Back in December of 2011, I posted “Licensing Parents,” defending a view Hugh LaFollette had introduced into philosophical literature in 1980: that the state should license parents (LaFollette further defended this stance in 2010; see Note 1).  LaFollette is not a libertarian and as I indicated then, I disagree with him about a lot–including the need to license medical doctors and lawyers.  I nonetheless think he is right that we ought to license parents.  In this post, I explain why libertarians—or at least minarchist BH-libertarians—ought to endorse parental licensing.  The basic idea is simple: parental licensing could reduce overall regulations, regulatory bodies, and governmental interventions in private life, while also significantly reducing the harms to children, providing better respect for their rights.  See more below the fold.  I’m writing a paper on the topic, so serious objections are welcome.

As I have noted before, I take Mill’s harm principle to be the core of my libertarianism. That means I believe the only reason for government action of any kind is to prevent or rectify harm—where a harm is understood not merely as a pain or hurt, but as a wrongful setback to an individual’s interests.  All else equal, causing harm to anyone, including a child, is sufficient (and necessary) to justify interference.  In more standardly libertarian terms, violating an individual’s rights, including a child’s, is sufficient (and necessary) to justify state interference.

Children are vulnerable—especially to those who raise them. A policy meant to reduce harms that happen to children and so ensure their rights are respected is worth taking seriously. Parental licensing is such a policy. This is not a requirement to be licensed to get pregnant, carry a baby to term, or give birth. It is a requirement to be licensed to raise a child. With such a requirement in place, if you have a baby, are not licensed to raise children, and do not get licensed, the baby would be removed from your home and put up for adoption by someone licensed.  The point is not to punish you but to protect the child.  It should be clear that parenting is potentially extremely harmful.  I also think–as does LaFollette–that it requires a certain competency that can be tested (the nature of the competency is developed in LaFollette 2010).  If that is right, licensing parenting can reduce significant harms and rights violations. Libertarians should thus take it seriously.

I think BHL readers will raise 2 main objections.

The first objection, I suspect, will be an aversion to regulation of all sorts.  I share that aversion but remain a minarchist (with admitted anarchist sympathies) because I think the state serves a legitimate purpose when it has (and upholds) laws that prevent or rectify harms (i.e., protect rights).  Laws against rape and murder are the most obvious examples worth endorsing.  Parental licensing is similar: its purpose is to help ensure the rights of children, preventing them from being harmed.  Moreover, parental licensing has the potential to render many more government regulations and interventions unnecessary while simultaneously reducing the numbers of harms in society. To state the obvious, if we could be assured that parents would do their jobs minimally well–at least not horrifically badly–we could reduce the size and role of DFCS, CPS, and HHS. (Granted, we would need a licensing institution.)  Moreover, we would need fewer regulations regarding schooling, childrens’ toys and clothing, etc.  And it doesn’t end there. Consider that abused children are more likely than unabused children to commit violent crimes when adults. In 2010, LaFollette tells us

The damage [of child neglect and abuse] does not stop with the [immediate] victims. Their maltreatment affects how they will treat others when they grow up. They are far more likely to abuse their own children, and they are more likely to become criminals. Some researchers claim that child abuse creates ‘an additional 35,000 violent criminals and more than 250 murderers’. Others found that ‘child maltreatment roughly doubles the probability that an individual engages in many types of crime’. This is much higher than the effects of factors normally thought to cause criminality—including unemployment and crack cocaine use (LaFollette 2010, 5).

This means we can reduce the numbers of crimes—violent crimes—in the future by reducing the number of abusive parents now–the point of parental licensing. Reducing crimes means we can reduce police forces, courts, etc. (Of course, the police, courts and such would be needed to deal with violations of the new licensing law as well as remaining crime, but the overall change could be great.) Admittedly, a parental licensing program would require interference before there is any harm—but so do laws against drunk driving, laws requiring clear and honest labeling of foods and drugs, etc.

A second reason many here might oppose parental licensing is a belief–contrary to my claim–that we do not have the means of testing parental competence. We lack knowledge, the claim might go, about good parenting and how to test for it. Importantly, though, I am not advocating a scheme that requires good parenting nor a system wherein everyone must raise their children according to some state-approved method. I—and LaFollette—only favor a program that rules out bad parents. Especially abusive parents. If you think its OK to pour boiling water on a child you are wrong and should not be allowed to raise children, just as someone who thinks its OK to use a car to run over people they dislike is wrong and should not be allowed to drive. Some will say “but we can’t know with certainty that someone will abuse their children.”  This is true, but while we can’t guarantee 100% accuracy, I think we can do a lot—and offer 3 considerations in defense of that claim (the first and third appeared in my original post about this).

Consider (1) how we test people to go into special ops in the military. A large part of that is psychological examination to be sure the soldier would not “crack” under pressure. There is tremendous pressure in child-rearing. Likely, some child-abuse is committed by biological parents who “cracked.” Ruling out those who are likely to crack seems like a way to prevent child abuse.

Consider (2) that we can ask people fairly simple questions to see what they might do. Asking a man if he would rape a 2 year old girl isn’t likely worthwhile, but asking if he has ever “been in a situation where [he] tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse” with a child, or if he “ever had sexual intercourse with [a child] when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t cooperate?” of if he “ever had oral sex with [a child] when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t cooperate?” might get some positives. Lisak & Miller got surprising affirmative responses when they asked men these sorts of questions about sexual interactions with other adults. They asked roughly 1800 men (college students, but of significantly varying ages); 120 said they had done one or more of these sorts of things to women; 76 of those admitted to committing an average of 5.8 of these acts. If these men admitted to what they did; child rapists might also. And that would be reason to think they should not be parents.  (See Note 2.)

Finally, consider (3) that there is significant, even if flawed, testing—including a home inspection—for people that do foster parenting or that adopt children. Current application procedures for adoption require more rigorous testing than what I would propose for licensing. Those procedures—and their associated costs—surely exclude some that would make good parents. Adoption of an infant, domestic or foreign, can take years and usually costs a minimum of $30,000. Costs of $50,000 and higher are normal. I don’t think it’s surprising that adopted children are “5x less likely to be abused than children reared by their biological parents” (LaFollette 1980, 194; see Note 3)—adoptive parents have generally worked hard to be able to adopt. They are also more likely to provide two-parent households.  (See Note 4.)

Given the existing exams for soldiers entering special ops, the fact that rapists will admit their crimes if asked in certain ways, and existing tests for foster and adoptive parents, I submit that we likely can test for parental incompetence and that disallowing the parentally incompetent raising children would save some of the biological offspring they would create from harmful rights violations. This, to my mind, would be a huge advance over the current system wherein DFCS or CPS interferes only after harm has been done—and then creates further trauma for the child. That is what happens in our system. A teacher, doctor, nurse, or neighbor notices a problem and calls DFCS. A social worker investigates. If there is convincing evidence of significant harm, the child is removed from the home, inevitably causing the child trauma because of the separation from her parents, even if it is for the best. Both (some of) the harm the biological parent does and the trauma DFCS inflicts would be avoided with a parental licensing program. Unlicensed individuals would either not have a child in the first place or would have the child removed from their home and adopted out before the child was old enough to experience the situation as traumatic.

So, if your libertarianism is, like mine, largely a view that there are very few reasons for a government to interfere with an individual but that an individual’s harming others (violating their rights) is one such reason, you ought to consider endorsing parental licensing. It can reduce harms throughout society—not only to children that would otherwise be abused but also to those the grown victims of child abuse might harm later—and it can reduce the need for many other government regulations and interventions. In a nutshell, it can make smaller government more possible.

 

NOTES

Note 1: Hugh LaFollette, “Licensing Parents” (Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol 9 #2, Winter 1980: 182-197; available here) and “Licensing Parents Revisited” (Journal of Applied Philosophy Vol 27 #4, 11/2010, 327-343).

Note 2: See David Lisak and Paul M. Miller , “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists” (Violence and Victims, Vol 17 No 1, 2002: 73-84).  Note that “Participants who completed the PH [Perpetration History] questionnaire and who were subsequently interviewed yielded a 87.8% agreement in their classification as perpetrators (kappa = .75).  This cross-method verification yielded no false positives … and 12.2% false negatives” (77).  See also Stephanie K. McWhorter, et al, “Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel” (Violence and Victims, Vol 24 No 2, 2009: 209-224).

Note 3: This claim is supported by more recent data—indeed the data support a stronger claim.  According to the United States Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families, in 2012, 80.3% of the perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents and of those, 88.5% were biological parents of the victims.  (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2012.pdf)

Note 4: “A 1997 Federal study indicated that the overall rate of child maltreatment among single-parent families was almost double that of the rate among two-parent families: 27.4 children per 1,000 were maltreated in single-parent families, compared to 15.5 per 1,000 in two-parent families.” (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/chapterthree.cfm)

Also: Thanks to Matt Z for pushing me to get to the point far more quickly than I had in an earlier version of this post and for other suggestions to improve it.

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  • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Rachel Burger

    Interesting thesis, but a few questions:

    – How is this going to be enforceable? What about in the event of accidental pregnancy? What is the punishment for raising children without a license?
    – Who is going to pay for the licenses/licensing procedure? What if some potential parents can’t afford it, yet are fit to be good parents?
    – What if one potential parent fails the test, but the other doesn’t? Can the couple not have children?
    – What if the parents successfully pass the licensing process for child #1, but fail for child #2? Do their children get taken away?

    • Theresa Klein

      Yes, imagine a system in which you had to hide your pregnancy and give birth in secret in order to avoid having your child seized. Then you would have to raise that baby in secret. You would not be able to send them to school because the school would ask for your parenting license.
      You could not taken them to a hospital, because you would risk having them taken away there too.

      Upon further consideration, I’m going to steal this idea and write a dystopian science fiction novel based on it. Thanks, Andrew Cohen.

      • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

        There is absolutely no need to imagine this in a fictitious context. The people of China already have good experience with this.

        • rattaban

          Not really. If you have more than one child in China then you pay a fine and that’s it. The state does not take your child away. There are also exclusions for twins, pregnancies arising from rape etc.

          • Bonnie S

            Or an involuntary late, late, late-term abortion

          • shivank

            //If you have more than one child in China then you pay a fine and that’s it.// And if I refuse the fine (as is my natural right)?

    • SamChevre

      We could just take a shortcut, and go back to the 1950’s. “If you aren’t married, you are exceptionally unlikely to be able to raise a child without harming the child, so someone else will raise your children.”

      Opinions on how well this worked vary.

      I do not expect any widely-useable test would be a better predictor, though.

    • geoih

      It will be enforced the only way anything is enforced by the state: Don’t have a baby, or we’ll kill you.

      The natural result will be mandatory sterilizations at puberty, unless you’re approved by the state to procreate, which even if you pass the initial tests, will be held over your head as a threat your entire live.

      Apparently, eugenics is alive and well with BHLs.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        well, probably the cure would be to abort the baby, under the view that it is better to kill them than raise them in the wrong way.

  • Aeon Skoble

    Andrew, a few (related) questions – first, would this be state or federal licensing? Second – if the former, are you concerned that the differening standards would create “loopholes” of the sort that aggravate gun-control types? If the latter, and this is the main thing I was wondering about, are you concerned about the idea that the licensing would reflect political agendas of varying types? In today’s climate, Lenore
    Senazy would not get licensed. L Neil Smith would probably not get licensed either. Would Mormons? Would people on paleo? You see where I’m going with this.

  • http://libertarianrn.wordpress.com Libertarian RN

    The big concerns I see are the degree of government power this would necessitate, the inevitable expansion in scope of any such program, and the inhumane treatment in order to enforce such a program. You would have a massive government agency with widespread authority to inspect and interrogate any would-be parents. The program would preemptively judge people as “abusive”, regardless of any provable actions. This is the essence of thought-crime. Then they are given the authority to forcibly sterilize people, at least temporarily, or are horribly ineffective in preventing unlicensed births (or both).

    Are there people who shouldn’t have kids? Yep! But the government is the worst group possible to judge which people those are.

  • Dr. Jaws

    Andrew: Have you considered the non-identity problem?

    If we license parents, and if this license prevents some births, then there are people who would have been born but are not because the parents do not have a license. So a licensing system prevents not harm, but prevents some people from being born at all.

    Some may think that this is itself a kind of harm.

  • Theresa Klein

    Whether you want to admit it or not, taking a child away from a parent is a harm. Parents have powerful emotional attachments ot their children that you can’t just wave away. Moreover, having children is a primary means of pursuing happiness. It is central to what most people consider a “normal life”. More than just the child’s well-being is at stake here. You are also negatively impacting the well-being and future happiness of the parents, and their ability to acheive happiness.

    Furthermore, you are proposing to do this BEFORE any evidence of actual harm to the child, based entirely upon some sort of state assessment of the parent’s worthiness. Not only does that harm the parents unjustly, but such a system would be ripe for abuse along all sorts of lines. Imagine a system in which parents of a minority race were disproportionately deemed unfit, due to racial prejudice, thus having their children systematically seized and given to majority race parents. The same thing could happen to people of minority religions (polygamist mormons, muslims), or political viewpoints (neo-nazis, communists), and could easily be used as a tool of social control – conform to the majority viewpoint or risk having your children seized.

    • Dr. Jaws

      This is an important point. It suggests a further objection:

      1. We have (defeasible) reason to believe that biological parents will, in fact, care for their children, and will want to promote their well-being (and take action to prevent harm to their children).

      2. When this is not true, we can take ameliorative action after-the-fact by removing children from certain homes. To do this successfully in a sufficient number of cases will cost $X.

      3. To license parents will cost $Y.

      4. If $Y is greater than $X, then we ought to prefer after-the-fact ameliorative action over prior-to-the-fact licensing.

      5. Given the truth of 1., it is at least very likely that 4 is true.

      6. So we should prefer the current system over the licensing alternative.

      • AP²

        How do you measure the cost of the (supposedly) preventable harm inflicted on children by the current system? Measuring just the monetary cost is simplistic. Not that I agree with the proposal, mind you.

      • Theresa Klein

        I object to 4.

        There are fundamental moral resons why we ought to prefer after-the-fact ameliorative action even if it is more expensive. It’s unjust to harm people before they have done something just because we think it is LIKELY that they will harm people.

        We don’t lock people up just because we think they are LIKELY to commit crimes. Or because it is cheaper to lock people up preemptively than deal with ameliorating the effects of crime after the fact.

        Likewise we shouldn’t take people’s kids away just because we think they are LIKELY to abuse them. Or even if it is cheaper to preemptively take them away than to deal with ameliorating abuse.

        I am willing to pay a premium for a just system. Parent licensing is unjust.

  • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

    Let all proponents of parental licensing be the first to line up to be probed, tested, and prodded to ensure their parental fitness. Let’s test this idea on 2 or 3 generations of them and their progeny to get a better idea as to the merits of the idea.

    Then and only then will I have a serious discussion about it.

  • Tsar Caustic

    On the principle of preventing harm, here’s another idea that Mr Cohen should consider: people should have to have a license to propose regulations (blogging license maybe?), and to vote, because the harm that misguided ideas can create, once enshrined in government by laws and policies, far exceeds what one person can do alone.

    • DJF

      Not only a license to propose regulations but a licence to write anything. Words are a dangerious thing.

  • TheATeam

    Self-described minarchist proposes parental licensing – beautiful display of doublethink!
    Doubleplusgood, Comrade!

  • M S

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. I think you drastically overestimate the ability of government officials to test for different kinds of competency. You say that the armed forces can check to see if special forces will crack under pressure, and so we should be able to do the same for parents. But I seriously doubt that there’s some kind of test that perfectly sorts out those who can hack it from those who can’t. It’s much more likely that the army just tosses out anyone they have any doubts about so they can be absolutely sure of the few that remain. But you can’t do this with parents, since it would be a huge violation of parental rights to deny competent parents the right to raise their own kids. So unless you can devise a test that has exceedingly low numbers of false positives and false negatives, this solution will be massively abusive, useless, or both.

    2. Maybe you can scale back CPS with this program, but probably not that much. Again, any test that you devise isn’t going to be perfect, and so lots of bad parents are going to slip through the cracks. You’ll still have to have a way to investigate allegations of abuse, and deal with situations where the alleged abuse is real. The fact that we license people who drive cars obviously doesn’t eliminate the need for highway patrol officers, so why would you think we can eliminate CPS?

    3. Any time you regulate or ban anything, you are going to get a black or shadow market in it, and the same holds true here. If someone has a kid without a license, and they are worried the kid is going to be taken away as a result, that person may react by trying to keep the kid hidden. No school, no doctors, no child welfare payments, because any of these things might reveal that the child is unlicensed and result in it being taken away. How do you deal with this situation?

  • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

    This strikes me as the worst sort of rationalist consequentialism. Rationalist, because it takes the most natural human relationship possible and makes it contingent on philosophical (to say nothing of legal) approval. Consequentialist because it holds a perceived outcome-improvement over things like the dignity of family relations.

    Of course I don’t think it’s a very good consequentialism—it’s difficult to understand how one can observe the way that public child care systems operate in the real world and think that dramatically expanding the scope of the power of such systems would be welfare-enhancing for anyone. There’s also the small problem of finding a home for those children whose parents fail to be licensed—one suspects that the number of children without a permanent home would balloon from the current 400k or so, especially given that in 2012 only 7k children were adopted, many from other countries (http://www.ccainstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=25&Itemid=43 for both stats).

    • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

      While this doesn’t get to exactly where property rights come from (FORCE in State of Nature), it definitely is the phrase we seem to be stuck with:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialist_libertarianism

      • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

        Not to go into this here but I think consequences matter, I just don’t think they’re the only thing that matters.

        • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

          But now you’ve whetted my appetite and I’m genuinely curious. Can you give me a couple of examples of things other than consequences that matter, for reasons that are not consequentialist reasons?

          (I agree with you, I’m just curious to hear your thoughts.)

          • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

            Well in the end it always boils down to a pre-rational question of what you value. It sounds arbitrary when you say something like “human dignity is valuable in and of itself” and less arbitrary when you say “property rights are valuable because without them we’d all starve to death”, but when you look more closely you see that the latter rests on the assumption “not starving to death is valuable in and of itself.”

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            “property rights are valuable because without them we’d all starve to death”

            let me restate that for you sans the moral debate you think exists.

            “property is real the moment someone makes a credible threat: if you touch this food I will kill you”

            It’s not as shallow as you want to make it, there is a theoretical actual end to property! There is theoretical end to anyone ever making that credible threat.

            Full Communism does not technically end property. Morality doesn’t end property. You literally have to end what being human means to end property.

            What can end being human?

            Technology can end being human. Technology can deliver so much abundance that the entire instinct of MINE finally goes away. It can deliver, in theory, a Hansonian consciousness, altho I’d say then your code still needs the instinct to survive: ram, encryption, processing, electrons.

            But it is conceivable that finally Mine! goes away.

        • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

          I’d agree other things are nice to talk about. It’s great to have BHL and the like all theorize about deontological stuff but the problem is it leads to guys like Bruenig thinking that if they punch our hippies, the floor falls out from under property rights.

          Property, clearly exists in the State of Nature. It is level one Maslow: Physiological. The State (Government) spun up by the folks running things in SoN, may use lots of flowery natural rights whereas arguments to justify their laws starting with property title, taxes, etc.

          But flowery language asserting there are natural rights is a debate.

          Stating, this food is MINE, and making threats for survival (credible or non-credible) is human nature and thats the foundation or property rights. Morality has nothing to do with it. Wild dogs growl when they have a bone.

          If human nature = natural rights is also just a nice debate.

          But human nature starts with the lizard brain, and property is encoded into that.

          Systems / States can be built to deny the lizard brain. Whether we ought to do that is also interesting debate.

          But architecting against our basest instincts, designing against the lizard brain, still tacitly grants it is there. The impulse to Property is there. It exists. It is truly self-evident.

          And all the hippy punching in the world doesn’t make wild dogs stop growling to keep their bone.

          The only thing that makes them stop growling, is a field full of bones. :)

          • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

            It’s an old argument, but simply reducing human nature and property rights to a dog growling with a bone strikes me as an accurate theory of neither human nature or property rights.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            It’s not an argument. This is not a debate. Property does not need to find itself in morality. it doesn’t need you to believe in it. it doesn’t need you to vote “Moral!” It’s nice if people believe has moral foundations. That’s icing! Debate away!

            But if you lose the debate, property stays.

            Because underneath all the debate, if the aliens come down and say “this is ours now,” you fight for your survival, you do not fight because of a debate convinced you have a moral right to life.

            You stake your claim, you put up your dukes, because its lights out otherwise.

            Instinct. That’s where self-evident property rights come from.

          • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

            For someone who doesn’t think it’s an argument or a debate, you sure seem to argue and debate a lot.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            When someone wants to argue against the fact of instinct, let me know.

            Until then, I’m just a wet blanket, taking all the fun out of Libertarian debates.

          • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

            Yes you’ve really ruined the debate for us all by smugly declaring something self-evident and outside the bounds of argument :)

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            I repeat: When someone wants to argue against the fact of instinct, let me know. I’d love to see it.

            I’m not being smug. I LOVE debate, I have dedicated my life to it, literally.

            But I don’t find property in the mind, I find it in the body.

            So, winning debates in the mind is FUN!

            Debating if Adam Gurri can find property in the mind is also fun!

            Pretending if Adam Gurri wins the debate determines what happens tomorrow is not in cards.

            For me, and others like me, it’s like asking me to debate my heart beat. Or debate breathing. This is life. As we know it today. And you ought to grok that the fun debate is meaningless to whether or not people who think like I do, are keeping the veto card.

            Do you think I’m lying? Do you think I’m shitting you? I really do think it’s a moral issue, but I just want to win the debate?

            How do I prove to you I find it instinctively?

            Have you ever come close to drowning? The abject terror? You can learn to control it, but it is a thing you must LEARN to control. That’s where it is for me.

            That fact is not debatable.

            Should we try to learn to control it? TOTALLY debatable.

            Does it exist? not debatable.

            It’s not a framing thing. It’s instinct.

          • http://adamgurri.com AdamGurri

            I don’t think you’re lying or shitting me, I think your argument (and it is an argument, in spite of what you say) suffers from the same problems that all “we hold these truths to be self evident” arguments suffer from—namely that the first person who doesn’t also find them self-evident has no reason to listen to you, particularly.

            Moreover, the argument from instinct is all well and good (I believe in a version of it) but specification matters. Your “Dog with a bone” story is a first approximation but I do not think it captures the meat of the matter at all, and the devil is in the details.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            You are absolutely correct in terms of rhetoric that all the we hold these truths arguments only work if the other guy is willing to listen.

            I really do think we can find agreement!

            The difference is you are confusing debate and credible threats.

            “namely that the first person who doesn’t also find them self-evident has no reason to listen to you, particularly.”

            Of course they have a reason to listen, someone might KILL THEM if they don’t listen. Sad? Who cares. TRUE.

            I’m sure you agree that people have a reason to listen credible threats? Even if you find them morally wrong, you yourself listen to credible threats.

            I think what you mean to say is that even though credible threats exist, you don’t think they have any place in a moral debate.

            And I’m saying, thats ok…. just understand, you have severely limited that value of moral debate in improving people’s lives.

            In debate, we sometimes draw a distinction between ought (moral) and should (policy). it’s a little fuzzy, and guys like Matt who were trained to kritik thats the goal to essentially remove pure policy should from the equation.

            Here’s my point:

            If instead you let credible threats INTO the moral debate.

            Then everyone speaks plainly, credible threats are VERY PLAIN. With real weapons drawn, now the policy prescription outcomes can STILL appeal to people’s moral foundations.

            You can get a lot further with a kind word and a gun… Is crass, nicer is… You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but you just might find, you get what you need.

            If you let the credible threats in…. we can INVENT REAL POLICY that serves our morals. We can make changes tomorrow (GICYB)

            If however you hide the instinct, pretend its not there, pretend this isn’t all infused with training ourselves not to completely freak out when drowning, training ourselves to slowly but surely take control of our instincts, you end up with a bunch of self-righteous victimizing, but very little new policy!

            Credible threats NEED to be part of moral debates, because that’s the only way to derive policy from morality.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            This is nothing more than prose. You’ve appealed to a god called “instinct” without first establishing that the desire to keep a thing as one’s own establishes property as a legitimate claim. You’ve ignored the possibility that all such claims are illegitimate.

            A quick and easy counter-example. Suppose we fight to the death, and I win. Does that mean you had no right to life?

            Notice: it’s not a debate. If I kill you, you’re dead, and I don’t care whether or not you feel you deserved to live. The stars look down and everyone else’s life goes on. This, too, is not a debate.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            For sure, I had an INSTINCT to life. Thats the source. That’s the cake.

            What good is a “right” to life? What puts icing on the instinct? Why have this show of flourish of pilpul?

            UNLESS, the rhetorical exercise leads to social cohesion, which in turns leads to CREDIBLE THREATS – like others will come to my aid in a fight and kill you first, or come after you for vengeance when I am dead (which certainly occurs in State of Nature and the State)… what does just saying I had a “right” to life do for me?

            Nothing.

            Just because you deny my property “right” in your amateur debate, doesn’t mean you touched my assertion of instinct.

            Wipe away the icing, hey it’s the CAKE!

            Remember: What creates rights?

            A credible threat. Always and forever.

            Whats annoying you is that I’m doing this to your debate case.

            Rights (Credible threats) come from:

            1. human instinct
            2. social cohesion appeals, rhetoric, rules, laws that conform to the reality of #1.

            Your appeals to “rights” must conform to #1.

            And since I and others get property from instinct. You get screwed, huh?

            Dude, I’m not saying this to WIN a debate. I’m TELLING you, TODAY on the ground, you will get got before property goes away.

            If you just keep pushing your silly argument, nothing changes, people don’t change. they don’t LEARN to go agains their instincts.

            You need to accept my (and others) instinct and instead work to train people to deal with it.

            Denying what others feel by instinct is dumb – and literally weak debate tea.

            Hard is accepting it and iterating policy that can improve things, and get towards the moral rights you want.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            I’m having a hard time not simply walking away from your abrasive rhetorical style. Against my better judgment, I’m going to attempt a couple more iterations of this.

            You have conflated the word “right” with the phrase “credible threat.” One immediately identifiable problem is that this seems to suggest that I have the right to kill you if I am serious enough about it.

            If this is what you consider a “right,” then you’re just equivocating. You’re arguing for a world in which anyone is entitled to whatever they can physically accomplish, regardless of what any purported ethics have to say about it.

            I agree that in such a world the whole concept of “rights” is meaningless. I just personally find that view of the world despicable. But it does appear that you have a valid and consistent framework you’re dealing with.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            No, I am not saying you have a “right” to kill others. I’m not even saying you have an instinct to kill others. Humans have many positive instincts.

            I’m not even saying you personally have a instinct to property. I think you do, but perhaps you have control of it.

            I am saying others have an instinct to property that they have no control over. I know this because I am one of them and I can introduce you to others who will say same.

            I am saying you shouldn’t call me liar about having the instinct to property.

            Certainly you do want to urge me and others to control this instinct, maybe because you have control of it yourself.

            Threats are not rhetoric, they are not arguments.

            Threats are either credible or non-credible. If you do X, I will do Y. For the threat to be credible, Y has has to meet conditions, that avert you from X.

            “Rights” require credible threats, others have to be averted from killing, in order for these rights to be real, to be made manifest.

            Arguing, debates, rhetoric, laws that enshrine and valorize rights are only as good as the credible threat behind them.

            Aliens attacking earth do not care about these rights you are asserting.

            Other nations attacking ours do not care about these rights you are asserting.

            A crazy lunatic or a rabid dog coming after you does not care about these rights…

            You can say, none the less, these are real rights! And I’m going to say, that gets you nothing.

            To stave of the aliens, other countries and even the lunatic or dog (who may be operating on pure instinct), you need to be able to level credible threats, or they are just words on paper.

            It’s ok to debate when violence is justified or not, or debate do natural rights exist, but none of this gets to the above facts: the human condition is not simply a morality tale.

            Even now we learn scientifically that morals are genetic. Which put them much closer to instinct, than you’d want them to be for debate purposes.

            My point is DEBATE really does need to confront the human condition the way it exists, not just the way you want it to be.

            Because people have instincts, and if you are going to try enshrine a growing list of rights (neg or positive), you need to let people learn to control their instincts.

            And you need to do this, because you are not in a position to tell them “too bad, get use to it” because their instinct gets a VETO.

            You are arguing a very very hard thing. That people can and should control a deep lizard brain thing to say Mine!

            And you want this to actually be true, not just something you say.

            Saying there is no ‘right” to property doesn’t get rid of the instinct.

            To win the debate on property the instinct has to go away.

            My preferred policy is to use technology to reach abundance.

            I’m not sure what your policy is, other than to assert rights, without any credible threat behind it, and thats not where rights come from.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            I am saying you shouldn’t call me liar about having the instinct to property.

            Certainly you do want to urge me and others to control this instinct, maybe because you have control of it yourself.

            This statement suggests to me that you do not understand my point, and have perhaps been arguing under the assumption that I oppose a right to private property. If I am correct about this misunderstanding, then much of what you’re saying (typing) is wasted breath (bandwidth).

            As I suggested in my previous comment, I think you have an internally valid/consistent framework you’re dealing with. I’m not going to suggest that you modify your logic, because it seems accurate as far as you are taking it.

            I’m pleased that, for the most part, your internally consistent “lizard brain” world leads you to roughly similar political conclusions as mine. That means we have little reason to disagree about politics, and can happily work toward the same objectives.

            But where human conduct is governed by something other than instinct, reason is possible. I do not want to think too much about your lizard brain. It’s your human brain I’m interested in.

            I doubt there are many situations in which I’d be able to persuade you to change your mind about something, but one of the best things about human society – and especially libertarian society – is that I get to try, through logic and reason. And where my own behavior is governed by logic and reason, that is the sphere of human interaction that I call rights, politics, and ethics.

            In that sphere, principles arise from deductive logic, and those principles are compelling enough to influence my behavior – and hopefully yours too, on some level. (Your human brain, I mean. Not your lizard brain.) To suggest that none of this matters because somewhere inside you resides a lizard brain with baser impulses is, well… haha… :)

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            There’s nothing there I don’t grok or agree with in a theoretical debate about rights, except that as I told Adam below policy debates, as in what can pass tomorrow and will be a moral improvement REQUIRE dealing with the baser instincts.

            You have to meet the judge (the top 1/3 that run everything in the US) where he is, not where you want him to be.

            I am telling you we use your moral debate stuff as basically a compass, we get it out, we look at it for 5 minutes, point towards moral north…

            And for next 23 hours and 55 minutes, we do policy debate, that moves policy towards the moral north, and do find those policies, to craft them, to invent them, we go lizard brain on policy.

            The ship, the sails, the sailors… all of it must be able to PASS and IMPROVE from the status quo.

            I’ve been debating L theory for almost 30 years, I’ve chased down and sought out al the high minded stuff, who knows maybe a new thing sometime, but no, it’s just a compass.

            What I want is actual code written (see GICYB), actual stuff that in next 5 years, 10 years, 20 years can happen.

            And as such, I know that brass tacks horse trading debate full of threats, and negotiations ought to be 99% of what people claiming to care for Liberty ought to be doing.

            I put the guys doing BitTorrent, Bitcoin, Pirate Bay, Tor, 3D printing Gun Nuts > more traditional technolibertarian guys out thinking government > all above the theory kids in the best debate rounds in the world and their professors – because I’ve done this for 30 years.

            It’s nice you want there to be rights. I don’t find your view despicable, I just think you’re incredibly naive.

            The theory kids and their professors CAN matter more, but not by being high-minded – they are not the judge.

            The judge is a self-interested group of people – the top 1/3 – and winning the day means meeting them where they are.

            Inventing inside the box of reality is the only form of creativity.

            it doesn’t limit you, it makes sure you find traction.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            No, Morgan. The judge is me. I’m the one who gets to live by my principles, not anyone else. At least, not unless they choose to do it, and i think they’d be happier if they did. What you’re talking about sounds like politicking to me. That’s slightly less despicable than the might-makes-right stuff you were rambling about before, but only slightly. If you really do live your life that way, I think that’s a pity.

            Okay, then. I’ve gone through as many iterations as my good judgement will allow.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            You are the limiting yourself to be only the compass. Not the judge.

            I’m not trying to convince you to change what you believe. Not an iota. Nor how to live your life.

            I want you to be thinking up and offering up real policy political improvements. it’s just incredibly hard, it’s like inventing something brand new.

            Realpolitik is how the sausage gets made. Lizard brain gets a veto. Compromises aren’t just required, if everyone doesn’t feel a little pissed they didn’t get more, nothing happens.

            I don’t know how old you are, but there’s always been this BHL stuff. Philosophy is fun!

            Nothing ever changed. Our morality is nearly hard wired. Why would it.

            What new is this Internet thing. And what changed isn’t that we all get to theorize together, what changed is that Internet tech moved cons on gay rights and drugs. And big data (data darwinism / reputation) is teaching libs to punish cheaters.

            Along the way, scarcity is being ENDED.

            And the guys who do this stuff, they are all libertarians, they just don’t stare at their compasses all day, they meet the judge where he is.

            You should too.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            Wow, you must be a real expert in this. So, out of curiosity, how many sausages have you made? What have you done for my liberty lately?

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            right now, I spend 18 hours day w/ now three sets of devs working on a stealth newco, but I’ve spent years architecting it part time. it’s built to slowly displace/replace government with mobile software to make sure all past pension promises get paid and to alleviate budget deficit concerns, and generally make govt tiny, powerful, and invisible. So we can all stop arguing. Apart from states’ rights thats my only solution.

            The thing I do publicly along this lines, thats not for profit is urge guys like you to dig deep and hard into Uber for Welfare (GICYB):

            https://medium.com/@morganwarstler/guaranteed-income-choose-your-boss-1d068ac5a205

            If nobody else does it, I will eventually do it myself, but I can’t justify using other people’s money or my time for it.

            Software eats the world, that means it also eats the law. What I mean is there’s no reason that new laws aren’t coded first, let everybody see and use it, and then vote on it. You should be furious that little device in your hand isn’t the only way you deal with govt.

            Before that I spent a couple years using building a tech end run around McCain-Feingold in partnership with TWC and Comcast to allow unlimited political speech to rich guys. I didn’t cry over loss profits with Citizens, I cheered.

            Before that I spent years trying to undermine the cable franchise system, which is unholy in its partnership with local govt. And which now gives us these uniformed people screaming about needing network neutrality.

            Before that I spent years in the p2p industry. Before that I watched a good friend be nuked year after year by copyright bastards (labels)

            There are libertarians all over the tech scene, but the conversations you have with them as brass tacks. I believe X (compass), so I’m building Y (all day).

            New policy ideas are as hard as creating start-ups, shit’s gotta be able to work man. you don’t have to give up your morals, but your hands will be covered in lizard brains.

            Anyway, it’s almost time for me to go to bed, I gotta wake up at midnight.

            READ GICYB really noodle it.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            So in short, you think your tech startup activities are an act of policy. I’ll remember that.

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            Ryan, as human condition goes, technology (logic) is ALL there is, I wrote this years ago, but it’s dead on:

            http://siliconangle.com/blog/2010/05/27/technologists-a-call-for-a-metapolitical-party/

            your philosophy icing gets NADA without the cake, Bacon was right, only the geeks deliver progress.

            Cheerlead tech out loud, really LOUD. If you can’t do that, just quietly say thanks. If you can’t do that, test your proclamations against what we’re doing, so you don’t weaken your anchormen. If you can’t even do that, realize we won’t think your philosophy is helpful. You’re being judged, not judging.

            The hackers control your destiny. You don’t control theirs.

            Help the guys improving your life. Stop insisting you are the agent of change.

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            Oh, okay. You’re my hero, Morgan! You’re on the front lines of libertarianism, and everyone else is missing the point! Go Morgan! Hooray!

          • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

            You don’t really think L-techheads being sued and wrestling with govt for the livelihood, are going to think the BHL theory crowd are meaningful wonks?

            They will note that there’s not a lot of love / cheerleading.

            And thats ok. I’m just trying to get you to get down inside the box and think like a horse trader, bc it’s actually helpful.

            thanks for chat

          • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

            Yes, I’m convinced. Please teach me how to think like you.

          • Linear

            Next time try responding with the Princess Bride quote: “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.” :)

  • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

    Please just stop calling yourself a Libertarian. For the love of god, Please Stop.

  • Jason Kuznicki

    In a world where government agents were uniformly well-intentioned, well-informed, compassionate, impartial, and respectful, this might (just barely) work. Maybe.

    But we have never lived in such a world, and we never will.

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      But hope springs eternal, doesn’t it, at least for some.

    • Bugsby

      Bingo. I agree that there is a huge amount of damage that can be done by bad parenting. Anyone would be insane to deny this. The problem is the predictable chain of reasoning: “This is bad… someone should do something… the government is in a position to do something… the government should do something.” No, the government should not do something. They only ever make the situation worse.

    • TracyW

      I don’t see why even in that world. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean that you’re going to do it.
      You’d have to add the qualifier “perfect foresight” to your list of virtues for this scheme to work.

  • martinbrock

    You must be itching for a fight today.

    I’m the first to admit that my own formulation of libertopia doesn’t address parental rights well. In my way of thinking, you and others may freely constitute a community requiring anything you like of yourselves as long as members of your community may exit at will. This formulation of liberty in terms of free association covers a lot of territory, but it doesn’t address parental rights. If I decide that a community no longer meets my needs, I should be absolutely free to leave the community for another, but should I also be entitled to take a child in my custody with me?

    I advocate parental rights that states may not transgress, but these rights cannot be absolute in the way that an individual right to life and to associate freely are absolute, so I’m inclined to treat parental rights like other property rights, as community standards (terms of free association). Some communities may treat the parental bond as absolute and permit an exiting parent to leave with a child under any circumstances, but I don’t expect many people to join this sort of community. I rather expect most people, particularly parents, to prefer communities with stricter standards, even standards threatening their own parental rights if they threaten their children.

    This principle of free association does not imply a state licensing parents. As a minarchist, I accept only a very limited role for a state, essentially policing communities to protect a right of individual members to exit at will. Any regulation of parents occurs within a community, and parents (or would be parents) objecting to this regulation may leave the community but may only leave with a child if the community’s standard’s permit it.

    In this sense, children are more like property of a community in which parents choose to raise them than they are like property of the parents. As much as I instinctively bristle at this Hillary-esque formulation of the parent-child relationship, I can’t argue instead for a parent’s right to a child as inviolable at the parent’s right to his own person. My commitment to individual liberty essentially include’s a person’s right to harm himself, even to take his own life, but I want no right to harm my children, and I don’t want to associate with people who would harm their children.

    So what if a parent wants to leave a community because, in the parent’s opinion, the community’s standards hard his child? My answer must be that the community’s opinion of what constitutes harm trumps the parent’s opinion in this scenario, but in the liberal archipelago that I imagine, at least all children are not trapped in a community that their parents wish to flee for the children’s benefit. A state has a more universal jurisdiction in my way of thinking, and we should not simply imagine that a state’s formulation of “harm” is any more meaningful, compared with a parent’s formulation, than any particular community’s formulation.

  • Anomaly

    The moral principles underlying restricting parenting are unassailable: if we accept that reproduction can create massive externalities — even in the absence of a robust welfare state — then we have to accept the fact that some reproductive choices bump up against other people’s liberties and interests. The biggest problem with reproductive licensing, and any other state interference, are public choice problems. That is, incentive problems faced by bureaucrats tasked with carrying out such programs.

    Either way, I agree with the moral principles underlying the argument, and I too recently wrote and submitted a paper defending similar claims from a classical liberal standpoint. A word of warning: you will almost certainly be denounced by journal referees who not only find your conclusion implausible, but reject out of hand the suggestion that bad traits may be genetically mediated, that some people make worse parents than others, or that there are any limits at all to reproductive liberties. But what do we make of cases like this one: http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/07/tennessee-man-has-22-children-by-14-women/

    A man who is barely 30, seems to have very low intelligence and poor impulse control, and has 22 different children by 14 women, none of whom he can support. Do we really think he (or they) have unlimited reproductive liberties? Don’t some reproductive acts infringe on the interests of other people, including future people?

    • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

      Regarding your example, are you arguing that the man’s children would be better off dead, or that the rest of us would be better off had they never been born?

      • http://bigplayar.com/ Morgan Warstler

        No, but the welfare state should be structured from the get go to make him and all his kids productive members of society (in ROI terms).

      • Anomaly

        Good question: the latter. And yes, I know this raises non-identity problems. But a blog post isn’t enough space to address those. I do so in a forthcoming academic paper though.

    • Theresa Klein

      So, not only are you in favor of parent licensing, you’re in favor of forced sterlization.

      We don’t need any more libertairans like you, thanks.

      • Anomaly

        Theresa, while I appreciate your feisty comment, I never mentioned any particular state-sponsored action, like sterilization. In fact, I think one thing libertarians should get better at is distinguish between moral claims about the wrongness of certain activities and justifications for state intervention. I think it is wrong to spit gum on a pristine sidewalk, but I don’t think gum spitters should be fined, imprisoned, or sterilized.

        What I suggested is that there is something deeply wrong with actions that impose large harms on other people against their will, whether this is through an ordinary action like punching an innocent person, or though reproductive choices that result in children you can’t possibly take care of. This is immoral. How or whether the state should respond is a separate and interesting question.

        • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

          Hold on a minute. You said up above that the problems with parental licensing were public choice problems. I think that’s the point of disagreement.

          If I propose a doctrine of summary executions against people who pose a high risk of committing mass killings before they harm anyone, then you could also suggest that my moral intent is “unassailable,” and that the only problems with summary executions are “public choice problems.”

          But this is preposterous. Summary executions of people before they have ever committed a crime are problematic for moral reasons, right from the get-go. It doesn’t matter that we’re committing a moral crime with good intentions.

          The problem with both policies is a moral one. It’s not simply a question of public choice.

          • Theresa Klein

            The problem with the original post is that the author treats taking a child away as through it is not a harm to the parent. It’s set in an imaginary universe in which parents are either indifferent towards their children or where having children is just something people do for fun, not a central part of their lives.

          • Linear

            Exactly, and then he lowers the judicial standard of evidence down to a statistically predictive test to determine guilt, as you’ve also mentioned.

  • Michael Hubbard

    You have admitted anarchist tendencies but advocate parental licensing. Apparently they’ve disappeared.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Fun little mind game, Will never, and I mean ever come close to happening in any actual democratic republic.

  • Daniel Carroll

    As an adoptive parent and one who has been involved in the foster care system, I sympathize with this impulse. Some parents are simply not fit to parent. However, a licensing system is unworkable for several reasons, but most especially two:
    1. There is ample evidence that such a system would be racially and economically prejudicial, often to the extreme. Even if the individuals running it are not, the system almost certainly would, as the criteria for “incompetence” would be set by the dominant group, as would the procedures for establishing “incompetence”. Trust me, we do not want to empower the government to make such determinations except when absolutely necessary.
    2. Such a licensing system, as described here, reflects a presumption of guilt – one has to prove that they are not a bad parent. This is problematic on many levels.
    Home studies for foster care and international adoption are not really licensing (though for foster care they technically are); instead they are mostly CYA for the officiating bureaucracy. Foster care home studies are especially intrusive, with a lot of bs. For other kinds of adoption, they are to help birth parents make choices, with a little CYA thrown in.
    One redeeming value of home studies is the educational value.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I also went through the foster care system. It was like running a gauntlet. The federal government, with their bureaucratic feet dragging effectively scotched my attempt to adopt a foreign child.

      • Daniel Carroll

        I am sorry you had to tangle with the Department of State’s bungling of IA. Some of their behavior has been criminal, or at least should be.

  • Scott Jenks

    Some empirical data:

    Child Abuse Review Vol. 12: 416–439 (2003)416 Peters and Barlow
    “While the most accurate instrument obtained a PPV of 48%(Muir et al., 1989), this means that more than half of the families who are diagnosed as being at risk do not actually go on to abuse or maltreat. Overall, this suggests that currently available instruments should only be used to focus non-punitive interventions, possibly within the context of research studies.”

    This is a 2003 review but reviews from 2013 say the same thing. The best predictive instrument from 8 quality studies had a false positive rate of 52%! Only 3 of the 8 had a PPV higher than 25% (a 75% false positive rate). These were studies done a clinical research setting, how much worse would the numbers be if they were done by government bureaucrats? The original post vastly underestimates the difficulty of knowing who will be a bad parent. As others have said the argument that we can screen parent effectively because we screen special forces or that a certain percentage of rapists will admit to it in a research study where they face no consequences for telling the truth is incredibly weak. What false positive rate would be acceptable to take children from their parents for life? As libertarians we understand government failure and malfeasance (just read Radely Balko) how could we ever trust the state with that sort of power?

  • murali284

    I haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if someone else has already mentioned this. There might be a nirvana fallacy problem you are ignoring. It is extremely unlikely that any real government will be so restrained as to set criteria that only weeds out the bad actors. The nature of government actors is that a number of ideological, racial, religious or other legitimate lifestyle differences are going to be used as grounds to deny parenthood licenses to lots of people. This will place a lot more children in the foster-system, which is often worse than staying in even relatively neglectful families.

  • Jerome Bigge

    The major problem is that a lot of “parents” aren’t really prepared to accept the responsibility of raising a child. Some people shouldn’t even have pets, let alone children… The ability to reproduce does not mean that you should do so. After the “excitement” has worn off, you still have this helpless little human being that is your responsibility for the next couple decades.

  • martinbrock

    In the United States specifically, what authority licenses parents? The U.N., the federal Congress, the federal Executive, state governments, municipal governments, free associations (like churches) with a requisite number of members? Suppose the recently declared Caliphate in Iraq and Syria succeeds in becoming the state in its region. Are you OK with this Caliphate licensing parents?

  • Arthur B.

    BHL has reached full blown Poe’s law

  • Jameson Graber

    I think you’ve been blasted pretty thoroughly to smithereens by plenty of other comments, but just to be clear, you need to actually picture this scenario.

    A woman is in a hospital. She’s just given birth to a beautiful baby, whom she holds in her arms with tears in her eyes.

    A police officer barges into her room. “Ma’am, I need to see your license.” She doesn’t have it.

    I’ll just let you imagine what comes next.

    If you think that kind of scene should be allowed to play out in a libertarian society, or in any society, there’s just something…wrong…with you.

  • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

    For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote about Andrew’s original post on this topic three years ago:

    I agree with many of the criticisms that others have raised in this comment thread. I think Andrew’s position is wrong, and wrong in a way that’s especially surprising coming from a libertarian, insofar as it seems to ignore or gloss over considerations that seem essential to the libertarian view, at least as I understand it.

    That said, I also think it’s much, much easier to poke holes in things that other political theorists have said about the proper treatment of children than it is to come up with a reasonable theory of one’s own. I think Andrew’s position, wrongheaded as it is, is eminently more reasonable that the position espoused by Murray Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty, in which he states unambiguously that parents ought to have the legal right to starve their children to death (p. 100-101). It is more reasonable than the position held by 11% of the respondents to Liberty Magazine’s 1988 readers’ poll who said they would not trespass on someone else’s lawn to save a child from being starved by its parents. It is wrong. But the doctrinaire Rothbardians out there are in not much of a position to throw stones on this issue.

    Children pose a problem for any political theory. Yes, their parents create them, and tend to know and care about their needs better than anyone else. But children are independent beings with their own rights and with very special needs. And so any reasonable theory will recognize that a parent’s dominion over its child is a severely constrained one. Consider:

    1) All of you, presumably, believe that there are some situations where children should be forcibly taken away from their parents, possibly by the state. Almost all of you will agree that this is the case when a parent violates the child’s negative rights – when the parent beats the child so badly that he breaks its arm, for instance. Most of you, I suspect, will also think that removal of the child will be justifiable in some situations where no negative but only positive rights have been violated – when, as above, the parent refuses to provide the child with sufficient food to live. So almost all of you admit that there ought to be some criteria that ought to be used to determine whether parents are allowed to continue raising their children or not. That’s not quite licensing, but it’s a pretty big foot in the door.

    2) Andrew’s argument is about raising children, not creating them. Requiring a license to procreate, it seems to me, is a much graver infringement on individual liberty, and one the enforcement of which would be much more invasive, than requiring a license to raise. Procreation itself involves two persons using their own bodies in a voluntary, consensual way. Raising a child, on the other hand, involves exercising rights over another independent being. Licensing parents might be troubling from a libertarian perspective, but so should be parental authority. (See Herbert Spencer’s surprisingly sensitive treatment here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/?op….

    Again, I do not agree with or endorse Andrew’s position at all. But I think some of the commentators here and elsewhere have been a bit too quick to hurl terms like “stupid as fuck” and “brain dead.” If you feel that way, then please, I ask you, show me your theory of the proper extent of parental authority and the proper role of the state in regulating and policing that authority. Then cast all the stones you’d like.

    • TracyW

      Obvious difference between licensing and taking a child away from abusive parents: there’s no reason to think that having a licence would stop someone from abusing their kids, assuming that they were going to do so abuse them anyway.

    • martinbrock

      … they would not trespass on someone else’s lawn to save a child from being starved by its parents.

      Incredibly, some “libertarians” elevate titles to land (which are enactments of a state) to a sacred level. Presumably, these respondents would trespass to recover their own child’s property from a thief, so they must assume that a child has no property right in its own life that a custodian may not exercise.

      All of you, presumably, believe that there are some situations where children should be forcibly taken away from their parents, possibly by the state.

      I would associate with people forcibly taking children from parents in extreme situations, but I would not impose the criteria for such a taking on all associations, because I don’t feel that I know precisely what the criteria should be.

      Does a parent lose custody of a thirteen year old child for permitting the child to have sex with another thirteen year old child? How about a fifteen year old? I don’t want a state drawing these lines, because I have no clear sense of precisely where the lines should be drawn.

      I don’t need to know the “best criteria” in any universal sense to associate with others sharing my sense of when this taking is justified. I only need to know my own preference presently and to find a sufficient number of others with a sufficiently similar preference to constitute a community establishing the standard effectively.

      One, True Criteria for taking custody of a child from its parents applies to all of humanity (and presumably to those big bugs in the Alien movies too)? I don’t even know what this means.

      Requiring a license to procreate, it seems to me, is a much graver infringement on individual liberty, and one the enforcement of which would be much more invasive, than requiring a license to raise.

      Forcibly seizing a child from a person every time s/he procreates is O.K., but forcibly sterilizing the person so s/he cannot procreate is not O.K.? My own formulation of liberty essentially implies this conclusion, since a person may always resist forced sterilization by exiting the community establishing the criteria, but the conclusion seems incredible to me nonetheless.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        A line could be drawn for actual physical harm and endangerment of a child with no autonomy, (ie. a toddler locked inside of a hot car in summertime.)

        • martinbrock

          The passive voice avoids a quandary. Who draws this line? People freely establishing a community may agree that a parent leaving a toddler in a locked car in summertime forfeits custody, though I expect most communities also to respect exceptions to this rule. Locking a toddler in a car this way could be the best of an unfortunately limited set of alternatives.

          I imagine practically all communities adopting standards of this sort, while differing on the details, but I don’t imagine a central authority imposing standards on all communities imposing standards benefiting children as much as it imposes standards benefiting itself, occasionally in the name of “benefiting children”.

          I know for a fact that the United States imposes standards “benefiting children” this way, and I have no better example of a state imposing these standards.

        • Theresa Klein

          The line should one of actually doing something that harms or endangers the child. Once that line is crossed, we can debate exactly what consititutes sufficient harm or endangerment to justify intervention.

          But NO WAY should it be preemptively taking the child because you failed a test that predicts that you are likely to harm or endanger the child. This is no different from locking people in jail because a test says they are likely future criminals.

          I believe there is a Phillip K. Dick novel about this already.

    • Jameson Graber

      If you like, I’ll get to work on an essay outlining a theory of parental rights and responsibilities, and I’ll send it to you. Because this is just outrageous.

      Of course, in terms of scholarly contributions, you’re not likely to find me outside of mathematics anytime soon, which means I probably won’t be blogging for BHL.

    • Theresa Klein

      Well, according to my comment, the standard is pretty simple. The child can only be taken from a parent after the parent has committed some crime against the child (i.e. assault, rape, a credible threat to kill). Taking children away from the parent is a harm against the parent. The standard is the same as any harm committed by an individual against another individual. The state should not be harming people unless they have actually *done something* to justify that intervention. You can call the cops once someone throws a punch or even if they credibly threaten to kill or harm someone. But NOT merely because you think they’re a crazy person who is likely to snap.

      I can’t file criminal charges against you just because you seem like the sort of person who would kill someone, to preemptively prevent you from doing so. So, likewise, you can’t take a child (even a newborn baby) from a parent just because they seem like someone who is likely to abuse the child. That’s what parental licensing represents. It means the state coming in and yanking a newborn baby out of it’s mother arms because she hasn’t got a license, because the state-administered test says she’s a likely abuser.

    • JoyceEarly

      Matt, let’s be clear he isn’t a libertarian in his thinking; it just happens to be a word on the website.

    • jtkennedy

      Matt, A libertarian doesn’t need a political theory about raising children to reject out of hand a program that requires the coercion of peaceful dissenters. Can’t a libertarian just reason: “Well, that means you could have someone who was a perfectly good parent who simply declined to comply with the licensing requirements and if he sufficiently resisted the program he’d have to be killed. Short of demonstrating that this would somehow prevent an asteroid from destroying the world, that just can’t be right….”?

    • David

      I’ll agree that Rothbard’s position (much as I respect Rothbard otherwise) is pretty bad, but I think the OP’s position is even worse. If forced to pick between two extremes: total parental authority or total State authority, I would pick the former. Rothbard endorsed the former (more or less) and the OP is endorsing the latter (more or less.)

      I think the real truth is somewhere in between. Parents have a right to raise their children as they see fit, so long as they aren’t causing severe and quantifiable harm to the child. I’m not sure exactly how to frame this, except to ask (as every an-cap should)… if the State weren’t there, would YOU feel justified in using violence to rectify a given situation? Contrary to 11% of libertarians, I would feel morally justified in breaking into someone’s house to rescue a child who is being starved to death, or who was being beaten half to death as punishment. I wouldn’t feel justified doing so to prevent a parent from spanking, unschooling, or withholding a meal as a form of punishment. And I certainly wouldn’t feel justified in PREEMPTIVELY doing so just because they didn’t get a license.

  • TracyW

    The obvious problem is that you’ll still need all the enforcement apparatus, because someone can give all the right answers, and then go ahead and abuse their children anyway.
    Unless you believe people can’t be hypocrites.

  • JW Ogden

    But that is the sort of thinking that can lead to forced sterilization.

  • Gertrude

    Wow this is pretty racist. Shame on BHL.

  • grescodid

    I don’t think I saw a couple of these points addressed, but if you make procreation ok, but parenthood licensable, there are three huge problems. One, if the number of births exceed demand, then orphanages have to be provided, and you have to show that orphanages are better than the parents you excluded.

    Two, great harm can occur in the womb, from drinking, genetics (inbreeding for example), diet, etc etc etc. The resulting baby is much less adoptable, and you get back to problem 1. To combat this, you get into a lot of draconian control issues over pregnant women, or forced sterilization or birth control. So you might as well go all the way to forced birth control.

    Third, already mentioned, is the risk of abuse of the license is huge. Just absolutely huge. If you think that people make a stink about the second amendment or abortion, the right to rear children debate would dwarf the both of them in general divisiveness.

  • jtkennedy

    Andrew, What do you intend be done with peaceful individuals who decline to comply?

  • Debbie Dresner

    Wow! So BHL assumes the existence of a benevolent, Panopticon, Benthamite Chief Magistrate presiding over a frictionless State!
    You guys have been taking us for a ride these many years!
    Okay, to be fair, for Hilary Putnam/Amarya Sen type Political Economy to regain salience we only need to assume a Black Box Oracle for Aumann Agreement- still, by the same token- viz decision theory- we have every reason to reject this horrible thesis.
    Why? Hannan consistency, ‘Regret minimization’, ‘zero knowledge heuristics’- the idea, to my knowledge, has been explicated in the Iron Age.
    Why write such worthless drivel?
    Child abuse, like schizophrenia, or Homosexuality is Evolutionary Stable.
    Sufferers don’t necessarily transmit that shit. But the proportions remain constant.

    Funniest line ever ‘ we have a means to test parental competence’
    Urm….you don’t. You don’t know the future fitness landscape. Nor God.

    • murali284

      I’m pretty sure God, by definition*, and if He existed would know future fitness landscape.
      *At least most of the standard ones in which He is omniscient.

      • martinbrock

        Omniscience is the possession of all existing knowledge. If the present does not determine the future, knowledge of the future does not exist in the present, so an omniscient God in the present need not possess this knowledge.

        On the other hand, if God is timeless, we do not say that He exists in the present. Even if knowledge of the future does not exist in the present, we may say that God has this knowledge since, unlike mortal man, God exists in every future.

        • Debbie Dresner

          This is a Godelian argument and therefore very well worth thinking about. Good paper by Mark Van Atten here- http://www.calculemus.org/cafe-aleph/raclog-12/bibl/Markvanatten.pdf.
          Godel, even in his last years, was an extraordinarily subtle thinker. Von Neumann turned to God in a panic but Godel’s God is what gives me the heebiejeebies.
          I think, what is misleading the young Academic who wrote this is a lack of understanding of Set theoretic ‘Principles of Reflection’- there is no way of telling a partial or false exemplification of a Principle from its actual model.

      • Debbie Dresner

        Read what I wrote. I said you don’t know x nor y. X is the future fitness landscape. Y is God. I didn’t say neither you nor Y know x.
        Come on. English isn’t an agglutinative language like Tamil. There really is no ambiguity here.

  • Joe B

    It seems to me that a society that generally rejects most forms of licensing regulations (legal and medical, as you mention) would be loathe to institute something along the lines of parental licensing. On the flip side, would a society that did embrace parental licensing really reject the other lesser forms that most (all?) libertarian leaning people find unjust and harmful?

    Given the racially unjust way that many people feel drug laws are applied in this country, it seems plausible that parental licensing could veer down a similar path.

    Unless it is being supposed that there would be nearly no false negatives on the licensing exam in whatever form it may take (which seems suspect to me), there would be a small subset of people (men mostly, I would guess) who would fail on purpose in an effort to shirk their parental responsibilities. This is a minor objection, but it would probably happen.

    Ultimately, as for many discussions in libertarian and minarchist circles, it comes down to where the line is drawn regarding the phrase “wrongful setback to an individual’s interests.”

    • JoyceEarly

      Not to mention it’s not a libertarian belief to license and regulate. Opposite of libertarian beliefs.

  • Ellen Young

    I don’t agree with this at all, as I said the last time Andrew Cohen posted this idea. I agree not only with those who’ve pointed out that reality indicates that our government would administer such a program in an extremely draconian and racist way, and also Theresa who points out the harm to parents. Not just harm, but deep, deep harm. Parents are incredibly attached to their children. And I submit that the harm would not only be to the parents, but to many, many of the children, who would be taken from the perhaps young, uneducated, inexperienced people who nevertheless love that child more than anything, and put into a system that’s overloaded and full of child abuse. Why not ask the thousands of children of Native Americans who were taken away from their families as babies by paternalistic white racists if they appreciated what happened to them.

  • Jerome Bigge

    Child abuse is more likely when a woman has a child that she didn’t want in the first place. Increasing restrictions on legal abortion may well have this effect. Making it easier for people to adopt would be at least a partial solution to the problem. Every child should be “wanted”…

  • Anon

    This seems like a policy only men would vote for (I’m a dude). The trauma of taking a woman’s child away from her when she wants it (and often even when she agrees to give it up for adoption) should not be underestimated. One woman I know who gave up a child for adoption around 20 years ago still claims to think about the child every single day. Just an anecdote, but my impression is that this sort if thing is common.

    Consider this an addition to your discussion, not a refutation.

  • james yohe

    How has mankind survived this long without this brillant idea. I don’t see how any of us made it to adulthood with unlicensed parents. Who should license the licensures though. Should it be the state? The government of Isreal could ptobably take this over internationally, since they have done such a thourough job ensuring the safety of the children of Gaza. In all seriuosness what institutions currently and throughout history have maimed, tortured, abandoned, and killed far and away the most children? The very same institution you would have issue standards and licenses.

  • http://conwaythecontaminationist.blogspot.com/ Conway193

    Orwellian ideas; I’ll pass.

  • Sam Cru

    Yet more evidence that many libertarians are nothing but posers – tyrants in waiting.

    • JoyceEarly

      This is absolutely not libertarianism. They would never advocate licensing parents or creating another bureaucracy. They want smaller government more personal freedom and less regulations. the term bleeding heart libertarian is an oxymoron. No libertarian can ever be accused of having a bleeding heart they are for personal responsibility all the way. This website must have thought the root word of libertarianism was liberal. This is liberal propaganda to confuse people who are uneducated about what libertarians believe. These folks are collectivism junkies and want to put everyone in little groups. This website insults libertarians by promoting an agenda libertarians would never touch with a ten foot pole

  • dirtybluefl

    Not a libertarian at all.

  • JoyceEarly

    To the author, you accidentally typed in libertarian when you meant liberalism. No libertarian on the planet would ever advocate parent licensing or creating another bureaucracy. First order of business get a dictionary and look up libertarian. Google it. You are incorrectly using the term and quite frankly insulting actual libertarians.

  • Michael Shanklin

    statists really are crazy lulz

    fuck your licenses…

  • Andrew

    So here’s a couple of dozen responses to all of the questions in the
    comments above. I tried to answer all serious questions (and even one not serious question), but without repeating myself too much. If you think I didn’t
    answer a serious question, please let me know and I’ll try to respond.

    1. “What about in the event of accidental pregnancy? What is the punishment for raising children without a license?” No punishment would be needed. The
    accidental biological parent would have a window of time to get licensed. If that doesn’t happen, the infant would be taken and put up for adoption.

    2. “How is this going to be enforceable?” I don’t really have an answer to this. My hope would be that there would be something of a cultural shift so that people would see the wisdom in the policy and not seek to oppose it. I know that will sound like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but with a government in place that only does things to prevent and rectify harm, it may get far more respect than the current sorts of governments we have.

    3. “Who is going to pay for the licenses/licensing procedure?” As with any government policy, there would be tax funds for this (in my ideal, of course, there would still be far less taxation than we have now).

    4. “What if some potential parents can’t afford it, yet are fit to be good parents?”
 If
    there is a charge for licensing, I imagine there would be charitable organizations that would help. There are charitable organizations now that offer parenting classes.

    5. “What if one potential parent fails the test, but the other doesn’t? Can the couple not have children?”
 No, they couldn’t. This would incentivize people who want children to only marry someone already licensed.

    6. “What if the parents successfully pass the licensing process for child #1, but fail for child #2? Do their children get taken away?” I envision it as a one-time process. I imagine some might argue for periodical exams, but I would agree that doing so would invite more difficulties—if a parent fails the exam when child #2 is born, taking away the older child #1 would be traumatic—both to child #1 and the parents.

    7. (Paraphrasing) Is this a eugenics policy? Not at all. Nor is there need to
    sterilize anyone. There are many people who would love to raise a child but cannot biologically create one. Many of them—like many of the rest of the population—would get licensed. They could then adopt a child born to someone not licensed.

    8. “Would this be state or federal licensing?” I’m not sure. (But in my ideal, we’d probably not have states in the American sense of the word. Perhaps a system of counties instead—then it could be a federal program run through counties.) That said, I think there should be only 1 standard and it should be, as I’ve repeatedly said, minimal.

    9. “Are you concerned about the idea that the licensing would reflect political agendas of varying types?” This is probably the most worrisome practical issue—and LaFollette is very concerned with it as well, especially in the 2010 piece. I have no clear way to guarantee political agendas are kept out of it, of course, but in part the hope is that a cultural shift with the move to a more minimalist, libertarian government that seeks only to prevent and rectify harm would lessen the problem.

    10. Would the program “preemptively judge people as ‘abusive’, regardless of any provable actions”? Only in the sense that failing the test would result in a judgment.

    11. “Have you considered the non-identity problem?” Not really, but I don’t see a problem. In the sense that matters for the non-identity problem, its true that a licensing program would prevent some people from being born and result in other people coming into existence. But this is a strictly philosophical issue. To see this, recognize the fact that my being the result of an unplanned pregnancy likely means some possible person(s) never came into existence—the person(s) my parents might have conceived a year, month, week, day, or hour later. No one gets upset about that person (really those people) not coming into existence and no one should get upset about the people who don’t come into existence because of this program.

    12. Don’t you see that “taking a child away from a parent is a harm”? It might be, but it might not be. A harm is a wrongful setback to interests. Just as we do not harm a murderer when we put him in jail (because doing so is not wrongful), we do not harm an abusive parent when we take away the abused child. Of course, putting an innocent person in jail harms them and taking a child from an innocent parent would (likely) harm them.

    13. But you are taking the child “BEFORE any evidence of actual harm to the child.” Obviously, if the system merely prevents (by use of incentives) someone from having a child, this is not an issue—for then no child is taken. If, on the other hand, the system requires taking a child because the biological parent(s) did not get licensed, there is a real worry. One possible response here—which I do not really like—is that its not a harm because not wrongful because the biological parent didn’t or couldn’t get licensed. I think a better response is to admit that I am more concerned about the rights of the child (not to be harmed) than the right of the biological parent to raise the child. I admit that is not entirely satisfactory either since it’s really just a re-assertion of the proposal.

    14. (Paraphrasing) Would you reject parental licensing if it was more cost effective to do what we do now, remove the child after their was actually harm? In one sense the answer is yes—but in the sense that this question was meant, the answer is no. To explain: financial costs are not the only costs that matter. Saying licensing costs $Y which is more than the $X of “after-the-fact ameliorative action” does not persuade me we shouldn’t spend the $Y. We need to know the other costs. Harm to children are a huge cost, as another commentor notes.

    15. (Paraphrasing) Shouldn’t we test such a program—perhaps on its proponents—before fully unrolling it? Sounds like a good idea. I would volunteer, but I suspect a good test would need a geographically confined area (maybe not).

    16. Aren’t you concerned that “you are going to get a black or shadow market … If someone has a kid without a license … that person may react by trying to keep the kid hidden [and thus provide] No school, no doctors, [etc]”? Yes, but see #2 and #9 above.

    17. Won’t you get a “problem of finding a home for those children whose parents fail to be licensed”? “[O]ne suspects that the number of children without a permanent home would balloon from the current 400k or so, especially given that in 2012 only 7k children were adopted, many from other countries (http://www.ccainstitute.org/in… for both stats).” These stats include children of all ages. People generally prefer to adopt infants. The increased children made available for adoption would be infants. The hope, in part, is that with this sort of program there would be far fewer older children available for adoption since many (not all, of course) of the non-infant children in this country that go up for adoption do so because they had abusive (or otherwise incompetent) parents and that is what the program at least seeks to prevent. For the same reasons, I do not think we would need to return to a system of orphanages in any serious way. (I should note that we have sort of re-introduced orphanage-style facilities with professional foster parents.)

    18. (Paraphrasing) Aren’t you just succumbing to the same old authoritarian impulse libertarians oppose? That is, you see something bad and think “someone should do something… the government is in a position to do something… the government should do something.” Not quite. If one accepts there should be a government (not all do, but I am assuming minarchist libertarianism), one should be prepared to provide a principled account of what a government ought to do. In my book (http://www.amazon.com/Toleration-Andrew-Jason-Cohen/dp/0745655572/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394679865&sr=8-1&keywords=Cohen+Toleration&tag=bleedheartlib-20), I defend the view that harm (as wrongful setback of interests) and only harm justifies an end to toleration. This is merely an extension of that.

    19. Do you think this will “ever come close to happening in any actual democratic republic”? Certainly not any time soon, but I can dream. And I do think that getting people to discuss the issue can help. Child abuse is under-discussed as well as under-reported. People condemn the foster care system without knowing anything about it. Discussion is good. Maybe someone will even take helpful action. Maybe be a foster parent! (I think at least one commentor noted they did foster care; I’d love to hear if there are others.)

    20. “What false positive rate would be acceptable to take children from their parents for life?” Good question. (Thanks for the link to data.) I have no ready answer to this; I need to look at that Peters and Barlow for a while.

    21. (Paraphrasing) Aren’t you being racist and sexist? No and no. Or so I think. I see no reason to think one race or sex is more likely to have a better licensing rate than another. That said, some facts might be of interest. (a) By absolute numbers, far more (reported) child maltreatment is committed by Caucasians than by African-Americans. (Caucasians are responsible for roughly half of the reported child maltreatment.) Sorry, I don’t have the percentages. (b) Far more parental maltreatment of children is done by mothers than by fathers, but I think there are social reasons for that.

    22. “What do you intend be done with peaceful individuals who decline to comply?” See #1 and #2

    23. Is there any “reason to think that having a license would stop someone from abusing their kid”? Yes. Of course, it won’t stop all child abuse, but I think it can prevent a lot.

    24. (Paraphrasing) Why do you call yourself a libertarian? I’ve called myself lots of things since I first realized I was a libertarian, always some form of libertarian. Rousseavian-libertarian (but thinking of the Rousseau of The Discourses). Left-libertarian. Even Marxian-libertarian. And more. The basic idea is clear enough: liberty is the main political value. At the end of the day, though no one actually denies that claim. What matters, then, is what we mean by liberty. I’m working on a paper on that question now. I may post something about it in the future.

    Thanks to all that commented!

    • Linear

      (1) Just out of curiosity, why do you jump straight to licensure and taking children away from their parents rather than monitoring, as would usually accompany suspicion of impending criminal behavior?

      (2) Within your framework, would universal monitoring be justified, given the probability that someone will be breaking the law or harming others?

      (3) More generally, given #12 and #13, you seem to be ok with harming innocent parents because you will prevent child abuse by other parents. Doesn’t this destroy the usual judicial presumption of innocence?

      (4) And finally, has your commitment to the idea changed as a result of this discussion?

      • Andrew

        I guess I’d have to hear more about how the proposed monitoring would work to say anything about your (1) and (2). We have monitoring of a sort now in some cases and, so far as I can tell, its pretty ineffective. Regarding your (3), remember this is not at all meant to be punitive–so there is no issue of guilt or innocence. About your (4): There are points I will be thinking more about–those I indicate either I have no good response to or I’m unsure about–so this may change, but as of now, no. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

        • Linear

          Thanks for your response.

          Monitoring is a variable, but even constant monitoring with a video camera and mandatory training seems less harmful than taking children away from parents who want them… unless abuse often arises from not actually wanting children, in which case, maybe they just need counseling toward adoption.

          I know you want to preempt test failures from even having children, so it would seem like a soft pressure, but for those who do have children and refuse or fail the test, it is clearly punitive, even if that is not intended. I always think of Milton Friedman regarding the intent and results of laws.

          • Andrew

            I think its a mistake to think that everyone who gives birth to a child will see the child’s removal from their custody as punitive. Some will be relieved. That said, just because someone feels something to be punitive does not mean it is. Perhaps more importantly, I doubt “constant monitoring with a video camera and mandatory training” is “less [hurt]ful than taking children away from parents who want them.”

          • Linear

            Those who would be relieved would give up their children voluntarily and do not need to be forced by the state.

            I agree that simply feeling punished is immaterial.

            Perhaps the training would be a burden, but monitoring could be passive. In any case, having the option to be monitored rather than taking children away seems like a step up and far more appropriate given that no crime has yet occurred — only the suspicion of a future crime.

          • Andrew

            Some people that would be relieved would not voluntarily give up the child for fear of social censure. Having it required counter-acts that.
            Monitoring might be passive, but I don’t see why a libertarian should be happy to have people’s privacy removed. Maybe it would be better (or some people may think so anyway) than having the child removed, but I would need some convincing of this.

          • Linear

            I admit that is possible: sometimes “no” means “I want you to force me”. But that is such a dangerous principle that it should require significant evidence. Moreover, I suspect that if you were to obtain such evidence in this case, that feedback would change the nature of those social pressures.

            In general, I agree — libertarians should not be happy to have people’s privacy removed. They also shouldn’t be happy to have people’s children removed. The question is, which one is worse and which one is more just given that you have only established, at most, some probability of a future crime?

            Given that monitoring is typical in cases of suspicion of a future crime, the burden would seem to be on you to justify greater intervention.

          • Andrew

            Sorry, I wasn’t’ clear there. I didn’t mean to suggest we should use the possible fact that a particular parent would be happy to get around the social pressure to keep a child in any particular case as a reason or excuse to remove a child from that parent. I just meant it as a counter to your claim.
            As for the rest: I’ll have a new post up soon.

    • M S

      I’m a little concerned by your #2 and #9. Do you really think a society will ever develop where the general philosophy is “I don’t trust the government to do much, but I definitely trust it to preemptively assess whether I’ll be a good parent better than me”?

      If people don’t trust the government in general, why would they trust the government to make a determination that will inevitably result in a serious and personal intrusion into many people’s lives?

      If people do trust the government to make such an important judgment, and take action as a result of that judgment in the name of “prevent[ing] and rectify[ing] harm,” why wouldn’t they authorize the government to take a much wider range of coercive steps towards that same end?

      • Andrew

        My admittedly idealistic desire is slightly different: that government will be reformed and only act to prevent or rectify harms and that once that is done, people will come to trust the government enough to do that one thing. I think your final concern is a big one: how to make sure that the government’s acts justified by preventing or rectifying harm don’t do more than that and are actually likely to do that. In part this is a philosophical question (“where does an action cease being one that prevents or rectifies harm?) and in part its a practical one (how to prevent abuse of power). I have an answer for the first, I think. I admit that I don’t have a good answer (nothing better than what I’ve said thus far) for the second. Yet.

  • Disco Biscuits

    WTF? Government is the largest abuser of children, bar none!

    I shouldn’t have to explain that to a self-proclaimed libertarian.

    http://rense.com/general20/menk.htm

  • Matthew Reece
  • Matthew Reece

    So, bleeding heart libertarians believe in state-enforced eugenics. It is good to know that I can write off Andrew Cohen as a fake libertarian.

  • shivank

    How dare you bring in the State, that soulless violent machine, into a relationship that comes so naturally to human beings? And you call yourself a libertarian? Do yourself a favor. Kill yourself. You think any arbitrary bunch of goofballs with fancy badges have a right to permit or forbit human beings from reproducing? Do you ever hear yourself talking or what?

  • Youonlyliveonce

    Did I just walk into “Minority Report”?

    Call me crazy but I don’t requiring parents to get licensed is condusive to a libertarian society. Almost the opposite, it sounds like something that a feminist Darth Vader would propose before the council.

    But who knows? I’m not an expert.

  • Ethan Pooley

    Libertarians and Life Licensing (Satire)

    People are vulnerable—especially to those nearby them. A policy meant to reduce harms that happen to people and so ensure their rights are respected is worth taking seriously. Life licensing is such a policy. This is not a requirement to be licensed to be conceived, to be born, or to grow into an adult. It is a requirement to be licensed to continue living as an adult. With such a requirement in place, if you become an adult, are not licensed to live, and do not get licensed, your life would be removed from you. The point is not to punish you but to protect others. It should be clear that living people are potentially extremely harmful. I think that to live without being harmful requires a certain competency that can be tested. If that is right, licensing life can reduce significant harms and rights violations. Libertarians should thus take it seriously.

  • JoeCushing

    I’m not even going to argue for or against this idea. All I’m going to say is that if you are for licensing parents, you are not a libertarian. If you want to advocate that, that’s fine. Just find your own label for yourself because a libertarian is not it. You do not believe in freedom if this is what you are advocating. Lots of people don’t believe in freedom. Most of them don’t go around calling themselves libertarians.

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