin to exceed revenues precisely as forecast over thirty years ago. That’s not a crisis. That’s not even a problem, really. How can it be when it’s all going precisely to plan?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Right, show me in writing the “plan” that predicted this mess! Give me a break. You don’t bother to address many key issues. How is it fair that some people get out way more than they put in, and some must get less or pay way more in taxes to get the same thing? What are the larger economic effects of this program? Most of all, why not simply require people to save for their own retirement if we must use force? Doesn’t this seem more rational to you than forcing one generation to pay for another’s retirement? SS is a “cow” and not a horse in your words, but a “mad cow,” that is unfair, irrational and economically destructive.

            You must really like the “central planning” model to support this absurd system. In case you missed it, central planning does not work. Ever heard of the “economic calculation proiblem”? According to its own auditors, the system is down to paying 75% of promised benefits by 2033, and this deadline keeps accelerating. This sounds like a problem to me. You can have the last word, because I fear you are beyond rational persuasion.

          • Damien S.

            “by 2005 SS retirees had taken $16.5 trillion more out of the system than they had paid in”

            Then how did SS accumulate a surplus?  AFAIK the government doesn’t top up SS expenditures with general revenue, it’s all from payroll tax.

            Now, it is a paygo system, so as the workforce and productivity increase, payments would increase.  Like a retired parent getting more from their children than they paid to raise the children.  There’s no deficit, just increased productivity.

            “the public/private retirement systems are radically different”

            The demographic problems aren’t so radically different at an aggregate level.  In the private sector we talk about saving, but one can’t actually save up nursing care and we don’t really save up electricity or food.  We save up money and hope the  money will buy what we need.  But at a macro level, the worker/retiree ratio is what matters whether the retirees are supported by social security or private savings, and the falling ratio will be problem either way.

            “why don’t we simply require them to set up IRAs”

            Because that would have the side effect of some people messing up their investments or getting burned by market crashes.  Also, as Rob notes that’s a mandate to purchase private assets…

            Chile tried privatizing social security, and wasn’t thrilled with the results.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Its always been a paygo system. According to the SS administration’s own website (link provided above) Ida May Fuller, the first SS recipient, paid $24.75 into the system and took $22,888.92 out, starting two years after her first contribution. It came from general tax revenues, obviously. And, more recently, the system gets by from foreign borrowing. So, I have no idea what you mean by this: “Now, it is a paygo system, so as the workforce and productivity increase, payments would increase. Like a retired parent getting more from their children than they paid to raise the children. There’s no deficit, just increased productivity.”

            In your example, what if the children are broke and can’t pay for their parents’ retirement? Well, the parents starve. We can “solve” the problem by printing more money and paying SS benefits in inflated currency. But this will be a disaster.

            In private savings accounts, people who contribute $24.75 don’t get to take $23K out, starting two years later. Does this sound like a rational system to you? Really? Where did this money come from? Do those people also get 1000x what they contribute?

            Your penultimate paragraph displays rank paternalism: people can’t be trusted to save for themselves. I prefer to treat adults like adults. Even if you like paternalism, you could dictate a range of permissible investments (government bonds, S & P index funds, conservative mutual funds, etc.). By your logic, we shouldn’t have IRAs or Roth accounts, because people can screw those up too.

          • Damien S.

            You misread the sentence.  It’s not ‘now’ as in time but as in setting fact.  “If the sky were green… Now, the sky *is* blue…”

             “If they had their own retirement accounts, they wouldn’t”

            They would if the accounts turned out to be enough to cover costs, say because a large generation was retired at once and bidding up the price of nursing care and such.

            “what if the children are broke and can’t pay for their parents’ retirement”

            Social Security and pensions are best thought of as socializing intergenerational support.  Retirees are supported by everyone’s children.

            “Does this sound like a rational system to you?”

            No, but it’s also insignificant.  Neither fundamental to the basic idea of social security nor representative of the overall financing.

            “By your logic, we shouldn’t have IRAs or Roth accounts, because people can screw those up too.”

            Faulty logic.  It’s not like SS exists in exclusion to other investment means.  It takes some money and provides a minimum income.  Those who have more money are free to invest in a more luxurious retirement; the top SS benefit isn’t all that generous after all.  And they can choose their risk/reward ratio.  But SS sets a floor so we don’ t have starving seniors on the street.

            “people can’t be trusted to save for themselve”

            Worrying about market crashes has nothing to do with trusting poeple to save for themselves.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yours is the last word, not because your arguments are sound–they are clearly not, as people can see for themselves. I’m simply tired of arguing with people who will find ANY justification, however far-fetched, to support the welfare state.

          • martinbrock

            Social Security [is] best thought of as socializing intergenerational support. Retirees are supported by everyone’s children.

            That’s exactly the problem with Social Security. It socializes the support of the old by the young but does not socialize the support of the young by the old.

            And public education does not socialize support of the young by the old either. This view of public education is also economically irrational. The educated are the yield of public education. Taxes supporting public education harvest this yield, so rationally, the educated pay for their own education, not for the education of everyone else.


        I agree. It would be far simpler and more effective to require people to establish IRAs if we feel we must force people to save for their own retirement.

        •  Except… that may not be Constitutional. We’ll find out in June when the Supremes deliver their verdict on the PPACA.

        • martinbrock

          Social Security did not replace the accumulation of titles to productive means (other than labor) historically. It replaced the support of aging parents by their children primarily (which is the accumulation of children’s labor by parents), so expecting the former to replace the latter now makes little sense to me.

          We should force parents to support their children in my way of thinking, though this support typically requires little force, and we should also force children to support their supportive parents in kind. This reciprocal support differs little from people paying for home builders their houses. My parents built the structure I walk around in.

          Maybe we shouldn’t force people to accumulate titles to productive means otherwise, but if we don’t, some people won’t, and some these people will be unable to support themselves in old age, and in my way of thinking, we shouldn’t allow these people to die of starvation. That’s the conundrum.

  • Damien S.

    Oh man, I love this question, and tweaking US-centric libertarians with the answers.

    “property rights, freedom from corruption, business freedom, labor
    freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, financial
    freedom, fiscal freedom, and government spending”

    I note that’s very biased toward economics.  How about personal liberties and victimless crimes?  Not even on your radar, apparently, though sex gets a token in the very last sentence.  But: prostitution is at least semi-legal in most other developed countries, and pretty much outright legal in several, and in much looser forms than Nevada’s f*cked-up situation.  Dutch tolerance of pot and shroom use is famous, and Portugal decriminalized drugs in general a few years ago.  AFAIK most countries don’t have the aggressive civil forfeiture anti-drug state the US does, though I could be wrong.  British Columbia mayors are pushing for pot legalization, which is at least more than you’ll find in US leaders.

    Economically, “socialist” Sweden was willing to let Saab fail, without bailout.  I’m not sure that was even a good idea, but it’s certainly kind of free markety.  Socialism for people, free market for businesses, whereas the US often does it the other away around.  New Zealand a while back was famous for being “free market with safety nets”, though I don’ t think it worked that well for them; Australia and New Zealand in general seem better at free trade, while the US pushes for other people to lower their tariffs while we keep our tariffs and subsidies.

    But hey, the US has lower taxes!  Especially for rich people!  (Non-rich people may find that health care and college costs eat up any tax advantage.)

    • Damien S.

       Also, Europe currently has cap and trade on carbon emissions.  That’s direct regulation — of pollution externalities.  More or less libertarian?  The EU also has lots of food origin regulations, which sound intrusive, but then preventing force *and fraud* is the libertarian minarchist function of government, yes?

      • j_m_h

        I think a lot of the tax rate benefit the rich get derives from various attempts at economic planning and industrial policies that result in treating some incomes differently than other income.

        Personally I see more as a failure of equality under law and one of the unintended consequences of industrial policy than some form of class warfare/political privileging of the rich (but suspect that’s part of it too).

    • Damien S.

       Oh, and I forgot a really important one: the death penalty.  Most other developed countries have forsworn the state’s ‘right’ to kill its citizens in cold blood.  In fact, it’s a basic precondition of being allowed to join the European club.  The US not only executes away, despite a lot of evidence of fatal miscarriages of justice (and, of course, having far more people incarcerated in general) but has recently asserted a right to kill ‘enemy’ US citizens abroad… without even accusing them of specific crimes.

      OTOH it’s a lot easier to own a handgun in much of the US than in most other countries.  More right to self-defense, here.  And with 5-10 times the homicide rate, we need it!  (Hmm, that didn’t come out right.)

      Ooh, how about freedom of movement?  The Schengen Accord is a lot of European governments giving up most of their power to limit movement, and the EU includes giving up tariffs and creating a European free trade zone.  This replicates what the US has, but it’s governments giving up power to join, not just the growth of a smaller federation.  And the current US if anything is growing more hostile to migrants and visitors, not friendlier.

      And do wars count?  Not exactly positive marks for the US there.

      So on the one hand we have countries where the state won’t murder citizens, the cops don’t have a financial incentive to plant drugs on you, you’re allowed to be or visit hookers, and the government works to expand the range you can freely travel in, and on the other hand we have the US with somewhat lower taxes and the right to walk around armed.


      • j_m_h

        Who exactly are you talking to here? You seem to have slipped into some personal rant.

        • Damien S.

          I was continuing to address the question of which countries are most libertarian and how one even measures that.  Are death penalties and gun rights and travel freedoms irrelevant to libertarianism now?

    • Actually Libertarianism offers at least a fairly good partial solution to the issue of expensive health care.  Consider these facts:  The cost of purchasing medication to control your blood pressure and cholesterol using Walmart generics can run as little as $80 s year.  However once you involve a doctor and prescription laws into the picture, you have to add at least $300 more to that $80 in order to have the “privilege” of buying medicine. Without prescription laws many people would be able to take of their health without paying a doctor his “bribe” in order to legally purchase medicine.  Of course the doctors greatly enjoy their power to require you to get their “permission”, as it puts considerable money into their pocket that they wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy.  The same thing is true with hospitals.  Not everyone needs 2012 medical technology for whatever ails them.  In a lot of cases, they could get well just as fast with a far lower level of technology.  The only reason we don’t have hospitals with different levels of technology based upon need is due to the actions of government (considerably “encouraged” by those who gain economically) from all this.  The same thing applies to drugs.  Americans are legally forbidden to purchase medical drugs from suppliers outside the USA.  And while this law is generally not enforced all that much against individuals today, the need to get a doctor’s prescription still adds additional costs.  What all this means is that a Libertarian health care system would cost a lot less than the government monopolized system we have now.   Also, a Libertarian society would doubtless have other means than insurance of financing health care.  Today the government requires that only licensed insurance companies can sell health insurance.  However it would be possible to set up various types of loans for health care costs in a Libertarian society because health care costs would be considerably less than what they are today.  My own estimates is that they would be somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 rds of what we see now.  There is a lot of “overhead” in our health care system, estimates running to as much as 30% of total costs.  Also there are a lot of health care tasks that could be performed by people with less than MD level education.  All together, this means a Libertarian health care system would be comparable to those systems now in use in the rest of the developed world, but without the socialist aspects.

    • Janet Neilson

      I think you mean not on Heritage/WSJ’s radar – those are the measures the ranking uses, not the ones chosen for the book. Given that the ranking also doesn’t tackle civil liberties I think it adds weight to Jason’s claim that the ranking might overrepresent how free/libertarian the U.S. is.

      Given your concerns, there is a new ranking from the Fraser Institute for “human freedoms” that you might find interesting: http://bit.ly/11caf6z

  • Silly Wabbit


        Maybe its more useful to think of “dimensions of libertarianism” and then we can recognize that countries vary on different implications of libertarian theory that can manifest itself in different ways. 
    In other words, some countries may be well on civil liberties, others might do better on “economic freedom”, others might have lower incarceration rates etc. 
     A  skilled word smith might be able to argue that nations with large welfare states with low incarceration rates (e.g. Northern Europe) have more “total libertarianism” than high incarceration, limited welfare state nations. 

       Damien S.- from what I can tell ecological issues are very undertheorized in libertarian thought and it would be interesting to see some of our astute BHLs tackle these complex problems.  Even most “free market” solutions ( cap and trade,  the “polluter pays” principle) require government to do act. Some of the right-leaning libertarians blogs and news sources (e.g. Lew Rockwell et. al.) and some libertarian think thanks downplay negative environmental externalities (or deny them entirely) but I’m sure more thoughtful libertarians can do better. 





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  • RickDiMare

    ” . . . while the United States has the highest percentage of self-identified libertarians and uses the most libertarian rhetoric, it is not the most libertarian country in terms of its actual policies.”

    This is because Social Security (SS) was introduced to the U.S. economy in the guise of something else (a central-bank-run chartalist monetary system), so the SS tax was kind of like a gateway drug. 

    First, SS got introduced in 1935 as a kind of forced savings plan or trust fund, then in 1937 it showed its true colors when the Supreme Court declared the SS tax to really be “a special income tax” (in Helvering v. Davis).

    Now, once a tax on wages was finally accepted by the public, let’s increase the purity of the “drug” with the “Victory Tax” of 1942, which added on the general federal withholding tax on wages. So, now we have two income taxes on wages.

    Finally, let’s make it almost impossible for the easy-credit-addicted public to escape by introducing a third income tax on wages in 1965 (the Medicare wage income tax), while simultaneously withdrawing redeemability for Treasury-Direct coinage, thereby requiring that any libertarian who wanted to claim that his/her wages were property, not income, would face monumental legal challenges.

    Voila! After 1965 we are officially full-fledged chartalists, or as Milton Friedman once said after the Federal Reserve note became irredeemable, “We’re all Keynesians now.”

    But this is not to say that “the revolution of 1937” was all bad, because along with the SS tax on wages, employers could now be taxed on paid-out wages simply because they controlled the labor of other humans. This is something the Constitution has been wanting to do since its inception, but had been unable to do because of compromises with slavery.

    • Damien S.

      Man, what.

      The ways in which the US is less libertarian than other rich countries are not in using fiat/chartal money (everyone does that) or having income tax (everyone has that, and often higher) or social security/payroll tax (that’s pretty common too).  Your obsession with “wages are property” and the details of how we supposedly got there overlook the fact that everyone does it.  That doesn’t mean it’s justified (though I think it is), but it does mean your idea of our having gone down a wrong turning in our history is broken.

      We’re less libertarian than other countries in banning prostitution and having civil forfeiture drug laws and the death penalty and indefinite detentions and shit, all of which are unrelated to wages being property or income.

      • RickDiMare

        I’m assuming self-ownership is a central libertarian ideal, and there’s no way someone can own or “self author” oneself if one’s labor/wages can’t be included in the bundle of personal ownership rights. So, it’s not my personal obsession that “wages are property.” It is (or should be) the obsession of libertarianism in general.

        In my view, all property rights begin with the individual’s labor, whether the individual is astute enough to claim the right. Property rights do not originate in the hands of the money issuer (though that’s what we’re supposed to believe).

  • Joe K

    It seems to me that most of the people who think they are Libertarians are actually Republicans who don’t like to be told what to do but are totally ok with regulations telling people with different opinions what to do… kinda like democrats… Oh hell! They’re all the same!

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  • John Gibson

    The only question libertarians ever analyze: who or what country is the most libertarian.

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