Monday, December 03, 2012

Response to Rothbard

There is a webbed essay by Murray Rothbard that takes me to task for not hating the state. His central point is correct. I do not view the state as a wicked conspiracy by evil men seeking to exploit the rest of us, merely as a mistake, an institution that exists primarily because most people mistakenly believe it is useful and necessary.

I have an old blog post responding to the essay. Looking over the second edition of my first book, it occurred to me that it also contained my response to (among others) Rothbard, and that that should be webbed too—linked to his essay.
FOR LIBERTARIANS: AN EXPANDED POSTSCRIPT

Don't write a book; my friends on either hand
Know more than I about my deepest views.
Van den Haag believes it's simply grand
I'm a utilitarian. That's news;
I didn't know I was. Some libertairs
Can spot sheep's clothing at a thousand yards.
I do not use right arguments (read 'theirs')
Nor cheer them loudly as they stack the cards.
Assuming your conclusions is a game
That two can play at. So's a bomb or gun.
Preaching to the converted leads to fame
In narrow circles. I've found better fun
In search of something that might change a mind;
The stake's my own—and yours if so inclined.

(From The Machinery of Freedom, 2nd Edition)

88 Comments:

At 10:07 PM, December 03, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

... an institution that exists primarily because most people mistakenly believe it is useful and necessary.

At the risk of seeming like a curmudgeonly commenter lately, I nevertheless must ask if you really think many (most?) of the people who cash the monthly checks they receive from the State (municipal, state, and/or federal) are really mistaken in their belief that the State is "useful?"

 
At 12:04 AM, December 04, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

RKN: Yes.

Both in the sense of believing that the state is good for people in general, and in the sense of believing it is good for them.

 
At 12:22 AM, December 04, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

Congratulations, you certainly changed my mind permanently, back in the early 1980s when I first read The Machinery of Freedom.

Of course I still can't claim to represent your way of thinking, only you can do that.

 
At 1:40 AM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm mostly with Rothbard on this issue: I agree with him both emotionally, and also rationally on certain aspects. Although I embrace reformist approach that you described in "The Machinery of Freedom".

I think you and Rothbard are just seeing different sides of the same issue. The idea of state may be intellectual mistake, yes, but that doesn't imply that people who control real "implemented" states don't exploit people, don't violate their rights, don't steal from them. And I am not speaking from point of hardcore libertarian(which I certainly am), i.e. taxation is theft(which it certainly is, but I'll lay aside this issue).

I live in Russia, and the corruption is widespread to such extent that there is popular internet meme "sawing budgets" -- bureaucracts taking part of budgets on various things hence "sawing off" part of it). There is no justice, no rule of law, no de-facto judicial independence. One of six businessmans/entrepreneurs was prosecuted(http://www.gazeta.ru/business/news/2012/04/06/n_2279089.shtml -- I think I could try to find english-languaged source of this information if you wish). It is still difficult to believe in such number.

In my opinion, you, living in a first-world country, under a well-established state, don't see how different things are in other countries.
I would guess that most states are either not really better than russian, or even worse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Failed_States_Index

Also, if there is no conspiracy, why control press? http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2012

 
At 4:02 AM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Corruption_Perceptions_Index

// The CPI generally defines corruption as "the misuse of public power for private benefit." //

// A study published in 2002 found a "very strong significant correlation" between the Corruption Perceptions Index and two other proxies for corruption //

Maybe I misinterpret this index(and other indicators), but to me they seem to be strong objective evidence that state power is usually abused.

 
At 9:37 AM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

@David,

I support that there are theoretical alternative approaches to much of what the State provides people, including I suppose several proposed in MoF, thus marginalizing (or removing entirely) the necessity of the State. But I remain unconvinced SO many people today are mistaken in a fundamental belief, namely, what is useful for them. This would suggest we should not expect people generally to be capable of evaluating their own personal utility.

If it were me holding that position I'd be concerned I was opening myself to the criticism of Casting Pearls Before Swine.

 
At 1:04 PM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous Scott G said...

Thanks for posting this David. For someone like me who is trying to efficiently navigate the world of libertarian thinkers, (trying to read and understand those thinkers first who are "best" to read first), I value your opinions about Rothbard. I've not read anything by Rothbard.

I believe it's easier to read someone when you know how fast you can read them (trust them). For example with Rothbard I might slowdown a bit now that you've told me he can't be trusted. Same with John Stuart Mill since some of his work is tainted with socialist ideas.

I realize it's good to read the work of people who don't share my opinion, but for me it's easiest to do that after I've read the people who share my opinion or the opinion I want to understand.

Along these lines, where does Mises stack up in importance as someone I might read relative to Smith, Hayek, Friedman and other economists?

If you were to make a list of top 5 and top 10 economists to read first what would lists be? (If you have time).

 
At 4:27 PM, December 04, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

RKN writes:

"But I remain unconvinced SO many people today are mistaken in a fundamental belief, namely, what is useful for them. This would suggest we should not expect people generally to be capable of evaluating their own personal utility."

How good people are at judging what is good for them depends largely on how useful the information is to them. None of the decisions made by an ordinary person have any significant effect on whether he lives under a government, so he has no incentive to get the right answer to that question.

 
At 4:30 PM, December 04, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Scott:

I don't know Mises very well, but my impression is that he was an important economist. Smith is very interesting, but won't teach you much economic theory. Ricardo is, I think, the first really good theorist, but hard to read.

The earliest economist I would recommend, if you are trying to teach yourself economics, is Alfred Marshall, who more or less put together neoclassical economics. Paul Heyne's book _The Economic Way of Thinking_ is a text with a good reputation. My _Hidden Order_ or my _Price Theory_ would be alternatives--the former is more readable, the latter available on the web for free from my site. My father's _Capitalism and Freedom_ is also good.

 
At 5:47 PM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous RJ Miller said...

I think this is one area where you definitely have a more nuanced take than Rothbard. One of the main criticisms I have of the Rockwell/Rothbard camp in terms of how we should view government is the cynicism about those in charge or who carry out actions on behalf of any given state.

There seems to be little evidence that those in power are intentionally trying to make life miserable for the rest of us. If anything they are just as misguided as the public at large.

I would have no problem with such circumstances if they did not affect me as well. Since they do, that is why I think views like yours should receive wider acceptance.

Moreover, I see no need to run out and try to abolish the state as soon as possible. I would be pretty content with a panarchist approach of simply letting people opt out from various government programs.

For instance, instead of privatizing social security altogether, simply letting people opt out from paying taxes into it or using it later on seems like a good step forward in that area.

If anything that is the true "Libertarian" way to go - letting people use the system they wish to use without imposing it on others.

Functionally Overlapping Competing Jurisdictions (FOCJ) as described by Reiner Eichenberger and Bruno S. Frey are also a huge step up from what we have now that I am sure Rothbard would have loathed.

 
At 6:39 PM, December 04, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

How good people are at judging what is good for them depends largely on how useful the information is to them. None of the decisions made by an ordinary person have any significant effect on whether he lives under a government, so he has no incentive to get the right answer to that question.

My comment was about people's ability to judge what is useful to them, not necessarily what is good for them. If Bill is employed as a government bureaucrat and prospers his entire life, admits to no regret on his deathbed, clearly the status quo was useful to him. And I submit to you there are an awful, awful lot of people just like Bill out there, daily finding utility in the existence of the State in one form or another.

For these people the disincentive to seek the "right" answer isn't based on the despair of knowing it won't get them out of living under government rule, quite the contrary, it's the possibility it might. I submit that people like Bill have no incentive to advocate to implement the right answer, even supposing there was one right answer, for fear that it would lessen their personal utility, not improve it.

See the Ron Paul experience.

 
At 12:15 AM, December 05, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

RKN writes:
"If Bill is employed as a government bureaucrat and prospers his entire life, admits to no regret on his deathbed, clearly the status quo was useful to him."

How does Bill know what options would have been available to him if government had not existed? Why should he try to find out, given that he doesn't have the option of abolishing it?

 
At 4:12 AM, December 05, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I think you and Rothbard are just seeing different sides of the same issue.

Perhaps but their position on methodology is very different. As a utilitarian David clings to a belief that it is possible to measure utility in a world where value is subjective and has little problem with a position in which what is good for the many triumphs over the needs and desire of the individual without really dealing with the issue that there are no such things as utils that can be applied to different acts and products across the spectrum. Rothbard uses logic that is applied to his Natural Law principles and goes on from there. That is why they don't really agree and why David is not really a libertarian although he gets most of his positions right. Like his father David talks a good game but accepts far too many evils of the state to be a defender of individual liberty.

 
At 10:13 AM, December 05, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vangel IV writes:

"As a utilitarian David ... "

Look up "utilitarian" in the index to The Machinery of Freedom. If that's too much trouble, read my recent post "In Defense of Utilitarianism."

 
At 10:59 AM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

How does Bill know what options would have been available to him if government had not existed?

Nobody can know that for sure. One can imagine what state of affairs might have been under an-cap, and suppose how that may have impacted their life, but that doesn't limit the evaluation of their personal utility inside what turned out to be real.

Why should he try to find out, given that he doesn't have the option of abolishing it?

I should think that's a question best left for you to answer, as author of Mof and someone who I assume is interested in getting more people to read your books.

My answer: To the extent you were hopeful to move people to action with Mof, the abolition of government is an unreasonable expectation for grass roots activism. It's more likely a person would become motivated to seek the "right" answer so she could understand the reasoning behind it, in order to better defend her advocacy for its implementation.

 
At 3:21 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Perhaps but their position on methodology is very different."
Yeah, maybe. I would say that this argument lies somewhere in the dimension of "purist vs reformist" dabete.

Interestingly, Rothbard himself was criticized basically on the same ground: http://www.mondopolitico.com/library/wendymcelroy/ia.ca.libertarianism/ia.ca.libertarianism.htm

(A good speech by Wendy McElroy worth reading.)

 
At 4:04 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, could you please publish a post on how you see things in state with CPI <= 4.0 (two thirds of now-existing states): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Corruption_Perceptions_Index

Don't you see them as "wicked conspiracy by evil men seeking to exploit the rest of us"?

Why falsify elections then? I mean commiting electoral fraud by putting extra ballots into ballot boxes or rewriting elections results. They do this in Russia routinely. They release data granular to single polling stations, so you can see evidence of fraud on nice plots like this one: http://trv-science.ru/uploads/94N-13.jpg
(x-axis is turnout, y-axis is number of polling stations). Peaks on "round" values of turnout make election fraud evident(there is other statistical evidence, people performed quite elaborate statistical analysis of the election data).

Like I said, I live in Russia. And people here loathe current government/bureaucracy, but favor the idea of state. So, yes, it must be intellectual mistake, but that doesn't imply that real states exploit people.

Do you think that states with CPI <= 4.0 aren't corrupt? Or are they corrupt because people who control them think it is good for people?

Either I don't understand your beliefs, or they are largely inconsistent with realities.

 
At 4:11 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, if you want to talk about this issues further and don't find blog format convenient, I can leave any my contact in any communication method you prefer: IM, email, skype or whatever else.

I think that accurate first-hand information about living in other states can be useful for you.

 
At 4:12 PM, December 05, 2012, Blogger Mimimitor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:13 PM, December 05, 2012, Blogger Mimimitor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:13 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I could have drawn wrong conclusions about your utility function, and in fact you don't care about other states much. :)

 
At 4:17 PM, December 05, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

To Anonymous re Russia:

I'm sure lots of individuals, in Russia and in the U.S., are corrupt and profit from their role in government--relative to their situation in the same society if they were not part of the government.

What I'm sceptical about is the idea that the reason government exists is that a bunch of people know everyone else would be better off without it, but force and/or fool the rest of the population into having a government because they themselves profit from it.

I expect that almost all of the corrupt officials believe that things would be worse for almost everyone if there was no government at all.

 
At 4:20 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, sorry for leaving so many messages, I just felt that I need to post this video here:
http://tvorez-porno.livejournal.com/129337.html

It's not that terrifying when you can't understand their speech. But the whole thing is pretty simple: prison guards are beating up incarcerated person for saying certain things that they don't like. After a short while their victim starts saying "Please forgive me, please forgive me"("Pojaluysta prostite menya"/"prostite menya").
This happens in russian prisons routinely too.

 
At 4:49 PM, December 05, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I expect that almost all of the corrupt officials believe that things would be worse for almost everyone if there was no government at all.

Yes, but they also resist any change to the current governance system. The current lasting conflict in Russia isn't "abstract state vs abstract anarchy", but rather "current state vs different state". And yet they heavily resist any change, because they profit from the current system.

So the situation where a bunch of men tightlycontrol TV, press, some other media, where they control police and army, including so-called "internal army", where they either revoked many democratic procedures or heavily disturb them(by excluding other political candidates and political parties from the elections and by commiting election fraud), where they heavily profit from them, so you don't view such situation as "wicked conspiracy by evil men seeking to exploit the rest of us"? Then how do you define "wicked conspiracy by evil men seeking for exploit the rest of us"?

 
At 7:59 PM, December 05, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Look up "utilitarian" in the index to The Machinery of Freedom. If that's too much trouble, read my recent post "In Defense of Utilitarianism."

My copy of The Machinery of Freedom is stored along with about half my library for the next few weeks so I cannot get a chance to look at it. But I do recall the part where you claim to be both a utilitarian and a libertarian even though they are incompatible as far as I am concerned.

Sorry David but your amoral position rejects the natural rights argument in favour of utility and lends ammo to the statists who are quite happy with the type of gradualist positions favoured by many people who try to call themselves libertarians. When you conclude your post with, "I think these arguments are sufficient to demonstrate, not that utilitarianism is true, but that it is not empty—that it has real world content and real world implications," you do principled libertarians no favour because you accept an argument that is empty and clearly not true. You cannot gloss over the problems with the utilitarian claims by saying that errors average out and that you can guess at a utility by observing choices that people make at any particular point in time. The claims simply do not hold together and are not true. As a very intelligent person with a logical mind you should be able to see that. Why you choose not to is a mystery that I have not been able to solve.

And why would your publisher not release an e-book version of The Machinery of Freedom? Or why not simply use Amazon's services and release a Kindle version yourself?

 
At 12:59 AM, December 06, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"My copy of The Machinery of Freedom is stored along with about half my library for the next few weeks so I cannot get a chance to look at it. But I do recall the part where you claim to be both a utilitarian and a libertarian even though they are incompatible as far as I am concerned. "

I don't recall that part. The whole book can be downloaded from my web page for free as a pdf, if you want to find it and quote it.

The index entry is "Utilitarian, why I am not."

You could also try reading the post you are commenting on.

 
At 10:52 AM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

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At 10:57 AM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

If I may have something to say to this:
I had a similar (much longer) discussion with rothbardians at mises.cz. It think the fundamental problem with the "principled libertarianism" is that you set up a system of moral claims and then you strive to reach them through logic. That seems like a strange approach. They imitate the mathematician's approach of coming up with things, but a mathematician will not set something up and then try to prove it, but will come up with a hypothesis and try to find out whether it is true or not. That is a crucial difference.

Now I don't say that I don't agree with a great bulk of conclusions that can be derived from natural rights theory, I just think the chances are it is impossible to derive something such as one absolutely certain and the only true objective moral theory by logical arguments. Maybe I am wrong. Then again, none of the arguments so far have been good enough for me (the one by Kinsela for example which seems to be most widespread today among the rothbardians). I think the main problem is that these issues are way too complicated. As a mathematician (well, still a student), I see huge gaps in all the efforts (I have seen so far) of coming up with moral theories through logical arguments. Most of the terms they work with are ill-defined or not defined at all. In that environment it is easy for someone to find something inclonclusive while the other finds it entirely clear. They both may understand the terms differently and possibly each assumes something extra that changes the logic of the argument but is not stated by anyone.

 
At 12:01 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I think the main problem is that these issues are way too complicated."

I think the main problem was pointed out by David Hume more than two hundred years ago--there is no way of deriving an "ought" from an "is" without using an "ought" to do so.

 
At 12:45 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

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At 12:51 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David:
I am not 100% sure that is true (but I have not read the full argument), but I am inclined to believe that.

Even if it was possible, I think it would be extremely difficult since in moral philosophy the terms are very ambiguous (compared to a special branch of philosophy called mathematics) and open to interpretation. When you try to narrow them down, well, you very likely end up with maths. But mathematics, in spite of its beauty and usefulness, cannot answer moral questions.

In addition to that,as expressed in my second objection, people assume certain unstated things in such arguments that make the logic work in their ways. Kinsela assumes, for example, that from the fact (is statement) that people use argumentation instead of force they implicitly acknowledge the RIGHT (ought statement) of others to exclusive control (and therefore -according to him - ownership) of self. I see that by argumenting I implicitly acknowledge the possibility or perhaps even superiority (in the given situation) of argumentation over force, but I cannot see how that implies acknowledging any rights in the case I use argumentation only because I find it convinient at the moment. And I believe those who find this argument convincing must simply assume something that is not said and that changes the whole logic of the situation.

 
At 1:37 PM, December 06, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

And I believe those who find this argument convincing must simply assume something that is not said and that changes the whole logic of the situation.

I've always understood self-ownership to be a useful axiom for the natural rights approach.

Critics of the approach are of course free to reject that self-ownership is an axiom, but the fact that axioms are not provable hasn't rendered them useless to mathematical logic.

This doesn't mean there are no other hurdles the natural rights argument has to clear, only that its reliance on one or more axioms isn't a showstopper.

 
At 1:55 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

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At 1:57 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

The problem is that those who support the natural rights theory try to go much beyond that. They want their theory to be objective. Therefore they need to start with simple factual statements. And they try to derive ought statements from them.

Now, self-ownership is an ought statement. It is already a moral claim. It is simple to deny self-ownership if you state it as an axiom. It is not, if you derive it from obvious facts about reality (like that people think), which is something rothbardians try to do and, in my opinion, utterly fail.

In mathematics, axioms are not chosen arbitraly, but generally in a way that minimizes the amout of things you need tho assume (so the number of axioms) and maximises the amount of things you can derive from those assumptions. If something can be done somehow with fewer axioms, then it is better (for example the axiom of choice is one that people are keen to avoid, but it is often not possible).

You can start with self-ownership. You can also start with some other arbitrarily chosen axiom, for example the divine right of kings (which is something a lot of people took for granted for quite a long time) and come up with an equally good moral theory. Neither seems interesting to me. If you could derive self-ownership from obvious facts, that would be a different thing. But noone has shown a satisfactory argument for that yet (so far as I know).

 
At 3:23 PM, December 06, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

Now, self-ownership is an ought statement. It is already a moral claim.

I don't think so. It is a widely accepted and non-controversial (i.e. "axiomatic") property of the human condition.

 
At 5:41 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I don't recall that part. The whole book can be downloaded from my web page for free as a pdf, if you want to find it and quote it.

Perhaps I went over it too quickly or misunderstood because English is not my first language but I do not believe that what you are saying now and what you wrote in the book are the same. How would you interpret this if you were me?

"Perhaps someone else does know how to do it—but someone else is not writing this book. My solution is to find a different starting point from which to solve the problem. That starting point is utilitarianism. As a moral philosopher I am a libertarian, insofar as I am anything. As an economist I am a utilitarian." (From section Where I Stand)

If you view economics from a utilitarian perspective you are a utilitarian because you cannot really have individual freedom in a world where policies are made by someone guessing about utils and trampling over property rights. That is the problem with you David, your arguments are not as logically sound as you might think they are because one set undermines the other.

And I did read your posting, In Defense of Utilitarianism. You ended it with, "I think these arguments are sufficient to demonstrate, not that utilitarianism is true, but that it is not empty—that it has real world content and real world implications." Like Rothbard, Gordon, Block, and many others I do think that it is empty; that it cannot be applied in the real world without destroying the opportunity to have true individual liberty. Every tyrant has used the utilitarian argument, usually combined with a number of economic fallacies to justify actions that could not be justified on natural law grounds.








 
At 5:53 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I had a similar (much longer) discussion with rothbardians at mises.cz . It seems to me the fundamental problem with the "principled libertarianism" is that you set up a system of moral claims and then you strive to reach them through logic.

Not at all. You start with a few basic observations about human nature and everything goes from there. There really aren't that many principles in question. The basic argument stems from the fact that human beings own their own bodies. They also own whatever they find unowned in nature and make useful or what they acquire from others through voluntary exchange. This means that the rules are simple. You cannot aggress against any individual or their property. That means you can't kill, beat up or steal from anyone. You certainly can't pass laws that regulate the volume of toilet tanks or the wattage of light bulbs. You can't tell people how much salt they must have in their fries, how big their soda containers should be, or force them to buy health insurance if they do not wish to. You cannot tax them to fund your wars, force them to pay for public schools that cannot educate their children, or draft them in your army.

 
At 8:05 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"If you view economics from a utilitarian perspective you are a utilitarian"

No.

Asking the question "what legal rules maximize utility" does not imply "the legal rules that maximize utility are always the right ones." I make it explicit in the book that I do not hold the second view.

I do believe that the fact that a given rule increases total utility is an argument for it--but not always a decisive argument. And I believe, for reasons I explain in the book, that legal rules that maximize utility are likely to be close to libertarian legal rules, although not necessarily identical.

Further, I believe I can describe institutions that will generate legal rules that come close to maximizing utility, and I don't know--and don't think anyone else knows--what institutions would generate rules closer than that to libertarian ones.

Consider someone on the left who says he wants socialism because it will produce a list of desirable outcomes. The proper response is not "those outcomes are bad" but "the institutions you propose won't produce those outcomes."

Define what you want in terms of institutions, not outcomes, and see if you can do any better, in the market for law, than the socialist does in the market for everything else--assuming his conclusion.

 
At 11:34 PM, December 06, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

RKN: Even if self-ownership is widely accepted and non-controversial (and I wonder about that), I don't think that really means anything. There have been been many ideas in the past that were widely accepted and non-controversial, but which we now believe to be false.

 
At 9:05 AM, December 07, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV: Read my previous comments on this one. Self-ownership is already a moral claim. The fact I am the only person who can control my body (and technology might change that fact in not so far away future) does not imply any rights. Your argument seems to be similiar to that of Kinsela's and there is at least one implication that I see no reasoning behind (without assuming something unstated).

And also, I meant it in a bit different sense. What I meant is that my impression of rothardian efforts is something like "I am going to prove objective ethics" and only then you try to find ways to get there (perhaps from obvious facts). That is different from looking at obvious facts and trying to figure out what (if anything) they might imply about morality.

As far as self-ownership goes - I quite like the idea, but I doubt it can be considered an axiom, as it is far from obvious (ownership itself is a little bit fuzzy term for mathematical standards). So as long as you assume self-ownership, your arguments probably work well, but you can hardly say anything about it being objective. And if you try to derive self-ownership from the fact that people argue or think, then I have not seen any argument so far that would convince me it is possible.

 
At 10:55 AM, December 07, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

There have been been many ideas in the past that were widely accepted and non-controversial, but which we now believe to be false.

That most ideas become causalities of time is every scholars fear. No worse for the natural rights approach than any other kind.

 
At 1:14 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Asking the question "what legal rules maximize utility" does not imply "the legal rules that maximize utility are always the right ones." I make it explicit in the book that I do not hold the second view.

I do believe that the fact that a given rule increases total utility is an argument for it--but not always a decisive argument. And I believe, for reasons I explain in the book, that legal rules that maximize utility are likely to be close to libertarian legal rules, although not necessarily identical.


I hope that you see the problem David. Your thinking is not very clear and neither is your writing no matter how you may try to justify the thought process. While I do not agree with everything that he says I prefer Rothbard's approach. He is a very clear writer who builds logical positions without much in the way of qualifying statements. He begins wit a quite simple premise that is defensible and builds a logical structure by the use of reason. Your methodology is totally different. In your world morals are relative and rational ethics is not at all possible. As such the term property cannot have the meaning that was generally assigned to it and property rights were not attached much importance even though we know that in order for society to function it requires well defined property rights.

In your world there is no such thing as absolute rights, only culturally based systems of property rights that had no universal meaning. Without such meaning all conflicts regarding property rights would have to be judged by government employees who looked to utilitarianism and the arbitrary legislation as a guide. Sadly, that is the road to tyranny no matter what kind of narrative you may wish to spin about personal positions.

To me the Rothbardian argument sounds right. If you do not own yourself you must be owned by someone else who has a claim on what you might consider your property or you must be owned jointly by everyone else. The second option cannot exist in human society because no decisions can be made by anyone without the adequate consent of everyone else. The first is a description of a tyranny in which you have a ruling class that acts under a different set of rules than the serfs that they control.

No matter how you try to argue you cannot get away from the fact that freedom means self control and without a recognition that you own your body and all previously unowned goods accumulated with that body or all goods accumulated from their rightful owners via voluntary transaction you cannot have freedom. So you may claim to be a libertarian in your writing, and yes, I own your books and have read many of your commentaries and see where you make such claims, but those claims are not valid unless the methodology that you are using permits individual liberty. The way I read your positions, your methodology does not do that.

I suggest that you actually try to read some of the positions you try to attack and point out where they are wrong. And no, just saying that you agree with the positivists who are ignorant of those positions is not enough. Go through the logic and see where the claim that we own ourselves and that we act goes wrong. Why don't you see how principled libertarians have defined what is permissible in a very real human world of scarcity and try to show why their position is wrong before you promote a view that you admit has many flaws with measurements and requires guesses that cannot really be applied in the real world using the types of standards that your crowd usually considers 'scientific?'

Frankly, I would love to see a debate between you and either Hoppe, Block, or Gordon on this subject. It would really identify the differences and the problems that your methodology has. Of course, your position may be easily explained in a different way. If a person had spent a lifetime climbing a ladder and finally got to the top I could see how he might be reluctant to tell everyone below that it was against the wrong wall.

 
At 1:22 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Further, I believe I can describe institutions that will generate legal rules that come close to maximizing utility, and I don't know--and don't think anyone else knows--what institutions would generate rules closer than that to libertarian ones.

Consider someone on the left who says he wants socialism because it will produce a list of desirable outcomes. The proper response is not "those outcomes are bad" but "the institutions you propose won't produce those outcomes."

Define what you want in terms of institutions, not outcomes, and see if you can do any better, in the market for law, than the socialist does in the market for everything else--assuming his conclusion.


We live in a complex, non-linear world that has no levers to pull or buttons to push to get some optimum outcome. As such you can never use your approach to get even close to an economy that would allow the type of individual liberty that you claim to support in you commentaries. But the principled based libertarians have no such problems. For them voluntary activities are permissible because value is subjective and is seen differently by different individuals. Real human beings act in a world of scarcity by making choices. Principled libertarians have no problem showing what actions are permissible; anything that is voluntary and does not violate the principle of non-aggression is permitted. Assault, murder, theft obviously are not no matter what utility some bureaucrat may assign to such actions.

 
At 1:23 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

As far as self-ownership goes - I quite like the idea, but I doubt it can be considered an axiom, as it is far from obvious (ownership itself is a little bit fuzzy term for mathematical standards). So as long as you assume self-ownership, your arguments probably work well, but you can hardly say anything about it being objective. And if you try to derive self-ownership from the fact that people argue or think, then I have not seen any argument so far that would convince me it is possible.

This is a good start. If you do not own your body who does?

 
At 4:12 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:13 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV: Why does anyone have to own it at all? Is control ownership? I don't think so. Ownership is an idea, an abstract concept. Control is not. Two people can disagree who owns a bycicle but there will probably be no arguemnt among them about who is able to use it (both of them are, unless at least one is handicapped in some way). The fact that I am the only person who controls my body does not imply that I or anyone else has to own it. Even if I accept that if I am the only person who can control myself, I own myself, consider a (not impossible in our lifespan in my opinion) sci-fi situation where someone else can control what I do through some signals. Or even change the way I think.

Also if I own myself, does a tiger own himself (and therefore has the same natural rights)? Or is a tiger's brain not developed enough? What about a chimpanzee? They are even capable of speaking and their mental capabilities are roughly at the level of a 6 year old child. Does a 6 year old child own itself? Why not a chimp then? What about retarded people? It seems to me that you either have to set up an essentially arbitrary level of intelligence below which everything is pretty much things and above it is people, or you have to embrace all lifeforms which leads to conclusions very few people (save for some extremist vegans) would find satisfactory. On the other hand, assuming that humans are somewhat "unique" and therefore only humans are elligible to natural rights is a very antropocentric position, not very plausible (unless you believe in creationism I guess) and I would even say a very arrogant one.

 
At 4:15 PM, December 07, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV: After reading my comment, I should probably clarify one thing so that I don't sound like a lunatic: By "chimpanzees can speak" I meant they can use sign language (some of them at least).

 
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At 5:06 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

VangelV: Why does anyone have to own it at all? Is control ownership? I don't think so. Ownership is an idea, an abstract concept. Control is not. Two people can disagree who owns a bycicle but they will probably be no arguemnt about who is able to use it (both of them are, unless at least one is handicapped in some way). The fact that I am the only person who controls my body does not imply that I or anyone else has to own it. Even if I accept that if I am the only person who can control myself, I own myself, consider a (not impossible in our lifespan in my opinion) sci-fi situation where someone else can control what I do through some signals. Or even change the way I think.

If you want to avoid the question by talking about control that is fine. Who controls your body? Who controls the property acquired by the use of that body? Is it you or is it the state? If it is you then we have a starting point about what types of actions are permissible in a society where everyone controls their own body and their own property.

Also if I own myself, does a tiger own himself (and therefore has the same natural rights)? Or is a tiger's brain not developed enough? What about a chimpanzee? They are even capable of speaking and their mental capabilities are roughly at the level of a 6 year old child.

The nature of tigers is different than the nature of man. When they petition for rights similar to ours we would have to agree that they have them. Until then they are not a part of our conversation. Our discussion is about human society, which is where statists who argue for a statist ethic of moral relativism go off the rails. Like Rawls they tend to ignore issues like scarcity and property and create scenarios that lead to their preferred conclusions without dealing with a truly human society.

Does a 6 year old child own itself? Why not a chimp then? What about retarded people?

Good questions. A child is not the property of the parents but the parents do own the right to look after that child. When the child becomes competent and can look after itself the parents no longer own the right to look after it. In an authoritarian ethic parents or the state are seen as the owners of the child. In fact the parents are seen as property of the state since it can justifiably choose to take away their property or their lives if it chooses to as long as the bureaucratic calculus shows a greater utility. In a free society that would not be an issue.

It seems to me that you either have to set up an essentially arbitrary level of intelligence below which everything is pretty much things and above it is people, or you have to embrace all lifeforms which leads to conclusions very few people (save for some extremist vegans) would find satisfactory.

That is not a very logical position. As I pointed out above, I do not own my children because as sentient beings they are not my property. I simply own the rights to look after those children. If one of them is retarded, and I must confess that some days it seems as they are, I simply own the right to look after themselves forever because that right does not decay with time as they mature and vanish when they became capable of looking after themselves.

But I do own my cat for as long as it chooses to hang around the house and live in it. Of course, the day my cat petitioned me for the same rights that I have I would not be in a position to deny the request. Your logic would only hold if all animals have the same nature. But we know that is not the case. Wolves are not committing a criminal act when they eat sheep. They are following their nature. And it is the nature of sheep to be food for wolves just as they are food for us.

 
At 5:22 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

On the other hand, assuming that humans are somewhat "unique" and therefore only humans are elligible to natural rights is a very antropocentric position, not very plausible (unless you believe in creationism I guess) and I would even say a very arrogant one.

Is it 'arrogant' to think that sheep and wolves cannot do math, argue about ethics, mine metals, farm wheat, design and build automobiles like humans or is it simply the recognition of their very different nature? The fact that all sentient beings that can reason should have the same rights of self ownership and property is not in dispute.

 
At 5:32 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

VangeIV: If you're talking about control, then it seems obvious that the government controls my body and my property. It can force me to do things I don't want to do; it can take away my property whenever it wants to (and does so, on a regular basis). I control my body and my property only to the extent that the government allows me to do so. I'm not keen on this situation, but it seems to be the situation that we all find ourselves in.

You seem to believe that beings have no rights unless and until they demand them. Presumably you'd say that keeping slaves is OK if the slaves never demand to be free. What if the slaves demand to be free in a foreign language that no-one else understands?

"... it is the nature of sheep to be food for wolves just as they are food for us."

I suppose men in the past would have said with equal conviction that it's in the nature of women to do the housework, look after the children, and obey their husbands.

I'm not an animal rights activist, but I think you're too sure of the rightness of your own opinions. Any scientist should be aware that his pet theories may be disproved or modified at any time, and probably will be, sooner or later.

Imagine that some super-intelligent beings come to Earth, regard us as animals, and treat us as we treat animals. What is their moral position? They don't bother to learn our languages, and we can't learn theirs (maybe they use telepathy). How could we demand any rights?

 
At 5:43 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

"The fact that all sentient beings that can reason should have the same rights of self ownership and property is not in dispute."

Well, this statement is in dispute. There are growing numbers of people who think that animals should have rights too, whether they demand them or not.

As I already said, I'm not an animal rights activist myself: I merely mention their existence.

 
At 5:52 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

VangeIV: If you're talking about control, then it seems obvious that the government controls my body and my property. It can force me to do things I don't want to do; it can take away my property whenever it wants to (and does so, on a regular basis). I control my body and my property only to the extent that the government allows me to do so. I'm not keen on this situation, but it seems to be the situation that we all find ourselves in.

The government controls your body and your property because you live in a society that is not free. The question is about the legitimacy of government controlling your body and your property. Principled libertarians say no. David and other self proclaimed libertarians say it depends on the situation. For them there is no such thing as justice or absolute principles. Which is why the path to liberty is so difficult. The obvious authoritarians are easy to deal with in the debate. It is the people who pretend to be on the side of liberty but aren't who are the much bigger problem.

You seem to believe that beings have no rights unless and until they demand them. Presumably you'd say that keeping slaves is OK if the slaves never demand to be free. What if the slaves demand to be free in a foreign language that no-one else understands?

If sentient beings ask to be free they should be free. Note that it is your side of the argument that says that serfdom is acceptable as long as it yields some maximum utility that is determined by some ruling class, not mine. I say that liberty comes first.

And let us stay away from silliness. All humans are sentient. As such they should not be the property of anyone else. End of story. Knowing the language does not matter.

I suppose men in the past would have said with equal conviction that it's in the nature of women to do the housework, look after the children, and obey their husbands.

Saying something does not make it true. A claim has to stand up to logic and argument. The claim above does not. It is made by moral relativists who assume that cultural is more important than ethics.

 
At 5:57 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I'm not an animal rights activist, but I think you're too sure of the rightness of your own opinions. Any scientist should be aware that his pet theories may be disproved or modified at any time, and probably will be, sooner or later.

I have no problem with the fact that my arguments may be shown to be wrong. But note that my arguments are for freedom where the other side argues for serfdom and slavery. Their being wrong does far more harm than if I am wrong.

Imagine that some super-intelligent beings come to Earth, regard us as animals, and treat us as we treat animals. What is their moral position? They don't bother to learn our languages, and we can't learn theirs (maybe they use telepathy). How could we demand any rights?

Your logic does not hold. Sentience does not just mean the ability to feel pleasure and pain but to think abstractly and to act logically. The moral position is that sentient beings can't be the property of anyone else.

 
At 6:14 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV:
Jonathan has answered most of the points for me. As far as sheep doing math go - sheep obviously cannot do mathematics. Also, there are quite a few people who are not able to fully understand cutting edge level mathematics of today. It is only a matter of degree, not of nature. Sheep do not seem to think in a different nature than we do, only in a less complex way (same as a child or a retarded person thinks in a simpler way than a normal adult and a smarter adult might think in more complex ways than a less bright one). If you don't want to go through scientific papers, just visit a zoo and observe chimps for half an hour. It is startling how close they are to us. And as long as there is not a difference in nature (which I guess you dissagree with), you have a problem with choosing the degree that is sufficient for natural rights and which is not. Again - I am not arguing for the rights of chimpanzees. I am arguing that your position is based on conjectural asssumptions.

As far as your answer about children goes - you made some statements but backed them up with nothing (perhaps only not to make the comment too long, but I don't know). Why does a parent own any rights to do something with their children? How do you derive that? And is it not your position that self-ownership is exclusive and indivisible? How can then a child by partly owned by its parents? And how much partly is partly? What if both parents of the child die (or even all of its relatives)? Who has those rights then? And please explain why. If it can be derived by logic from obvious facts, then there has to be a proof showing that.

Also why do you always bring out state? It seems to me for you the whole thing is either rothbardian ethics or statisim. I cannot help not to see a paralell with the views of most objectivists (either everything Ayn Rand said, or doom).

 
At 7:06 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

VangeIV, it is your own logic that does not hold. First you tell us that sheep can't have rights because they're unable to demand rights.

Then I give you a situation in which humans are unable to demand rights, and you dismiss it and say that they should have rights anyway.

You're welcome to describe your own moral beliefs, which are not far removed from mine. But neither your beliefs nor mine are absolute truths or laws of nature, they are just personal beliefs. You can't prove them to be more than that, and if you go on making empty assertions you merely become tedious.

 
At 8:10 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Well, this statement is in dispute. There are growing numbers of people who think that animals should have rights too, whether they demand them or not.


And libertarians would be glad to give them rights as soon as the animals petition for them. Step up with their petition and I would gladly sign right after they do and read the words that they wrote.

Note how you have to resort to the silly and avoid dealing with the issue of humans living in actual human society. I would like to avoid talking about courts that prosecute wolves for eating sheep if you don't mind. Stick with examples of humans as you did wthen you wrote about children.

As I already said, I'm not an animal rights activist myself: I merely mention their existence.

Who cares? The animal rights issues are entirely different because a cow does not have the same nature as a man does.

 
At 8:16 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Jonathan has answered most of the points for me. As far as sheep doing math go - sheep obviously cannot do mathematics. Also, there are quite a few people who are not able to fully understand cutting edge level mathematics of today. It is only a matter of degree, not of nature. Sheep do not seem to think in a different nature than we do, only in a less complex way (same as a child or a retarded person thinks in a simpler way than a normal adult and a smarter adult might think in more complex ways than a less bright one). If you don't want to go through scientific papers, just visit a zoo and observe chimps for half an hour. It is startling how close they are to us. And as long as there is not a difference in nature (which I guess you dissagree with), you have a problem with choosing the degree that is sufficient for natural rights and which is not. Again - I am not arguing for the rights of chimpanzees. I am arguing that your position is based on conjectural asssumptions.

Humans are not the same as sheep or wolves. A child can grow into a thinking mature human being. A wolf cannot. That is the difference.

 
At 8:24 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

As far as your answer about children goes - you made some statements but backed them up with nothing (perhaps only not to make the comment too long, but I don't know). Why does a parent own any rights to do something with their children? How do you derive that?

They don't own just any right. They own the right to look after their children until they no longer depend on the parents. As to why I suggest that you look to the Stoics or to John Locke.

And is it not your position that self-ownership is exclusive and indivisible? How can then a child by partly owned by its parents? And how much partly is partly? What if both parents of the child die (or even all of its relatives)? Who has those rights then? And please explain why. If it can be derived by logic from obvious facts, then there has to be a proof showing that.

Who ever said that a child can be owned. The property is not the child but the right to look after the child. And that property can be jointly owned just like you can own a house jointly.

Please try to educate yourself about the actual positions being proposed, not a cartoon version of them.

 
At 8:25 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Also why do you always bring out state? It seems to me for you the whole thing is either rothbardian ethics or statisim. I cannot help not to see a paralell with the views of most objectivists (either everything Ayn Rand said, or doom).

There is statism or not statism. Period. You cannot have the gradualist approach that compromises with evil and takes liberty without becoming part of the evil itself. Principled libertarians cannot accept the initiation of violence against anyone.

 
At 8:36 AM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

VangeIV, it is your own logic that does not hold. First you tell us that sheep can't have rights because they're unable to demand rights.

Then I give you a situation in which humans are unable to demand rights, and you dismiss it and say that they should have rights anyway.

You're welcome to describe your own moral beliefs, which are not far removed from mine. But neither your beliefs nor mine are absolute truths or laws of nature, they are just personal beliefs. You can't prove them to be more than that, and if you go on making empty assertions you merely become tedious.


I said sentient beings which have a different nature than sheep or animals. As I pointed out, your logic does not hold. Which is why you have to bring in arguments that have nothing to do with human society or sentient beings.

 
At 4:46 PM, December 08, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV:

I have to disagree. Wolfs are not different in nature. Only in scale. It does not matter they cannot read or cannot learn to read (that is still only a diference in depth, scale or whatever you want to call it, not in nature). Biologically there is no reason to treat humans as something extra.

Also, if I own the righ to do something to my child (whether the child likes it or not), I partly own the child. That is the same thing. A house can be owned jointly, but I assume that your position is that a person cannot. That a person is owned by itself and that ownership is indivisible. Hence my remark.

Your comment about statism quite confirmed my guess about your position being essentially the same as that of the objectivists (actually there are very many other parallels as well and for what I know Rothbard and Rand were ideologically quite close for a while...so there is really no surprise there). If you see the world with the optics of "good versus evil" then I think it dims your perspective. I really don't like that approach. I share David's view that people are generally mistaken about the government but not that the world we live in is run by some evil conspirators who try to enslave everybody else (I know I exaggerated your view a bit). I don't believe that people like Obama or José Barosso (head of the EU comission) are evil. I think they are very wrong. But not evil.

As for the initiation of violence - David lists quite a few examples of some situations where strictly following the NAP leads to very strange results, most of which would probably be inacceptable pretty much for everyone. Maybe take a look at them...

I can agree that in a vast majority of situations it is not good to initiate coercion, but if you put it in absolute terms, you essentially do the same thing as when people say someone "needs" something. Basically that you would sacrifice everything else in the world just to stand up to those principles and it still would be worth it. I don't think anyone really believes that in practice. And if he does I don't hesitate to call him a dangerous fanatic - whatever his principle is.

 
At 6:40 PM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I have to disagree. Wolfs are not different in nature. Only in scale. It does not matter they cannot read or cannot learn to read (that is still only a diference in depth, scale or whatever you want to call it, not in nature). Biologically there is no reason to treat humans as something extra.

Sure there is. Wolves have a totally different nature than humans. They do not do math, do not think in the abstract, cannot communicate complex thoughts and do not create. Scale has nothing to do with it.

Also, if I own the righ to do something to my child (whether the child likes it or not), I partly own the child. That is the same thing.

Yo do not own the child. You only own the right to look after the well being of that child.

A house can be owned jointly, but I assume that your position is that a person cannot. That a person is owned by itself and that ownership is indivisible. Hence my remark.

No, you cannot own another sentient being. Like I said, it helps to be familiar with the positions before you try to argue against them. The parental ownership has to do with the right to look after the child as a guardian would, not in any absolute sense. Note that the parent cannot be compelled to look after the child and is always free to give up his right to anyone else who is capable of looking after that child. As I pointed out above, many libertarians have written about the topic. If you try to dispute their claims it helps to be dealing with what they have stated, not some straw man argument that is advanced so that it can be knocked down.

 
At 7:16 PM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Your comment about statism quite confirmed my guess about your position being essentially the same as that of the objectivists (actually there are very many other parallels as well and for what I know Rothbard and Rand were ideologically quite close for a while...so there is really no surprise there).

You are not very well informed. Objectivists do not have much of a problem with the existence of the state. If you look at the latest debate on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan you would find the Objectivists defending meddling in the affairs of other nations while the libertarians have argued that we should mind our own business. If this is the extent of your knowledge you have a serious problem dealing with the issue.

If you see the world with the optics of "good versus evil" then I think it dims your perspective. I really don't like that approach.

I guess not. To moral relativists the entire notion of good or evil is just as foreign as is the notion of justice.

I share David's view that people are generally mistaken about the government but not that the world we live in is run by some evil conspirators who try to enslave everybody else (I know I exaggerated your view a bit). I don't believe that people like Obama or José Barosso (head of the EU comission) are evil. I think they are very wrong. But not evil.

So kill lists, embargoes that kill innocent children are not evil? Robbing workers and savers by monetary inflation is not evil? Supporting murdering dictators is not evil? Putting people in jail for life because they used pot is not evil? Sorry but people of principle might disagree with your moral relativism.

As for the initiation of violence - David lists quite a few examples of some situations where strictly following the NAP leads to very strange results, most of which would probably be inacceptable pretty much for everyone. Maybe take a look at them...

While I admire David's intellect his very muddled logic and thinking are a big problem for me. David dances around some very important issues and does not believe in principles. He points out that you can't really measure utility in an objective manner yet pretends that errors will average out and that good guesses are possible by the central planners that he claims to oppose even as he hopes to improve their efficiency. My preference is for much clearer thinkers and better writers.

 
At 7:25 PM, December 08, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I can agree that in a vast majority of situations it is not good to initiate coercion, but if you put it in absolute terms, you essentially do the same thing as when people say someone "needs" something.

Principled libertarians do not say that anyone is obligated to provide for the 'needs' of anyone else. David might but he is not exactly what I would call a libertarian.

Basically that you would sacrifice everything else in the world just to stand up to those principles and it still would be worth it. I don't think anyone really believes that in practice. And if he does I don't hesitate to call him a dangerous fanatic - whatever his principle is.

It is always 'worth it' to stand on principle and argue for individual freedom. Of course, history is full of people who put up with evil by turning a blind eye to it and make excuses for their tolerance. That is exactly why libertarians have a hard time advancing their ideas.

 
At 5:28 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV:
Obviously we do not agree on a lot of fundamentals :) I see no difference between owning a right to do something to your child (what you consider the well-being of him/her, which also brings about an interesting thing that somehow you need to guess child's utility for him...how do you do that if you don't believe it is possible?) and partial ownership of the child.

I know objectivists advocate the state, I am familiar with Roy Child's open letter to Ayn Rand (his objection seems pretty obvious though anyway). But apart from that you and objectivists share a lot of common ground including the approach of "good versus evil guys".

I did not say that there are no actions of the state that I don't consider evil. I said I don't think the intentions of those people are evil. I believe by and large they sincerely try to do good. But as David's father kept pointing out - sincerity is a much overated virtue. The way I see it,the path to hell is paved by good intentions. The way you see it, the world is ruled by evil people who know what they are doing and are deliberately trying to get us there.

So if you don't want to read those I will quoute (not percisely): Suppose the situation is such that there is an asteriod approaching earth that will wipe out the whole biosphere. The only chance of changing that requires you to initiate coercion - you need something someone has in order to avert the catastrophe but since he himself cares little for the world (and he is planning to kill himself anyway), he is not willing to give it up. You might need to steal it from him. Or perhaps even kill him if he tries to defend it fiercely. It is bad allright, but compared to the extinction of all life on earth it is the better option. However, you have to intitiate violence, which you do not have to if you just let the world end. It is hard for me to believe anyone (save for those who actually want the world to end) would refuse to do it on the grounds of not violating someone's rights. If you don't like the particular example it can be modified in various ways while the principle is still the same.

 
At 5:33 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV: Also it does not follow from the fact that I don't believe you can derive moral statements from obvious observations of reality that I am a moral relativist. An interesting remark from the world of mathematics - it has been proven that in every axiomatic system there are statements that you cannot prove (or disprove) in any way. I believe (I am not 100% sure, but fairly confident about it) this is exactly the case, except in a world of philosphy.

 
At 5:58 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

I see no difference between owning a right to do SOMETHING TO your child (what you consider the well-being of him/her, which also brings about an interesting thing that somehow you need to guess child's utility for him...how do you do that if you don't believe it is possible?) and partial ownership of the child.

There is a huge difference between acting as a trustee or guardian of a child and the ownership of that child. If I owned my children I could sell off their kidneys, hearts, livers, etc., to people willing to pay for them. But as a guardian all I can do is take actions that are supposed to be for the benefit of the child while using common sense and reasonable judgment.

I know objectivists advocate the state, I am familiar with Roy Child's open letter to Ayn Rand (his objection seems pretty obvious though anyway). But apart from that you and objectivists share a lot of common ground including the approach of "good versus evil guys".

I tend to think of Objectivists as scared Jeffersonian Democrats. While their philosophy may be more advanced than that of most groups it is not good enough for a libertarian society.

I did not say that there are no actions of the state that I don't consider evil. I said I don't think the intentions of those people are evil.

It does not matter what the intention is. Whether some act is evil or not is determined by the consequences. That is another big difference between our positions. I don't hide behind motivation to paper over the fact that there are many unintended consequences.

 
At 5:58 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

The way I see it,the path to hell is paved by good intentions. The way you see it, the world is ruled by evil people who know what they are doing and are deliberately trying to get us there.

You have it all wrong. You assume that it is possible to get to a society that is ruled by angels. I do not. I believe that people are human and governed by human nature. As my 14-year-old points out even Sauron started out as trying to bring order. But the ring of power corrupted him as it corrupts everyone who wields it. He would say that you need to read your Tolkien again and think about his views on power. (Or government for that matter.) Or you can read your Acton or Macaulay.

What you and David fail to deal with is human nature once again. Whenever there is a concentration of power it will attract the worst of people and those that are determined enough to do what must be done rather than what you think ought to be done. These people are not saints of angels. They are the Bush/Clinton/Romney types who love the idea of power and have little trouble wielding it. To get to the top of such a system you need to be accepted by the apparatus that must be served and for that you need to do many acts any rational person would judge as evil.

Please note that while I say all this I do not advocate the initiation of violence because I consider that evil. It is your side, which is far more flexible, in its morality that is more likely to favour actions that kill innocents as they justify such actions on the basis of some 'utility' that is never measurable in the first place.

So if you don't want to read those I will quoute (not percisely): Suppose the situation is such that there is an asteriod approaching earth that will wipe out the whole biosphere. The only chance of changing that requires you to initiate coercion - you need something someone has in order to avert the catastrophe but since he himself cares little for the world (and he is planning to kill himself anyway), he is not willing to give it up. You might need to steal it from him. Or perhaps even kill him if he tries to defend it fiercely. It is bad allright, but compared to the extinction of all life on earth it is the better option. However, you have to intitiate violence, which you do not have to if you just let the world end. It is hard for me to believe anyone (save for those who actually want the world to end) would refuse to do it on the grounds of not violating someone's rights. If you don't like the particular example it can be modified in various ways while the principle is still the same.

Like I said, I like examples that apply to the real world as it is, not some ridiculous examples that are actually not that hard to deal with and have been dealt with anyway. The fact that you are not familiar with what has been said about your silly examples is not my problem but yours.

 
At 7:15 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

ValgelV: 1) I was talking about partial ownership and not about ownership of liver. If you can decide what the child does according to your judgement even against the child's judgement (and to some degree only of course), then it sounds indifferentiable from partial ownership to me. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

2)How did you come up with the assumption that I think we can get to a society that can be ruled by angels? First of all, we have no angels and even if we had, we would need them to be all knowing as well in order to make it work.

I agree that power attracts people who want power. But as I said - by and large I don't believe the world is run by evil conspirators who know what they do is evil but deliberately try to do it anyway (people also have a great skill of justifying almost anything in from of themselves). I don't say there are no people like that, but the whole idea of a world conspiracy theory seems very silly to me.

3) It does not matter that the examples are not likely to happen. If your theory is actually objective and all encompassing it has to be consistently appliable to any situation that might theoretically occur, however unlikely it is. It seems to me you just keep avoiding the things that don't fit your views throughout the whole discussion (as with saying basically "humans are the only sentient beings, end of discussion").

 
At 7:59 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

Tibor: You're doing well, but you just have to give up, he's impervious to argument.

Actually, I've observed in the course of my life that most people are impervious to argument. Argument is generally a waste of time because it doesn't change anyone's opinions. We do it only because someone's else's crazy opinions give us an itch, and we feel obliged to scratch it. Sigh.

 
At 8:24 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Jonathan: Well, yeah, you're probably right. But there are times when this is not true. I see myself that sometimes I show the same pattern (of rejecting something just because it shakes my views) but in retrospective I think about it a bit more and it actually does have an impact on my views. However, I guess this is not going to get anywhere else anymore, so I should probably focus on something else than this discussion :)

 
At 10:06 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Argument is generally a waste of time because it doesn't change anyone's opinions."

Two comments I remember my father making on this issue. One was that the objective of an argument is not to persuade someone but to give him the ideas with which he will later persuade himself. The other was that anyone worth persuading will not be persuaded in a single argument.

 
At 10:21 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Yeah, the first comment is definitely true - as I mentioned above I observed the same thing on myself. And the second one I really like :)


I also like what Penn Jilette (yes, the magician, so what? :) ) had to say on this issue - that when you are discussing something with someone, your objective should not be to persuade the other person, but to explain your views as clearly and honestly as possible and leave the rest up to the other person. In other words - you should not preach, but explain yourself. The difference may sometimes be subtle but I think there is a clear one. I really like that approach, although I am not confident I always live by it. But at least I try to.

 
At 10:28 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

1) I was talking about partial ownership and not about ownership of liver. If you can decide what the child does according to your judgement even against the child's judgement (and to some degree only of course), then it sounds indifferentiable from partial ownership to me. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

I think that you are moving the goalposts. If you and I own a car jointly we both have partial ownership. The two of us together can decide to sell the car's engine and scrap the rest. Parents cannot do that with a child because they do not own the child. They cannot even do that with a child that is retarded and incapable of looking after itself because they do not own the child.

2)How did you come up with the assumption that I think we can get to a society that can be ruled by angels? First of all, we have no angels and even if we had, we would need them to be all knowing as well in order to make it work.

It is the only way to make your proposed society work.

I agree that power attracts people who want power. But as I said - by and large I don't believe the world is run by evil conspirators who know what they do is evil but deliberately try to do it anyway (people also have a great skill of justifying almost anything in from of themselves). I don't say there are no people like that, but the whole idea of a world conspiracy theory seems very silly to me.

Why do you need a world conspiracy when all you need do is look at human nature and clearly stated goals by the political elite?

3) It does not matter that the examples are not likely to happen. If your theory is actually objective and all encompassing it has to be consistently appliable to any situation that might theoretically occur, however unlikely it is. It seems to me you just keep avoiding the things that don't fit your views throughout the whole discussion (as with saying basically "humans are the only sentient beings, end of discussion").

It is applicable. Even in the example that you cited. I am just surprised that you have not ever ran into the answer.

 
At 11:45 AM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

I do remember once countering an argument on an online forum, and I was flabbergasted when the other person responded, "Well, I guess you're right."

This is a very rare event. I later found out that the person in question was a teenager, and evidently less set in his ways than most adults.

Myself, I've been persuaded to change my mind by reading books, but not by impromptu person-to-person arguments, as far as I remember. I suppose in some cases I may have made slight marginal changes to my position on some issues.

Like most people, I like to think I'm open-minded and willing to be persuaded, but "There is no such thing as a convincing argument, although every man thinks he has one." (Edgar Watson Howe, 1911)

 
At 12:06 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:07 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

VangelV: I said I would stop, but one last comment :)

1) If I own the right to use a car in a prediscribed way (I cannot sell it for example) and you you own all the other rights accompanied in the package we call ownership (while you cannot make me not use it in the way I have a right to, otherwise I don't really have the right), then it is partly owned by you and me. The same way, according to you, the child is partly owned by itself and partly by parents

2)Interestingly enough, my "proposed society" would probably not really differ that much from your I suspect. The conclusions do not seem to be what we argue about. It is the reasons behind them that we do not agree on.

3)I don't recall anyone in the political elite in the recent years saying that they want to enslave the rest of the poeple or something similar. Again - the consequences may be bad and it is always good to look at the consequences. But it does not follow that the people who propose them are necessarily evil. Let us say you kill someone innocent thinking he is a mass murdered (who he resembles). That action is definitely bad. But it does not make you an evil person. You were just wrong.
4) I am surprised you have not presented the answer here.

It seems to me we are not developing the argument anymore so I am going to stop now. Otherwise we could run in circles for a few more comments which is not something I very much enjoy.

 
At 12:39 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

«Two comments I remember my father making on this issue. One was that the objective of an argument is not to persuade someone but to give him the ideas with which he will later persuade himself. The other was that anyone worth persuading will not be persuaded in a single argument.»

The Friedman family is highly intelligent, and these are good points.

I would add that, in my opinion, people may be more easily persuaded by a book, because reading a book is a less confrontational situation, and there is no-one there to watch you changing your mind: you can do it in comfortable privacy and in your own time.

 
At 3:00 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

1) If I own the right to use a car in a prediscribed way (I cannot sell it for example) and you you own all the other rights accompanied in the package we call ownership (while you cannot make me not use it in the way I have a right to, otherwise I don't really have the right), then it is partly owned by you and me. The same way, according to you, the child is partly owned by itself and partly by parents

I NEVER WROTE that the parents owned the child. I stated that they owned the right to look after the child. The two are totally different.

2)Interestingly enough, my "proposed society" would probably not really differ that much from your I suspect. The conclusions do not seem to be what we argue about. It is the reasons behind them that we do not agree on.

Yours could never be a society of liberty because individuals do not have absolute rights to their bodies and property and you have no concept of absolute justice.

3)I don't recall anyone in the political elite in the recent years saying that they want to enslave the rest of the poeple or something similar. Again - the consequences may be bad and it is always good to look at the consequences. But it does not follow that the people who propose them are necessarily evil.

The fact that politicians do not advertise the fact that they are out to control people does not make them good. Theft is evil. Killing innocent people is evil. Imprisoning people who engage in voluntary activities that produce no victim is evil. You assume good intentions yet we all know that power attracts the worst of mankind.

Let us say you kill someone innocent thinking he is a mass murdered (who he resembles). That action is definitely bad. But it does not make you an evil person. You were just wrong.

Sure it makes me evil. And why does it matter what we call me anyway? The point is that I initiated violence against someone who did not attack me and wound up killing him.

 
At 3:00 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

4) I am surprised you have not presented the answer here.

I did not have time because I had stuff to do with my kids. But when we were swimming I did ask my 14-year old to answer you and he did provide me with a Walter Block type of argument that I found satisfactory.

Let us accept that he can stop the asteroid from destroying the biosphere by stealing from someone. Perhaps, as you claimed, the person might die. Your question is about what is permissible without punishment. He said that it was wrong to steal and wrong to kill but if he had to he would and would turn himself over for punishment. Clearly he would have to compensate the victim's heirs or the victim if he is alive. Compensation is quite simple. A judge with common sense would make him return the object that was stolen to the rightful owner plus some fine. Once the object is given back and payment has been made justice has been done. If the man died the judge would have to see what difference the act made to the victim. Obviously he would have died anyway so the damage would be limited to the value that the individual would have gained by living a few extra days. My son points out that this might mean a transfer from the man's estate to him since he probably saved the man from a lot of pain and suffering inflicted by others in society who would have not been kind to anyone who wished to see him dead. He pointed out that the man's family is another matter because the judge and jury would have to determine the damage and the punishment. If the family wished for the act not to have happened then they would have to accept death because that is what the act prevented. They would be awarded something for the pain but would be put to death so that they would not have to suffer a fate that they did not wish to have. As punishment the perpetrator of the first act might have to carry out the executions but that is for the judge and jury to decide.

Let me note here that I am talking about principles that would be applied in a very real human society and my son noted that society is only a collection of individuals who actually carry out all of the acts in it. The state does not really kill the criminal today; the executioner does. In a just society if that executioner kills a man proven to have been innocent he would be made to pay the damages afterwards and may wind being executed himself right along with the corrupt police, prosecutors, and judge who made the crime possible.

Now if a 14 year old can get the answer why is it that you and David have such a hard time. Walter Block has spoken on this matter a number of times as have other principled libertarians. It might help you to actually be familiar with what they have actually said rather than assume that they have avoided the questions.

It seems to me we are not developing the argument anymore so I am going to stop now. Otherwise we could ran in circles for a few more comments which is not something I very much enjoy.

I agree that there isn't much of an argument. You claim that I made statements that were never made, you can't tell the difference between the positions of Rothbard and Rand, and keep talking about non-human societies. A true debate requires that we stay on topic and address real rather than imagined arguments.

 
At 4:45 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Uh, I hate myself for replying but just a quick one:

Ownership of rights to do something with something is partial ownership of the thing.

Your description of the asteroid situation seems quite reasonable and straightforward. Also, you acklowledged the fact that even you do not see the rights as absolute.

Ok, I guess we are done here :)

 
At 5:55 PM, December 09, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

Ownership of rights to do something with something is partial ownership of the thing.

Not at all. A trustee has different rights than an owner.

Your description of the asteroid situation seems quite reasonable and straightforward. Also, you acklowledged the fact that even you do not see the rights as absolute.

His right to live is absolute. The question is what happens to a person who violates those rights. That is the part that you and David miss. You treat the state as an individual without realizing it and assume that just because we have rights libertarians are claiming that those rights can never be violated.

 
At 9:20 PM, December 09, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But as I said - by and large I don't believe the world is run by evil conspirators who know what they do is evil but deliberately try to do it anyway (people also have a great skill of justifying almost anything in from of themselves). I don't say there are no people like that, but the whole idea of a world conspiracy theory seems very silly to me.
So the government is not an "evil" conspiracy, but a conspiracy by the people who consider themselves "good"?

 
At 9:30 PM, December 09, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

people also have a great skill of justifying almost anything in from of themselves
Indeed. Rapists justify their assaults too.
"She asked for it".
But do such excuses make their acts not evil?

 
At 6:41 AM, December 10, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

But do such excuses make their acts not evil?

That is the problem with our friends' argument? For them there is no such thing as an absolute crime or justice. In a world of moral relativism your question does not make the type of meaning that we may ascribe to it.

 
At 1:54 PM, December 10, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For them there is no such thing as an absolute crime or justice. In a world of moral relativism your question does not make the type of meaning that we may ascribe to it.
There is no need to define absolute crime, absolute justice or absolute evil.

If a person uses a term "evil conspiracy", I can conclude that either this person have some definition of evil, or she/he refers to definition of evil of conspirators.
So I ask, whether Tibor Mach sees government as conspiracy by people considering themselves "good" or not a conspiracy at all?
Then, I ask, if there is no conspiracy at all, how's 2/3 of governments are so bad and corrupt? Why control media after all?
And if there is conspiracy to exploit people, how do private opinions of people who run government change situation a lot? If a bunch of men rape a women, because "she asked for it" and they think that rape is wonderful and great, does it change the situation a lot? Is rape an intellectual mistake then?

You may argue that government is legitimate but rape is not. Well, most governments are indeed (more or less) legitimate(~ intellectual mistake), but corruption is definitely not(~ actual governments exploiting people).

I don't recall anyone in the political elite in the recent years saying that they want to enslave the rest of the poeple or something similar.
Do you often hear people freely and openly talking about crimes they commit or "bad things" they do?
If I one tries to use government power for his own private needs, one must be apt to hide his real intentions from the people.

 
At 9:01 PM, December 11, 2012, Blogger VangelV said...

If a person uses a term "evil conspiracy", I can conclude that either this person have some definition of evil, or she/he refers to definition of evil of conspirators.

David and Tibor miss the point. We don't need evil people to have evil outcomes because they come from the nature of government. Government cannot tolerate individuals who do not agree to its programs and policies because it cannot permit exceptions no matter how much sense that might make.

As my 14-year old son points out, everyone who possessed the Ring of Power was corrupted by it because absolute power corrupts absolutely. That seems to have been a point missed by the moral relativists who ignore the real world and create scenarios in which individuals are not exactly human.

 

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