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Thread: Help, I'm surrounded by Libertarians!

  1. #1
    Member Phil P's Avatar
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    Help, I'm surrounded by Libertarians!

    Ok, well it is partly my fault for joining the Libertarian club at college, but they were much more interesting than the Republican club or the non-existent Democratic club at UCCS.

    But I need you guys to help centralize me

    Anyways, in what areas does libertarian thought break down for you or in what areas does it not seem to be the optimal solution.

    Three problems I have seen so far are:

    1. Voluntary contracts can work as long as all affected parties are accounted for. But when some are not, this idea of voluntary contracts solving all solutions breaks down. If 65% of the neighborhood is ok with your pet cougar and purple house, yet 35% of them are not, we have issues. And this problem, those of externalities and public goods keeps appearing. They've tried to explain it to me many ways that they don't exist, but I can't see how a city aura or atmosphere is anything besides an externality and a public good. And city atmospheres are not the only situation.

    2. Voluntary contracts can be a big fat legal mess. So the neighborhood decides that your purple house is degrading the value of our homes. Taking you to court is and trying to prove property damage and debate whether you have the liberty of siding color is much, much more of a hassle than simply having zoning or association rules that prohibit odd colored houses. And zoning boards or housing associations are governments. I'm not saying that governmental regulation is mess free, but it's easier to agree on the rules to Monopoly before the game is started than it is to argue them out during the game. And when issues are continually contested, a judges will resort to prior precedent, and a common law will emerge which is analogous to another government.

    3. It assumes all people have their long term best interest at heart and will act rationally to achieve that. If that were the case, we would have no lottery or obesity problems or insane consumer debt. While I don't believe that the government should make every potentially harmful decision illegal, consistent problems such as high amounts of credit card debt (especially among minors), insane student debt, and constant advertising and abuse of alcohol may be more easily avoided by governmental regulation limiting personal freedom than for people to learn by experience.

    4. They keep calling the government "the force" instead of the "indirectly agreed upon universal contract".
    "I'm so cool" - Carl Sagan

  2. #2
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    I'd just go ahead and say that the whole libertarian movement would be doing themselves a huge favor if they all went and took some advanced economics classes. They tend to be very obsessed with one particular body of research/school of thought (the "Austrian school" and related figures like Milton Friedman), but acting like this means they actually understand the science is grossly false. Claiming that entire categories of much studied phenomena (like public goods and the special problems with incentives that they create) just don't exist is a symptom of this deeper problem. You really can't get away with only studying enough to find cherry-picked validations of your ideological assumptions and then stop without looking like an idiot.

    I agree with them about more things than I often let on, but a lot of their arguments are fairly naive ones of the type you come up with when you have the luxury of not being in power to put your ideas into practice. They seem very convinced that it's easy to just declare simplistic moral maxims absolute and base all political decisions on them--this kind of thing tends to fall apart for any political movement as soon as it gets large enough to have to deal with the real reasons that the world doesn't currently work the way they wish it did.

    It's why a lot of them seem so god-damned arrogant and stupidly self-righteous. They have yet to come up with counter-arguments for a lot of criticisms of their agenda that don't boil down to "well, it would work if everyone else wasn't so much stupider than I am."


    Politics is really not fundamentally different from economics. It's a process of people arriving at agreements that involve trade-offs and compromises in order to maximize their chances of getting what's most important to them. Yes, it involves force in some cases, but that doesn't change this basic reality. You'll never get anywhere in politics if your response to people wanting things that don't dovetail with your ideological maxims is "well, my ideology clearly explains why they shouldn't want that in the first place."
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Member Zephyrus's Avatar
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    In my opinion, one of Libertarianism's greatest weaknesses is with what to do when one party in a contract has grossly unequal bargaining power, such that they will trade their human rights in order to survive. All too often their answer is "too bad," which I find morally appalling.

    Two, they have a tendency to misunderstand the relationship between politicians and businessmen. It is as though they think politicians are parasites who steal from honest businessmen, because they lack the intelligence or work ethic to become rich on their own merit. In reality, it is far more often the case that businessmen offer politicians campaign donations and personal gifts in exchange for special privileges that enable them to acquire or maintain a dominant market position. It's called rent seeking.

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    The fault in reasoning that sets libertarianism down a path where all the other faults add up exponentially is that private property is somehow inherent, the idea that property is a monolith is taken as a total item of faith and any discussion about voluntary interactions assumes that all private property claims are legitimate and come with no social terms whatsoever.* If I don't agree that someone has a right to own a basic resource like water it that won't at all be part of the equation if i drink from a river a libertarian claims to own. I don't agree that the government is an indirectly agreed upon universal contract but I don't think private property rights are either. if I don't voluntarily agree that nothing should be held in common it just doesn't matter to the libertarian, it's a violation of the faith of modern property rights and is considered illegitimate or just declared violence.

    If I voluntarily paid my landlord rent without him being able to physically have me dragged of the premises that'd be one thing, but I would never do such a thing - I only pay rent because I need to sleep inside somewhere to survive and a government has decided that land can be owned by an individual that doesn't live there, which isn't a set of terms I've voluntarily agreed to. I support the viewpoint that private property, especially over land is just another government granted monopoly- not even a natural market force. The government and capitalism are not antithetical forces, they are two sides of the same coin.

    The very idea that property is something owned wholly by an individual with no conditions is a new concept and not one that most people even act on in most of their day too day lives. For most of history and in most of what we still do, having a claim on stuff you don't directly use like the farm you work or your cottage meant you were a violent thug, feudal lords didn't bother to wax poetic about 'hard work'. Most property really exists in shades of grey, some things we share, some things we don't, some things we let people use for certain amounts of time. I don't need to pay rent on a park bench to sit on it- the terms just involve whether someone is sitting there or not, which isn't something that libertarians even acknowledge existing.

    For an ideology that claims to be focused on voluntary contracts it doesn't give any consideration to what goes into making decisions, to what voluntary actually means. There's no such thing as a less voluntary contract to them, if you take a job because your only other choice is starving, it's really no different than if someone had threatened them and forced them to work, but a libertarian will treat this decision as exactly the same as if the child of millionaires decided to work in a sweatshop for the hell of it. It's not logically sound in the slightest.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    I don't get it, nor do I get why anarchists were so active in the late 1800s.

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starjots View Post
    I don't get it, nor do I get why anarchists were so active in the late 1800s.
    European politics, for the most part. (There was some validity to the perception that European immigrants were bringing radical ideologies with them to the US at the time, although the connection was of course exaggerated by the nativist politics of the era.)

    The breakup of Napoleon's empire left a lot of chaos in its wake, and the rest of the 19th century was a period of considerable tension and frequent unrest in many places, a situation compounded by the conflicts between monarchists and their liberal critics. While the US and to some extent France got to have nice, conveniently dated "revolutions" that converted them into modern republics, the process was a lot messier and took a lot longer for much of the rest of Europe, so pretty much everybody had to have an opinion on what the ideal form of government was, and radical ideologies were a hot commodity. Marxism was a product of the same situation. Anarcho-syndicalism (what most people are thinking of when they refer to 19th century anarchists) was another such offshoot, and the roots of fascism can mostly be traced to this period as well.

    Many of the governments involved in these conflicts did have serious legitimacy problems in the eyes of many of their subjects, and what we think of now as a nation-state still had yet to be firmly established as a universally accepted framework for organizing a political system, since many 'countries' were actually agglomerations of many different ethnic groups united by the arcane territorial claims of a monarch rather than any concept of themselves as a "nation" per se. (These were the problems that came to a head in 1914.) Under these circumstances, people proposing ideas like "well, hell, maybe all governments are illegitimate" wouldn't have been that far beyond the pale.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    I suppose that's the shadow of the idea that governments derive legitimacy from the people.

  8. #8
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starjots View Post
    I suppose that's the shadow of the idea that governments derive legitimacy from the people.
    Yes, and I think it raised philosophical questions that have come to have commonly accepted answers but haven't entirely gone away.

    In my opinion, it's not that surprising to see a renewed interest in ideologies that essentially question the idea of the State as such in an era where it's frequently said that nation-states as we've understood them to this point may be in the process of becoming obsolete. For most Libertarians I've ever known, the central point of interest for them politically is grappling with the meaty question of what moral obligations exist between the State and the Individual. Since the converse side of the debate--over what the future of government should look like if the way we've been thinking of the concept may not be adequate for the period of history we're entering--is often discussion of the idea of creating larger, supra-state institutions to govern the whole world, that question of "what is a legitimate government anyway, and how does its authority become legitimate" naturally comes into play.

    You do, I think, see a shift on the political Left away from socialist ideas about centrally planned societies and toward anarchist ideas that decentralized societies based on voluntary associations are the best alternative to capitalism. This mirrors the emerging debate on the ideological Right about constraining and reducing the state's traditional role in capitalist economies.

    It's a good question, and one any intelligent person should have an answer for if they're going to take an interest in the merits of any political idea--"just why should I ever let anyone else tell me what to do?"
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    Yes, and I think it raised philosophical questions that have come to have commonly accepted answers but haven't entirely gone away.

    In my opinion, it's not that surprising to see a renewed interest in ideologies that essentially question the idea of the State as such in an era where it's frequently said that nation-states as we've understood them to this point may be in the process of becoming obsolete. For most Libertarians I've ever known, the central point of interest for them politically is grappling with the meaty question of what moral obligations exist between the State and the Individual. Since the converse side of the debate--over what the future of government should look like if the way we've been thinking of the concept may not be adequate for the period of history we're entering--is often discussion of the idea of creating larger, supra-state institutions to govern the whole world, that question of "what is a legitimate government anyway, and how does its authority become legitimate" naturally comes into play.
    Whether nations are becoming obsolete is different from whether the political process used to govern nations are becoming obsolete. The processes appear to be decaying (i.e., becoming less effective) to most people I know. Thus, to me the Libertarians questioning of the state itself may seem fundamental but is a reaction to a symptom rather than an attempt to address the fundamental problem (outmoded or captured political processes).

    You do, I think, see a shift on the political Left away from socialist ideas about centrally planned societies and toward anarchist ideas that decentralized societies based on voluntary associations are the best alternative to capitalism. This mirrors the emerging debate on the ideological Right about constraining and reducing the state's traditional role in capitalist economies.
    My origins were conservative but I can probably call myself a 'lefty' now as I am allergic to most arguments from the right. The idea of voluntary associations, cooperatives, micro-cultures, go play in your own sandbox sorts of ideas are appealing. I don't see anyone pushing this much in reality though nor do I know if it would work. The left seems bereft of ideas.

    It's a good question, and one any intelligent person should have an answer for if they're going to take an interest in the merits of any political idea--"just why should I ever let anyone else tell me what to do?"
    The obvious answer is 'for my own benefit.' But of course answering 'how' with near optimal solution for the greatest number of people involves a lot more understanding than 99.99999999999999% (maybe 100%) of all people possess IMO due to complexity.

  10. #10
    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil P View Post
    Ok, well it is partly my fault for joining the Libertarian club at college, but they were much more interesting than the Republican club or the non-existent Democratic club at UCCS.
    It's called a club? Do they have a secret knock? Whatever happened to joining parties. *facepalm*

    Not that I'm encouraging you, just sayin.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

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