Saturday, November 24, 2012

Left-Libertarianisms

The term "left-libertarian" has gotten a good deal of attention in recent months, at least among libertarians, in part due to an online Cato Unbound Symposium and in part due to the efforts of a number of bloggers who consider themselves left-libertarians and a few others who consider themselves critics of left-libertarianism. 

One source of potential confusion in these exchanges is that "left-libertarian" is used to label three quite different clusters of positions. In its oldest sense a left libertarian is a left wing anarchist, typically anarcho-communist or anarcho-syndicalist;  "libertarian" is still sometimes used that way in Europe, although less often in the U.S. 

But that is not how the term is being used in the current discussion. A more recent and more relevant use is to describe positions that differ from  conventional libertarianism mainly in supporting and justifying policies that most libertarians would reject as income redistribution. The best known is geolibertarianism, based on the ideas of Henry George, a 19th century economist. Its central tenet is that since no individual has a just claim to the income from the site value of land, land being an unproduced resource, government ought to support itself by taxing all and only that income.  Two recent books, The Origins of Left-Libertarianism and  Left-Libertarianism and its Critics, both  edited by Peter Vallentyne and Hillel Steiner, discuss that and other positions along somewhat similar lines.

I find that form of left-libertarianism interesting in large part because it grows out of, and tries to solve, the problem of initial appropriation. It is  very useful for land to be treated as private property. But libertarian philosophy mostly bases its justification of ownership on creation—and land, with rare exceptions, is not created by humans.  Locke famously tried to solve the problem by arguing that humans acquire ownership over land by mixing their labor with it, but his solution  raises a number of problems. Readers who share my interest in the issue may want to look at an old article of mine in which I offered some possible, if not entirely satisfactory, solutions.

Left-libertarianism in that sense is not the version that has been getting  attention of late, although they are related. Current discussions mostly deal with what is sometimes  described as Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, BHL for short. It was that that was the subject of the Cato symposium.

My problem with BHL is that I have been unable to get its supporters to tell me what it is. Readers who wish to check that claim for themselves may want to look at the symposium, especially at the lead essay by Zwolinski and Tomasi, my response, and as much more of the conversation as they find of interest.

Supporters of BHL, or at least Zwolinski and Tomasi, want to add "social justice" to the mix of ideas that make up libertarianism, but they are reluctant to explain what that means. My own conclusion long ago was that social justice means "views of justice that appeal to people on the left," or, alternatively, "that view of justice which implies that the first question to ask about any proposal at all is 'how does it affect the poor.'"

Part of the BHL position is the rejection of the hard line rights version of libertarianism—the version which, taken seriously, implies that if I fall out of the window of my tenth floor apartment and manage to catch hold of the flagpole projecting out of the window of the apartment immediately below, I am morally obliged to let go and fall to my death if the owner of that apartment refuses me permission to trespass on his property. I reject that version too, as did the late Bill Bradford of Liberty Magazine, who is responsible for the flagpole example. But that rejection is well within the range of libertarianism conventionally defined, so cannot be what distinguishes Bleeding Heart Libertarians from the rest of us.

What about the poor? Bleeding Heart Libertarians consider concern for the poor as one of their defining characteristics but are, at least in my experience, unwilling or unable to say exactly how far that concern goes or what is its basis. The pure Rawlsian position—they seem to have some positive things to say about Rawls—gives the welfare of the poorest infinite weighting; no benefit to the not-poor, however large, can outweigh any cost to the poorest, however small. The BHL position appears to prudently stop short of that extreme. It is unclear whether it goes  further than the claim that a libertarian society would be good for, among others, the poor, a view shared by most libertarians. The further view that the fact that a libertarian society is good for the poor is an important reason to support it, while less universal, is at least shared by many other libertarians. I am left with the puzzle of just what it is that they believe that most of the rest of us don't.

My conclusion so far is that Bleeding Heart Libertarianism is simply a version of libertarianism whose presentation and contents are designed, so far as possible, to appeal to people on the left, especially academics on the left. Possibly that is unfair—but, as I believe readers can see by browsing the archive of the symposium, I did try without success to get proponents to provide me with a better definition. 

In about a week, I will be spending several days at a conference at least one of whose participants regards himself as a left-libertarian and, I think, a bleeding heart libertarian; he will have an opportunity to correct any errors in my view of the matter.

31 Comments:

At 1:00 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Hyman said...

First of all, I find it quite silly when people try to derive theoretical underpinnings to explain things that they really just want. My definition of a L-L would be someone who says that once society as a whole has decided that people will not be forced to suffer consequences for certain individual decisions or happenstances then it is plausible to limit some freedoms in order to accomplish this. So we have Obamacare forcing people to insure against sickness, taxation for food stamps, and so on.

 
At 1:58 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger António Costa Amaral said...

(Disclaimer - even though politically "the art of the possible" I'm a classical liberal, ideologically I should be seen as an ancap)

There's also a strain of left-libertarians who rebel against

1) capitalism (essentially what ancaps call corporatism) vs. "freed-markets"

2) ancaps - strawmen creatures who defended (knowingly or unwittingly - they are stupid) corporate power and previlege

3) non-coercive institutionalized authority - allegedly a stateless society wouldn't have as much "bossism" and so on.

Some of these left-libertarians are producing fantastic (good) literature - even though I feel that they get the semantics all wrong. And spend more time keeping their distance from (legitimate) liberals, than trying to bridge the diffences in outlooks, engaging the battle of ideas, and moving the cause forward.

 
At 3:08 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger chriscal12 said...

The BHL Symposium on Left-Libertarianism has been a much clearer presentation of these ideas than the Cato Unbound. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/category/left-libertarianism/
Gary Chartier's opening article is especially clear and to the point.

Incidentally, Chartier's latest book, Anarchy and Legal Order, has recently come out, and David is mentioned quite a bit judging by the index.

 
At 3:47 AM, November 25, 2012, OpenID Richard Allan said...

Left-libertarians are people who think the State should intervene to protect corporate power. It's just that the corporations they're thinking of happen to be trade unions.

 
At 4:36 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger SataiWarp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:51 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Skip said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:41 AM, November 25, 2012, Anonymous martin said...

Roderick Long describes his own left libertarianism here:

http://praxeology.net/unblog08-05.htm#07

Which I think is a good enough description of left libertarianism of the third kind in general.

I'd say Bleeding Heart Libertarianism is the libertarianism of Zwolinski and Tomasi and is a different although somewhat related thing. (What it is exactly is not clear to me either.)

This despite the fact that Long and other left libertarians like him write for the BHL website.

 
At 6:21 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I think that most left Liberals are Rothbardians who have rejected his reasoning because they think that there is a way to improve on some parts of Rothbard's natural rights argument. By doing so they introduce inconsistencies and weaken their own position, much as Milton did when he embraced the state yet claimed to be a libertarian because he claimed to want to make it more efficient.

 
At 7:14 AM, November 25, 2012, Anonymous Sharper said...

It would be interesting to get a satisfactory answer from a L-L to the question of who is poor enough to deserve the benefit social justice in the form they desire. The vast majority of the "poor" in the U.S. are very rich by world standards. Do they limit their definitions to the U.S., or do they include the entire world?

If they include the entire world, it would seem that they'd spend their time advocating primarily for more immigration within the U.S. and for other nations to adopt more economically libertarian institutions.

Somehow I don't get the sense that's their primary focus, but if helping the truly poor is their highest value, wouldn't it be?

 
At 9:46 AM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Gordon said...

David, I think you are right to suggest you are being somewhat unfair to the BHLers with the claim that they are simply trying to "appeal" to the left. The BHLers are about using the justificatory framework of the left (or "high liberals") to reach libertarian (or, at least, classical liberal) conclusions. You seem to suggest there is something disingenuous about that. I thought your view was that we should welcome to some degree any arguments moving in our direction.
AS to why the Rawlsian framework, there is more to that than the derivation of the Difference Principle from the maximin decision rule. You have gotten to the deep flaw in Rawls's system so quickly that you might not have spent much time with framework as a whole. In any event, some contemporary philosophers with a libertarian bent find more of value in the Rawlsian approach than in the notion of "self-ownership" that seems to drive much libertarian thought.
As to "social justice", Z&T don't do a very good job of addressing your questions in the Cato exchange. The BHLers - and other contemporary classical liberals - have come to endorse the claim that meaningful liberty must include positive, as well as negative - rights. Without a justification for institutions that involves some positive rights, the "least-advantaged" will have no reason to endorse those institutions. A concern with "social justice" in a theory means that there is some role for positive rights of some kind that are aimed at more than just formal liberty.

 
At 12:28 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Don said...

My experience with BHLs is that they are libertarians who see certain ends that can only be achieved through coercion, but they theorize (pretend) that these ends can be achieved otherwise.

Obsessive concern for the poor is idiotic, just as concern for the rich or middle class would be. In a free, non-coercive society you can use private charity to assist anyone you think deserving. Everything else is force dressed up in libertarian clothes.

Another interesting thing about BHLs: they march in lockstep against Israel and with the Palestinians, parroting the most simplistic left wing apologetics for the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Contrast this with other libertarians, who do not tend to repeat Neocon slogans about the Middle East. This speaks to the average BHLs (secret?) commitment to left wing ideology.

 
At 12:46 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger DR said...

Georgists don't have to be left-libertarian.

The (in)famous blogger Mencius Moldbug defends a Georgist position where sovereign states are replaced with sovereign for-profit corporations.

These would be structured along the lines of modern day shareholder corporations, with the difference being that the corporation's property is self-defended instead of defended by another organization (i.e. the state).

The purpose of the sovereign corporation (SovCorp for short) would be to solely to maximize shareholder value. Although as an unchallenged sovereign with complete internal control it could tax whatever and however it likes, in actuality would assuredly be through rents on (unimproved) land.

The logical reason for this is 1) because this assures maximum revenue since this tax has no deadweight loss, 2) it does not impede economic growth (again because no deadweight loss), thus it doesn't diminish the future NPV of tax revenue, and 3) revenue on land is clearly defined across sovereign borders (unlike income or assets who's country of origin can be ambiguous).

This political vision is probably about as right wing as one can get in the sphere of libertarian-ish ideas, but is purely Georgist in its execution.

 
At 3:32 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

DR: I dunno much about those ideas, but judging from what you just described it seems pretty much close to kingdoms, except that the share of (pretty much unlimited) power can be bought or sold (which is not so far anyway - lower and upper feudal titles were quite often sold in the past anyway...although that was much more along the lines of stock emission as it meant creating new lords).

Also where does the author of those ideas get the idea that those corporations that have sovereign borders (and therefore are local monopolies with no competition to check them) will actually aim for the income and nothing else? That doesn't seem to be very realistic to me. If you live in a totalitarian state (which it would be) and control a part of its power (through the amount of stock you hold), it seems to me the best thing you can do is to get as much stock as you can get (because without them, the state-corporation can do anything it wants with you and with a lot of them, you can have a good deal of influence on its actions).

It seems to me, this is really not a market environment. Or rather - it is. But it is a market of power - a political market. And when there is absolute power to buy, noone will be selling. I would imagine the system to soon evolve into classical totalitarian oligarchies.

Or perhaps I should read the arguments more and misunderstood them from your description. In that case I am sorry.

 
At 7:48 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Carl M. said...

If we take liberty as the vertical axis with up as more libertarian, and equality-aristocracy as the horizontal axis, with left being more equality, then Objectivists would be high and to the right. Steve Forbes would also be in the upper right quadrant as well as Reagan. Bush would end up on the lower right. Most Democratic Party politicians would be in the lower left, though you might make the case that Carter was in the upper left quadrant. (See my graph at http://www.holisticpolitics.org a left-libertarian site which precedes the Bleeding Heart site by quite some years.)

Left-libertarians would be those who fit in the upper left, with an emphasis on upper. This would include Georgists as well as the conspiracy revealers who believe that deficit spending is the result of a Rockefeller-Rothchild conspiracy. Omit the conspiracy theory and you can include Adam Smith in this school. At least, he pointed out that the accumulation of capital would result in lower profit rates and higher wages. Keynesian fiscal stimulus thwarts the process Smith describes.

You can also get a left-right division among libertarians based on order of operations. Which government programs do you cut first: welfare for the poor or corporate welfare?

Libertarians who advocate a negative income tax (your father) or a basic income guarantee (Charles Murray) end up in the upper left quadrant.

I put myself in the upper left for several reasons:

1. The Georgist argument about land.
2. Fee for service government would tax property mainly. The dividend collector is consuming more government service than the plumber of equivalent income.
3. Utilitarian concerns assuming a diminishing marginal value of money balanced against the fact that many are wealthy because they are creating wealth.
4. There are positive feedback loops which widen the wealth gap. Check out the interest rates on payday loans for an example.
5. An excessive wealth gap necessitates more police action to protect said gap. Widen the gap enough and you get communist guerillas (c.f. Latin America).

 
At 7:55 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Daniel Patrick said...

I don't really regard BHL as overtly left-libertarian, though left-libertarians do sometimes write for them. I'd recommend Gary Chartier, Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, Charles Johnson or Kevin Carson as better references.

 
At 9:17 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

I have a few posts on left-libertarianism that might clarify things -- or muddy the waters more:

Egalitarian Psychology and Society

Political Evolution to Bleeding Heart Libertarianism

Libertarian Left

 
At 9:34 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger Xerographica said...

Here's a passage on dollar voting that provides a perfect example of what I was hoping the BHL project would focus on helping liberals understand...

"You might say, “That’s okay, Williams, if you have enough dollar votes. But what about poor people?” Poor people are far better served in the market arena than the political arena. Check this out. If you visit a poor neighborhood, you will see some nice clothing, some nice cars, some nice food, and maybe even some nice homes—no nice schools. Why not at least some nice schools? The explanation is simple. Clothing, cars, food, and houses are allocated through the market mechanism. Schools are allocated through the political mechanism. By the way, if you are a member of a minority, it is in your interest to minimize those decisions over your life made in the political arena, where the majority rules." - Walter Williams, Where Does Your Vote Really Count?

Instead, the BHL effort can be largely summarized like so...

"Nobody can be as dangerous as an economist who only knows economics, except perhaps a moral philosopher who knows no economics at all." - Peter Boettke

Trying to inject some economics into the discussion resulted in my banishment...Fallibilism vs Fairness.

 
At 11:25 PM, November 25, 2012, Blogger DR said...

@Tibor Mach,

The parallels that you're drawing between the SovCorp concept and European kingdoms in not coincidental. To be clear the author of this idea, the pseudonymous Mencius Moldbug is probably best described as a "reactionary libertarian."

The general concept is outlined and concerns are addressed at length by him with in this post on his blog Unqualified Reservations. I could paraphrase his argument, but I think you'd be better to read them in their originality. (Though to warn you the post is quite long).

 
At 5:42 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Matt Zwolinski said...

Hi David,

Let me explain the BHL idea as I myself see it. And let me note that Tomasi and I should probably not be treated as a single unit. He is far more committed to the specific details of the Rawlsian position than I. Think of Tomasi's Free Market Fairness as one particular way in which the details of the more general BHL position might be fleshed out. But there are others.

At the most general level, BHL says that social institutions are not morally justified unless they are compatible with the interests of the poor.

Now, obviously, that leaves a lot of questions unanswered: what is a "social institution," what counts as "poor," what does "compatible with the interests of" mean, and so on. Different versions of BHL will flesh those out in different ways. Personally, I have a sufficientarian view about the moral obligations we have to the poor, and a non-materialist conception of poverty. That's different from Tomasi's maximin and materialist view, as best I can tell.

So it's hard to know exactly what BHL entails as a positive matter until we flesh out the details of some particular version of BHL. But what should be obvious, I think, is what BHL as a category *rules out*. All versions of BHL will say that social institutions (e.g. those of minimal state libertarianism) would not be justified if they really did condemn the poor to lives that were much poorer and worse off than they could be under some other feasible social system.

The BHL position thus holds, whereas standard utilitarian and natural rights positions do not, that compatibility with the interests of the poor is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the moral justification of social institutions.

How's that, David?

 
At 5:42 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Matt Zwolinski said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:40 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Matt: Thanks for the post. Two responses:

1. Your definition still seems pretty vague to me, and if I try to make it more precise I don't think I can agree with it. Suppose there is some feasible set of institutions that levels most of the population sharply down, relative to the free market alternative, but the bottom up. Putting it in utilitarian terms, it raises the bottom decile from 50 to 80, drops the rest of the population, which would have ranged from 90 to 1000, down to 80.

It looks as though, on your principles, you have to prefer it. Do you?

2. It's hard for me to take the position seriously without seeing at least one plausible justification for it. It doesn't have to be the same justification for all BHL types--ordinary libertarianism can be reached in multiple ways. But the only justification I've seen for something along the lines you describe is Rawls, and you know my view of that. It looks like starting with a conclusion and then searching for justifications--and I'm not sure you have found any.


 
At 9:43 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

A second comment to Matt:

Your "necessary but not sufficient condition" raises an obvious problem. What if there is no set of social institutions that is, by your standards, morally justified? You have the choice between (say) a slave society in which the slaves are pretty well taken care of, and a free society in which the people at the bottom of the ladder do very badly. With no other alternatives available, what does it mean to condemn both?

 
At 10:30 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Matt Zwolinski said...

1. I don't think so. It's hard to know what to make of made-up and possibly meaningless numbers like that. But a reasonable sufficientarian view will be one that assigns a strong but not lexical priority to the needs of the less well-off. I don't think it's possible to put a precise number on that weight, simply for the Aristotelian reason that it's not possible to be too precise about moral principles in general. But it means that there's a limit to the costs we can impose on the better-off to provide for the worse-off.
2. At this point, you're probably thinking that you can get everything that's attractive about my view by incorporating a principle of diminishing marginal utility into a utilitarian view. But I don't think that's right. First, util+dmu gets the right answer at all, it gets the right answer for the wrong reason. What we owe to the poor we owe to them because of their status as a separate moral person, not because of the way in which their happiness can contribute to aggregate happiness. Second, util+dmu doesn't always get the right answer. There's no guarantee that meeting the needs of the poor will make a higher contribution to aggregate happiness than any other possible course of action, even taking dmu into account. Of course, the view I am articulating doesn't guarantee that the meeting the needs of the poor will be the right course of action in all situations either. But I suspect my view will say that it is in a broader range of cases than util+dmu.

2. There's Rawls and in then there's Rawls. I think that much of what you find implausible in Rawls I do too. I reject the difference principle, and much of Rawls' reasoning about parties' deliberation in the original position. But I am much more attracted to the Rawls of Political Liberalism, and think that the idea of public justification provides is a good grounds for defending BHL. See Gerald Gaus' recent work, or the writings of his student Kevin Vallier at our blog.

3. Two things in response to your last question. First, like Rawls I hold that protection of basic liberties has a lexical priority to meeting the requirements of distributive of justice. So if instituting slavery is the only way to help the poor, then helping the poor is morally forbidden. Second, ought implies can, so if we're in a stage of economic development where no one can reach the level of sufficiency, then morality doesn't require that we do so.

 
At 10:31 AM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Matt Zwolinski said...

Sorry about the faulty numbering. Was typing in a tiny window and lost track of where I was!

 
At 12:51 PM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Robert Wagner said...

Land is already assessed in most localities at two rates, splitting off the improvements from the land and taxing most heavily the improvements. Here in Vermont land speculators from AIG to Peter Shumlin ensure that the heavily lobbied and monied legislature keep it so: the returns from land speculation in Vermont are a cool, tax-free 17%. Few improvements, few jobs and few opportunities to make it here enable the speculators to snap up even more land at fire sale prices.

For example, Shumlin and his cohorts approach older folks, who are behind on their property taxes, offering to buy their place and pay their back taxes. And they can live there for the rest of their lives. Not only can they turn the property around for development later when it doubles or trebles in value, but they can borrow money TODAY on the projected future value of the land, and throw that into the riskiest, highest return schemes on Wall Street. With only land as collateral. And the market was bailed out in 2008 from the last land cycle, it's a sure thing.

This is blockbusting on a grand scale. Which explains not only why Vermont's taxes are the way they are today, but why a major land speculator got to be governor.

 
At 1:49 PM, November 26, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Matt writes:

"First, util+dmu gets the right answer at all, it gets the right answer for the wrong reason. What we owe to the poor we owe to them because of their status as a separate moral person, not because of the way in which their happiness can contribute to aggregate happiness."

I think that's a general argument against utilitarianism, and part of the reason I am not a utilitarian. But it doesn't tell us why we owe anything special to the poor, beyond respecting their negtive rights.

"Of course, the view I am articulating doesn't guarantee that the meeting the needs of the poor will be the right course of action in all situations either."

And I am back nailing jelly to the wall. Your view is that the poor are entitled to somewhat more than utilitarianism would give them. But how much more and why?

Saying they are entitled to a sufficiency doesn't answer the question, in my view, it merely evades it. Are you willing to argue that Aristotle's life was insufficient, given that he lacked some of the things we think it would be terrible for the poor to lack, such as antibiotics and anesthesia?

 
At 9:01 PM, November 26, 2012, Blogger Matt Zwolinski said...

I wonder what would count for you as a non-gelatinous view. Utilitarianism? Utilitarianism certainly seems as though it gives us a firm decision procedure for deciding between actions and/or institutions. But I think this is largely an illusion, produced by assigning precise numbers to things that we aren't really in any position to quantify. Utilitarianism says we should choose a society of 8000 total utility over a society of 7000. That's clear and precise - no discretion required. But does my headache count for -5 utility or -10? Is my -5 the same, more, or less than yours? I would suggest that utilitarianism, just like any other moral theory, requires discretion and judgment in its application. The difference is that this need is buried in the theory, rather than made explicit.

On the view that I am defending, the needs of the poor deserve a special weight in our moral reasoning precisely because and to the extent that their needs put them below a level of sufficiency. Now, to say that is hardly to provide an algorithm for the distribution of goods. But it is enough, I think, to differentiate the view from utilitarianism (see my prior comment). And I don't think there's any reason to think that good moral principles ought to take the form of decision procedures, any more than we ought to expect decision procedures from other skills requiring the application of practical judgment - e.g., "Strive for a balance of hops and malt when brewing beer."



Obviously, a full account of my view would require spelling out what's meant by sufficiency in more detail. For instance, I think that sufficiency is best understood a relative concept, such that what qualifies as sufficient in 21st century United States is different from what would qualify in 4th century BCE Athens. These details would need to be developed in a full presentation of the view. And I have not provided a full presentation in this or other blog posts. But it's not as though such developments are absent in the literature. See, for example, the discussion of the sufficiency view (and prioritarianism) in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/#5.1, and see the articles referenced therein.



Again, the view I'm defending is just one of several possible ways of fleshing out the more general idea of BHL. So it's a mistake to look for "the" BHL position. But it's also a mistake to think, as you seem to do, that no such position has been developed in any detail. John Tomasi's recent Free Market Fairness develops one. Gerald Gaus devoted over 600 pages in The Order of Public Reason to developing another. You might disagree with those positions. But I think it's unreasonable of you to continue saying that you we haven't given you a clear statement of what the position is. Bearing in mind Aristotle's dictum that a discussion of ethics "will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of," I think we've done so just as much as it is reasonable for any moral theory to do.

 
At 3:59 AM, November 27, 2012, Anonymous martin said...

Matt,

What would you say about a society with libertarian law (of the natural rights/strict property rights variety) where it is left up to the people to voluntarily take care of "social justice"?

 
At 1:44 PM, November 27, 2012, Blogger Patri Friedman said...

My conclusion so far is that Bleeding Heart Libertarianism is simply a version of libertarianism whose presentation and contents are designed, so far as possible, to appeal to people on the left, especially academics on the left.

You say this like it's a bad thing. I think that explaining libertarianism in terms that resonate with the left, and focusing on outcomes (like benefits to the poor) that the left cares most about, is a highly valuable thing, which libertarians should have done decades ago. Same goes for appealing to women. Then we've covered the largest demographic groups where libertarianism has had little success, and we can find out whether the philosophy is inherently unappealing to those groups, or if it has just been pitched wrong.

Note that this can be an incremental process: as more people with left moral intuitions see libertarianism as the best system for achieving their goals, you can enlist these new recruits to create even better versions of the pitch, since they better understand the target market, and so on.

 
At 4:34 PM, November 27, 2012, Blogger Xerographica said...

Patri Friedman, it's kinda like the underpants gnomes...

1. Express concern for the poor
2.
3. Profit

Wearing a "I heart social justice" t-shirt might help you get your foot in the door...which is an essential step...but then what?

"Put differently, voters in democratic regimes are unwilling to give up the protections offered by the welfare state, even when those protections are produced inefficiently, and at very high cost. Libertarians are not going to succeed politically by telling voters that they should give up welfare-state protections. Rather, libertarians need to show how freemarket programs will produce social security at levels comparable to those provided by welfare-state systems" - Jonathan R. Macey

How could the levels be comparable? Half of our nation's revenue is spent in the public sector... without any regard for all our demonstrated preferences. So there's absolutely no way that we can possibly show that the free-market levels would be comparable.

That being said, we can definitely make a strong case for everybody benefiting from a free-market. But however you spin it...that requires the tools of economics.

So you use your bleeding heart shirt to get your foot in the door...which is great...but at some point you're going to have to open your case and reveal that you're actually trying to sell economics.

 
At 6:39 PM, November 27, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Matt writes:

"Gerald Gaus devoted over 600 pages in The Order of Public Reason to developing another. You might disagree with those positions. But I think it's unreasonable of you to continue saying that you we haven't given you a clear statement of what the position is. "

"We" does not include Gerald Gaus--I don't know him and have never argued philosophy with him. My claim is that you, specifically you and Tomasi, in what you have written and I have read, have not given me such a statement.

And I am not inclined to read 600 pages in a field other than my own--probably not in my own field either--if the people I actually interact with who support its view cannot offer a plausible version of it.

With regard to your point about utilitarianism, you will find a response in my most recent post.

As for other matters, I gather we will be at the same conference this weekend and you may even have some supporters there, so we can continue the discussion live.

 

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