*Governing Least: A New England Libertarianism*

That is the new book by University of Maryland philosopher Dan Moller, and it is one of the most sensible expositions and defenses of libertarianism you will find.  Here is from the Amazon summary:

In this major new defense of libertarianism, Dan Moller urges that critics and supporters alike have neglected the strongest arguments for the theory. It is often assumed that libertarianism depends on thinking that property rights are absolute, or on fetishizing individual liberty. Moller argues that, on the contrary, the foundations of libertarianism can be found in widely shared, everyday moral beliefs-particularly in strictures against shifting our burdens onto others. The core of libertarianism, on this interpretation, lies not in an exaggerated sense of our rights against other people, but in modesty about what we can demand from them.

The book then connects these philosophical arguments with related work in economics, history, and politics. The result is a wide-ranging discussion in the classical liberal tradition that defies narrow academic specialization. Among the questions Moller addresses are how to think about private property in a service economy, whether libertarians should support reparations for slavery, what the history of capitalism tells us about free markets, and what role political correctness plays in shaping policy debates.

I have just started this book, but am already happy to recommend it.  Can I ask for a Mid-Atlantic libertarianism however?


Yes, as TC says, this is a watered-down 'inside the Beltway' libertarian, a sign of the times. Where is Julian Simon when we need him?

Bonus trivia: The Ultimate Resource (1981) book is as unbalanced as Bjørn Lomborg's book, but makes for fun reading.

"The Ultimate Resource" is the worst title considering the context of the debate Simon was engaged in. It's supposed to imply strictly human beings as subjects and agents but obviously "ultimate" and "resource" in a discussion about overpopulation and disaster connote human beings as consumable objects i.e. Soylent Green and cannibalism.

sounds like liberalism (modesty in what we can demand from others) rather than libertarianism (which does fetishize individual liberty)

with regards to
modesty in what we can demand from others
it makes me think as to which we should fear most
criminals, scams and extortion or
lawyers seeking to redistribute wealth between two individuals in return for a percentage. They get that percentage win or lose, and they don't risk prison.

"sounds like liberalism (modesty in what we can demand from others)"
It does sound like classic liberalism. But classic liberalism is often considered to be similar to libertarianism.

Of course, American liberalism is a form of progressivism. Which is extremely demanding of others.

American life is a form of Progressivism, and has been for at least a century.

Universal public education was probably the nail in the coffin.

America and the American economy is the world's prize. The elites have been exploiting it for decades but now there seems to be an effort to seize it all. Individual rights must go, freedom must go and taxes must go up. THAT is the new liberalism.

Um, the lady with all the yachts wants to privatize that good old public education, and make it a profit center for capitalists .. is that dangerous liberalism?

Right. The yachts and 12 private aircraft - 8 jets or fixed wing, and 4 helicopters. They do seem to want it all. That the class consciousness at that end of the spectrum is so intense must be because there are so few of them, on top of the controlled apparatus of private foundations, think tanks, media outlets, etc.

Heard on TV: the percentage of American public school kids performing Math at grade level is three. I think it's more; something like 20%.

Samuel Adams prophesied the general purpose of post-modern American, public education: "It is in the interest of tyrants to reduce people to ignorance and vice." I add to produce imbeciles that vote Democrat.

In conclusion, that response combined ad hominem with non sequitur.

"modesty in what we can demand from others" is another way of saying "skepticism about 'positive rights'".

Positive rights of some = positive duties of others = demands placed on others.

Another +1 for Hazel

Libertarianism is a morally bankrupt ideology with an impoverished understand of the notion of liberty. It arbitrarily favours negative liberty over positive liberty without any philosophical justification, and completely ignores the central role of relative power and wealth in determining individual liberty. Much of what Tyler says in completely incompatible with libertarianism anyway, but he insists on clinging to the label — old habits die hard I suppose.

The philosophical justification for negative liberty over positive liberty is that the latter carries corresponding duties which are socialized on others without their consent. You will bake that effing cake, or I will destroy your livelihood.

The moral foundations of libertarianism are the importance of consent and the primacy of forceful coercion as a wrongdoing. With the incredible wealth and equality of today's society, it has more relevance than ever before.

" It arbitrarily favours negative liberty over positive liberty without any philosophical justification"

Nothing conveys seriousness like making sweeping statements about a political philosophy you haven't taken the least bit of work to inform yourself about.

Not that you'll do it, but start with the non-aggression principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle) and move on from there.

Heard those arguments. Debunked. Not spending more time on it.

Exactly. Now that we’ve debunked the non aggression principle with your comment, we can focus on why violence is good.

No need to spend time on it, like you said. Violence is good for its own sake, as long as it is directed at whites and asians with privilege.

Anyone who disagrees with violence is obviously a Trump supporter, and should be shamed in struggle sessions.

You sound very angry. Is everything ok at home? Or do we need to alert the authorities?

"Heard those arguments. Debunked. Not spending more time on it."

This comment contributes zero to the discussion; it is intellectually unserious on its face. Can you not see that?

favours negative liberty over positive liberty without any philosophical justification

There is plenty of philosophical justification. Positive rights entail positive duties placed upon other people without their consent.
You can't have a right to healthcare without mandating that someone else cough up the healthcare. That's why the ACA can't work without a mandated (positive duty) to purchase health insurance.

I really do think that Ayn Rand illuminates this topic in ways too little appreciated even by many libertarians. The theme of 'Atlas Shrugged' is, as she stated, "the role of the mind in man's existence." Wealth is generated by the human mind/intellect; this ultimately self-initiated and self-directed intellectual activity is the prime mover. Human minds are attached to unique human bodies and those bodies can only be directed as such by the possessors of those minds/bodies. Those minds/bodies are not resources for just anyone's disposal. Standard principles of libertarianism follow straightforwardly from that.

As far as I can tell, it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to miss this point. (Rawls' 'Theory of Justice' may be the most sophisticated exercise in such gymnastics and it hardly confronts the key Randian point. From what I can tell.)

Some wealth may be generated purely by the human mind/intellect, but most wealth creation also requires access to physical resources. Ownership of those resources is the heart of the problem.
I can't shake the conviction that the origination of ownership was most often a result of coercion or the exercise of raw political power (antithetical to libertarianism?). The chain of title that follows is tainted at best and illegitimate at worst.
How do you establish rightful title to usurped common goods? How far back do you go? Rothbard's answer seems thin. This is a real question for people who have been shut out of the housing market, for instance, by the fallout from the historical (and current) exercise of economic and social domination. Is economic domination of the less-powerful a type of coercion? "Those minds/bodies are not resources for just anyone's disposal."
How do you apportion scarce resources of varying value and utility among a group? You can't answer this question without answering the first question. Prices are good evaluators, but they work best in very small groups or when there are rules in the marketplace that mitigate the anti-social effects of concentrations of wealth and power.
The essence of the human project is, to me, the shifting of the human reflexive will to dominate, subjugate--and even destroy, toward a culture whose essence is the recognition that we are individuals who are interdependent to our very core. No truly independent human life will last very long.
We'll never get there, I know. And libertarianism is a worthwhile attempt to deal with the problems of our interrelations, but I want to scream in frustration when I read people like Rothbard whose best attempt at an axiomatic foundation for his ideology is so ridiculous that even I, with zero training, can poke a massive hole in it with three minutes of thought.
I'm working my way through other libertarian thinkers' works, but I'm not persuaded so far.

adding to what I say above:

negative liberty = liberty.

positive liberty = give me your money.

Which is precisely why Ty wants a "mid-Atlantic" libertarianism. That is, DC libertarianism.

Which means "Give me your money. And don't worry -- the economy we centrally plan for you will be very open-minded, I promise."

I had hoped he meant a mid-Atlantic libertarianism in the sense of Icelandic.

Ha! No, to lefty US academics, the "Atlantic" is some water you can see from the east coast of the United States.

Hence, "mid-Atlantic" means the Washington DC area.

'No, to lefty US academics, the "Atlantic" is some water you can see from the east coast of the United States.'

Along with graduates of the United States Naval Academy, though they thoroughly understand dearieme's meaning of mid-Atlantic. And generally use it in that maritime sense - because who uses mid-Atlantic when referring to the Pentagon, White House, or Capitol? It isn't like the U.S. 6th Fleet is based in DC.

Maybe what he means is "libertarians who actually wield power in the mid-Atlantic". I.e. in DC. It would be interesting to see what "libertarianism with political power" would actually look like.
How much would libertarianism change if a libertarian president actually got elected? What sort of compromises would be made to maintain power?

The writers and most readers of this blog have libertarian leanings, me included. Yes, I have libertarian leanings, but I am not a slave to libertarianism (as I am not a slave to any ism). From the summary above: "Moller argues that, on the contrary, the foundations of libertarianism can be found in widely shared, everyday moral beliefs-particularly in strictures against shifting our burdens onto others." Today's polarization here and in Europe is in large part attributable to "shifting" not only our burdens but our benefits, the "shifting" of the benefits of a good, secure job from here to someplace else. I am often struck by the absence of self-awareness of the libertarian. Not to pick on Cowen, but he argues at length that we and policy makers should "shift" more of economic benefits to future generations, although he doesn't identify who should bear the burdens of the shifting. From the summary above: "The core of libertarianism, on this interpretation, lies not in an exaggerated sense of our rights against other people, but in modesty about what we can demand from them." Modesty about what we can demand from "them"? Who is "them"? Other people, of course, not I.

"Yes, I have libertarian leanings"

Non-obvious ones apparently that aren't in evidence in any past comment that I can think of. Nor in this instance -- your mercantilist, 'fixed lump of labor' thinking in this comment is the opposite of a 'libertarian leaning'.

Can you give us examples of where your libertarian leanings lead you to disagree with current American progressives and agree with libertarians?

>The writers and most readers of this blog have libertarian leanings


Aristotle's Way: the Golden Mean. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/23/books/review/edith-hall-aristotles-way.html

I haven't read the book, but I wouldn't ground my defense of 'governing least' in either individual rights or burden shifting but in pragmatic, political issues. The bigger Leviathan gets and the more things it does, the easier and more advantageous it becomes for rent-seekers and special interests to capture benefits for themselves and the less able citizens are to keep track of what Leviathan is up to who has managed to carve out sweetheart deals. And wouldn't much help a citizen to do the work to become aware of all the details, since their vote don't include a line-item veto. They're left choosing between two packaged dinners, each of which contains all kinds of unknown, noxious ingredients. And the individual citizen doesn't really that choice anyway, since the power of their single vote is minuscule -- casting it is 99.99999999% symbolic -- and will never have any effect on which disagreeable package they get stuck with. Foot voting is really the only meaningful way a citizen has to effect the political system they live under, and again, the bigger the central Leviathan gets, the less effect there is in moving between localities. Furthermore, the bigger and more powerful it gets, the more success in life and business depends on securing government benefits for yourself and your business or industry and the less it depends on supplying valuable goods and services that fellow citizens buy voluntarily in mutually beneficial exchanges. You end up with a country where the majority of young people dream of being a fonctionnaire (and not irrationally so--it's the best deal on offer) or one where most of the wealthiest counties are found, not around centers of finance or industry, but in a tight circle around the capital city. For a business, success depends ever more on lobbying, regulatory capture, subsidies, price supports, import protections, etc, and less on innovation and efficient operations. And because of all this, politics becomes ever more a polarized blood sport -- if your 'team' is out of power, the lifeblood of government favors and benefits will flow to others, not to people like you.

We need to extend Lord Acton -- just as 'great men are almost always bad men' it's also true that 'large governments are almost always bad governments'.

+1 well said.

Thanks. But where's my edit function? Too many typos! Sad.

They can't provide an Edit function without a Log on function. And Tyler has said in the past that "there's no simple solution".

Groups rule. The question is whether the groups are private or public actors. Without mechanisms for accountability, and without mechanism to enforce laws or other widely agreed-upon rules, groups run wild--whether public or private . I'm unpersuaded, so far, that libertarianism offers feasible ways to restrain groups effectively.

Why about the possibility of private enforcement of law, such as arbitration?

It isn't obvious to me why private law enforcement and private justice would be more effective than public law enforcement and public courts. I don't think the mechanism for accountability in market systems (consumer choice) would be feasible here. But admittedly, I haven't thought about this carefully in a while.

Why would they have to be more effective? I can think of reasons why they would be (e.g. presently a lack of resources results in a lot of false guilty pleas) but don't see why that would be necessary to support it.

But it's easy to think of reasons why private police forces would be much less effective because of profit incentives, because of transparency problems, and so on. Groups serve themselves, whether private or public. I don't see privatization as a magic bullet. Its benefits outweigh the costs in some but not all instances. Given the stakes involved in criminal justice issues, I'd want to be damn certain that the benefits for privatization were extraordinarily clear before moving forward.

For me, the foundation of libertarianism are two empirical realizations—First, on average, people know what makes themselves happy better than other people could. Thus, voluntary exchanges are win-win and a society built on voluntary exchanges and individual liberty is highly likely to be utility-maximizing. Second, looking around the world and in history, I see the poverty as being the greatest scourge of man and secure property rights as absolutely essential to development because they create strong marginal incentives to work and invest. One of my favorite case studies is the village of Xiaogang in 1970s Communist China, where the villagers agreed secretly to privatize their communal land holdings and in doing so multiplied their production fivefold in a year despite the fact that their culture, education, technology, natural resources, etc. were unchanged. The only change was that people knew they would get to keep the return on their labor and investment so they were incentivized to put in that labor and investment. Eventually this system was copied throughout China and lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty. As far as I am concerned, if we are going to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissidents, the Xiaogang villagers are more deserving of it than a thousand writers. These two empirical observations lead my utilitarian moral intuitions to soft libertarianism.

Interesting anecdote, thanks.

'and it is one of the most sensible expositions and defenses of libertarianism you will find'

I'm sure that the chapter where it explains how supporting defense spending in the interests of economic growth is a perfectly normal libertarian belief.

Or is that what one would expect in the mid-Atlantic book? And whose mid-Atlantic? Seems like people from New Jersey think they are part of the mid-Atlantic, which to a Virginian is clearly incorrect (with the possible exception of those people in New Jersey who live around the Delaware Water Gap - who knew that New Jersey had a nice part?). Yes, Webster*s definition is on their side, but South Carolina isn't a mid-Atlantic state either.

Wikipedia seems to side more with the Virginian perspective - 'There are differing interpretations as to the composition of the Mid-Atlantic, with sources including in the region a number of states from New York to South Carolina. A United States Geological Survey publication describes the Mid-Atlantic Region as all of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, along with the parts of New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina that drain into the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. Sometimes, the nucleus is considered to be the area centered on the Washington metropolitan area, including Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and West Virginia.

West Virginia and Virginia are atypical of this region in several ways. They are the only states to lie primarily within the Southern American dialect region, and the major religious tradition in both states is Evangelical Christian, 31% in Virginia and 36% in West Virginia. Although a few of West Virginia's eastern panhandle counties are considered part of the Washington, D.C. MSA, the major portion of the state is rural, and there are no major or even large cities.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Atlantic_%28United_States%29

"And whose mid-Atlantic?"

I'm pretty sure he meant 'mid-Atlantic' in the sense of the old mid-Atlantic accent used in films in the 30's and 40's that blended aspects of American and UK speech. I think he's looking for a defense of libertarianism that is not wholly U.S. focused.

Interesting, and certainly a possible explanation.

If we believe government has the right to coerce action for purposes of self-defense (i.e. drafting people to fight in a war), then we've already decided that among my rights is to have others die on my behalf (and vice-versa when circumstances require).

After that, all the other modest demands seem pretty small potatoes.

I believe that strict Libertarianism precludes any kind of draft.

The New England Libertarianism of a man like Lysander Spooner certainly would.

Strangely, one tends not to hear a lot concerning Spooner in the sort of academic circles which the GMU 'libertarians' are considered part of.

His wikipedia introduction just might give a hint or two why - 'Lysander Spooner (January 19, 1808 – May 14, 1887) was an American political philosopher, essayist, pamphlet writer, Unitarian, abolitionist, legal theorist, and entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. He was a strong advocate of the labor movement and severely anti-authoritarian and individualist in his political views.

Spooner's most famous writing includes the seminal abolitionist book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, and No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority which opposed treason charges against secessionists. He is also known for competing with the U.S. Post Office with his American Letter Mail Company, which closed after legal problems with the federal government.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysander_Spooner

" Strangely, one tends not to hear a lot concerning Spooner in the sort of academic circles which the GMU 'libertarians' are considered part of."

Why "strangely" for a fairly obscure figure whose main historical claim to fame was his tendency to mix up the first letters of phrases? Or does "strangely" here some sort of code for your usual bizarre (strange, one might say) obsessive vendetta against GMU?

'obsessive vendetta against GMU'

I have nothing against GMU, being an alumni - I found the univeryity quite enjoyable, to be honest, and value a number of the classes I took there. It is also why I am careful to write GMU econ dept or the law and econ crowd at GMU, and make such a clear distinction between GMU, a Commonwealth of Virginia taxpayer funded institution of higher learning, and public policy institutes which have absolutely no connection to GMU, apart from renting office space on the GMU campus.

The most obvious clue is really not that hard to find - 'He was a strong advocate of the labor movement.' Assuming you are a loyal reader of this web site that is, or have any experience with any of those GMU 'libertarians' since this the mid-80s. Though recently, Prof. Cowen seems to have thrown his considerable weight behind the idea that federal employees should strike so as to force their employer to pay them for their labor.

Which was truly surprising to read, to be honest.

And just noticed my own covfefe mistake, as 'univeryity' looks quite strange.

You noticed "univeryity" yet not that you are not "an alumni" as "alumni" is plural. You are either an alumnus or an alumna.

But then, what do you expect from a public school? j/k on that part.

"The New England Libertarianism of a man like Lysander Spooner certainly would."

Also the Chicago libertarianism of Milton Friedman, who didn't just argue against the draft, but who played a key role in ending it:


...the 'Non-Aggression Principle' (NAP) is the most commonly cited libertarian principle -- but is absent here, surprisingly.

"philosopher" Dan Moller's new book is not worth any attention IMO.

Who was the founder of modern American libertarianism ?

(perhaps that founder wrote something down that is much more enlightening on the subject than Moller's obscure musings.

Lysander Spooner and Garet Garrett.

The two events which effectively killed libertarianism in the US were the Civil War and the closing of the frontier. The series of reforms under Presidents Wilson through Roosevelt as documented by Garrett put the nail in the coffin.

Libertarianism depends heavily on the credible threat of taking your ball and going home. Now that the practical element of secession or lighting out for the Territory is gone, libertarianism becomes a purely ideological movement, with scholars wishing everybody would just act like a stoic dairy farmer in snowy, white, New England.

The UK had a long classical-liberal period without any frontier.

They had literally the entire globe to run off to. Did you overlook that part?

Well, in that case, the frontier still exists -- if you're willing to emigrate, there are still lots of places to run off to.

"The Man Who Would Be King" is no longer a viable scenario.

The vast majority of Libertarians seem solely interested in exercising their right to punch, and not at all concerned with the end of our nose.

This is accompanied by a paralel temper tantrum about paying taxes, in which poor people are greedy monsters yet military spending is invisible.

They claim fealty to a romance novelist who fetishized a fictional inheritress who slept her way to the top. This plot device eventually connects the hot chick on her Slut’s Journey with the ubermensch nerd, who has taken his marbles and quit the game because it was so unfair.

A moldy minority insists that these noisesome louts have got it all wrong, but they are farting in a windstorm

This is accompanied by a paralel temper tantrum about paying taxes, in which poor people are greedy monsters yet military spending is invisible.

That's a straw man--Rand and Ron Paul are principled, consistent libertarian voices against runaway military spending. Having said that, the libertarian defense of military spending is that national security is a public good, and hence narrowly justifiable out of the public purse in the form of a non-standing army.

Incredibly, when a politician shows any sign of following the libertarian impulse against military involvement somewhere, he is immediately denounced as an insane crackpot. And probably racist, for not wanting to spread the glories of democracy to the brown peoples.

We are in agreement. There's a couple token "principled" Libertarians in DC and the rest are marginalized by people who want to perpetuate cronyism, monopoly corporate aggrandizement, and upward redistribution under the cover of individual "freedom."

Who would they be??? Not many libertarians in DC

No, not in DC. I am most interested in the many poseurs who play one in the punditry, blogosphere, and on the Internet.

I don't know any libertarians, other than Tyler, who are fans of large, trans-national bureaucracies and artificial scarcity. Who did you have in mind?

Important segments of the GOP. Most of the 1980's and through recent right. Nearly every right wing radio and talking head commentator for the last 25 years. Virtually every right wing commenter on any web site ever.



He didn't have anyone in mind. Correct the Record is not paying him for his knowledge.

And yet all the violence seems to come from the left...

That's absurd

Didn't one of your friends mail "packages" of dubious contents to Pelosi, Biden, Soros, Obama, etc?

Here you go for a list: "www.breitbart.com/the-media/2018/07/05/rap-sheet-acts-of-media-approved-violence-and-harassment-against-trump-supporters/"

Kindle, $23.99. I don't get the reason for pricing an ebook so high.

You should probably cross read this blog entry with Catherine Rampell (WaPo). It might be a fair mountain of cognitive dissonance for some above to delare their true libertarianism, while supporting a regime trending toward, not the American progressive, but the positively SOVIET.

Authoritarian, nationalist Russia does not compare to the totalitarian, universalist USSR. Catherine Rampell, like most American Jews, has 'Fiddler On The Roof' on continuous loop in her head.

'has 'Fiddler On The Roof' on continuous loop in her head'

You do know that Fiddler On The Roof is not set in the totalitarian, universalist USSR, but is set in authoritarian, nationalist Russia, right?

Or is that the sort of thing someone would have to be Jewish to know? 'Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem.' And should I be using parenthesis to mark this link? - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddler_on_the_Roof

I haven't even seen the play/movie, but thought everyone knew its setting.

You do know that Fiddler On The Roof is not set in the totalitarian, universalist USSR, but is set in authoritarian, nationalist Russia, right?

Yes, that is precisely my point. I'm familiar with the plot and characters, including Perchik, and the Jewish obsessions over resurgent, pre-Soviet Russia.

Well, in all honesty, I thought you were contrasting Putin's current authoritarian, nationalist Russia with the totalitarian, universalist USSR that provided employment for Putin in the KGB.

'I'm familiar with the plot and characters'

I'm not - but it is supposed to be an entertaining musical.

"You should probably cross read this blog entry with Catherine Rampell (WaPo). "

That Editorial was hilarious. It made no good points and wasn't particularly coherent. Thank you WP, you couldn't have posted a better example of TDS if you tried.

Did you know:
That the Federal shutdown is just like bread lines in the Soviet Union?

That Federal workers are the impoverished proletariat .

That Trump meetings are identical to forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin.

That federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies.

State-run media, or something closely approximating it, feeds the public a steady diet of pro-leader propaganda.

All branches of government may be equal — but some, it seems, are more equal than others.

Economics Professor Murray Rothbard = Founder of 'modern American libertarianism'

"I believe in strictures against shifting our burdens onto others .. and that is why I'm fine yammering about a more perfect libertarianism well the Coast Guard works for free."

Well, doesn't that fit with the motto of the Coast Guard for the Trump era? - 'You Have To Go Out, But You Don't Have To Be Paid'

Who are you quoting?

Aren't they getting paid in arrears? This isn't plantation slavery. I'm as big a Trump opponent as there is, but this particular part of shutdown theater is a joke.

Let them eat payday loans?

Yep. No interest ones. But jeez can't pay for food after missing one or two paychecks as a federal employee? That's not all Trump's fault.

Again, this shutdown is stupid, and it's Trump's. But no one is working for free.

How many hoops and how much angst on the way to a promotional zero percent loan?

How many food banks to visit in the meantime?

And definitely tack on the requirement at the end that federal employees should be extra special good compared to the average American "saver" and consumer.

Hell yes, if I had a federal job I would damn well be prepared for the increasingly frequent shutdowns I have to endure.

I know I know, Trump is the devil, and no one should ever suffer any inconvenience or hardship in this world. There are exponentially greater injustices that bother me more than this.

Doesn't mean the shutdown isn't idiotic, and for idiotic reasons, and Trump's doing.

The obvious clunker there is the rhetorical "I know I know .. no one should ever suffer any inconvenience or hardship in this world."

Because somehow we have come around to the "right of others to suffer" rather than where we started, "strictures against shifting our burdens onto others."

Where we started was you making this philosophical discussion about libertarianism into yet another Trump dis. No one is calling Trump a libertarian, nor does anyone think this shutdown has anything to do with libertarianism. So why bring it up? Because you are as obsessed as Thiago and prior, with your own particular hobbyhorse.

Actually I never made this about Trump, I made it about libertarians and "libertarian leaners" who tell government employees to suck it up, and bear the pain, rather than themselves step up to call for the government to fulfill its contracts with these citizens.

Frankly, if you see our national predicament as only about one man, maybe you are the one confused by personalities.

'Aren't they getting paid in arrears?'

Not precisely, but if the past is any guide, this is just a giant waste of funds as Congress will grant them pay for not working. As happened with the last shutdown, when the Republicans were in charge of the House of Representatives.

Or working without being paid in a regular fashion - after all, the shutdown could continue for days, weeks, or even months. Years seems unlikely, as by that point, the president's threats of vetoing any bills would be hollow. The president is not king, and his veto can be overridden.

At least the payday lenders seem to feel that unpaid federal employees are worth lending money to, at whatever multiple (2? 3?) of 100% APR is normally charged.

However, in the specific case of the Coast Guard, this is a bit more like plantation slavery, as military discipline can be applied to someone who does not obey orders, even when they are not being paid. In other words, if an enlisted member of the Coast Guard were to say no pay, no going out, they could be put in the brig.

But it's not 'no pay', even the Coast Guard folks. They are getting paid later. Again, I have a lot bigger sympathy fish to fry.

'They are getting paid later.'

One can reasonably assume that, of course. However, it is not that they have an actual contractual right to pay when not working (if forced to work, they probably do, of course). Amusingly, when the Republicans caved in 2013, they all supported legislation paying federal workers for not working. One assumes the same thing will happen this time round too.

'I have a lot bigger sympathy fish to fry'

I have no sympathy fish to fry at all. But an enlisted member of the Coast Guard does not have the option of simply staying at home while not being paid, since they can be brigged for not obeying an order. This comes considerably closer to slavery - it isn't as if an enlisted member of the Coast Guard can simply call in sick as a passive protest against working without pay for a month. And at least in the case of the Coast Guard, these are people who do actually risk their lives to help fellow citizens, not that they are asking for any sympathy while following their motto - Semper Paratus / "Always Ready."

Another meaningless tangent, adding nothing to the discussion. Of course.

As always, I have more sympathy for the homeless than I do for the federal workers.

Surely a true libertarian would place a primary value on government honoring its contracts with citizens.

Like Lord Acton's version

Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought.

Lord Acton doesn't sound like a cool dude to hang around with.

"... widely shared, everyday moral beliefs - particularly in strictures against shifting our burdens onto others."

This is indeed admirable, but even acknowledging the blinders of my own misanthropy, it seems less like an ideology and more like a habit of mind, not at all widely-enough shared to be the foundation of anything all by itself.

Well, yeah. Hence the seastead or gulch or whatever. It's inherently separatist without realizing it just as democracy is inherently drain circling behind the same veil of ignorance.

If you enter "did nathan phillips lie" into google (in my locale), the top result is:


absolutely ridiculous

"WaPo Issues Correction after Falsely Labeling Nathan Phillips a Vietnam Vet"

The Washington Post issued a correction Tuesday after falsely describing the elderly Native American man whose confrontation with a group of high-school students went viral over the weekend as a veteran of the Vietnam War.

“Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976 but was never deployed to Vietnam,”


To be fair to Nathan Phillips, the Washington Post screwed up. The transcript said Vietnam Vet, but he said "Vietnam times vet".

He was in the service for four years (1972-76), was never promoted, was stationed the whole time in the continental United States, and was sanctioned repeatedly for disciplinary infractions. IOW, he was the Marine Corps' version of Beetle Bailey. He received some vocational training in the service (repairing appliances), but nothing's emerged yet to indicate he made use of it in civilian life.

He is a Vietnam combat veteran, just as John Kerry is.

You white racist old white cisgender MAGA hat wearing Nazi. YOU even deny a decorated combat veteran his due status because he never killed Vietnamese children, in “combat.”

Just because he never deployed to a combat zone doesn’t make him any less of a combat valor veteran. You racist.

He’s a combat veteran by every legal standard. He’s faced murder and combat by white upstate New Yorkers who would DESTROY his identity.

Bravo, Vox Editor. Bravo. You have perfectly channeled their thoughts on the matter.

He also referred to himself as a 'recon ranger', when, in fact, he was a repairman.

It was such an elementary thing, one suspects the Washington Post of making the error cynically; if not out of malice, callousness - figuring the correction would extend the life of the story.

Being on the "right side" of an issue as the WaPo no doubt is, doesn't necessarily make you either sensitive to, and forgiving of, human foibles; or immune from seeking to exploit/expose them.

Yes, people often try to frame "equality" and "liberty" as diametrically opposed, but they are actually dependent on each other. You can't have a free market in a system when there is not equal justice under the law. The government has to apply the same laws equally to all people in the market or it's not a free market.

People also set up "fairness" as somehow opposed to "liberty", but again, a large part of libertarianism is explicitly concerned about the fairness or unfairness of various government actions.

The difference is that the left defines "equality" and "fairness" as "equal distribution of stuff", whereas libertarians define it as "equal rules". But both are in fact heavily concerned with equality and fairness norms.

"equal distribution of stuff"


Just as the loony left looks at libertarians as heartless selfish savages, the loony right looks at progressives as blinkered Stalinist communists. A progressive tax code isn't a call for 'equal distribution of stuff'. Coordinating collective action to solve big problems isn't a desire for a gulag-filled Soviet system.

As usual, the sensible centrists are drowned out by the strident ideologues, even though our outlook more closely matches the real world.

What are libertarians, 3% of the population? How far left do you actually have to go to find a symmetric 3% fringe?

I think "progressives" is probably the wrong word. Maybe full-blown socialists.

The number of Americans who cast votes for Libertarian Party candidates or even call themselves libertarian is relatively low. But the numbers who fall in the libertarian (rather than progressive, conservative or populist) quadrants is a bit over 20%:


hmm. Use of the word "income distribution" is pretty loaded.

And predicated on some notion that taking more taxes from the rich will then be simply signed over on the back on the checks and given to the poor.

There would be fewer complaints if that were the case. The left uses the tax money to build a loyal constituency of 'administrators' who suck 60% of the tax money up before it even gets to the poor. Remember, conservatives give more to charity than do liberals.

I cited the 3% because libertarianism (a fairly concrete term, and in these haunts not a general rebuke) was being positioned against progressivism (a muddier term, and in these haunts most often a slur).

What does either word mean? It depends on whether the word is being used as a shield or a sword, as it were.

A concern about "economic inequality" is predicated on a belief that a more equal distribution is better, and that a less equal distribution is on some level inherently unfair. Even if in practice actual progressives don't believe in strict equal distribution, they do believe that unequal distributions are at best a necessary evil.

Libertarians do not judge "inequality" to be a marker of some underlying unfairness in the system. Inequality of *rules* is unfair. Inequality of outcomes is only unfair if it's the result of unequal rules.

I know, and I lean more libertarian on that axis. But again, let's skip the pointless part where we talk about (most)
progressives/liberals/Democrats wanting anywhere close to an equal distribution of stuff.

Libertarians do not judge "inequality" to be a marker of some underlying unfairness in the system. Inequality of *rules* is unfair. "Inequality of outcomes is only unfair if it's the result of unequal rules."

Which is why libertarianism is relegated to parlor games

So to be taken seriously, you have to regard any level of economic inequality as an inherent injustice? Why do you think that?

Both you and Hmm seem intent on making stuff up and calling it my views.

You aren't expressing your views very clearly. I am trying to find out what you really think.

So dismiss the semantics then.

The feds take over 1/3 of my income. You believe they’re entitled to more.


Your effective tax rate is over 33% just for federal? You need a better accountant.

Exactly. But I suspect you are lying or ignorant or both.

Whatever the case, you are also putting words in my mouth.

'Fetishizing individual liberty' is one of the vilest complaints I have heard, when the truth is that throughout human history, with rare exceptions, fetishizing coercion has ruled.

Fetishizing individual liberty is the best sort of fault to have. Like fetishizing peace and prosperity. Or happiness.

One of my good friends is a proud libertarian. He's smart, principled, and considerate of others. I often tell him if everyone were like him, libertarianism would be the ideal philosophy to govern us all.

I don't think it's controversial to point out that most people are not like him, and thus in the real world we have to work more from the middle.

He usually replies that we should still strive for his kind of world, I don't disagree. But I'm not holding my breath.

Mother Teresa didn't fetishize individual liberty. She fetishized unceasing ministry to the most downtrodden people on earth. Almost to a fault. That could also be the best fault to have. It takes all kinds.

I agree with this view, but this does not lead to it being good to attack individual liberties even if you don't believe they are the first priority.

In lay terms, this brand of libertarian "has his Sh*t together" and expects other human beings to do the same. This is a pipe dream as much as communism because it does not reflect "the human condition."

This expectation of having one's sh*t together is reasonable in the libertarian's mind, with perhaps a few exceptions for those who are feeble of mind and body. After all, a "New England libertarian" was probably brought up in a community which taught and expected core competencies, temperance, thrift, and hard - even bitter- work.

This ideology really cannot survive contact with 21st century America, which is full of decision making people who make excuses for incompetence, drug addiction, slacking, and debt fueled gratification. Basically, in today's America, it is unreasonable and perhaps immoral to expect any person to have their sh*t together to the extent that they dont need to make material demands on others.

I think this is a good point. At the end of the day, it looks like both the Republicans and Democrats are more effective at governance in America than a Libertarian party would be. The same could be said of a Socialist party.

I lean libertarian, but I don't see any way to govern a real world nation effectively from a strict Libertarian philosophy. That being said, I would prefer the US to avoid an authoritarian state of either the Right or Left variety.

Excellent comments from both of you here.

The standard libertarian reply is that in the absence of government, informal private mechanisms to help the people who can't get their shit together would evolve. (Checking to see if cuss words are still allowed on this site).
This isn't without merit, as such mechanisms existed in the past, and it's easy to imagine that the enouragement of informal social support networks would be beneficial to society in other ways.

Yes but like most standard libertarian replies, that's not how the modern world works. Libertarianism as a real world philosophy might have worked in a much less populated, primarily agrarian world. It's not gonna fly today.

It's a good philosophy to strive towards, however. Just because pure libertarianism will never be a nation's governing structure (especially a large one) doesn't mean we shouldn't look to push the existing structure in a libertarian direction when appropriate. We need libertarians to counterbalance the socialist impulse, and to keep things in the center.

You asked above what if a libertarian ever became president...they wouldn't be that different from a Ronald Reagan type, because this country is not at all suited to a pure libertarian government. No large country is.

I think it would be quite different than Reagan. Reagan was too much of a social conservative, and he grew the deficit and initiated the War on Drugs.

What I think a real libertarian president would be like would probably involve putting a public health focus on drugs and end the War on Drugs. Heroin would still be illegal. Weed would be legal.
Regulations would be simplified and consolidated along with the government departments that do the regulating. Immigration would be liberalized and quotas increased, especially the employment based category, but we wouldn't have open borders.

The hardest one for me is trade and farm/dairy programs. All the protectionist stuff is just so corrupt. I would want to eliminate it all and go unilateral free trade and 100% free market immediately. Maybe at best I would keep some crop insurance programs around. But there would be NO price supports or quotas. This is why I would never get elected.

So yeah, a libertarianish president would probably have to compromise on some stuff that I would not compromise on. The decrepit pile of legislation like the Jones Act that still remains on the books is something that any self-respecting libertarian would want to incinerate with a vengance, but politics will probably not let that happen.

How do you expect to get back to a state where the social norms demand "core competencies, temperance, thrift, and hard - even bitter- work" , without withdrawing, at least to some extent, the guarentee of material support?
Isn't this what the term "moral hazard" refers to?

Ones grandfather should teach these things, for a start. He should also teach his grandchildren to worry about their own business and not allow their well-being to depend on what the other kids have, say, and do. Of course, there is a "Grandfather Gap" nowdays . . . .

From a policy standpoint, the Dunedin Longitudinal Study showed that one could - by age three - identify the 20% of people who would consume the vast majority of social services. "A segment comprising 22% of the cohort accounted for 36% of the cohort’s injury insurance claims; 40% of excess obese kilograms; 54% of cigarettes smoked; 57% of hospital nights; 66% of welfare benefits; 77% of fatherless child-rearing; 78% of prescription fills; and 81% of criminal convictions. Childhood risks, including poor brain health at three years of age, predicted this segment with large effect sizes. Early-years interventions that are effective for this population segment could yield very large returns on investment."

I agree that interventions to ensure kids develop healthy brains (pre-natal and early childhood) aren't terrible. There may be private or more market oriented means of achieving this. If I had a charity it would pass out free pre-natal vitamins and iron-fortified baby cereal.

Libertarianism struggles to reconcile its desire for collective action with its desire for individual autonomy to refuse to participate.

For example, the collective body is required to protect property via some form of coercive action. Yet the members of the collective body are denied the right to refuse to participate, or even place conditions on their participation.

This is a circle I have never seen squared.

There is uncoerced cooperation all over the place, every day.
The reason you most people behave well is because of social pressure and their own conscience, not potential legal ramifications. I don't kill people because I don't enjoy it and would feel terrible. Do you really refrain from murder only because of the legal ramifications?
Just because the state doesn't coerce something into existence doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

You answered a question Chip D never asked. His question is a good one, and gets to the heart of it. Modern society requires collective action, especially for preserving the foundation of libertarian philosophy (property rights). How do you coordinate a bunch of individual sovereigns in a nation of 300 million, 0r 30 million, or even 3 million? Can't do it realistically. There is no real world libertarian government, it doesn't work. Same for communism. Both isms are terrific on paper, and do not work when you bring in actual humans.

In other words, rights imply some obligations and duties on ourselves and others.

Comments for this post are closed