Friday, September 13, 2013

My Answers to Salon.Com's '11 Questions to See if Libertarians Are Hypocrites'

Stuart K. Hayashi

 Because Salon.Com despises free enterprise, it frequently launches missives against the advocates of free markets.  We see this in Salon.Com's "11 Questions to See if Libertarians Are Hypocrites," written by R. J. Eskow, which relies on the usual straw men.  Of course, Salon.Com's "questions" are not really questions; they are insinuations disguised as questions, such as going up to a stranger and saying, "Why do you rape children?"

Objectivist Chris McKenzie pointed out this essay to me, and he showed me his answers to the "11 question."

Chris has inspired me.  I have my own answers to the eleven insinuations-disguised-as-questions.

But first I should make a clarification about my own political philosophy.  I have my own "flavor" of "libertarianism," if you will, which is not the same sort of "libertarianism" espoused by Milton Friedman or Murray Rothbard or David D. Friedman or Friedrich August von Hayek or Robert Nozick or Ron Paul or Glenn Beck. 

I often see "talking heads" from the Cato Institute go onto Fox News programs and blather about how some government programs is bad primarily because it will reduce GDP and contribute to unemployment.  I do care about those econometric figures, but -- contrary to those Catoites -- they are not my main concern.  My main concern in politics is that I oppose the initiation of physical force.

Laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint.  Suppose there was a law saying that you would merely be fined for having been caught smoking a joint.  That sounds like no big deal, right?  But what if the police caught you smoking a joint, and you didn't pay the fine?  You would be fined some more.  If you neglected to discharge any fines, then any government worth its salt would subpoena you to a court to explain yourself. What if you ignored the summons?  Insofar as the government is interested in enforcing its own laws, the government would send police to apprehend you.  If you run from them or fight back against them, they will have to apply physical violence to restrain you.  If you fight to the very end, you might have to be shot.  According to Amnesty International, even TASERs have killed people.  The more you resist compliance with the law, the more the government must escalate the physical severity of its punishment against you.  The final punishment for absolute disobedience is violent death.  Laws are all about threatening physical violence against people who disobey those laws.  (Leonard E. Read pointed this out as early as 1962.)

And I am fine with having laws against murdering people, hitting people, sexually assaulting people, harassing people, poisoning people, stealing from people, breaching contracts with them, defrauding them, and vandalizing their private property.  Those are all forms of violence against person and private property. Therefore laws against such actions are merely retaliatory force that stops the force that was initiated against the innocent parties. 

However, what about laws against smoking a joint in the privacy of your own home?  What about laws that forbid you from agreeing to work for someone for below the minimum wage?  Such laws are what initiate the threat of physical violence against peaceful parties.  I therefore oppose such laws.

My position is not in support of anarchy.  Rather, my position is in support of what is called the night watchman state.

I explain my position in further detail in a 10-minute YouTube video, which you can see here.

Without further ado, here are my answers to the "questions."

1) Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?
Yes, those are forms of spontaneous order.  But whether or not some social arrangement is spontaneous or orderly or both is not the issue.  When private parties get together to form the mafia, that, too, is an example of spontaneous order.  I do not support the existence of the mafia, as the mafia initiates violence against peaceful people. 

The same principle applies to social movements like Occupy Wall Street.  When Occupy Wall Street advocates the forcible redistribution of wealth, it advocates violence. 

The presumption that free-market advocates laud "spontaneous order" as their main priority, is a straw man.  There are peaceful social arrangements that arise through spontaneous order, and there are violent arrangements -- such as the mafia -- that also arise through spontaneous order.  I oppose the violent arrangements. 

When I marvel at the wonders of the spontaneous order of the marketplace, what fascinates me is not that order emerges from chaos -- that is inevitable and happens all throughout nature -- but that order emerges peaceably from the bottom-up; that the order need not be violently imposed from the top-down by a governmental authority claiming to know best.  What most impresses me about peaceful spontaneous order is not the spontaneous order but the peacefulness of it. 

2) Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?
Contrary to R. J. Eskow, there is no central authority that truly knows, at some noumenal level, what amount of reward is "just."  Do you want a central governmental authority deciding what is the "just reward" for every action and then dictating the "just reward" for any and every action?  If not, then it is best to leave peaceful individuals free to decide for themselves what they will or will not reward, what behavior they will or will not "positively reinforce."  Will I always agree with what other people choose to reward? Of course not.  Perhaps I despise some musician and resent how other people choose to reward his lousy music by paying lots of money for it.  That I live with this resentment, however, is far more tolerable than having a governmental authority -- with the threat of violence backing its decisions -- deciding what is or is not a "just reward" for others. 

Suppose you really like a musician I hate, and I consider it "injustice" when you reward that musician for his lousy music by paying for it.  If I successfully lobbied the government to put a limit on the amount of money you could shower upon that musician, would that be corrective justice?  No, it would not. There can be no justice where violence is threatened on peaceful people, no matter how questionable their judgment.  Therefore, there can be no justice when the government uses its force of law -- its violence -- to override the peaceable choices that individuals make for and amongst themselves. 

What R. J. Eksow would call the government using its authority to provide just rewards that the market would not provide, really amount to R. J. Eskow asking the government to impose R. J. Eskow's will on others by force.

3) Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?
Yes, and no free-market advocate objects to that.  To presume that free-market advocates sympathize solely with private employers, and recognize none of the reciprocal rights of freely-contracting employees, is another straw man.

4) Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?
No.  A free market needing governmental regulation is an oxymoron.  A free market is a market in which the initiation of physical force is either absent or punished.  By contrast, government regulation of market activity means that the government threatens violence against peaceful market participants in order to override what those market participants peacefully agreed to.  To say that a free market needs regulation is to say that a free market needs to destroy itself -- that a dynamic of peace needs initiatory violence introduced into it.

5) Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.
The issue is how much of a priority is placed on democratic voting.  In an absolute democracy like that of ancient Athens, people have the authority to vote on whether they may use violence against peaceful people.  Socrates used no violence when he spoke unpopular opinions.  Nonetheless, the absolute democracy of Athens voted on whether to execute Socrates based on his opinions. 

If the United States were an absolute democracy in the 1950s, then people would have had the power to place, on the ballot, an initiative on whether gay men should all be castrated.  Frankly, even if a majority was willing to vote down such a measure, the electorate should not have the authority to vote on that in the first place.

You may note that the word democracy does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.  (The U.S. Constitution is online right here. Go look for the word democracy in it.) In the Federalist Papers, James Madison -- the father of our U.S. Constitution -- explained that the USA was never intended to be an absolute democracy.  And we should be thankful for that.  Madison intended for the United States to be a constitutional (classically-liberal) republic.  In a constitutional liberal republic, citizens still have the authority to vote on certain measures, such as who can be elected to offices like "governor" and "sheriff."  However, a constitutional liberal republic recognizes that peaceful citizens have certain individual rights that are so important, that not even a majority should be allowed to vote them down.  For example, a constitutional liberal republic prioritizes freedom of speech above what the majority says. 

Suppose, for example, that some people were offended by Miley Cyrus's MTV Video Music Awards performance and wish to enact a law that hereafter bans her and Lady Gaga from stage performing ever again.  In absolute democracy, people would vote on that.  By contrast, a constitutional liberal republic says that the freedom of Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga to perform peaceably is more important than what a majority says, and therefore citizens should not even have the opportunity to vote on whether government force should censor peaceful musicians.

You can read Madison's own words on this -- that freedom requires that the USA be a constitutional republic and not a democracy -- in the Federalist Papers No. 10, No. 14, and No. 55.

6) Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?
The government should protect people from violence -- that is what the night watchman state does.  I am not an anarchist; I recognize the need for a night watchman state to protect individuals and their private property. Absent of a night watchman state, there is no free market.

If, however, R. J. Eskow is referring to infrastructure normally provided by governments, such as roads and waterworks, the fact of the matter is that these services have historically been provided by private entrepreneurs and were subsequently taken over by government for political reasons.

For example, in the 1800s, private entrepreneurs were more competent at delivering the mail than was the U.S. Post Office.  It was even a private, for-profit entrepreneur who first invented the postage stamp. This was William Dockwra in the 1600s. His mail-delivery business ceased operation solely because the government agency in charge of mail delivery resented competition from him and thus outlawed his business. It was even private entrepreneurs who invented the modern fire department in the 1800s, and they would have been able to continue operations were they not thwarted by collectivist government regulations concerning personal liability.

 Remember that the government's authority is backed by force.  That the government holds the social authority to wield physical force is the sole factor that separates it from the private sector.  That is, any human endeavor -- including wealth creation -- that can be performed peaceably, can be performed in the absence of governmental direction.

7) Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?
This criticism does not apply to me, as I recognize the right to intellectual property.

It is true that many self-described libertarians fail to understand the legitimacy of intellectual property.  The truth is that intellectual property is at least as legitimate as private ownership over real estate, and for similar reasons.  I explain this in a Facebook Note (not accessible to the public) and in a book scheduled to be published next year.

I concede that Patrick of GameTime IP has pointed out the hypocrisy of Reason magazine's denigration of copyright holders who wish to protect their copyrights.  Reason magazine demonizes people who monetize their copyrighted material, yet Reason magazine has itself monetized its decidedly-copyrighted material.

To the extent that R. J. Eskow faults libertarians who fail to recognize intellectual property rights, he has a valid point.

8) Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?
It depends on what one means by "the marketplace."  A democratic vote is similar to a market in which a large number of people can act in unison to influence other people.  When lots of people purchase tickets to a science-fiction movie, it can signal to movie producers that science fiction is in high demand. This can motivate the movie producers to produce more science fiction movies.  Inasmuch as a large number of people working together to influence others is democratic, markets have some democratic attributes.

However, the main issue is not about large numbers of people cooperating on some common goal; the issue is whether such actions are peaceful or not.  Enemies of free enterprise usually attack free enterprise from an angle opposite of the one that R. J. Eskow attempts:  enemies of free enterprise say it was a "free market" when Europeans abducted Africans and sold the Africans on the market as slaves.  People who equivocate that enterprise with "capitalism" and the "free market" are attempting to apply such labels to any and every form of commercial activity.  They say that contract killing and the transatlantic slave trade are examples of "capitalism" and "the free market." 

But the main attribute of capitalism, free markets, and free enterprise is not commerce or trade but peace.  The introduction of violent coercion to any trade precludes that trade from being a free-market one.  If a man hires a contract killer to murder his wife, that is a commercial trade but it is not free enterprise -- it certainly deprives the wife of her freedom to enterprise.

Likewise, one can point out the similarities between democracy and markets when an Athenian democracy votes to murder Socrates based on his opinions.  But the presence of non-consensual violence precludes that democratic vote from being a free-market activity.

9) Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?
No, that's insipid.  The corporate legal status, by itself, does not pose a threat to anyone's liberty.  There are only two methods whereby a corporation can genuinely threaten freedom.

A--The corporation initiates force through illegal spoliation.  This might involve paying off thugs to threaten people physically or kill them. It also might involve the corporation trying to "cut corners" and reduce its internal costs by dumping toxic waste onto other people's property, poisoning those people.  Insofar as we have a genuine night watchman state, such initiations of force are illegal, and the corporate executives who implemented such spoliation are criminally prosecuted and held civilly liable.

B--The corporation initiates force by having the government do its bidding (that is, through legal spoliation).  An example of this would be of banks making irresponsible investments and then successfully lobbying Barack Obama to use tax money to bail out those banks.  This happens a lot in the First World, but it is against the principles of the night watchman state.   

Thus, what enables corporations to exploit people is not the philosophy of the night watchman state, but rather the very same apparatus of the regulatory-entitlement state that R. J. Eskow is arguing for.

10) Ayn Rand was an adamant opponent of good works, writing that “The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.”  That raises another test for our libertarian: Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?
This is a complete straw man for multiple reasons.  First, it conflates Rand's views on personal relations with her politics.  In politics, Rand asks only that there be a night watchman state that bans the initiation of physical force.  Under her ideal government, it would still be legal for a fully-grown, able-bodied man to be a complete mooch and live off of his relatives, trying to make them feel guilty if they do not financially support him. Rand would strongly disapprove of that, but nothing under her government would forbid this social arrangement.   Insofar as relatives let themselves be harmed by giving in to the moocher's emotional blackmail, Rand would say that the only solution is to leave all of these people free to face the consequences of their own choices.  Rand's ideal government leaves you perfectly free to try to live for others, regardless of whether or not Rand approves of that decision.

Secondly, it is misleading to say that the good actions of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi were motivated solely by trying to live for others.  Much of their own rhetoric reflects their belief that, yes, they only fought for others.  But on another level, King and Gandhi believed they were fighting against injustice.  They valued justice and equality and personally wanted to live in a more equitable world.  By fighting for those values, they were still fighting for their own personal interests -- their own personal values.  It is therefore misleading to say that there is some official Objectivist position -- let alone some official libertarian position -- that makes some blanket denunciation of any and every aspect of the causes of King and Gandhi.

11) If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?
There are several answers to this.  First of all, a truly rational philosophy that extols freedom of thought and freedom of enterprise is relatively new.   The dominant ideology for most of human history -- for thousands of years -- has been the authoritarian outlook.  The authoritarian outlook has had a head start and has established itself among many people, becoming the default mode.  Given how entrenched the authoritarian outlook is -- how much it has been "grandfathered" into human culture -- it makes sense that it will take lots of time for the free-market individualist outlook to take hold for the long term.  That could take another thousand years.

Moreover, that the United States does not have the same level of censorship and though control as that of the Soviet Union or Cuba or Nazi Germany, does not imply that the USA has a purely free market in ideas.  Rather, it means that the USA has a market in ideas far freer than these other places.  That is not the same as having a perfectly free and unfettered marketplace of ideas.  Rather, even in the USA, the propagation of certain ideas over others receive taxpayer subsidies and are therefore given a boost over others.  This tax-subsidized encouragement of statist ideas would not exist in a purely free marketplace.

Before we address the market for social philosophies, let us consider the agriculture market.  In the former Soviet Union, Josef Stalin nationalized all of the farms; all farms were considered government-owned.  Then Stalin consolidated the farms and tried to manage them all centrally.  The result was starvation for all but the most well-connected government bureaucrats.

In the United States, it is not the case that all farms and agribusinesses are government-owned or fully controlled by government agencies.  What happened in the Soviet Union never fully took hold in the USA.  Therefore, when you look at the history of agriculture in the USA, it appears that the USA has always had a free market in agriculture . . . in comparison to the Soviet Union, that is. 

In the USA, farms and agribusinesses have always been privately owned, at least nominally.  The private owners do exercise relative autonomy in deciding what crops to plant, what animals to raise, and how their animals are bred.  A farm's owner is mostly free to decide for him- or herself whether or not to use genetically-modified organisms or synthetic fertilizers.  Some farmers forgo these tools and opt to be "organic." 

That farmers and agribusinesses in the modern USA exercise more choice than they would have had in the Soviet Union, though, is not the same as saying that the USA has an unfettered agricultural market.  Ever since the Hoover administration, the federal government has provided taxpayer subsidies to certain crops and to certain methods of propagation.  Generally, the most-favored crops have been wheat, cotton, tobacco, corn, and soy.  That the federal government spends tax money to favor certain crops and certain farming methods has distorted the market.  Certain crops and farming methods have gained more popularity and implementation in the modern U.S. agricultural market than they probably would have had under true laissez faire. 

The same principle applies to the marketplace of ideas.  The marketplace of ideas is much freer in the modern USA than it was in the Soviet Union or under the Third Reich.  There are competing ideas in the USA.  However, certain governmental measures give the propagation of some ideas an advantage over others.

Philosophic ideas are propagated in schools.  Local governments own most of the schools, and the subject matter of what is taught in civics class and history class is highly politicized.  You can see that in how people go to school board meetings and argue over what the schools should teach children about evolution, sexual ethics, anthropogenic climate change, Christopher Columbus, indigenous peoples, mandatory "volunteerism," and more.  The clique that gains the most political power in a region likewise gains control over what most children are taught about their society and about what political system is best. 

It would be rather silly if a clique of libertarians gained control of the government schools and had civics class teach that everything should be privatized and government schools should not exist.  That would be self-contradictory.  By contrast, it makes sense that, whatever their differences about evolution and jingoism and Columbus, the cliques that fight over the contents of school civics lessons agree that children should be inculcated with a belief in government as the solution to social problems.  Hence school children are bombarded with hagiographies about Franklin D. Roosevelt.  They are told (inaccurately) that the nineteenth century was at time of laissez faire, and that this ruined the country until the Progressive movement came along and used government power to correct all wrongdoing. 

As the USA still has a relative amount of freedom of thought, you are free to question what you are taught in school -- government school or otherwise.  If you doubt what your government school teacher says, you are free to go on the World Wide Web and look for a different viewpoint.  Still, the fact remains that as long as taxpayer subsidies finance any one institution over another, that institution's ideology will receive a boost that is not likewise received by its competitors. 

Certainly it is not the case that all government employees agree with the statist view or that all private enterprises believe in freedom.  Many private schools and other private businesses likewise propagate the statist view.  The privately-owned, for-profit Salon.Com is proof of that.  But as long as taxpayer subsidies go to any institution that has the power to tell children what is right or wrong in society, the taxpayer subsidies will provide an advantage to the viewpoint that government knows best (even if various lobbies disagree on the specifics of what government should do). 

Therefore, that statism continues to be the most popular political outlook, does not reflect any contradiction in free-market thought.  It simply means that we free-marketers face an uphill battle when it comes to educating people about the need for greater liberty.