Economics, Rights Theory

Sufficientarian Liberalism

A common thread on this blog is the thought that free markets are preferable to various forms of state intervention if our aims are, not only to achieve prosperity, but also alleviate poverty. The empirical correlation between robust markets and prosperity is, I think, undeniable, and the burden of proof is on those who propose governmental interference.

Here I take a different tack. Classical liberals should endorse a political system that includes a safety-net for the poor while simultaneously abolishing virtually all other barriers to market entry. This means no more subsidies, no more tariffs, no more licencing of professions, no more burdensome regulations, no more state-run education, no more barriers to immigration, no more unproductive public spending, and no more bloated bureaucracies (you can add an appropriate public-goods proviso.) Call this view sufficientarian liberalism. The view is sufficientarian, not egalitarian: it advocates state redistribution of resources only toward those who cannot provide for themselves.

Sufficientarian liberalism can be philosophically justified. In the Doctrine of Right Kant argues that to sustain the civil condition the state must provide means to those incapable of providing for themselves. But the state cannot legitimately redistribute resources beyond this, because doing so would encroach on people’s protected freedoms. The only legitimate reason for coercion is the establishment and maintenance of the civil condition. That is why the state can punish criminals: the state hinders the freedom of someone, the criminal, who has hindered the freedom of his victim. Now property-less persons cannot act autonomously because they are subject to the permissions and wishes of others. Therefore, the state must provide them with the material means of acting autonomously, as required by the civil condition. If you are charmed by this view, then you have a first-order, ideal justification of the sufficientarian liberal state.

But suppose that Robert Nozick is right and no redistribution, not even to the poor, is justified. In that case we can no longer justify sufficientarian liberalism on first-order principles. However,  we can still defend it as a second-best, nonideal political arrangement. If the Nozickian utopia is unattainable, then classical-liberals’ best strategy might well be to support institutions that frontally address the plight of the poor. Now imagine a society where the only redistributive job of the state was to help the poor. That society would be an immense improvement over the crony-capitalist systems we endure today. If we couple a safety-net with vast deregulation of markets, and we add the fact that freer markets help the poor more than known alternatives, then the classical-liberal has the upper hand, because the defender of the welfare state has lost her main argument for big government.  If the poor are provided for, all that remains of the welfare state are subsidies, privileges, rent-seeking, and various other inefficiencies. I doubt honest egalitarians can defend that.

(There is some empirical evidence that countries like Norway or Denmark are closer to this ideal than, for example, the United States or France. See Jason Brennan’s post here. While of course there are many useless regulations in those countries, property and contract are well defined and barriers to market entry are lower than in other places. This might explain why they do better notwithstanding their strong safety net.)

So, the argument for sufficientarian liberalism is an argument in the alternative. If you share Kant’s claim that autonomy requires providing for the poor but prohibits further redistribution, then you would have provided a principled justification for sufficientarian liberalism. Alternatively, if you think Nozick is right in opposing all redistribution, you may still defend sufficientarian liberalism as a second-best political arrangement. This second-best solution is still enormously better than the statu-quo. Of course, my proposal is still not granular enough: it does not define public goods; nor it does specify which of these other regulations should survive; nor does it explain exactly how the redistribution in favor of the poor will be implemented.  But the idea is intelligible enough: either sufficientarian liberalism is morally justified or, if it is not, it is the second-best proposal for the real world.  As a political strategy, sufficientarian liberalism may well give classical liberals the long-coveted high ground in political debate.

  • How do you determine what is sufficient for everyone?

    • Jod

      It’s a political question, answered with all the messiness of political questions.

  • Ted_Levy

    I recall economist David Friedman (was it here in the comments of BHL? Perhaps in response to some Brennan wrote?) calculating a reasonable quantified sense of what “sufficient” might mean if taken seriously. It was in the ballpark of about $200 per year if I remember correctly.

    • Then why does the Federal Poverty Level consider a single-person household poor if income is less than $11,490.
      Did you mean $200 a week?

      • Ted_Levy

        The short answer is: No, I didn’t mean $200/week.

        The longer answer involves David’s calculations. I recall he calculated the cheapest way to acquire the minimum number of calories per day needed to live…things like that. This points of course to the very issue you raised: When you try to objectify and quantitate the minimum sufficient amount to live, you get a really low number because in a developed country what we find minimally acceptable is far more than what is actually sufficient to live. See developing countries where people live on much, much less than $11,490/year.

  • Ted_Levy

    I am concerned Professor Teson doesn’t take account of Public School insights.

    Assuming you could really eliminate, totally and forever, all these barriers to entry. Then I imagine most libertarians, even those silly enough to believe in the NAP, might say, “OK. Get rid of them all, and in 2 or 3 years let’s evaluate whether we need to create a central apparatus, potentially susceptible to abuse, to transfer funds, or if in essence no one remains to take care of since all the barriers to economic self-improvement have been removed.” But of course you can’t guarantee getting rid of all these barriers now and forever. So two things happen: 1) prices are higher than otherwise, so the sufficient subsidy is higher than otherwise; 2) If in future the polity is faced with removing further barriers or increasing the subsidy, everything we know about centralized benefits and diffused costs suggests the latter will happen rather than the former.

    This is why it may be wiser to fall back on principle even if it seems to occasionally yield unsatisfactory results than to try and tweak it at the margins.

  • Rob Gressis

    This might be a dumb question, but do you see a tension between having open borders and offering everyone sufficient resources for them to live on? If you don’t, the tension I’m imagining is this: first, say that you say everyone who lives within your country will receive $30,000/year from the federal government. Second, say there are people who live on much less per year than that who live outside your country. Third, it seems to me that the $30,000/year would itself provide a strong incentive for them to come into your country. Fourth, I think this incentive would motivate a lot of people would come in. Is the thought that having the people come in would be a net boon to your country, given (a) any realistic social safety net, (b) any realistic set of poor people in the world, and (c) any realistically industrialized country that set about implementing these two policies?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I share your concern. The argument you will get is that you make it so that recent immigrants cannot get the welfare benefits. But then you are creating a type of bifurcated nation with the haves who don’t have to work and the have nots who must do all the work. Politically that will not work for long.

      • I agree that maintaining a permanent class of non-voting non-eligible-for-benefits immigrants is not sustainable. However you could have some sort of phase-in for guaranteed basic income, wage subsidies, or whatever other mechanism is being used to supplement income. (Bryan Caplan proposed something like this to make less restrictive immigration laws more politically palatable.)

        It could be sort of like how stock options vest: For example, the first month you get 2% of the benefits to which you’d otherwise be entitled, the second month 4%, and so on, until after 50 months (a little over 4 years) you’re “fully vested” and can receive full benefits. Caplan also proposed restricting the right to vote for immigrants, and that could work the same way: When you’re “fully vested” for benefits then at the same time you gain the right to vote.

        The twist I floated in an earlier comment was that you could treat internal migration the same way, if for example people in (say) Massachusetts were worried about people from Mississippi moving north to take advantage of perceived more generous benefits: New Massachusetts residents would go through a 4-year “vesting” period as described above for benefits, and wouldn’t eligible to vote in local or state elections during that time. (You could also apply the 4-year residency requirement for voting to everybody, not just people applying for benefits.)

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          All that is possible but only with sustainable levels of immigration. What happens to a nation who throws open it’s borders and becomes inundated with a half billion immigrants? Or consider this; Nation A, opens it’s borders totally. Nation B, is a poor nation with a larger population than nation A. They are too poor to care for most of their people but they have enough money to pay to ship millions of their surplus population to nation A.
          Yes Nation A may eventually benefit by the massive immigration but it may also lead to massive poverty, strife and even race wars. ,
          Now let us add another factor. Nation A is Canada, Nation B is Iran. Iran not only pays to send it’s people to Canada but tells them that their mission is to overwhelm the native population and install Sharia law in Canada. What now? Seems far-fetched, but it is really very possible.

          • I don’t disagree. My comment was basically me channeling my inner Bryan Caplan; in general I’m skeptical of the practicality of open borders. As I wrote in a comment to another post, if the difference in living conditions between nation A and nation B is large enough, in the presence of open borders nation A could continue to attract immigrants from nation B even if conditions in nation A (in terms of crowding, crime, unemployment, environmental conditions, etc.) degenerate to the point of being unacceptable to its original residents.

            So I think some sort of formal restrictions on immigration are necessary as a practical matter. The energies people put into arguing for completely open borders would probably be better devoted to arguing for completely free trade and encouraging more foreign direct investment into developing countries.

    • Ted_Levy

      Back in the 1970s, perhaps before Rob’s time, Milton Friedman argued strongly (and, ultimately, successfully) for an end to the draft. Some said ending the draft would “cost more.” Friedman, a brilliant economist, noted that was not true. What WAS true was the cost distribution would change. Rather than all the cost following on those draftees paid below-market wages, the same cost would instead, and properly, fall onto all the taxpayers that presumably benefited from the service of national defense.

      Why bring this up? Because the same analysis is appropriate here. Assume you have a free society, with a minimalist social safety net. A perfectly free society, almost by definition, must allow free entry and exit, else it distorts free labor markets and the natural liberty of movement. Distorting free labor markets is, of course, a cost borne by all consumers in the country. Now if the society as a whole desires a minimalist social safety net, it will, naturally, cost something. Should the largest part of the cost be shifted onto a subgroup of people, those not current citizens who wish to move to this largely free society?

      • Damien S.

        Are volunteers paid much more than draftees were (in adjusted dollars)? You’d need that to be shifting much financial cost to the taxpayers. Conversely, with the draft the risk of death by warfare was spread more evenly among the young adult male population, while now it’s concentrated among (a) those who really want to be soldiers and (b) those with little other economic choice. Of course, the 1960s draft had college deferments and such, so it wasn’t totally equal, but still.

    • Abhishek Saha

      To state an obvious point, this argument is nationalistic. Shouldn’t we focus on what is good for humanity as a whole, or what most enhances freedom/well-being/prosperity etc. throughout the world as opposed what benefits a country? Shouldn’t discussions of political philosophy strive to be post-national and shouldn’t the politics that state-skeptical libertarians be at the very least not connected to the particular interests of those who hold a piece of paper from some state but be instead connected to all who are human?

      • Rob Gressis

        Hi Abhishek,

        I suppose the argument can be construed as nationalistic, but an open borders argument can be seen as problematic, given your goals. For instance, if your goal is really to help the poor, why do so by having unrestricted immigration to your country? Why not just send money to everyone who’s poor all over the world? After all, open borders only helps those who actually get into your country; with international, direct cash transfers, you help everyone!

        Now, you could say, “that wouldn’t be practical”, but of course, one could also say the same thing about [open borders + $30,000 to everyone within your borders], hence my wonderings in (a)-(c).

        • murali284

          Open borders is the most efficient way to help the poor. I remember reading somewhere that opening the borders could hep more poor people than foreign aid or even relaxing trade barriers.

        • Abhishek Saha

          My goal is to maximize everyone’s freedom. My goal is also to undermine and create a taboo around strong large-scale group loyalties (nationalistic, ethnic, religious and so on) that are in my view the biggest impediment to global freedom,m peace and prosperity.

          Removing border controls enhances freedom of movement. Removing border controls helps people expand their in-group morality boundary. And yes, it will on the whole lift average prosperity more than anything else can. Of course, I would like all nations to have open borders. But better some than none. Finally none of this is to discourage in any way charity, either local, national or international.

  • Sol Logic

    I think a big problem with this would be to pair it with open borders. If the state is providing a minimum income to the poor, and you have open borders, what’s to stop all the worlds poor from entering the country in order to recieve those benefits?
    You could have a more relaxed immigration policy, which most libertarians would be for, without just opening the gates alltogether..

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    I take another tact. I do not think it is possible to say that welfarism is more just or moral than relying upon private charity and the sort of mutual aid societies which grow up absent government suppression.
    However, I think it is not possible in the modern pluralistic nations we live in to be without a social safety net. (or should I say not politically feasible). So it ought to be well designed, and minimalist in nature, so that it does not grow to a point as to endanger the finances of the nation. Which is what we are witnessing nearly everywhere right now.

    • Alternatively, we could work at making it politically feasible.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        By all means, I just do not think you will ever be successful. It only takes a handful of stories about starving kids or old people and you will get cries from the media, the politicians, and the mob for some sort of full blown socialist scheme. Libertarian theory must always take into account the emotional, the sensational, and the political.

        • Yeah, I know. But can’t we work on changing that? People don’t HAVE to be so stupid and ill-informed, or even so self-serving, do they? I mean, compare the population of a Western country with that of, say, Pakistan. There is a difference; and it is cultural.

          • jdkolassa

            I do think a fair dose of Objectivism is sorely needed in America. But that’s a very deep and difficult thing and I don’t think it will ever come about by conscious effort. It will have to be a sort of “spontaneous order”.

    • Damien S.

      “Which is what we are witnessing nearly everywhere right now.”

      No we aren’t.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        So are you denying that most of the advanced nations are not awash in debt and have even many more times that in unfunded future liabilities?

  • shemsky

    Fernando, if there are some people who aren’t harming anyone, and they have decided that they don’t have an obligation to provide for the poor, then what would you have done with them? If you say that you would use force to impose on them a duty to provide for the poor against their own conscience, then I don’t see any difference between you and the man who would use force to impose their religious doctrines on non believers. Does the idea that you don’t have a right to use other people as a means to your own ends even matter here? It matters to me, and I don’t want to see it get lost in the argument. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my personal feelings toward charitable giving.

    • Shemsky, if there are some people who aren’t harming anyone, and they have decided that they don’t have an obligation to respect your property claims, then what would you have done with them? If you say that you would use force to impose on them a duty to stay away from certain resources against their own conscience, then I don’t see any difference between you and the man who would use force to impose their religious doctrines on non believers. Does the idea that you don’t have a right to use other people as a means to your own ends even matter here? It matters to me, and I don’t want to see it get lost in the argument. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my personal feelings toward property rights.

      • DST

        I think you’ve missed the point. If someone doesn’t respect my property rights, they *have* harmed me. If someone merely keeps their own stuff, they haven’t harmed me. Shemsky’s point point still stands: why should one individual feel justified in using force against an innocent person to satisfy his own moral obligations (such as to provide all citizens with a sufficient standard of living?

        • No, I think you’ve missed the point. If someone doesn’t provide for the deserving poor and they have enough resources to do so without being harmed too much themselves, then they *have* harmed the poor.

          I said they didn’t respect your property CLAIM not your property RIGHTS. You’re just asserting that you have a certain kind of property rights, but there are different kinds of property rights. If there is a property rights system that mandates a social minimum, then that means the least well-off have a right to the welfare payment, so by not providing for the poor, you are NOT respecting their property rights. So by your own definition of “harm” (violating rights) you are harming the poor.

          What you want to do is force everyone to abide by the property rules you favor. That is no less coercive than someone forcing you to abide by the property rules they favor (rules that mandate providing for the deserving poor).

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Your first paragraph makes sense only under a highly counter-intuitive moral theory. This is why if you push a person into a river with the intent of harming them, and they drown, you are guilty of murder. On the other hand, if you are an innocent bystander and see this occur and could quite easily rescue the victim at no risk to yourself, but you don’t, in 48 states you are guilty of nothing, while in two you might be guilty of a misdemeanor. You may not like the doing/allowing harm distinction but it is firmly embedded in our commonplace morality.

          • Yes, and so we don’t get into another debate over my moral theory vs. your moral theory, I’ll just come out and admit right now that MOST moral theories differentiate between direct harm and indirect harm (doing and allowing). And I will also accept that there is some moral intuition behind this (let’s not get into another debate about its reliability).

            But ignoring my first paragraph, my second two paragraphs stand as objections to what the previous fellows said. A lot of hard libertarians fail to understand that taxation is not NECESSARILY theft. It is only theft if you accept a previous premise about the nature of property rights (that they are absolute, unconditional, homesteading/voluntary transfer style). This is a premise not everyone accepts (in fact I think most people don’t, since most people think you owe SOMETHING back to society).

            So to say that using force to make people provide for the poor is wrong, and yet to say that using force to make people respect your property claims is right, is inconsistent. Like I said, there is a property rights system X that mandates providing for the poor, and a property rights system Y that doesn’t (say Y is the absolute homesteading one). Why is using force to defend X wrong but using force to defend Y right? That is what I think is inconsistent.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            It is only inconsistent to say “that using force to make people provide for the poor is wrong, and yet to say that using force to make people respect your property claims is right,” if you are unable to offer a plausible moral theory that differentiates these two types of cases. This is where the real debate is, and most libertarian theorists do offer such arguments. This is not the same thing as saying that most libertarian philosophers would endorse letting innocent person starve in the street if private relief was unavailing.

          • Right, so let’s suppose the doing/allowing distinction is morally significant, then I can see why force is more justified in defending Y than X: because violations of Y (stealing property) are forms of doing harm, while violations of X (not providing for poor) are forms of merely allowing harm. And if private relief could provide for the poor, then there’s no need to use force to defend X at all.

            But if private relief couldn’t and forced redistribution could, then we have to ask the question again: Ought we to forcibly defend X (providing for the poor)? I don’t know what you would say, but most hard libertarians I’ve heard say no, on principle. I’m pretty sure the two fellows I was responding to before would say no.

            Also, if we’re using the faculty of moral intuition, I’m pretty sure most people’s intuition supports the idea that forcibly taking property from some who has a shitload of it, such that he would only lose some luxury, is NOT as bad as allowing the deserving poor to suffer (even IF we accept the doing allowing distinction).

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, this is a very big, complicated subject. I’ll let the other two gentlemen speak for themselves, but most of the BHL philosophers who collectively post on this site would say that there exists a heavy presumption in favor of respecting property rights, but this presumption can be overcome in circumstances like those you allude to. I agree with this.

            But even hard libertarians can make a respectable argument to the effect that government is (as I suggested above) a “package deal,” and that the poor would be better off with no government, than with the welfare/regulatory state. I don’t go there because I don’t know how to make that sort of comparison.

          • I mean, yeah, I can accept that. If a hard libertarian argued that having any amount of redistribution necessarily leads to or leads to with some high probability events like the Holodomor or the Holocaust, and if he had good evidence of this, then I would agree: it’s much better to allow some poor people now to suffer than to risk a much greater amount of mass suffering in an event like that.

            But I find it implausible that a UBI or NIT or some form of social minimum leads to events like that with some not insignificant probability. That, to me, sounds like Alex Jones talk.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            It’s not exactly that UBI “leads to” tragedy, but that as a political reality you can never have a government that is content with such a limited charter. That whatever political forces authorize the state to do x, they will also inevitably over time authorize y,z, etc. And, a state that powerful will eventually do very bad things.

          • I hear that argument a lot, and I find it plausible. However, I don’t see how the same thing won’t happen in ordered anarchy as some organizations grow more powerful than others. Just as much as a state is like a mindless automaton following its programming (gaining more power), surely some non-state organizations are like that as well. What is more dangerous about a powerful state than a powerful non-state organization?

            What I think left-statists like about the idea of a state, is that it is at least in principle accountable to everyone (or working for everyone), even if it gets corrupted from time to time. I guess right-libertarians, for the same reason, like the idea of firms instead, because they are at least in principle accountable to customers.

            But I’m not entirely convinced that you can’t have an a la carte government, like a Night-Watchman State + Social Minimum. Surely lots of power grabbing happens in the name of helping the needy, so if there is a strong social minimum, the politicians won’t have that excuse anymore. I mean, I don’t doubt that they’ll try to find other excuses, like environmentalism or something, but I’m also not convinced that we shouldn’t have government do that. After all, that seems like something I’d want my Night-Watchman to take care of: make sure my planet doesn’t get destroyed.

          • It is not inconsistent; but it is arbitrary in the absence of an argument.

          • Yes, poor choice of words. It’s not inconsistent. But it is question begging to conclude that taxation is wrong by assuming the premise that taxation is theft.

          • DST

            If I understand you correctly, then you’re saying that if John fails to help Mary when John can do so without much loss to himself, then he is harming Mary. That seems to ignore the central role of agency in concepts like harm. How can John harm Mary through inaction? John can stand by while Fred harms Mary, but John does not harm Mary by doing so.

            I think I understand your second point, but I don’t see how you could justify a system of property rights that, for instance, would grant one person a right in the fruits of a stranger’s labor. What would be the argument? Could it be compatible with anything approaching libertarianism?

          • To your first point, yes, I acknowledge that many or most moral systems differentiate between direct harm (actively doing harm) and indirect harm (inaction or allowing harm). We consequentialists only care about harm that results, so to us, doing harm and allowing harm are morally equivalent. I realize that most people on this site are probably deontologists (not consequentialists), so we can put aside this direct harm vs. indirect harm dispute and move on to things we might be able to agree on.

            As for your second paragraph, yes, I think it might be compatible with something approaching libertarianism, namely the sufficientarian libertarianism that this post is about. It might seem quite anti-libertarian to tax someone’s income and use this revenue to pay for a social minimum like a UBI, but here is a reason it might not be.

            No one is forcing anyone else to work, and each and every person living in the state has the freedom to NOT work and live at subsistence level off of the UBI (having their basic needs met and no more). Now, obviously it won’t work if nobody does work, but most people will work because people in general want to live at higher than mere subsistence level. The wealthy people who see it as unfair that they’re supporting the poor people can, at any time, stop working and start collecting their UBI. Something tells me they won’t be satisfied at subsistence level.

            The UBI that everyone is entitled to can be seen as compensation for being forced to respect the property rights and legal system. Now, even though everyone gets the UBI, only the poor people have a net gain on it (since they don’t pay it back in taxes), but the non-poor have more to gain from the property rights system (since they have more property), so compensation to the poor balances out the scales. It could be argued that is it ANTI-LIBERTARIAN to force the least well-off in society to respect a system of property rights (i.e. stay off my lawn, assholes) that fails to meet their basic needs, try though they might.

            Nozick said, “taxation is on par with forced labor.” Well, I’m not sure how he interpreted “on par,” but what he said seems false to me. Again, people are free to not labor. What they aren’t free to do gain so many resources that the social minimum can no longer be provided. Maybe that is anti-libertarian, but I’m just trying to give a possible argument.

            Now this next part is total speculation, but my guess is a UBI would reduce crime by reducing desperation. It would also reduce exploitation and give workers some bargaining power, such that they are paid a fair wage, or they’ll turn down the job and live off their UBI. No longer will people have to choose between accepting a shitty job and their kids starving. We could be rid of the minimum wage all together, not to mention the welfare traps and related bureaucracies. People could take more risks and pursue projects that they want to do. And people who end up cleaning toilets will be paid handsomely.

          • John

            That’s just ridiculous. Doing nothing is not harming anyone. If I don’t rescue a drowing man, I didn’t save him, but I sure as heck didn’t harm him. He did that by trying to swim or by carelessly falling into the water.

          • You just read this one post without reading any of my others that followed it. I acknowledge that there is a difference between direct and indirect harm. Letting someone drown when you could have saved him IS a form of indirect harm (or allowing harm), which most people think is not as bad as direct harm (though still somewhat bad). It may not be morally blameworthy, but it certainly ought to be avoided, and thus provides a good reason for action.

            The rest of my above post argues that you actually are directly harming them IF they have a right to the social minimum. Whatever property rights system a community has as a standard determines if a social minimum is a right or not. If it is a right, then by not paying it, you ARE violating rights (just like breaking any contract), which constitutes direct harm.

          • shemsky

            The UBI is ridiculous as well. It would dramatically decrease the incentive to be productive and would cripple the economy, making things worse for everyone. Progress would come to a standstill. Productive people would leave. I don’t believe that you’ve thought this through, Nick.

          • No, I have thought this through, since I’ve always said that it’s a matter for economists to tell us whether or not it would work. My arguments are only for the morality of it supposing that it would work.

            And some economists disagree with you, but I’m sure you know better.

          • shemsky

            I’m very skeptical. Other views expressed in that same Wikipedia article see things differently, and they make more sense to me.

          • I mean, I’m skeptical too. I would never say that what I just showed you constitutes proof or conclusive evidence that UBI might have good economic effects. You might be right and it would be terrible for everyone, and even worse for the poor whom it is trying to help.

            I only posted it to say that we can’t always go with common sense or our gut on everything. It may seem obvious that it would be harmful, but we often get evidence for counter-intuitive things happening in nature and society.

            Also, I’m not sure I agree with the underlying premise that we actually NEED everyone working. We might have the technological capabilities to produce what we all need with fewer workers than exist. What we would then need is a way to distribute goods to those who can’t find jobs because there are none. A UBI seems like it could solve this. Like I said, I’m no economist so I’ll leave it to them, while keeping an open mind about it.

          • Damien S.

            Eh, while we could probably produce and distribute food and housing and even medicine with a fraction of the population, that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of useful work to be done, even if it’s higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Higher nurse:patient or teacher:student ratios, pollution cleanup, litter cleanup, more frequent census for more accurate information, more basic and applied researchers, better housing (thermal insulation, noise insulation, cheap housing for the homeless), storing up food against climate hiccups natural or manmade, looking for and preparing to divert dangerous asteroids, armoring the power grid against massive solar flares, more frequent public transit, rebuilding our power supply to be cleaner and sustainable, better foster care for orphans…

            There’s no shortage of useful work to be done, in a full employment system, but much of what I describe isn’t stuff the market will pay for, especially a market where most of the wealth is held by a few people. Stuff that involves very long term planning, communal safety and aesthetics, and the production of free information? Total market failure territory, there. Stuff to make everyone’s lives a bit better? Only happens if everyone has the resources to pay for it, rather than struggling to get by while a few people have more and more than they know what to do with.

            Basic income is seductive but even as a liberal I worry about the incentive effects of a big one, though I’d be all for a land and resources tax that got distributed per capita, a la Alaska’s Permanent Fund. Full employment including democratically driven government programs is the thing.

          • John

            No, it’s not a form of indirect harm at all. It’s no type of harm. If I we’re both hunting and I kill the only deer first and drag it off, that could be an indirect harm, by eliminating scarce resources. “Social minimums” aren’t a right, at best, it would be a privilege, and so it violates no ones rights not to pay it.

          • It’s like you don’t bother to read or you have comprehension problems. If a community has a property rights system that guarantees everyone a social minimum, then it is a right in that community. Everyone within community is morally permitted to receive the social minimum, and everyone else in that community is morally obligated to not interfere with everyone getting the social minimum. Thus it is a right.

            Just like if a community has a property rights system that guarantees unconditional private property, then that is a right.

          • Damien S.

            Well, this is the guy who thinks I prefer expensive taxis to cheap ones, ceteris paribus.

          • John

            But it stops being a “right” whenever you take from one person to give to another. For instance, if you declare that everyone has a right to equal water, you are not stealing water because no one created the water. If you say everyone has the right to Nick’s cookies, that is not a right, that is a privilege that comes at someone else’s expense. A right can’t be stolen.

          • Yes, I agree. If you are in a community whose property rights system says that these cookies are Nick’s cookies, then to take them without his consent would violate his rights.

            But if you are in a community whose property rights system says that owning private property is conditional upon paying some tax, then it is not violating rights to collect the tax. If the property rights system says the tax will fund a social minimum, and everyone in the community is entitled to the social minimum, then to NOT pay the tax and still remain in the community with private property is a violation of the rights of the social minimum recipients.

          • John

            I’m not totally at odds with that BUT that is certainly not a job of the Federal government and never has been. That may be something that a state could implement, but many people might simply leave if it becomes too onerous. One of the reasons the left always goes for the federal solution is that they don’t want people moving to another area to escape what they wish to do. Same reason the Russians shot people in the back for leaving. Just a little less drastic. Though it seems to be the direction we are headed.

          • Right, so now we’re on to a different argument. We’ve agreed that community standards can determine what rights we have, and now we’re discussing the nature of our own community standard, or that of the US as a whole.

            I’m no historian and I don’t know much about how our government works, so maybe you’re right. If I’m wrong on any of these next points, then just ignore them.

            Wikipedia says:
            “The Constitution grants numerous powers to Congress. Enumerated in Article I, Section 8, these include the powers to levy and collect taxes.”

            If the constitution is the community standard determining our system of rights, and if the constitution granted Congress (a branch of the federal government) the power to tax, then doesn’t that mean it IS, and always HAS BEEN within the federal government’s power to implement a UBI?

            What exactly are you claiming is not a job of the Federal government and never has been? Again, I don’t remember much from high school, and I only studied physics and philosophy in college, so I may be out of my depth here.

          • Damien S.

            The government has the power to collect the money; they’d probably claim it doesn’t have the power to spend the money as UBI. Enumerated powers and all.

            Of course, you can implement UBI as a negative income tax, with a generous refundable tax credit for all, so, oops.

          • John

            No, I didn’t agree to that. I don’t believe in rights. I believe in rights and privileges. Holding land isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Reaping the benefit of your labor is a right. The Feds have the power to tax, but not to give that money to others.

          • good_in_theory

            Congress has the [enumerated] power to dispose of the property of the United States, and the [enumerated] power to collect taxes for the general welfare of the United States. So yes, it does have the power to give money to others.

          • John

            Ummmm, no. What do you think “provide for” means?

          • good_in_theory

            What the hell do you think it means? It pretty obviously means “spend money”.

          • John

            You’re pretty obviously wrong. AGAIN.

            PROVI’DE, v.t. [L. provideo,literally to see before; pro and video, to see.]

            1. To procure beforehand; to get, collect or make ready for future use; to prepare.

            It means to tax for defense, debt or to SET ASIDE FOR FUTURE USE [as described in the following clauses]. IOW, to put in the treasury for the future benefit of the country. There is no power at all to spend in that clause. You’re welcome.

          • good_in_theory


            1. To furnish; supply

            But the authority on this is not whatever arbitrary dictionary definition you can pull out of your ass. It’s you know, the actual practice of the federal government, which has spent money for national purposes for over 200 years, as well as the decisions of the Supreme Court, which have recognized a spending power for as long.

          • John

            Umm, no. To furnish or supply requires it to say “provide WITH” or “provide TO”.

            My definition is from 1828, so you’ll have to get something that actually applies, not something that someone says 200 years later. Thank God it doesn’t say anything about being gay or there’d be mandatory butt sex.

            “Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.

            Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms “to raise money for the general welfare.”

            But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.” James Madison, FATHER of the Constitution.

            Note what he says – “to raise money for the general welfare.” RAISE money. Not give it away. Not spend it.

          • good_in_theory

            No, it wouldn’t. If you want to sling quotes go read Hamilton. But you’re just a bigot and a dogmatist, so hey, whatever.

          • Right, so as Damien suggested, the Feds have the power to implement a negative income tax, which is a tax with deductions that serve as the social minimum.

            “I don’t believe in rights. I believe in rights and privileges.”

            I don’t even understand this. It seems like a contradiction to me. If you don’t believe in A, how can you believe in A and B? That’s a logical contradiction.

            Unless you mean, you don’t believe ONLY in rights. You believe in both rights and privileges. How do you distinguish or define those?

            Also, if reaping the benefit of your labor is a right, than how do the Feds have the power to tax (which prevents you from repeating 100% of the benefit of your labor)?

          • John

            The power to infringe upon a right doesn’t deny the existence of a right, any more than the existence of a right denies the power to have it infringed by someone.

          • Ah okay, I thought we were talking about the Feds having the moral power (or moral permission) to tax. But you’re saying that they merely have the physical power to tax.

            So you must be a natural rights advocate, who thinks rights exist prior to social arrangements. But didn’t you agree with me earlier than individual communities can determine what rights people within those communities will have? How can they do that if there are natural rights?

            What’s your argument or evidence for the fact that reaping the benefit of your labor is a right, or for the existence of your rights in general?

          • John

            I don’t believe natural rights should be infringed, except when someone is a menace to others and is violating the rights of others. Most people don’t even understand natural rights so it’s not a big leap to the idea that they will seek to take from others thinking they have as much right to at least some of their stuff as the person does.

            A natural right is something that simply exists and can’t be taken away or given, only infringed or not by the actions of others. For instance, if I am growing my tomatoes and someone comes in and steals them or tramples them, they are stealing my effort and production. That is trampling my right. Possession doesn’t come from saying “I own that” as much as it stems from the idea that it was created and earned. Or given. Theft harms someone. There is no right to intentionally or directily harm someone. Natural rights are like the proverbial sculpture that rests inside a block of marble. It simply is uncovered, in this case through logic and deduction.

          • “A natural right is something that simply exists and can’t be taken away or given, only infringed or not by the actions of others.”

            I’m very aware about how natural rights proponents describe natural rights. I want to know what the argument or evidence is for their existence.

            “Natural rights are like the proverbial sculpture that rests inside a block of marble. It simply is uncovered, in this case through logic and deduction.”

            Can you please run through the logical and deductive argument for me that uncovers the existence of natural rights? If you are truly proving their existence by pure deductive logic, you cannot be reasoning from any premises and certainly not premises that other don’t accept. So I would love to hear your argument for them, because I have heard many before, but no convincing ones or ones free from invalid inferences.

          • John

            Well, the option is that there are no natural rights at all. As soon as you decide that there is a right to life, and answer that, then it logically takes you in the direction that everything you do that doesn’t harm someone else really is a parallel of that. I can go through some of it tomorrow if you like, but we’re all headed to bed, long week!

          • Consider:

            (1) There is a natural right to life.
            (2) Natural rights exist.

            I agree that the inference from (1) to (2) is valid. That is, if one accepts premise (1), then one must accept (2) or be illogical.

            But I, and others who deny natural rights, deny (1) and (2). It’s not necessarily that we think there is no right to life, but we think that there is no NATURAL right to life. That is, rights are not natural.

            Constructivists, for example, would say that rights are constructed. Rawlsian types would say they are based on rational judgments made from the original position.

            Perhaps another time you can come back and continue your argument for natural rights.

          • John

            What is the alternative to natural rights? Manmade rights? Government given rights?

            I would suggest that because you and your body are one and the same, and you are the only person in control of your body, that is your natural right to control your body, as it comes from nature, from life, from your DNA. Your mission in life, from birth, is to breathe, live, eat, move, do, forage, procreate. Everyone has this, it applies equally. And so we all have our little rights bubble and it is perfectly valid unless we try to infringe upon someone else.

            Of course, once someone believes that there is no natural right to life, it’s hard to have that conversation, because if that’s the case, why would we ever try to assist anyone who was being killed, such as get involved in WWII. Or for that matter, why even demand that the Japanese surrender when we could just keep building bombs and eliminating them?

            Natural rights come from an understanding of nature and life, as much as “they just exist”. We assert them because it is immoral to infringe up them, be it an individual or government. I don’t know how to tell someone else to come to the conclusion that natural rights not only exist, but are logical. But to me, it simply makes logical sense and I can think of no other equally valid manner for defending mankind from tyranny or horror.

          • “What is the alternative to natural rights? Manmade rights? Government given rights?”

            Constructivist rights, for one. They’re not exactly manmade. But rather, they depend upon the evaluative judgments we would make in reflective equilibrium. Or instrumental ones, rules to best promote general welfare.

            “I would suggest that because you and your body are one and the same, and you are the only person in control of your body, that is your natural right to control your body, as it comes from nature, from life, from your DNA.”

            Here is your argument, roughly:
            (1) You are the only person to control your body.
            (2) So, you OUGHT to be the only person to control your body (natural right).

            Line (2) does not follow from line (1) absent any further premise. It is an invalid inference, trying to get an Ought from an Is.

            “Your mission in life, from birth, is to breathe, live, eat, move, do, forage, procreate. Everyone has this, it applies equally. And so we all have our little rights bubble and it is perfectly valid unless we try to infringe upon someone else.”

            Here is your argument, roughly:
            (1) You have a goal to promote your life.
            (2) Others ought to refrain from interfering with you pursuing your goal (natural right).

            Again, it’s invalid, trying to get an Ought from an Is.

            “Of course, once someone believes that there is no natural right to life, it’s hard to have that conversation, because if that’s the case, why would we ever try to assist anyone who was being killed, such as get involved in WWII.”

            One can still believe that the lives of others are morally preferable to their deaths without believing in natural rights. You’re talking as if our options are Natural Rights or nihilism. There are other options.

            “Natural rights come from an understanding of nature and life, as much as “they just exist”.”

            What does this mean? Does this mean scientists will discover them? I think your natural rights come from a MISunderstanding of nature and fallacious reasoning.

            “We assert them because it is immoral to infringe up them, be it an individual or government.”

            No, you assert them because you don’t have a good argument for them. Until you give a good argument for them, I have no reason to think it is immoral to infringe on them.

            “I don’t know how to tell someone else to come to the conclusion that natural rights not only exist, but are logical.”

            This is just like theists who say they don’t know how to tell someone else to come to the conclusion that God not only exists, but is logical. I don’t buy it. If it were logical, you could construct a valid argument and give strong support for the premises.

            “But to me, it simply makes logical sense…”

            I think this is why you believe in natural rights. Because they simply make sense to you. This is also the reason a lot of theists believe in god, even if they can’t give a good argument for it. I think, in both cases, this “sense” you’re having is unreliable.

            “I can think of no other equally valid manner for defending mankind from tyranny or horror.”

            Here, you’re saying something different. It’s almost as if you’re admitting that your rights are instrumental, instrumental towards defending mankind from tyranny or horror. These are different kinds of rights, and I might be able to agree with them. If your rights are the only things protecting us from tyranny or horror, then I agree, we should uphold them. But these are no longer natural rights.

          • John

            My mission isn’t to convince you of natural rights, you should read the original material on that rather than rely on someone to convince you. No one can convince you of anything you don’t wish to believe. The path to understand natural rights is to much to throw here without writing a treatise on it, just as your assertions about “constructivist rights” which come across as absurd without a whole lot more backup. So, if you don’t want to believe in natural rights, that’s your decision. But I would fight you on any legislation that you think gives you power over me. Since the Federal government is based on the concept of natural rights, I would be in the right and you would not be in the right.

          • “No one can convince you of anything you don’t wish to believe.”

            I hear the exact same thing from theists. They tell me that I don’t WANT to believe in Jehova, and so I find any excuse I can to not believe. They tell me the reason for my disbelief is because I want to sin.

            I could turn this exact argument around on you and say that you only believe in natural rights because you WANT to believe. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt in thinking that you actually WANT to believe what’s true like I do.

            “The path to understand natural rights is to much to throw here without writing a treatise on it, just as your assertions about “constructivist rights” which come across as absurd without a whole lot more backup.”

            Of course these theses need defenses. I’m not defending constructivism, mainly because I’m not a constructivist. But I asked if you could give some support for natural rights, and you tried and failed. Your arguments were riddled with fallacious appeals to nature. When I pointed this out to you, you move on to suggest that I only don’t believe because I don’t want to. You wouldn’t have to resort to lame arguments like that if you could actually defend yourself properly.

            “So, if you don’t want to believe in natural rights, that’s your decision.”

            Again, you sound like an unsophisticated theist. I don’t make decisions to believe or disbelieve. Belief is not a choice. I make decisions to discuss with people, read arguments, and contemplate things, and then beliefs form as a result of processes like these. Your arguments are bad, so I can’t choose to believe in natural rights anymore than I can choose to believe that there’s an elephant in front of me.

            “But I would fight you on any legislation that you think gives you power over me.”

            I don’t doubt it.

            “Since the Federal government is based on the concept of natural rights, I would be in the right and you would not be in the right.”

            Except that we agreed that the Federal government has the power to tax, which you think violates Natural Rights. So the Federal government can’t be entirely based on the concept of natural rights if it was explicitly granted the permission to violate them.

            “My mission isn’t to convince you of natural rights, you should read the original material on that rather than rely on someone to convince you.”

            That’s good, because if it were your mission, then you’re failing. Perhaps upon reading sophisticated philosophical papers defending natural rights, I will come to believe in them. But from how you tried to defend them, it seems like you haven’t read them either. Your arguments sound Randian or Molyneuvian, two “philosophers” that I consider embarrassments to philosophy.

          • John

            I honestly don’t care if you don’t believe in natural rights. Honestly. You can read John Locke if you want.

          • If you’re talking about John Locke’s two treatises, then I have. Anything else?

          • John

            Not off hand, like I said, feel free to not believe in them. To me, it just works where nothing else does.

          • If your argument for natural rights is that they work when no other kind of rights do, then I can accept that argument. If the premise is true (that they are the only rights that can protect us from tyranny and mass suffering), then I will accept them and promote them. But that would make them instrumental rights.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Only because you asked. Chapter 1 of my Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense. Nozick doesn’t start from scratch, i.e. proving that morality is objective, that there exists right and wrong, etc. He starts from a very widely shared moral intuition–persons enjoy a special moral status–and then proceeds from there.

          • Right, I remember that’s an objection many people had to ASU, that the first sentences were just the assertion of natural rights theory with no argument:

            “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.” (ASU)

            Perhaps some form of individual rights is part of a widely shared moral intuition, but I doubt they are as strong and far-reaching as Nozick’s and your natural rights, or libertarianism would be far more accepted in academic political philosophy than it is. Rawls has basic rights, but they are not economic.

            Perhaps I’ll have time over winter break to read your book. But there are certain foundational premises on which we utilitarians simply don’t see eye to eye with deontologists. For instance, we don’t think rationality determines moral status, but rather sentience and ability to suffer.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Right, and your argument for this is what? Don’t animals suffer? How do you know that a chicken doesn’t suffer or experience pleasure as much or more than you do? So, do chickens enjoy the same moral status as we.

          • It’s true that we can be more certain about suffering in humans because they can give testimony. But one of the most common sources of our suffering, physical pain, is an objective physiological process along with a subjective experience. Because of human testimony, we know fairly well which physiological process generally occurs with human reports of pain, and we infer from similar physiological processes and reactions in animals that they too experience pain.

            You ask, how do we know animals don’t suffer more than we do? Well, I don’t know, that’s a tough question for scientists, who still don’t fully understand conscious suffering. But my guess is, with less cognitive capacity, they are conscious to a lesser degree, and conscious suffering is what we care about, not merely unconscious reactions to stimuli. Also, we humans can reflect on the past and think about the future more than animals (we think), so we can reflect about past suffering and be more fearful of future suffering than non-human animals. This is likely more conducive to long term suffering.

            Even if everything I said is false, we would have no reason to think non-humans suffer any more or any less than humans, in which case, we have a reason to think that their well-being matters equally.

            You have a similar problem with rationality. How do you determine which animals are rational? And who determines the criterion of rationality? Spoken language, competence in some activity, test scores? At least suffering is a clear and objective criterion, even if it is difficult to verify.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Well, that gives your position great appeal to chickens, but I think most people think that their interests are entitled to greater deference, qualitatively, than those of non-human animals. If your theory cannot accommodate this judgment, it has little to say to them.

          • “If your theory cannot accommodate this judgment, it has little to say to them.”

            Agreed. Someone in my position has at least two options:
            (1) Deny that people’s intuitive evaluative judgments reliably reflect independently existing moral facts.
            (2) Argue that, were they to engage in certain thought experiments or contemplate various metaphysical or physical matters, their evaluative judgments would change and they would begin to view non-human interests as merely quantitatively different from those of humans (if different at all).

            Many utilitarians don’t want to scrap moral intuition all together and so take route (2). Many argue that we ought to treat like things as like and overcome the biases (gender, race, species) that are morally arbitrary and remnants of our evolutionary past.

            My current view is that (1) is right, but I would go with (2) if I were trying to convince someone who holds moral intuition in high esteem.

          • “Show me a non-human animal that consciously and deliberately applies an abstract moral law to a particular situation, against its own immediate self-interest, and we’ll talk.”

            Hence why I don’t apply moral responsibility to non-human animals. What does deliberately applying an abstract moral law to a particular situation have to do with overall moral status or consideration?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            See above. It is not in my power to convince hard-core hedonistic utilitarians. My book is directed at the other 99.9999% of the population.

          • What about the population of academic philosophers According to the Chalmers survey, 25.9% are deontologists and 23.6% are consequentialists (no side constraints). 68.2% would pull the switch on the trolley problem which violates natural rights (only 7.6% would not). And only 9.9% are political libertarians.

            If your book was aimed at the general public, then that’s a different story, because I’m sure the number of deontologists shoots way up. Joshua Greene’s paper, the Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul has a compelling explanation for that.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            My intended audience was broader than academic philosophers, for sure, although it is intended to withstand their scrutiny. I don’t think pulling the switch violates natural rights, but throwing the fat man on the track does, and I suspect the percentages are much different there. Also, “consequentialism” sure doesn’t equal “utilitarianism” (much less simple-minded hedonistic utilitarianism), and many cosequentialists do take rights into their conception of the good.

          • good_in_theory
          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            In case anyone thought your cite actually contradicted my point, the key language is:

            biological altruism cannot be equated with altruism in the everyday vernacular sense. Biological altruism is defined in terms of fitness consequences, not motivating intentions. If by ‘real’ altruism we mean altruism done with the conscious intention to help, then the vast majority of living creatures are not capable of ‘real’ altruism nor therefore of ‘real’ selfishness either. Ants and termites, for example, presumably do not have conscious intentions, hence their behaviour cannot be done with the intention of promoting their own self-interest, nor the interests of others. Thus the assertion that the evolutionary theories reviewed above show that the altruism in nature is only apparent makes little sense. The contrast between ‘real’ altruism and merely apparent altruism simply does not apply to most animal species.

            Of course, if non-human animals really are “rational agents” in Nozick’s sense, the yes, they do have rights equivalent to humans.

          • I found a site on which I could preview your book, and the preview makes it to chapter 1. Is Nozick’s argument that you’re talking about this one, roughly:

            (1) We have a strong pre-theoretic commitment to moral side constraints.
            (2) The separateness of rational agents is the best explanation for this commitment.
            (3) Libertarian constraints follow from the separateness of rational agents.
            (4) So, our strong pre-theoretic commitments are best explained by a hypothesis from which libertarian constraints follow.

            I would first need a definition and argument for free will, because I think you said that was a necessary condition of rational agency.

            More importantly, I could accept his argument as sound, and still not be convinced of natural rights or libertarian constraints. I would need an argument as to why pre-theoretic commitments reliably reflect objective moral facts. If the libertarian constraints are logically dependent on pre-theoretic evaluative commitments, then this sounds like an antirealist position. But that’s not the position being defended, so the realist would deny that the facts are logically dependent upon evaluative attitudes, but rather argue that our knowledge of the facts depends on our evaluative attitudes or pre-theoretic commitments. I just don’t trust these attitudes or commitments to the extent that most realists do.

            Reading your own five premise argument, I would respond in a similar way: being skeptical of the reliability of moral intuitions that give people beliefs such as that they are more important than non-humans. You said yourself that you didn’t get into metaethics much in the book, so I would have to be convinced on those matters first.

            Also, like I said before, I would need to be convinced of free will before accepting the existence of rational agency (as you defined it earlier).

            The preview I was reading ended at page 22, so I only got to the beginning of your defense of Premise 2.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            As I said two comments ago, the argument proceeds from a certain premise which I suggest is shared by about 99% of people. It is not intended to convince the 1% who don’t accept the qualitatively different moral status of a human being and a chicken, so yeah, you got me there. Also, people who deny free will also generally deny that their position makes any difference for purposes of discussions of normative ethics, so I don’t think they (or you) can have it both ways. (In any case, I simply don’t take arguments against free will seriously–they are really quite stupid, but I don’t expect to convince you here.

          • I don’t deny free will. In fact, although I’m an incompatibilist, I’m an indeterminist, so I’m fully open and ready to believe in free will if a compelling argument is presented. I’ve just never heard one.

            And yes, many people argue that free will doesn’t make a difference for the purposes of normative ethics. But you’re not one of them, as you rely on the existence of free will in order to claim people are rational agents as you define them.

          • John

            I do probably agree with you on property “rights” which are, with respect to land, simply privileges, created and protected by government because it is the most efficient way of using land, versus truly libertarian. I think libertarians have a blind spot over that. It is more of a utilitarian concept.

  • John

    Disagree. If you destroy all barriers to market entry, the amount of poor will decrease and people will more easily become employed and abundance will be created. Abundance leads to lower prices and families and charity can more easily take up the burden. We need to create an ABUNDANCE SOCIETY. Not a corporate society, not a Robin Hood society. Not a “pretty” society with perfect blocks of homes that have no businesses.

    Once it becomes justifiable to steal for one needy person, there eventually becomes virtually no limit to what can be stolen and for what reason. Create abundance through free market principles and “sufficientarian libertarianism” will just be a theoretical solution to an essentially non-existent problem.

    And, BTW, many families can easily afford to care for their own needy, but simply choose not to, knowing that the government will do so. Or choose not to care for them because they know they will abuse the privilege.

    • jdkolassa

      I generally agree with you, but regrettably a state without any sort of welfare is just not politically feasible, at least not for several generations.

      • John

        But the goal of the welfare system is to eliminate itself. The goal of virtually every government agency should be to eliminate itself.

        • jdkolassa

          Eh, I’m not sure that’s really the case. The goal of the welfare system, at least ostensibly, taken generously, is to “Help the least well off.” Of course, in many times and places it turns into “Turn the least well off in a completely dependent class upon which the regime can use as a tool to stifle dissent and crush opponents.”

          • John

            Oh, sorry, I mean is NOT to eliminate itself. In fact, it’s done nothing but grow in breadth and depth. Edited for accuracy.

  • John

    “As a political strategy”

    How obscene. We are ruled by political strategy. 200 years of it. It has done nothing but create a slippery slope to hell.


    I agree with you as a matter of ideal theory. But what if in the real world you can’t order a la carte off the government services menu. What if, rather, the various functions come as a “package deal.” In other words, you get the entire welfare/regulatory state or you get ordered anarchy. What then?

    • good_in_theory

      If we’re supposed to be talking “real world” scenarios how is “ordered anarchy” on the table?


        Take it off the table if you prefer, and substitute whatever you think would eventuate. The basic question remains the same.

        • Our options:
          (1) full (welfare/regulatory) state
          (2) minimal (a la carte) state
          (3) ordered anarchy
          (4) disordered anarchy
          Without (2) or (3), our options are (1) or (4). I’m sure you think (1) is bad, but do we have any idea what (4) would be like? It sounds like the state of nature by definition. Do we have reason to think it would be better than (1)? The transition from (1) to (4) would likely be painful, so I think the burden of proof would be on the proponent of (4) to support that it would be better than (1) before we transition.

    • adrianratnapala

      But is it really a package deal? Think about realistic chances incrementally improving the state. The chances of any given change are more realistic if we build a broad (if loose) coalition for it, and FT’s ideas are a good basis for such a common cause.

      He notes that the well respected Nordic democracies have something like this system. Also, many on the wonkish left would endorse it (Matt Yglasias is the internet-avatar of that kind of thinking). That kind of liberal coalition will not dominate politics, but it can certainly alter the balance of power.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        What you are talking about is a modern state with all the trimmings but a more diffuse power base and heavier guarantees of individual freedom than what we normally see? I could see something like that being a real substitute for what we have now in the western nations. The state could act, but a very broad consensus would be necessary for most actions, and rights would be stronger than now.
        Of course over time the power would grow and the rights would erode. That is the nature of the beast. We see that in the USA as nearly our entire government routinely ignores whole portions of our constitution. However, you have to start somewhere.


        Don’t know. I would like to think you are right, but it’s an empirical question, and the story is still unfolding. In this country, at least, the trend does not appear positive from the libertarian perspective.

  • The problem with this view is that it justifies something like the Speenhamland System, whereby the Local Authority provided a minimum wage to the poor with the result that Employers could reduce wages at the cost of the rate-payer. In fact, large landowners would eject tenants from their parish and then re-employ them at lower wages once they were being looked after by another parish.
    Moynihan’s ‘Family Assistance Plan’ back during Nixon’s day was considered to give rise to the same danger as the Speenhamland system.
    It may sound counter-intuitive, but a system that claims to save the poor may end up harming them. Speenhamland put a ceiling on wages and de-skilled and de-motivated them. It justified the Corn Law (i.e. tarrifs on imported corn) and put a burden on the rest of the economy so as to profit a particular, highly influential, class of Landed magnates.
    The Economic theory of the Second Best suggests that market failures arising from things like information asymmetry, imperfect competition, zero marginal cost, non excludability etc requires intervention. This intervention can take the shape of Govt. Provision. For example, looking at the problems with Obamacare, we might well conclude that a British style National Health Service, which can keep costs down because it is a virtual monopsony, is better. We don’t know this advance, it is an empirical matter.
    Incidentally, a ‘market solution’ to poverty is legal action re. compulsory insurance/ universal coverage. It’s not a good solution because the Executive branch of Govt. is much better placed to gather the relevant information (only the Govt. can do a census) and also, presumably, the Executive. can respond more rapidly to global changes than the Judiciary.

    • “a British style National Health Service, which can keep costs down because it is a virtual monopsony, is better”

      Unfortunately it does not keep costs down. It is laregly protected from competition and it gets its funding from government, not directly from its users, so it has developed a bloated managerial bureaucracy (which is costly and diverts resources from patient care), it is extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient, it is in many ways run for the convenience and ease of those who work there rather than for the users of the service and, as a consequence, it is beset by one scandal after another and it is virtually impossible to improve it, though every government for several decades now has tried. Further, people in the UK spend much less on health than they want to (and less per head than some other developed countires): they all demand better services from the NHS, but many (perhaps most) resist the increased taxes that would be necessary to pay for it? Why? Because additional spending on the NHS often gets ‘lost in the system’ without improving services; and because even where it does result in service improvement, the service is rationed, so there is no guarantee that your increased taxes will get you (rather than someone else) an improved service.

      • Yes, what you say is quite true.
        We would expect the NHS to use its market power to get drugs cheaper but rent seeking within the bureaucracy militates for the opposite. On the other hand, wages for nurses and ancilliary staff are probably lower than they would otherwise be.
        You also get over-prescription and other such Principal-Agent Hazard type problems. Essentially, the NHS worked because of an inherited culture of deference and paternalism operating against a background of ‘over-full’ employment.
        Julian Le Grand was pretty much a lone voice back in the late Seventies when he pointed out that the NHS (like the supposedly egalitarian Student grants for Higher Education) favored the articulate Middle Class. But not even an economist of Le Grand’s caliber (incidentally, he’s a proper ‘bleeding heart’, not a Chicago type robot) can fix the whole thing. Subsidiarity is one obvious way forward- a sort of Tiebout model so local people decide what’s best for their community- but, Merrie Old England can never seem to break its addiction to Whitehall’s Nanny-knows-best nostrums.
        For me, the big lesson here is that ‘sufficientarianism’- whether related to a minimum income guarantee or to minimum Educational or Health provision- though appearing to have a bleeding heart for ‘the Poor’; tends, in practice to be an outright swindle which, over time, extracts surplus from the poor -to-middling, but soon even the professional class!, so as to endow capitalized rents on a crooked oligopoly.
        Don’t get me wrong. Like most British people, I love the NHS. But, as Le Grand taught us long ago, Love is no excuse for stupidity. Helping the Poor is a duty but this does not mean it can be done mechanically by formulating abstract deontological rules. Whether the Poor are actually being helped or hindered is an empirical matter. Public Policy in this area must be experimental, innovative, and ‘entrepreneurial’ (in the sense of being willing to scrap something which doesn’t work and re-allocate resources on the basis of outcomes). Unfortunately, the ‘P.P.E’ mindset of the English Power Elite (similar, perhaps, to the East Coast Establishment?) is a huge stumbling block.
        What’s odd is that England seems to have gone backward. The debate surrounding things like Public Health, Education etc was far better informed and more free of ‘pi-jaw’ a century ago.

  • adrianratnapala

    As a political strategy, sufficientarian liberalism may well give
    classical liberals the long-coveted high ground in political debate.

    But I think “sufficientarian liberalism” has always been a kind of intuitive default-state for libertarian politics. So how could adopting it get us to a ground higher than the one we stand on now?

    • Jameson Graber

      I totally agree: what’s striking about this proposal is how familiar it all sounds.

    • jdkolassa

      Perhaps for long term, oldtimer, non-American libertarians. Recent libertarian history in America has rejected this and if not embracing night-watchman minarchism, embraces full-blown Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism. Teson may be addressing that.

    • Damien S.

      Accepting tax-funded safety nets is *not* a default for modern libertarians. It’s a treacherous betrayal of libertarian principle!!1!

      • John

        Why shouldn’t the goal be to wean people off and make safety nets unnecessary? Why do you want to perpetuate need and dependency? Why should there be a dictated age of retirement?

        • My guess is that Damien would say he doesn’t WANT to perpetuate need and dependency, but need and dependency exist inevitably as a part of life for some unlucky individuals, so we want a safety net there to ease their suffering. If we could magically make all dependent people independent and all disabled people able, we would.

          If you’re looking to attack the straw-man left-winger (maybe some exist) who actually has it as his goal to perpetuate need and dependency as some part of a twisted power grab, then that’s not us.

          • John

            It might not be you, but it definitely is a lot of the left. Government programs exist to create dependency and they do so by advertising them on the radio, for instance, or going out and finding people or even coaching people how they can cheat to get on to these programs when they don’t even need them. Sure, who can’t use free stuff? But it doesn’t make it necessary. People say they don’t want to perpetuate these things, but refuse to undo any of the laws, regulations, taxes that create the issue. Between 5 and 10 million Americans are put into poverty by FICA taxes alone. Yet I’ve seen no liberal demand that this tax be eliminated.

          • My point is that it is far more likely that most of the people you think WANT to create dependency actually do really want to help. They may be mistaken about the best way to do it.

            I’m sure you get annoyed when you hear left-wingers say that libertarians hate the poor and relish in the poor starving on the street. What you are saying is just the mirror-image of that.

          • John

            Well, s ure, they might be just complete idiots, but at least some of them realize that they are simply building a huge neo-socialist machine and are doing it on purpose. Because they make slips every once and awhile like “thats’ no way to control an economy”.

            I find turnabout fair play. I think the way to move libertarianism ahead is to mercilessly shame liberals for their anti-poor, anti-black, anti-hispanic, anti-humanist policies.

            It’s not that they know they are control freaks. People often do not think they are narcissists or control freaks. It’s a mental disorder, so they can’t help it. Another example of this is when you make the 50 labs of innovation argument as being superior to the federal government implementation and they say “but no,….it’s…too important…to leave to the states”. The only response they have is a talking point, and natual resistance to even small levels of autonomy.

          • “I find turnabout fair play. I think the way to move libertarianism ahead is to mercilessly shame liberals for their anti-poor, anti-black, anti-hispanic, anti-humanist policies.”

            If you think that will energize your team or win undecided people over, then by all means, do it. But you’ll never convince a liberal that way. A liberal will just think to himself, “I don’t hate the poor, blacks, hispanics, or humans. This guy must be full of shit.”

            I myself acknowledge that I have very little knowledge of empirical matters, so I should be easy to convince. But I don’t find your arguments compelling, and you sound way too sure of yourself. When I listen to academic philosophers or economists, they’re usually not as uncharitable and sure of themselves as you are. I honestly think you suffer from the dunning-kruger effect.

            If you ask me, I think BHL is the way to move libertarianism ahead, not your cartoon libertarianism. But do what you want.

          • John

            It is illogical to try to convince a liberal of much of anything. All BHL does is give the left the inch they need. The goal shouldn’t be to convince liberals, but to destroy the arguments in front of others so that they will not be so inclined to look so foolish. It is better to treat liberalism like a disease and isolate it, than to pretend that you can cure emotional people with reason, Liberals do have epiphanies, but not because someone reasoned with them. It’because the pain of holding false beliefs became worse than the pain of admitting they are false. That’s how cognitive dissonance works.

          • Damien S.

            “Government programs exist to create dependency”

            And statements like this are why one of the bloggers talks about cartoon libertarianism.

          • John

            Yeah, except that it is true. It’s called goal shifting. The first goal of an agency is to help. The later goal becomes to control. The final goal becomes to exist perpetually regardless of conditions.



            This is why we just laugh at the left when they say they want to help people. That really isn’t the goal. It’s concentration of power with them at the tiller. It’s why they are reflexively against any decentralization of power even when it would help the most amount of people. It is why they are against vouchers. It harms the system.

            My own paraphrase from Asimov –

            The Three Rules of Bureaucracy –

            1. A bureaucrat may not injure the government or, through inaction, allow the government to come to harm.

            2. A bureaucrat must obey the orders given to him by his superior, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

            3. A bureaucrat must protect his own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

          • Damien S.

            ” The later goal becomes to control. The final goal becomes to exist perpetually regardless of conditions.”

            Saying it doesn’t make it true.

          • John

            You’re right, the fact that it is true is what makes it true.

          • John

            To give you an example. The Commerce Clause was originally there to tear down all state government barriers to interstate trade. Nothing more. What does it do today? Directly attempts to control all commerce and…..give itself more power, more funding, more people, more force. You can apply this to pretty much any Federal agency, many of which now have their own armed police forces. Do you think jailing people for marijuana is better for them than the marijuana itself? This applies to almost any rule or regulation. The rule becomes worse than that which it attempts to rule.

  • Jameson Graber

    I was under the impression that “sufficientarian liberalism” was pretty standard on this blog. Anyway, that’s pretty much the ideal I endorse, and I think I side more with Kant than Nozick.

    • John

      I don’t see any reason to accept the idea that the government will always be needed to care for millions of people. I think the goal should be to approach zero, not accept some random number as being necessary. That’s just socialism-lite.

  • stevenjohnson2

    I don’t think it’s a fact that free markets help the poor. Economic growth raising the average standard of living over time is not the same thing. (And the assumption that this kind of effect is environmentally sustainable is questionable.)

    I think the facts suggest rather that the defining characteristic of free markets is that they punish some people, sometimes capital punishment, as part of a social system of negative sanctions, while they reward other people for being overseers of this system of social control. And I believe the coercive institutions of free markets coupled with the distortions in the civil society lead inevitably to a world of interstate violence, possibly even general war.

    All hearts bleed when pierced with a bullet.

    • jdkolassa


      In the medieval ages, only kings had access to ice. Now, in this day and age, just about anyone can just walk over to a refrigerator and get ice out with their bare hands. And you say that’s not helping the poor? The poor have access to rapid transportation, cheap tasty food that’s so available they worry more about obesity than starvation, plasma TV’s, etc. Sure, they don’t live like the 1% of today, but they far, far better off than the 1% of yesteryear.

      Anyone who says that free markets don’t help the poor is not paying attention to history and global development, especially over the last 200 years.

      • Damien S.

        Wait, do we live under free markets or not? I mean, the poor have all those things… in a world of food stamps, unemployment insurance, farm subsidies, environmental and labor regulations, housing codes, and such. If the goal is to give the poor ice and plasma TV’s then we’re done!

        And lots of those things came from technological improvements, which are often interleaved with market activity, but not entirely coincident with them.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          It isn’t just the technology, it is the network of creating and moving goods and services to consumers under competition which has brought these good things at ever lower prices. And all the things you mention which are governmental meddling in the marketplace are for the most part areas that do more harm than good. It is no wonder when you consider that College educations and health care are two of the most subsidized areas of the economy that they are also the two areas with the highest growth in costs.

        • John

          We haven’t had anything like a free market for over 100 years. People keep blaming the free market. It’s like blaming sasquatch for winter.

          • Then you agree with Damien’s point. If the free market can’t take any blame for bad results, then it can’t take any credit for good results. According to you, the free market had no part in any of the good things that happened in the last 100 years, in terms of freedom or standard of living. So what good is it?

          • John

            No, we can take credit for the first 100 years of the country where it went from a poor nation to the greatest nation in the world virtually overnight. Private industry can still claim great results despite being crippled by neo-socialists, so imagine what they might do in a free market. We would probably have anti-gravity cars now.

          • Damien S.

            You’re saying the first 100 years of the US were a free market? Even with slavery, land theft, and tariffs?

          • John

            Not a pure free market, but as close as there has ever been in the last several thousand years within the context of government.

          • Damien S.

            Tell that to the slaves and Indians. Oh, and the women, with limited property rights and employment freedom.

            Once again, libertarianism as the philosophy of freedom for white males rears its head.

          • John

            Yes, and women didn’t create tons of new technology because of it, that is true, but you can see how a free market for white men led to massive economic dominence over those that were shut out. That is why libertarians believe in making sure the free market remains free for all, not just certain races or people with money. The 1800s wasn’t libertarian, I didn’t say that. It only showed that the free market worked for those who had access.

        • jdkolassa

          Because food stamps and unemployment insurance and all these regulations got people abundant food, technology, the Internet…

          …oh, wait, no it didn’t.

          And let’s be honest, the Internet wouldn’t have gone anywhere if it wasn’t for people who wanted to develop a product outside of DARPA’s limited vision.

          • Damien S.

            Food stamps and UI certainly do help people get food and money. The Internet was created with government funding; so were the original World Wide Web programs. Minitel was a French proto-Internet created by the government; didn’t take the world by storm, but was quite successful in its day.

      • stevenjohnson2

        Historically, the economic development you falsely attribute to free markets was capitalized by slavery, amongst other things. The implicit claim that it was the free market that created technological change is extremely dubious. Quite aside from the historical fact that many impetuses to invention such as patents are not market institutions, there is the probability that a government enforced asymmetry of costs and benefits were vital to this progress.

        Geographically, the world economy is not controlled by a government, nor has it ever been. The poor in many parts of the world con’t have access even to ice. Further the inequality in wealth leads to disparities in power that have serious consequences for the lives of ordinary people. The free market for oil and diamonds has funded tyrannies that oppress people. If you should be so brazen as to pretend that oil and diamonds are monopolies, not free markets, they are not monopolies enforced by the world government.

        And, the notion that the utility function of people with a poor share in the local standard of living is satisfied by your personal prescription of ice and plasma TVs rather contradicts the supposed epistemological restrictions on knowledge that are so often touted as the scientific foundation of libertarianism.

        And finally, free markets help consumers. But there is more to humanity than consumption, no matter how much libertarians try to dehumanize people.

        • jdkolassa

          …are you trolling? I mean seriously?

          You talk about the poor in other countries. Newsflash, most of those other countries do not operate under free market capitalism. Indeed, that is precisely WHY they are poor. In places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East and Central Asia, there is no firm rule of law, no well defined property rights, no enforcement of contracts, and all the other pieces of capitalism that are required to lift them out of poverty. You speak as if capitalism placed them in poverty, but it was the precise lack therof that did so.

          You speak of disparities in power, specifically diamonds and oil. How many of these industries bought out national governments and used government force to promote their power disparities?

          You speak of the utility function of the poor, and how I have a “personal prescription of ice and plasma TVs” which demonstrates you’re probably being deliberately obtuse. I did not “personally prescribe” those things, only said that the poor in developed capitalist nations had access to these things, and were enjoying a quality of life much higher than the 1% of even a century ago.

          Then you end with the biggest joke of all, that libertarians try to dehumanize people. Yes, libertarianism is all about treating human beings as statistics or numbers that can be directed to achieve some grand plan without any regard for their own desires…wait, no, that’s actually socialism. And communism. And fascism. That’s not libertarianism. Libertarianism is the radical notion that other human beings are PEOPLE, that they are individuals with their own desires, life goals, and dreams; that they deserve to be treated with respect; that they are entitled to the product of their labor; that they are ends in themselves, not means to someone else’s ends. I don’t know what sick world you have to inhabit to think that is “dehumanizing,” but it is clearly not the real world. Methinks you doth project too much.

          PS: Libertarianism and free markets are not all about consumption. That you conflate one with the other shows you are missing the point massively. I’ll give you a hint: freedom.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I commented pretty explicitly that I rejected the notion that rising standard of living does not equate to the abolition of poverty. I also briefly sketched out some reasons for thinking so. Your first post asserted wtihout any supporting argument that a rising standard of living was sufficient, and that free markets were responsible. By my lights, ignoring an argument is rather rude, but I still gave more arguments, showing you were wrong. Winning the argument is not trolling. Defying audience expectations does not count as trolling.

            It is a fact that the world economy is largely a free market, and even the few socialist economies are powerfully affected by it. World money supply is not controlled by any government but by the free market and the result has indeed been poverty and misery for hundreds of millions, if not billions. A brief inspection shows normal operation of the free market fundamentally depends on impoverishing some people.

            It is not a fact that lack of capitalism made Africa, Southeast Asia and South America poor. Omitting the roles of colonialism and imperialist war, just for one error, has unfortunate implications for your position. Slaving was very much a capitalist enterprise, meeting all the standards of security of property that you admire so much. To be charitable, let us assume that you meant free markets uncontaminated by government violence. Unfortunately for you, no such things exists, or ever did. And judging from the arguments of libertarians, they’ll never what it takes to create such free markets.

            “How many of these industries bought out national governments and used government force to promote their power disparities?” Libya today is just one of the latest examples. But the question is grossly obtuse, because it is obvious you think “government force” is somehow different from, and so much worse, than private force. For you, militias which functionally use violence to seize assets to profit from their sale are not engaged in the free market, simply because nominating themselves as a government for legal cover makes all the difference. You are wrong.

            As for your utility function of ice and plasma TVs, you’ve seized on the literal words. To be clear, you’ve decided that being poor in a society doesn’t matter because the basic standard of living in your opinion is sufficiently higher that they should be satisfied. I think there’s rather more to life than that myself. Nonetheless, the larger point that you are the one prescribing satisfaction, aka “utility function.” You don’t want to use that phrase, okay. Doesn’t make your argument correct.

            Libertarian economic theory, which purports to discover such false facts as “free markets help the poor,” does indeed dehumanize people by treating them only as consumers.

          • Damien S.

            To be fair, world markets aren’t entirely free. Rich countries use their own pressure and proto-world governance (entirely undemocratic, of course) like the WTO and GATT and IMF and World Bank to force poor countries to have markets open to rich food and goods, while continuing to have their own rich country tariffs blocking poor country food exports.

            Of course, the fact that most rich countries industrialized behind protective tariffs is a problem for the “moar freedom” argument too.

            “It is not a fact that lack of capitalism made Africa, Southeast Asia and South America poor.”

            I’d say that lack of rule of law and of stable property rights within such countries is part of why they remain poor. World Bank estimates that social capital is 80% of a rich country’s wealth, after all, and rule of law half of it… Of course, slaving and colonialism could well be much of why rule of law, social trust levels, and well-defined property rights are lacking.

            “indeed dehumanize people by treating them only as consumers.”

            There’s also treating people as producers, i.e. possible immigrant workers, or farmers whose products are kept out by tariffs.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I think there was a thread here recently on some Nobel laureate’s book, in which he argued that the historical acme of a free market society was somewhere before WWI. Quite aside from the overwhelming probability that the operations of capitalism and global war were related, the division of the entire planet into empires is arguably a better example of “proto-world governance” than the current system in which, for example, large socialist elements remain within the PRC. I don’t think you could even argue that the US exerts anywhere near the monetary and financial control needed for “proto-world governance.” I did notice that, despite how astonishing it is to extol the capitalism that stunted the growth of the English working class (i.e., the dominant economy,) that was not an issue of any interest to bleeding hearts.

            As to lack of capitalism in Africa et al., it is hard to see how anyone could deny the effects of slaving and colonialism. It is merely convenient to ignore them. But I must also add that in various degress, property rights have been well enforced, very often (almost always?) to the detriment of the largest portion of the population. I don’t think economic history justifies the implicit assertion that this leads to economic development sufficient to resist foreign pressure to deform the economy in the interests of outsiders. I think libertarians are pretty much universally agreed that protective tariffs are an evil affront to the free market. Since protective tariffs are usually an element in successful economic development (which admittedly does raise standard of living,) libertarians are against economic development. At least, as it happened in the real world.

            And, really, the idea that an English JP was more secure in his property in 1800 than a Mexican hacendado is questionable. Property rights in England weren’t secure in 1645 nor were property rights in the US secure in 1865, but that didn’t seem to leave those economies underdeveloped. It seems to me stunningly obvious that there’s more involved than bad thoughts about property in the heads of foreigners who aren’t up to our standards of culture.

            Most of all, it seems equally obvious that the normal operations of capitalism generate unequal outcomes. I think libertarianism explicitly accepts this in other contexts. Indeed it celebrates the inequality, although I agree with others that inequality as such have negative consequences for society.

            Possibly this website is really more committed to treating immigrant workers as valuable in their own right. In the broader society I believe I’m correct in thinking that immigrant workers are primarily considered to be cheap labor, which is to say, the concern is for the employer as consumer of labor.

            As to farmers whose products are excluded, yes, libertarians commonly argue against tariffs.

            But that argument must also be made against the protection afforded to producers. For example, excluding Cuban sugar once protected US sugar producers (and might still?) That argument essentially boils down to the assertion that free trade leads to lower prices. That is, the consumer wins. Some individual workers (and employers,) in their role as producers lose much more than the consumer gains. This human cost is irrelevant to libertarians who think only of the abstract consumer.

            And near as I can tell no libertarian has ever concerned himself with the effects of free trade on the economic development of the society in question, except to deny the reality of economic history. It is sufficient to list more consumer goods available at lower prices, and the justification of capitalism is nearly done.

            All that remains is to blame every ill on the unfreedom of the market.

    • John

      Free markets absolutely help the poor because there is no mechanism that prevents the masses from taking their piece of the pie as exists now. Corporations, in fact, are not free market entities. Some corporations may be necessary to advance technology, however, corporations are intended to have very limited license to do business in that manner, and would normally be forbidden from attempting to compete in areas where a corporation isn’t required, farming for instance. Or retail sales. Or restaurants.

      • stevenjohnson2

        Below you credit the free market for this country’s first century. But the benefit to the “poor” came from the massive expropriation of land from inhabitants and a chronic labor shortage. The assertion that free markets benefit the poor is founded upon such imaginary “facts.”

        • John

          Well, for better or worse, Indians didn’t have the concept of private land ownership and that is a great philosophy, except that it does several things – it puts you at war with everyone else around you on a constant basis, it prevents you from creating and maintaining permanent structures and it keeps you from advancing technologically. Had we not come, natives would still be at war with each other and still be living short lives out in the open. Not a value judgment, just shows the diffrerence.

          Labor shortages are an excellent thing. It means that maximum wealth creation is in play and technologies to reduce the need for labor will be created.

          • Damien S.

            “Out in the open?” Ignorant bullshit. They had permanent structures and villages. They had farms. Down south, they had cities and empires. They had land that was owned by the tribe/clan/whatever, but often individually worked.

            We Americans live on stolen land and are the recipient of stolen goods. And of slavery-produced goods.

          • John

            Some did. But many of those had long been abandoned as well, for various reasons. There are only a few examples of native pueblos that have existed over long spans of time, such as Taos Pueblo.

            There is nothing that says that if Indians can move here and live here that no one else may. That’s ridiculous. Mankind moves, it’s a natural right and while we do chop up the land into private property to protect the fruits of one’s labor, immigration is not something that should be regulated by any government.

          • Michael Philip

            you need to brush up on your history there

          • stevenjohnson2

            The point is not that it’s better or worse, the point is that the notion free markets were what made the first century of the US so beneficial to the poor is just not true. The assumption free markets help the poor is based on made up facts, with inconsistent reasoning misusing vague and incoherent concepts.

            This assumption functions very much like the Divine Right of KIngs. Defense of the that idea relied essentially on unspoken assumptions, the conventional wisdom propagated by authorities and the refusal to countenance any possibility of other ideas. Once the assumption is accepted only a limited spectrum of ideas is allowed.

          • John

            Thanks for proving my point. The Black Death ended the Hundred Years war and serfdom, along with rising wages for the poor. So, yeah, it was a helluva a thing.

          • good_in_theory

            For everyone who didn’t die of the black death. But hey, good to know you’re pro-mass-death in order to create a tight labor market.

          • John

            So you’re insinuating that labor shortage caused the black death? Or libertarianism or what?

          • good_in_theory

            I’m “insinuating” that the black death was only “a helluva thing” for the people it didn’t kill. And presumably even they might have preferred living family members to a tighter labor market. Factoring in the people it did kill, the utilitarian calculus about the improved bargaining position of some workers becomes a bit murkier.

          • John

            I said “labor shortage”, not “black death”.

          • good_in_theory

            You’ve failed logic; you’ve failed science; now let’s go to basic grammar. Here’s what you said:

            “The Black Death ended the Hundred Years war and serfdom, along with rising wages for the poor. So, yeah, it was a helluva a thing.”

            Q: What’s the referent of the pronoun “it”?
            A: “The Black Death”

          • John

            The black death lead too a labor shortage which ended a lot of strife and helped pull England out of the dark ages.

          • good_in_theory

            Destroying a bunch of resources (less euphemistic: killing people) helped pull England out of the dark ages? What are you, a Keynesian? Economies can be trapped in a sub-optimal equilibrium which require an exogenous shock to dislodge? I thought your sort lapped up the parable of the broken windows like mother’s milk.

  • Jameson Graber

    I really don’t understand the comments made concerning open borders. The post says, “The view is sufficientarian, not egalitarian: it advocates state redistribution of resources only toward those who cannot provide for themselves.” I hardly think providing to “those who cannot provide for themselves” means guaranteeing every person $30,000 a year. Open borders, as I understand it, mainly means allowing anyone to take a job anywhere. If you’re immigrating in order to take a job, that would appear to take you right out of the “cannot provide for themselves” category.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      However that does not describe the current immigration policy in the USA. Immigrating to take a job is actually a very small component. Most of it is family reunification.

  • It’s not as if the entire American welfare system got plopped down overnight. It arrived by degrees, justified in what looks to be entirely sufficientarian-liberalism ways: welfare “only” for those “in need” and capitalism for “the rest of us.”

    How will Teson address the argument that all aspects of the welfare state are implemented a little bit at a time with a little argument about paying just a little more to only those who need it most? We’ve “just a little more-d” ourselves into middle class welfare. When will this madness stop?

    • Jameson Graber

      This reminds me of an article by Tyler Cowen in which he argues that libertarian policies in the late 20th century led to–shocker–bigger government. He said this was actually logical, because free markets led to more prosperity, and more prosperity leads democratic society to demand more services from its government. It appears rather difficult to untangle this puzzle.

  • jdkolassa


    This is basically the view I’ve held for a little over a year now, having spent time looking at politics in the heart of DC and how things actually happen. Not as a first-order choice, mind you, but more of a second best system. I actually would like a sort of Nozickian minimal state, but it will never happen, people will not buy a state without some sort of welfare function. However, if we put some sort of negative income tax/universal basic income in place, and then dramatically remove all regulations that keep the prices of goods and services artificially high, *THAT* could work.

    Basically, I want to combine a radical deregulation of the economy with a universal welfare system that focuses on the truly poor, who will be rather small in number after the economic reforms go through. Glad to see there’s a philosopher on the same page I am.

    Note I do not talk about feasibility; while I think long-term this is feasible, in the short run I’m not sure what exactly we can do, though I think progress is definitely possible. Depends a lot on public relations work though.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      It is surely something to aim for.

    • Damien S.

      “a radical deregulation of the economy”

      Which regulations? Matt Yglesias got name-checked above, but one of his points has been that we’re simultaneously over and under regulated. Underregulated in the sense of not enough financial and environmental regulation, overregulated in the sense of zoning laws and various small business licenses and overly specific enviro regs (like “you must use X” as opposed to carbon and other pollution taxes.)

      If you just go on about regulations in general, people are going to hear that as wanting to get rid of the Clean Air Act as well as loosen taxi markets, and most of us would rather have clean air and expensive taxis than deadly air and cheap taxis.

      • John

        Why in the world would you want expensive taxis instead of cheap taxis? That’s inexplicably dumb.

        • Damien S.

          Inexplicably dumb is failing to see my point.

          Right now we have clean air and expensive taxis. It’d be nice to have clean air and cheap taxis with smarter and more selective regulations. But if endorsing massive deregulation means *dirty* air and cheap taxis, then we’ll stick with the clean air and expensive taxis, because clean air is more important than taxi prices.

          As I said right there: “most of us would rather have clean air and expensive taxis than deadly air and cheap taxis.” How on earth did you take that as a preference for expensive taxis?

          • John

            Massive deregulation doesn’t in any way mean dirty air. There is no inherent natural right to destroy the planet. But regulations actually keep the worst offending taxis as far as pollution in service and deny the use of small, 50mpg cars. That’s a fact.

            Also, you said you prefer expensive taxis instead of cheap ones. How would I not take it that way? Do you read what you write?

          • Damien S.

            I said no such thing. I even quoted what I did say for you. “X and Y to not X and not Y” is not the same as “Y to not Y”. Basic logic. Or reading comprehension.

          • jdkolassa

            You just said you prefer expensive taxis over cheap taxis, TWICE.

            “But if endorsing massive deregulation means *dirty* air and cheap taxis, then we’ll stick with the clean air and expensive taxis”

            Stop being an idiot.

          • Damien S.

            I said I preferred the bundle of clean air and expensive taxis to the bundle of dirty air and cheap taxis. Because air is more important than taxis.

            The idiocy is clearly in continuing to talk to you or John.

          • John

            Again, now you’re implying that you can’t have one without the other which is ridiculous.

          • Damien S.

            I implied no such thing.

            “If you just go on about regulations in general, people are going to
            hear that as wanting to get rid of the Clean Air Act as well as loosen
            taxi markets, and most of us would rather have clean air and expensive
            taxis than deadly air and cheap taxis.”

            I’m all for having the Clean Air Act and cheap taxis, but that requires admitting that the Clean Air Act is a good thing, Most people like libertarians and Republicans who go on and on about regulations do no such thing, so politically the choice looks like a choice between the two bundles I described; market-friendly liberals like Matt Yglesias or me seem to be rare. Pity, that.

          • John

            Well, in that case, you’re saying that a cheap taxis is impossible without air pollution, which is also illogical.

          • good_in_theory

            You ought to try to learn the difference between “illogical” and “empirically unwarranted.”

          • John

            You ought to try to back up your bullshit.

          • good_in_theory

            It’s impossible to back up the result of someone’s failure of comprehension. You can only repeat yourself in different words until they understand your incredibly basic points.

          • good_in_theory

            Spot the fallacy: I prefer [A and B] to [~A and ~B], therefore I prefer A to ~A and B to ~B.

          • John

            The logical phallacy is that you can A and B are inextricably related.

          • good_in_theory

            If that were the case it wouldn’t be a logical fallacy.

            But yes, clean air and the price of taxis are causally related. More specifically, as the price of cars and fuel has fallen, the cleanliness of air has decreased.

          • John

            I guarantee you can’t prove any of what you just said or even back it up with anything substantial.

          • good_in_theory

            It’s easy to prove that an empirical association which causes a particular syllogism to be false is not a logical fallacy, because logical fallacies exist independent of the empirical associations of the propositions to which they refer. The truth of this is axiomatic.

            As to the next paragraph, if you think I’d be incapable of proving that a decline in the price of combustion driven transportation directly increases output of air pollution for entirely obvious causal reasons, you’re living in another universe.

          • John

            I await the proof.

          • good_in_theory
          • good_in_theory
          • John

            That is just a description of how an engine works, which has nothing to do with your attempted point.

          • good_in_theory

            Actually, yes, my point – which is that increased car usage has a direct causal relationship with air pollution – is proved by the facts of the matter about how car engines work, because the process of combustion produces air pollutants.

          • Damien S.

            No offense, but I think this whole subthread has gone stupid. My point wasn’t *at all* about some causal connection[1] between taxi price and air pollution, it was that I think we have good regulation and bad regulation, but the good regulation is worth an awful lot of regulations, which means blanket calls for deregulation won’t attract allies. They probably make practical compromise worse; as it is, I can’t say rent control is bad and we should let developers build more housing without being suspected of having gone over to the dark side by a lot of fellow liberals. Calling for any less regulation gets associated with calling for no regulation, because of how loud and damaging the no-regulation crowd is.

            [1] Arguably, cheap taxis really would reduce pollution. Less driving of one’s own car, less driving period because less space is wasted on parking so buildings are closer together, less pollution from the manufacture of cars (though that one is more global than local.) This doesn’t mean that plausibly cheap taxis would reduce urban pollution as much as the Clean Air Act and EPA regulations, of course. Again, it’d be nice to have both, but you don’t get there by starting with attacks on the EPA.

          • good_in_theory

            Well yes, it certainly has gone stupid. I wouldn’t argue with that. John brought up a causal connection between air pollution and taxi prices when he said that taxi prices and pollution were inextricably related in one direction. I’d say there’s a pretty clear relationship between declines in the cost of personal motor transport and increasing pollution, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of second and third order effects to swamp the rather direct “more people travelling in single occupant motor vehicles = more air pollution” effect.

          • John

            Libertarianism isn’t about throwing a switch and creating instant anarchy. There are tens of thousands (or more) of federal regulations, let alone state and local and libertarians are intelligent enough to pick and choose our battle by deleting the stupidest, most ineffective, most backwards laws first, while searching for good alternatives to laws that actually have some validity before deciding to try to eliminate them.

            Gary Johnson was an excellent demonstrator of how a libertarian would run government. There was no chaos, no fall into disorder. Just slow, effective, reduction of bad law and a shrinking of government (relatively)

          • John

            But you didn’t say “increased car usage”. So, you are a Gorian who believes that fuel and transportation should be artificially expensive to lower consumption and the free market makes things affordable

          • good_in_theory

            What is a Gorian?

            I am a person who believes vice taxes/Pigouvian taxes work as theorized.

            And insofar as the free-market makes things with negative externalities more affordable, without internalizing the costs of the externalities, yes, I don’t see much of an issue with lowering consumption by increasing prices. Individual affordability is not an unalloyed good.

          • John

            Al Gore.

            There is no authorization in the Constitution to institute taxation to alter behavior. None whatsoever.

            It’s wrong when there is no authority to do so.

          • good_in_theory

            I don’t pay any attention to what Al Gore thinks or says.

            What the Constitution authorizes is irrelevant. In any event the constitution explicitly allows for excises, duties, imposts, and tariffs – which target specific industries and products and thus alter specific behaviors The government can choose a wide array of tax regimes to satisfy its need to raise money, and it can use plenty of reasons to prefer one regime over another, including how it might affect behavior.

            I thought things were wrong only when they violated natural rights. Now you’re appealing to arbitrary conventions about authority. So much for the farcical concept of natural rights.

          • John

            Irrelevant? It’s the f’ing law, buddy. And it’s designed to define and constrain government.

            The taxes are authorized to bring in revenue, not for the purposes of altering behavior. Period. It’s right there. It’s long held principle of law. That which is included excludes all else.

          • good_in_theory

            What the constitution authorizes is irrelevant. The subject of this conversation is not what ‘the law’ authorizes. It’s what the effects of high or low taxi prices are. You posted links to goal shifting above. You might want to actually read them for yourself.

            And again, it doesn’t matter what taxes are authorized for. In picking a particular tax regime to fulfill an authorized purpose, one is free to be motivated by any number of other purposes.

          • John
          • good_in_theory

            None of those have anything to do with what I just said. As taxis become cheaper, their use goes up. As their use goes up, ceteris paribus, the amount of fuel used for personal transport (one of the more inefficient means of energy production around) goes up.

            Regulation stiffing innovation in the taxi market is a complete non-sequitur. In fact, to the degree which such inefficiencies inhibit the demand for personal transportation by keeping prices up and forcing people to substitute to public transit or not moving around period, they also inhibit the production of air pollutants.

          • John

            Public transportation is probably the most inefficient means of transporation ever developed. The average ridership on buses where I lived was 3 persons at a time. THREE. Buses get maybe 4mpg. So taxis can be quite a bit more effective.

          • good_in_theory

            “Can be”. I live next to a bus line (one line in a system) which transports 50k people/day. In any case your anecdote is actually irrelevant. Given an inefficient bus-line, each additional rider increases its efficiency, because its costs are sunk, whereas each additional taxi fare requires the use of gas that would not have otherwise been employed. So, given the existence of mass transit, every person who substitutes from taxi to mass transit increases fuel efficiency.

            In any case, mass transit in aggregate, regardless of your anecdote, decreases fuel emissions. Cf.

          • John

            Not at all. Regulations in Washington prevent less expensive, lighter, smaller cabs from operating. –

            And New York’s mandate of one semi-efficient taxi has blocked operators from buying even more economical ones –

          • good_in_theory

            This is irrelevant. For any given level of fuel efficiency, a fall in the price of taxi rides increases use of taxis and hence increases pollution associated with the consumption of taxi services. Increasing demand for transportation certainly puts pressure on fuel efficiency development. For that to matter the demand shift occassoioned by a fall in price would have to be swamped by the efficiency shift occassioned by the increase in demand. If that occurred, we’d see declining air pollution as access to motor transport increased. AFAIK, this has never been observed.

          • John

            Air is cleaner now than it has been for something like 50 years, in part due to vehicle technological development which will always happen.

          • good_in_theory

            Yes, due to technological development in fuel efficiency. Not due to reductions in price or use.

            And air is only cleaner in some places. Like, say, Los Angeles, where there are heavy regulations on air pollution and atuo emissions. In contrast, places like China or India, where car use is on the rise, rather than being already more or less saturated, air pollution has been increasing.

          • Damien S.

            Your grammar is failing. But no one said they were inextricably related.

          • good_in_theory

            Oh, no, he’s just asserting that they are inextricably related. What’s failing here is his ability to understand the difference between a logical fallacy and an empirical falsehood.

            What’s also failing here is his grasp on reality, as he appears to believe taxi prices are causally related to air quality such that falling taxi prices increase air quality. Or, in other words, he believes a fall in the price of the production of air pollutants occasions a fall in the level of air pollution.

            For an example of why that isn’t the case, he could look here:

            “While burning of coal for power plants is a major source of air pollution across China, vehicle emissions are the single biggest source of PM2.5 – a secondary pollutant that forms in the air and is tiny enough to enter deep into the lungs – in Beijing, according to the capital’s former vice mayor, Hong Feng.”

          • Damien S.

            Well, to be clear, when I’m talking about expensive taxis, I mean the regulations in most US cities about how many taxis there can be. Especially NYC or Boston, where a taxi medallion can cost up to a million dollars, and if you talk about making more apparently people start screaming about how that’d be a taking of their property invested in the medallion. Boston adds a balkanized urban area, so a Boston taxi that drops you off in Cambridge isn’t allowed to pick someone up from the curb in Cambridge.

            It’s all ridiculous, much like requiring hairdressers to have expensive licenses to operate. Or limited liquor licenses, like MA’s law that a chain store could sell alcohol at only 3 locations in the state, so we have lots of private liquor stores and little alcohol in the supermarkets. There *are* stupid and rent-seeking regulations… but “deregulators” tend to go first after the ones that keep us alive and healthy, or the financial markets stable.

          • good_in_theory

            I don’t deny that taxi markets are artificially constrained. But that doesn’t lead me to the utterly insane conclusion that the removal of such constraints and the resulting increase in the provision of taxi services would lead to a *decrease* in the emissions of taxis.

          • John

            Shall I print the link again? Washington won’t allow small, efficient cars as taxis. They dictate that taxis must be of a certain size and weight, which means more air pollution.

          • good_in_theory

            A couple regulations which impede a minor marginal improvement in fuel efficiency standards in a couple locales don’t mean much of anything in the face of the effect regulation of the taxi market has on the supply of taxis, given the value of taxi medallions.

          • John

            So you think people should buy cars and drive themselves? Or you think everyone should ride buses?

          • John

            I’ve been in third world cities where the taxi system is less neo-socialist and corrupt than in the US. And that is saying something.

          • John

            But your preference doesn’t allow you to force others to conform to it. Others may want “deadly air” (wich is a strawman) and a cheaper fare. But the reality is that cheaper fares come from less damaging, fuel efficient vehicles, not 50 year old ancient designs that spit out mass amounts of pollution.

          • Damien S.


            Dude, no it’s not. London “fogs” killed people. Air as dirty as Beijing’s, or like LA’s used to be, has marked health consequences. Leaded gasoline probably drove the increase in crime rates from the 1960s.

            “Others may want “deadly air” (wich is a strawman) and a cheaper fare”

            So? Why should they have a right to shit in my lungs?

            The reality is that *cleaner* air comes from government regulation. Cleaner technology allows us to keep the cars and have clean air, rather than just banning the cars. We still need government to mutually make us use the cleaner stuff when it costs more.

          • good_in_theory

            No no, you don’t understand. Every individual negatively affected by air pollution merely has to individually bring a tort against every entity responsible for air pollution to their local civil court house and just wait to be compensated for their tort claim. It’s all really simple.

          • John

            Do you drive a car?

      • jdkolassa

        Regulations that serve as barriers to entry and artificially inflate the price of goods and services in order to perform public fellatio of some interest group, whether that be a business, a union, or some other group that screams bloody murder.

        • Damien S.

          Right, those are bad! But do you acknowledge that there are good regulations, that raise barriers or prices as a side effect of serving the public interest — like pollution regulations and taxes — or do you just really want to get rid of all regulations?

          • jdkolassa

            If you’re asking “Are you an anarcho-capitalist?” the answer is no.

            I can see a case for regulations that prevent fraud and the like, but in my ideal world regulations would be much more limited. I also don’t see a case where “the public interest” would lead to erecting barriers to entry to anything, really. Or raising prices. If you have some examples, however, share away.

          • Damien S.

            I just *gave* examples. Pollution.

          • jdkolassa

            Ah, yes, pollution, which in many cases can be solved by enforcing property rights and not having limited liability clauses for corporations.

            Really, is that it?

          • Damien S.

            “Many cases” is not the same as all cases. Please describe the property rights scheme to protect the ocean and atmosphere from CO2 or CFCs. Who do I sue, everyone with an air conditioner? Of course, lawsuits are just ex post facto government regulation, by judges instead of legislators.

            “is that it”. It’ll do for now. I like having an ozone layer. Can you plausibly protect it without government power?

          • jdkolassa

            Consumer demand pushed corporations to start developing hybrid cars and alternative energy sources…so, yes, I can see that working.

          • Damien S.

            Consumer demand and government subsidies.

          • CT

            Nope. You just sue a couple of giant corporations who use air conditioning. Next go after a few condo associations. Make examples out of them. Are you seriously saying you don’t see the diff between bureaucrats having power to punish polluters and the people actually being affected by pollution having this power?

          • good_in_theory

            I’m sure this world inundated with millions of civil suits will work very well.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Earth to Damien: Use a little thing called class-action lawsuits to exact damages from the makers of the air conditioners, their distributors, major retailers, etc. Educate people and organize a consumer movement to buy the least polluting ones, and to boycott the worst. Organize secondary boycotts. There are many liberal billionaires and A-list Hollywood celebs waiting in the wings to help you. Is this a perfect solution: of course not. But, if you think that regulation is cost-free or by definition a better one, you are really beyond hope.

          • Damien S.

            Your advice sounds like suing gun makers for murders. Shouldn’t you sue the operators, as the ones causing the actual damage? Perhaps you could make a case here, since the risk is incurred once the CFCs are made. But how about cars? They could run on biological carbon-neutral fuels; conversely, oil sold could be an industrial feedstock. So you’d really need a class action suit of everyone against all car owners, which is almost everyone. The coordination problem seems a bit tricky.

            And these are rather large issues to be having decided by some judge or another. You want to take the large adaptive powers of the legislature and hand them to the judges instead. Still a powerful government, just a less democratic one. Unless you use large juries, in which case we’re back to Athenian democracy. Which, hey, not so bad, but not particularly libertarian either.

            Regulation doesn’t have to be cost-free, it just has to be better than such baroque alternatives. And you give no reason to think it’s worse.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Putting aside your misunderstandings of how class actions actually work (hint: you can sue car makers for manufacturing a harmful product), you said two comments ago: “Please describe the property rights scheme to protect the ocean and atmosphere from CO2 or CFCs.” I just did. I don’t know whether it is “better,” and neither do you. This is why I am a not a utilitarian libertarian a la David Friedman and others. But I am smart enough not to dismiss the possibility of non-regulatory solutions out of hand.

    • dalecarville

      Who would classify as truly poor in your prospective fantasy world?
      Those without access to ice?
      Would possession of a stained musical birthday card from the 1990’s
      render one ineligible for aid, considering the immense power such an item could command in the ancient kingdom of Lydia?

      • John

        That’s why it is ridiculous to make arbitrary assignations of what is poor and what isn’t as it can just as easily be used against someone by stating “you’re not too poor, you can pay 25-30% of your wages in total taxes”, rather than saying “you have a right to what you earn to do the best for you, your family and anyone you wish to help”.

        Why don’t leftists give away all of their belongings to people who live in huts in Africa? Surely they could still live better than people in huts, even with next to nothing.

  • Damien S.

    I’ve been following BHL for what, going on 4 years now? And I’m still not sure what it means in practice, like how BHL differs from any other libertarianism, or whether modern liberals are supposed to be able to find common ground. Certainly “without government we wouldn’t have any poor!!!” is neither new nor convincing.

    Now, if y’all could actually commit to something like this post, a full-hearted endorsement of tax-funded government safety nets combined with your other libertarian desires, then that’d be something concrete, catching up in specificness to geo-libertarian land tax + basic income ideas a la Carl Milsted’s. Of course, it would require committing to actually having government and taxes in the first place, rather than dancing around the issue, which would require pissing off your more anarchist commenters.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I don’t think that is the problem, those guys get blasted on a pretty regular basis. But Yes, I think it is mature to admit that some sort of government funded safety net is going to be needed. (That still does not make it a moral principle) And yes we need some taxes. (But there should be as many structural roadblocks to raising taxes as it is possible to erect. ) However, it matters more that you have a plan for the things that governments do not do so well anymore, like guarantee the human and civil, and yes even property rights of its citizens. Those things are what we are striving for.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I don’t think that is the problem, those guys get blasted on a pretty regular basis. But Yes, I think it is mature to admit that some sort of government funded safety net is going to be needed. (That still does not make it a moral principle) And yes we need some taxes. (But there should be as many structural roadblocks to raising taxes as it is possible to erect. ) However, it matters more that you have a plan for the things that governments do not do so well anymore, like guarantee the human and civil, and yes even property rights of its citizens. Those things are what we are striving for.

      • Damien S.

        I see two cases:
        1) The majority want to protect such rights, and the government doesn’t listen. Solution: more democracy, particularly along Swiss or Athenian lines, with popular ability to challenge or propose new laws, possibly widespread use of random selection to cut through elites.

        2) The majority doesn’t want to protect such rights. Solution: I think you’re fucked, long term. Whatever government you create will be at risk of popular uprising or nullification. Black Americans had the constitutional right to vote for 100 years before the national majority got around to enforcing it in the South, after all.

        (I say this to fellow lefties too, when they go “human rights shouldn’t be up for a vote!” as if there’s any other way of recognizing new rights like right-to-marriage or right-to-wear-veils.)

    • John

      What’s the point of being a libertarian if you actually are a liberal?

      Let’s be honest. BHL is about marketing. It’s a pretty weak attempt at trying to convince neo-socialists that freedom really isn’t a bad thing and can actually help the poor more than heavy handed government. That this is true doesn’t matter to a neo-socialist, as the goal of neo-socialism is the complete control of the economy, versus the complete ownership of it. I view it as attempting to cuddle up to a tiger assuming he won’t eat you if you’re just nice enough to it.

      • dalecarville

        Thank you. Cover blown. BHL is run on the Jews for Jesus model.
        It maps perfectly. “Jews” for Jesus = “Bleeding Heart” Libertarians.
        Both are front groups that take advantage of the ambiguity surrounding the nomenclature to lure in prospective converts typically repulsed by their core beliefs! Fascinating…

        • John

          That’s why I think it’s a bad idea. Why would a government loving neo-socialist ever be for a kinder, gentler, more free society? They aren’t and won’t be. I mean, I think it’s a nice idea in theory, but in reality, it fundamentally misunderstand the nature of liberalism, which is not about human progress, but about human enslavement and rigid social structure. It also misunderstand the concept of “socail justice” which isn’t about fairness, but about theft and redistribution, isn’t about kindness or giving, but about base greed and envy.

          • “I mean, I think it’s a nice idea in theory, but in reality, it fundamentally misunderstand the nature of liberalism, which is not about human progress, but about human enslavement and rigid social structure.”

            That’s weird. Here I am thinking that liberalism is a political philosophy founded on liberty and equality. Honestly, your Alex Jones-style conspiratorial thinking isn’t helping your cause. At least the BHL recognize that if liberals are doing something wrong, it is because they are wrong about empirical facts.

            “It also misunderstand the concept of “socail justice” which isn’t about fairness, but about theft and redistribution, isn’t about kindness or giving, but about base greed and envy.”

            You haven it all figured out, don’t you? Everyone else misunderstands but you. Dunning-Kruger effect at its finest.

          • John

            I know a ton of people that understand. But I took psychology in college and there’s more to liberalism than simple ideology. What the left does is take a very old definition of “liberal” and pretend it is relevent to them. Modern liberalism being about liberty is quite a laugh though. Liberty to have oral sex, but not to drink a 32 oz soda? Not terribly sensible or logical.

  • Fernando Teson

    Dear All: Thank you for the excellent comments. I cannot respond as I would like, for lack of time (totally my fault). But the comments highlight the daunting difficulties of implementing any institutional structure that can get rid of the least savory aspects of the welfare state. I am sensitive to those of you who think that there may be an injustice in taking from some to help the (really) poor. What I suggested in the post is that, if you believe that, you are nonetheless better off conceding that injustice yet simultaneously insisting that cronysim, subsidies, rent-seeking, corruption, etc. etc., that is all poverty-unrelated regulation be scratched. One of my purposes was to force the let-winger to admit that he cares more about big government than about the poor. If he really cared about the poor he would do two things: support robust markets, and accept our minimalist proposal.

    • Damien S.

      Oh, back to your silly absolutism. “If he really cared about the poor, he would agree with me about how the world works!”

    • John

      Is anyone here for cronyism, subsidies, rent-seeking, corruption, etc?!? Seems like a non-sequitur to me.

      That the left cares more about government than the poor is obvious and easily demonstrated, given that they will support no way of helping the poor if it doesn’t first increase the size and scope of federal government (or some form of extraction of wealth from the rich). They cannot accept the idea that government can be shrunk to benefit the poor, for instance, to eliminate taxes without offset, or to get rid of social security or to eliminate zoning or create vouchers.

      If you create wealth, abundance, opportunity and the freedom to use your money to help others instead of buying, say, an aircraft carrier, there will be little need for charity and charity will easily handle the rest.

    • “One of my purposes was to force the let-winger to admit that he cares more about big government than about the poor. If he really cared about the poor he would do two things: support robust markets, and accept our minimalist proposal.”

      The problem with that is the left-winger presumably doesn’t agree with you on the empirical facts, namely that your robust markets+social minimum would be as effective as the welfare/regulatory state that he favors. You are attacking a straw-man left-winger, one who wants big government for the sake of big government, rather than to help the poor. The non-straw-man left-winger thinks that big government is better for the poor.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        I suspect that you are mostly correct. but I have known some people whose every single solution to any problem, real or imagined, was more government. And I strongly suspected that they really just worshiped government for the sake of wielding power over others.

        • shemsky

          I see it as progressives defaulting to government much the same way that theists default to supernatural forces when science can’t explain something. The idea that progressives care about big government at the expense of caring about the poor seems insulting. I just think that progressives are mistaken, and that their trust is misplaced.

          • Damien S.

            Thank you for that. I’m glad someone around here sees the absurdity in the conspiratorial thinking.

          • John

            Well, at least the theists aren’t running around sacrificing people in order to implement their supersticions.

          • good_in_theory
          • John

            How is that a religious right conspiracy?!? Everyone I know that is against vaccines are all hard core liberals. Bill Maher is anothe example.

          • good_in_theory

            “Things are even worse in Northern Europe. Since May, there’s been a “large, ongoing measles outbreak” in an orthodox Protestant community in the Netherlands. As of September 5, the Center for Infectious Disease Control in Netherlands had reported some 1,226 cases. Ninety-one percent of those cases were unvaccinated members of orthodox Protestant communities in the country’s Bible belt.”

            “This August, epidemiologists in Texas began investigating the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas. The megachurch, which believes in faith healing, had become an open breeding ground for measles after a member of the congregation returned from Indonesia and infected 21 people in and around Newark.”

            From the CDC: “A total of 58 cases* were identified, including six generations of measles infection in two neighborhoods of the borough of Brooklyn. All cases were in members of the orthodox Jewish community. No case was identified in a person who had documented measles vaccination at the time of exposure; 12 (21%) of the cases were in infants too young (aged <12 months) for routine immunization with measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine."

          • Damien S.

            Anti-vaccine ideas seem to span the political spectrum.

          • good_in_theory

            Yep, all the way from superstitious new age spiritualist to superstitious Christian fundamentalist. Which are the bigger problem is simply a matter of looking at which is more represented in the info we have on break outs.

          • John

            Yes, and? Many liberals are anti-vaccine. Luckily for them, they aren’t all grouped together, so that helps them avoid some of these by the fact that others around them keep their kids vaccinated.

          • good_in_theory

            No, many liberals aren’t anti-vaccine. A very small minority of the population is anti-vaccine, and by necessary consequence at most a very small minority of liberals are anti-vac. Whether most anti-vac folks are liberal or conservative is an empirical question, one which I’ve never seen anything other than anecdotes and stereotypes about. What’s probably true is that most anti-vac folks are superstitious spiritualists.

            The point, though, was that what you said was untrue. Theists are running around sacrificing people to implement their superstitions.

          • John
          • good_in_theory

            Are you basically illiterate? Do you even understand what you linked to?

            “These results basically suggest that there’s little or no political divide in terms of who falls for Jenny McCarthy’s misinformation. Notably, liberals were somewhat more aware of her claims and yet, nevertheless, were least likely to listen to them. But not by a huge margin or anything.”

            “What’s interesting here is that Pew also provided a political breakdown of the results, and there was simply no difference between Democrats and Republicans.”

            “There’s no evidence here to suggest that vaccine denial (and specifically, believing that childhood vaccines cause autism) is a distinctly left wing or liberal phenomenon. However, I will reiterate that we don’t really have good surveys at this point that are clearly designed to get at this question.”

          • John

            Right. You said the world is blue. I proved to you that it is not blue, and your argument just shifted to “see, I told you it wasn’t red”. About par for the course for the left. Losing the argument badly? Move the goal posts.

          • good_in_theory

            I said religious people don’t sacrifice innocents. I showed proof that religious communities have caused measles outbreaks, which have killed children.

            You said “many liberals are anti vaccine.” This is you, shifting the goal posts (from ‘theists don’t sacrifice people’ to ‘liberals are anti-vac), you dull hypocrite.

            I said “a small minority of liberals are anti vaccine.”

            You “proved” that the existing data shows no difference in the proclivity to be anti-vac by party. This is you, shifting the goal posts again (from many liberals are anti-vac’ to, well, I have no idea what, since this data tells us very little), you dull hypocrite.

            This doesn’t demonstrate much of anything about how many liberals are anti-vac. At most we could infer that because ~25% of liberals oppose legally requiring vaccination, at *most* 25% of liberals are anti-vac. That’s absurd, but it’s a limit.

            If one wanted information on how many people actually are anti-vac, one could look to statistics about the number of parents who don’t vaccinate. That’s ~1/10.

            In other words, like I said, a small minority, which again gives us an upper limit – the highest number of liberal anti-vacs possible from those numbers would be if every anti-vaccer is liberal.

            That’s patently false, but even if it were true, since a little less than half of Americans identify as Democrat, you’re looking at most about 20% of Democrats being anti-vac – again, a small minority.

            Learn how to think, you lying hypocrite.

          • shemsky

            That’s only to the extent that rational people don’t allow them to, John. If fundamentalists had their way, anything that contradicted their holy book would be banned from society.

        • I’m sure there are people like that. But I suspect there are also people who support small government for the sake of small government, without any idea of whether or not the effects would be beneficial for society.

          Or people who want to treat those who depend on them in an authoritarian manner and don’t like the idea of an authority with more power than they have, telling them they can’t beat their children or spouse or whatever.

    • dalecarville

      “As a political strategy, sufficientarian liberalism may well give classical liberals the long-coveted high ground in political debate.”

      Wow. Looking for the Galbraith Equation: “the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”? I appreciate this look behind the scenes.

      “One of my purposes was to force the let-winger to admit that he cares more about big government than about the poor. If he really cared about the poor he would do two things: support robust markets, and accept our minimalist proposal.”

      It’s kind of scary when you drop the masks. Did you clear all this with Matt and the guys?

      • John

        Libertarianism has nothing to do with selfish. Selfish is stealing from someone else. The natural, default position for any human is to take care of themselves and their families first and extend out fro there. But, how many Hollywood or Washington liberals do you know that live ina normal 2000 square foot home and drive a 3 year old, $20,000 car, because they donate most of their money to charity? How many don’t use deductions so they will pay the maximum possible tax to the government so as to help the most amount of people?

        What is worse? A person who admits they care for themselves first and then help others or a person who claims to care more about others while living in a mansion and driving a fleet of sports cars and SUVs?

    • Funnily enough, I like this comment much better than the original post!

  • John

    If the goal isn’t to eliminate safety nets by letting the free market work, it’s going to be a hard sell. The best argument for libertarianism isn’t a perverted mutation of it, but the idea that libertarianism will always seek the best for all people and will seek to create abundance and wealth for all through freedom and has no desire to cold turkey kill laws if it will result in starving, homeless people. What we wish to do is eliminate laws the create starving, homeless people or make the poor suffer endlessly to provide for older wealthy people driving Mercedes and living in a 3000 square foot home. Even the government admits that over 5 million Americans are put into poverty by Federal taxation alone. That is stunning.

    • dalecarville

      What do you do to help the poor?
      Besides this.

      • John

        Ah, the accusatory question. I love those. I asked that of a liberal once and she said “I vote Democrat!!!” Seriously, she did. No, I actually try to give poor people odd jobs, I do bake sales for poor children, donate clothes, toys and money to local churches and raise thousands of shade trees to give away to poor families or to put in parks and schools in poorer neighborhoods.


      • John

        Also, keep in mind that having a goal of eliminating safety nets by rendering them unnecessary doesn’t mean you will achieve it, but it’s a great goal to have and the more we focus on eliminating these, rather than perpetuating them, the closer to an ideal society we will have and that is real progress, not the fake stuff the left is selling.

  • John

    Fernando, let me rephrase. I think your argument shouldn’t be to accept a smaller safety net. That’s shooting low. I think the argument should be that we should strive to eliminate the need for them entirely, through free markets and even though we may not reach that goal, it is the proper goal, versus spending more and more every year to keep people in poverty and dependency. To say that one is a libertarian that believes in the fundamental need for a safety net is to really not be a libertarian at all, but a liberal-lite. It’s essentially saying that free markets can’t ever work to eliminate poverty, which is unknown as it never got the chance to actually complete the job. We do know that socialism and safety nets don’t eliminate poverty, they only perpetuates it. The left has had 80 years to eliminate poverty through handouts and we know the result.

  • John

    Also, that the argument should be that libertarians simply want to head in the direction of freedom by intelligently deleting really bad laws and promoting freedom first, and demonstrating that freedom works and is good for people and the economy, as Gary Johnson did in NM. There is no chaos, not bloodshed, no increase in death or disease as freedom crept back into people’s lives. That libertarians want the removal of bad law and simply more alternatives to “good” law that are equally or more effective than government, with far less abuse.

    • Damien S.

      It would be easier to make that case if libertarians actually visibly did that, instead of insisting that taxation is theft and that socialized medicine will be a disaster. Maybe Gary Johnson did that, but he got eclipsed by Ron “audit the Fed” Paul.

      • John

        Taxation is theft, especially when it taking money directly from your paycheck, you haven’t even had the choice of how you want to spend it and if you are willing to buy something that has a tax on it. It’s just a matter of how much theft should be allowed for the “common good” and how much is damaging. I would suggest that 10% is more than sufficient. Socialized medicine is a disaster. Universal Savings Accounts or HSAs are dramatically better.

        • Damien S.

          “Socialized medicine is a disaster” says pretty much no one who lives with socialized medicine.

          ” Universal Savings Accounts or HSAs are dramatically better” What’s your evidence?

          • John

            Hah, yeah, that’s why socialized medical systems are always in crisis, waiting for the next legislative fix.

            40-50% of the people in socialized medicine countries are dissatisfied. Not a resounding success.

            HSAs in Indiana not only are saving the government increasing amounts of money, but the people also are actually socking away an average of $2000 in their accounts already, and have, as I recall, a 97% satisfaction rate.

  • Jod

    “The empirical correlation between robust markets and prosperity is, I think, undeniable, and the burden of proof is on those who propose governmental interference.”
    Strange opposition. Sweden has robust markets and strong government interference and it has better outcomes than the United States on nearly every important measure of well-being. (And even, as you note, on access to markets.) The burden of proof is on those who think government interference harms robust markets and prosperity. The burden of proof is on those who imagine a strict distinction between economy and government.

  • Carlo

    Hi Fernando,
    I think I agree with this. I have a question, though. I think I don’t understand clearly what are the reasons for the safety-net in your post: a. to protect the spontaneous order (maintenance of the civil conditions), b. a duty to help people in need, c. some utilitarian argument. Can you clarify things on this point?

  • John

    Charity is sufficient to handle those who TRULY cannot help themselves.

    Remember, there are tens of millions of children who cannot pay their way and they get paid for almost entirely by their parents. So it’s not that it can’t be done, it’s that government tries to do it, and muscles charity out of the way in order to be the super hero of the day.

  • paul dave

    Great Article. Thanks for the info. Does anyone know where I can find a blank “1991 CA CP10.5, [Jan 1991]” to fill out?

  • jdkolassa

    FYI to Fernando Teson, considering that we now have a new blog post tagged with “sufficientarianism”, it might also be wise to tag this post with the same, so they can be read together.

    That is, if you see this comment; I don’t know if you’ll get a notification.