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Libertarianism is skepticism
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, December 28, 2007

Declan McCullagh offers a solid defense of libertarianism against caricatures and cartoons:
Libertarianism, as a rule, attracts the most strident criticism from those who understand it the least. Expending little or no effort on research, critics barely familiar with libertarian ideas concoct an unappetizing stew of ideas - anarchism, egoism, and plain selfishness and greed - and mistakenly dub it libertarianism. Small surprise, then, that this ideological bouillabaisse tastes revolting. Such critics aren't describing libertarianism, but their own fanciful creation.

Libertarianism is not about anarchy, utopia, or selfishness. Instead, libertarians simply are skeptical of "nanny government," and recognize the many ways state power has been abused in the past. They believe that government programs like health assistance, Social Security, foreign aid, and corporate welfare do more harm than good. They argue that everyone must be equal before the law, and everyone has human rights to personal security, to property, and to free speech that the government must protect, not violate.
[..]
Together the left and the right conspire to dictate what you can eat, see, read, smoke, and talk about. Leftists contend that the state should regulate the economy (and technology), but not morality. Conservatives claim that the government should leave the economy alone, but should legislate what you're allowed to do online or in your bedroom. Only libertarians have a consistent philosophy: The state can't be trusted to screw around with the economy, to control your private life, or to police the Internet.
[...]
Another common mistake is to accuse libertarians of utopianism. Libertarians, just like everyone else, can see that markets don't work perfectly - but compared to, say, Cuba's wretched economy, free markets look pretty good. Libertarians don't promise utopia. They simply support a system that will - in general - result in a higher standard of living for more people than government intervention does.

I'd probably describe my political philosophy as skepticism that results in a strong presumption for freedom. Unfortunately, with "liberalism" stolen by the Left and "libertarianism" generally associated with the fringe elements of the philosophy, there's not really a readily understood word that captures and conveys that concept very well. That's unfortunate.
 
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Together the left and the right conspire to dictate what you can eat, see, read, smoke, and talk about. Leftists contend that the state should regulate the economy (and technology), but not morality. Conservatives claim that the government should leave the economy alone, but should legislate what you’re allowed to do online or in your bedroom. Only libertarians have a consistent philosophy: The state can’t be trusted to screw around with the economy, to control your private life, or to police the Internet.
*Cough-Immigration-Cough* Libertarians do want the big bad nanny state to tell some people where to live and where to work.

Now that might be good or bad but it isn’t consistent. Movement of capital and movement of labor, etc., etc.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
*Cough-Immigration-Cough* Libertarians do want the big bad nanny state to tell some people where to live and where to work.
But these are U.S. citizens. They aren’t trying to tell them where to live in their own country only to live in their own country.
 
Written By: mac
URL: http://
Meant to say "these are not U.S. citizens"
 
Written By: mac
URL: http://
Retief, did you miss the part where Libertarianism is NOT Anarchy?
 
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://
Jon:
Declan McCullagh offers a solid defense of libertarianism against caricatures and cartoons...
Retief:
Libertarians do want the big bad nanny state to tell some people where to live and where to work.

Some people just can not stop constructing caricatures.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
*Cough-Immigration-Cough* Libertarians do want the big bad nanny state to tell some people where to live and where to work.


How many times does it have to be pointed out to you that you can have a welfare state or you can have open borders, but you can’t have both?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I believe it is a libertarian position to support open borders. However, taking libertarianism as skepticism as Jon does, it moves (correctly, I think) from being a dogmatic ideology to a practical notion of not trusting government with too much power or to control society. In that sense, the reality of the world we live in makes the immigration issue one not solvable by some kind of ideological dogma, but pragmatic politics (and frankly, I think Bush’s plan last year was a good one).

Also, I find it frustrating that many on the right distrust big government with domestic politics, but find it just fine when it involves spending half the world’s military budget, having bases around the globe, and getting involved in wars in places like Kosovo and Iraq where only through imagination and extrapolation can one even interpret a potential threat to America’s physical security. Big government shouldn’t shape our lives here, why should it shape a political and social system in Iraq? Why do we trust big government to use awesome power to destroy and conquer, but not to run health care?

In short, I don’t think the right or the left have the kind of skepticism Jon describes; rather, they are skeptical on issues that go against their bias of what should happen, but embrace big government when it serves their ideological agenda. Hence both parties run up the debt, and both expand governmental power. Both ridicule the other side rather than engage it, because that’s easier than confronting contradictions within their own position. The result now is a government that is increasingly powerful, distant from the people, and destined to grow no matter who is in power. We should be skeptical of that.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"libertarians simply are skeptical of "nanny government,...""


" skep·ti·cism also scep·ti·cism (skpt-szm)
n.
1. A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety. See Synonyms at uncertainty.
....."

From what I have read here, most of those claiming to be Libertarian are a bit more than skeptical about government. I detect little, if any, doubt. His characterization sounds more like what I would call conservatism.

"Another common mistake is to accuse libertarians of utopianism."

Again, from what I have read here, utopianism seems to be fairly widespread among Libertarians.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
How many times does it have to be pointed out to you that you can have a welfare state or you can have open borders, but you can’t have both?
You can’t? Why not? We’ve seen quite large illegal migration to the US and we’ve got a welfare system. The past 20 years seem to suggest rampant illegal immigration and a welfare system are not quite so terrible.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://
The past 20 years seem to suggest rampant illegal immigration and a welfare system are not quite so terrible.
I guess it depends on your perspective. Tradesman in the construction business, for instance, would disagree completely.

And, of course Milton Friedman seems to understand the point:
Q: Dr. Friedman should the U.S.A. open its borders to all immigrants? What is your opinion on that?

A: Unfortunately no. You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.
And Robert Rector more fully explained it:
To be fully understood, Friedman’s comment should be viewed as applying not merely to means-tested welfare programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing, but to the entire redistributive transfer state. In the “transfer state,” government taxes the upper middle class and shifts some $1.5 trillion in economic resources to lower-income groups through a vast variety benefits and subsidies. Across the globe, this sort of economic redistribution is the largest, if not the predominant, function of government in advanced societies.

The transfer state redistributes funds from those with high-skill and high-income levels to those with lower skill levels. Low-skill immigrants become natural recipients in this process. On average, low-skill immigrant families receive $30,160 per year in government benefits and services while paying $10,573 in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of $19,587 that has to be paid by higher-income taxpayers.

There is a rough one-to-one fiscal balance between low-skill immigrant families and upper-middle-class families. It takes the entire net tax payments (taxes paid minus benefits received) of one college-educated family to pay for the net benefits received by one low-skill immigrant family. Even Julian Simon, the godfather of open-border advocates, acknowledged that imposing such a burden on taxpayers was unreasonable, stating, “immigrants who would be a direct economic burden upon citizens through the public coffers should have no claim to be admitted” into the nation.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
But these are not U.S. citizens. They aren’t trying to tell them where to live in their own country only to live in their own country.
You’re right mac, although that still is telling people where to live and work. Now how much more intrusive search powers are libertarians eager to give police to enforce these non-citizens not living here? For how long should someone who’s status is being adjudicated be confined? How much interference in perfectly good citizens’ business arrangements will Libertarians enjoy in aid of this enforcement? Must every employer become even more an agent of the state, not only collecting identity papers and wok authorizations, but verifying them as well? How much more militarization of police forces do Libertarians want to add immigration enforcement to police duties? You are right that it is only a question of telling some people not to live here, but when they don’t listen, complications multiply.

On another note, how much skepticism did we hear from Libertarians wrt warantless wiretapping, for example? I seem to recall a lot more "just trust the NSA" noises.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
On another note, how much skepticism did we hear from Libertarians wrt warantless wiretapping, for example? I seem to recall a lot more "just trust the NSA" noises.
I assume you can back your memory with a couple of cites?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Reading that peice end-to-end, I did not come away with the idea that I had just read a vigorous defense of libertarianism, I came away wondering whether McCullough or Henke had ever heard of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
Actually the contributors here have been OK on the warantless wiretaps once they all got over pushing the president’s "FISA is unconstitutional" folderol, which sadly didn’t happen until the whitehouse themselves ran screaming away from that position. Not so much the commenters, but I can’t claim to know which of them think they are Libertarian. After all, I hang out here plenty and am not any kind of Libertarian. (Although I have plenty of sympathy for the general sketicism of government, I find that everybody makes their own exceptions to that skepticism and the pattern of those exceptions is more telling than their magnitude.)
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
when it involves spending half the world’s military budget
OK, which fallacy involves "appeal to misleading statistics"? Maybe the rest of the world spends too little on military affairs. Maybe they do so since said lone superpower has traditionally carried the world’s military burden. Maybe said superpower wouldn’t have to spend so much if others would step up in a significant way.
Why do we trust big government to use awesome power to destroy and conquer, but not to run health care?
"Use awesome power to destroy and conquer" is all big government is really, really good at. "Running" health care? Not so much. NHS, Medicaid = deep red ink and few are happy with results.
Hence both parties run up the debt, and both expand governmental power. Both ridicule the other side rather than engage it, because that’s easier than confronting contradictions within their own position. The result now is a government that is increasingly powerful, distant from the people, and destined to grow no matter who is in power.
Agreed. Vote divided government ’08. It’s the only proven method to slow government growth. In the meantime, keep market forces healthy enough to grow the economy to the gargantuan size necessary to feed said government.
 
Written By: Rob
URL: http://
Actually the contributors here have been OK on the warantless wiretaps once they all got over pushing the president’s "FISA is unconstitutional" folderol, which sadly didn’t happen until the whitehouse themselves ran screaming away from that position.
Uh huh.

Nothing has changed but the goalposts, retief - cites please.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well here’s Dale arguing the administration case, before they cut everyone carrying that paeticular bucket of water off at the knees by abandoning. And here’s McQ doing the same in February of ’06. And here is Dale’s cri de coeur as he realizes that every man recieveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Retief: What am I supposedly doing when I conclude:
Many believe that this would go against the administration if it goes to court. I’m not so sure, but then, I don’t claim any expertise in this. I think there are valid arguments on both sides of a very murky bit of constitutional law. But if the 4th Circuit’s finding is any indication, I wouldn’t bet my house on the outcome being the basis to impeach Bush if I were a BDS sufferer and had elevated my hope to that level.
Seems to me I was laying out the arguments on both sides and then concluding that precedent would probably come down on the side of the administration if taken to court and thus the screams being heard from the lefty peanut gallery for impeachment most likely wouldn’t be realized. Apparently you didn’t notice the acknowledgment of "valid arguments on both sides" and the fact that I considered it a "murky bit of consititutional law".

You’ll also notice I mentioned BDS, which seems to be what has you assuming the post you cite has me carrying water for the administration. And as usual, you’re wrong.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I guess it depends on your perspective. Tradesman in the construction business, for instance, would disagree completely.
Would they? No doubt some would, but then it seems construction has been booming these past 20 year and I’m not very inclined to cry for construction workers who have discovered the downside of competition. It’s the labor version of the "giant sucking sound" argument against NAFTA. At any rate, "some people had to compete for jobs" isn’t a very compelling argument when the economy reached full employment and wages rose across all income groups.
And, of course Milton Friedman seems to understand the point:
Well, he asserted the point, anyway. Rector’s numbers don’t sound remotely plausible. I’d bet he’s cherry-picking his numbers to arrive at the high side, and a quick glance at his paper indicates he’s utilizing the laughably tendentious approach of attributing to illegal immigrants a per-capita share of government spending. No serious economist would use anything but the marginal increase attributable to illegal immigrants. We added a baby to our household last year, but I assure you that government spending didn’t rise by $30,000 as a result.

In any event, there is quite a lot of research indicating the other way, too. People - yes, me included - tend to find the research that confirms what they want to believe. In this case, in addition to neglecting to account for the contribution resulting from the increase in aggregate demand, you’re conflating absolute numbers with marginal numbers, which is really inappropriate as a measure of actual impact.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
I’d probably describe my political philosophy as skepticism that results in a strong presumption for freedom. Unfortunately, with "liberalism" stolen by the Left and "libertarianism" generally associated with the fringe elements of the philosophy, there’s not really a readily understood word that captures and conveys that concept very well. That’s unfortunate.

Are you familiar with Objectivism?
 
Written By: Brad Harper
URL: http://bradharper.com
Yes, but I don’t find it ultimately compelling. In general, I think it blurs the is/ought divide. We value actions and outcomes in much the same way that we value products and services. That does not give actions and outcomes an objective moral value that is absolute or universal. I’d probably be best described as an amoralist. That is, I believe individuals can, do, have moral values, but those values are not necessarily a natural law or universal "truth".
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://
" We’ve seen quite large illegal migration to the US and we’ve got a welfare system"

Illegals are not eligible for welfare. Are you saying that with open borders legal immigrants would not be eligible for welfare?
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
In this discussion "welfare system" was referring to the redistribution referred to by Rector and others who say illegal immigrants do get federal subsidies.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net

 
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