Dissecting the Libertarian mind

There Is No Alternative to global free-market ...
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Disclaimer: When in this post I write about Libertarians, I mean Right-Libertarian

My recent posts on Capitalism, “Free Market” and the subsequent heated discussions with Libertarian1 stormtroopers let me to an insight which you all now have to suffer through.

The thing is this: Libertarians are staunch supporters of unregulated Capitalism along with unrestricted personal freedom. They insist on non-aggression and only on specific government intervention, generally only enough to protect the basis of Capitalism: Private Property.

And here we reach our first problem. Every time I’ve discussed with Libertarians, they explain these wonderful concepts,Β  they drill me on my freedom-loving, and eventually we get to arguing economics.

Now a peculiar difference in methodology appears.

My Way

I am a (far) left-libertarian. I’ve reached this position by at some point in my life wondering “How can the world become better?”2. This question coloured the research I did and the answers I sought.

I moved gradually to the left because I noticed that Capitalism is the only economic force in the world and yet it’s totally incapable of solving even the worst of our problems. Indeed, our situation is only deteriorating. My opinion is more nuanced than that of course but this is what I’ve discovered from looking at a broken capitalistic socioeconomic system and continuously asking the same question.

Once I figure out a few ways with which the world can become better, I modify my morality to be compatible with them.

The Libertarian Way

The Libertarian starts from the premise: “(Negative) Freedom is good” and then builds his whole belief system with ways to achieve more of this freedom. For it naturally follows, if freedom is good, then when the largest amount of humans have the maximum amount of freedom, the world will be the best it can be. Thus anything that is compatible with more freedom, must be good as well.

But their premise is unargued for. They never turn to ask: Why is Freedom good? Or, if they do, they start running around in circles with their rest of their beliefs. For example:

  • The “Free Market” is good because it can create a lot of wealth for some people and that should be allowed because to do otherwise would be to restrict one’s freedom which is not good because it is not compatible with the only thing that is works in the world, the “Free Market”.
  • Capitalism is good because it is the only thing that is compatible with the human nature of greed which is good because Capitalism requires it to work.

I think you get the point.

This was made especially clear in my recent discussion with a member of the audience who, while arguing that current mainstream economics are based on the scientific method (they’re not), informed me that Libertarians do not base their morality upon the superiority of those but rather, their belief is simply reinforced by them working (theoretically).

Thus, the Libertarians simply start from the conclusion and then finds beliefs to reinforce it. They have formed their morality and are choosing to believe whichever data are compatible with it.

Needless to say, such a take on reality and morality is not only misguided but it is diametrically opposite to the scientific and sceptical thought. The human mind’s ability to see the hits and ignore the misses is well known and understood, and this is why in order to even have a chance of finding the correct position, we need to start from the observation.

So Libertarians, I implore you. Ask yourself: Why is (negative) freedom good? Try to answer this question without running around in circles with the “Free Market” and the like. You will eventually discover that the only philosophy which attempted to truly base this moral grounding is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. And she has failed miserably.

If you do believe you can defend a moralityΒ  centered around negative freedom, by all means jump in and let me know why I’m wrong.

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  1. or possibly Objectivist, I can never be sure but I think it was mostly the former as they weren’t arrogant or rude enough []
  2. I can already hear the questions coming to ask me how I define what is better and why should it be my opinion that counts. *Sigh* []

15 thoughts on “Dissecting the Libertarian mind

  1. The Libertarian starts from the premise: “(Negative) Freedom is good”

    You do not yet understand Libertarianism.

    Libertarianism starts from the premise that property, specifically private property, is an absolute essential good. All property rights (private and public) rest on the curtailment of freedom: The right to coercively deny others the freedom to use some physical stuff, be it land, metal, trees, or whatnot.

    Now some sort of property rights appear necessary, at least today. I simply can't think of any human social structure in conditions other than overwhelming abundance of everything, that does not implement some sort of property rights. And — even though I'm a communist — I can see, especially under circumstances of moderate shortage, how private property can be useful. And even the most die-hard communist understands the value of having some private property: No one expects everyone to share a toothbrush.

    But Libertarians take an idea that's good in a particular context and elevate that idea to an essential truth. And they do so dishonestly, by asserting that private property is a negative freedom, when it is not a negative freedom; it is a right that must be established by the initiation of coercion.

  2. I can already hear the questions coming to ask me how I define what is better and why should it be my opinion that counts. *Sigh*

    It would be interesting to know what your starting premise is. Do you believe that there are any "rights" that shouldn't be interfered with? Do you believe that there is perhaps some possible condition in the world, the maintaining of which outweighs any other condition?

  3. This is a bit besides the subject and it would take me too long to explain in the comments I'm afraid. I am occasionally writing about my personal beliefs (or stuff related to). which I file under this category (Still not very full but I write them as I get them).

    Perhaps this post might be closer to what you are looking for?

  4. "There are no rights that can be objectively justified; the justification of any right rests on the foundation of subjective values." — Agree. And this is why taking a real objective POV is (almost) not possible. Just because one is more objective than the rest it does not make his point of view objective as such. This man likes to forget.

    The thing about the starting premise is not besides the subject, it's just behind the subject I guess. It is the base for what "subject" is refered to. πŸ˜‰ And yes – it better takes you long, for many thoughts and achieved wisdom is told shortly but to the fools. πŸ˜€ This is a complicated question, a short, but a complicated one.

    I would state that "freedom" is the natural state of being. Everything and everyone, if looked under the plain no-influence-everything-detached-view as he is in the beginning, he/it is free. And being free means having possibilities, ways to go, ideas to live and thoughts to have. Developing. Living. For non-development is non-living. Call it evolution, call it breath of life, I don't care, but apathy, stasis, decay and so on – are the opposite. And since all living wants to live and freedom is what grants life through (insert spectrum word here) development – freedom is as essential as life. So if freedom means nothing to some, it is easy to guess what a life means to them.

    Things are not right, not wrong. First of all – they ARE. What we make of them is strictly subjective and we should not have any illusion about it being "shared", "objective" or such. We just have to make with it what we think is best we can. I consider this freedom. And life.

    Just a couple of thoughts.. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›

  5. Things are not right, not wrong. First of all – they ARE. What we make of them is strictly subjective and we should not have any illusion about it being "shared", "objective" or such

    You know that I disagree with the fact that we cannot know things from shared knowledge. I consider scientific knowledge to be as close to truth as is possible for the human mind.

  6. if looked under the plain no-influence-everything-detached-view as he is in the beginning, he/it is free.

    But nobody is really free that way because from the moment we draw our first breath we are influenced by others. The only way to be free like that is to be isolated I guess.

  7. Yes, I know. And it's okay. Freedom of belief? πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜€

    But when it comes to "knowing" you will have to admit that what we "know" is evolving as well (heck, look at the past 100 years – it's amazing!) and there is a high chance that we know next-to-nothing right now and maybe never will know something of significance. Then again – what is significance, anyway? And there we are back to it-is-what-you-make-of-it. And only then we know at least something. πŸ˜‰

    I am not going to convince you – but I know you are able to consider different points of view and so I will never stop to invite you to think about it once in a while. But do not forget that you will be developing structure always dependent from science, so more slowly than you could. Look at the social skills you have – social science is not half way through it's own forest of theories, not sure about why and how some of the things work, because individual experience is not counted in that much. I am not sure if I could express what I meant, but please ask if something is unclear. o_O

  8. "But nobody is really free that way.." – This is why we seek more freedom constantly and why freedom is so precious to us, I suppose. And this is why noone can be objective. πŸ˜‰ Being isolated is not enough, I think. It's quite close though. That is why so many people get introverted and isolate themselves within, I think. Though I doubt that it is obvious to them. But what else is to do, if you get your urge for freedom denied constantly by the surrounding world as happens quite often?

    On the other hand, to achieve freedom is also a matter of bravery, cleverness, etc. – But this will be off topic again. Yet a fool's heaven might be a wise man's hell.

  9. While I am not equipped to participate in such a discussion, I am going to email a link to this blog to Dan, a good friend of mine. I think the two of you have a lot in common.

  10. I was also using Libertarian to mean "right Libertarian" in my previous comment, in case it wasn't clear to someone.

    I am not exactly sure where I stand, in terms of political philosophies, because I have yet to find an individual or party that completely agrees with me and have nothing but blog posts and a little time on Wikipedia to go on. Some of this seems relevant to me, though, so I will attempt to describe my the relevant parts of my personal philosophy, as I currently understand it, on the premise that someone might care, and that even if no one does, articulating it as well as possible might help me figure it out more fully.

    I think that more or less complete negative freedom (as defined by Wikipedia) is basically a good thing. I reached this conclusion based on the fact that I would at least want to be able to choose how much freedom to exchange for things like security (in my case, fairly little) and I can't see why everyone else shouldn't also be able to make their own choice about that. I have no problem with whatever choices people make for themselves on this or other topics, as long as they don't substantially violate another's rights without their consent. Positive liberty sounds good as well, up to a point. After all, who wouldn't want to be able to reach their full potential? However, I see something wrong with attempts to make people reach what others decide is their full potential, or attempts to make people reach an average full potential.

    On the issue of capitalism, I tend to be personally in favor limited capitalism. This is because unregulated private enterprise can limit people's rights as easily as a government can, but no private enterprise would violate rights as well. In practice, I think voluntary cooperation will tend to work better than capitalism for idea and information based "products". The free software/open source movement is a good example of this. I think that both private enterprise and voluntary cooperation have their place when it comes to physical goods and services, though. I support the idea of private property, but think intellectual property rights are not a good idea, with the exception of the sort of requirements the GPL and many CC licenses specify,

    All of this is just an approximation of what I currently believe. I may have horribly misused terms, stated things imperfectly or even inaccurately, made any number of logical errors, and so on. I have had zero training and little experience in this sort of thing, and I haven't thought about it all that often in any detail. Also, I will do my absolute best to allow myself to be convinced, if someone else can provide sufficient evidence that they are right or the facts contradict my views.

  11. This is a fascinating thread, my friend Vered pointed me to it. The thoughts outlined are well-considered, though we may agree to disagree on the conclusions.

    My way of describing the central issue at hand is as follows. There are individual rights that I think we can all agree on, such as the fundamental right not to be physically harmed without cause (ie besides in defence of your initial aggression). There are collective rights we should be able to agree on as well, such as the right to access clean, breathable air, which by its nature is shared and not amenable to ownership. Anyone who quibbles with either of these rights is a crank in my book, and not worth the energy to argue with.

    So once we establish that both individual and collective rights exist in principle, the rest is a mere bookeeping matter of putting every possible life scenario into one or the other of these categories. But wait, there's a catch: a whole bunch of things end up somewhere in the middle. In particular, there are some clear cases where individual and collective rights are simply antagonistic to each other by nature. The classic exposition of this problem is Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons". A somewhat more nerdy explanation would involve the so-called Prisoner's Dilemma. In any case, the issue is simple: what's good for an individual is bad for the community. To pick one simplistic example: if you go on a picnic, it's easier to leave your garbage around than to throw it away. If you don't plan to come back to that spot tomorrow, chances are someone else will pick up after you. However, if everyone who frequents the picnic spot makes the same decision, everyone suffers; the place looks and smells like a garbage dump.

    Almost any issue regarding rights, privileges, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, and many other -isms can be boiled down to this core dichotomy.

    I propose that there is no axiomatic truth involved here. Just as we can develop geometry with or without the parallel postulate, we can develop perfectly consistent and logically sound philosophies that emphasize personal rights (Capitalist –> right-leaning Libertarian/Objectivist), or community (Socialism –> Communism). So how do we decide which way to go?

    I've given this problem much thought, and I'm sorry to say I don't have any special answers. I think it's sort of obvious to most reasonable people, if they avoid the trap of getting caught in the grip of seductive ideology, that the practical solution to this dilemma involves some sort of reasonable compromise between individual and collective freedom. The tricky part is that how you weigh things then becomes heavily dependent on various soft aspects of your worldview. Culture, religion, upbringing, tradition, and gut instinct all play a part in how we square this circle. That's why these sorts of issues are so divisive, and cause such a strong emotional response. The key to compromise is to first accept that the other side's opinion is neither crazy, evil, or hopelessly stupid. Unfortunately, my casual perusal of left-leaning blogs and right-leaning talk radio makes it clear to me that many folks still believe the solution to this question is blindingly obvious, and that everyone on the other side (often including moderates, who are labelled 'soft on terror' or 'soft on fascism') are simply blithering idiots who need to be shouted down or worse.


  12. (continuation of a long comment)
    Circling back to the specific issue of capitalism vs. socialist/collectivist principles, I was struck by dbz's comment in another post:

    "For example, it is of not unfair if a person making 1M a year is taxed at 80% in order to enable people making 20K to be taxed 10%. The former is still filthy rich and the later can have a comfortable life without struggling for subsistence."

    Looking at this sentence from the point of view I've tried to outline here, what leaps out at me is this: the immediate fairness of the equation is not the only issue. Just as I don't want you to pollute my lake, I don't want you (the government, in this case) to promote economic policies that will result in collective poverty. I would argue that an 80% marginal tax rate, especially in today's globally competitive economy, is a prescription for fiscal disaster. There is plenty of evidence that overly collectivist policies reduce economic growth, resulting in stagnant, moribund economic malaise. That is not an ideological belief; it's an opinion based on objective, real-world observation. I would rather be on the poor end of the scale in the USA than way up the food chain in North Korea or Cuba. The issue is not just "is it fair?" but, in the larger perspective, "does it work?" There is ample evidence, IMSHO, that both unbridled Capitalism and ideologically uncompromising Communism result in disaster. Contrast the fate of the former USSR with that of China, and ask yourself: what was the difference between these two societies? On the other side, we only need to look at the events of the last few weeks to see that a market that is 'free' of all responsible oversight, where individuals (or corporations, ie small, powerful collections of individuals) are allowed to make decisions completely unfettered by any regulation or second-guessing, but at the same time are depended on to provide an economic basis for social stability (ie, they're in charge of home loans), is a prescription for meltdown and disaster.

    The truth is, extreme points of view are just not subtle or broad enough to encompass the problems we face today. There are no easy solutions; we have to work together to find common ground, and come up with reasonable, workable, ideologically impure compromises that just happen to work well enough to maximize personal and collective well-being.


  13. Actually, the game theory behind the prisoners' dilemma proves it's entirely rational to defect. That's the tragedy of it.

    Fortunately this changes in the iterated prisoners' dilemma, in which the game is played between the same players many times. That's a closer analogy to human society.

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