Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Left-Anarchism: A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail - Part 4

God knows this isn't an ideological schism that will mend itself anytime soon, but I actually received a somewhat thoughtful response regarding some supplemental comments I made on the C4SS article I referred to a few days ago. For some reason the comment moderation on C4SS is terrible; I submitted yet another response about three days ago and it has yet to show up. I'm not sure if people are being slow or if it was simply declined. In any case, I thought I'd share my response to RadGeek's thoughts:


First, I'd like to say that I've admired a good deal of your contributions to various discussions (particularly at Long's blog) - so I'll certainly take your points into further consideration even after this reply.


"I don't think that it's a libertarian principle that government should be running schools and hospitals more cost-effectively. The libertarian principle is that government should not be running them at all. But Walker's bill doesn't have anything to do with that. "

I'd argue that the libertarian principle(s) would encourage you to support both (actually). Politics, unfortunately, is not an all-or-nothing endeavor most of the time. Of course I would love to see government out of these institutions altogether. But, that being said, it strikes me as fairly libertarian to want to lessen the total amount of coercion as much as possible. If we can achieve that fiscally by rolling back public sector entitlements, I don't see why one should be opposed.

So, true enough, Walker's bill has nothing to do with culling these institutions back into the market-sphere. If it will, however, reduce the total amount of coercion upon the populace, it's certainly worth considering. Or, at the least, I don't think it should be resisted. Again, if a bill were being proposed to quarter defense spending should we, as libertarians, be opposed to it simply because the bill's supporters don't have a goal of free-market defense in mind?

"It might. But reducing government spending is not the same thing as reducing government taxation. Governments have no fiduciary responsibilities and their decisions about how much or how little to tax are based on political factors, not fiscal ones."

Of course, this is true as far as it goes. However, as we've seen very recently, causation here is not a closed loop. Fiscal realities (or at least the perception thereof) can certainly transform into political leverage. People are concerned with fiscal outlook. And when that outlook is bad enough, it's political capital - it's the cause for this very discussion.

"Of course, I have no desire to see government spend more money on anything; but I don't think that if it spends less money, the rest of us are going to get some kind of refund. "

I, like you, expect no "refund." What I expect is less total spending in the long-term and thus less total coercion. We could certainly argue that government (at any level) will simply fill the gap in deficit-spending repealed by public sector clamp-downs with some other kind of project. Given the nature of government, that's more than plausible. What it isn't, however, is a good reason to resist any such repeal of spending - as that could easily be argued for ANY attempt to repeal spending.

"Where in the column did Kevin defend either? As far as I can tell, the point of the column was not to defend the demands of government-sector workers"

It's largely been implicit (although I don't think we need to read too deeply here).

"Our goal is to replace the present system with a different way of doing things — not to vilify those caught up in it." (from Carson's article)

"it was to point out, contrary to many non-left libertarians' claims, that the counter-demands of State Governor Scott Walker would not advance any particularly anti-statist goal. "

What does vilification or the outset of a purely stateless goal have to do with this? Why does this matter in any context other than defending the beneficiaries of the state? Again, would you or Carson be defending the workers of a weapons firm if government decided to dock their present or future take-home pay? If an individual's endgame doesn't line up with ours we're supposed to just thrust aside any common push towards our constitutive means?

My point is simply this - It doesn't matter what Walker's endgame is. It doesn't matter what he thinks of unions or their members. It doesn't matter if government officials are corrupt or evil. It doesn't matter if the proponents of unions are corrupt or evil. What matters is if this legislation would stand a chance to decrease over-all coercion or not. If it does, then why are we going out of our way to defend the state's beneficiaries? And if you think it won't decrease over-all coercion, then we should be discussing that point instead - not waging into polemics regarding the victim-hood of those in the public sector or the banal nature of government officials. I don't think too many people who run in common circles with us are under the illusion that Republican governors have anarchy as an endgame in mind...just as we were aware that supposedly "anti-war" democrats didn't have anarchy as an endgame in mind when they were pushing for us pulling out of two tangled wars - neither one of those realities dictates that we should resist those actions or start defending its detractors.


  1. The problem with supporting the "policy of least coercion" in the political sphere is that it leads you to some discomforting compromises.

    For example, I've heard a few libertarians trying to defend the exclusion of gay couples from state-approved marriage on the grounds that keeping the homos out would minimize total coercion. And yes, it is coercive to require the state to "bless" marriage contracts, and yes, maybe restricting it to straight couples means a decrease in the number of people brought under state purview in this one aspect of society. That's a valid libertarian end, but are the means really acceptable?

    Or what about if some racist pol decides to slash the welfare state by eliminating welfare to blacks only, but keeping it for whites? Like the Walker example, this might at least yield a reduction in government spending, which means a decrease in the use of stolen money. But is a policy like that something we'd want to be associated with?

    Isn't it morally questionable to subject a certain subset of the population to greater state depredation? Beyond that it seems like a huge tactical error: I can't see most people making the distinction between a libertarian who opposes the state on principle and your average tribalistic statist who sees an opportunity to divert some loot away from people he hates.

    I realize this doesn't specifically address the Wisconsin issue, but I think it raises a broader question about how (if?) we can make incremental progress in the political realm without lending support to creeps and betraying our principles.

  2. Great comments here, and they're not contentions I'd take lightly either. I've happened to think this very issue through quite a bit and, although some aspects of what I think would constitute a good resolution are somewhat subtle, I do think there's a more clear-cut way to parse some of this out.

    On the issue of marriage, I think you're obviously right - state sanction here is coercion as far as it goes. But I'd entertain the idea that it's negative coercion, as opposed to positive coercion. By that I mean the state is not aggressive upon you in the most direct positive sense of force/violence, but rather that this type of coercion is defined by restraint. In other words, much as with other types of licensing, the people who are being coerced are the people whom are not able to
    secure such a license. If, for instance, we kept barber licenses but dropped many of the requirements to appeal for one, would that be a move towards less or greater coercion? Given that fewer people are now restrained from exercising their trade freely, I would consider it the former.

    And this moves to the point of your latter example; regarding elimination of government benefits for a specific class. It's probably the Rothbardian in me, but I'm inclined to say, "Yes...you're still obliged to welcome it even if we'd want more." To create a helpful analogy, imagine that there is a plantation with one hundred slaves. They convince the master to free some of them, but the master insists that only the men are to be set free, but the women and children must remain slaves. Now, this clearly isn't "fair" in any sense of the word, but would we contend that we'd rather see all one hundred slaves remain on the plantation instead?

    It's on issues like this where I probably most genuinely stray from left-leaning libertarianism. But while I think some of those "tough decisions" may offend our sense of fairness, pushing them off altogether would, at least to me, represent something more reprehensible - making the perfect the enemy of the good.

  3. Another nice example, which I forgot to include, is that of roads. Let's say, for instance, that we only allowed men to obtain driver's licenses. Would it be increasing coercion to allow women to drive also? I think clearly not.

    Part of the distinction is in the difference between a public good and specific net subsidization as well. For instance, if we're taking from a bunch of people and giving to some subset of that group then we could be against portions of that group obtaining their subsidies as we're trying to lessen over-all coercion. However, on issues of public goods, where arguably everyone has already pitched in for infrastructure, etc., and we are simply restricting the use thereof I think there is good argument to lessen those restrictions.

    It's still something that needs to be thought through more, for sure. But that's the rationale for where I stand on it at the moment.