What’s Wrong With Libertarianism

Craig Bolton left a comment beneath my post, “Recovering from Rationalism.” While Bolton claims to defend libertarianism, his claims actually demonstrate what is wrong with libertarianism.

I do not wish to address Bolton’s bizarre claim that “there is no such thing as ‘induction’.” I don’t even know what he could possibly mean by such a statement. So let’s move on to his politics.

Bolton wishes to separate voluntarist society from politics and political ideology. Opposed to “society” is government, which “is essentially about coercive force,” even though government “may be useful” in suppressing violent individuals.

Thus, Bolton affirms that libertarianism is precisely what Objectivists say it is: a political or social goal explicitly detached from a moral theory.

However, it is impossible to define what properly falls within the bounds of voluntarism without a political ideology that flows from a moral ideology. Following are just a few examples.

* If a 10 year old boy “voluntarily” agrees to have sex with a 40 year old man, is that okay with libertarians? This issue has in fact been seriously debated in libertarian circles. Yet, apart from political and moral theory, libertarians have no way to resolve the issue. Objectivists, though, have a ready response that is consistent with the common view: the concept of voluntarism rests on the rationality of adult people. A child has not yet developed into a fully rational person. Therefore, a child is not in the position to consent to certain things, such as sex, marriage, business contracts, and the purchase of dangerous objects. The extent to which libertarians answer the question (in a non-crazy way) is the extent to which they abandon libertarianism.

* Let us say that you are throwing a barbecue party in your back yard, and either there is no fence or the gate is open. Then an uninvited religious nut comes into the yard and starts delivering a sermon. Is this “voluntary?” Did the nut initiate any force? If so, how? All he did is go on a walk and start talking. Where’s the force? Is the answer property rights? But “Libertarianism is not about… asserting that ‘people have rights’.” A theory of property rights requires an overarching political theory that rests on a moral theory as to why people have a right to their property. And any reasonable person will call the police — agents of the government — if the nut refuses to leave.

* What about people who “voluntarily” offer copyrighted music for “free” downloading? The legitimacy of copyright is often debated among libertarians.

* Does abortion limit the voluntary behavior of an embryo, or does a ban on abortion limit the voluntary behavior of the mother? Libertarianism has no answer.

Bolton also shows that libertarianism, as I’ve argued, tends to descend into anti-state reactionism. For Bolton, coercive government is fundamentally at odds with voluntary society, even though he thinks that government can be useful. Because libertarians dismiss moral theory as the foundation for politics, they assume that everything would be fine, if only nasty government would leave people alone. Yet libertarians are inconsistent about this, because most of them realize at some level that we need a government to protect our rights, and that we do need a moral and political theory of rights. The reactionism of libertarianism manifests in a variety of ways, from conspiracy theories about 9/11 to anarchism. Libertarians who do not hate government tend to become pragmatists, for they have already dismissed moral principles as the basis for politics.

I understand that this post is brief, so any reader who does not follow my arguments here is encouraged to read my lengthier critiques, starting with “More Libertarians Against Liberty,” which in turn links to additional articles.

A condensed version of Peter Schwartz’s essay, “Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty,” is published in Ayn Rand’s The Voice of Reason.

Post Opposes Blue Laws

I’m stunned. The Denver Post, which I’ve also heard called The Denver Pravda, has come out for repealing Colorado’s ban on Sunday liquor sales.

We can buy liquor at bars on Sunday, but not at liquor stores, which are forced closed by law. Grocery stores can sell only “3.2” beer on any day of the week. How it was decided that beer purchased at grocery stores may can contain no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by mass, as opposed to, say, 3.1 percent or 3.3 percent, I’ll leave the historians of political minutiae. There is one exception, as the Post points out: “Each grocery chain is allowed to sell full-strength beer and wine in only one of its stores in the state, according to Colorado law.”

Regarding the Sunday ban, the Post argues:

…Colorado is among 16 states that still has blue laws prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday. … It has remained the law largely due to efforts of liquor store owners… Their chief concern is that they’d have to pay to staff stores for an additional day but overall sales wouldn’t increase. They argue the sales they get in six days would just end up being spread over seven.

If you follow that logic, then why shouldn’t the government prohibit the sale of say, auto parts on Mondays so those businesses can save a day’s worth of overhead? It’s an argument that is at cross purposes with the basic tenets of capitalism.

The Denver Post endorses capitalism? Of course, the paper is rather selective about this. For example, the paper has endorsed a wide variety of tax hikes, subsidies, and economic controls. But for the paper even to mention the term “capitalism” in a positive light counts as progress, I suppose, however slight.

The Post rightly points out that the ban

is out of step with the lives of Coloradans. … Sunday has become the second-busiest shopping day of the week, and many folks rely on that day to get their personal business done. It makes no sense in this day and age to shackle the consumer for the convenience of liquor store owners.

However, capitalism is not about making the laws “in step” with the majority of the populace at a given time. Capitalism is about protecting the rights of every individual, all the time. If even one person wants to buy liquor on Sunday, and if even one person wants to sell it, then the ban violates their rights and is for that reason immoral.

If the legislature considers repealing the ban on Sunday liquor sales, no doubt some will argue that the ban prevents some instances of irresponsible drinking on that day. But, if that argument were valid, it would also justify a ban for every other day of the week. The large majority of people who buy liquor do so responsibly, and they should not be punished for the vices of a few. Similarly, sales of books should never be banned or restricted, even if some buyers find in certain books inspiration to commit crimes. In all cases, the proper principle is to punish the criminals, not the innocent.

I hope the Post’s editorial writers are careful. If they keep sticking up for people’s rights, they may find that consistency guides them to overturn many of their past recommendations. But, then again, another fitting name for the paper is The Denver Pragmatist, or, “Principles, Schminciples.”

Abolish the FCC

Alex Epstein recently wrote a fine article for the Ayn Rand Institute titled, “‘Open Access’ and the Tyranny of the FCC.” Epstein argues:

In today’s discussions of FCC policy, it is taken for granted that airwaves are “public.” But it shouldn’t be. As philosopher Ayn Rand argued in a landmark 1964 essay, “The Property Status of Airwaves,” airwaves should be private property. … Under the “public” airwaves regime, businesses do not own but merely “license” portions of spectrum–which the government has total authority to control in the “public interest.”

Epstein explains that the government is going to license the 700 MHz spectrum with strings attached. He argues that Americans should “demand the abolition of the FCC.”

The Rocky Mountain News recently discussed another way that the FCC violates free speech and property rights: it imposes “a dated legal prohibition on ownership of a newspaper and a television station in the same city by the same company or individual…” The News points out that the FCC is considering only trivial changes to this rule, and the rule may result in newspapers disappearing altogether in some communities.

Unfortunately, the News suggests that the rule was once valid, in the days before cable TV and the internet, but that now it should be repealed. But the rule was never valid. It was always a violation of the rights of free speech and property. The rule never should have been passed. The FCC never should have been given such power. And, by the way, how does the perverse doctrine that radio waves are public property justify the FCC’s control of newspapers? Are those public property, too?

The religious right wants to ban whatever it deems pornographic. The left wants to politically control radio, television, newspapers, the internet, and political campaigns. Sometimes the left and the right defend those aspects of free speech that they find useful, but neither the left nor the right consistently defends free speech.

Health Care and Swallowing Flies

Here’s my take on the old song, “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.”

There Were Politicians Who Made Prices Fly

There were politicians who made prices fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There were politicians who set wages tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There were politicians who made tax exempt
employer-payed health, showed for markets contempt.
They made health exempt because wages were tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There were politicians who raised a health tax.
So medical costs, they climbed to the max.
They raised a health tax and they made health exempt.
They made health exempt because wages were tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There were politicians who set more controls
on doctors and patients and insurance tolls.
They set more controls on top of the tax.
They raised a health tax and they made health exempt.
They made health exempt because wages were tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There were politicians who finally mandated
that people buy “coverage” at cost quite inflated.
They want a mandate because of controls.
They set more controls on top of the tax.
They raised a health tax and they made health exempt.
They made health exempt because wages were tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

There are politicians who want to take over;
they think bureaucrats can on health care deliver.
They want to take over and have it mandated.
They want a mandate because of controls.
They set more controls on top of the tax.
They raised a health tax and they made health exempt.
They made health exempt because wages were tighter.
Biz wiggled and jiggled and set health pay sweeter.
They set wages tighter for prices did fly.
They feared wages too, would travel sky high.
Perhaps we’ll die.

Details on the Denver Shootout

More details are in about the recent shootout in Denver.

Ivan Moreno, who has some clue when it comes to firearms, writes for the November 16 Rocky Mountain News, “Police said the suspect, 26-year-old Phuong Van Dang, walked from table to table at the Ha Noi restaurant, masked and carrying [a] black 12-gauge shotgun and a duffel.”

So the criminal carried a shotgun, not a rifle, as I’d thought previously. And the three customers were shot by the officers.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman defended the officers’ actions, notes Moreno: “They had to do something. It wasn’t a situation were they could say, ‘Stop! Police!’ because it could turn into a hostage situation. They’re trained to stop a threat, and they did exactly that.”

However, some of the details of the story raise questions about the officers’ training:

The detectives were about 12 to 15 feet from the suspect when each fired six shots, hitting Dang five times, said Division Chief David Fisher. Four of those bullets passed through Dang’s body, according to the preliminary investigation, Fisher said.

A couple and their son, who were behind Dang, were each shot once by the detectives’ gunfire. One was shot in the ankle, and another on the side. A bullet grazed the third’s leg.

So, at twelve to fifteen feet, the officers hit a large target five of twelve rounds. That’s not so unusual; police officers generally miss most of the time at close range in a real shootout. It’s harder than most people imagine to shoot accurately in a high-stress situation. Still, you don’t want seven bullets flying off-target in a restaurant. Did each officer empty his gun?

I wonder what sort of ammunition the officers were carrying. Given that four of five rounds passed through the suspect’s body, I have to wonder if the bullets were fully jacketed. If so, I’d be interested to hear the rationale for carrying jacketed rounds as opposed to hollow-points (which tend to mushroom on impact, slowing their progression). Of course, it may have been better for the bystanders to be hit with jacketed bullets, but it’s better yet for bystanders not to be hit.

To me, this is the big point: one of the officers hit a bystander in the ankle. What that suggests is that the officer may have had his finger on the trigger as he pulled his gun from the holster, causing him to shoot prematurely toward the ground. If this was the case, then that reflects poor training. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

I’m no expert in this, but I’d like to hear a discussion about whether it’s a good idea to drop as quickly as possible to a knee when firing at an armed criminal in a crowded area. My reasoning is that, if bystanders drop to the ground, and responsive fire is headed upward, bystanders are less likely to be hit. Of course, dropping to a knee might also limit mobility.

Still, given the details that have so far emerged, the officers deserve the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the demeanor and actions of the criminal. It seems likely, though, that the officers seriously believed that the armed criminal posed a substantial threat to their own lives and the lives of others. It is fortunate that no innocent person was killed.

In general, people carrying concealed guns, whether they are officers or civilians, have a responsibility to draw and fire only if somebody’s life is in real danger. Civilians have more of an incentive to fire in fewer situations — and to shoot more accurately — because officers generally are protected from both criminal and civil action. If police officers get sued, ultimately tax payers pick up the tab. If a civilian fires irresponsibly, he or she can get into big trouble.

Nevertheless, in this case, a masked, armed robber obviously poses a serious threat to the lives of others. The ultimate responsibility for the injuries to the bystanders rests with the criminal.

Cofree Update: Ingraham, Corporate Welfare

New from the Colorado Freedom Report:

Laura Ingraham Supports Iraq War, Religious Values

… After urging Republicans to offer a populist message to appeal to “the little person,” Ingraham promoted religious values. She worried that people are “numb and dumb to the pornification of our culture.” She said that, without virtue, “you can kiss the free market goodbye.” Unfortunately, the “free love generation” continues to influence the culture, she said.

Ingraham suggested that Republicans can win in 2008 with five issues: restraining taxes, fighting terrorism, promoting ethics, fighting illegal immigration, and promoting “life,” by which she meant opposing abortion.

Ingraham said that religious practice is paramount. She quoted George Washington to the effect that religion is necessary to the nation’s morality. …

New administration promotes same old corporate welfare

… To fund corporate welfare, politicians and the bureaucrats they empower take money by force from some people in order to give the money to others who have not earned it. The practice is immoral because people have the right to decide how to spend their own resources. You have the right to spend your income with the business of your choice, rather than the business that politicians force you to subsidize. Each taxpayer is made a bit worse off so that the favored few can collect the extorted wealth. …

Get Ready for Forced "Energy Efficiency"

P. Solomon Banda writes for the AP: “Despite Colorado’s drive to develop renewable energy, the state will still need the equivalent of 13 new 350-megawatt plants to satisfy its power needs by 2025, according to a report by… [the] Colorado Energy Forum.”

The article reports that “Matt Baker, executive director of Environment Colorado,” said, “We don’t believe we will need that much electricity. We think it’s totally doable to meet the (new) demand through an investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

As noted previously, new plants powered by coal or nuclear reaction are unlikely in this state. “Renewable energy” is not going to close the gap. So we are left with “investment in energy efficiency.” What does that mean? It means that we’re going to have to spend more resources (time included) to use less electricity. And the amount of energy that we’re able to use will be determined by what Matt Baker and his ilk deem that we “need.”

False Definition of ‘Personhood’

Electa Draper writes for The Denver Post today:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to proponents of a ballot initiative seeking to amend the state constitution in 2008 to define personhood as a fertilized egg. …

The amendment, if approved by voters, would extend constitutional protections from the moment of conception, guaranteeing every fertilized egg the right to life, liberty, equality of justice and due process of law.

Kathryn Wittenben, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, argued that the measure is misleading, reports Draper: “Proponents of this initiative have publicly stated that the goal is to make all abortion illegal, but nothing in the language of the initiative or its title even mentions abortion.”

But the “initiative’s 20-year-old proponent, Kristi Burton, founder of Colorado for Equal Rights,” was undeterred: “This is a very simple petition. That’s all we need… The people of Colorado will support protecting human life at every stage. More than that, we have God. And he is enough.”

And Dinesh D’Souza wonders why atheists bother to criticize Christianity and its politics?

Diana Hsieh points out the inevitable consequences, should the measure pass (which is highly unlikely). Hsieh mentions a “horrifying story of a woman allowed to die of a totally non-viable ectopic pregnancy due to Nigaragua’s strict anti-abortion law.”

Here is a summary from the original article:

Two weeks after Olga Reyes danced at her wedding, her bloated and disfigured body was laid to rest in an open coffin — the victim, her husband and some experts say, of Nicaragua’s new no-exceptions ban on abortion.

Reyes, a 22-year-old law student, suffered an ectopic pregnancy. The fetus develops outside the uterus, cannot survive and causes bleeding that endangers the mother. But doctors seemed afraid to treat her because of the anti-abortion law, said husband Agustin Perez. By the time they took action, it was too late.

And this is what is called the “culture of life.”

Is More Government the Answer to Global Warming?

John Stossel points out that central economic controls don’t work.

There are good reasons to begin with a presumption against government action. As coercive monopolies that spend other people’s money taken by force, governments are uniquely unqualified to solve problems. They are riddled by ignorance, perverse incentives, incompetence and self-serving. The synthetic-fuels program during the Carter years consumed billions of dollars and was finally disbanded as a failure. The push for ethanol today is more driven by special interests than good sense — it’s boosting food prices while producing a fuel of dubious environmental quality. …

[E]ven drastic plans to cut the use of carbon-based energy would make only a negligible difference. As John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a member of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal:

“Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world’s energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 — roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions. Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century. It’s a dent.”

Bill Ritter wants to reduce Colorado’s emissions by 20 percent by 2020. True, he also wants to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but there are four main problems with his “plan.” First, Ritter’s plan is fantasy. Neither he nor any of his advisers have the faintest idea of how that goal might be achieved. Second, if Ritter’s plan results in merely pushing people out of Colorado to avoid the high taxes and expenses, Ritter won’t have accomplished much by way of “solving” global warming. Third, Colorado contains a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Fourth, even if Ritter could seriously reduce emissions through political controls, the benefits would be miniscule, while the costs would be astronomical.

Welfare for All

One might think that the welfare state started out soaking the rich in order to subsidize the poor. Yet the Social Security payroll tax, a regressive tax in its collection, has always redistributed wealth from the young to the elderly, regardless of income, though the distribution does favor the poor somewhat. Increasingly, the welfare state is about soaking the middle class in order to subsidize the middle class.

Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation provided some scary numbers in a recent editorial. He writes, “Today, almost half of America’s children — 45 percent — have their health care paid for by taxpayers. The children’s health bill (SCHIP) now before Congress would boost this to 55 percent.” SCHIP stands for “State Children’s Health Insurance Program,” which is (obviously) mostly funded by federal tax dollars, Istook notes. Istook calls the jump from 45 to 55 percent “the tipping point.” However, not only could SCHIP put most children in government-run health care, it could increase tax-funding of all health care from “almost half” to “the majority of all health care.” Istook predicts, “Eventually, the whole country would be under Washington-run health care, using tax dollars to pay the bills.”

The SCHIP bill claims to cover kids in families earning three times the level of poverty — $62,000 for a family of four — but it goes further, because states are free to disregard huge chunks of income to make more people eligible. This “free” health care for the middle class mostly substitutes government coverage for existing private insurance, because more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the kids who would be newly eligible are already covered by private policies.

Yes, SCHIP would redistribute wealth from from those with more money to those with less — on average. However, SCHIP would also redistribute more money from people like my wife and me, who have put off having children because of our insane tax burden, to people who choose to have children but not financially support them. The main problem with the welfare state is not that it punishes productivity to reward poverty. Its problem is that it punishes the responsible in order to reward the irresponsible.

Let me say this. It is likely that, when my wife and I finally manage to crawl our way out of debt despite handing over many thousands of dollars every year in taxes, we will make less than $62,000 per year as a household, primarily because we’ve decided to raise our (potential) children ourselves, rather than let government employees raise them. All of you pathetic vote buyers and faux social do-gooders can keep your goddamn “socialism for the children.” We want no part of it. We don’t want the government to force other people to pay for the health care of our children. No self-respecting parent wants that. But, as the welfare state expands, our culture does not value self-respecting parents; it values political nannies.

We ask for only one thing. We ask for you to leave us the hell alone. If you’d just leave us alone — leave us alone, for Christ’s sake! — we’d have no problem affording children or their health care.