A Non-Non-Libertarian FAQ:
Responses to Mike Huben
(Part of the Liberals and Libertarians web site at http://www.impel.com/liblib.
Comments to Glen Raphael at firstname.lastname@example.org)
last modified 10/16/98
Table of Contents:
2. Is there anything GOOD about the Non-Libertarian FAQ?
3. What is Libertarianism?
4. Libertarianism in One Lesson (by David Bergland)
5. If We Didn't Pay Taxes...
6. The World's Smallest Political Quiz
7. The "How many men?" Argument
8. Quotations Popular with Libertarians
9. No Treason (by Lysander Spooner)
10. Extortion by the state is no different than extortion by the Mafia.
11. Of course it's my property. I paid money and hold the deed.
12. Taxation is theft.
13. Libertarians oppose the initiation of force.
14. The Pledge.
15. The Libertarian Party: America's Third Largest Political Party.
16. Successful Libertarian Experiments
For quite a few years, a liberal Usenet participant named Mike Huben has been arguing with Libertarians in different forums. His "Critiques of Libertarianism" web site and his "Non-Libertarian FAQ" attempt to rebut libertarian arguments. A few of Mr. Huben's failings in that document include:
(1) criticizing books that he has not read
(2) criticizing arguments that he does not understand
(3) resorting to ad hominem attacks (Calling a book or argument or person "evangelical" is not the same thing as answering the argument)
(4) proof by strenuous assertion.
This document is a debunking of Mike Huben's debunkings. Note: this document is not yet complete. I have made it available in order to fill a gap, in the hope that even in its current state it will prove useful to people.
2.Is there anything GOOD about the Non-Libertarian FAQ?
Actually there is. For instance, towards the beginning of the document Mike Huben writes:
Evangelists (those trying to persuade others to adopt their beliefs) generally have extensively studied which arguments have the greatest effect on the unprepared. Usually, these arguments are brief propositions that can be memorized easily and regurgitated in large numbers. These arguments, by the process of selection, tend not to have obvious refutations, and when confronted by a refutation, the commonest tactic is to recite another argument. This eliminates the need for actual understanding of the basis of arguments, and greatly speeds the rate at which evangelists can be trained.
Despite the generally offensive tone, the above
characterization is an accurate description of how SOME members
of various politically interested groups -- not just libertarians
but also liberals and conservatives -- hone and develop their
public arguments over time on the Net and in real life. This
process is generally applicable to groups that have any sort of
agenda they are trying to advance. People arguing in favor of gun
control do this. People arguing against gun control do it.
Libertarians, conservatives, liberals and populists all do it.
Even Mike Huben does it. There is a sort of natural selection at
work here, a survival-of-the-fittest process that goes on even
without conscious effort on the part of the participants.
Here's how it works: If you post an argument on talk.politics.misc and that argument gets brutally shot down, you tend not to make the same argument a second time. Similarly, if you come up with an argument that forces people to think in a new way, if people read your post and tell you by their response that you have helped them see through your eyes, you will tend to remember that argument and use it again in the future. Through this process the best -- meaning most successful -- rhetorical arguments survive and the weakest ones die off. Mike Huben seems to have noticed that the population oflibertarian arguments on the net is extremely healthy and tends to kill off competing arguments with a high rate of success. Huben hopes to kill some of the more effective libertarian memes in order to allow repopulation of a few native species.
He often doesn't notice that he is using the same tactics he ascribes to his opponents. ("Taxation is theft," proposes an unnamed source he quotes. "Property is theft!" responds Mike Huben. They call him a statist, he calls them evangelists. Sigh...)
But the approach outlined above and elsewhere in the document
is worth thinking about whenever you spot an argument between two
sides that don't appear to be really listening to one another.
Just keep in mind that it applies at least as well to libera
"evangelistsÓ as it does to any other group.
Another nice thing about the Non-Libertarian FAQ is that it conveniently collects in one place a fair number of illogical arguments. (On both sides)
3. What is Libertarianism?
Libertarians wish to build a society based primarily on voluntary rather than involuntary relationships between individuals. Libertarians share with liberals a concern for freedom of expression. Libertarians share with conservatives a concern for free enterprise. The result of this mixture is a political philosophy which favors as little government as possible. Thus, "Socially liberal, fiscally conservative," is a loose description. According to recent Gallup and Times-Mirror polls between 8% and 22% of Americans currently fit in this category and that number is on the increase. On Usenet and among computer users generally the proportion of libertarians is much higher than in the population at large.(1)
Although a high percentage of the population favors libertarian reforms -- anything that involves shrinking government and giving more power back to individuals can be categorized as such -- a relatively small number of people have thought through these beliefs and taken them to their logical conclusion, which is that we should rely on government force to do really very little at all.(2) The position of the Libertarian Party is that apart from the court system, police, and national defense, most of what the government currently does should rather be done by private, voluntary organizations if it is to be done at all. Registered Libertarian Party candidates for office received about two million votes in the last major election. I would guess that this variety of libertarian currently represents about 2% of the population.
Mike Huben claims that libertarians are a tiny group whose ideas are generally unknown and unpopular, but several major American newspapers and magazines would disagree with him. As _USA Today_ recently put it: "What liberalism was to the 60's and conservatism was to the 80's, libertarianism may be to the youth of the 90's."
[*1 Evidence of overrepresentation: whenever presidential
polls are held on the net the libertarian candidate tends to win
or do extremely well, but in "the real world" he tends
*2 Henry David Thoreau's _Civil Disobedience_ is an example of a thoughtful individual reaching this conclusion. ]
4. _Libertarianism in One Lesson_
One problem with political debate on Usenet is that it lends itself well to sh ort, oversimplified arguments. There simply isn't enough time or space in net postings to fully explore the ideas behind all the assertions being made. When defending a given position a poster inevitably has to make some assumptions about what the other guy already knows in order to avoid boring him to death.
But when you want to explore ideas in greater depth there is no substitute for reading an actual book. Book authors have the luxury of being able to start at the beginning of an argument, proceed leisurely through the middle of it, and eventually arrive at a conclusion. Book authors have a larger canvas to paint in. They can take more time to consider all the ramifications of each argument. So it isn't surprising that Libertarians on the net might recommend that someone who is seriously interested in a given topic actually read a book on the subject.
A number of posters have suggested that Mike Huben read a book
by David Bergland titled Libertarianism in One Lesson. Bergland
was the Libertarian Party's 1984 candidate for President, and
wrote a good book. The book is short, simple, to the point, and
does a decent job of presenting libertarian views in contrast
with other vi
ews on a variety of subjects. So here is what MH
says about the book in his FAQ:
27.Haven't you read "Libertarianism in One Lesson"?
Every belief system has its evangelistic writings, designed to help convince or draw in new members. The Campus Crusade for Christ uses "Evidence That Demands A Verdict", Scientology uses "Dianetics", and libertarians use "Libertarianism in One Lesson".
All of these books are very convincing--
in the absence of counterargument. However, they are easily
rebutted by skeptics because they MUST omit the exceptions to
their point of view to be convincing.
Any time I read how simple it is to understand the world through system X, I know I'm dealing with a convert from evangelistic writings. They blithely assert that their explanations show the true cause of current problems. And the key to showing them to be wrong, is to show that there's more complexity to the world than is encompassed by their simplistic explanations.
Note here what MH does not do. He claims that the book is
easily rebutted by skeptics, yet he fails to actually do any
rebutting. There's a good reason for this, which is that he
*hasn't read the book*. That's right, he is willing to compare
this book to "Evi
dence that Demands a Verdict" (a
creationist tract) sight unseen. Worse still, he implies that the
people who read _LIOL_ must be mindless zealots and even lists
the book as a source!
So in response, I would note that the fact that a book is influential, wins many people over to its point of view, is easy to read and is "very convincing," is simply not evidence that that book is wrong. Given that by MH's account dozens of libertarians have referred him to a book written by someone they find convincing or informative, he would do well to _read that book_. Just as skeptics on talk.origins respond to Velikovsky himself rather than the people who quote him, MH should do the same with libertarianism. If he is unable to do so then all he is demonstrating is that some libertarians - - based on comments often taken out of context from a long-dead Usenet thread -- can be made to sound like poor arguers for a possibly correct philosophy.
What he seems to want to prove is that libertarians are arguing for an incorrect philosophy, but that can't be done unless he is willing to go to the sources.
When it comes to something as complex and as complete as a political philosophy, we can't spoon-feed our critics every idea. If y ou want to confront the issues head-on and actually understand the reasoning behind the debates, you need to read some actual books on both sides of the issue. Read Libertarianism In One Lesson; you can order it from Laissez-Faire Books at 1-800-326-0996. Or read Harry Browne's new book; you can find it in your local bookstore. Draw your own conclusions.
5. If We Didn't Pay Taxes...
Mike Huben writes:
"Think how much wealthier we'd be if we didn't pay taxes."
This is a classic example of libertarians not looking at the complete equation. If taxes are eliminated, you'll need to purchase services that were formerly provided by government.
This response is itself an example of not looking at the complete equation; it ignores that a great many of the "services" provided by government do not need to be provided at all and therefore the corresponding expenses would disappear entirely. For instance, over half the prisoners in the federal prison system are there for non-violent drug-related offenses. Most commentators on Usenet from all sides of the political spectrum favor legalization of drugs; even the Liberalism FAQ which Huben cites takes that position. But if governmental persecution of non-violent drug users goes away, there will be n o corresponding private expense.
It is in the nature of government that half the new programs
created each year are designed to fix problems created by last
year's new government programs. So after sixty years of
government growth we now find ourself in a situation where there
may be five government programs to subsidize tobacco and another
five programs to encourage people not to smoke. There are
programs that drive up the cost of food to protect some farmers
and then there are programs that subsidize the cost of food
because poor people can't afford it now. And programs that
protect other farmers from growing broke because the first
programs drove up the cost of the land.
When you privatise government, most of the programs or combinations of programs that are completely useless or counterproductive will simply go away. Without the Department of Agriculture no private company would be likely to step in and lose vast amounts of money in the commodities market just to make sure that poor American consumers continue to pay twice the world market rate for sugar. Instead of that, the price of sugar will drop in half. The price of peanut butter will drop by 2/3rds. It will once more be legal for a California grocer to buy ice cream from Canada and milk from Wisconsin.
Finally, according to "Friedman's Law" (named aft er the libertarian nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman) any services which we do still require will cost about half as much to provide in a free market as they did under government. In short, we would indeed be a lot better off if we did not pay taxes. There would be more abundance; we would be better able to provide for those in need, and those in need would be better able to provide for themselves.
6. The World's Smallest Political Quiz
Mike Huben writes:
The World's Smallest Political Quiz. [Nolan Test]
This libertarian quiz asks a set of leading questions to tempt you to proclaim yourself a libertarian. The big trick is that if you answer yes to each question, you are a macho SELF GOVERNOR: there is an unspoken sneer to those who would answer anything else. It is an ideological litmus test.
The most obvious criticism of this quiz is that it tries to graph the range of politics onto only 2 axes, as if they were the only two that mattered, rather than the two libertarians want the most change in. For example, if socialists were to create such a test, they would use a different set of axes.
The second obvious criticism is typical of polls taken to show false levels of support: the questions are worded to elicit the desired response. This is called framing bias. For example, on a socialist test, you might see a question such as "Do you believe people should help each other?" Libertarians would answer "yes" to this question; the problem is the "but"s that are filtered out by the question format.
Many libertarians use this as an
"outreach" (read: evangelism) tool. By making it easy
to get high scores on both axes, subjects can be told that they
are already a libertarian and just didn't know it. This is the
same sort of suckering that cold readers and other frauds use.
The quiz in question attempts to place people on the Nolan Chart, a two-dimensional political spectrum invented by political scientist David Nolan in 1972. The accusations of deliberate framing bias are false with respect to the most common Advocates For Self Government version of the quiz. The Advocates' version tries very hard to make the distinctions meaningful and get a good spread of results, because if the quiz were biased in any consistent direction it would lose most of its predictive power and people could shrug it off as MH seems to want to do. Toward that end, the wordings and topics were carefully s elected so that nobody would score at the very top who was not absolutely a libertarian, and also selected so that the right and left are pretty consistent with the opinions of people in those categories . To accomplish this there are even a few "weed-out" questions in both categories that almost nobody answers yes to.
Tests which are designed to show false levels of support (framing bias) generally exclude the middle, which forces people to make yes/no statements about fuzzy subjects. But the World's Smallest Political Quiz does not do this; instead it includes a "maybe/unsure" category and explicitly asks respondents to pick that answer if they have any problems with the nature of the question. If you answer maybe/unsure on all the questions you end up with a score right in the middle which does not make you a libertarian. So the "but"s are NOT filtered out by the question format after all; in fact they are an important part of the scoring.
In any case, a more accurate response would note that there are a variety of Nolan tests out there and that anyone who gives such a test to real people (non-computer people, that is) will find a wide range of responses. NONE of the questions are obviously YES to all people, and most of them are obviously NO to most politicians. Take the test on behalf of Clinton or Bush or Reagan or any other public political figure answering as you think he or she might based on their actions and positions, and I can almost guarantee you will get an answer below the middle line.
As for the choices of axes, one would be hard-pressed to find a better choice for a 2-D graph that includes within it both the traditional right-left axis and a new separate set of polar opposites (up/down) for the "reformers" and the "hard liners" in the Chech Republic. The reason Gallop and Times/Mirror are using this model is that it works. It says something useful about the distinctions between various political groups and is much better than the simple one-dimensional "left-right spectrum" that it replaces.
Incidentally, the on-line World's Smallest Political Quiz at "http://www.self-gov.org/quiz.html" is now one of the most popular sites on the Web, and well worth the trip if you haven't been there yet.
7. The "How Many Men" Argument
The following is a thought-experiment that is relevant to both libertarian and
anti-libertarian morality. I will refer back to it later in this document.
Suppose that one man takes your car from you at gunpoint. Is this right or wrong? Most people would say that the man who does this is a thief who is violating your property rights.
Okay, now let's suppose that it's a gang of FIVE men that forcibly takes your car from you. Still wrong? Still stealing? Yup.
Now suppose that it's ten men that stop you at gunpoint, and before anything else they take a vote. You vote *against* them taking your car, but the ten of them vote for it and you are outvoted, ten to one. They take the car. Still stealing?
Let's add specialization of labor. Suppose it's twenty men and one acts as negotiator for the group, one takes the vote, one oversees the vote, two hold the guns, one drives. Does that make it okay? Is it still stealing?
Suppose it's one hundred men and after forcibly taking your car they give you back a bicycle. That is, they do something nice for you. Is it still stealing?
Suppose the gang is two hundred strong and they not only give you back a bicycle but they buy a bicycle for a poor person as well. Is it still wrong? Is it still stealing?
How about if the gang has a thousand people? ten thousand? A million?
How big does this gang have to be before it becomes okay for them to vote to forcibly take your property away without your consent? When, exactly, does the immorality of theft become the alleged morality of taxation?
This argument is simple, effective, and I knew it off the top of my head. For all those reasons, Huben would like to call it "evangelical". But what's actually *wrong* with it? Note that "you don't have to stay here and be taxed, you could always move to another country" is not an acceptable retort, because I don't have to stay in the neighborhood where a single thug steals my car either. The fact that I can avoid some petty crime by moving to a different neighborhood does not excuse that crime or the criminals. If living in East Palo Alto doesn't mean I consent to a "social contract" which includes having my car broken into, then living in the US doesn't mean I consent to a "social contract" which includes income taxes.
8. Quotations Popular With Libertarians
In this section Mike Huben lists a bunch of what he calls "bumper sticker phrases" used by libertarians. He criticizes these for being short and simple, and apparently feels compelled to rebut each one. But one thing he seems oblivious to is that many of the phrases he has chosen are primarily used as signatures. A signature phrase has the exact same purpose as a bumper sticker does: it says something about the sort of views held by the poster without taking up too much bandwidth.
Signature quotes by their very nature must be short and simple. The logical response to a signature you dislike is to come up with a retort that is just as pithy to use as your own signature line. If you are clever enough, other people will adopt your quote as their own.
Bumper sticker analogies are as poor a method of understanding libertarianism (let alone anything else) as science fiction. Too bad so many libertarians make such heavy use of those methods.
However, Libertarians make most of their serious arguments in actual studies, books, magazines, and essays. Anyone who is interested in libertarian topics should try reading a few of those in addition to quotes like these:
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887)
* "A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years."
To this Huben responds:
When you contract for government services, you are a customer, not a slave. If you think you cannot change with whom you contract, you have enslaved your self.
The government sets the terms of the contract. The government can arrest me or shoot me for failing to hold up my end; I cannot even sue the government for failing to hold up its end of the bargain without the government's permission. The government can force me to work; I cannot force the government to work. The government even sets the terms on which I may leave the country. This makes me a customer?
* "A wise and frugal government, w hich shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government." (First Inaugural Address)
Perhaps as an unreachable goal.
So what? If you agree with that goal, you are a libertarian. Even if you think it's unreachable (and many do). The whole point of the libertarian movement is to try to get as close as we possibly can to that goal. Yes, it might be unattainable; we know that. But it's still a good goal. There are a great many goals that are probably unattainable that people still value and work towards. For instance, trying to entirely prevent all rapes and murders and burglaries in your state this year is an unreachable goal. Should we therefore throw up our hands and not even try to improve matters?
Certainly Jefferson practiced differently than this[...]
Trust me, libertarians are aware of this. By modern standards Jefferson was not perfectly libertarian in his personal life. And you can even find a few quotes that reinforce that. But this particular quote stands on its own merits and needs no further defense from me.
But if you want get into a founder quoting contest[...]
I don't. So instead I'll tell you what: you feel free to use your favorite founder quotes in your signatures, and we'll use ours in ours. One reason libertarians like to quote Jefferson is to emphasize that they aren't quoting Hamilton...
Libertarians might endorse their interpretation of the initial quote
without the backing of Jefferson:
No, they endorse the initial quote *with* the backing of Jefferson. Deal with it. :-)
* "I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters."
Did Ayn Rand pay her taxes out of friendship then? That's a new one on me.
No, she paid them out of force rather than out of choice. I choose to give money to the Nature Conservancy, but I am forced to give money to the state. See the difference?
James A. Donald
* "We have the right to defend ourselves and our property, because of the kind of animals that we are. True law derives from this right, not from the arbitrary power of the omnipotent state."
I'm not qualified to defend "true law" or "natural rights". I'm not sure I understand those concepts and even less sure I agree with them. But I will note that Huben writes:
People who compare us to animals usually know little about animals and less about people.
There's one little problem: that quote doesn't compare people to animals.
* "It ain't charity if you are using someone else's money."
Almost all charitable organizations use other people's money.
But they usually ask before taking it out of your paycheck.
What they overlook is that, in many philosophical and religious systems (including Judaism and Islam), charity isn't a virtue of the giver: charity is the relief of the receiver.
T his quote is clearly using charity in the Christian sense of the word, so even if other religions have different conceptions of charity that doesn't invalidate the quote. I'm Jewish but that doesn't mean I haven't heard of "faith, hope and charity."
In any case it does not follow from a moral obligation to take care of the needy that government is the appropriate instrument with which to fulfill that obligation.
(BTW, my own objections to coerced charity are practical, not religious.)
* "Mob rule isn't any prettier merely because the mob calls itself a government."
Mike Huben writes:
Corporate feudalism isn't any prettier merely because the corporations prattle about free markets. Strawmen are SO easy to create. The presumption that the US government is the equivalent of mob rule is ludicrous.
The "mob rule" quote is actually a sort of shorthand for the "How many men?" moral argument, which I have listed above. If he wants to rebut something, he should rebut the actual argument rather than some signature-line version of it.
* "Utopia is not an option."
it applies to EVERY political theory.
That's the whole point. 'nuff said.
* "Democracy is like three wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch."
We are not a simple democracy: we are a representative democratic republic:
Yes, this quote is indeed primarily an argument against simple democracy. If you don't advocate simple democracy, feel free to ignore this quote! (see how easy that is?) But don't underestimate the number of people on the net who firmly believe in simple democracy. It is mostly to them rather than to you that that quote is likely directed.
there are not direct elections of laws and there is a constitution that limits what laws can be enacted.
"Used to limit, sort of" would be more accurate. Now that the Commerce Clause and others have been stretched as far as they have it is not at all clear what limits still remain. For instance, we passed a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol once because it was thought at that time that the federal government didn't have the power to ban a recreational drug like that. Later on the government became capable of banning any drug it felt like banning complete with federal penalties for noncompliance and even became capable of extraditing foreign drug suppliers to stand trial under US law.
9. _No Treason_.
Mike Huben writes:
Have you read "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority"?
No Treason" is a lengthy rant that doesn't take longer than the first paragraph to begin its egregious errors. For example, in the first paragraph: "It [The Constitution] purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago." Thus he focuses his attention on the Preamble, and evidently ignores Article VII, which says EXACTLY who contracted for the Constitution
What the constitution says regarding its own ratification procedure is essentially irrelevant to the argument that Spooner is making. Spooner's comments speak to the question of who this contract should be considered binding upon. Article VII is not overlooked, it is simply irrelevant to this question.
To illustrate: Suppose I wrote a document which I called the "NNL Constitution" that included the line, "Glen Raphael hereby has the legal right to seize Mike Huben's television and automobile."
In Article VII of this document I would write this: "The ratification of the conventions of three Fiefdoms shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the Fiefdoms so ratifying the same. Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the Fiefdoms present, the nineteenth day of January, in the year one thousand nine hundred and ninety-six. In Witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names."
[signatories FOR FIEFDOMS omitted.]
"I'd sign this as a representative of my fiefdom. I'd get a couple other libertarians to sign for the other two fiefdoms, one of which is defined to include Huben and his property. The head of the fiefdom having jurisdiction over Huben would have been duly chosen for that role in a "popular vote" that didn't happen to include Huben . Now, is the NNL a valid document with respect to Huben? The answer is clearly no. No matter what the document says, the people who signed that document didn't have his power of attorney so they have no ability to contract on his behalf. They can make binding contracts with each other but not with him, without his consent.
He's wrong on this simple matter of fact: the constitution says who contracted with whom.
And our NNL constitution says who contracted with whom. Does that mean I get to take your stuff? If not, then maybe Spooner is worth a second look. So read Spooner yourself, he's on the Web at: http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/www/NoTreason/NoTreason.html
10. Government versus the Mafia
"Extortion by the state is no different than extortion by the Mafia." This is a prize piece of libertarian rhetoric, because it slides in the accusation that taxation is extortion. This analogy initially seems strong, because both are territorial. However, libertarians consider contractual rental of land by owners (which is also fundamentally territorial) ethical, and consider coercion of squatters by those owners ethical. The key difference is who owns what. The Mafia doesn't own anything to contract about. The landowner owns the land (in a limited sense.) And the US government owns rights to govern its territory.
The mafia owns the right to govern its territory in the exact same sense as the Government does. Which is that it stands willing and able to defend that right by use of force.
Thus, the social contract can be required by the territorial property holder: the USA.
Then the Mafia's social contract can be required by the territorial property holder: the Mafia. same deal. You have yet to establish a difference that makes a difference. (See also the "If one man does it" argument.)
11. Property By Deed
"Of course it's my property. I paid money and hold the deed."
What do you hold the deed to? Property as recognized by a government.
Note that we say a claim to property is recognized by government rather than granted by it. There is a reason for that, which is that government is not the source of the property right. All the government can do is "recognize" it, taking notice of the fact that a valid claim exists. This claim predates the government's involvement in the matter. In the old west somebody would stake a claim to grazing land by publishing that claim in the local newspaper. Or by marking it, hence the term to "stake" a claim. Government's role in keeping track of deeds is simply a bookkeeping function.
Now, it may be true as a practical matter that these days you need the government to recognize your property right before you can safely exercise that right to its full extent. But you also need Bob, your next door neighbor, to recognize your property right in order to exercise it -- and this fact does not grant Bob the right to place arbitrary restrictions on your land!
For example, a clear statement of such an "easement" is in the Fourth Amendment, which essentially says that the government can enter your property with a valid search warrant and not be trespassing.
The Fourth Amendment says that the government will not violate your property right without such a warrant. This is a restriction on the government's ability to search legally, not a restriction on your right of ownership. You still have that right to be secure, even when the government violates it.
(For reference, the fourth amendment says:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.")
12. Taxation as Theft
5.Taxation is theft.
Two simple rebuttals to this take widely different approaches.
The first is that property is theft.
If you don't grant the legitimacy of property then you have no business criticizing people for theft of it. Specifically, you can't object if I come and take away your televi sion set, because you had no right to claim ownership of it in the first place. As for taxation, "taxation is theft" is a claim that the two acts are morally equivalent, because the "wrongness" of a taking does not depend on its legal status. [See also the "if one man does it" argument.]
The second is that taxation is part of a social contract.
This alleged "social contract" is not valid. (See Huben's sections 7-13 plus the mafia argument and _No Treason_) The chief validity that the social contract does have is the fact that the government will force you to adhere to it if necessary. But this is no different than the "social contract" you have with the Mafia when you are born in or move into a neighborhood which it controls.
13. Opposing initiation of force
Libertarians oppose the initiation of force.
How noble. And I'm sure that in a real libertarian society, everybody would hold to this morality as much as Christians turn the other cheek. [ :-( For the sarcasm-impaired.]
Let's try this in a parallel context and see how it sounds:
"Jews oppose pogroms.
How noble. And I'm sure in a real Jewish society, everybody would hold to this. ."
What was he thinking? Sure, some people won't live up to the goal, but that fact doesn't make it a bad goal nor does it reflect poorly on the people who hold it.
"Initiation of force" is another libertarian newspeak term that does not mean what the uninitiated might think. Libertarians except defense of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them retaliatory force.
Or rather, they call attacks upon property initiatory, which makes defense against them retaliatory. This is hardly a secret; it is what "initiation" *means*. If there were no varieties of force other than initiatory force then libertarians would simply be opposed to "force" and therefore indistiguishable from pacifists.
Like most other non-pacifistic belief systems, libertarians want to initiate force
A quick correction here, there actually are some libertarians who are pacifistic. The chief reason that the Minerva project failed was that the libertarians who were involved did not want to fight for their territory. Most libertarians are not pacifist, but the fact that some are means that libertarianism isn't a specifically non-pacifistic belief syst em. One should point out that the emphasis is on the fact that "initiation of force is wrong", not "retaliatory force is right". Retaliatory force *may* be right, but it depends on the circumstances and there are disagreements as to when it is appropriate and what degree of force is allowed. Confusion over this particular point generates a great many illogical anti-libertarian arguments that sound like: "Libertarianism says that if you accidentally step on my lawn, I get to kill you in cold blood with my bazooka and eat your entrails, posting your head on a pole to warn the next guy." (For example, Rich Puchalsky's tongue-in-cheek "FAQ for Prospective Libertarians" does this.) Let's avoid such statements as much as possible, as they tend to generate more heat than light.
for what they identify as their interests and call it righteous retaliation, and use the big lie technique to define everything else as evil "initiation of force".
"And use the big lie technique." Wow, speaking of evangelistic rhetoric, that one was even better than slipping in "newspeak" earlier!
They support the initial force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of property, and wish to continue to use force to perpet uate it and make it more rigid.
Here Huben is claiming that the institution of private property is illegitimate and that we should not "use force to perpetuate" that system. Which must mean that we should stop prosecuting thieves and trespassers and bank robbers. And he claims that *Libertarians* have an agenda which is utopian and which the general population would not approve of if they knew? Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle!
14. The Pledge
The National Libertarian Party membership form has "the pledge" on it: "I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." It's quite amusing to hear how much libertarians disagree over what it means: whether it is or isn't ok to overthrow the US because it has "initiated force" and they would be "retaliating".
What it originally meant is uncontested. The LP was formed at a time when the FBI was generally regarded as big on infiltrating and breaking up organizations which were perceived as a danger to society. Including "the pledge" was seen as a prudent means of sending a message that the LP was not a bunch of bomb-throwers. It was a way of distinguishing the LP from soci alists and anarchists.
Of course, now that we've HAD the pledge for 24 years, it naturally means different things to different people. Some people have grown rather fond of it, others think it's safe to get rid of it now that we're an established party that can get on the ballot in all 50 states and qualify for (but not accept) matching federal funding for our candidates. The ones who are fond of it are fond of it for different reasons, and some of them don't know where it came from. So they disagree.
Beyond this perceived class interest, libertarian dislike of "initiation of force" isn't much different than anyone else's. It may be humanitarian, defensive, etc.
The fact that other groups share a particular goal doesn't reflect negatively on that goal or the people who hold it. (see also: "Libertarians defend Freedom".)
15. Size of Libertarian Party
The Libertarian Party: America's third largest political party. Wow, third! That sounds impressive until you realize that the Libertarian Party is about 0.1% of the size of the other two. Funny how they don't mention that in their slogan.
< br> They wanted to include it in the slogan, but then they realized it would be tough to keep current since the LP keeps growing and the other partes keep shrinking. After considering the example of McDonald's ("Billions and Billions Served") they decided it would be simpler to leave it out of the slogan. :-) Of course, sooner or later we might outgrow the "third largest" designation too, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Almost as comical is the Libertarian Party's '94 election results. They now have even fewer elected dogcatchers and other important officials. Most notable, their loss of 2 out of 4 state reps in New Hampshire.
We lost one of those two state reps because he died, and we actually gained in overall numbers especially at the lower levels. More importantly, our *ideas* won that election, and we've been getting a tremendous amount of positive publicity ever since. The Cato Institute (a libertarian think-tank) and the LP are both getting noticed now. A lot. Since many LP members think the purpose of the LP is to send a message rather than to win elections, that's no small victory. Some other victories:
(1) The LP was the first third party this century to be on the ballot in all 50 states two years running.
(2) One of our candidates (Harry Browne) qua lified for matching funding. (he refused it)
(3) half of the Republican presidential candidates in the last election chose to steal some of our "unthinkable" ideas, like a flat tax and term limits. Steve Forbes campaigned almost exclusively on these ideas.
16. Successful Libertarian Experiments
Mike Huben writes:
24.Why shouldn't we adopt libertarian government now?
Because there are no working examples of libertarian cities, states, or nations.
Innumerable other ideologies have put their money where their mouths are, if not their lives. Examples include most nations that have had Marxist revolutions, Israel, many of the American colonies, a huge number of religious and utopian communities, etc.
Let libertarians point to successful libertarian programs to seek our endorsement. For example, narcotic decriminalization in Holland has been a success. So has legalized prostitution in Nevada and Germany (and probably other places.) Privatization of some municipal services has been successful in some communities. But these are extremely small scale compared to the total libertarian agenda, and do not rule out emergent problems and instabilities of a full scale libertarian system.
Mike Huben starts to claim that there are no s uccessful libertarian programs, and then lists several. What's wrong with this picture?
MH proposes that we should "Let libertarians point to successful libertarian programs to seek our endorsement," but that is exactly what they do, constantly. Every libertarian reform has some precedent somewhere. "the total libertarian agenda" is the sum of a lot of parts, just as the total republican agenda, the total democratic agenda and the total communist agenda are. Does MH hold libertarians to a higher standard than other groups?
"these do not rule out emergent problems and instabilities" could apply to any conceivable program or collection of programs that might be proposed by any group whatsoever. Once MH demonstrates his own coherent political worldview, is it going to survive this critique?
Mike Huben goes on to say:
A working libertarian experiment could be easily county sized. A tiny religious sect was able to buy control of Antelope, Oregon and relocate there a few years ago: the vastly more numerous libertarians could do much more. Privatize the roads, schools, libraries, police. Abolish property taxes, zo ning, anything not required by the state. Then show the benefits. Yes, the state will prevent you from achieving some libertarian goals: do what you can to show how you can improve things. You shouldn't have to go 100% libertarian to show marked benefits according to most libertarian claims.
What makes him think there aren't oodles of working libertarian experiments going on right now? In fact, we have libertarian mayors, libertarian city councils, and cities that pass libertarian initiatives. There's a town in Utah with a predominantly libertarian city council, elected partly because oodles of libertarians chose to relocate there.
Libertarian experiments have been tried, are being tried, and are working. We know from past and present libertarianish experiments that:
Marijuana legalization reduces use, abuse, and crime (Holland)
Decriminalization of heroin possession reduces crime and improves the public health (England)
< br> Legal sales of syringes reduces the spread of AIDS without increasing drug use (dozens of places including England.)
Allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons reduces all categories of violent crime. (Florida, Vermont, soon to be Texas)
Allowing multiple competing electric networks drives down utility prices and increases consumer satisfaction without noticable additional environmental impact (Lubbock, Texas)
Allowing multiple competing cable companies can drastically reduce consumer costs, increase channel availability and increase consumer satisfaction. (in dozens of cities; see the 1989 survey in _Consumer's Digest_ magazine)
Big cities can exist and thrive without any zoning laws at all, using free-market mechanisms to anticipate and resolve disputes. In such a situation, housing costs are reduced, homelessness is reduced, self-employment is encouraged and lower-income/minority members are the chief advocates for maintaining the lack of zoning. (Houston, Texas)
Private libraries are cheap and can provide high-quality service even to people who can't afford to pay for it. (in dozens of cities)
Fire service can be provided through voluntary means, either with a nonprofit volunteer department or a for-profit subscription service (hundreds of cities)
Security services can be provided either via contract or volunteer patrols (hundreds of cities)
Not having a minimum wage or huge package of mandatory benefits and restrictions serving as barriers to employment frequently coincides with low-to-nonexistent unemployment (places like Singapore)
Having extremely high barriers to employment frequently coincides with a very high unemployment r ate (most of europe)
Private services can deliver stuff faster and cheaper to more places with higher reliability than public services can (UPS, New Zealand, Spooner's American Letter Company...)
Legalized prostitution tends to reduce crime and improve the public health (Nevada)
Abolishing rent control reduces homelessness and (after a few years) housing prices; instituting rent control destroys housing stock and increases homelessness (everywhere it has ever been tried)
Government ownership/management of land can destroy it in ways which the free market could never afford to do because it is so spectacularly unprofitable. ("Chaining" of the Tongass National Forests by the USFS and BLM to create grazelands at ridiculous expense. IMF and World Bank subsidies that support Brazillian rainforest destruction.)
Private management of land can produce win-win solutions that preserve endangered species while also providing economic benefit (The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, those african countries that allow private ownership of elephants and as a result have elephant OVERpopulation)
And so on. In fact, the reason why many pragmatically-oriented people like myself end up libertaria n is that we see SO many examples of libertarian reform working (or at least failing to fail) that it's hard to imagine it NOT working. The basic principles follow directly from the study of real-world examples and from standard economic analysis.
If you _look_ for examples of a specific libertarian reform, you can usually find them. If you look for counterexamples, cases in which libertarian reform was tried and demonstrated to fail, it is extremely hard to find them. The books carried by Laissez-Faire Books are filled with thousands of examples of libertarian reforms that worked. There are so many examples that you need entire books just to deal with tiny subcategories of libertarian reform like local service privatization or free banking or medical reform. Libertarians and Libertarian organizations like the Pacific Research Institute and the Cato Institute publish several hundred books a year in the US, increasingly through major publishers. Some of these books are almost nothing BUT a vast array of positive or negative examples.
So if Mike Huben thinks that there haven't been any libertarian experiments and that libertarians can't point to them, all that I can conclude is that he hasn't looked.
Libertarians can point to hundreds of examples of successful libertarian reforms. But Mike Huben prefers to restrict himself to meta-discussions which are about arguments on the net instead of discussions about the real world. His FAQ contains a list of books for and against Libertarianism, but he admits that he hasn't really read most of them on either side, because books don't interest him. Instead, what he seems to have done is collect a bunch of strawmen and knock them down. Ironically, a document which claims to be devoted to the demolition of illogical arguments is actually founded upon several of them.
And so it fails. Even the occasional error that he does find just indicates something that most of us knew all along, which is that Usenet tends to be full of college students who are just starting to encounter and understand -- and occasionally misinterpret or poorly defend -- a bunch of new ideas. But if you want to discredit Libertarianism you do not need to confront the worst advocates of it, you need to confront the best advocates. You need to look at the *underlying* ideas. Start with the economists F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and David Friedman. Read the books that others refer to. Or read good essays by libertarian writers; I reference several at this site. After you've done that, then we can talk. Good luck.
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