Thursday, September 07, 2006


The Distinction

Taking off from our Wal-Mart discussion:

How much responsibility can we place on a rational individual/business for using the legal opportunities presented them by government?

What about politicians? Is a politician not to blame for expanding a program just to have more people beneath him? It is perfectly rational for him and he is just using the existing framework and "legal opportunities" presented him, just like a private business takes advantage of laws like eminent domain.

Travis doesn't see the distinction.

Well are you going to help me out or not? I would like to see the distinction...I think.
Ok, now I'll (try to) answer. I have a lot of different thoughts that go in different directions, so bear with me. I don't really know that there's any good answer.

James Madison understood it best when he argued in Fed 10 (and LOTS of other places) that systems cannnot be made to rely on human goodness. Human nature causes people to be ambitious and selfish; we shouldn't expect more from them just because they're given power over a large political system.

Politicians should respond to the demands of their constituents. If citizens demanded smaller government and protections for liberties, they'd get it. However, they don't.

So, we need a system wherein individual liberties are protected absolutely. The Framers of the Constitution thought they had done that, but it didn't quite work. The system is clearly broken.

OK, next. Who is responsible and who is not?

If an individual or politician claims to be a libertarian or a Natural Rights advocate, then behaves differently, that person is a hypocrite. People like that obviously value their personal comfort (at least to a degree) more than their ideals. This kind of hypocrisy becomes more glaring the more power a person has.

However, this is clearly not limited just to libertarians. Socialists, Democrats, Republicans - all of them make deals all the time, compromising their ideals for expediency or reelection or money.

As Lord Action said: "Power corrupts." So far, no one has been able to devise and implement a political system that gets around this problem.

Are you saying that there is some sort of failure in the "market of ideas" that keeps people from voting for the "best" government policies (libertarian ones)?
It's hard to say (with certainty) why people vote the way they do. However, even if the marketplace is performing well, we wouldn't know it because we have a pluarlity system here.

Also, the "best" government policies aren't libertarian for everyone. State employees, federal employees and recipients of any kind of government largesse have large incentives to vote for non-libertarian candidates.
Do we expect politicians not to act in their own self-interest? Do we hope that altruism will move them to act in their constituents' interest even when it's contrary to theirs?

But to get back to the main point, what excuses private enterprises when they use oppressive laws to suit their interests that doesn't excuse politicians/"the public sector"? Is it because the latter actually has some power to change the law? I don't get it.
Sorry, I guess I was unclear. The only reason we have to expect politicians to act in the public interest is if voters demand that they do so: by voting and donating money. That way, politicians acting in their own interest are acting in the public's interest as well.

In order to get them to act in the interest of human liberty? I'm not sure yet. I guess step one is to get voters and donors to care about liberty.
Even further, why would a voter or a campaign donor care about the "public interest"? If individual donors (like Wal-Mart) support horrible legislation (like eminent domain) because it helps their businesses make money, then why are we to believe that they would be the check on abusive powers and abusive laws?

The special interest problem is a tough one. Just because I'm a member of "the public" doesn't mean I'm going to use my political power as a voter/donor and citizen to secure "the public interest". In fact, I'm going to secure my interest--sometimes at the expense of everyone else.

Are we asking libertarians to abandon self-interest?
As long as the current system is a "given," I'm not sure what the answer is.

In answer to "Are we asking libertarians to abandon self-interest?":

Maybe, but maybe not. If voting and donating to libertarian causes gives one more utility than voting and donating to causes that will benefit one economically, then it is self-interested to act like a libertarian.

I guess it just goes to show that most of us love money more than liberty.

(Apologies - I'm being a total downer today.)
I wrote, in an attempt to slay another thread,
"Where does the desire for an anti-statist approach come from if not from a normative love of liberty?
Part of the reason we find it so hard to convince our statist foes of the relevance and legitimacy of Austrian principles and approaches is that they are blinded by a love of security or some other motivator that causes them to look to the state. Intellectual persuasion will only take us so far with these true believers. What will be required is a conversion experience from love of state to love of liberty."
Travis suggested that Libertarians might be the blind ones, and I agree. Reason has done with us and we must turn to revelation. (Groan.)
Compromise is easy, it smooths the waters. True believers rock the boat and get tossed overboard.
A conversion experience, intellectual or otherwise, is required.
Anyone else think it's sad that me and Nathan read the blog after midnight?

"I guess it just goes to show that most of us love money more than liberty."

But Jenna, the choice is never between liberty and money. It's between mostly liberty and mostly liberty with more money. What effect does any one person's refusal of government favors have on the liberty that everyone can enjoy? There is no contest here.

P.S. Steelers bars are cool on game night.
So, we all just throw up our hands and say "Screw it, I've had it with this liberty thing!"?

Seriously, what steps should we lovers of liberty take? There has to be something (other than giving up our cushy government paychecks) that would actually be useful.

My first suggestion: change the way we vote. IRV in North Carolina is a good start. Other suggestions?
We should be in the business of changing preferences.
Dr. Richard Ebeling has a great piece in this month's Freeman encouraging lovers of liberty to keep the faith.

My favorite line, "The case for liberty will be won outside of politics and the current political trends. It will be won through a change in the climate of ideas. And it will be won precisely by arguing the principled case for freedom, regardless of the apparent opposing trends of the time."

(How do you do that fancy linking thing?)
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