Bertram wrote this.

Caplan just wrote this.*

Caplan employs a common argumentative tactic. The left will often make certain arguments trying to show why we should limit economic liberty. However, as Caplan argues in the link above, or as Nozick argues in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, if we take those arguments seriously, then those arguments also seem to be grounds to limit civil liberty as well. Why limit one but not the other? In the post above, Caplan asks, “If unequal bargaining power or asymmetric information is a reason for government to intervene in economic relationships, why isn’t it also a reason for government to intervene in personal relationships?” Or, consider that many on the left think it’s unfair that naturally untalented people should make less money than naturally talented people. They think this justifies government intervention. Why not also have government intervene to help naturally shy or uninteresting or ugly people have more friends and romantic encounter? N.B.: If you say, “Oh, that wouldn’t work,” then you seem to be saying you would be in favor of such intervention if only it did work.

Usually, left-liberals just assert that civil liberties are important while economic liberties are not. That’s the difference. They may be right, but that deflates their arguments. It means that their objections to economic liberties do no independent work. Their objections do not actually show that the state should intervene or limit economic liberties. Rather, these objections presuppose that the economic liberties do not have the same status as the civil liberties.

A good example of this problem occurs in Murphy and Nagel’s The Myth of Ownership. Murphy and Nagel point out (as if libertarians didn’t already know this) that the current scheme of income, property ownership, and wealth would not exist without the government and taxes that support it. My current income causally depends upon certain institutional facts, including social conventions created by or at least maintained by my government. In the state of nature, I’d make, let’s say, 1/200th of my current income. Murphy and Nagel conclude that I don’t thereby have a natural right to my income, since it’s not as though I would have that income in the state of nature. Call this argument the Institutional Dependency Argument (IDA).

Whatever the merits of the IDA, it’s dangerous argument for liberals to advance. Consider we might could call “everyday liberalism”.  Everyday liberalism holds that people have a special claim to their bodies and deciding what to do with their time.  Why can’t the government set up a corvée—a tax paid by labor—or labor armies in lieu of or in addition to monetary taxes?  I do not own my pre-corvée time any more than I own my pre-tax income.  After all, in the state of nature (which Murphy and Nagel use as a baseline to judge our benefit from government), I would not have 80+ years of expected life; I’d maybe have 25 years, if even that. Government and the taxes supporting it create our longevity and the distribution of life expectancies.  (Some of this creation comes about directly, through health provisions, but most of it comes indirectly, through market forces operating against the background of the rule of law.)  Most of (or at least a big chunk of) my lifetime results from social convention or government action. So, by the IDA, I cannot be said to have a natural right to choose how to spend my time.  In the state of nature, I have no time to spend.  We cannot evaluate the justice of the corvée separately, as if the corvée were an intrusion onto our time, but must instead evaluate the justice of the social system as a whole.  Similar arguments could be made concerning other purported liberal rights.

Murphy and Nagel say that you don’t really own your pre-tax income, because but for government and the public goods it provides through taxation, you wouldn’t have any income.  However, we can extend their argument to defend the corvée, not just the income tax.  An authoritarian can say that you don’t really have a right to your body or your time, because but for government and the public goods it provides through taxation (including, if it wants, through the corvée), you’d probably be dead, and thus not have a body or any time.

Why would the IDA work to block a libertarian’s objection to income taxation but not a liberal’s objection to the corvée?  What’s the difference?

Here is Murphy and Nagel’s answer, which they offer while responding to a libertarian comparison of free contracts and other liberal freedoms: “Egalitarian liberals simply see no moral similarity between the right to speak ones mind, to practice one’s religion,…and the right to enter into a labor contract…unencumbered by a tax bite.” Murphy and Nagel say that some liberties are at “the core of the self” and must be protected against the state; others are not at the core.  They believe this holds even though by their own logic they must admit that their favored kinds of liberties would have little worth (or would not exist) outside of the state’s protection, and so the state makes these rights possible.

Okay, maybe Murphy and Nagel are right. Maybe economic liberty does not merit a high degree of protection while civil liberty does. However, notice how this response just neuters their entire book. Murphy and Nagel’s book doesn’t prove natural rights libertarianism is false; it presupposes natural rights libertarianism is false.

They offered the IDA as an argument against liberterianism. The libertarian responds by saying, “Doesn’t the IDA undermine left-liberalism as well, not just libertarianism?” They respond by saying, “Oh, no, because civil liberties, unlike economic liberties, are special.”  But this just means that the IDA is irrelevant to determining whether a government action violates our rightful liberties or holdings.  Rather, the action, in the debate between Murphy and Nagel and libertarians, is over which liberties are basic.  And this, Murphy and Nagel must admit, is not decided by the IDA.

*One relatively minor point on Caplan. As Caplan points out, in dating, bargaining power is often unequal. If a movie star and an ugly, poor, desperate maid started dating, the movie star probably could just dictate the terms of the relationship. However, one might object, as a matter of fact, people do not usually enter into such uneven relationships. As Caplan himself knows (as a fan of Murray’s last book), smart, pretty, well-off, educated people date and marry each other, etc. Few people seek out unequal relationships where one person has substantially more bargaining power than the other. In contrast, in employment, one side often really does have substantially more bargaining power than the other side. While I expect someone to raise this objection to Caplan, I’m not sure it does any real work. After all, even if the facts were different–even if attractive, rich people usually did try to marry ugly poor people in order to create unbalanced marriages–few on the left would advocate having the state intervene.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=193112608 Chris Bertram

    It used to be thought that marriage involved a contractual requirement to have sex with one’s spouse and that, consequently, marital rape was a conceptual impossibility. The state, at least in my jurisdiction, has since “intervened”, to insist that consent is required on each occasion of intercourse and that individuals may not enter into contracts on the old terms. I’m guessing we all agree that this is an improvement.

    • j r

      Yes.  It is an improvement, because it is wrong to enforce the marriage contract through assault.  It is still perfectly legal to divorce you spouse if he or she turns out to be asexual.

      If an employer tried to prevent an employee from leaving work early by holding a pistol to that employees head, I would hope that the authorities would intervene as well.  That doesn’t mean that the employer should be barred from firing that employee.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=193112608 Chris Bertram

         Well *that* can’t be right. After all it is the law that defines what counts as an assault here. There isn’t a natural fact for you to rely on such that “assault” is always wrong. Volenti non fit injuria after all (people hitting each other in boxing matches isn’t assault), and in the old dispensation, volenti was exactly what had happened when the marriage contract was signed. In any case, it is just one example which illustrates that Brennan’s contention that the state does not intervene in personal relationships and that everyone (“liberals included” would think it outrageous if they did, is simply wrong. The state defines age of consent, bans incest even between consenting adults, has a whole category of family law governing such things as child custody in the event of divorce, etc etc etc.

        • j r

          I don’t know if it can or can’t be, but it is.  What makes marital rape objectionable isn’t that one party demands sex as part of a marriage, it’s the method by which they go about demanding it. 

          It’s still perfectly legal for someone to divorce their spouse because of gross differences in libido.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=720322378 Rajiv Shah

           Of course it is State intervention but only in the sense of ensuring that things are not done to people without them having actually consented to it.

          It was always well acknowledged that the consent the marital rape exception relied on was a legal fiction. The House of Lords in R v R got rid of that fiction.

          I’m not quite sure I follow what point you’re trying to make.

          As for why fuck me or you’re fired is wrong I think it is a straightforward matter of there being an implied (whether in fact or in law) term that this would not be the case. Some libertarians don’t really like implied terms. I don’t know why (and if the answer is that it is incompatible with what the great Rothbard said then that’s just silly).

          Now what if this is a case of employment at will. An implied term prohibiting such threats would still do the trick without interfering with the at will nature of it. It is one thing to say that the employer can fire for any reason and at anytime but it is another to say that the employer can make the non exercise of his right to fire conditional on sleeping with the employee.

          Of course our believe in freedom of contract would require that the implied term be excluded if the parties want to. In such a case the employer will have to make it clear that he can make such a threat at the moment of hiring.

          Of course the law will intervene to define certain things (what assault is, what the age of consent is). John Finnis has this idea called determinatio. Natural law can’t tell you precisely what everything will be and you need positive law to define things more precisely (“what exactly constitutes an assault?”). Murray Rothbard was quite foolish in thinking you could derive everything from Self Ownership (if that’s indeed what he thought – my reading of The Ethics of Liberty is not entirely charitable as I think it is crap philosophy).

          And the State should not prohibit consensual incest.

          Sorry if I went a bit on a tangent.

          • adrianratnapala

             It is one thing to say that the employer can fire for any reason and at
            anytime but it is another to say that the employer can make the non
            exercise of his right to fire conditional on sleeping with the employee.

            Maybe this is a ntipick, but the two propositions above are indeed connected.  Perhaps you mean “the employer can fire for any reason and at
            anytime except when he is constrained by that vast cloud of rules (call them implied terms if you like) which we call human decency“.

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      Shouldn’t people be free to enter contracts on the old terms if they want to?

      • david3368

        You cannot, in fact, generally contract away the right not to be raped in the developed world. This cuts right to the “can I contract myself into slavery” question, actually.

        • j r

          I’ve never understood the contract yourself into slavery argument.  It’s so artificial as to be meaningless, even as a thought experiment.  What makes slavery slavery is precisely what makes it more than just a particularly harsh employment contract.  It’s a particular combination of assault, imprisonment, theft and any number of other crimes.

          You can, of course, contract yourself into a master-slave relationship.  Right now, somewhere in the developed world is a person on a leash, perhaps with a ball gag in his or her mouth performing any number of duties for no remuneration whatsoever.  What you cannot expect is for the state to enforce that contract once the other party changes his or her mind and uses the safe word.

        • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

          My question was: shouldn’t people be free to enter contracts on the old terms if they want to?

          Although there are similarities with the slavery contract, there are also differences, namely, the slavery contract is more more encompassing.

          • david3368

            Well, the old contract entailed signing away the right to be able to refuse to have sex with a specific partner. Should one be able to sign away such a right, in general?

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            Yes, that was my question.

          • david3368

            I’m going to go ahead and suggest that the answer may be “no”.

            A majority of marriages end in divorce. People are bad at assessing how long-term relationships will evolve over time.

            And insofar as contracts are enforced with the full weight of the state – as a not-completely-ahistorical hypothetical, when the state’s henchman come to drag a woman back to a marriage she adheres to for love of her children so that she can be raped again and again in honor of a contract foolishly signed decades ago, and you claim that this is an enhancement of liberty, I am going to question your moral intuitions.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            But suppose she had agreed to the contract in exchange for cash to pay for a life-saving operation for one of her children, or to rescue her family from kidnappers, or for some other expensive project for which she thought it was worth being used for sex by this bloke in future whenever he wanted it. If the contract would not be enforced, the bloke would not pay the money and she would not be able to save her family.  Isn’t there something wrong with the ‘moral intuition’ that says she should not be able to save her kids by making that sacrifice, even though it is the thing she most dearly wants in all the world?

          • david3368

             You see, my moral intuition is that in that case, the state should be sending the armed henchman to seize money from the bloke to pay for the life-saving operation. And if it doesn’t, well, the woman had every moral right to defraud the contract to get it.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            Change the example slightly. The woman is much richer than the man, but she wants more money so that she can buy her kids an even better education  than they are currently getting and so that she can live in an even more palatial house than the one she currently occupies. For the sake of these advantages, she is prepared, even eager, to sign an enforceable contract in which the man can use her sexually whenever he likes. Do you still think the state should forcibly swipe the money from the man and give it to the woman? Do you instead think that the contract should not be enforced even though both parties desperately want it?

  • Aeon Skoble

    Best takedown of Murphy and Nagel I’ve seen yet.

    • http://whakahekeheke.tumblr.com Cal

      Have you read Anthony de Jasay on Murphy & Nagel? It’s one of the best pieces on the general topic I’ve ever seen (not knocking Brennan’s excellent post at all). If more libertarians were better aware of de Jasay’s work, imo, libertarianism would be much sharper set of ideas.

      • Aeon Skoble

        No, I haven’t, but thanks for suggesting it! Will have a look.

      • CP

        The article was paywalled, but having read his three essays with the same title starting here http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2003/Jasayenemy.html, I couldn’t find any justification of the initial appropriation of property except on consequential grounds(in the second essay, referring to Hume). From the first essay,
        >Why does a person who takes an opportunity owe anything to others who might have taken it but did not?
         ‘Might have taken but did not’ already assumes that ‘taking’ is somehow legitimate. This is especially salient when a huge amount of land, far beyond housing needs, is cordoned off from use of others where previously it was free for all. Lack of formal contracts on a piece of paper, by no means invalidate the stakes that were previously held informally (could be grazing rights or simply, the freedom to move). This appropriation of commonly held resources is also seen dangerously, today, in the whole intellectual property movement.

         Property rights can be strongly defended on consequential grounds – the benefits outweighing the losses for everyone, especially in the long term. I support property rights (but not in an very strong way) for a mixture of consequential and natural rights reasons  However, if one is moving to consequential defenses, one would have to simultaneously evaluate all kinds of consequential interventions of many other things like say, raising taxes and providing basic services like education and basic healthcare.

        I have a more basic question bout the limitations of property rights, but time being short, hope to discuss it sometime in the future.

    • Daniel Shapiro

      Agreed. Both John Tomasi and Jerry Gaus have great takedowns, I have a so-so one, but Jason’s is the best.

  • Richard Chappell

    Why would the IDA work to block a libertarian’s objection to income taxation but not a liberal’s objection to the corvée?

    If the “liberal’s” objection essentially relies upon natural rights, then I think that the IDA does block it, just as it blocks the natural-rights-libertarian’s objections to taxation.  But we might think that there are other, more straightforwardly welfare-based objections, that differentiate the two cases.

    (Perhaps the most obvious problem with government dictating how we should spend our time is that it would cause great misery and inefficiency.  Individuals are better judges of their own interests and talents, and a market system provides incentives for them to provide valuable services to others. But there’s no such obvious consequentialist argument against redistributive taxation, so long as individuals lack an incentive to donate their surplus to those with greater need.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091737052 Chad Horne

    This is a dead horse I’ve been flogging for a while now in the comments section of this blog, but I want to point out something that may help explain why liberals draw the line between the public and private the way they do.

    Nozick, Rawls, and Cohen all agree, more or less, that people do not “deserve” their talents in the ordinary sense of that word.  But each of them draws a very different conclusion from that.

    Nozick thinks that nothing of any significance follows from the fact that I don’t deserve my talents.  Just because I don’t deserve them, doesn’t mean “society” does.  Therefore anyone who interferes with my ability to extract the maximum possible benefit from my talents is restricting my liberty in objectionable ways.  Even if I don’t “deserve” my talents, they’re still *my talents.*

    Cohen seems to think that almost *everything* follows from the fact that I don’t deserve my talents.  Nobody should be better (or worse) off due to circumstances beyond their control, he says.  Justice means giving people what they deserve, and since you don’t deserve your talents, you don’t deserve the fruits of your talents, either.

    Nozick and Cohen, then, both wish to draw substantive conclusions about who’s-entitled-to-what from the mere fact that nobody deserves anybody’s talents.  The inference that Rawls draws from the claim that individuals don’t deserve their talents is slightly less grand, and slightly more complicated, than that.  Note first that Rawls does not deny that individuals “own” their talents, in the sense that individuals are entitled to extract the maximum possible benefit from their talents that just institutions will allow, even as he holds that they don’t “deserve” them. (This is the source of his disagreement with Cohen, after all).  What Rawls denies is only that individuals have a legitimate gripe if institutions are set up such that some people (“the talented”) don’t benefit as much as they would under a hypothetical state of perfect economic liberty.

    In other words, for Rawls, what follows from the claim that individuals don’t “deserve” their talents is just that a hypothetical libertarian state of nature is not the appropriate benchmark for assessing the justice of social institutions.  Instead the appropriate benchmark is one of equality.  

    For Rawls, nothing about what individuals may do within just institutions follows from the fact that people don’t “deserve” their talents.  They’re still yours to use as you see fit, and to benefit from as much as you can.  All that follows is that, if you’re not doing as well under Rawlsian institutions as you might do under, say, Nozickian ones, you’re not therefore in a position to complain.  To demand that institutions be organized to ensure maximum returns to talents is an unreasonable demand–just as unreasonable as the demand that institutions be designed so as to ensure maximum returns to any other morally arbitrary characteristic of persons (like race or sex).

    Anyway this is relevant to your point for the following reason.  You’re right that there is something odd about accepting a certain moral principle (like “undeserved inequalities should be redressed”) but then refusing to apply it consistently, applying it to some areas (economic liberty) but not others (civil liberty).  I think that’s a fair criticism of Cohen.  But Cohen isn’t a liberal in any meaningful sense.  He’s a luck-egalitarian, which is a comprehensive view of moral desert, not (in the first instance) a view about political institutions.

    Bur Rawls doesn’t accept that principle.  He’s quite clear that “the difference principle is not the principle of redress.”  He’s not being inconsistent in applying that principle to economic liberty but not civil liberty, because in fact he doesn’t apply it to either.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091737052 Chad Horne

      I guess the point I’m trying to make, briefly, is that if you think politics is about “making sure people get what they (morally) deserve,” as Murphy and Nagel and Cohen seem to, then yes, it’s a question why we should care about making sure they get their economic deserts but not their other kinds of deserts.

      I just wanted to point out that that commitment, the commitment to giving people what they morally deserve (and taking away what they don’t morally deserve) is unique to a specific kind of luck-egalitarian thought, and does not at all fit the project of mainstream liberals.  It has no place in Rawls’s though, even if he’s the starting point for all this “people don’t deserve their talents” business. 

      (I recognize that Nagel doesn’t think of himself as a luck-egalitarian, but clearly he’s working within that tradition in “The Myth of Ownership”).

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    “…consider that many on the left think it’s unfair that naturally untalented people should make less money than naturally talented people.”

    Many people on the left think this?  How many? 

    That’s as specious as an assertion that “many on the right” think a property owner has no obligation to rescue his children’s playmates if they were drowning in his pool.  In fact to the best of my knowledge there’s only one.

    But while extremist ideological a**hole really do exist on both left and right — probably members of the YSA and the Federalist Society, respectively, I think it’s, um, a mistake to characterize “many” as holding such extremist views.

    A better question might be how influential and how respected those extremists are in their respective movements.  I’m pretty sure most (non-devout Christian) left-leaners would roundly mock someone so far to the left that they’d claim, with their bare faces hanging out, that untalented or lazy people should be paid the same as talented or busy ones.

    figleaf

  • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

    Good post. But let me warn you that this same argument against liberal egalitarians is a boomerang-argument for (at least some and very astute indeed) right-libertarians or classical liberals.

    Very briefly, some right-libertarians or classical liberals wish to sustain – following Hume – that justice is not a “natural” but an “artificial” virtue. If justice is an artificial virtue, they claim, it would be possible to infer free-market institutions: strong private property rights and thick economic liberties (the argument is too complicated to be developed in full here, but let’s suppose they were right on this).

    My point is simply that this inference would be also IDA: it depends on the fact that the virtue of justice itself is an institutional convention. But if IDA miserably fails in the case of liberal egalitarians that claim that there is no pre-tax income, it also must fails in the case of those classical liberal/right-libertarians: justice can’t just be an artificial (or institutional dependent) virtue. But if justice is not an artificial virtue, what is justice?

  • Silly Wabbit

    “However, as Caplan argues in the link above, or as Nozick argues in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, if we take those arguments seriously, then those arguments also seem to be grounds to limit civil liberty as well.”

    This is only true if you are attempting to forge a political philosophy with a a high degree of internal validity; in other words a set of logically consistent propositions that all fit together in a reasonably coherent package. Many libertarians seem to want this and certainly some on “The Left” (for the record I think this term is almost meaningless as commonly used in the blogosphere) aspire to create an internally consistent political theory (e.g. Marxism in it’s many varieties).

     But I’m not sure that this is the approach that most people take to policy issues; in other words I don’t think that most people on “the Left” or “the Right” strive to create a set of propositions with a high degree of internal validity that fit together neatly.

     To me I think this is only a valid argumentative technique when your opponent believes or states that they have an internally consistent, highly logical set of propositions that form their political theory.

    Without doing too much armchair psychoanalyzing I think that most people are more outcome-based. They see a problem with employers (or managers) who sexually harass employees, or who refuse to people from certain ethnic groups. Then they think that policy of some type can be used to address these problems. Additionally, they tend to have a view that is informed by history and social reality (or rather, their perceptions of history or social reality), not abstract political, legal or economic theory.

    From that standpoint I don’t really understand why Caplan struggles to understand why “The Left” might support employment laws while not analogous laws in personal relationships.

    For example, “The Left” tends to support laws that outlaw racial discrimination in employment. Following Caplan’s “call them out on their logical inconsistency” logic we should be asking why “The Left” doesn’t support similar laws for dating relationships that would punish folks with a racial preference.

    It might be that “The Left”  is less interested in creating abstract political theory of logically connected propositions and more interested in addressing socio-historical problems as they conceptualize them.

    We can play this game all day. “The Right” is for “limited government” but supports mass incarceration. “The Left” says they want to lower employment but they don’t protest Obama’s use of drone strikes; drones, afterall, take away jobs from hard-working American troops. Oh, and Al Gore thinks that climate change is real yet he has a big car and a big house. Bryan Caplan claims to be against government but he drives on public roads and take a paycheck from a public university!  etc. etc.

    In other words this is not a highly valid argumentative strategy unless you are dealing with someone else who thinks in abstract theoretical terms. It’s really frustrating and destroys any attempt at legitimate discourse. Caplan is not a hypocrite because he gets a check signed by the public nor is Al Gore because he likes to BBQ on the backporch of his energy-hog mansion. Nor is the nebulous “Left” for advocating employment policies but not advocating similar policies in romantic relationships.

    Okay, rant over. Sorry this type of discourse grinds my gears a lil……

    • Ken S

      1)
      Your examples in practice are describing ‘tu quoque’ which is an invalid form of argument regardless of who is being addressed. Caplan did not commit this fallacy, his position is that the moral principles do seem to result in a double standard. He is not using anyone’s behavior to discredit the principles themselves. He does seem to argue against the principles themselves by saying that there is no way to render them consistent (I don’t think he fully makes the case, btw, but he is on to something).

      2)
      What are the forms of legitimate discourse that do not involve abstract theoretical reasoning, that also have a high chance of producing good outcomes? It sounds like you might agree that outcomes follow or are at least informed by some internally consistent set of laws, up to reasonable disagreements over what is good. Relatedly, how much time should we all spend arguing with people who may be excessively focused on problems and solutions ‘as they conceptualize them’ rather than ‘as they actually are’? This phenomenon is becoming more and more obvious, even South Park recently parodied the recent KONY and anti-bullying campaigns. Caplan in particular makes it clear that he doesn’t have much time for those people. I still admit the possibility that Caplan and others are assigning too many folks to the ‘over-conceptualizing’ category, because there is so much time in the day to map out our own particular parts of that elephant out there…

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  • martinbrock

    My current income causally depends upon certain institutional facts, including social conventions created by or at least maintained by my government. In the state of nature, I’d make, let’s say, 1/200th of my current income.

    Crediting government with every advance since the wheel seems too generous, but we can hardly deny the huge and increasing role that modern states play in economic organization. Government is not responsible for every increment in your wealth over a hunter/gatherer, but it’s very difficult to know what your wealth specifically would be without such a powerful central authority, regardless of how much GDP an alternative economy might create. In a Rothbardian monarchy, do professors of Austrian economics earn more or less? How would I know? Rothbard might deduce it all for me, but how do I know that his logic and axiomatic assumptions are correct, and isn’t his logical system is necessarily incomplete?

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  • billwald

    ‘ In the post above, Caplan asks, “If unequal bargaining power or asymmetric information is a reason for government to intervene in economic relationships, why isn’t it also a reason for government to intervene in personal relationships?”.’
    First convince the women living in Islamic countries they don’t need a civilized (not tribal) government intervention. 

  • Nick Kaplan

    “After all, even if the facts were different–even if attractive, rich people usually did try to marry ugly poor people in order to create unbalanced marriages–few on the left would advocate having the state intervene.”
    Rather sadly I wouldn’t be so sure about that, after-all, it seems to me that perhaps the truest (and most terrifying) egalitarian statement ever uttered is that, if one accepts egalitarianism at least, ‘the personal is the political’ (I think G A Cohen even wrote an essay on why this must be so). That is to say, in so far as one is genuinely interested in ensuring people are equal in terms of their power relationships and are able to achieve (broadly) equal outcomes, extensive government interference in every aspect of life would likely be necessary; many on the left seem completely unashamed of this fact. 

    For this very reason it seems to me that the (self given) title of Egalitarian Liberal is misleading, suggesting that those like Nagel and Cohen are Liberals first and foremost albeit liberals of an egalitarian bent. However, the opposite is in fact the case, namely that those adopting the title egalitarian liberals tend to be Liberal Egalitarians, which is to say people who are primarily concerned with equality but, unlike their communist and socialist brethren, are willing to recognise that there might be some limits on the means by which that goal ought to be achieved.  

  • good_in_theory

    PRAXAGORA But he can sleep with her for nothing; I intend that women
    shall belong to all men in common, and each shall beget children by
    any man that wishes to have her.

    BLEPYRUS But all will go to the prettiest woman and try to lay her.

    PRAXAGORA The ugliest and the most flat-nosed will be side by side
    with the most charming, and to win the latter’s favours, a man will
    first have to get into the former.

    BLEPYRUS But what about us oldsters? If we have to lay the old women
    first, how can we keep our tools from failing before we get into the
    Promised Land?

    PRAXAGORA They will make no resistance. Never fear; they will make
    no resistance.

    BLEPYRUS Resistance to what?

    PRAXAGORA To the pleasure of the thing. This is the way that matters
    will be ordered for you.

    BLEPYRUS It’s very well conceived for you women, for every wench’s
    hole will be filled; but what about the men? The women will run away
    from the ugly ones and chase the good-looking.

    PRAXAGORA The ugly will follow the handsomest into the public places
    after supper and see to it that the law, which forbids the women to
    sleep with the big, handsome men before having satisfied the ugly
    shrimps, is complied with.

  • Stuart Ballard

    I’m relatively new to this whole concept but to me the rationale for why it is not unethical for the state to “infringe on economic liberty” is incredibly straightforward.

    Let’s take it as given that there is an entity called “the state” which consists of (at least) a central bank and a legislative body. The state is also the owner of certain assets – in particular, a large amount of land commonly referred to as “public land”. (Basically, I’m treating the state here as just another economic actor with no special moral rights; it is not “entitled” to own the public land, but it IS the current owner of the public land).

    On that public land it has elected to build something that many people wish to use, namely, roads. (And other things of course, but roads suffice as a basis for the philosophical argument). As the owner of these roads, it is entitled to set the conditions under which people may use them. Among other things, the conditions it sets are that people must obtain licenses if they wish to use motor vehicles on these roads. They must pay for these licenses using these things called “dollar bills”, which the state (via its central bank) lends to people under certain conditions. And among those conditions are submitting to certain rules to be set by the legislature, which include returning a certain portion of the dollar bills to the state when certain things happen.

    So as far as I can see this gives the state every right based on ownership to enforce rules on people who use its roads and its dollar bills.

    These rights do not extend to making rules affecting anyone who chooses to never set foot on a public road and make all payments using gold or barter. I’m aware that states DO make those kinds of rules, and I take no position on whether they are legitimate or not, but they’re largely unimportant because most people don’t attempt to live their lives in that kind of isolation. Most people choose to accept the convenience of being able to use a universally-accepted means of payment and a network of well-maintained roads that span the country, and to abide by the state’s rules in the usage thereof.

    The other potential flaw in this philosophical approach is the question of whether the state, by virtue of being “special” in other ways, should have LESS freedom as an economic actor in its own right to set the terms of use of its property. I don’t know the answer to that or whether it is a well-explored question…

  • Christopher Morris

    Some years ago a doctoral student of mine showed me an article in a philosophy journal arguing something along these lines: the more advantaged (in those assets that people value when choosing mates) should marry the less advantaged. I’d love to find that piece again. We could all enjoy it. Perhaps we could find someone disposed to arguing that states should aid people in performing this particular marital duty.

    CM

  • http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle Will Wilkinson

    Great post, Jason. I’ve tried to make a similar point, but I never managed to make it so well. 

  • j_m_h

    I certainly agree with the conclusion you’re offering but seems like one of the oft seen stopping points as well — meaning no real progress is made, merely a reinforcement of the existing ramparts in the larger ideological battle.

    I suspect that everyone on obit sides will agree with what you (or Caplan or Nozick) that there are different visions of the hierarchy of rights and social sciences are still struggling with some positive hierarchy that can be shown to be true so all must accept. 

    So perhaps that is the social fact and all the philosophical and political argument about this issue mostly people use staying on safe ground in their discussion — a lot of intellectual effort has gone into defending the various positions but if the positions themselves turn out to be more preference determined than anything else the discussion is mostly hot air — and I’m not just directing that at Jason’s post or even the one’s he references, I see this is comment thread here as well. 

    While understanding where differences lay is important I would think a more interesting and useful discussion would be about what types of social structures allow us to peacefully coexist with one another given our fundamental differences. Or, is the answer there simply in a world of diversity the political end point always war?

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  • 311006

    Create more jobs, problem solved.

    Job creation without higher government spending, inflation, or trade barriers: /ɯoɔ˙ʇodsƃolq˙uɐlduoıʇɐǝɹɔqoɾ//:dʇʇɥ

  • The Groupies

    Brennan argues that civil liberties and economic liberties ought to be though of as similar rights, however he ignroes the noncomensurable aspects that are pertinent to civil liberties. Economic liberties only require a level of trust as far as transactions are concerned. There needs not be any sense of obligation or comittment when two individuals engage in an economic transaction. Outside the bounds of implied or unimplied contracts civil liberties occupy a precarious postition. In non market relationships it is morally wrong to infringe upon another persons civil liberties. To infringe on someone’s economic liberties would imply that you have limited their ability to choose, while to infringe on someone’s civil liberties would be to limited their ability to be an individual. Civil liberties act as a encompassing sphere in which economic liberties arise through the market. To say that you are limiting one’s economic liberty doesn’t mean that you nessecarily limiting their civil liberties. Coercion in the market place is not the same as coercion in personal relationships. Coercion in relationships limits an individual non-commeserable rights to autonomy. Therefore, to compared coercion in the marketplace to coercion in personal relationships is to fundamentally confuse basic aspects of liberty.

  • Team E

    Brennan’s take on the familiar IDA argument ignores the discursive
    context in which the position emerged. IDA is a direct counter argument to
    statements such as this one, “the legitimate first “moves” are specified by the
    principle of justice in acquisition. Whatever arises from a just situation is
    itself just” (Nozick; Anarchy, State, and Utopia). Nozick is here arguing against a
    redistributive state of course, but wouldn’t a fairly obvious counter reading
    have practically revolutionary implications for the U.S. as a whole, and the
    south in particular? Any historical account of either would surely reveal violations
    of Nozicks principles of justice in holdings and acquisitions, necessitating redistribution
    on Nozicks own account. Especially when Nozick says a page later that some “historically”
    just distribution, “must be realized”?
    So if the material premises of IDA are so obvious (“as if Libertarians didn’t
    already know this”), then Nozicks account of justice is of little use here for
    justifying the minimal state that Libertarians advocate.

  • Robert

    “Why can’t the government set up a corvée—a tax paid by labor—or labor armies in lieu of or in addition to monetary taxes?”

    We have that. It’s called the draft.

    The argument that personal liberty and “economic liberty” are not the same does not exactly rest on the notion that you would have less wealth in a state of nature. It is more, at least for me, that “wealth” or “my property” is a social construct, and thus it is inherently conditional. Taxes are not a piece of what is ours that is taken by the government: taxation and our property rights (what is “ours”) are both social constructs, they are both part of the conditions of the game that society has agreed upon. Neither is prior to the other: taxation is not an infringement of your property rights any more than your property rights infringe on taxation.

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