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Getting over the hump

As suggested by a Samizdata reader called Hugo, I am going to kick off a Friday discussion which takes the following line: “A barrier to people accepting libertarianism is the notion that we’d let people starve in the streets.”

I think the contention would be grossly unfair, to put it mildly. Libertarians oppose the welfare state, we do not oppose welfare. That logically means that we support charity, although not necessarily existing charities, many of which have been subsumed by the state. As history has shown, mutual aid and philanthropic societies typically thrive because of, not in spite of, a powerful pro-freedom, pro-free enterprise culture. The belief that we are entitled to pursue our self-interest (so long as it does not involve aggression, theft or fraud) does not clash with the idea that it is good to be generous and helpful to those who have been dealt a crap hand in the cardgame of life.

In fact, the philosopher David Kelley recently wrote a book, which I heartily recommend, saying that feelings of generosity and benevolence towards one’s fellow Man are an actual consequence of a society where people feel no shame or guilt about the pursuit of happiness in this life. In many cultures, including the Judeo-Christian one, generosity is a duty that is owed at the command of God. However, in the sense that Kelley and I use it, a generous, friendly approach to our fellows does not have to be commanded because such a trait generates long-term benefits to the giver as well as the recipient. This guy makes a good set of points in a review of Kelley’s book. Okay, vicious, grasping people may be happy in the very short run after they have achieved their goals, but they usually have very few friends and often end up getting shunned. And being shunned is not very nice.

Given all this, a society in which every able-bodied person had to work if they had no private income, and where the rise in wealth would be great because of a free market system, is likely to be one in which there would be plenty of people willing to give to charity to help out the infirm, the handicapped, and so on. It also goes without saying that the idea of poor people starving in the streets would be a near-impossibility in a dynamic economy oozing with wealth and ideas.

The one place where starvation of the poor is a likely occurrence, of course, is under collectivism. Just look at the great socialist disasters of the 20th Century.

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81 comments to Getting over the hump

  • Gregory

    I don’t think that’s actually true, though – libertarianism is usually not accepted because quite frankly, a lot of self-described MSM-hyped ‘libertarians’ are, to put it bluntly, bugfuck crazy (moderators, feel free to edit epithets as necessary – I needed to write it but no one else needs to read it). Ronulans (or Paulistas, if you prefer), for instance.

    I would say the root of the disagreement between libertarians and most other people is the issue that n005 brought up in previous comments to other posts, and which you allude to – namely, the concept of duty. I would say that most people believe that there is a common set of obligations that are mutually owed between people, and that this is derived from the fact that all humans are people.

    Libertarians would argue that nobody *owes* anybody *anything* out of the bat – that you must contractually agree to an exchange before a debt is acknowledged. By the way, this is a POV I have a great deal of agreement with – but not totally. Regardless of whether I agreed to be born to my set of parents or not, I figure I owe them – some degree of financial support, as they’re pensioners, honour, respect, fidelity even. I do believe in filial duty. Similarly, I believe that I owe my elder siblings some degree of respect and ‘submission’ (so to speak) also.

    I believe in civic duty too – no littering where it can be helped, obedience to the laws of the land where possible, that sort of thing.

    Yet, I realise I am inconsistent, because my ideas of duty are self-imposed. That is to say, I CHOSE what I see to be my duty; some because of what the Bible tells me (and I accept God’s authority over my life), and others because it seems reasonable. I do NOT want some other wanker or bludger imposing them on me. Hey, sue me.

    Regardless, I believe that many people associate libertarianism with anarchy, chaos, anti-order, anti-civilisation, and generally Very Silly Stuff. I doubt it’s just welfare or charity that’s the trouble.

  • Well its also left-wing/communitarian of all ilks spin to trash libertarians as “uncaring selfish bastards.” These people truly believe that its society that has to pick up the tab for anyone who has fallen out of sorts whether its self-inflicted or not. These are the types that think tax cuts are “immoral”.

    Lets put it another way thanks to the BBC and the left-wing media in the UK there are people that are convinced that in the US poor people are left to die on the streets (yes someone said that at a meeting I went to at a Tory Conf.) because they don’t have health care. This is, of course, utter malicious nonsense.

  • Alisa

    in the UK there are people that are convinced that in the US poor people are left to die on the streets

    Oh yes, here in Israel very many people believe this too. And if you tell them that there are numerous charities that help the unfortunate (as there are in Israel as well), they are not impressed, because they are left to die in the streets by the state. Moreover, they see the existence of charities as a symptom of the failure of the state to provide its citizens with all their needs, and therefore shameful.

  • Monoi

    As Gregory says, most people associate libertarianism with anarchy, probably because the 2 are almost always associated whether rightly or wrongly (wrongly obviously for me).

    When the truth is that respect for the law is actually the starting point of a libertarian society. In my understanding at least.

    The rest just derives from that basic misunderstanding.

  • Nick M

    Alisa makes a good point.

    The US myth (and it was propagated by the Russkies heavily during the Cold War) takes on a certain specific form in the UK.

    We have an NHS, the USA doesn’t. Hence lurid tales of paramedics going through patients pockets looking for credit cards and if they don’t find a platinum one they just drive round the block until the patient dies.

    I think another major barrier is of course understanding. the concepts of Libertarianism. The commentariat on this site are generally very bright, highly educated and thoughtful folk. Compare that with some of the demented ravings on other sites and you’ll see what I mean.

    Essentially I’m saying that a lot of people just won’t get it. It’s too subtle a worldview and they frankly can’t be arsed. It’s I guess related to the whole: me Grandad always voted x, me Dad voted x, so I’ll vote x.

  • The greatest coup the leftists ever pulled in Britain is to find a way to anchor post-empire British patriotism to socialist institutions like the BBC, and the NHS. That’s why abolition or even serious reform of these institutions is a political taboo. Britishness as seen by the majority of the public today does have a political dimension. The above institutions are an end in themselves. British politicians DON’T promise to improve the quality of health care. They promise to FIX the NHS.

    Similiarly the British public believe in the license fee because not believing in the BBC is a negation of Britishness. The quality of its output doesn’t enter the equation.

    The NHS and the BBC are the mom and apple pie of postwar british patriotism. Libertarianism is impossible for most people in this country to grasp because it would require a rejection of central components of what it means to be British.

  • Ham

    they are not impressed, because they are left to die in the streets by the state.

    Indeed so. When sensible people see the state doing as much as it does with regard to petty, trivial matters, they naturally get upset at the thought of this giant nanny not taking notice of people rotting in the gutter.

    As libertarians, we should argue in increments. First, we argue to remove the state’s power from the most trivial parts of our lives, then we argue for the dissolution of the welfare state.

  • not the Alex above

    The quality of its output doesn’t enter the equation

    Yes it does, all the people i talk to about this subject in real life (rather than on the internet) think the beebs output is great. (esp when compared with ITV, Channel 5 and Sky One)

    You may not like that, but it’s true.

  • Alex above.

    In my opinion, thats because asking most Brits “Do you like the BBC?” is like asking them “Do you like your country”

  • not the Alex above

    Anyway, yes I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head, i can’t get past that idea and I’ve been a loyal reader for 3 years. i really like this blog and it’s ideas but as someone said the other week people don’t starve quietly they riot and rob your house.

    I think that more posts like this where the comment thread will inevitably flesh out a number of good scenarios/solutions that do not involve govt welfare would be good.

  • A problem I’ve encountered when trying to persuade them, is that they just don’t *believe* charity would happen in a libertarian society. Lefties especially seem to have a very pessimistic view of human nature — that humans only help each other if they’re forced to.

    Because the state has subsumed everything, there aren’t many good examples of private charity being better than state welfare. You can talk about friendly societies, but it doesn’t make a very good example because it was history and people were poorer and died a lot more back then.

    Another problem is that I believe in liberty for *liberty’s* sake. So even though I think less people would need charity in a libertarian society, I’d still be a libertarian were that not the case. This probably makes me less convincing.

  • As libertarians, we should argue in increments. First, we argue to remove the state’s power from the most trivial parts of our lives, then we argue for the dissolution of the welfare state.

    That is exactly what most libertarians I know – including me – do. My stock response to anyone concerned about radical scaling back of government is to assure them that I think it would be irresponsible to eliminate the Department of Education overnight – which I do, in fact, believe.

    I think Hugo’s point is both right and not. It’s right in the sense that people get scared that we mean to leave them in messy anarchy. I don’t think they actually care all that much about leaving people to starve. That’s just the tone lazy rhetoric always takes on: when you can’t be bothered to spell out a rational case for your position, it’s always safe to express heartfelt concern about “the children.” But honestly, when I argue with people about politics, the first issues that typically spring to mind for them are public education and public roads, not Aid to Families with Dependent Children or SCHIP.

    However, I would add that in addition to these security fears, another barrier to people accepting libertarianism is simply that it complicates their political landscape in ways they’re not willing to take on. I can’t speak for the UK, but here in the US the average voter tends to latch on to one party or the other for largely superficial reasons. Debates among their friends are between Dems and Republicans and center on issues like gay marriage and patriotism and “hope,” and these are things they can participate in. Once you introduce a completely new player to the scene that doesn’t fit on the neat left/right spectrum, they have a harder time keeping up, and it’s easier to dismiss it with straw mans than to adjust. So I think if Libertarianism wants to attract new voters, in addition to soothing angst about letting the roads go to gravel, we also need to come up with catchier canned explanations to exactly where we (don’t) fit on the standard spectrum.

  • Nick M

    Jerome is right.

    The BBC was a few years back voted the UK’s most respected institution public or private.

    At moments of National Crisis – Wars, a car crash in Paris ten years ago and such we watch the Beeb even though ITV or Sky will be showing pretty much the same thing. It is totally part of our society.

    The NHS is the envy of the world (or at least a certain obese American film-maker) and it’s 50th anniversary was celebrated on a 50p coin.

    The two are seen as totally a-political. They’re like this countries Mount Rushmore. National Monuments. Of course like Mount Rushmore they’re hardly in actuality a-political.

  • renminbi

    Maybe it is because the politicians have succeeded in infantilizing the electorate in all of the representative democracies. The US had the advantage of a federal system which made doing this more difficult; because of this and inertia we were able to resist this better ,but most people take comfort in not taking responsibility for themselves. They want “liberty”,but with someone else picking up the tab for their mistakes.
    This doesn’t make libertarianism wrong;just not practical given current political arrangements.

  • Jon B

    In the UK I think there remains a general belief that the welfare state prevents a return to the squalor of Dickensian workhouses. However much people might agree that state benefits need scaling back – and you can find plenty of people to agree with that – they remain wedded to the idea of the “safety net”.

    “..so if will be like returning to Victorian times..” is a counter-argument you may have heard.

    But in fact the Victorian “conditions” were not the result of a laissez faire approach at all. They were down to the government’s own misguided attempts to deal with the question of poverty. The suffering Dickens writes about was caused by the state-run Poor Law. This law setup workhouses in appalling conditions and forced people into them as a condition to receive benefit money. The workhouses were made harsh on purpose to discourage people from going into the system unless absolutely necessary.

    The Victorian poor law was centrally administered, inhumane, punitive, interfering, counter-productive, and eventually seen to fail. More New Labour than Libertarian …

  • “…the truth is that respect for the law is actually the starting point of a libertarian society.”

    And what is “the law”? Is the welfare state not “the law”?

    Another thing:

    “…but as someone said the other week people don’t starve quietly they riot and rob your house.”

    That is a threat. The insinuation is that the prospect of violence and robbery must be bought-off. (Look: this was a major impetus to Bismarck’s project.) This is not charity, and it is no righteous political principle on which to consider these matters.

  • Gregory

    I must admit that the welfare ‘safety net’ is a very tempting idea. When you’re not the one paying punitive taxes to keep it afloat, that is. Which is why you won’t find too many college or university-age libertarians (not none, but few).

    It’s the government version of income protection insurance, and the problem is it’s mandatory, and universal. Which is pretty stupid when you come right down to it.

  • Ian B

    Just a general point that people need to bear in mind is it’s not just about economics. Many people (myself included, I admit) will note that the great advantage of state benefits over charity is that it’s at least nominally blind to the individual. Charities can pick and choose, and more importantly may impose conditions on the unfortunates they’re assisting; the Salvation Army’s “ham sandwich wrapped in scripture”.

    People may become destitute through no fault of their own, particularly if the government are running a state sponsored money inflation system that causes market chaos and grand depressions. The people at the bottom of the heap are the ones who suffer most from that (all the money stays floating around at the top, even in a depression, while the poor are lining up at the soup kitchens) and at least social assistance provides a certainty to the average punter of some income, which they perceive, rightly, as a better option than begging at the local church. Charity generally arrives with strings attached. People reasonably don’t like that idea.

    Libertarianism needs to get away from the somewhat arrogant POV that is often expressed that everyone in need is lazy and stupid and it’s their own fault. It doesn’t play in the country very well. If we’re to make any headway, we need to recognise the need for some populism. We need to recognise that our economy is so fucked up because the elites do run it for their own benefit, and screw everybody else. Banks in trouble run off to the treasury to get some more money printed. That’s not available to the masses.

    The welfare state will have to be the last thing to go, after the whole economy has been reformed, and that means ditching the corporate welfare and state assistance to the quangocrats, massively deregulating and providing genuine economic and social mobility to all by taking away the statist rules that prevent it. If we try to campaign on the idea that poor people are ruining the economy with welfare claims, we’re turning away from our message the very people who have most to gain from libertarian economics. I firmly believe that the message must be something like “libertarianism will provide sufficient prosperity that hardly anyone will need welfare”. Once the need is small, the means becomes unimportant. People simply have no idea what a crippled economy they’re living in, how the state steals from them with their every purchase, how state intereference to create “full employment” has prevented “full employment” since its inception.

    Few people actually want to live on welfare (I know, some do, but not that many, not all the time). With opportunity, jobs and wages streaking away from the poverty standard of a welfare life in a true free market, the incentive to work becomes enormous and people will take it up.

    People want prosperity. Only libertarianism can provide it. Let’s make that the message.

  • el windy

    To “love your neighbour” as a command from God is not really “love” , is it? To be truly Christian the love has to be genuine to the extent of even laying down your life for the good of others. That is why living up to the label of “Christian” is so difficult. Its interesting that whether its totalitarian communists, authoritarian fascists, free thinking liberals or even, libertarians like yourselves, you always find it irresistible to take a poke at Christianity in such a cheap and shoddy fashion. Which just goes to show that even in your ideal world “freedom of worship” would never be guaranteed.

  • el windy

    To “love your neighbour” as a command from God is not really “love” , is it? To be truly Christian the love has to be genuine to the extent of even laying down your life for the good of others. That is why living up to the label of “Christian” is so difficult. Its interesting that whether its totalitarian communists, authoritarian fascists, free thinking liberals or even, libertarians like yourselves, you always find it irresistible to take a poke at Christianity in such a cheap and shoddy fashion. Which just goes to show that even in your ideal world “freedom of worship” would never be guaranteed.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    To “love your neighbour” as a command from God is not really “love” , is it? To be truly Christian the love has to be genuine to the extent of even laying down your life for the good of others. That is why living up to the label of “Christian” is so difficult. Its interesting that whether its totalitarian communists, authoritarian fascists, free thinking liberals or even, libertarians like yourselves, you always find it irresistible to take a poke at Christianity in such a cheap and shoddy fashion. Which just goes to show that even in your ideal world “freedom of worship” would never be guaranteed.

    If you think my comment was “cheap and shoddy”, you have a remarkably thin skin about your own faith. I thought I was actually pretty polite.

    If I give away some possessions for a cause, or for a person, that I love and value, that is not a sacrifice to me, since I still gain the non-material satisfaction of that gift, and gain the sense of fellowship with others. What the Christian ethic, taken to its logical conclusion, says is that the only “reward” one can expect, if at all, is in the next life.

    As I don’t believe in life after death, I therefore reject the premise of the Christian position, much as I respect parts of that ethical code. There is nothing “cheap and shoddy” in pointing that out.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Libertarianism needs to get away from the somewhat arrogant POV that is often expressed that everyone in need is lazy and stupid and it’s their own fault. It doesn’t play in the country very well. If we’re to make any headway, we need to recognise the need for some populism. We need to recognise that our economy is so fucked up because the elites do run it for their own benefit, and screw everybody else. Banks in trouble run off to the treasury to get some more money printed. That’s not available to the masses.

    I also agree that the message needs to be more positive, and less gloomy. I also do not like the way that people endlessly rail against “Chavs” or whatnot; people did the same about the poor back in the 19th Century. The problem is economic disincentives, not some broad issue of national “character”.

    We also need to cheer up a bit. I often find that when I put up a post that has an optimistic slant on it, it often generates far more rage on the comments from the Eyeores out there than if I put a negative comment on.

    There are good, positive ways to encourage hostility to the state and encourage freedom. For instance, rather than oppose state subsidies for the arts because it involves theft from taxpayers (although it does), we should focus on the fact that subsidies produce crap art and we favour better art paid for freely. And so on.

  • Flash Gordon

    The real objection to libertarianism by most people is libertarians’ support for, nay demand for, open borders, complete legalization of drugs, gay marriage, etc., and their practice of syphoning off just enough conservative votes in elections to put liberals in power.

    Arizona and Kansas each have liberal democrat governors, who support nothing that libertarians want, and they were put in place by the libertarian party.

    With only a small amount of flex in the libertarian brain they would have most conservatives solidly on their side. But mental rigidity is a hallmark of libertarianism.

  • Alisa,

    Moreover, they see the existence of charities as a symptom of the failure of the state to provide its citizens with all their needs, and therefore shameful.

    I’ve also noticed the scorn heaped on private philanthropists (fondly dubbed “oligarchs”).
    The lefties hate private charity because it undermines the welfare business that the lefties have cornered, which they view as their private exclusive domain and stepping stone to power. Exploiting the poor, under cover of “helping” them is the main road of the lefties to political power (and to private careers).
    The welfare industry is a big industry and the lefties hate the competition of private charities.
    So “welfare” – beside being an ideology, is power, politics, and economics. That’s why the lefties try very hard to spread the idea that without lefties in government there would be no welfare.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Flash, I hate to break it to you, but when libertarian-leaning people vote, you might want to ask yourself if their number one priority is to keep the Republican Party, of the high-spending, regulating, Big Govt. Mr Bush in power. Or to vote for a party that has embarked, however understandably, on immensely expensive foreign wars; or practised protectionism (steel tariffs). Or for that matter, elect UK Tories who have not the stones to argue for tax cuts of any real significance and pull us away from the EU superstate.

  • RRS

    Gregory seems to be on to the basics of differentiations in views of others (the “thinking” as well as the reactive) concerning the principal commonalities identified as “Libertarian” thought.

    It does turn on obligations and not exercise of “rights.” It turns on the Deontics (inate sense of “oughtness’).

    Amongst people who would be identified as Libertarian there is probably no higher degree of commonality of the recognition and acceptance of particular obligations (and of their sources), than amongst the rest of a particular social order (society). The converse is also true, in that the “rest” have no higher such degree than do “Libertarians.”

    It is that converse which is not generally understood. Why not?

    Amongst libertarians there is a greater commonality as to how obligations (once recognized and accepted, individualy) should be met and performed; and, where the performance of different obligations conflict (as they inevitably do), how those conflicts should be resolved.

    Libertarians are seen as opposing certain collective modes of the performance of obligations; i.e., via governments (particularly those established for limited functions). Libertarians are seen as opposed to certain collective modes of setting the priorities of obligations, and to collective modes of resolving the inescapable conflicts in their performance.

    It is those latter perceptions that are taken as “denials” of obligations, and as rejections of priorities, and refusal to seek or accept resolutions of conflicts.

    Those latter perceptions are enhanced amongst those who are more “comfortable” in avoiding the personal, individual impact of dealing with obligations. This also occurs on a larger scale when a sufficient unit of the social order feels that external circumstances have made dealing with their obligations impossible (or grossly inadequate); such as occurred widely during the Great Depression.

    One of the great appeals of “Socialism” is relief from direct personal “burdens” of the obligations that exists in a social order.

    The other differentiation is the libertarian sense that those obligations which run from each individual person, take priority over the obligations of those that run to that person.

    Even if phrased a bit idealistically, those are probably the major Deontics of Libertarianism – if it is in fact an “ism.”

  • Ian B

    With only a small amount of flex in the libertarian brain they would have most conservatives solidly on their side.

    What you seem to mean there is that if libertarians were to become conservatives, then conservatives would agree with them. Well, duh.

    Libertarianism != conservatism, and conservative obessions like the futile “war on drugs” are part of the social chaos created by statism that libertarians want to address.

    Basically, what you’re saying here is similar to saying that Christians would get atheists on their side if they’d stop with all the stuff about Jesus and God.

  • Ian B

    I often find that when I put up a post that has an optimistic slant on it, it often generates far more rage on the comments from the Eyeores out there than if I put a negative comment on.

    Johnathan, as one of the Eyeores myself, that tends to be because I feel that in some respects the more cheery posts underestimate the height of the mountain we have to climb (or the depth of the hole we’re in). 🙂

  • toolkien

    Libertarianism, in its proper context, should be about being disinterested, and when a person IS perfectly interested and disinterested in the right proportion (i.e. a sensible balance between selfishness and selflessness), they have little desire to inflict force on anyone, and is reserved for defensive purposes only. Desiring to refrain from coercion is only half the battle, not trying to fight fights that are not yours to fight is necessary beforehand.

    As for “letting people starve in the streets”, the answer is – perhaps. Involved in all of this is the oversimplification of the result, without asking WHY people are starving in the streets, and IF it is due to their own behavior, and deciding lucidly what interest I have in the matter, subsidy can certainly be made as long as there is the demonstration of a change in behavior. Miscalculating proper interest and not requiring behavioral change only subsidizes the problem.

    A slightly worse scenario is when a group contrives an interest in the matter and becomes zealous enough to coerce property from other people for the subsidy and require no behavioral change. And, then, only worse when they DO demand behavioral change based on their own set of morals. And I guess that is it in a nutshell about coerced subsidy, it either requires no behavioral change and only makes a bad situation worse, or does require some behavioral change but it is based on the coercer’s moral code and not the coercee, which can lead to the worst scenario of all.

    Basically Libertarians should pound the notion that coercion cancels out freedom, productivity, diversity, morality, and independence. It is likely that it was prior coercions and the resulting misallocations of resources and production that led to much of the starvation in the first place, more of the same is not a solution.

  • Kevin B

    Jonathan

    As a small g conservative with no natural party to vote for, I’m probably a reasonably easy vote to attract to a libertarian party. (If there was such a thing.)

    There are, however, a couple of problems I will need reassurance on.

    I’ve paid into the government ponzi pension scheme all my working life and I am rapidly approaching the point when I will be seeking to get a bit of it back. Of course I have made my own arrangements for a happy retirement but the few quid a week I’ll get back from my ‘investment’ in the state pension might make the difference between a game or two of golf a week, while I can still limp round the fairways, and rotting in front of Sky Sports News. And when I get too frail to drive, you will have to pry my free bus pass from my cold dead hands.

    Similarly, whilst I have the wonders of private medicine while I still have a job, the day I retire I will have to fall back on the NHS. Again, the state has stolen a large amount of my wages through the years to pay for it and, fortunately, I have not had to claim much relief so far. As I age, that state of affairs will likely change for the worse.

    In other words, to attract me away from the welfare state, you will have to convince me that charity will more than make up for the loss, or you will have to have a clear set of policies to wean me off the government teat.

    I read this blog daily, and comment occasionally, and whilst I agree with much of the interesting and stimulating debate I see here, I sometimes get the impression that libetarians, or perhaps Libertarians, share one of the major faults of the socialists. Belief in the perfectability of man. The belief that if only everyone lived as we prescribe, everything in the garden would be lovely.

    They won’t. And it won’t.

    Yes, the way to greater prosperity lies through smaller, less intrusive, government, but people are still people and they will still find ways to bollix things up.

  • Ian B

    Kevin B eloquently describes above the other reason we can’t, and shouldn’t, just snatch away the welfare state. It’s important, vitally important, to remember the difference between “how things ought to be” and “how to get [some of the way] there from where we are”. People who’ve had near enough half their income for most of their lives (that’s everybody then, pretty much) snatched by the state quite reasonably expect something back at the end of it. That’s a commitment that Libertarians must face up to honouring.

  • Jake

    I find it quite ironic that my iPod chose to play “Anarchy in the UK” while I read this thread.

    Don’t worry; I know the distinction…

  • toolkien

    That’s a commitment that Libertarians must face up to honouring.

    And then what about the last layer of the ponzi scheme? Someone has to lose, don’t they? Should layer X be rewarded for their lack of vision of intestinal fortitude to fight by bashing generation X+1 the same way?

    The answer isn’t adding another layer to the intergenerational ponzi scheme, but to assess those who benefitted most in the existing generations about to collect. The wealthiest class in the US are 55+, and those are the ones about to cash in. Keep the transfer scheme within that generation. The Boomers have used up the equity handed to them by their parents, used up their own equity and mortgaged the future already (at least in terms of the State till), dumping the cost of their hip replacements on top of the next generation to boot is triple dipping. It would make more sense to assess the wealthiest generation for its own costs and leave less as inheritance versus taxing the labor of people who will never see a dime in 25+ years when the system gives out.

  • permanentexpat

    Ian B…particularly @3:42…well put indeed. That the Welfare State should be the last hurdle on our race (?) to freedom is particularly pertinent.
    Should the Conservatives get into gumment, and can summon up sufficient testosterone, they should remove statism by the same means as it was imposed on us over the years… by stealth & graduality…by the bye, the EU is consuming what’s left of us by the same means as Socialism. (Sorry! that’s who they are of course.)
    Yes, I’m an Eyeore too…one problem is that few gumments remain long enough in power to (gradually) reverse the mountains of crippling socialist legislation. There have already been no fewer than three Labour-won elections to cement & embellish the Nanny State and, with the employment of more thousands of folk who answered ads in The Graundian, the number of those whose sinecures would be trashed by a Conservative win is monumental & depressing.
    It will be far, far easier to rid ourselves of the EU than to cure our domestic ills.

    A poster asked about a Libertarian Party; see:

    http://lpuk.org/ and http://devilskitchen.me.uk/

  • Matt

    “We have an NHS, the USA doesn’t. Hence lurid tales of paramedics going through patients pockets looking for credit cards and if they don’t find a platinum one they just drive round the block until the patient dies.”

    That strikes me as particularly funny in light of the fact that my brother-in-law is a firefighter and sometime ambulance crewman in Washington, D.C. They constantly receive calls from good Samaritans who find “dying” (dead drunk or drugged) homeless people in the bushes or the gutter. The medics dutifully transport these folks to hospitals, where they sober up, are treated — if there’s anything genuinely wrong — and are eventually released to repeat the cycle.

    This process drives my brother-in-law utterly insane.

  • Well, damn me! I adhere to the Randian quote: “If you want to help them, you will not be stopped.”

    This doesn’t mean that I won’t help anyone–it does mean that I will help an individual who’s in dire straits, but who would seize the reins if he could but reach them.

    I have no sympathy for the individual who could get help, but will not get up off his ass go over to where help is.

  • permanentexpat

    Smitten again!………it’s becoming a habit.

  • Matt

    Woops; I’m afraid I left an incomplete sentence in that last post. Sorry.

  • Hugo

    It seems to me that this is the a question of fact, not opinion. As such, we need some evidence.

    It may be the case that private charity will provide more than the welfare state. It may be the case that it will provide less. A socialist might say, ‘yes, private charity provides for a lot of people, but we can’t guarantee it will provide for everyone’. (Ignoring that the welfare state might not provide for everyone either, and/or ignoring the quality of provision.)

    Have we got any reasons to suppose that private charity will be more successful than the welfare state? (You can choose whether or not to take into account that private charity does not disincentivise earning.)

    Other libertarians might say it doesn’t matter: libertarianism is morally superior. Even if private charity provides less than a welfare state, people don’t have any right to be provided for.
    But you’d have a hard time winning over someone who thought it was more important morally to “provide” for everyone.

    Someone linked to Garner’s article at http://www.individualist.org.uk/pdf/2008aprilindiv.pdf
    And the above comments about historical charity are good.

  • To compel charity at the muzzle of a gun is not charitable at all. And further flushing it through an inefficient, often corrupt and politically motiviated bureaucracy to do some populist politician’s or some bureaucrat’s definition of ‘good’ is utter lunacy.

    People by and large are giving. When the government steals our earnings; they steal our labor; and they steal our ability to be charitable ourselves.

    As in all cases where a society has a positive work/reward cycle, the person who invested the imagination, trouble, time, work and risk to earn the money is the one to best decide how to dispose of it.

  • Hugo

    I could have made my point clearer:
    When I asked my question, I was wondering if there was a knock-down argument which demonstrated that private charity would inevitably be better than any welfare state.
    It seems that there isn’t, and the only thing that will/does tell us whether it is better is experience.

  • Systems Engineering 101

    Any transition plan to a better future has two non negotiable components. First, an As Built statement of where we are. Second, a To Be statement of where we want to end up. Then, and only then, can you start to develop a Transition Plan to get you from the As Built world to the To Be world. Since we are unlikely to get a reasonable agreement on either of these worlds, I struggle to see how any implmentable Transition Plan is possible, much less practical. Of course, part of the problem may be that no credit or blame is inherently part of either of these statements.

  • Toolkein,

    If your idea of cashing in is a miserable stipend of about $1500 monthly, after having been taxed throughout your working life at a rate that, if invested privately with moderate acumen, would’ve yielded millions by now, then I guess I’m about to cash in.

    Reality is, Americans who do nothing and depend on their Socialist Security for their final couple of decades, will live very spartan lives indeed. SS is a ponzi scheme, but the losers are all of us in every generation, and the winners are the thieving bastards who set up and perpetuate this farce.

    I’m not going to give up the tens of thousands of dollars that I’ve pumped into this system over the past few decades, but I’ve always recommended that everyone save and invest (hard as it is to do under the confiscatory taxation that accompanies the War on Productivity) for a more comfortable future.

  • 8

    The problem for libertarians is not that the state has destroyed most charity. It’s that they don’t strike anyone as charitable.

    To restate what some others have said: if libertarianism ever becomes successful, it will probably be under the appellation of Christian libertarianism. People want the services provided by government, therefore in order to take government out, it will have to be done by people who provide the services. I suggest libertarians make a major outreach effort and explain to the Catholic Church how their influence can double and triple in a world dominated by Catholic charities and Catholic schools.

    Liberals dominate the state. Reduce the state and conservative society will gain power. America pre-1932 was very conservative (even having prohibition!), but the government was very small. Simply put, libertarians are a cultural/political minority. Conservatives will meet you halfway. I think the best bet is to reduce the government to the point where social nonconformity cannot be systematically punished and support a system of tolerance in government, but understand it will probably come with a high social cost.

  • Matthew Hooper

    Given all this, a society in which every able-bodied person had to work if they had no private income, and where the rise in wealth would be great because of a free market system, is likely to be one in which there would be plenty of people willing to give to charity to help out the infirm, the handicapped, and so on.

    …from each according to their nature?

    It always amazes me that communism and libertarianism are, deep under the skin, both wedded to the same fundamental conceit – that all men and women, if freed from the burden of either unjust laws or economic systems, are fundamentally charitable to their fellow man. Heck, the difference between the “perfect” libertarian state and a Marx’s Socialist utopia – and the Garden of Eden, for that matter – are darn hard to discern. Except from the fact that mankind can never enter any of them.

    It still hasn’t dawned on the righteous Libertarians that there’s a reason that libertarianism attracts such odious characters like Ron Paul and his racist friends. It’s because they like the idea of a world without laws. That lets them say and do all the awful things they really want said and done.

    As long as the world has Somalia as an example, the concept of a state without restrictions on its citizens is stillborn. And if we can ever stop dreaming that people are swell enough to rebuild the garden of Eden if The Man would get out the way, then maybe we could actually start talking about governmental systems that aren’t fantasies.

  • Richard Cook

    Libertarianism is a non starter in the US. They have been defined as crackpots and the advocates of “survival of the fittest” and that does not play too well. The chance will be when the entitlements have sucked the money out and we literally cannot fund them. Ron who?

  • Laird

    Ian B made a comment fairly early in this thread which I cannot allow to pass unremarked: “Charity generally arrives with strings attached. People reasonably don’t like that idea.” From the context I think it is fairly clear that he views this is a justification for state-run “charity.” It is not.

    Attaching “strings” to charity is an essential component of it; people have to conform to the wishes of the benefactor in order to receive the charity. “Liking it” is irrelevant. There are alternatives: simply reject the charity, or seek alms from some other source whose terms you find more appealing. The lack of “strings” creates a sense of entitlement, and that is the last thing anyone on the dole should feel. This is one of the most important reasons why governmental “charity” is the most pernicious sort. Its beneficiaries come to believe (and apparently Mr. B agrees) that it is their due, rather than a gift from generous neighbors sympathetic to their plight. In other words, theft by proxy.

    Incidentally, I put the word “charity” in quotations when conjoined with “government” because there is no true charity involved in taking money from one group of people to give to another. One can only be “charitable” with one’s own assets.

  • Ian B

    America pre-1932 was very conservative (even having prohibition!)

    Depends how you define conservative. The left as we know them today are descended from various sources; communism is one, but another is the christian socialist movement, or the social gospel as it was called in the US. Prohibition was a social gospelist creation. Those christians of the Anti-Saloon League at al were also dabblers in all manner of authoritarian social reform and part of the melting pot of the socialist states we now live in. They were the christian left, not the christian right (as we would term them today). Socialists, not conservatives.

    Dig back into the history of socialism and you find the same characters all over the world, various forms of social gospelists, for instance here in Britain the early Labour Party was very strongly connected with Scottish Methodism. Gordon “Son Of The Manse” Brown is a fine example.

    Ask yourself who is making the most noise about alcohol at the moment. It’s the Left. Indeed, the communists at the World Health Organisation have just announed a supranationalist desire to stick it to drinkers as fiercely as they have to smokers. Social prohibitions are generally the tool of the Left, not conservatives as such, who really only want to ban tits and bums on the telly. And pooves.

  • EarlW

    Libertarians have to start with a positive statement. Instead of “Libertarians don’t believe people should be forced to provide for others”, it can be stated as “Libertarians believe that everyone is free to help others”.

    The slogan “Be free to help” would be a good start. It starts with freedom and does not state who is being helped. It could be yourself, your family or any other person you choose to help…

  • Ian B

    Laird, you’ve just expressed the attitude that makes Libertarianism so difficult to sell. Simply put, many people look at it that when fabulously rich bankers fuck up the economy, again, with the aid of their friends in the government, again, and the average bloke is left standing in line at a soup kitchen, because the said politicos and their cronies turned a small recession into a fabulous depression, they’d prefer not to have to sing a hymn and promise to love the baby Jebus just to get their watery soup.

    I’m not saying that that justifies state charity. I’m as keen to get away from the welfare state as anyone else. But I’m saying that we do not currently live in a libertarian society- our society is as far removed as can be from that, and the people who have suffered most from the 20th century state planning disaster are the people most likely to need free soup. But don’t believe me. Go read Mises’ explanation of how punting inflating fiat into the top of the economy fucks up the people lower down the food chain.

    So I reiterate my early point. Libertarians seem, to me, to be too keen to concentrate on beating the lower classes into work with sticks. I believe we should be more focussed on the big juicy carrot of a thriving free market economy, a genuinely free market brimful with economic opportunity that will steadily reduce the demand for charity or welfare, just as, for example, I’m more interested in African economies becoming successful than in discussing what sort of charity to give to that continent.

    We need, as Libertarians, to talk about the prosperity that Libertarianism will offer. If we can’t be confident of that, we may as well just pack up and go home. People aren’t interested in being charity cases. Discussing replacing welfare with charity is the wrong discussion. We seek to replace welfare with wealth.

    Don’t we?

  • Julian Taylor

    in the UK there are people that are convinced that in the US poor people are left to die on the streets

    Unfortunately in the UK there are far too many people who will quite happily go and see the latest Michael Moore movie without even considering how truthful or relevant it actually is and, unfortunately, some of them are even pig-ignorant Tories.

    I stopped trusting that the British political class had any real knowledge of other lands’ politics a long time ago; ever since hearing how authoritative a certain Tory shadow cabinet member (not unknown to Mr Dodge I might add) was on US politics, which solely extended to his own personal financial gain from both Republican and Democrat stalwarts.

  • Howee

    As others have mentioned, too often too many (often self-appointed/self-annointed) spokespersons for libertarianism (read: the LP) speak in absolutes, fail to grasp the political and social realities of incremental change. They often alienate those who might otherwise seek to work with them (and vice versa) because they deem “incrementalists” to be sell-outs.

    Succinctly: re, libertarianism, too often it is not the message but the messengers that is/are suspect.

  • Steve Williams

    I’ve punched the ticket for Libertarians, but only once, in a pinch. I’m a libertarian leaning Republican. My vote this year will be for local and national Republicans, except possibly for president. My main contention, however, with the Libertarians is that they ‘major on minors.’ I hear so much about legalizing marijuana and other social libertarian issues, rather than realistic articulations of how to limit and roll back govt in higher profile spheres. As a result, they come across as out of touch with reality… hows ’bout a little realpolitik from the Libertarians. Start with defining what essential to maintain the state’s sovereignty, for example, rather than what is not the state’s prerogative.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I’ve only anecdotal evidence for this, but I’ve noticed that people from socialist/communist countries are amongst the most selfish in the world. They hoard greedily what they do have, and to heck with other people; it’s the state’s problem, not theirs.

  • Barnacle Bill

    Really, what is a libertarian? I think that’s the problem in getting over the hump.

    Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit calls himself a libertarian. He supports drug legalization and gay marriage. He also supports the War on Terror including the war efforts in Iraq & Iran, The Surge, etc… Best I can tell, he’s not in favor of open, uncontrolled immigration.

    Then you have L. Neal Smith, science fiction author & self-described libertarian. On the “Libertarian Enterpise” site he edits, you see the following prominently displayed…

    AMERICA IN CHAINS

    DAY 525
    SINCE DEMOCRATS
    IN POWER
    FAILED TO:

    END THE ILLEGAL
    WARS IN
    AFGHANISTAN
    AND IRAQ

    REPEAL THE
    UNCONSTITUTIONAL
    PATRIOT ACT

    ABOLISH THE FASCIST
    DEPARTMENT OF
    HOMELAND SECURITY

    RESTORE THE
    BILL OF RIGHTS

    So, who’s really the voice of libertarianism?

  • Ian B

    Well, it’s understandable that wars and immigration would be controversial among libertarians. Libertarianism basically describes a particular view of the relationship between citizen and state. Wars and immigration are both externalities to that state/citizen system so the philosophy itself can’t directly handle them. That doesn’t of course mean that libertarians can’t have views on those issues- we all do I’m sure- but you can have any view you like and still be a libertarian. War and migration both are issues regarding how the state interacts with non-citizens. You can’t apply any political system beyond the boundaries of the jurisdiction to which it applies.

  • rezzrovv

    It is my belief that the greatest sin a government can inflict on its constituents is to strip said constituents of the need for altruism. And though we can often see the need, it has become the obvious venue of the state to supply it and that is wrong.

  • Seerak

    “The question is not whether one should or should not give a dime to a beggar; the question is whether or not you have the moral right to exist *without* giving him that dime.”

    I’m paraphrasing, but the source of that quote should be clear.

    Until you can explain to people why they should regard altruism as morally optional and freedom as morally imperative instead of the other way around, the “you’ll let people starve in the streets” charge will *always* keep libertarians on the fringe.

  • Laird

    Ian B, with respect to your post in response to my last one, I agree with almost everything in it (well, except for your gratuitous use of vulgarity, which detracts from your writing; that’s a bad trait which is generally indicative of sloppy thinking, low intelligence and/or laziness, and is a particular peeve of mine; but I digress). Apparently I misinterpreted your comment about “strings attached” as being a criticism of private charity, for which I apologize. I’m totally with you on eliminating corporate welfare, reducing government, developing a truly free market, etc., etc., and you’re probably correct that we need to make a lot more progress in those areas before we will have any chance of eliminating the welfare state. The only reason we’re even having this discussion is that Johnathan’s original post specifically addressed the concept of private charity versus government welfare, and I was trying to stay on topic.

    And on that topic, I have long argued that government “charity” is the worst possible form. It necessarily employs a “one size fits all” approach, rather than tailoring it to the specific needs of the recipient (government must of course treat everyone exactly alike); it fosters a sense of entitlement in the recipients; it reduces not only private philanthropy but also individual volunteerism, as people come to feel that “I gave through the income tax”; this leads to even greater demands upon, and the continual growth of, governmental involvement in social services, and to larger government in general; and it lends itself perfectly to political mischief by pandering politicians. Nothing good comes of it.

  • Barnacle Bill

    Well, it’s understandable that wars and immigration would be controversial among libertarians. Libertarianism basically describes a particular view of the relationship between citizen and state. Wars and immigration are both externalities to that state/citizen system so the philosophy itself can’t directly handle them. That doesn’t of course mean that libertarians can’t have views on those issues- we all do I’m sure- but you can have any view you like and still be a libertarian. War and migration both are issues regarding how the state interacts with non-citizens. You can’t apply any political system beyond the boundaries of the jurisdiction to which it applies.

    But nevertheless a problem for people on the outside of that philosophy looking in. Non-libertarians have a great deal of passion for these issues. A Jacksonian such as myself would find Glenn Reynolds attractive. A Kossack would no doubt find L. Neal Smith more persuasive. A Jacksonian who first encounters “libertarianism” in Smith, or vice versa, is going to tend to dismiss anybody who comes along in the future branded as “libertarian”.

  • Barnacle Bill,

    I don’t think there is nor ought to be a “spokesman” for libertarianisn. Libertarians are individuals, and as such, eschew “leaders.”

    I don’t know Glen Reynolds, but if he is a libertarian (I believe he is, from hearsay), his views would be more properly expressed as not “supporting” drug legalization and gay marriage, but rather that government has no role in involving itself in either.

    I have a deep respect for L Neil Smith, thoroughly enjoy his novels and essays, and have had interesting conversations with him on a couple of occasions. His definition of a libertarian is one who never initiates force nor advocates its use.

    My site also carries the “America in Chains” icon.

    My addendum, and one I’m sure Mr Smith approves, is that part and parcel of the above, one retains the right to defend himself, his family and his property from those who do.

  • Mart

    I love the intelligent discussions here, but I almost always conclude that “it’s all over bar the shouting” – and this is akin to the “shouting”.

    “Great Britain” is long lost, and exists only in your imagination. All you have now is a bitterly cynical bunch of people both left and right (and more rightfully so, libertarian), suffering the same symptoms any socialist society does.

    Socialism is the worst invention in history – worse even than religion – and you choose to stay there and wallow in it. Leave the damn place for your own sanity if you believe so strongly in liberty! At least here in the States they’ve heard of that word. Vote with your feet!

  • Joshua (a different one)

    If the blogosphere had a Hall of Fame, Mr. Pearce’s post and the ensuing discussion above should have been voted in on the first ballot. This ranks right up there with “Why Isn’t Socialism Dead?” as required reading (so to speak, of course) for anyone with even a streak of libertarianism in them. Bravo and cheers to all.

  • First to agree with Joshua above: this is a very good post and a very important point.

    One point is that to the extent that there are any people who think the poor should starve in the streets (and there are a few), they will be found as allies or supporters of Libertarians. Because other movements do not demand freedom to anything like the extent we do, they are confused by a political grouping which agrees about freedom but disagrees about what they each want to do with it.

    Another is that because we oppose state redistribution as a matter of principle, we perhaps overemphasize it against questions which are more difficult but more important. Others have made the point above: while we would generally take a large chunk out of the welfare state straight off the bat, and would envisage a future in which it didn’t exist, once we had taken off that chunk there would be many more important (and incidentally more popular) changes we would want to make than chipping away at the rest.

    Again, this is a vital subject, I have expanded my remarks somewhat on my blog

  • When I asked my question, I was wondering if there was a knock-down argument which demonstrated that private charity would inevitably be better than any welfare state.

    This discussion concentrates on the issue of charity, but in doing so implicitly adopts the socialist meta-context which makes charity or the well being of the poor the main issue facing us as individuals or as a society.

    That is not the main issue. We should reject framing the debate in this way. The main issue is the pursuit of happiness. The most important thing is to leave people free, to attain the best they can, which all people want. The main issue is how to produce, how to create the framework where the productive creativity of people is unleashed.
    (That’s what Ian B said). How to achieve ever greater prosperity, in a free society.

    The problem of the poor is a side issue. The poor are not all of the society, as the lefties want us to believe. They are a small minority, and they should not dictate the social order, they are not important. The great majority of productive, happiness seeking, working people are more important, they should not be subjugated and sacrificed to the imaginary needs of the “poor”.

    And, in the end, in this free and prosperous society, the poor fare much much better than in the socialist society. First – they don’t stay poor, as “poor” is mostly a transitional state and in an opportunity rich society the poor get rich. Second: the “poor” in a capitalist society, like the US, have cars and TVs, and cell phones, and suffer from obesity – a state the middle class in a socialist society can only dream about.

  • If somebody asked me if I’d leave the poor to die in the streets, my response is: “Would YOU? Why don’t YOU do something about it? What is stopping YOU doing something in a Libertarian country from dipping into YOUR pocket and spending YOUR money on something YOU want sorted? Nobody would stop you. Go ahead. If you think so many people agree then many will fund you, then the poor will have no problems.”

    Even those who say “what about the poor” tend to want it sorted using Other Peoples’ Money. The welfare state is an abdication of responsibility both in terms of oneself and of one’s fellow Man. It is a lazy way out, one that avoids guilt, nay, can be used to fabricate the pretence of “caring” when all it does is enshrine obligations upon others without consent.

  • Matthew Hooper (April 18, 2008 10:57 PM) is presumably a socialist and certainly displays an authoritarian desire to compel all and sundry to behave as he judges fit. Clearly he has no real understanding of, or is deliberately distorting, what libertarian thinking is actually all about. At it’s bedrock it’s against authoritarianism and coercion.

    Re the State. I agree the ideal would be to consistently reduce it to a reasonable size and limit it’s grasping control over the population over a few decades and eventually limit it in what it has control over to providing things like a fair and consistently administered legal system. One can’t help but note that if the state had actually invested the money it ostensibly takes to cover pensions as a pension fund would we could all expect to receive considerably more than the actual state hand out. One suspects that the same applies to what we contribute to the NHS.

    As for slogans. Positives; Libertarians don’t tell you how to live your lives. They don’t force you to Live how they say you will. Freedom from the Nanny State, protecting our civil rights and liberties The right to decide what we spend our own money on. The freedom to be able to take responsibility for ourselves.

    Immigration is more of an issue for the socialist/fascist welfare state. Immigration is a dual problem to systems designed to function in isolation without and external input or drain like the welfare state and the NHS is much less of a problem. Firstly because of possible strains imposed by funds being used by additional people who have not contributed to the system and secondly because the of the feedback that benefits associated with the system may attract others to take advantage of it in preference to elsewhere.

    Generally Libertarians don’t see a problem with immigration, especially outside of a welfare system, until it reaches the point of an invasion and it would generally be unlikely to do so. From the Libertarian point of view if a person wishes to move to another area or country and can afford to support themselves and respect other peoples rights over themselves and their property then where is the problem?

    Just so so-called gay marriage. If two consenting individuals choose to live together and contract to do so then that is their business. Their sex is irrelevant.

    Concerning charity and helping one another. It makes sense to help others, if for no other reason than on the grounds that others are more likely to help us in turn, fostering a social habit of doing so is generally in everyone’s best interests. People do tend to be willing to do so when left with resources to do so and when not coerced out of them to the point where they are unwilling to give any more. Again it is authoritarian socialism/fascism that has to take such contributions by force.

    Unlike them Libertarianism actually tends to have a relatively optimistic view of people.

  • toolkien

    Toolkein,

    If your idea of cashing in is a miserable stipend of about $1500 monthly, after having been taxed throughout your working life at a rate that, if invested privately with moderate acumen, would’ve yielded millions by now, then I guess I’m about to cash in.

    Reality is, Americans who do nothing and depend on their Socialist Security for their final couple of decades, will live very spartan lives indeed. SS is a ponzi scheme, but the losers are all of us in every generation, and the winners are the thieving bastards who set up and perpetuate this farce.

    I’m not going to give up the tens of thousands of dollars that I’ve pumped into this system over the past few decades, but I’ve always recommended that everyone save and invest (hard as it is to do under the confiscatory taxation that accompanies the War on Productivity) for a more comfortable future.

    I certainly agree it is a Ponzi scheme, but my point was counter to Ian B.’s that we have to make good to this generation. How? The libertarian answer shouldn’t be to add another generation to the scheme which is about the only answer. The money doesn’t come from nowhere. At this point there are two choices, take the Boomer Bang impact from Generation X and Y’s labor or take it from the Boomer Generation itself, which is far from being paupers, it’s the most well heeled lot we have, at least here in the US. THEY are the beneficiaries of the State thuggery. THEY are the ones who used up the net equity handed to them by their parents, THEY are the ones who ran up a $10 TRILLION cash basis debt passed on to the next generation, and we’re supposed to pay for all their hip replacements and heart surgeries too while their equity remains salted away?

    I agree that there may be many whose ability to care for themselves in their post productive years due to taxation, but the cure is not to assess yet another generation who themselves will put in the same spot. The idea is then to assess the Boomers who have payed too little, at least in terms of the transfers slated to be made. Either that or rethink the whole transfer scheme in general. But DON’T force another generation to hold the empty bag.

    ——————————————————-

    It seems to me that this is the a question of fact, not opinion. As such, we need some evidence.

    It may be the case that private charity will provide more than the welfare state. It may be the case that it will provide less. A socialist might say, ‘yes, private charity provides for a lot of people, but we can’t guarantee it will provide for everyone’. (Ignoring that the welfare state might not provide for everyone either, and/or ignoring the quality of provision.)

    Have we got any reasons to suppose that private charity will be more successful than the welfare state? (You can choose whether or not to take into account that private charity does not disincentivise earning.)

    Other libertarians might say it doesn’t matter: libertarianism is morally superior. Even if private charity provides less than a welfare state, people don’t have any right to be provided for.
    But you’d have a hard time winning over someone who thought it was more important morally to “provide” for everyone.

    It is impossible to know which would be better since we don’t have a pure system of either. We have forced transfer AND voluntary giving. Anyway, with definitions of what a need is and what a want is, no perfect definition of what being in need is can possibly be found on a collective basis. Value judgements are strictly an individual enterprise, which is perhaps why it should be left to the individual to decide how to part with the benefits of their labor.

    AS for libertarianism being “morally superior” this is too much to take. I think it takes a lot more brass balls to coerce someone, use force or the threat thereof to walk off with ~50% of their equity on an annual basis, and I am telling them to stop, or least think about it, and I have the finger pointed at me and accused of being morally superior? Excuse me for wanting to protect my labor and equity.

    Libertarianism isn’t morally superior in and of itself. It merely allows for an individual to live their life in a manner they see fit, based on THEIR OWN moral code. I may not like it. I may not like the behaviors it leads to, but until I am forced to become interested in what they do I won’t inflict force upon them. It is morally disinterested in what other people do until behaviors begin to destroy others equity. Then defensive force is rightly used.

    I guess that’s it in a nutshell for those who “who thought it was more important morally to “provide” for everyone”. The too often forget that their mission to provide for everyone only becomes efficacious by first using force. They always seem to forget that part, and begin to look upon the State as an endless cornucopia and the only reason people are even in want is because some people control it merely for the pleasure of seeing people starve instead of the reality that there is economic scarcity, and allocations will always be imperfect. But that the best allocations come from a free market, the economic embodiment of that same individually diverse moral clearing house spoken about before.

  • ian

    What is remarkable about this discussion is that in general it has kept to the point and not been diverted – as lets face it happens to most discussions here – by rants and raves about socialists, greens and other assorted bete noire

    A similar but much less extensive discussion has taken place on the Libertarian Alliance blog (the one with Sean Gabb). My comment there was to the effect that generally libertarians seem to lack any real will to consider how a libertarian society might be brought into being. Even if your goal is to reduce the power of the state you cannot do that without political action. Unless you are of a revolutionary bent, that means getting involved. You can’t stand outside the system tut-tutting about how appalling it all is.

  • toolkien

    Unless you are of a revolutionary bent, that means getting involved

    I pay a composite 46% of my income in taxes. There is a $53 trillion accrual basis debt in the US of which my per capita portion is $440,000, and I deem the pro-rata share is nearly $800,000. The only way that the unfunded transfers so far described get paid is my composite taxes sailing past 60%, at which time I plan on fighting.

    There is still a sliver of time left to dismantle this socialist explosion. Do I “get involved” by turning out every four years to a gymnasium or civic center and fill in a dot for Statist A or Statist B, or do I run for office and fight a quixotic fight like Ron Paul? It would seem the only thing I can do is hit the internet and plead with people to open their eyes to the massive misallocation of resources we are burdened with. Joining the third who see no other way than to bash people over the head doesn’t seem to be much of an answer.

    I guess what I am saying is that so many mainstays and strays who come here don’t seem to gather that we are revving on the red line. The time for debating whether Statist A’s plan for increasing taxes 2% or Statist B’s plan to reduce taxes 2%, while both leaving unfunded transfers unattended or add yet even more to the pile (a la Medicare Part D a few years back), is nearly over. I supported Paul until it became useless to, and the only other blow I can peacefully strike at the empire is not bothering to vote at all. The only peaceful remedy I have at this point is to write and talk with whomever will listen, even if it means I am fobbed off as that “doom and gloom putz”.

    I have also had a period where I was acquainted with many in my State government, playing poker with some Assemblymen and aides (my college roommate is an State Assemblymen even yet – an Anti-Wal Mart Republican – how am I supposed to make any headway there?) But that is only the State level and obviously the much smaller fish to fry. I have no personal ties at the Federal level. So what to do?

    Are there any suggestions as to how to get involved that I am missing?

    And hopefully is still on topic, the question really being how do you stop people who so casually resort to force without desiring to use force yourself, unless you absolutely have to? How do you get involved without joining that which you will not tolerate? How do you peacefully dismantle not only the State, but the mentality that leads to it – the mentality that you have to prove to those who are bashing you over the head with a hammer for half your stuff that maybe you have a plan that has to prove out to be just as good without bashing people over the head, meanwhile “I’ll just continue to bash away until you do – and don’t be snotty and morally superior when you trot out your proofs”? To libertarians the State was hijacked long ago by progressivist zealots, and trying to dissuade them from bashing you over the head is like trying to change someones religion. THEY fight tooth and nail to maintain their beliefs AND the righteous use of force innate to their cause.

    Libertarians don’t ride outside of the system by choice, it is the system itself that is anethma to freedom.

  • Barnacle Bill

    Col. Hogan:

    I don’t think there is nor ought to be a “spokesman” for libertarianisn. Libertarians are individuals, and as such, eschew “leaders.”

    However, “getting over the hump” would imply selling the idea to people who are not currently libertarians by anybody’s definition. To such, what “libertarian” means in terms of current issues as well as their overall tone is going to make a huge difference.

    BTW, I enjoy L. Neal Smith’s novels myself, and would be glad to live in a society such as he describes. I just don’t see how we get there from here short of colonizing another planet (and in fact none of the libertarian societies decribed in the several novels I’ve read originate via transformation of an existing complex established industrial or post-industrial society such as contemporary America, so I’m not altogether sure Mr. Smith has a journey map, either). Meanwhile, back in the real world, slogans that would be just as at home on the Daily Kos are more vinegar than honey to this fly. On the other hand, I read Instapundit daily and would certainly vote for Reynolds over any of the current offerings from the two major parties.

    At a time when people like me might be dissastified with the majors, the practical definition of libertarianism might become more than academic.

  • ian

    toolkien

    You are missing my point – or more probably I haven’t made myself clear. As Barnacle Bill above says, we need a map of the route from ‘here’ to ‘there’, even if it is sketchy.

    Unless we have such a map, getting over the hump will be well nigh impossible, because the people who need to be convinced will continue to believe that libertarianism involves abolition of the entire welfare state overnight with no alternative arrangements in place. If we want to see what might happen in that event, we only need to look at post Soviet Russia, which is rapidly turning into the sort of vicious oligarchy described by Jack London in ‘The Iron Heel’.

    It is easy – and usually much more fun – to lash out at the iniquities of big government and its supporters. In the end though, a constructive and convincing presentation of both the alternative and a workable route to it, is essential.

  • merocaine

    I just like to point out that the people starving in the street would not lightly be the ones voting for the libertarians. Nor would they be freedom loving entrepreneurs. So there deaths would be an inevitable but tragic side effect of the reordering of society, a salutary
    lesson in how the invisible hand of the market produces a more efficient economy

  • merocaine

    I just like to point out that the people starving in the street would not lightly be the ones voting for the libertarians. Nor would they be freedom loving entrepreneurs. So there deaths would be an inevitable but tragic side effect of the reordering of society, a salutary
    lesson in how the invisible hand of the market produces a more efficient economy

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Merocaine, don’t be an ass. I certainly don’t regard the problem of someone starving in the streets – which is what tends to happen when totalitarian socialism takes hold – as one that a free and prosperous society would worry about. If such persons did exist, it would be either because they were mentally ill or handicapped. I applaud the efforts of anyone to help such people. Any “Darwinians” who think such folk should be left to die to make for a more “efficient” society deserve to be treated with contempt. Efficiency, my arse.

  • merocaine

    I would imagine some kind of system of charitable soup kitchens could be established for those with negligible economic utility.
    Though to tell the truth such people would be a boon to high overhead and low margin business in the services sector, esp as they realized they couldn’t rely on the government feed or house them.
    Hunger would drive them to work, and we would be in the happy situation where British industry would again benefit from a surfeit of cheap well motivated labor.
    So a few starving peasants, so to speak, could provide a beneficial lesson to those on the lower rungs.
    It certainly would’ent be a case for hand ringing liberals to get into a tizzy about.
    Nobody is in favor of starvation of course, but it would certainly have benefit of pruning the dead wood.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Nobody is in favor of starvation of course, but it would certainly have benefit of pruning the dead wood.

    You obviously do favour starvation then if it serves some sort of mad motivation policy. People on low incomes do no need the dread of death to act; they simply need the incentive to better their lives. In western societies, a starving person is highly unlikely to be able-bodied or mentally sane in the first place. The only people who are likely to be starving are the seriously ill, aged or infirm. You obviously think such people should be culled, because you are a brutal waste of space with no respect for the weak. You are, in short, a nasty piece of work.

  • merocaine

    I am a realist.
    If you remove the welfare state a large segment of the population would have there housing and income removed. It is laughable to suggest that charity would suddenly fill the gap. Rate of malnutrition and child poverty would rocket, already one of the most unequal of the western states would only become more so.
    The results of such policy’s would be undoubted hardship,
    alleviated only by the generosity of the few.
    You would have the growth of a large and easly expolited under class. A boon for predators everywhere.
    It would also have the effect of turning British society into a much more class ridden place, and encourage the growth of groups who would paint themselves as the defenders of the poor.
    When the government won’t help you turn to anyone you can.
    Any Idiot can see what would happen, fortunately most voters don’t advocate a return to the class warfare and exploitation of the past.
    My post was a parody of the twisted reasoning that would have to occur if one was to rationalise such a policy.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If you remove the welfare state a large segment of the population would have there housing and income removed. It is laughable to suggest that charity would suddenly fill the gap.

    Okay, I take it back; you are in fact a statist who actually believes that the sky would fall in if we got rid of the Welfare State. Of course, the key word in your sentence is “suddenly”; I personally do not think that rolling back the Welfare State can happen overnight. It would disrupt the lives of millions. Many people, having become so dependent on welfare, would have problems adjusting. But this is an issue of tactics, not direction.

    Any Idiot can see what would happen, fortunately most voters don’t advocate a return to the class warfare and exploitation of the past.

    So you buy the Marxian narrative that says that until we created tax-funded welfare, the NHS, and the rest, that Britain was a land of deep class warfare and exploitation. It requires one to ignore the steady, and rapid, rise in living standards for most people throughout the 19th century, especially after the first few decades; it requires one to ignore, for example, the success that even the humblest laborers had in building institutions such as friendly societies and co-operatives to provide for their old age, sickness and so on. One of the tragedies of the time was that this rich structure of self reliance and mutual aid was destroyed, in part deliberately, by politicians who wanted to create a new client class of welfare users. Today, we have a new class, of people who administer this welfare and seek to sustain it.

    Your defence of compulsory welfare seems to be a sort of utilitarian one: if we don’t have a safety net, then this will lead to hardship and class warfare. So you support it as a sort of insurance policy. The trouble is that the welfare state, as it now exists, has spawned all manner of social pathologies, which cause damage to the fabric of society, quite apart from imposing enormous financial costs.

  • merocaine

    Okay, I take it back; you are in fact a statist…….tactics, not direction.

    First off the welfare state didn’t suddenly appear post world war 2. Its appearance dates back to the 19th century, its growth spurred by a burgeoning social awareness and the activism of the Church in highlighting social injustices. This slow build up of legislation curbed the excess of the early Factory system. This was a process that continued right up to world war 2.
    It was supported across party and class lines, it was a broad based and democratic. It also addressed a need that the Market was unable to provide.
    The Welfare State post war was an attempt to provide a cradle to grave system. Covering Heath, education, unemployment benefit and more. This was an expansion of a skeleton system that was already there.
    It was also a mistake, that in the long term was unaffordable, and as you say leads to certain moral hazards.

    So you buy the Marxian narrative….. ……societies a welfare and seek to sustain it.

    Marxian? OK..
    I didn’t realize that supporting progressive legislation had the side effect of branding me a closet Marxist.
    In economic terms the Market was and is the most efficient tool for increasing wealth, it also has the effect of causing substantial disruption and displacement to individuals when allowed to act unimpeded.
    Its those negative side effects which caused significant
    increases in social tension, and spawned such ideas as
    communism, socialism, anarchism, worker revolution ect ad nausum.
    Which Englands happy labour’s seemed to take to with gusto.
    The growth in social legislation was an attempt to protect the individual from the worst effects of the market, while retaining the Market system itself.
    And as importantly prevent social frustrations from ending in violent revolution.

    Sure we can remove that Welfare system, but before we can do that we have to make sure that there is no need anymore for the System.
    Removing it before then would in my opinion be little more than a utopian experiment, and entail all the risks
    usually associated.

    One of the tragedies of the time was that this rich structure of self reliance and mutual aid was destroyed, in part deliberately, by politicians who wanted to create a new client class of welfare users. Today, we have a new class, of people who administer this welfare and seek to sustain it.

    Thats quite a statement. It is easy to make the case that the untrammeled activites of the Market and the disruptions of two world wars and a depression did as much as any Welfare state in destroying that stucture in England. Mutual aid is only possible in close knit communities, the Market was quite ruthless in destroying such inefficient entities.
    Again the growth in social legislation was spurred by such market externals, as well as real and grinding poverty.

    I think your view of the Welfare State as some kind of Orwellian conspiracy is clouding your judgement somewhat.

    That said it is possible that the Welfare State will eventually wither on the vine, but its not going to happen in my life time.

    By the way as a % how much of your income do you give to charity, if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    First off the welfare state didn’t suddenly appear post world war 2.

    As a historian by training, I know that. There was the poor law, etc, which dated back to Elizabethan times. The New Poor Law of 1834 gave us the workhouse, and so on. It was an early, and tough form of what we now call “workfare”.

    It was supported across party and class lines, it was a broad based and democratic. It also addressed a need that the Market was unable to provide.

    Well, considering that women did not get the vote until the 1920s and some of the legislation was passed back before any meaningful adult suffrage at all, I think the word “democratic” is a bit sloppy.

    The Welfare State post war was an attempt to provide a cradle to grave system. Covering Heath, education, unemployment benefit and more.

    Indeed. That is the welfare state that I am attacking.

    Mutual aid is only possible in close knit communities, the Market was quite ruthless in destroying such inefficient entities. Again the growth in social legislation was spurred by such market externals, as well as real and grinding poverty

    The Friendly Societies were vast: covering millions of people, and of course became the origins of the large building societies that exist down to our own time. It was not the market that destroyed them, it was politics. The welfare state put some of these outfits out of business, as was warned at the time. James Bartholemew chronicles this in telling detail in his recent book, The Welfare State We’re In.

    I think your view of the Welfare State as some kind of Orwellian conspiracy is clouding your judgement somewhat.

    No, I don’t think of it as a dark conspiracy; however, in the face of widespread evidence of its destructive and expensive consequences, to go on supporting it would require one to be a fool or a knave. I tend to support the fool theory, but there can be no discounting the fact that a large chunk of the professional classes that are employed by the public sector have a vested interest in supporting its continuation.

    You ask how much of my salary I give to charity. I give some to the RNLI and a few other bits and pieces, as well as supporting my family and some friends. Since I pay 40-plus percent of my salary to the government, I don’t yet feel much inclined to give a lot more.