Friday, October 26, 2007

A floating libertarian dictatorship

Pharyngula linked a story today about Freedom Ship, a proposed libertarian paradise that would be a floating version of Galt's Gulch.

Apart from creationism, there are few things I enjoy reading more than a good rant about libertarian fantasies. As weird as the whole story is, this one part caught my eye in particular.

On Freedom Ship there will be a jail, a “squad of intelligence officers,” and a “private security force of 2,000, led by a former FBI agent, [that] will have access to weapons, both to maintain order within the vessel and to resist external threats.” And while technically the law applied would be that of whichever state lends its flag, Freedom Ship officials make no bones that “the captain’s word will be final.”

Zoinks! Who the hell is going to be stupid enough to sign up for that?!?

I think this little detail is a perfectly distilled example of what is wrong with libertarianism. In stripping away a planned government, which includes detailed rules and restrictions on what the government may not do, they have simply pared away all possible civil protections in order to reach the smallest possible government: one guy. One completely unaccountable guy who makes all the rules.

Look, what people call "big government" exists for a reason. The United States has an elected, distributed, multi-faceted government, composed of different people who do not agree and who do not have absolute power. This in itself is the best way to ensure that people are not ruled for long by petty tyrants. Richard Nixon expressed the opposite point of view in its most pure form:

FROST: "So what in a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal."
NIXON: "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

Yep, that's what Nixon said, right before he resigned in disgrace. (He gave his farewell speech exactly one month to the day before I was born. As my dad once said about himself and Mussolini, "He must have seen me coming and figured the jig was up.)

9 comments:

  1. Kazim I agree that this is a bad idea but I think it is disengenious to consider it an accurate representation of libertarians, just as pointing out the failures of Cuba or hippy communes would be an accurate representation of liberal ideas.

    On the pharyngula comment thread it was often pointed out by liberal minded folks that libertarianism lacks compassion.

    I ask you this in response. How does having the government pull money from me against my will to pay for "compassionate" programs make me any or more less compassionate then I am? And if I am being forced to participate in this "compassion" would that not be a deterrent from my committing charitable acts on my own.

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  2. I ask you this in response. How does having the government pull money from me against my will to pay for "compassionate" programs make me any or more less compassionate then I am?

    It doesn't. I would say the issue is not to what extent you personally feel compassionate or not is basically irrelevant. The issue is a completely practical one: to what extent to laws and policies yield a liveable society.

    And if I am being forced to participate in this "compassion" would that not be a deterrent from my committing charitable acts on my own.

    You may, indeed, wind up committing fewer personal acts of charity, when some of that "charity" is already factored in as the cost of living in a modern society. On the other hand, the question is whether removing social safety nets spontaneously generates enough private charity to replace the lack of social safety nets. I would argue that there is no evidence that this is the case.

    If you disagree with me, I'd challenge you to identify one single example of any society, at any point in history, which supports no social welfare at all and yet winds up with proportionately fewer people going hungry than in modern America.

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  3. I checked on a couple of sources which claim that 38 million Americans went hungry in 2006 (source NPR series on Hunger in America). That is a LOT of people in this country who go hungry at one time or the other.

    There are food banks that feed millions, too...most privately operated (churches and so on).

    Here in Dodge, there is one food bank, operated by a multi-denominational church group, that feeds a lot of people every year. Food is donated and distributed. No reason for anyone to go hungry in this town.

    When you wrote about "social welfare" were you referring mainly to govt. provided safety nets?

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  4. Here in Dodge, there is one food bank, operated by a multi-denominational church group, that feeds a lot of people every year. Food is donated and distributed. No reason for anyone to go hungry in this town.

    I don't think you want to use Dodge City as a good example of private organizations doing the job of replacing government programs. The poverty rate there is significantly higher than the national average.

    There are food banks that feed millions, too...most privately operated (churches and so on).

    I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to get more specific than "millions" and "most." Do you have specific examples?

    For example, 2.9 million children and 86,000 elderly or physically impaired adults receive subsidized food services through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. 23.9 million people receive support through the food stamp program.

    Those are just a couple of examples. If you were for the elimination of these programs (which I don't think you are, but correct me if I'm wrong) then you'd have to make the case that either (a) food banks would feed so many more people that it would replace the government programs completely, or (b) it's preferable to have more poverty.

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  5. Cuba is definitely not an example of a liberal stat. Cuba is a socialist/Communist state depending on the definition.In fact libertarians foll under the umbrella
    of liberal ideas.

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  6. How does having the government pull money from me against my will

    This comment reminded me of my favorite line in Miéville's article:

    "Above all, they [libertarians] recast their most banal avarice—the disinclination to pay tax—as a principled blow for political freedom."

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  7. I don't believe in moral duty. I have free will and if I want to live in a free country then I have to think for myself. When government takes money from my paycheck against my will then it violates my right to make moral choices regarding how and where I spend/invest my money. Government's only purpose is to protect the individual's natural rights, not violate them while pursuing other ends.

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  8. I don't believe in traffic laws. I have free will and if I want to live in a free country then I have to drive in whatever way I want. When the police stop me against my will for speeding through red lights or driving on the sidewalk then it violates my right to make moral choices regarding how and where I drive. Government's only purpose is to protect the individual's natural rights, not violate them while trying to protect some pedestrians who were too stupid to get out of my way.

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  9. Kazim said: "...you'd have to make the case that either (a) food banks would feed so many more people that it would replace the government programs completely, or (b) it's preferable to have more poverty."

    This is a false choice. I personally would make the case that removing forced safety nets is the best way to narrow the cracks people fall through to being with. I'd make the case that we would both have more voluntary charity and less poverty that charity would have to deal with.

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