Saturday, December 19, 2009

Libertarian Credo

One more time....

I own me.
You own you.

This is my stuff.
That's your stuff.

If you and I decide to swap stuff, the existence of an arbitrary political border between us should matter no more than the existence of a highway or a telephone line between us.

Anyone requiring you to give your stuff to me is probably on my payroll in some way.

As long as your actions don't cause harm to me and mine, what you do is none of my business.

A few exceptions: We need a structure in place to enforce contracts, provide some very basic infrastructure, referee in disputes about externalities (see comments), and maybe defend the borders. If we limited government to that, and only that, our borders will need a lot less defending.

I don't care if you go on a crystal meth binge with gay midget hookers in a gas-guzzling SUV outfitted with semi-automatic weapons and the complete works of Barry Manilow on 8-track. As long as it doesn't hurt me and mine, we're fine. (I already know what its like to shoot skeet with Manilow's "Weekend In New England" in the background. Long, tiresome story.)

One more time....

I own me.
You own you.
Do what you said you were going to do.

That's all.


Gar said...

How can a guy on a crystal meth binge with gay midget hookers in a gas-guzzling SUV outfitted with semi-automatic weapons and the complete works of Barry Manilow on 8-track not harm me?

I mean, my head hurts just thinking about it. Think of the eye sore. Think of the disturbance of the peace hearing Barry Manilow at too many decibels. I don't know. I think you may have lost me there.

Dr Ralph said...

To expand on what Gar said, *your* opinion of what hurts me and *my* opinion of what hurts me might vary by a wide margin. And there in lies the rub.

Who decides?

Does your deciding to open a pig farm next to my house harm me? And how do we decide what constitutes "harm?"

Your pig farm causes my house to loose value. Has that harmed me?

Your gas-guzzling SUV adds to the gray haze that hangs over DFW. Has that harmed me?

What relief is available to me if I think I've been harmed?

Ever lived around a couple of neighbors feuding over some bit of obnoxiousness perpetrated by one or the other? How'd you like that to be the norm for how people deal with each other day to day -- a bunch of self-righteous knotheads convinced *they* are right and everyone else is wrong.

The devil is in the details.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Gar, and Doctor,
BOTH of you caught me on this one.
There is a caveat that I forgot to include: Externalities.

As long as the sound of Barry's golden voice, the bullets from the AK-47, the sight of the vertically-challenged strippers, or the smell of The Doctor's hogs doesn't come onto my property, we're cool.

If either of you contribute to NPR pledge drives, and I don't, but I listen to NPR, that's a positive externality.

If I shoot the AK-47 on my property, but the bullets pass on to yours, that's a negative externality.

Post amended on Sunday a.m.

Browncoat Libertarian said...

I'm a little late to the show, but Doc's shut-up-and-bow to the "Greater Good" response incenses me:

No, Doc, here's the "rub" with your solution:

Obliterate personal liberty trying to accommodate EVERYONE'S interpretation of "harm".

Paralyze society with an incomprehensible and endless set of laws and regulations attempting enforce this naive accommodation.

Empower a bunch of opportunistic rent-seekers and crisis-creators by providing an ever growing trough of funds confiscated from the responsible for the benefit of the irresponsible, and, of course, the rent-seekers themselves.

Is the libertarian ideal "perfect"? Of course not. But our solutions are not the malignant, ever-growing, liberty sucking cancers that your camp offers.


justino said...

Hey Allen,

I think I understand where you are coming from.

Don't you think we also need "a structure in place to enforce contracts" between governments, kind like a government's government?

Gar said...

Mr. Whited, I admit I did not go read about Externalities (yet) so I don't know why I'm going to stick my neck out on this one...

But, your example of the AK-47 is maybe not good. Is fear harm? If I get up in the morning and go out to sunbathe in my backyard and your crazy-ass self is out in your backyard safely firing an AK-47 at beer cans, I'm not gonna be happy. I'm not going to feel safe going out in my own backyard. And the noise is probably going to wake my wife up and then she'll force me to confront my ass of a neighbor with his AK-47. You haven't directly caused me injury yet. But it would quickly spiral out of control. There has to be some common courtesy.

Doc may have incensed the masses, but it's an interesting point. What is harm? If the sound of an AK-47 causes someone to go into a blind panic, then you are causing them harm (like it or not).

Dr Ralph said...

Browncoat -- I was surprised at the vehemence of your reaction, and of course do not wish to cause offense (or is that harm).

Let's ignore examples for the moment and circle back to my 2 questions.

1. What constitutes "harm?"

2. Who is the final arbitrator of whether someone has been harmed?

Far be it for me to offer a solution: I was asking for clarification of WS's bumper sticker credo.

Gar's response pretty much nails it.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I'm feeling kinda threatened and fearful because of all this, and I just might require some government intervention to help me get over the trauma.

(I think you know where I'm headed from here, so I'll spare you.)

Who the heck are you? Have our paths crossed before? Consider yourself blogrolled, BTW. Hope you can return the favor.
And that ultra-government organization to enforce contracts between governments? Like the League Of Nations (fail!) or the U.N. (fail!) or Oprah (somewhat succesful !)....
I don't think we need any more of those.

justino said...

Hey Allen,

We met at the Flying Saucer for the LP Meetup a few weeks ago.

Well, I was thinking that if this super-government isn't necessary to resolve disputes among governments then why is a monopoly government necessary to resolve disputes among individuals. Or isn't it?

Browncoat Libertarian said...

Doc - Perhaps you missed the smiley face at the end of my post intended to take some of the edge off of my post.

Gar's example was a silly strawman, nothing more....and the "progressive" answer to his strawman: take all the guns away. Let's not bother with a liberty litmus test first, let's just take the guns away and be done with it (I'm not implying that this is Gar's solution, just that of the Nanny-State).

My point still stands...if you try to accommodate everyone's definition of "harm", you effectively squash everyone's individual liberty...and the "greater good" becomes an empty platitude when personal liberty is eliminated.

Does this mean anarchy and a govenrmentless society? Of course not, that's as naive as the progressive Utopian ideal. We just need a lot less strawman legislation and a lot more liberty litmus test. I think that's the point of the WS post and the "creedo".

Stephen M. Smith said...

Browncoat/WS, I fear you've gone after a red herring here. "Harm" is not the standard. The question is not whether Person A has harmed Person B, but rather whether Person A has violated Person B's rights.

If you own a store and I open up a competing store across the street, you can claim that I've harmed you by taking business away. But I haven't violated your rights, so there is no cause for action.

If, on the other hand, I beat you over the head with a sack full of nickels, I have not only harmed you, but I've also violated your rights. Obviously there's cause for action in this case.

Dr Ralph said...

Stephen: I have no quarrel with your comments on "harm" -- when I used the term I was responding to WS's statement: "As long as your actions don't cause harm to me and mine, what you do is none of my business."

I'd say your (Stephen's) comment was dead on, and doesn't (at least in my mind) contradict the point I was trying to make.

Browncoat: Your response seemed pretty heart-felt, but I missed the wink. Glad to know I did not give offense. At least you know where I'm coming from.

Gar said...

Call me ignorant, but I fail to see the obvious difference between rights and harm.

Someone still has come up with a list of "rights".

In your example, you can open up a competing store across the street and that, in and of itself, would not violate my rights.

But, if you were to start giving products away or selling at an obvious loss in order to drive me out of business, then it gets fuzzy.

Do I have the right not to be harmed ;-). If the sounds of Barry Manilow causes my ear drums to bleed then you are violating my rights and harming me all in the same fuzzy manner.

Stephen M. Smith said...

Let me see if I can illustrate the difference between harm as the standard and rights as the standard with another example.

If a thief steals a car, I suspect most people would agree that it is just for the police to take the car away from the thief and return it to its owner. The thief is, without question, harmed by this because he is no longer able to enjoy the use of the car. But who cares that the thief is harmed? Hopefully no one because they recognize that the thief had no right to the car, and that it was he who violated the owner’s rights in the first place.

But harm occurs in both the theft and the return of the stolen goods (the owner is harmed in the former case and the thief in the latter). But what we focus on is not harm, but rather the violation of rights. Only a concept of property rights enables us to determine that the owner is the victim and the thief is the aggressor.

So no, you do not have the right not to be harmed according to the broadest sense of the word, which seems to underlie your line of questioning. You do, however, have the right to be free from aggression against your property (in the broadest sense of that term, beginning with the property one has in oneself).

As far as writing all this down, it’s already been done. WS has done a pretty good job of boiling down five hundred years of liberal political theory into a single blog post, but this concept of negative rights was also incorporated into certain foundational documents and then codified to a large degree into law. Unfortunately, that law has been routinely violated for centuries.

If, on the other hand, one subscribes to a concept of positive rights, you are correct. Someone has to write it all down, and they’d better get cracking.

You have the right to wear a red hat on Tuesday.
You have the right not to wear a red hat on Tuesday.
You have the right to sing in the shower.
You have the right not to sing in the shower.
You have the right…