Current Events

Hiring a hit man: On Shutting Down, Take 2

Four short and one more substantial response to comments on my last post.

1. I don’t know of any existing government that shouldn’t be downsized and I doubt there will be one in my lifetime. I think, though, that the downsizing has to be done morally. There are clearly immoral ways to do it. As Matt Z said “The order in which we dismantle Leviathan matters, even if we all agree on the end-point.” I suggested a moratorium on hiring replacements for work not needed for harm prevention. I would likely also accept the following sort of arrangement: announcing that as of 2018 Department X (which is not involved in harm prevention or rectification) is going to be completely shuttered. The 5-year interval gives people time to adjust without causing harm. Perhaps timing of such announcements matters also.

2. I suppose David Friedman is right that we “could imagine a government that … funded itself entirely by selling services to willing customers.” There is a conceptual issue of whether we would call the purchase price a tax or not (and whether we would call such a “government” a government) but I have no settled view about this. Importantly, I don’t think this would mean that all taxation is theft (though they may be “structurally similar” as Bryan Winter said).

3. A quick comment about the claim that “Fundamental to libertarianism is the belief that employment relationships are voluntary. This means that government workers chose to work for the government with an understanding of the associated risks and benefits.” The mistake here should be clear to most readers, but to make it explicit, the line is only accurate if it were to read “Fundamental to libertarianism is the belief that employment relationships SHOULD BE voluntary (or ARE voluntary in the ideal libertarian world). This means that government workers IN THE LIBERTARIAN WORLD chose to work for the government with an understanding of the associated risks and benefits.” Since we don’t live in that world, the claim gets us nowhere when discussing the world we do live in.

4. Kyle Walker is right to ask why I don’t embrace anarchism. The answer, if I had one, would surely take a lengthy post of its own. Perhaps one day.

The big issue for me is with claims like “Government employees are … co-conspirators” and “government generally … creat[es] obligations for other people” as if that meant there were no obligation. Similarly (perhaps worse) is the idea that people receiving money from the government are “receiving money which had been illegitimately obtained, and hence were receiving stolen property. They either knew this, or ought to have realised it.” The fact is the vast majority of people do not think this is receipt of stolen property so even if it is, to think everyone ought to realize this is rather odd. (How can we expect people to realize X when most people around them believe –X? X may be true, but that isn’t to the point.)

In any case, one way to think about the issue comes from Jim Chappelow who claims I “beg… the question from the outset, by assuming that A’s contract with B is valid and enforceable in the first place. It’s basic principle of contract law that contracts over criminal acts (B’s services) are never valid in the first place.” Part of my point is that even if this is right, it does not mean no obligation is created. This can be seen through a different example.

Say I hire Hit Man Mo to kill Sam. Mo loves his work so doesn’t even charge that much. His agreement and mine are fully voluntary and informed. The “contract” is nonetheless null and void. The fact that Mo’s killing Sam against Sam’s wishes (and let’s assume it would be against Sam’s wishes) is immoral and illegal means that such a “contract” is of no moral or legal weight.

Does this mean Mo has no obligation to me when we make our fully voluntary and informed agreement? Some will think it does mean that–and that any money I gave Mo is simply lost to me and that this is ok since I should have known such a contract was no contract at all. But I think Mo does owe me something–except perhaps if when making the original agreement, Mo said “now you realize we have no real contract and you can’t hold me to this agreement.” If Mo said that, my money would be lost. Of course, if Mo said that I would not give him my money in the first place, even if I were the sort (which I am not) to hire hit men.

I think Mo owes me something. At the very least, he owes me my money back. But what he owes is not that important here. The point that matters is that he owes me something–even though Mo would have been wrong to follow through his end of the deal and we were both wrong to make the agreement in the first place. Yet in response to my previous post–and despite my attempt to avoid the issue in the post itself–several people claimed my argument was a nonstarter since the contract between the government and anyone hired or supported through any welfare program is invalid. I am continually amazed at this view. An agreement (a promise) is made and people think its being made has no moral weight at all. This is odd enough for non-libertarians, but for libertarians it seems even odder. And note, again, that most people think the contract (whether that of a government employee or of a welfare recipient) in question is perfectly moral and legal. This means that even if we are right that the government should not be making such contracts, it’s making them does cause people to have expectations that they will be paid. Legitimate expectations. Suddenly leaving those people in the lurch—refusing to carry out the part of the contract that people legitimately expect (providing either their salary or their welfare benefit) seems to harm them. Obviously, government should not be harming people. It should be satisfying its obligations. It may be shameful that we and previous generations allowed such obligations to be incurred, but they were incurred.*

*Note: I am not claiming that all legal obligations that a state incurs are such that they must, morally, be upheld. I suspect there are limits. For example, if those directly responsible for incurring the debt are illegitimate and unjust dictators who were enabled to take on the debt by international players that should not have engaged with those dictators and would have been in a position to know this and avoid the engagement. (The sorts of domestic cases that concern me, I hope it is clear, are those where the people whose expectations are legitimate–which means, in part, that they were not in the position to know their engagement with the government was wrong or to avoid the engagement.)

  • Jameson Graber

    I think you actually made things worse with this hit man analogy. I, for one, don’t agree with your claim. If you paid Mo to kill someone for you, then no, Mo doesn’t owe you anything.

    Why do I say this? I think of debt like this. Imagine there exists a perfect judge. If you feel someone owes you something, you take your case to the judge. In your case, you give Mo money to go kill someone. He doesn’t do it. You ask for your money back, but he won’t give it. So you go to the judge. You say, “I paid this man to perform a service and he didn’t come through. Now I want him to give me my money back.” The judge asks you, “What service did you pay him to do?” And you say, “I paid him to kill a man.”

    Instead of getting your money back for you, the judge throws you in jail, along with the man you hired.

    Maybe you disagree with the idea of viewing morality through a perfect judge thought experiment, but I find this is the best way to express the intuitive response I have when reading your analogy. Of *course* Mo doesn’t owe you that money back, because the money itself was dedicated to evil. To imagine that you should be owed anything is to imagine that a killer deserves to get what he wants.

    Of course, your analogy isn’t apt, that isn’t what’s happening between government and its employees, and government employees probably don’t deserve to be treated this way. I’m not going to argue like an angry libertarian that government employees are somehow selling their souls to the devil. Certainly, we should privatize a lot of the services offered by government, but I don’t think there’s something inherently immoral about wanting to work as an employee in the public service sector. Therefore, I, too, am amazed that so many libertarians are capable of viewing government contracts with employees as simply invalid.

    But I think this issue is complicated, and I’m not willing to give an unqualified opinion on it. In the long run, I think (hope) it won’t be a big deal. Time will tell.

    • gliberty

      “I think you actually made things worse with this hit man analogy. I, for one, don’t agree with your claim. If you paid Mo to kill someone for you, then no, Mo doesn’t owe you anything.”

      – my thoughts exactly. It is your fault for asking someone to do something that is morally wrong and (hopefully in any society) against the law. You are owed nothing.

    • greg byshenk

      I don’t understand this reasoning. It seems to me that there are at least two issues here: one relating to murder and another relating to contract. Perhaps I should be punished for attempting to hire someone to commit murder, and perhaps the person I hired should be punished for agreeing to commit murder. But even if this is so, why should my partner benefit from engaging in fraud? (That is, for taking money for services that he does not intend to perform.)

      • Jameson Graber

        Just because your partner does not deserve to benefit does not mean you deserve to get repaid. My reasoning is this: no principle of justice demands that the judge go out of his way to give you your money back. Certainly, no principle of justice demands that your partner keep the money, but to that I say, figure it out yourself. (If you’re the type to hire killers, I’m sure you’ll think of something.)

        • greg byshenk

          I guess the question is -why- don’t I deserve to get my money back? It is my money and it has been taken by another by fraud. I may be a nasty type of person, but surely the rule can’t be “fraud is bad unless one defrauds bad people”.

          • Jameson Graber

            So I take it your argument is this:
            1. Fraud is wrong, and he who commits fraud owes recompense to the person defrauded.
            2. If you pay me to kill someone and I don’t do it, I have defrauded you.
            3. 1 and 2 imply that I owe you recompense.

            That looks like a pretty tight argument. It’s certainly valid, so I guess I have to quibble with one of the premises. I guess my quibble is with premise 2: I think that fraud has to rest on the assumption of a legitimate contract. I’m certainly not saying that I’m in the right for taking your money and running. I’m saying there’s no just law to which you could rightfully appeal to get your money back.

    • martinbrock

      Why doesn’t the perfect judge throw me and the hired killer in jail and also order the killer to return the money to me?

    • Andrew

      I like alot of this, but I think using a judge of law to determine what is moral is a mistake. Even given the way you set it up, perhaps the judge would throw you in jail and make Mo pay you back (what he owes you, if I am right).

  • Since you quote me in point #3, allow me to respond:

    No one is forced to accept a government job. For all any left-libertarian wants to say about involuntary employment, I do not think that sort of discourse applies to government work, and I say that as a person who has a great deal of experience working with/for the public sector.

    And a related question/comment on your point #1: Do you suppose that it is only moral in the private sector for layoffs to occur by giving people a 5-year timeline? This strikes me as being above and beyond what is reasonable to expect of ANY employer, public or otherwise.

    • Andrew

      Sorry Ryan, with regard to #3, I didn’t mean it as directly relevant as you took it.
      As to #1: I meant this also to be about welfare programs, so that some of those affected (indeed, presumably the majority) are not employees being let go but others who had previously been accepting government aid. That said, I suppose I do think there is something different about employment with the government from employment with a private company. I am not saying I think there should be a difference, but I suspect there is.

  • Sean II

    All due respect for trying to bite the bullet, but…you just bit into a little .32, while in reality there’s a massive artillery shell with your name on it.

    Why? Because your argument entails the deeply bizarre conclusion that all spending amounts to, and has the moral status of, a contract…followed by the even more bizarre conclusion that any interruption in expected spending, however temporary, amounts to morally significant harm.

    For example, let’s imagine that a certain cowboy poet has two sources of revenue: Uncle Sam and Uncle Sean. Every year, Sam and Sean spend some of their money to hear the poet recite verses like: “and off they rode into the friscalating dusklight”.

    Sean never explicitly warns the poet that he might one day run out of money to pay for these recitals, and neither does Sam. But, on the other hand, Sean’s credit is flawless, and Sam’s is pretty damn good, except that once – back in 1996 – he was a bit late paying some bills thanks to something called the “separation of powers”, which in any case is a matter of public record, known to the poet. So naturally the poet feels quite secure in expecting to get some of Sam’s and Sean’s money every year, and he builds his plans around that.

    Alas, amigos, one day both Sean and Sam fail to purchase the poet’s services as expected. Sean doesn’t give a reason, and insists he doesn’t have to. Sam gives the exact same reason he gave in 1996, which in any case is public knowledge here again. Sean makes no future promise, but Sam is conspicuous in his pledge to pay the poet’s expected fee, just as soon as he is able (and indeed, most people can plainly see the poet won’t be waiting more than a few weeks to get Sam’s money).

    Here’s the question: if Uncle Sam is guilty of harmful, significant breech of contract in the above scenario, then how in god’s name is Uncle Sean not guilty of the same or worse?

    • Andrew

      I suspect they are morally guilty of the same thing, which is not breech of contract in the strict legal sense.

      • Sean II

        Wait…you feel “morally guilty” anytime you stop buying a product or service you bought in the past?

        You must be walking around in a hairshirt all day.

        • Andrew

          Sean-There is a difference between feeling guilty and being guilty. In any case, as it happens, if I am going to change a regular behavior that I have reason to believe others rely on, I do try to give advance notice. Most of us do this at least some of the time (2 weeks notice to lay someone off, for example). I admit, I likely do it oddly more than others. -Andrew

          • Sean II

            Well, as long as you admit it is odd, I have no quarrel.

            At least you’re consistent. Most people think nothing of ceasing to purchase a good, but when the good in question is labor and the person who ceases to purchase it is not them, suddenly they think its just awful.

  • Cole Gentles

    Unless I’m mistaken, you seem to be saying that upholding an obligation incurred by B to A through an illegitimate contract to harm C is more just than completely voiding the contract, even if it harms A or B, so that C is no longer harmed, or in danger of being harmed.

    That is twisted.

    • Sean II

      Actually, it’s worse than that. Given the magnitude of the public debt crisis, Cohen is saying A must follow through on his “contract” to pay B by harming C, even if it means massive eventual harm to A, B, & C.

    • Andrew

      That is clearly not what I am saying. The contract can be voided while also requiring Mo to reimburse me. I do not think that twisted.

  • martinbrock

    “The order in which we dismantle Leviathan matters, even if we all agree on the end-point.”

    I reject the premise of this statement. Leviathan will always be with us, and even if we agree that Leviathan ceases to exist at some point in the future, long after we’re all dead, we can’t possibly know how it ceases to exist. We can speculate. We can construct a version of events and accept it as a tenet of faith. Such a prophetic faith might reinforce our commitment to a particular, libertarian course, but it doesn’t dismantle Leviathan or allow us to know the future.

    Dismantling Leviathan has little to do with achieving liberty in my way of thinking. Liberty is withdrawal from Leviathan, not victory over It. Withdrawal from Leviathan is something like the Free State Project. For some participants, the FSP involves participation in New Hampshire politics, and this version of the project is not what I have in mind, but something like the FSP could involve withdrawal from Leviathan.

    The sort of libertarian project that I imagine, within the borders of the U.S., is more like the following. It has little if anything to do with reforming the U.S. political system.

    On the books of the United States (including subordinate state and local governments), a group of U.S. citizens give all of their resources to a non-profit corporation or something similar. They form an intentional community, something like a monastery, and as individuals on the books of the United States, they take a vow of poverty. Hear me out here.

    Within the community, members govern and consume resources according to community standards. These standards could be some version of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism. For most and intents and purposes, within a Rothbardian community, members “earn income” and “accumulate property”; however, on the books of the United States, the community (non-profit corporation or whatever) owns all property.

    A particular member might “own” a Mercedes within the community, but on the books of the United States, the community owns this car. It’s a “company car”, and the particular member uses it for company purposes, but for most intents and purposes (outside of the books of the U.S.), the car is the personal property of the particular member.

    Members produce and consume within the community according to community standards, without earning personal income or property on the books of the U.S., and the community trades with non-members outside of the community. Again, within this community, this external trade may, for most intents and purposes, amount to an individual member’s trade with an individual non-member, but on the books of the U.S., only the community trades with non-members.

    Since community members earn little or no income on the books of the U.S., they owe no personal income tax. They may even be entitled to state benefits like Medicaid (some members of Twin Oaks receive Medicaid benefits for example), but members refuse all such benefits. If the community or individual members must pay a tax or other statutory rent to the United States or a non-member, the community writes this expenditure off as a loss. It’s an act of God, like a costly tornado or a plague.

    The terms of withdrawal from a community are also subject to community standards, but a community could entitle a member to “leave with his property”, i.e. the community could contractually obligate itself, on the books of the U.S., to pay a departing member a separation bonus, like the golden parachutes that company officers negotiate for themselves, or a pension payable over time. This separation bonus could transfer specified, tangible, community property to the individual, as opposed to a cash payment. Of course, a departing member might then owe income taxes or other taxes to the U.S.

    Even ignoring continuing financial costs of subjection to the United States, this withdrawal is not complete. A community’s standards might permit members to produce and consume marijuana for example, and the United States might invade the community to impose a prohibition. Libertarians generally resist these impositions however they can, but the primary libertarian question is not how to make the United States yield to a community’s withdrawal from it.

    The primary questions are: how can a community effectively shed these costs, how much of the costs can the community shed, and where can it shed more of them? For example, a community might settle in New Hampshire to escape more financial costs, or it might settle in Colorado to escape more personal liberty costs. A single community could exist in both states for that matter, and individual members could choose a domicile accordingly and travel between states to enjoy different freedoms.

    A community might also settle outside of the United States, as in Freetown Christiania for example, and a single community could exist internationally, with members subject to various states withdrawing from their respective states as much as possible. Members might even accept subjection to multiple states (multiple citizenship) to ease travel throughout the community.

    If only a few subjects of the U.S. and other states join communities of this sort, the Leviathan still exists in a sense, but if members of such a community can effectively withdraw from practically all subjection to a state (no taxes on community resources or trade within the community and no other constraints on personal liberty within the community), then the Leviathan does not hold them, and libertarians with this option need not reform the Leviathan any further. The Leviathan is simply another community in this sense.

    • bupalos

      I think this is as sensible a version of “practical Libertarianism” as I’ve ever encountered. I have strong suspicion such communities would be either small and harmonious but impoverished or large and boasting a relatively modern standard of living but contentious/socially unsustainable.

      I think I read a book about this once. Something like “The Republic” or something.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        I have an even stronger conviction that the “State” would find a way and a justification to intrude and do harm. It is simply against the nature of a State and all of it’s minions and apparatus to allow personal freedoms outside of what it chooses to dole out to it’s sycophants.

        • bupalos

          I think the history of intentional communities in the US argues against your version of reality. They self destruct because when the high wears off, living in them sucks and they do not provide the freedom and standard of living a large, heterogenous, rights-based state can provide. Not because “the State” gets jealous of their freedom and invades or something.

          • martinbrock

            A few intentional communities persist, but I think you’re right about most of them; however, many of these communities are not “libertarian” in the now common sense of the word. They embody other organizing principles, like Christian faith or a more secular egalitarianism or national identity (like the Kibbutzim in Israel).

            These communities may focus less on self-determination or independence from a state than on some ideal that might or might not involve this independence, and their organizing principles often emphasize self-sufficiency, which is distinct from self-determination and often contributes to the material poverty that you observe.

            The sort of libertarian community that I imagine and would choose for myself need not be self-sufficient at all. Its members might all be software developers for example. Insofar as the community trades with non-members, any state subjugating its trading partners will tax the transactions, but this taxation need not affect members of the community adversely compared with subjects of the state.

            Tariffs are a cost of dealing with people choosing to remain subject to the state, but if these people have realistic options outside of the state, the cost is not anti-liberty. Eventually, a libertarian community might trade more with other libertarian communities, but I don’t expect libertarians to eschew trade with people remaining subject to a state, so I don’t expect them to be any poorer, unless the state taxes trade with members of the community discriminately.

            If a sufficiently powerful state effectively forbids its subjects to trade with a sufficiently small and correspondingly specialized community, this forcible interference with trade could impoverish the community, but this policy would constitute the sort of destructive invasion that you don’t expect.

          • bupalos

            Well that’s fine, but to the extent that the community enters into economic trade or other interaction with the broader state (utility service, travel, recreation, waste disposal, etc.) it’s members end up subject to the same legal restraints as pretty much eveyone else, no? I guess it would help if I understood concretely just what horrors of the leviathan you are intending to escape that require this sort of self-segregation.

          • martinbrock

            A particular community might be willing to purchase power from a state utility if it has no better option for obtaining power, while it elects not to 1) enroll children in state sponsored schools and pay corresponding taxes, 2) pay the payroll tax and receive Social Security benefits or 3) participate in the ACA by either paying the associated premiums or the fines for remaining uninsured or the taxes providing the subsidies.

            A community might have other schools that all members support, or it might not. It might have one or more mutual aid associations through which members share health care costs. It might require children to support aging parents who supported them while requiring people with few or no children to invest otherwise, either within the community or in other communities accepting outside investment or in enterprises remaining subject to the state.

            These divergent policies largely involve financial arrangements. I have no doubt that free communities would develop many alternatives to statutory programs more pleasing to their members. The greatest horrors of Leviathan involve caging people and waging war, and I also assume that communities are free to diverge from the state in this regard.

          • bupalos

            It’s still hard for me to boil down in concrete terms what freedoms a member of such a group is looking for, and just how this kind of segregation would provide it. I mean, suppose as you say they passed a more self-interested sort of Social Security thing like you describe there, where kids only pay for you if you paid for them, etc…the only way it would differ from the Social Security in the broader state is it would be much more unpredictable due to smaller numbers and more specific groupings. Is it just a freedom to dream of higher highs and lower lows?

            As for war and caging people, how is the commune going to avoid such things? By expelling it’s mentally ill and criminals into the broader society? Isn’t that free-riding on others? As to war, can’t it be argued it would just be free-riding on the border guarantees of the larger society?

            What one rarely seems to hear in these things is just the simple statement of what those looking to secede in this way really concretely want. I think this is because it’s the fantasy of secession itself that holds most of the draw, and specific enumeration of goals would make evident that secession is not the quickest or easiest way to attain the supposed ends. Again, Plato’s Republic seems to me to be very instructive here to me.

          • martinbrock

            First, I’ll dispute “more self-interested”. In the current system, I support my parents whether or not they supported me, and if I support no children myself, other people’s children support me anyway. Depending on who you are, the current system is incredibly self-interested, because it doesn’t account at all for investments in the means of production taxed to provide the benefits.

            In the sort of system I describe, parents may pool risk, so if you and I both have children, we agree that your children will support me if mine cannot and vice versa. Essentially, we insure our children against death or disability to protect their obligation to support us. I would freely participate with other parents in this sort of pool. Social Security does not pool risk more effectively or more equitably than alternatives.

            A free community may elect not to cage people for producing or consuming marijuana. This divergence from state policy alone avoids caging hundreds of thousands of people now caged in the United States.

            I’m not an anarchist. In my way of thinking, a community may expel a member only if another a community agrees to accept him; otherwise, the community must sustain the member’s life. It may cage him or enslave him, but it may not kill or torture him or hold him in the community against his will. In other words, a criminal should have a right to choose his prison in my way of thinking.

            It can be argued that choosing not to support a state waging a is free riding, but the argument does not persuade me to empower a state to compel its subjects to wage war. It can also be argued that states wage wars to benefit their cronies, regardless of the interests of most subjects, and this argument is more persuasive to me.

            I really, concretely don’t want my children obliged to support people who are wealthier than they are and also wealthier than I am precisely because they did not support my children or any other children themselves, while the state sold them entitlement to rents imposed on my children in exchange for income that they did not expend on supporting children.

            If that seems “self-interested” to you, I can only wonder if you support children yourself.

          • reason60

            Martin, it appears what you want to do is negotiate the terms of your engagement with the community you live in.
            What is missing, is any sense that the rules of your community are crafted in cooperation with those who live in it.
            Are other voices, other opinions different than your own, welcomed? How do you accomodate needs and desires that you find objectionable or unwise?

          • martinbrock

            I don’t presume to know how a community arrives at its rules, because I want a variety of communities arriving at rules in a variety of ways. I only want a choice of communities governed by a practically unlimited variety of rules, and a right to exit any community at will.

            Similarly, when I go out for lunch, I don’t negotiate with the cashier at Chick-fil-A over the menu or it’s seating arrangements or employment practices or anything similar. If I don’t like the menu, I dine at McDonalds or Wendy’s or Taco Bell instead. I have no idea how these organizations arrive at their menu, and I don’t much care. If a restaurant has a “customer driven menu” of some sort, whereby customers can influence changes in the menu, this policy might appeal to me, but I’m not sure I’d dine at this restaurant more than Chick-fil-A.

            You imagine me ruling this community. I don’t imagine myself ruling anything but my choice of a community. I might start a community with others if we are like-minded and none of us find another community we like. Our community might incorporate a dynamic rule-making process with committees of representatives chosen in periodic elections of some sort, or it might not.

          • reason60

            You don’t have a choice of communities now, with right of exit? You can choose USA, or France; California, or New York; Dallas, or Miami; Manhattan or Queens; This apartment building or that one. All of which have right of exit.
            I’m not being facetious- what I am driving at, is no matter what you choose, you will be living somewhere where the rules were made in advance, and not by you, and probably not all to your liking.
            Do you see any other way of reconciling profound disagreement, other than exit or illegitimate coercion?

          • martinbrock

            My choice of communities is limited by the subjection of communities to states. The variety of communities in my community marketplace is much greater otherwise.

            I don’t expect to make all the rules. A community is necessarily a compromise. What does this fact have to do with selling entitlement to rents imposed on my children to people who did not support my children or any other children but instead used income they did not use to support children to buy entitlement to the rents?

            Are you suggesting that every community I’m likely to find, without subjection to these statutory systems, would impose similar rents on children and sell entitlement to the rents similarly? I just don’t believe it. Why would that be?

            Social Security is only the tip of the iceberg in this regard. Treasury securities have the same effect, and so do many other statutory rents.

          • bupalos

            Last first, the Republic is (in one way of looking at it) a study of how an intentional community either remains small and unsatisfying or grows beyond itself and loses it’s intentional quality. It’s a secession fantasy (I don’t mean this to be derogatory) played out small and large, with one of its morals being that the abstract “city in speech” is something of a nightmare in reality.

            “Self interested” was a bad way to put it. Some word we don’t have, but the Germans would make, meaning “favoring a more direct equity.” I don’t follow exactly how you are conceiving of the Social Security contract there when you reduce it to 2 generations, but you seem to favor tweaking things so that these loose mandated ties for the population’s young to care for it’s old are made more direct, particular, and economically equitable. You would not doubt object also to the inverse flow of property taxes paid by the old to fund public education of those young, if, due to circumstance, the young cohort was never productive enough to repay. I think the overall theme here is just towards smaller more particular groupings and direct economic equitability, with more diversity between groups, and (by definition) greater segregation. Instead of one-size-fits-all, it’s choose your utopia.

            There are a lot of practical reasons why I don’t think that model would work, not the least of which would be how one joins or leaves these communities. Do you have to be “accepted?” Can you leave AFTER having broken the rules but before incurring punishment? Who enforces the openness of the system of communities that may naturally seek to close, either locking people out or in? Or those that may believe by their worldview that they can excessively pollute or withdraw from aquifers?

            I kind of like the way the founders did it. This republic sought to protect individual liberties not so much by letting a thousand (or 50) autonomous states bloom (though that’s part of the deal), as by ever expanding the umbrella to include as many divergent minority interests as possible so as to cure the traditional ill of all political entities large or small – majority faction. The challenge is to get everyone in this system to think of themselves as belonging together despite the differences upon which the system relies– a challenge I find more noble, though a challenge we have obviously not always met and seem to not be meeting as well these days.

    • Andrew

      This sounds pretty great to me.

  • Theresa Klein

    I think there is a take on the shutdown that is being neglected.

    That is, the shutdown isn’t really just a negotiating tactic, it’s a kind of act of legislative civil disobedience by a faction of society that really, really, refuses to accept the ACA.

    It is possible that the Republican congressmen are doing not this because they think it’s a smart way to get concessions. It’s possible many of them (at least) are doing it because they can’t bring themselves to vote for it in good conscience. It’s also possible that many of their constituents are so adamantly opposed to it that they fear they will lose their primary election if they vote for it.

    The question should be what if the correct moral course of action when you have a sizable minority of society that cannot and will not consent to live under a particular government program. The ACA isn’t something these people are allowed to opt out of, it’s a command to purchase a specific type of insurance. This hasn’t been done before in our society, at least not if you consider paying taxes different from buying a private product.

    In my opinion, a democracy rests not just on simple majority rule, but on an agreement of everyone in society to live by majority rule, under certain conditions. Those conditions being ones that limit the power of majorities. Putting in place a program that commands citizens to perform certain positive duties always runs the risk of violating those conditions. In this case, we’re commanding them to do something that violates the fairness principle – it’s not fair that the low-risk be compelled to subsidize the high-risk. You might disagree, but obviously different people have different conceptions of fairness, and society should have room for people to live according to different moral principles.

    So we have a sizeable fraction of society (maybe 30%) that effectively is withdrawing their consent to majority rule because they feel they are being compelled to do something sufficiently offensive that they won’t participate in it under any circumstances. That minority is so large that it controls the majority party of one house of Congress, and is using that power to refuse to let any part of the government run. Do you, under those circumstances, compell that minority to do what the majority wants? Or do you try to revise the system so that they are willing to live under it?

    • So wonderfully stated. Thank you for saying that so eloquently. It is frustrating to see this point so neglected in the discussions.

    • martinbrock

      … it’s not fair that the low-risk be compelled to subsidize the high-risk.

      If “high risk” means recreational drug use or promiscuous sexual practices or driving habits or skydiving for example, I agree with you, and I’ve taken all of the specified risks myself. This agreement doesn’t imply any universal sense of fairness. You and I just happen to agree on this point at this time.

      If “high risk” means the risk of being born with a congenital defect or a genetic predisposition to some form of cancer, my intuitive sense of fairness swings the other way.

      I’m in the 30% in this case, but I can’t deny that my unemployed, 26 year old son’s eligibility for health “insurance” coverage under the ACA is comforting to some extent. In a freer, less corporatist world with fewer statutory constraints, he might be employed, and he might find more health insurance or mutual aid options, but we live in this world.

      Let’s be clear on one point. The tea partiers are not refusing to let any part of the government run. They can’t refuse, and they are not refusing as a matter of fact. Last I heard, 80% of Federal employees are still on the job.

      • Cole Gentles

        “If “high risk” means the risk of being born with a congenital defect or a
        genetic predisposition to some form of cancer, my intuitive sense of
        fairness swings the other way.”

        Those cases are indeed awful and sad, but how does this imply a claim on another to use threaten them with physical violence if they do not voluntarily help them in some way? Is that the gauge: you don’t have the right to aggress against me when I am acting peacefully… unless the bad situation you are in is the result of circumstances beyond your control.

        “I’m in the 30% in this case, but I can’t deny that my unemployed, 26
        year old son’s eligibility for health “insurance” coverage under the ACA
        is comforting to some extent. In a freer, less corporatist world with
        fewer statutory constraints, he might be employed, and he might find
        more health insurance or mutual aid options, but we live in this world.”

        But this is a narrow view. The larger issue here is that by going further down the route that created the situation your son has been put in in an effort to ‘fix’ it, a new, even more tangled situation is being created that will put even more people in bad situations over the long run.

        This is the very thinking that, in years past, has been the justification for taking each step that built this monster in the first place.

        • martinbrock

          I’m not asserting any natural or God-ordained claim on anything or anyone. I generally reject these assertions. I don’t even assert a natural right to a parcel of land that you remove from the state of nature entirely by your own labor. If you want people to respect this right, you must persuade them to respect it, by agreeing to respect a similar right of theirs for example.

          I’m not justifying anything, but you don’t have any issue larger than my son, and you never will.

          • Cole Gentles

            ” I don’t even assert a natural right to a parcel of land that you remove
            from the state of nature entirely by your own labor. If you want people
            to respect this right, you must persuade them to respect it.”

            I agree.

            “I’m not justifying anything,”

            I didn’t say you WERE justifying it. I try very hard to make sure I don’t straw-man those I’m debating. I’m simply saying the same rationalization of narrowly looking at how a particular policy affects ourselves or our loved ones in our present situations has been the type of thinking that has led to the justification for implementing the short sighted policies that have taken past imperfections and turned them into greater horrors.

            “but you don’t have any issue larger than my son, and you never will.”

            I’m not entirely clear on what you mean by this.

          • martinbrock

            … narrowly looking at how a particular policy affects ourselves or our loved ones in our present situations has been the type of thinking that has led to the justification for implementing the short sighted policies that have taken past imperfections and turned them into greater horrors.

            I rather suppose that we had all sorts of horrible, statutory imperfection long before politicians started justifying short-sighted policies in appeals to common people desperate for any sort of defense against the existing short-sighted policies. How we escape the Leviathan is an interesting question, and I’ve addressed the question in detail here, but sacrificing my children to some incremental reform in the statutory horror is not on my agenda.

            I’m not entirely clear on what you mean by this.

            I mean that nothing trumps my children, not even my own life, much less yours. I suppose you feel the same way about your children. Now, we can start discussing the sort of rights we’ll respect.

          • Theresa Klein

            nothing trumps my children, not even my own life, much less yours

            But are you going to go out of your way to give your children benefits at the expense of other people’s children?

            Keep in mind that under the ACA, insurance prices are community rated, so some people are always subsidizing others. Do you think that other people’s kids should be forced to pay more for insurance so that yours can pay less?

          • martinbrock

            I’m not going out of my way to do anything. I have nothing to do with creating the corporative state either before or after the ACA.

            I think that everyone would withdraw from the United States to their choice of countless intentional communities. Short of that, I have no intention of the being anyone’s libertarian, sacrificial lamb.

            For example, I won’t surrender my Social Security benefits unilaterally, but I will surrender them if the United State agrees not to impose the payroll tax on me or my children any longer. I’ll forget about the taxes I’ve already paid, and I’m 51 by the way.

          • martinbrock

            I rather suppose that other people’s kids pay less while my kids are forced to pay more; otherwise, since I am utterly impotent myself, why would I assume that others pay less? You argue here on behalf on African children with swollen bellies? Convince me. How many children do you support? How many have swollen bellies?

          • Theresa Klein

            So what right are the progressive agreeing to respect that the conservatives want the progressives to respect?
            So far, the progressive position has been “We won, suck it up losers.” Which is an unproductive argument if you want that 30% minority faction to agree to continue to participate in the same society as you.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t know what “progressive” means really, but people generally agree to respect a variety of private property rights, and cultures for time immemorial have associated these rights with obligations to the less propertied.

            A husband/father (who is a proprietor traditionally because he enforces a family’s property rights) owes his wife and children support.

            A man owes support to his deceased brother’s wife and children, i.e. she become his wife, and they become his children. Anyone who thinks this tradition was primarily about sexual rights to women is out of touch with reality. It was about the rights of women and children to the support of men and the property they defended.

            Proprietors generally owe a duty to the Temple treasury to assist the poor.

            These traditions are not “progressive”. They are as old as the oldest systematic property rights, and they are inseparable historically from property rights. People respected the exclusive rights of proprietors to govern particular resources only while these other rights and obligations also existed.

            More to your point, Democratic and Republican politicians respect their own political interests. There is no coherent “30% minority faction”, and the current “shutdown” debate is not about Obamacare any more than it’s about a shutdown. Obamacare is only the talking point.

            Another minority faction would keep the ACA, though they might prefer a Canadian-style, single payer system, but they’d like to cut the DOD budget in half. Another faction would keep the ACA, complete with Medicaide expansion and exchanges and preexisting condition mandates and subsidies, if only the individual mandate were repealed. A multitude of these factions exist, and they’re all players in this drama.

        • Theresa Klein

          Those cases are indeed awful and sad, but how does this imply a claim on another to use threaten them with physical violence if they do not voluntarily help them in some way?
          Right. Many people feel that you have a moral obligation to save a drowning child. But few people feel that you should be imprisoned or fined for not doing so.
          To boil it down, is it fair to punish people for not helping those with congenital birth defects?
          Lots of people are going to say no.

          • martinbrock

            That some people say no is irrelevant in my way of thinking. Can these people sustain a free community? Will other people, who say yes, agree to respect other rights that the no-sayers want respected?

          • Cole Gentles

            “Many people feel that you have a moral obligation to save a drowning
            child. But few people feel that you should be imprisoned or fined for
            not doing so.”

            True. And yet, Jerry Seinfeld, George Castanza, Cosmo Kramer, and Elaine Benes rot in jail for the ‘crime’ of not helping a man being mugged! 😉

      • Theresa Klein

        I don’t think the exact moral principles for WHY they are refusing to participate matter that much. As a libertarian, I am sympathetic to the conception of fairness that people are responsible for their own risks and are not obligated (or at least should not be legally obligated) to help the person with the congenital birth defect. Obviously Rawlsian liberals feel differently.
        But conservatives reasons may hinge more upon an unwillingness to have any part of their premiums subsidizing the costs of contraception, or abortion, or diseases brought about by “immoral” lifestyles.
        It doesn’t matter. You’ve got a fraction of society that is so opposed to something that they are willing to use whatever power they have (and they obviously have a lot more than protestors in the past), to basically refuse their consent. It’s essentially a giant sit-in. It’s not really much different than chaining yourself to a tree until the loggers give up, except that Tea Partiers have actual legislative power embodied by elected representatives to work through.

        • martinbrock

          I have no problem with “Tea Partiers shutting down the government to oppose Obamacare”, but I also don’t take this summary of current events very seriously. In reality, many different factions are maneuvering to protect many different interests as the prospect of indefinitely raising the debt ceiling to arbitrarily high levels becomes more remote. Talk of “shutting down the government over Obamacare” is mostly for the rubes on both sides of the two party state.

          • Straw that broke the camel’s back.

          • martinbrock

            No single straw breaks a camel’s back. Removing the last straw added, while ignoring all the rotting straw beneath it, is not sensible policy.

          • Haha, if you wanted to take me that literally, then what you should have said was, “No figure of speech breaks a camel’s back.”

          • martinbrock

            “No figure of speech” doesn’t allow me to compare the NSA to rotting straw.

          • Theresa Klein

            Personally, I would love it if the whole thing was a purely libertarian revolt.
            Obviously it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a revolt.
            Honestly, I *really* doubt that this shutdown would be happening if it weren’t for the “extreme” “intransigent” Tea Party faction. A faction that is obviously in some measure driven by pure opposition to the ACA.
            You can say extreme and intransigent, but that’s just another way of saying they care so much about it they are willing to put a great deal at stake to stop it, and you can’t understand why. The fact that one part of society can’t understand why another part of society is so opposed to something, doesn’t mean that their beefs are illegitimate either.

          • bupalos

            >>>You’ve got a fraction of society that is so opposed to something that they are willing to use whatever power they have (and they obviously have a lot more than protestors in the past), to basically refuse their consent.>>>

            >>>A faction that is obviously in some measure driven by pure opposition to the ACA.>>>

            Not to butt in….well, OK, I suppose this is precisely to butt in, but I have to say what is most interesting whenever I come across these theoretical libertarian arguments is the extent to which complex human and political motivations are seemingly so simply defined. Do you take at face value the idea that all these predominantly southern white folks represented by these few southern white men are really driven by “pure opposition to the ACA?” I mean, I think its been pretty conclusively shown that very few of either the proponents or opponents of this law really know what it is. A sizeable portion think that the ACA is some much preferable alternative law to the socialist nightmare of “Obamacare.” And despite the general ignorance of what it is, when it goes in effect, or even whether it is even in effect now, somehow the fervor of the opposition to “Obamacare” is such that they are willing to pursue borderline extra-legal nullification strategies, and happily musing about “second amendment remedies?”

            I think the reality of the motivation has to be much broader and stronger, as Martinbrock suggests, and relates to a whole grab bag of economic, cultural, religious, and ethnic complaints that would find their highest points of concentration in the rural and suburban south.

          • Theresa Klein

            Do you take at face value the idea that all these predominantly southern white folks represented by these few southern white men are really driven by “pure opposition to the ACA?”

            Ahh yes, the brilliant counter-argument that people oppose socialized healthcare because they are racist.

          • bupalos

            >>>people oppose socialized healthcare because they are racist.>>>>

            Of course I didn’t say that and it’s quite an inappropriate leap for you to make. While I do think that the legacy of white supremacy, nullification, and revolt in the south does still play a pretty strong lingering role in the “conservatism” at play here, you take that much farther in a much more personal individual way that simply doesn’t apply. Surprising imprecision.

            I’m not claiming to know all the answers, but I do find a few aspects of this opposition very unusual, the first and foremost being that respondents generally favor the actual provisions of the ACA, but many use language and take actions that are nearly insurrectionist because of the tyranny of Obamacare. I don’t mean you theoretical libertarians, I mean the (predominantly southern) folks actually providing the political power behind this mini-revolt.

          • martinbrock

            I’m not saying that Tea Partiers are extreme or intransigent, but I am saying that they aren’t driven by pure opposition to the ACA. In some smoke filled room, a few politicians have decided that “Obamacare” is the buzzword they’ll rally around, but while they repeat this “Obamacare” mantra for public consumption, they’re still having three martini lunches with lobbyists from Lockheed-Martin and Bank of America, and they aren’t discussing the ACA particularly.

            And the “progressives” are having three martini lunches with the same lobbyists and focusing just as little on the ACA.

            Meanwhile, my son needs health insurance, and I can’t over him anymore, so that’s what I discuss in my three martini lunches.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Not sure that I agree. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem resembles a nail. In this case the minority party has only one tool, and they can either try to use it, or just allow the other party to do anything they want to. Now, they have observed that other party doing some pretty bad and disastrous things. So they are using what power they have in an attempt to curtail it. They will probably not succeed. But if they did nothing they would probably do even worse in the political landscape.

    • Andrew

      Nice. “The question should be what if the correct moral course of action when
      you have a sizable minority of society that cannot and will not consent
      to live under a particular government program.” So, its really a question of state legitimacy. Bas is the resident expert on the topic, but I’ll just say that I suspect the thing to do is work to change the system until it is legitimate.

  • David Friedman

    In response to my earlier point, you raise the obvious question of what defines a government. I think the answer is that a government is what I described in _The Machinery of Freedom_ as an agency of legitimized coercion–using both terms in somewhat specialized senses. By “coercion” I mean the sort of act that would be seen as a rights violation if done by an ordinary person, and responded to accordingly. By “legitimized” I mean that people act as if it is legitimate, whether or not it is or they believe it is–i.e. do not respond in the way they would respond to a rights violation by someone else. For details of the ideas underlying this—rights as a system of mutually recognized commitment strategies implying a willingness to bear substantial costs in responding to their violation—see the article “A Positive Account of Property Rights” on my web page.

    An Objectivist government which collected no taxes but enforced its monopoly of retaliatory force would be a government in my sense, since someone else who insisted that you could only respond to rights violations with his permission would be seen as himself violating rights.

    • Andrew

      David-I read your book, and though I recall enjoying it, its been a long while. In any case, I have been considering writing something (serious) about this. If and when I do, I will revisit your book and perhaps ask you more about it.

  • David Friedman

    On your general point about government workers, I wonder what your view is of the rights of the purchaser of stolen property, an issue that shows up across many legal systems. A steals my car and sells it to B. I prove the car is mine and was stolen. Does B have any right to the car? Any claim against me? He has a claim against A, but A may not be around or may not have any assets.

    Isn’t this pretty closely analogous to your case? B gave money and legitimately and reasonably expected to get ownership of a car as a result, just as the government worker made various decisions based on his legitimate expectation of continuing employment. Does it follow that he is entitled to have those expectations fulfilled at the cost not of A, who created them, but of me?

    The claim of the welfare recipients seems even weaker. He was being given stolen money in exchange for nothing, or perhaps in exchange for his vote. I can see prudential arguments against simply stopping all government payments, but I find it hard to see moral arguments.

    • Sean II

      Interesting that the way you defend against a charge of receiving stolen property is by claiming not to have known it was stolen. I believe most states call this something like the “sincere mistake of fact” defense.

      Prosecutors can counter by trying to show that anyone who receives X for the piddling amount of Y must have known the seller did not come by X lawfully. This being the “too good to be true” argument.

      So…on the one hand we might say: “People are statists. They don’t know the money behind their federal pay or benefit check is stolen. We can’t say they are guilty of receiving stolen property.”

      But on the other hand we might say: “Bullshit. Those who are getting something for nothing, they must know. Those who have jobs so secure that death outranks termination as a cause of separation, must know.”

      • bupalos

        >>>Bullshit. Those who are getting something for nothing, they must know. Those who have jobs so secure that death outranks termination as a cause of separation, must know.>>>

        I’ve been in positions in the private sector where I’ve gotten quite significant somethings for essentially no work. Thoughts like “this is too good to be true,” or “this is like stealing” certainly drifted through my head. I think in fact one could make the argument that anyone earning money off of prior ownership or fortunate positioning in money streams is in the same boat as your supposed statist looter person.

        • Sean II

          Hmm, I’m curious: what is “prior ownership” and how do you define “fortunate positioning in money streams”?

          Also, it might be helpful if you could offer some examples of private sector alchemy that turned nothing into something. (wait, don’t tell me: are you one of those guys who made 5,000 a week working from home with this one weird trick?)

          • bupalos

            Hilariously enough, one of the best incidents I could cite does involve an African dictator. Another one involves EU compliance. It occurs to me that neither of these is probably going to be accepted as “private sector” enough for the academic libertarian crowd, despite my company having no connection to the US govt. But the basics are this; because of a prior (childhood) connection that some folks at Lockheed had with a former partner, my company was contracted to provide translation and interpretation for a 4 day visit from a diplomatic entourage from Chad meeting about military purchases. Got cancelled as said dictator got wind of (or imagined) a coup attempt and stayed in Chad. The cancellation came just in the window where we hadn’t had to do much of any legwork arranging the thing and hadn’t had to pay anyone, but the contract said we got 60%.That was about 60g for maybe 4 hours of phone conversations and a day visit to Atlanta. Feelers suggested it would not be even a mild positive for my company to forgo what was contractually mine, almost more of an internal problem.

            I know there are about 19 libertarian objections and qualifications to how this isn’t a sufficiently pure example, or some theoretical value was created or something. But from my vantage point a lot of the fatter end of the economy runs like this. It’s just the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you own a connection and stand near the giant gushers of surplus money created by productivity gains that were hoarded away from workers.

            I won’t get into the EU compliance one, but I pocketed about 50g on maybe 15 hours of (honestly not very valuable) work retailing other’s work, and was credited, along with the company’s export manager, with saving the day on a 9M factory order. It subsequently became clear to me that this was all based on a faulty legal assumption made by the export manager, whose mistake was successfully buried.

            Of course it’s not all like that, not by a long shot, but I’ve run around this circus long enough to firmly believe that folks spouting about the efficiency of the private sector vis-a-vis the government are mostly either very practically naive and simply talking about a world that never has existed and never will exist, or trying to create a cosmology that benefits them psychologically.

          • Sean II

            You anticipate many of my objections, so I won’t press them except to note that some of the biggest scams in a mixed economy flourish at the meeting of “private” vendors and public budgets. Voters would certainly notice, and loudly complain, if the federal government started paying FBI agents $500,000 a year. But they usually never find out when the same government spends that amount for a management training consultant who comes to Quantico to spew tautologies during a weekend retreat.

            Let me be a fair, and spot you a better example. Say Tom Hanks goes to one meeting for one hour and there agrees to a $10,000,000 pay-or-play deal for a film called “Polar Express II: Balls Deep in the Uncanny Valley.” The film never gets made, so Tom gets $10,000,000, evidently for just one hour of work. Surely this must be a private sector example of something for nothing.

            But it’s not. The production company wasn’t paying Hanks for the hour he spent in a meeting. They were buying an option on his box-office drawing power, which in many cases has proved to be worth a lot more than $10,000,000, and which in any case took Hanks most of his life to build and maintain.

            Far from being some exotic libertarian idea, this is fairly basic econ.

          • bupalos

            I understand the principle you are talking about there, and don’t deny that there are valid reasons for taking options sometimes, or that this can be a value in itself. And you could extend that to at least my first case and say that’s what Lockheed was “thinking.” Indeed, that’s how any manager would describe that if questioned on it.

            But it isn’t true. They didn’t need to secure our incredible Tom-Hanks-level talents (!) and pay a premium to do so. Some guy just tried to call his old buddy so spoils would redound to his social benefit, and the company as a whole just doesn’t value 60k all that highly. This is true of a lot of big companies, whether they sell their products to governments (which Chad hardly even is, it’s more like a private person buying a tool for personal defense/burglary) or not. You deal in millions, you stop caring much about thousands. The waste is more endemic to the size than the public/private status.

            But back to the issue at hand. Didn’t you suggest folks getting government assistance should essentially recognize it as “stolen property” because they know the deal is too good to be true– for instance that their medicare benefit is significantly higher than the taxes they every paid in. I think that’s ridiculous, unless you want to say the same in spades about transactions like the one I outlined. I think it would be much easier for me to establish the value a citizen qua citizen provides to the stability of the state, and thus the entire structure of the economy and ownership, than you will be to find value in my real-life Lockheed example.

          • Sean II

            Asked and answered, as they say.

            Lockheed is a blue ribbon pig that’s logged 75 years of favoritism at the government trough. It’s hardly surprising that they should throw money at cronies and old school chums with nary a hint of market discipline.

            Your claims that “…the waste is more endemic to the size than the public/private status…” is doubtful and unsupported here, unless you can come up with some examples of non-subisidzed firms burning money for no reason. But if you had such cards, you’d have played them by now.

            Bottom line: In an effort to prove to me that recipients of government loot don’t know they’re getting something too good to be true, you offered two examples where recipients of government loot got something too good to be true.

            Perhaps you can understand why I remain unmoved.

          • bupalos

            >>>Asked and answered, as they say.

            Lockheed is a blue ribbon pig that’s logged 75 years…>>>>

            So your answer is that my company should have known that was too good to be true and thus consider it stolen property received.

            >>>examples of non-subisidzed firms burning money for no reason.>>>

            There are always reasons, they just aren’t good “market” reasons. I could give you many, but if you had experience in the fatter end of the “private” sector, you wouldn’t need me to. Seriously, I have literally NEVER met a veteran of these wars that didn’t have several of these stories at his fingertips once the manhattans flowed.

            Without such experience you won’t find other examples credible, or claim that this or that private company isn’t really private but “mixed” (as if there has ever been a company that wasn’t). I’ve dealt with tens of large corporations that sling money around in a similar way to Lockheed– There are basic laws of human nature that determine these things. When an internal employee can’t get their hands on the company cash directly, they use it to manipulate internal politics or gain influence or social goals outside of the company. They have good business “reasons” at the ready–like your options example– but these are often just phony or institutional protocols meant to protect employees from having to exercise judgement. It’s also human nature when deals in the tens of millions cross your desk not to spend 5 minutes worrying about getting back 40k for shareholders, especially if that means potentially raising issues that could show you made a mistake.

          • Sean II

            “There are always reasons, they just aren’t good “market” reasons. I could give you many, but if you had experience in the fatter end of the “private” sector, you wouldn’t need me to. Seriously, I have literally NEVER met a veteran of these wars that didn’t have several of these stories ”

            So to sum up: the examples are everywhere, and that’s why you can’t provide a good one. Luckily I’m not a suspicious person, or I might think you were trying to protect your argument from a scrutiny of its specifics.

            But on the other hand, you gained a lot of credibility with a douchey insinuation to the effect that, if I weren’t just a humble turnip farmer, I wouldn’t need evidence. That sort of thing is nearly always a sign of intellectual strength, so naturally I’ll just take you at your word now.

            One question, though: if the private sector is full of ways to get something for nothing, then why does anyone ever bother with those pesky, risky investments where money can be lost? If there really is no difference between the public, semi-public, and private sectors when it comes to deals too-good-to-be-true, then why do people spend so much time and money lobbying the government?

            Wouldn’t it be cheaper and simpler to just – how did you put it? – let the “manhattans flow”?

          • bupalos

            It’s not “douchey” for me to suspect you have no large corporate experience when you think Lockheed is some great exception to some great rule. It’s not, and you’ll find out it’s not if you end up in these kind of transactions yourself. That’s the crux of things here, your experience has just been far different than mine. I won’t ask what that experience is, and I have no idea why I would try to disabuse you of any of the youthful market enthusiasm you’ve been allowed to retain.

            >>> I might think you were trying to protect your argument from a scrutiny of its specifics.>>>

            Bad enough form for me to have blabbed any details at all, especially since you are predisposed to explain any away as anomalies. Suffice to say my experience leads me to believe that much of the economic world is built on things you will likely consider anomalous, tainted, or mixed. I grant ahead of time you could slice and dice them to the theoretical core and maintain pristine theorems about the way untainted things work.

            The bottom line I would leave you with is simply back to the point. Consider something you should agree with– that many people come by money in many different legal ways. From that, consider whether your imposition of what is a proper legal way and what is an improper legal way really has to do with “objective reality,” or your own particular worldview formed from your own particular experience. To think that some 75 year old veteran and his wife, in his life experience, must know that he’s “receiving stolen property” because he’s getting 700,000 in benefits for 175,000 paid in– I find such a judgement sophomoric at best and insulting at worst.

      • David Friedman

        The issue isn’t how you defend against a charge of receiving stolen property, it’s whether you get to keep the property when the person it was stolen from shows up and demonstrates that it is his. I believe that under most circumstances in our legal system, you don’t get to keep it even if you did not know it was stolen.

        Getting back to the original issue, the question isn’t whether government employees and welfare recipients should be prosecuted as receivers of stolen property, which is what your comment would be relevant to, but whether they are entitled to continued payments–whether they have “bought” an entitlement to a future stream of revenue and so are allowed to keep it.

        • Sean II

          Ah, but those things are related: the case for an ongoing entitlement is stronger if the recipients have no way of knowing the goods are stolen. Take a simple comparison:

          Person A gets a direct transfer payment with no pretense of desert. Under the receipt of stolen goods tradition, he should know that something is amiss. His deal is too good to be true.

          But Person B is slightly different. He gets his check for working in a government-backed wind farm. But its hard for him to know where the natural demand ends and the subsidy begins, and besides he still has to work for what he gets. His deal is not obviously too good to be true.

          In Person A demands that his benefits continue, he is demanding to continue receiving stolen goods. But if Person B does the same, he may perhaps be confused, thinking he has earned a just desert.

          Also, if a libertarian revolution throws them both back on their own devices, Person B has a stronger claim to severance pay based on desert than Person B, whose only claim to severance would be based on need.

          So the mental state of the recipients is very much relevant when asking what they’re entitled to, and that they get to keep.

          • David Friedman

            Cessation of benefits isn’t being proposed as a punishment but as the result of ending the stealing. There are lots of cases where it is appropriate that someone be worse off even though he is not at fault. For an obvious example, consider someone who loses his well paid job making buggy whips due to the invention of the automobile.

            One doesn’t have to argue that the recipient of stolen property has acted badly in order to require him to return it to the owner, as I think we normally do in modern U.S. law, although there are exceptions in some other legal systems. Still less do we have to argue that someone who is owed a debt by a thief is entitled to have the thief keep stealing in order to continue payments on the debt, which looks like the closest analogy to continuing to pay those who have been receiving payments from the government.

          • Sean II

            Well, I guess you’re right. The question of punishment is separate from the question of stopping the theft. Perhaps I should confine myself to this observation:

            If the buggy whip maker loses his job due to the invention of the automobile, while living in a market society where such thing are known to happen, that’s pretty much that.

            But if the buggy whip maker lives in a mixed economy, and instead of losing his job to the automobile in due course, he keeps it for a number of years thanks to some complicated scheme of subsidies/protectionist rules which he didn’t cause and doesn’t understand, then it seems to me he may be another victim of the scheme. For unlike the recipient of straightforward transfer loot, he is not obviously getting something for nothing, and it’s very possible that he innocently imagines himself to be trading honest work for honest pay.

            I don’t doubt that it’s just to cut off his subsidies and end the protectionist rules that keep his buggy whip business alive when it should be dead. But I also can’t deny that he will experience this as a punishment, even if it’s not intended that way.

            Bottom line: if you reason from rules of property, crime, justice, etc., the welfare recipient looks plainly guilty under the doctrine of “too good to be true”, while some of the picked winners in a mixed economy do not.

            And yet…if you reason from consequentialist grounds, you get the opposite result. The welfare recipient looks more sympathetic than the buggy whip rent-seeker.

          • David Friedman

            I don’t see that “innocently imagining” gets you anywhere. When you buy a stolen car at a reasonable second hand car price, you have no reason to assume it is stolen. Does it follow that when the owner shows up and asks for his car back, you don’t have to give it to him?

            To make the case even closer, suppose what you buy is an annuity–sold, with forged documentation claiming that it is to be paid by some existing entity. The seller has succeeded in accessing the entity’s computer and gotten it to pay you the first two months payment before the scheme is detected.

            Your claim seems to be that not only can the entity not reclaim the money already paid, it is obligated to keep paying. Do you really believe that? If not, how does that differ from your case?

          • Sean II

            “Your claim seems to be that not only can the entity not reclaim the money already paid, it is obligated to keep paying.”

            Not my claim at all. I merely suggest that there are two victims in such a case instead of one, and that they both deserve our sympathy along with whatever compensation they can get.

            It’s true that there is no source of compensation other further theft by the state, which means there can’t be any compensation, but that doesn’t change the fact that we should like to give it if we could.

    • Andrew

      I am inclined to think that the purchaser of stolen property can be of two sorts: (a) the knowing, and hence culpable, purchaser and (b) the unknowing, and hence innocent, purchaser. I do not think the former needs to be compensated; he is guilty of knowingly participating in a moral crime. I do think, on the other hand, that the unknowing purchaser is owed compensation–not from the person whose property he now holds, but from the person that sold it to him (or the supplier to that person).

      • David Friedman

        And who do you count as the person who “sold” the right to continued employment to the government worker, or continued welfare to the welfare recipient? If I, a taxpayer, never approved of those transactions, am I liable to make the payments?

        Note that in my post I said that the innocent purchaser was entitled to repayment from the thief, but pointed out that that might not be an option–the thief might not be known or might not have the money. The question is then one of the rights of the purchaser vis a vis the owner.

        • bupalos

          >>>If I, a taxpayer, never approved of those transactions, am I liable to make the payments?>>>

          But you as a taxpayer did approve those transactions. Your continued domicile in the United States, participation in it’s government, and voluntary payment of your taxes is a tacit approval via participation. You can opt out at any time, of course, but until you do you are liable for the payments.

          • David Friedman

            I didn’t pay taxes voluntarily, I paid them because the government would have seized my property or jailed me if I didn’t. I did voluntarily live here, but in order to make that imply moral responsibility for government actions you need some argument along social contract lines showing that my living here constituted assent. All such arguments depend on the government being entitled to make consent to its rules a condition of remaining there. But unless you already have a social contract, how did the government get legitimate ownership over the territory it rules?

          • bupalos

            If you thought you had a legal argument why you had some conscientious objection to your defined responsibilities as citizen, you could have raised that issue within the legal framework, as others have attempted from time to time. Unless you did at least that, I’d call your acquiescence voluntary. It’s not a fair argument to say “when Dave asked me to pay him for unsolicited cleaning of my windshield at a stoplight, I paid him without raising objection. But it wasn’t voluntary, because I suspect he wouldn’t have listened to my reasoning that I didn’t want my windshield cleaned.” Going along with the transaction without objection does give it status.

            On the second point, as to how government got the “ownership” (not a great term here) by which it can promulgate a “join-or-leave” edict, I would think that derives from the government existing as an arbiter of the natural disputes that arise from people living in proximity, established by those people as a preferable arrangement to piecemeal private dispute resolution. This requires that you are born into an existing social contract, which I’m sure strikes theoretical libertarians as perverse. But I’m not sure what other kind of legitimate basis of government there could ever be, nor how an individual could ever have a meaningful right to own anything or exist anywhere outside of such an existing contract.

          • David Friedman

            Since others who tried to argue that they were not obligated to pay taxes were entirely unsuccessful, I can’t see how my acquiescence was voluntary. If a mugger points a gun at me and asks for my wallet, does the fact that I don’t fight him and get shot make the transfer voluntary? The odds of success are a good deal higher than if I tried to fight the IRS.

            To put it differently, can you really say with a straight face, “I *suspect* the government wouldn’t have listened to my reasoning if I explained that I wasn’t obliged to pay taxes?” That’s sort of like “I suspect if you drop things they fall down instead of up.”

            Your final point has two halves. The first is that without your argument government may have no legitimate right to do the sorts of things government do. You may not like that conclusion, but your not liking it isn’t evidence that it is false. As best I can tell, you are simply assuming your conclusion.

            The second half seems to assume that rights only come from governments, which I think obviously false. If rights and moral obligations don’t pre-exist government, how could a social contract have any moral force–what makes people obliged to keep their contracts? And there have been a fair number of stateless society, the inhabitants of which certainly acted as if they thought they had rights.

          • bupalos

            >>>Since others who tried to argue that they were not obligated to pay taxes were entirely unsuccessful>>>

            I suppose if your objection is that you won’t pay your taxes and fund any part of government because you disapprove of some of the things some parts of that government does, you’re right, I don’t think any of those types of ideological cases have ever been remotely successful, maybe not in any government. You may say “I don’t want one single dime of my money going to fund
            healthcare for the indigent.” The representatives of the taxing structure could well respond “that’s fine, it doesn’t, we happen to use your entire payment to fund .005% of copyright enforcement, works out great!” (I’ve actually seen this rhetorical accounting done in smaller organizations to assuage this type of “tax protestor.”) Your counter implies functional anarchy via a personal economic veto. You can’t use arguments that imply anarchy to defend your legal property rights under a government– it’s true that this is as locked in as gravity, but bears little legal or moral relation to your supposed mugger scenario.

            One should note too, that when dealing with exemption from civic duty in matters of liberty greater than the margins of your wealth–like conscientious objection to war–most modern governments do make provision for personal exception.

            All that aside, I would accept that if someone really was of whatever mindset allows them to consider the United States as a kind of frightful and unreasonable tax-mugger, we can’t consider their paying the tax as voluntary or evidence of their participation in the social contract. But I think that mindset would then lend somewhat more weight to the choice of domicile question. After all, to go with the analogy, if a mugger gives you an easy chance to flee, you take it. If you don’t, it would seem you think continuing in the presence of the frightful mugger is more beneficial than not.

            >>>Your final point has two halves. The first is that without your argument government may have no legitimate right to do the sorts of things government do.>>>

            Without my argument? I guess this means absent pointing out the mechanism by which people voluntarily join? This isn’t clear. But I do think the domicile argument is sufficient, and your question of where the government gets the “join-or-leave” power sufficiently answered. This power arises from government existing as an arbiter of the natural disputes that arise from people living in proximity, established by those people (or their forebears) as a preferable arrangement to piecemeal private dispute resolution.

            >>>If rights and moral obligations don’t pre-exist government>>>

            This is where it always eventually boils down. My take would be that they do not preexist government because nothing identifiably human preexists government. Rights and moral obligations are by definition in relation to other people. It makes no sense to talk about the rights of one human existing in isolation from other humans–certainly property rights would be meaningless, as what right wouldn’t be? Where there is one person, there are at least two, and where there are two, there is government– it’s only a question of how formal and explicit the arrangement. I think Aristotle formulated this well, and confess that I don’t understand what the libertarian alternatives to it might be.

  • CalderonX

    I raised this argument in the first post and Mr. Cohen did not address it, so I’ll raise it more briefly here. Set asides all questions about the validity of a contract. If you want to claim a contract was breached, you have to say what that contract is. Yet your post never defines the contract the government has with its employees, suppliers, or anyone else. And I don’t mean contract in theoretical terms, but the actual real world contract.

    Until you prove to us that the government has some contractual obligation not to furlough or lay off employees, not to stop purchasing from its suppliers, not to keep paying welfare, etc., then any contract-based analysis fails.

    Finally, the arguments you make here prove too much. Suppose, through regular legislation, the government decides to end welfare benefits. Ending such benefits will “harm” recipients just as much as stopping payment of benefit because of a shutdown, hitting the debt ceiling, etc. For that matter, using regular legislation to cut back on ordering expensive military equipment from Lockheed Martin or Raytheon “harms” their employees just as much as if done because of a shutdown, etc. Same goes for deciding to eliminate NASA through normal legislative means, which would “harm” its employees. Under your conception of “harm,” the government apparently could not withdraw from providing such benefits, and that conclusion applies regardless of whether the withdrawal would happen through regular legislative processes, shutdown, hitting the debt ceiling, etc.

    • bupalos

      I think he pretty fairly laid out that the problem was with the social dislocation being caused. So it would be equally bad for the legislature to quickly pass a law ending Social Security payments starting immediately. That would be wrong in a sense much higher than a legal one.

      • CalderonX

        Maybe, but I’m not sure. His last paragraph mixes between “agreements,” “promises,” and satisfying “obligations,” on the one hand, and “legitimate expectations” on the other. These two are quite distinct.

        Beyond that, it’s a very odd position for someone calling themselves libertarian to take. “You got this government benefit for some period of time, and even if we think the benefit is illegitimate and the government had no obligation or even authority to begin the benefit in the first place — indeed, even if the continuing the benefit is immoral — and even though the government has no legal obligation to continue the benefit, because the government started the benefit it now has to continue it for some unspecified period of time.”

        And beyond that, for how long do we have to continue the benefit after giving notice? Weeks, months, years? The possibility of a shutdown was known for months in advance; likely even longer given that the CRs have specific end dates. Why wouldn’t that have been enough time.

        But the final and basic point is that your interpretation of what he’s saying has nothing to do with the shutdown. If his basic argument is that no government benefit should be ended quickly (whatever that means), then he should make that argument. Of course, that argument has nothing to do with hit men, extortion, etc.

        • bupalos

          I agree it might be an odd position for a libertarian to take, but that’s only because libertarians tend towards pure theory and abstraction and the folks on this site try to soften those edges and make the abstract practical.

          In very practical terms, suddenly ending social security payments, in opposition to everyone’s generational expectations, would result in a bunch of chaos, suffering, and death, so relying on one’s contractual obligation or freedom in that case is completely immoral, much like Shylock and his pound of flesh. Whether or not that external effect also renders the action illegal is a matter of legal interpretation. Again, the penultimate scene of Merchant of Venice is instructive here.

          I agree this position does not relate to the hitman, really, but I honestly don’t understand what the hitman is doing here at all or how that particular analogy instructs more than obscures in the first place.

    • Andrew

      Harm=wrongful setback to interests. It would take more than I can offer here to show that withdrawing benefits can be done in ways that are not wrongful, but I don’t think its at all unreasonable to think that–and so, no, I don’t think the arguments prove too much.
      Also, to be clear, I really have in mind a moral notion of contract rather than a legal notion. In the simplest sense, a contract is a mutual promise.

      • CalderonX

        Thanks for your response. That said, I think you’re still begging the question in the vulgar sense. Even if you rely on a “moral notion of contract” or a “mutual promise,” you still have to define what that contract is. Why is part of that contract a rule that people cannot be laid off with minimal notice, the government can stop ordering goods with no notice, etc.? This why is especially pertinent if the legal contract allows the government to do such things, as then the persons and companies have no reasonable expectation of receiving notice before termination or delay of their employment, orders, etc. In other words, you still need to define the contract for any notion of contract, whether moral or legal.

        • Andrew

          That’s fair. I think alot of the response will rely on legitimate expectation talk. For example, since I think the government is pretty bad about allowing people to build legitimate expectations about the long term, it needs to give more notice than would be expected in a firm where there was an expectation of only 2 weeks notice, for example. I admit that if there were empirical evidence that longer notice makes things worse, it would make me think twice about thinking such notice needed. All of that said, I realize much more work is needed to clarify and defend my view about this stuff. Thanks!

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    It is wrong to make an assumption that the obligations created by a state have a moral duty to be upheld, for the simple reason that it is both possible and all too likely that a state will make obligations which it is simply unable to uphold.
    When debts and burdens become greater than the ability of the public to pay without a radical reduction in their well being, then there is no more moral force to any debts incurred and they can be relieved either in part or whole on any rational basis.

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