Bruce Bartlett on Liberaltarianism

An excellent column from Bruce Bartlett. Some highlights:

But even these metro-libertarians tend to be more concerned about economics than social or foreign policy. The Cato Institute publishes an annual survey of economic freedom throughout the world, but produces no surveys of what countries have the most political or social freedom or those that have the most libertarian foreign policy.

Furthermore, economic freedom tends to be determined primarily by those measures for which quantifiable data are available. Since it is very easy to look up the top marginal income tax rate or taxes as a share of GDP, these measures tend to have overwhelming influence on the ratings. As a result, countries like Denmark, which are very free every way except in terms of taxes, end up being penalized. Conversely, authoritarian states like Singapore don’t suffer for it because they have low taxes.

I’d very much like us to try to measure freedom more broadly. The fact that it is an “essentially contested” concept needn’t cause too much worry. What we should try to do is compile a number of different indices that reflect a variety of widely accepted conceptions of freedom. My hypothesis is that we would find most of them highly correlated with another, and with a wide variety of social indicators. The ones that correlate poorly with the others and/or correlate poorly with various indicators of well-being and human development can probably be just thrown out.

More from Bartlett:

At the liberaltarian dinner, many of the liberals persuasively argued that the pool of freedom isn’t fixed such that if government takes more, then there is necessarily less for the people. Many government interventions expand freedom. A good example would be the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was opposed by libertarians like Barry Goldwater as an unconstitutional infringement on states’ rights. Yet it was obvious that African Americans were suffering tremendously at the hands of state and local governments. If the federal government didn’t step in to redress these crimes, who else would?

Since passage of the civil rights act, African Americans have achieved a level of freedom equal to that of most whites. Yet I have never heard a single libertarian hold up the civil rights act as an example of a libertarian success.

One could also argue that the women’s movement led to a tremendous increase in freedom. Libertarians may concede the point, but conservatives almost universally view the women’s movement with deep hostility. They think women are freest when fulfilling their roles as wife and mother. Anything that conflicts with those responsibilities is bad as far as most conservatives are concerned.

I think part of the problem is that if you hold up the Civil Rights Act as an example of libertarian success, most libertarians will deny that you are one. I think both the Civil Rights Act and the women’s movement did in fact lead to tremendous net increases in liberty. I think Bruce makes an excellent point. Federal intervention, while certainly limiting freedom of association and trumping more local jurisdictions, resulted IMO in an overall increase in freedom. That many traditional libertarian conservatives, such as Goldwater, seem to have been willing to sacrifice a great gain in overall freedom in order to maintain status quo levels local self-rule seems to me to betray a commitment to ancient ideals of liberty as community self-government in conflict with the modern idea of liberty as freedom from coercion.

I think one could buy into all of this and safely maintain libertarian bona fides. But I think that in order to endorse the freedom-enhancing nature of the influence of the women’s movement, you need to accept that cultural norms and social expectations can restrict liberty without the backing of state coercion (though state coercion very often does reflect and reinforce liberty-limiting cultural norms and social expectations). I accept that you don’t need state coercion to threaten liberty. That’s where some libertarians draw the line. But, please note, if one thinks that culture and convention can limit liberty, it does not follow that one must also think that it is permissible for the state to intervene in order to change convention. One can believe that the state may legitimately act only to protect liberty. But that does not imply that the state must do anything in its power that might protect or enhance liberty.

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55 thoughts on “Bruce Bartlett on Liberaltarianism

  1. But, please note, if one thinks that culture and convention can limit liberty, it does not follow that one must also think that it is permissible for the state to intervene in order to change convention. One can believe that the state may legitimately act only to protect liberty. But that does not imply that the state must do anything in its power that might protect or enhance liberty.And do you have any guidelines in mind for how we should determine whether a given set of prevailing norms is sufficiently oppressive as to justify state intervention? It seems like liberaltarianism leaves huge gaps in its calculus of justice so that individual thinkers can just assert their intuitions of what constitutes a “liberty-limiting social expectation.” For Will Wilkinson an openly-racist society might limit the liberty of racial minorities, but for a Catherine McKinnon legalized pornography will be seen as supporting a social structure that limits the liberty of women. Whose conception is to be dominant? Are we supposed to figure this out at the ballot box?In this formulation, it seems like “liberaltarianism” just means (modern) liberalism plus a basic understanding of textbook microeconomics… which means that it still seeks to impose a narrow utopian ideal with a marginally higher level of sophistication – although that sophistication doesn't seem to carry over to its theory of public choice. I guess my major qualm about liberaltarianism is that it seems to jettison a conservative (I hate to call it this) view of market-driven social and institutional change in favor of the usual top-down imposition of a public ethos driven by political elites.

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  3. He made some good points, but I thought it was fairly lazy for Bartlett to divide libertarians into two camps. He is also wrong about the Campaign for Liberty, they are actually pretty good on foreign policy.

  4. I would restate Bartlett's criticism this way: libertarians can't be counted on when something like the Civil Rights act is at issue. They are so distracted and preoccupied by government as always and almost without exception causing negative outcomes, and anything the slightest bit communitarian or market-sounding automatically being a better idea that it makes them of questionable reliability on important issues like these.Will himself once made the point very well that the libertarian crowd is preoccupied with the blind application of theory, and the libertarian worldview is pretty ahistorical. An excellent case can be made that government-run safety nets expand liberty and quality of life and in general create a more stable environment for liberal democracy to flourish. That's a point you might make if you're empirically-inclined, anyway.

  5. I don't see any great shame in having mixed feelings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There are 10 subsections, and I think it's possible to have a fine-grained opinion about the bill that accepts some subsections as liberty-enhancing while criticizing others as liberty-curtailing. And in fact this is what in my experience most Libertarians do. They/we see the bill as overall two steps forward one step back. Additionally, I think Bartlett's criticism paints with too broad a brush in assuming that all Libertarians who have reservations about the bill have the same states'-rights reservations that Barry Goldwater had. It's true that many do, but just as many are happy to countenance federal intervention to secure voting rights and equal access to public education, etc. and base their objections instead on abuse of the Commerce Clause to open a door to dubious intervention in the affairs of private companies.

  6. How does one calculate the relative “worth” of gay marriage versus civil unions? To evaluate the social environment regarding personal freedoms, how would (or should) we tally peoples' varied opinions on every controversial social matter (“Guest worker programs!,” “Open borders!,” “Massive immigration quota increases, yet with some screening!” ) These indices are somewhat arbitrary when evaluating economic freedom, and downright impossible when evaluating non-numerical data. US News and World Report would jump on it, though.

  7. I can't compare the value in dollars and cents – therefore, is it really important? Does the problem even exist?Libertarianism on its own refuses to grapple with large swaths of real life. Sure, you're against Prop 8 – but what really gets you going is Kelo. Kelo Kelo Kelo Kelo!There's something to be said for a worldview that is explicit and humble about its limits. But the limits are there – a poverty of thinking about foreign policy, human rights – and Bartlett is right – the farther you get from legal or economic theory or pot, the more libertarianism is flummoxed or silent. It needs conservatism or liberalism to complement it.

  8. The article is full of stupid simplistic stereotypes. To call it a bunch of tripe is to praise it too much.

  9. “The ones that correlate poorly with (…) various indicators of well-being and human development can probably be just thrown out.”Huh? I'd prefer the hypothesis that liberty correlates positively with (causes?) well-being and human development (whatever the latter is supposed to mean exactly) to be falsifiable instead of the answers being decided on when the measures are constructed.

  10. “An excellent case can be made that government-run safety nets expand liberty and quality of life and in general create a more stable environment for liberal democracy to flourish.”You are right. A social democratic welfare state replaces the functions of family and tight communities. That is GOOD for individual liberty. Modern governments are less oppressive and less intrusive than traditional communities.

  11. Steve, I'm pretty pissed off about Prop 8.I'm not sure if guessing how every issue gauges on the libertarian “pissed-off-o-meter” is exceedingly valuable. But let's say we knew there was excessive anger asymmetry. Perhaps one of the reasons why libertarians seem to holler more about Kelo than Prop 8 has to do with efficient division of labor. Liberals are already fighting the good fight for gay marriage, and infusing a smattering of libertarians doesn't add much activist value. We libertarians are better off scouring the protest market to identify issues that no one else seems sufficiently pissed off about- such as the fact that a drug company (my future bread and butter) dismantled an entire community, kicking out numerous sick and elderly neighbors from their homes. When conservatives begin protesting eminent domain abuse with a bit more vigor (though the conservative justices upheld it, perhaps out of some misperceived transitive relationship among markets,goodness, and big business), libertarians will have already moved on to the next seemingly inconsequential niche cause of the month.

  12. Steve, I am saying that many important issues cannot be neatly quantified. I am not saying that if an issue can't be quantified, then it isn't important. Gay rights and immigration are both important issues.

  13. interesting to see the hysterics on the libertarian right over bartlett's article, most of which just reinforce his points. until libertarians can conceive of freedom as being anything broader than the right of capital to exploit labour they won't get much beyond the 1-2% support they currently have,

  14. Barlett's column is a joke. The Campaign for Liberty is a direct offspring of Ron Paul's presidential campaign, and if Bartlett spent any time either listening to Paul or his colleagues that support the venture, Barlett would admit that the very libertarian ideals he is seeking were espoused by Paul. Let's not forget that Paul had the stones to get up in front of Republican primary voters and denounce the war in Iraq, the American military empire, the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, torture, and all of the other bad legislation from the Bush years.The Campaign for Liberty does WAY more than simply talk about abolishing the income tax. If Barlett did a bit more research instead of posting just one link, he'd know about that.

  15. “Libertarianism on its own refuses to grapple with large swaths of real life. Sure, you're against Prop 8 – but what really gets you going is Kelo. Kelo Kelo Kelo Kelo!”That might because gay marriage is not that important. Oh my God did you here what I just said. I just committed blasphemy against a liberal God. Lets compare:Kelo: person loses their house which they put maybe 10 years of their life into.Gay marriage: gays don't like the fact that they can't say their married. Economics is important especially when it involves huge things like houses. People have divorced just to get houses. And here we are not talking about separation….gays can still civil unionize. Ha ha ha.

  16. I have a plausible explanation why libertarians justifyably pay more attention to economic rather than social freedom.It is because economic freedom is at present under much greater threat in developed countries than personal freedom. Economic freedom has much less legitimacy, because it is much harder to explain to the average person the advantages of free markets as opposed to, say, free speech.To those who are calling upon libertarians to water down their stance on freedom as absence of coercion goes the question – what for? To become progressives-lite?Libertarians should always remember John Stuart Mill who, despite paying lip service to non-interference with individual freedom as a general principle, advocated enough exceptions to it to make it effectively meaningless.

  17. Will you should check out Roderick Long's take on the article. Bruce really should know better to engage in mindless stereotyping. With that said, this only reinforces my belief that fusionism was a huge mistake and libertarians should continue to dissociate themselves from the conservative movement.

  18. OR – it could be that Prop 8 really just isn't that important an issue to libertarians. And it's easy to see why it wouldn't be. (1) Same-sex unions retain all the relevant legal rights of marriage in California; Prop 8 is just an issue of semantics, (2) there a strong distaste for the hypocrisy of lots of Prop 8 opponents, many of whom are opposed to legal polygamy, or at least not willing to use the same civil rights movement outrage and terminology to talk about polygamists that they apply to themselves and (3) most Libertarians favor a solution where marriage is devolved into private contracts and is not explicitly a state matter at all – hence they see Prop 8 as a side issue. I'm definitely in this category myself.Kelo, by contrast, goes to fundamental questions about the relation of governments to their citizens.

  19. Right, assman is a pretty good libertarian caricature. He puts top value on hard assets (easily quantifiable) owned by people he can identify with. Economics is what matters, because after all if you torture every single political or social question enough you can express it in the form of dollars and cents (and then decisions are easy, right?).And another commenter thinks opposition to the Civil Rights Act was justified because of the details of the bill.Well guys you never get a perfect bill, and opposition on the grounds that the details were bad, in the face of the blindingly obvious big issue of the 60's, is in effect lining up with the bill's opponents. Libertarians don't get a pass on aiding and abetting George Wallace because they earnestly donned green eyeshades. This is what Bartlett was getting at – libertarianism just has no idea how to handle big moral and social questions, it just flails around, falling back on weak utilitarian cost-benefit analysis. It isn't enough on its own to comprise a worldview that's up to the task of putting forward a comprehensive vision of how a healthy modern liberal democratic society ought to function.And the tone-deaf value system you espouse is one shared by only a small fraction of the voting public (thank god).

  20. Josua? “(1) Same-sex unions retain all the relevant legal rights of marriage in California; Prop 8 is just an issue of semantics,“The California State Supreme Court found otherwise. That's why Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot. And besides, if it is just a question of semantics, why should any group of people be in a position to force theirs on another?”(2) there a strong distaste for the hypocrisy of lots of Prop 8 opponents, many of whom are opposed to legal polygamy, or at least not willing to use the same civil rights movement outrage and terminology to talk about polygamists that they apply to themselves” A champion of liberty would surely uphold the principle of liberty, even at the cost of holding one's nose about how that liberty was exercised. The ACLU — for example — makes a point of defending Nazi and KKK groups who's speech is banned. I don't agree with what a lot of organizations say about (for example) property rights, privacy rights, and so on, but on topics where I agree with 'em, I agree with 'em. “(3) most Libertarians favor a solution where marriage is devolved into private contracts and is not explicitly a state matter at all – hence they see Prop 8 as a side issue. I'm definitely in this category myself.“As am I. But perfect is the enemy of better. There's a long and (IMO) healthy vein of pragmatism that runs through US political culture. Kelo goes to goes to fundamental questions about the relation of governments to their citizens with respect to property. But there's more to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than comes with a $-value attached. Not to understate the immense importance of the argument about the legal principles upon which Kelo depends, but it is one among several.

  21. H wins the thread … “Modern governments are less oppressive and less intrusive than traditional communities.“And it needs to be emphasized also that is through active vigilance and advocacy on the part of champions of liberty everywhere that have made it so. Road to Serfdom serve use best today not as a prediction, but as a warning, like Orwell's 1984.

  22. Paul – The California Supreme Court found that it was a matter of semantics. Their ruling states that because homosexuals are afforded all the same rights as heterosexuals with regard to unions, it was unfair of the state not to call it “marriage” in both cases. That is an issue of semantics, however much legal jargon you wrap it in.As for point (2) – the ACLU also upholds hate speech laws which are abridgements of free speech. They're not a completely consistent organization. Neither, for that matter, are Libertarians. My point here is to explain why Libertarians are not (in general – there are exceptions, obviously) as enthusiastic about defeating Prop 8 as they are about defeating Kelo, not necessarily to justify it. Still – I think you should be able to see a difference here. The ACLU, in defending the KKK's right to march, is defending the principle that free speech is the right of everyone, regardless of political opinion. Defending a California legal regime where heterosexual and homosexual couples are allowed to marry, but polygamist unions are illegal, is – very obviously – not defending the right of everyone to marry regardless of personal mating preference. Many Libertarians – myself included – see a real danger of affirming the state's power to regulate which types of relationships are acceptable associated with joining the fight for recognizing gay marriage.This goes to point (3). You're right that the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good – but there are other times where in compromising you give away the essence of your platform. This is one of those. To apply the appropriate civil rights analogy – it would be like saying that back in the 60s we marched and got Alabama to overturn its antimicegenation laws as they applied to white-hispanic unions, but not as they applied to black-white unions. Obviously, that would be unacceptable, and we wouldn't consider it a victory. The trouble with the modern gay rights movement is that it's content to rest on its laurels once gays have the right to marry; there is simply no concern with that crowd for the analogous rights of polygamists. It is therefore not a liberation movement, it's simply a lobby for extending state privileges to its own. In that sense, it simply affirms the existing oppression, as long as it gets to take part. Therefore, I decline to join the cause.As to your last paragraph, I see your point, but to me maintaining that anyone needs a government marriage license to “puruse happiness” contradicts my insistence that the government not issue marriage licenses at all – that marriage be a private contract affair. It is a pretty weak person in a pretty weak relationship who needs a the government to use a particular magic word on his civil union certificate to feel secure in his relationship. If homosexuals have all the same rights in their civil unions in California that heterosexuals do in their marriages, then all the legal angles are pretty well covered. Sorry, but this just doesn't go as deep as Kelo.

  23. If it is my comment earlier that you are referring to, then you have misread it. I said that I saw the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as “two steps foward one step back,” i.e. is one net step forward. If I wasn't clear enough before, that means I support it overall (and would have voted for it if in Congress at the time). You are correct that we rarely get perfect bills. That fact does not bar us from criticizing the bills that we do have and in fact support – for making suggestions for how they could have been better, pointing out where they went wrong. It's not a black and white world, and democratic negotiation is a messy process. Former President Bush was rightly criticised for his “you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists” simplifying rhetoric in selling the War on Terror to the public. I'm sure we can all agree that fighting terrorism is a good thing while still recognizing that the methods President Bush chose may be either the wrong ones, or even cynical and politically self-serving in a lot of ways. I would hope you can see how the analogy applies to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. You can be all for fighting racism without necessarily agreeing with all the finer points of how President Johnson went about doing so. And indeed, I think it would be ahistorical to suggest that everything that went into that bill was entirely for the purpose of fighting racism and not a bit about serving the political interests of the people promoting it.

  24. ” It is a pretty weak person in a pretty weak relationship who needs a the government to use a particular magic word on his civil union certificate to feel secure in his relationship. “That's a pretty astonishing comment, which reveals a severe ignorance of how marriage is woven into the law, and/or is purposefully obtuse about the importance of marriage as a tradition and institution.Kelo is more important to you because you're more interested in the issue. If governments went around declaring areas blighted and handed them over to private entities, only a few people would care. If it really got out of hand congress would take care of it. Oh, so the government drains people's bank accounts from time to time? Hell there are innocent people in jail right now, and there will always be. What else is new?All I have to do is talk about privatizing the police force (among other ahistorical libertarian fantasies) and libertarians instantly stop caring about minority rights issues. Or really, anything practical. You guys just want to donate to IJ and get all up in arms anytime anyone in the govt does anything – good or bad.

  25. Josua? Read the case. The California Supreme Court in re Marriage Cases found that offering a legal relationship called “marriage” to opposite-sex couples while consigning same-sex couples to “domestic partnerships” impinges upon the fundamental right to marry by denying such legal relationships equal dignity and respect. They found that “marriage” is distinct from a “domestic partnership” (otherwise – why the quibble about the language?). You Josua, might not make any semantic distinction. And good for you. But the point the California Supremes made is that a great many people do, and as the the state should not be in the business of picking and choosing among private preferences they need to get out of the “marriage” business (much as you suggest). And that's the same reasoning that leads the ACLU to defending Nazis. The state should NEVER be in the business, in either a rhetorical, or a practical way, of picking one set of individual preferences over another (unless the state has an utterly compelling reason to do so). And that's back to Barlett's point. One is either a principled champion of liberty, or not. If we get very hot and bothered about Kelo but ignore Prop. 8 (or, say, the repugnant property seizure laws which apply under various “War on Drugs” legislative frameworks, or civil liberties violations under habeas) then we won't find a lot of friends on the left, because they'll see us as unserious about our principles. Meanwhile, of course, the corporate right will keep viewing us as useful dupes.

  26. Bob Murphy actually took a look at the Campaign for Liberty website and calls BS on Bartlett.I had thought Bartlett was an alright guy. His articles used to be featured on Lew Rockwell. That's the site that was lambasting the Iraq War from day one, which Brink “liberaltarian” Lindsey supported.

  27. Well, first I see that your mistyping of my name is intentional. It's spelled “Joshua,” i.e. in the standard way. I confress I don't really see the point in deliberately misspelling it, so perhaps you can explain what you mean? I'm missing the subtlety here.As to the substance – Paul, this is unconvincing. You're saying, essentially, that the state being in the business of affording “dignity” and “respect” is every bit as important as whether it lets people keep the houses that they've worked and paid for. I guess I can see how you would think that, but I don't see how you can expect that to be a binding preference on everyone – or, more to the point, on what you base the self-righteousness that allows you to suggest that anyone who doesn't share your preference here is at best a half-hearted defender of liberty. I agree with you that the state should “NEVER be in the business, in either a rhetorical, or a practical way, of picking one set of individual preferences over another.” The point is that the gay rights movement does not. They want legal homosexual unions and will pack up and go home as soon as this is achieved, the marriage rights of other groups be damned. It is not a fight for rights, therefore, it is simply a fight for extending the existing framework to include them. As such, it affirms and even celebrates the state's perrogative of deciding which unions are valid. There is a trap there, Paul, and I don't think you're going to be very convincing to most Libertarians by suggesting that in choosing to avoid that trap they are unserious about liberty. Just the opposite is true: they are wary of a movement that is itself unserious about liberty, and this is why they give more attention to Kelo than to Prop 8. When the fight is no longer about gay marriage privileges and becomes instead a fight for marriage rights for all people, you will see more enthusiasm for it in libertarian circles.

  28. Sorry, Joshua. The misspelling is not intentional. My complete apologies. I will now write out your name 10 times by way of penance. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Joshua. Now to the substance. “ You're saying, essentially, that the state being in the business of affording “dignity” and “respect” is every bit as important as whether it lets people keep the houses that they've worked and paid for.“. Given the number of people who have their homes confiscated relative to the number of same-sex couples who want the dignity and respect of marriage, I think this is exactly the point. There's no immediate prospect of a systematic re-writing of the laws governing eminent domain. When there is one, sign me up! But on the other hand, there is a current campaign to enhance liberty by getting the state part way out of the business of deciding who can get married, and to whom. “They want legal homosexual unions and will pack up and go home as soon as this is achieved, the marriage rights of other groups be damned.” Of course! This is their fight. They aren't motivated by an over-arching body of abstract theory. Some of these folks probably carry beliefs we would all find absurd. But to the extent that we share their values … “When the fight is no longer about gay marriage privileges and becomes instead a fight for marriage rights for all people, you will see more enthusiasm for it in libertarian circles.“I tend to agree that the appropriate role for the state in marriage matters is to act as a registrar, enforcer of contract, and (where infrequently necessary) to intervene where there is some utterly compelling case (where individual liberty is constrained by a social tradition that has outlived its usefulness, say).But look at the history of all peaceful movements for social change. Martin Luther King didn't start with the Voting Rights Act or racial preference legislation. He started by protesting lunch counters, bus seat priorities, segregated bathroom. Small, practical steps. At another level, I think it is a capital intellectual and even moral error to assume that people who disagree with you on one question cannot be right about anything. Many revolutionary movements disappear up their own colons, undone by splintering, schism and purge, precisely because they're unwilling to compromise on even the most absurdly fine points of dogma. Take me. I'm not a classic Nozick libertarian. I've lived in parts of the world where, as 'H' puts it above, the chief sources of oppression aren't state violence, but instead an ossified social hierarchy and anachronistic cultural mores. I'm rather more skeptical of the power of any organization–the state being only one–than many champions of freedom. I favor laws, for example, which would set an exponential tax rates on limited liability companies. Take more than (say) $1 billion in revenue? Pay 90% marginal tax. Why? Because I believe that no organization's economic power should ever come to dominate an individuals. Not a mainstream libertarian position (Taxes are bad! Mmmkay?). But in other ways, I'm thoroughly orthodox with my dogma.

  29. I've enjoyed talking with you, and I hope you don't think that I am the kind of person who makes the error that “people who disagree with you on one question cannot be right about their thinking.” My point is that the gay rights movement is not one of those cases. They are a one-issue bunch, and they aren't even consistent about their signature issue.You cite Martin Luther King. Fine – the reason that Martin Luther King was persuasive is precisely because he did not limit his fight to rights for black people. He was able to achieve a broad coalition – in a way that, say, Malcolm X could not – BECAUSE he was willing to champion equal rights for all people, regardless of race. Sure, he was preoccupied with rights for blacks – because they were, at the time, the victims of the most accute oppression (and his allies understood that). But he was always clear that he was standing up for brutalized minorities of any color everywhere. That forms a crucial distinction with the modern gay rights movement, which – as you admit – will pack up and go home as soon as they get theirs. I think it's fine for you to adopt their cause – but kindly do not accuse anyone who is repulsed by their exclusivity of being soft on liberty. There is a solid liberty-based reason for not wanting to join such a single-minded lobby.As for the number of people who have their homes confiscated versus the number of people who are denied the legal use of the word marriage – it isn't just a function of numbers but also a function of how oppressed the victim feels. Just as petty theft is a bit less of a violation of rights than murder, denial of the legal use of the word “marriage” is less intrusive than having your home stolen. I say this, of course, in the context of California, where all property rights associated with marriage are granted – merely the word is reserved. Naturally it would be a different debate in Nebraska.I find it ironic – and telling – that you forgive gays for packing up and going home when their fight is won on the basis that this is something that impacts them directly, but then turn around and blame the non-gay majority for not ranking the fight for gay marriage as an equal concern to securing their property. Virtually everyone owns a house; few people are gay. Thus, if you were consistent, you would grant that property rights are more important to most people than the fight for gay marriage. This double standard is, I submit, one of the primary reasons the gay rights movement has difficulty attracting broad support. If you are interested in winning broad support for gay marriage, you won't do it by telling people that they are soft on liberty for not subsuming issues that matter directly to them under issues that do not while not holding gay rights activists to the same standard.

  30. It is my observation, and I'm quite possibly wrong, that liberatarians are singularly focused on economic policy, not because they hate taxes (although taxes suck), but because taxes provide the government with revenue, and revenue makes the government bigger, thus the government becomes more intrusive. Libertarian economic policy essentially “starves the beast” and is the only sure way to guarantee government intrusive will be minimal.To those that support government intervention as the best way to expand liberties buy providing “safety nets” forget that the more safety nets provided the more invasive government becomes. Ultimately this leads to the government becoming ubiquitous. Which will lead to the hindrance of liberty. This is what is ultimately wrong with fascism or communism, or any ultra-powerful government. The arrogance and egocentricity required to say that large government in it's fully evolved form in communist Russia or China or Cambodia failed not because a system which entrusts such power to its public officials is flawed but because we've never had a true and righteous form of those governments, and that if only the West would drop its backward conservative free markets, and let the government take over we'd all be better off. Government ultimately fails, as even when it has solved a problem it has a vested interest in downplaying its successes. What I'm trying to say that if you give the government money, the institutions it develops have an incentive to never be to successful and grow, and government itself will always continue to take as much power as is economically possible, so if you limit its economic it can never grow so large that it infringes liberty. And, of course, a better more efficient economy makes everyone better off.

  31. Of course, there are certain benefits, tangible (taxes, spousal rights, etc) and intangible (“We're legit married, wooh!”) that come with being married, but what I think is more important is that marriage is as much a contract as anything else. How can anybody profess to support the protection of voluntary economic transactions but, as another commenter here put it in a previous blog post, turn a blind eye to the blatant prohibition of a certain class of people from entering a marital contract? Why, because on the surface there are no dollar signs?

  32. Luther King was persuasive is precisely because he did not limit his fight to rights for black people. He was able to achieve a broad coalition” A coalition of the willing? Yeah. But the point was–reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail–there were all kinds of people who chose not to join that coalition. And MLK's rhetoric was pretty broad–none of us is free while any of us are in prison, kinda stuff–but you're seeing some of that now on the campaigns for marriage liberty. The problem they have is that ultimately they're going to have to figure out what happens when they arrive at the destination they've started towards. Getting the state out of the picture can only … as a practical matter … move us all in the direction you're arguing; toward the state's roll in marriage being (as I said), registrar, enforcer of contract, etc. “it isn't just a function of numbers but also a function of how oppressed the victim feels.” An algebra that's beyond my precise computation. Except to point out that (say) 1/8 of the population is gay, while mebbe 100 people get their land taken. To square your circle, you want to suggest that being losing your house feels 1,000,000 times worse than being forbidden to marry? If you do, might I direct you to an Elizabethan play by some chap named Bill Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet. I no longer experience the passion of youth in quite the same way he goes on and on about, but to my recollection, the anguish of thwarted love hangs pretty heavy in his ouvre. Even Shylock is only driven to amateurish open-heart surgery when his daughter does a bunk with an unworthy gentile …. “Thus, if you were consistent, you would grant that property rights are more important to most people than the fight for gay marriage.” I think the facts speak otherwise, sadly. The momentum behind marriage liberty is building. More and more people are coming around every day. Soon, it will be a majority. But I don't see the same momentum behind property rights reform. “If you are interested in winning broad support for gay marriage, you won't do it by telling people that they are soft on liberty for not subsuming issues that matter directly to them under issues that do not while not holding gay rights activists to the same standard.“I'm interested in expanding liberty. Small step here. A leap there. A drunken stagger when the law of unintended consequences falls our way. And all I'm saying is that marriage liberty is a battle that is current, and somewhere we can make progress.

  33. To square my circle, I want to say that losing one's house is a lot more traumatic than having all the rights and privileges of marriage, and calling it “marriage” among one's friends and allies, but not having that particular word on my actual marriage certificate, yes. In other words, I don't need to square any circles at all, since I think the overwhelming majority of humanity shares my sentiment here. Remember, I've agreed that the debate would take on a different character in another state that didn't recognize civil unions.Your characterization of the issue is a bit misleading in any case, as it takes as its “number of homosexuals” exactly all of them, but as its comparative “number of property owners” only those whose property has actually been taken. The deception here is obvious. It's a bit like if the police stopped enforcing murder laws on the pretext that “it rarely happens, and when it does only in parts of town that most people can avoid.” It may be that the actual murder rate wouldn't change, but I doubt it enough to be unwilling to try the experiment – and I am certain that the overwhelming majoirty agrees with me. “Potential murder victims” for any utilitarian calculation is everyone currently living, just as “potential member of same-sex partnership” is every currently living homosexual, just as “potential victim of eminent domain taking” is every current or future property owner. The actual calculation has a different result from the one you performed.I notice another dodge in your post. You haven't said anything about the double standard you were operating under – the one where gays are allowed to only care about themselves on the marriage issue and come under no moral condemnation from you for not simultaneously championing the interests of a group (polygamists) that they are not, and yet the rest of us DO come under moral condemnation from you for choosing to champion property rights above the Prop 8 fight, despite most of us (1/8 is a generous estimate of the section of the population that's homosexual, it's more like 4% in reality) not being homosexual. This is a double standard that you need to explain – especially since it's Prop 8 that we're talking about, and any perceived oppression in California is dampened by the fact that that state recognizes same-sex unions. As for whether we can make progress on same-sex unions by only defending the rights of gays to the exclusion of the rights of polygamists – well, I see your point, but I simply don't agree. My fear is that things will play out the way I suspect they would if we had a movement against waterboarding: namely, the government might well put into law a ban on waterboarding by our military, but subsequent government would interpret that as a green light on other forms of intrustive interrogation (those not having been specifically forbidden). If we defend only the rights of gays to marry, we tacitly approve the ban on polygamist unions. If that's OK with you, go for it. It's not OK with me.

  34. There are two types of people.Those who divide everybody into two types, and those who don't.And, I was also put off quite a bit by the caricaturing of the non-Washington-dinner-party libertarians as stupid tax-hating gun-lovers who “would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.”

  35. …or those that have the most libertarian foreign policy…Well, the real problem there is that there's no such thing. By which I mean, as far as I can tell, there is no specific sort of foreign policy that follows from libertarian assumptions.Libertarianism can justify both isolationism and adventuring (as long as the latter is in the name and for the actual purpose of liberation of those incapable of liberating themselves).There are numerous alternative foreign policies that nobody could demonstrate as being more or less libertarian than the other, because libertarian theory is either silent or permissively contradictory* on the matter.* By which I mean that there are those, like Rand, who hold that no Totalitarian state, for example, is legitimate – and thus that it would be a perfectly libertarian action for a Free State to invade a Totalitarian state to make it Free.(Following from the corollary to basic libertarian theory that States Are Not Persons, and that while a person has a right to not be interfered with, States have no such right – only the persons composing them. And when the State is enslaving or oppressing them without recourse…)And there are others who take a more common isolationist tack, either by simple preference or by forgetting that States Are Not Persons and expanding principles valid towards individuals towards States. In either case, it's very hard to argue that libertarianism requires interventionism.Since libertarian theory per se can't be said to definitely require or forbid foreign actions, I describe it as permissively contradictory; the two branches contradict each-other, but the underlying theory is broad enough to reach either conclusion, and preclude neither.)

  36. I think part of the problem is that if you hold up the Civil Rights Act as an example of libertarian success, most libertarians will deny that you are one. I think both the Civil Rights Act and the women’s movement did in fact lead to tremendous net increases in liberty.

    And another part of the problem is that if you show a picture of various graphs of metrics that would measure racial progress (income and wage parity, etc.) against time but without the years labeled on the appropriate axis, it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint on the graph when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The social and economic situation for blacks was improving before the Civil Rights Act of 1964– indeed, in some ways it was only politically possible to pass the act because the situation had already improved.Looking at those graphs, you can't even see that the rate of improvement quickened with the passage of the Act. Would it have been slower? Perhaps, but it's a counterfactual that's hard to prove. Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 make no real difference, help consolidate gains that had already begun, give a push to a process that would have stalled, or what? It's extremely difficult to tell, and your answer to that question will affect your opinion on the Act.

  37. To put it another way, the civil rights movement certainly did lead to a tremendous net increase in liberty. Some of those gains of liberty preceded the one particular piece of legislation, and some were afterwards. Whether that particular egg had to be broken to make an omelette is a difficult question.

  38. Hi, how can I contact you?I want to start, a list of philosophy BLOGS. A small presentation of the thing, a library or address book. But one question I don't know is, how to contact people through blogs, I'm not familiar with this medium.If time permits, I want you to make a post here,http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/c…It will get stickied and start a list of philosophy blogs. You could write a small intro too, like “Here is a index and library of PHILOSOPHY blogs ….”Already an index of BBS is here, http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/c…Kind regards,- Niki

  39. By which I mean, as far as I can tell, there is no specific sort of foreign policy that follows from libertarian assumptions.Sure there is. Hayek doesn't stop at the water's edge. The most thorough-going of libertarians are the anarcho-capitalists. The exemplars who merit the title “Mr. Libertarian” include Murray Rothbard and Walter Block. Would you like to take a guess on what their preferred foreign policy is?

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  41. I view that as the sensible position that 80% of people would approve of. The extreme right wouldn't like it and the extreme gay (not necessarily left) wouldn't like it because they specifically want the state sanction (Andrew Sullivan has even stated he wants that).

  42. I'd say someone who thinks having their relationship validated by the state makes it more special.I've heard more than a few gay commentators say they want marriage and don't want civil unions for all because they think getting government approval is either important in itself or will reduce bigotry in society.I'm not talking about any legal rights. Those would all be covered by civil unions for all.

  43. “Will himself once made the point very well that the libertarian crowd is preoccupied with the blind application of theory, and the libertarian worldview is pretty ahistorical. “Just as big is the problem that it is *not* ahistorical, as the debate about civil rights and feminism (and now, gay liberation) shows. Traditionally libertarianism has been on the right, and has shared ties with racism, sexism, etc. Note that even now, after the GOP did its level best to alienate libertarians, most are still more sympathetic with the GOP than the Democratic Party, and more vituperation is directed at liberals than at right-wingers.What it will take is the passing of another generation, until the bulk of libertarians are people born *after* the Cold War ended, *after* feminism became mainstreamed, and who came of age with gay marriage and the destigmatizing of homosexuality.

  44. Freedom House has a political freedom index (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15).I think it is true though that Libertarian realize that political freedom can lead to a lack of economic unfreedom through democratic methods. What the Economic Freedom indices do is show that Economic Freedom is an important predictor of economic outcome REGARDLESS of underlying political freedom.Political freedom is good, but if politically free people are not aware of the need for Economic Freedom, political freedom won't do them much good economically.

  45. Freedom House has a political freedom index (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15).I think it is true though that Libertarian realize that political freedom can lead to a lack of economic unfreedom through democratic methods. What the Economic Freedom indices do is show that Economic Freedom is an important predictor of economic outcome REGARDLESS of underlying political freedom.Political freedom is good, but if politically free people are not aware of the need for Economic Freedom, political freedom won't do them much good economically.

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