Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why I Am Not A Libertarian

Hi. I'm a liberal.

No, really. I mean it. I'm a liberal.

For some reason, a lot of people hear that and they feel compelled to say "Oh, you don't really mean that. If you believe in freedom then you should be a libertarian." They're wrong. I'm still a liberal.

I've occasionally touched on libertarianism during my time talking on The Non-Prophets and The Atheist Experience, but whenever this happens I feel the urge to tread lightly. These shows (especially the TV show) are targeted at a general atheist audience, and so I don't want to get into liberal/conservative issues more than necessary, because I don't necessarily want to alienate right wing and libertarian atheists. Also, I am friends with a few libertarians, though not that many.

There aren't many atheist Republicans, but there sure are a lot of atheist libertarians. I suspect that this is because libertarians share much of their economic philosophy with Republicans, and yet recognize that the Republican party is hugely dependent on the religious right. Hence, people who want to be Republicans but can't stomach the Bible thumpers wind up as libertarians.

In principle, libertarians believe that they incorporate the most "pro-freedom" elements of both parties. From liberals, they believe in social freedoms such as the right to read and watch whatever you want, and have sex with whomever you want. From conservatives, they believe in the freedom to "keep your own money" and not pay for any social programs. Libertarians believe that all taxation is theft, taken at gunpoint. I prefer to think of taxes as a cost of living in a civilized world. Since I'm a liberal, I apparently hate your freedom.

I believe that we are better off for having a government that actually does stuff. Not that I think the government is in good hands right now; I think that we are being run by a bunch of insane bunglers who are incapable of long term planning. Nevertheless, I believe that a government, run by competent and rational people, is critical for managing aspects of a decent society that the free market doesn't address. That's right, there are things that the free market does not, never has, and cannot do.

Galt's Imaginary Gulch

I've read Atlas Shrugged. I quite liked it on first reading. For those who don't know about this book, I'm going to provide spoilers but you have to read them anyway.

Atlas Shrugged is a philosophical novel written by Ayn Rand, who is in many ways a hero to libertarians and the originator of many ideas within the movement. In the story, the world is increasingly run by stupid and lazy people, and clearly going to hell in a handbasket. The stupid people believe in "altruism", which in Rand's world always means "forcing productive people to give their hard earned money to people who don't deserve it."

The productive people feel more and more powerless as time goes on, and one by one they seem to disappear off the face of the planet. Finally it is revealed that they are living in Galt's Gulch, a hidden libertarian utopia where only productive geniuses (inventors and manufacturers and such) are allowed to stay. They hide in their little corner of the world until the hero, John Galt, decides the time is right; then they break out, Galt makes a speech that lasts roughly 100 pages, and the competent people take over the world again.

There were many reasons why I liked the book. For one, I appreciate the view that smart and competent people are the ones who ought to run things, and that often doesn't happen. Overall, I agree with the message that "selfishness" is not always wrong, nor in conflict with the greater good. And I like the emphasis that Rand places on individualism and creativity.

At the same time, there were a few things that bothered me about the book, but I couldn't put my finger on them until later. One of the key "villains" was a scientist, who was doing his "altruistic" research on government money. Why, this scoundrel couldn't even prove that his work was PROFITABLE enough to deserve private money, and in the Rand universe, not being profitable is the worst sin imaginable.

Here's the problem: in a nutshell, that's my dad. My dad does fusion research, and relies on the existence of a government that values the pursuit of scientific knowledge in order to generate long term benefits. If my dad and his colleagues are successful in their work, fusion could someday provide cheap energy for everyone in the world, and drastically reduce our dependence on oil.

Fusion research requires a massive amount of research dollars, over a period of decades, with no guarantee of ever recovering enough profit to justify an individual investment. This isn't the way the business world works. Stockholders who are obsessed with a three month profit and loss sheet simply don't recognize concepts such as "decades". Furthermore, it's not necessarily clear how a private company could turn an exclusive profit even if they did unlock the gateway to easily produced fusion energy. Such a momentous scientific discovery could benefit humanity best if the knowledge were freely available to everyone, and sooner or later, it would be. The long term benefit of CHEAP energy should be obvious to everyone, but "cheap" and "profitable" don't always go together.

The other problem with Rand's universe was pointed out to me by a friend whom I met only after finishing the book. Think of any child character (let's say under the age of 12) who is portrayed in a positive light in any of Ayn Rand's books.

Go on, I'm waiting.

There aren't any. And here's my theory about why there aren't any: Children are leeches on society. They don't turn a profit for their parents. Occasionally, a child will grow up and take care of his parents when they are old and feeble, but this is the exception rather than the rule. On the whole, most parents pour a lot more time and money into a child's upbringing than they get out of it, and parenting is its own nebulous reward, with financial incentives being very hard to see.

Of course, I understand that Ayn Rand, along with many other people I know, remained childless by choice. And hey, that's okay by me. If you're deliberately child-free, then all I can say is, thank you! I'm acutely aware of overpopulation. I'm a step-dad twice and a dad once. The fewer kids other people have, the more resources will be available to my descendants.

But that's not the issue. The issue is that there are billions of kids in the world, and kids aren't self-sufficient. It's not because they're lazy, it's not because they're leeches, it's because they are physically and mentally incapable of taking care of themselves. As a parent, my job is to provide the kids' physical needs to the extent that they can't provide for themselves, and supply sufficient mental and philosophical guidance so that they hopefully become the kinds of functioning adult that a Randist utopia would require.

There's more to it than that. Rand libertarians naively imagine that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" fairly and equitably distributes money purely on the basis of merit. If you're poor, it's because you're lazy and stupid and you deserve to be poor. If you're rich, it's because you are hard working and smart.

Right. And I have some beachfront property to sell you in Las Vegas.

Of course innate smarts and diligence matter, but what also matters is being in the right place at the right time. I am a moderately successful guy, and I like to think of myself as pretty smart and at least occasionally hard working. I support a family as the sole income earner, and I expect to make more after I get my Master's Degree in two years. It would be easy for me to arrogantly assume that I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and accomplished everything on my own.

But I didn't. I am lucky to have been born to a middle class family in twentieth century America. Had I been born in Rwanda, all the smarts and dedication in the world wouldn't have brought me the amount of food, shelter and comfort that I enjoy today. Had I been born in medieval Europe, it's overwhelmingly likely that my parents would have been peasants, which doesn't afford a kid much social mobility.

Furthermore, I had the benefit of two remarkably smart and dedicated parents, who valued education and pushed me to go farther than I could have without their help. I've lived in good neighborhoods. I went to some good schools, both public and private. I commuted to one of the best public high school districts for miles around. And I got to earn my Bachelor's degree without having to pay for college myself. I had inspiring teachers, and my dad used some pull help me get my first job, though I was only in it for about a year before moving on to better things.

I'd have to be one smug, pompous son of a bitch to sit here and say that "I made it on my own, with no help from anyone." I made it to where I am partly by being smart. But it only mattered because I was working within a remarkably effective system where people thrive. Hardly anybody really "makes it on their own."

But that's what I get from libertarians. They dismiss the carefully crafted government system we have, with its public works like schools and roads and zoning laws, with its cleverly constructed system of checks and balances. All this they call the tools of a tyrannical society that wants to rob you of your hard earned money. The assumption is that if you have money and success, then it's because you earned it.

Clearly this is not the case. Just look at Paris Hilton. Is there any reason in the world why she should be famous, other than her daddy's money? She's not especially talented, her looks are mostly the result of surgery and expensive makeup, and she has one of the most abrasive personalities I've ever seen. Yet people can't seem to stop being fascinated with her life. Clearly she has top-notch PR people. But PR people cost money.

This isn't an anti-rich people rant, by any means. But the economic system we have is known as "capitalism", which means that what you get rewarded for is HAVING capital. We don't live under a strict meritocracy. Often, happily, the two systems coincide with each other, so that the brightest and most deserving are rewarded with great wealth. I'm all for that, which is why I am basically a fan of capitalism over most of the alternatives.

But there's a dark side to capitalism: capital amplifies itself. The more you have, the more you are likely to get. There's an old joke: How do you make a small fortune in the stock market? Start with a large fortune. That's funny but true, and not just true of stocks. If you start with a huge pile of money, your successes amplify that money while your mistakes don't wipe you out. If you start out with nothing, a few people will be good enough to scrabble their way to the top, but most also end up with nothing. This is a simple fact of life, which any effective system of government has to take into account and deal with.

For example, what is one of the best predictors of how well a student will do in school? How well their parents did, according to a study done by the Educational Research Service. Which makes sense, of course. If your parents are smart and educated, as mine were, they'll drill into you the importance of getting your own education, and this in turn will affect the way you approach your studies. If your parents are dropouts, often they'll convey the message, whether intentionally or subliminally, that school isn't worthwhile.

We Don't Need No Public Education

One key cause célèbre for Libertarians is their opposition to public schools. This is a point where I happen to fundamentally disagree with Libertarianism, and it serves to illustrate why I disagree with the whole concept.

As everyone knows, our public primary and secondary school system is not the envy of the world. We routinely see studies lamenting how far American kids are behind kids in other countries, when it comes to subjects like math and science. Libertarians use this common knowledge as a talking point to promote their desire to ultimately eliminate the public school system altogether, replacing it with a school voucher system. The new system would give everyone a certain amount of money in vouchers, which they could then spend at the private school of their choice. Vouchers, they argue, would spur schools on to ever more excellent performance. The laws of natural selection would weed out the underperforming schools, and the great schools would thrive.

In a sense, they're probably right. Given extra funding from the government, a lot of really good private schools WOULD thrive and improve. Then they'd become more competitive, and the best and richest students would have a top notch education.

But wait a minute. The best and richest students can ALREADY get a top notch education at private schools. It's just that they don't get extra government funding on top of the money they already have. The point of funding public education is not to give an extra edge to the rich kids; it's to make sure that the poor kids also have access to a decent education, thus leveling the playing field.

The thing about free markets is that they're very efficient at giving people exactly what they can pay for. If you're rich and hungry, you can go get a steak prepared by a world class chef and served by a polite and attentive waiter. If you're not rich but still hungry, you can get a Big Mac served by a surly teenager. If you're barely scraping by, you can eat Ramen every day until the all-carb diet eventually leads you to an early death. There's simply no profit in serving you decent food.

The question that we need to face is whether we want poor people to get the educational equivalent of Ramen at every meal. That's what we'll ultimately get with the voucher system. Those who can afford to pay for great private schools, will do so and use their vouchers to pay a bit less. Those who have nothing but the vouchers, will be paying the bare minimum and going to whatever schools they can get into. Chances are very good that the best publicly supported schools will be better than they are now, and the worst schools will be much worse once their funding is yanked and only the poorest people go there.

So what do I care? you might ask. If I'm a reasonably affluent parent, then MY kid is going to get a good education, using MY money. I don't want to pay extra for some poor kid's education; that's theft. Worse yet, I might be one of those childless-by-choice adults, in which case I'm paying for other kids' education but getting nothing out of it. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!

Here's where that logic goes wrong. You do get something out of funding education for the kids of other people. You get to buy the privilege of living in a society where people are not completely uneducated morons. And in that society, other people's kids grow up to be more intelligent and productive, which benefits everybody. The educated kids are also, statistically, much less likely to commit crimes, and that also benefits you.

And this is what really gets to the heart of where I disagree with libertarianism. None of us live in a vacuum. We have to deal with other people on a daily basis, whether we like it or not. Unless you're planning to become one of those society hating hermits who lives out in the mountains with a personal arsenal of assault weapons, the things you do affect me. If you don't get a decent education and that turns you into a violent thug, that affects me. If you dump crap in the water I'm trying to drink out of, that affects me.

And as for taxes? I pay for the things that make up the societal infrastructure that makes me comfortable, thanks very much. Schools that educate kids. Roads that allow me to go from place to place. A post office that delivers EVERYWHERE, even those middle of nowhere places that wouldn't turn a profit if they were privatized. Law enforcement for everyone, not just those who can afford to hire private guards and live in gated communities.

Me paying for those things is not theft. On the other hand, if you decide to be one of those "protestors" who refuse to pay their taxes, while you still enjoy the benefits of the roads and low crime that I'm paying for? That's theft.

America is not a pure libertarian society and never has been. Yet people who live here generally believe that they are living in the greatest country on earth. We didn't get to be a great country without taxes and government work. In fact, many of the things we take for granted today, we have BECAUSE of the system of government and regulated economics that are in place.

Getting back to school vouchers, libertarians argue that we should do away with our public school system because it's broken. But what are they comparing it to? Which are the countries that outperform us in math and science? Countries like Japan, Canada, and Germany. Do these countries model the libertarian ideal? Of course not. Like us, they have public schools with national standards. They do the same thing we do, but better. Are there ANY examples around the world of the voucher program being successful?

Like so many features of libertarianism, the answer is no. So many of the concepts in a libertarian utopia have never been pulled off in any successful country. Thus, it is simply a matter of faith that creating a true libertarian society would actually work. There's no evidence to measure against. Of course, they say "If only somebody would TRY creating a society based on Libertarian ideals, it would quickly be clear how successful the theory is." Sure. That's what Communists say about their system, which has never been tried either. It's easy to make such claims when there's no evidence either way.

Losing That Loving Feeling

A story appeared in the news a few weeks ago about some libertarians who want to take over Loving County, Texas. Why Loving County? Because it's one of the most sparsely populated areas in the country, boasting a population of 71. The highest concentration of people in the county live in the "big city" of Mentone; 16 people live there. Their plan is to move en masse into Loving County so that they can set up a libertarian utopia -- a mini version of Galt's Gulch, if you will. According to the article:

The goal, said an e-mail message attributed to a group member, was to move in enough Libertarians "to control the local government and remove oppressive regulations (such as planning and zoning, and building code requirements) and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling."


Yeah, that's right: cannibalism! Because if there's one thing that's a threat to my personal liberty, it's the damn government sticking its intrusive laws in the way of my right to eat people!

But seriously. Why do the libertarians feel the need to take over a county of 71 people? If their ideas are so great, why don't they just do a PR campaign in a normal sized town, saying "Let's repeal all these laws! Why just imagine our town in ten years. You can duel me for insulting your honor, and if I lose, you can eat me!"

I'll tell you why they don't do it that way: because they'd lose. Badly. Know why? Because people LIKE having laws against cannibalism. And dueling. And price-gouging. And so on. Those laws, along with the many other laws we have, are there to maintain a stable, sane community. The things that these libertarians want... they AREN'T POPULAR.

And in a way, that's the paradox of libertarianism. If people are free to do what they want, the people will speak and they'll vote themselves laws that regulate what their fellow citizens can and can't do.

And that's a good thing.

12 comments:

  1. pat doyle2:33 PM

    Good stuff. That's why a lot of us libs are calling them "idiotarians" these days.

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  2. --good post on a number of levels...-- not sure how I'd qualify myself (politically) now... probably liberal and reformed liberarian? --- In addition to everything else you mentioned part of the problem is that this country is no longer a multi-party system.... and if one wants some of the perks that go along with participating in politics then at a certain point one has to let go of ideals (misguided or not) like 3rd parties.... I voted libertarian in the first 2 presidential elections where I was of voting age... thinking I was 'voting my conscience'.

    In this last election I changed my tune and with little confidence in Kerry voted for him anyway... as the idea of another 4 years of Bush curdled my stomach--- the idea of "the lesser of 2 evils" may sound stupid.... but if that's the choice, then that's the choice.... take it or leave it but don't try and pretend we have any other....

    Al

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  3. I've never voted libertarian.

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  4. OK, I'll challenge this article. Let me start with this paragraph.

    I believe that we are better off for having a government that actually does stuff. Not that I think the government is in good hands right now; I think that we are being run by a bunch of insane bunglers who are incapable of long term planning. Nevertheless, I believe that a government, run by competent and rational people, is critical for managing aspects of a decent society that the free market doesn't address. That's right, there are things that the free market does not, never has, and cannot do.

    The assumption on the left is that people, left to their own devices and attmepting to improve their lot in life will naturally end up rushing the planet and society headlong to their own destruction. It is believed that if we can only get the correct legislators in place and leave important decisions to these more enlightened, socially responsible individuals is the only way that man can be prevented from destroying himself. Yet I ask, what suddenly makes an elected official less self destructive than the rest of us, and why should we really want universal sufferage given the self destructive nature of most people. Are we to trust people to vote on the best legislators to solve their problems, but not trust them to solve their own problems?

    I'll go on to point out that Ayn Rand started the objectivist school of thought and that libertarianism (though it was then called liberalism) was around long before she came to prominance. Many libertarians disagree vehemently with objectivists on many things.

    You go on to point out that a free market cannot think far enough ahead to invest in fusion research despite the potential advances for humanity in general. I could point out that politicians rarely think past 4 years, but I will instead say that the market can and would support such research when humanity needs it. If oil prices continue to rise (due to scarcity rather than inflation) than more money will be invested into finding energy alternatives. Politicians love to invest in so-called green technology, but not having any market forces to help them determine when and where that technology is needed, they are more likely to invest in useless technologies as helpfull technology. (and with our current political system I would claim that they would be much more likely to invest in technologies pormoted by those with the most political clout.)

    There's more to it than that. Rand libertarians naively imagine that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" fairly and equitably distributes money purely on the basis of merit. If you're poor, it's because you're lazy and stupid and you deserve to be poor. If you're rich, it's because you are hard working and smart.

    I know of no libertarians that would claim this. They simply don't see law as being a legitimate way of bringing about the impossible utopian desire of perfect equality. However, if you tax away all the rich people's 'excess profit', you also have to deal with certain consequences. Seeing as how rich poeple invest far more heavily in new businesses and new jobs, taxing away their excess capital reduces future job growth. Reducing future job growth then reduces workers ability to negotiate for higher wages as they will end up having more competition for the fewer jobs available.

    As everyone knows, our public primary and secondary school system is not the envy of the world. We routinely see studies lamenting how far American kids are behind kids in other countries, when it comes to subjects like math and science. Libertarians use this common knowledge as a talking point to promote their desire to ultimately eliminate the public school system altogether, replacing it with a school voucher system. The new system would give everyone a certain amount of money in vouchers, which they could then spend at the private school of their choice. Vouchers, they argue, would spur schools on to ever more excellent performance. The laws of natural selection would weed out the underperforming schools, and the great schools would thrive.

    I think that progressives have trouble distinguishing between law and society. As a result, every time a libertarian objects to something being done by government, they assume we object to it being done at all. Your talk about vouchers is a bit misleading as any libertarian I know wants government out of education completely. Any voucher system (in fact any government money) will come with strings attached which will compromise the private school and move it closer to a public school. So what would happen if we got rid of government schools.

    Many progressives assume that poor people would get no education. This stems from a belief that public education is 'free education', but of course, nothing is free. In 2004, we spent 462.7 billion dollars on public education. That money would be immediately returned to the taxpayers. Since most of this money comes from property taxes, it would end up back in the pockets of everyone who isn't homeless, rich and poor alike.

    Another effect the ending of compulsary education would have would be that some people would choose not to school their children. Before public schools were common in the U.S. some of the best selling books were reading primers and there was no illiteracy problem in our country. If I have a succesfull carpentry business and I choose to keep my son home and teach him my business and what I feel he needs to learn, why is that wrong?

    You go on to claim that poor children would end up in the worst schools, yet right now only wealthy people can afford to send their children to private schools because they have to, in effect, pay for that schooling twice (once through thier property taxes), so the poor are already going to the worst schools. If, however, they went to a poor private school, that school would have incentive to improve (attracting more students) that public schools lack. In addition, many businesses would understand the need for a well educated work force and would set up scholarships and other financial help for the poor. Believe the poor would be excluded from private schools? Read this:
    http://www.educationnext.org/20054/22.html
    And this:
    http://www.ncl.ac.uk/egwest/research/privateschools.html

    You say that the free market does not provide good meals for the poor and, in this, you are correct. While charitymay not be the perview of a free market, it is much more so that it is the perview of the government. Most charity does, and should, come from private individuals yet corporations do have a good track record of giving to charity. Is that good for the bottom line? Well, it turns out it is. Companies do not just put up a sign that says 'my busines' and automagically have customers, they have to attract those customers and many businesses realize that goodwill from the community can be better than paying a high priced Madison Avenue ad firm.

    Yet when someone is in need. Truly in need of a meal and a bed to keep them alive, do they turn to the government? No. They go to the Family Kitchen for a meal and to the YMCA for a bed.

    So what is the law for?
    http://www.constitution.org/law/bastiat.htm

    (Excuse any spelling or grammar errors, my wife is waiting for me and I have to run without proofing.)

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  5. Anonymous11:24 PM

    I don't think you denied that that taxes are taken by force, only that it should be condoned because "we are better off having a government that actually does stuff."

    And calling a tax protester a thief, however, is a frightening evasion of language.

    I admit that libertarianism is a radical departure from every major society today. But it is not true that that it has never been applied successfully. For more than 250 years, a peaceful stateless society existed in Medieval Iceland. No other society in history can claim nearly 300 years of peaceful, prosperous coexistence with its neighbors.

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  6. It looks like I'm getting at least a bit of traffic from people who don't normally comment on my blog, which I think is great. Hi libertarians. Would you mind telling me where you found my blog? I'd like to be aware of sites that produce traffic for me. Are you regular readers of the blog? Did you get here from some index of atheist blogs, which I know I'm on? Was the post linked somewhere? Please let me know, if you're still there.

    Anyway, I'll get to writing responses, but as it is I have a test in my graduate course on Data Mining in about an hour and a half, so I don't want to concentrate on a log post rather than review.

    In other news, I now know the equations for normal distribution by heart. Go me!

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  7. These are some additional comments from my dad, who read this post but decided to send them by email instead of adding them to the comment section.


    Over the past 40 years, as a consequence of Republican dominance, there's been a massive reversal in the trend toward greater economic and social mobility since the 1930s. There is greater income inequality and lower mobility than any time since the previous eras of Republican dominance, the 1920s and 1890s.

    George W. Bush can attribute none of his success to merit and everything to family wealth and influence and dirty politics.

    -----



    Here's an interesting analogy. Consider a society to be like the body of a multicellular organism, with individuals analogous to cells in the body. Libertarians argue that they should have the freedom of free-living single-celled organisms, to optimize the welfare of themselves and those close to them, without concern for the well-being of the whole organism. Why should I, a brilliant neuron, be concerned about maintenance of such lowly functions as blood circulation, respiration, the immune system, digestion, excretion, reproduction? Why can't I just be concerned with the happiness of myself and my fellow neurons, and let the body be damned? Of course, neurons are not free-living single-celled organisms. They can't survive without the services of the whole body. The consequences of the neuron's strategy are death and extinction.

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  8. Anonymous:

    I don't think you denied that that taxes are taken by force, only that it should be condoned because "we are better off having a government that actually does stuff."

    True, but vacuously so. If you want to live in a society that has laws, then ideally they will only be enforced very rarely. If they're worthwhile laws, then people will just follow them.

    However, having a law in the first place means you acknowledge that some people will not do the prescribed action, and you deem this action important enough to enforce when necessary. Like, we have traffic laws, such as "Don't drive when there's a red light." That's a great law. Lots of accidents are prevented because people follow them. When somebody runs a red light, we give that guy a ticket. If he doesn't pay his ticket, he eventually goes to jail.

    So we are in the habit of applying force to people, for something as stupid as putting your foot on the gas twenty seconds too early. Well, boohoo. Unless it's pure anarchy you're shooting for -- which my libertarian friends assure me it is not -- then you have some laws and you enforce them.

    In this case, you are living in a country that has this law: "We do some things with public money, and we require all citizens to pay for it." Ideally people follow this law. Some people don't. It gets enforced. Welcome to real life.

    And calling a tax protester a thief, however, is a frightening evasion of language.

    Oh? Is it less "frightening" than portraying a normal legal and economic system as the work of mafia thugs who are shaking you down? Making use of things that others have paid for, without their permission, is theft.

    I admit that libertarianism is a radical departure from every major society today. But it is not true that that it has never been applied successfully. For more than 250 years, a peaceful stateless society existed in Medieval Iceland. No other society in history can claim nearly 300 years of peaceful, prosperous coexistence with its neighbors.

    Nice talking point, especially since few people know nothing about Medieval Iceland, including me. However, the best thing about talking points is that they're easy to respond to with a simple Google.

    According to Icelandic historian Gunnar Karlsson, as cited by Jared Diamond, among other sources, Iceland *wasn't* an anarchist society for 250 years; for most of that time it was divided up into small communal groups ruled by tribal chieftains. Prices were tightly controlled within those communities, so it was hardly a free market society.

    It did, however, lack a large central government, and as a result that period of time was marked by perpetual small land wars among the chieftains, culminating in the concentration of power in the hands of six families. At that point, with civil wars still going on among those families, the Icelandic people threw in the towel and submitted themselves to the King of Norway.

    What can we learn from this? IMHO, libertarianism is self defeating. When no power is recognized except the power of commerce, the world works like a game of Monopoly, where power inevitably becomes more and more concentrated in the hands of a small core of players.

    So the question isn't WHETHER you'll have a system of government, since a power vacuum is inevitably going to be filled. The question is whether you're going to have a sane and accountable government based on a Constitution that treats all citizens fairly, or whether your government will be set up by an aspiring dictator exercising his unlimited free will.

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  9. I actually found your blog while searching Google's blog search to look for interesting articles.

    I think one of the biggest problems facing the libertarian movement is people who learn a little bit about it and think yeah, individual liberty is a great political goal and then they want to talk to other people about it without a solid grounding and they can't give good answers to certain questions. Let me see if I can give you some things to think about.

    Your analogy of a multicelled animal with humans as the cells really gives a good insight into the progressive mindset. Viewing humans as lumps of material to be molded by those better able to see the good of society into a functioning whole. You ignore the fact that those cells (humans) have intelligence, free will, thier own hopes and dreams and even thier own ideas on how to best organize society. Individual cells in a body don't wake up every morning worried about bills, about forgetting their anniversary; they don't wake up in the morning thinking about that girl they met at the party the night before or the bonus they are hoping to get this quarter. If you look at humans as aimless, lifeless masses to be organized by 'your plan' for society than your plan is going to fail.

    In your analogy, you imply that libertarians don't care about taking care of other people when you say that they want to, "optimize the welfare of themselves and those close to them, without concern for the well-being of the whole organism." This is completely wrong and goes back to the inability to seperate government from society. Most libertarians I know care very much about the well being of others and that is precisely why they want the government to stop trying to help them. The government, being nothing more than organized force, is simply not the best organization to take care of human suffering. Again I ask you, when a person is hungry, what government office do they go to for a meal? When a person needs a bed, what government office do they go to so they don't have to sleep out in the freezing cold again. Instead of providing real help, the government takes a third of our pay which severly effects how much we give to real, true charities. All government aid programs do is make people more dependent on the state and garners the government more votes for the status quo.

    Your libertarian friends who tell you that anarchy is not the goal of libertarians is only partly correct. They are a lot of different lines of thought even amongst libertarians and one school of thought, anarcho-capitalism, does believe that anarchy is the end goal of society. They don't see any service that government provides, including protection, that couldn't be handled be handled privately. Personally, as an abstract ideal I find anarcho-capitalism a great end goal, but I prefer the practicality of the paleo-libertarian school, probably best represented by the austrian economists at www.mises.org.

    I don't know about icelands history, but I do know of a society that was far closer to the ideals of libertarianism than any socety today. This society watched over some of the greatest achievements and discoveries by man, had a booming economy, practically inflation free money, no income taxes, true property rights and a judiciary who zelously defended those rights, and a level of freedom almost unprecedented in human history. You probably already know I am refering to the first one hunder and fifty years of our Constitutional Republic, before the standard bearer for the progressive movement, FDR, decided the Constitution was too binding for his plans and bullied the Supreme Court into redefining it. Now we have far too much ignorance about what the Constitution says, even among our legislators who all swear an oath to defend it. As far as I can tell about progressive thought, the Constitution starts with Amendment I and ends with Amendment XXVII.

    Finally, I find it funny that you spend some time disproving that Iceland was libertarian and then you turn around and say that Iceland is proof that libertatrianism is self-defeating. Which is it?

    Woodrow Wilson once said, "Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance."

    You say libertarianism is self-defeating, I say liberty is always taken away while the people are distracted.

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  10. Phew! It took a while, but I've finally posted my huge response to Philanthropic Patriot's two letters.

    Read it here.

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  11. Over the past 40 years, as a consequence of Republican dominance,

    Huh? The Democrats controlled congress for 40 years straight. That is highly, highly unusual. Normally, control of congress switches parties every 12 years.

    More to the point, pointing fingers at "this party does this" and "that party does that" is pointless. Policitics in this country has devolved into nothing but a shouting match of which party is the least evil, which is 100% pointless.

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  12. My dad wrote: Over the past 40 years, as a consequence of Republican dominance,

    Jim replies: Huh? The Democrats controlled congress for 40 years straight. That is highly, highly unusual. Normally, control of congress switches parties every 12 years.

    I'm not sure to what dad was referring to by 40 years, but I'm going to assume he is measuring time from the election of Richard Nixon and the frequency of Republican presidents since then.

    More to the point, pointing fingers at "this party does this" and "that party does that" is pointless. Policitics in this country has devolved into nothing but a shouting match of which party is the least evil, which is 100% pointless.

    This claim seems to rest on the assumption that there is no consequential ideological difference between the parties, and I don't believe you have established that.

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