Bryan Caplan  

Klein, Clark, and the Liberty Maxim

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Morning Commentary... SEC Demagoguery...

Dan Klein and Michael Clark have a very thoughtful new working paper. Lead-in:

Again, we embrace Rothbard’s definition of liberty. We reject, however, some of
Rothbard’s major claims for liberty. He tended to frame the liberty principle as an imperative, as 100-percent, as a kind of axiom for politics and ethics. From Rothbard one gets the message that moral and ethical truth always favors liberty over coercion. We disagree. We think that sometimes coercion is our friend. We reject the axiom view, and, instead, with Adam Smith, take a maxim view.
They then inventory the main conflicts between the axiom and the maxim view:
1. Thoreauian Coercion
2. Coercive Hazard
3. Disarming or Defusing Private Coercion
4. Controlling Pollution
5. Restrictions to Prevent Rip-offs
6. Subsidizing Against Coercive Taboos
7. Taxing to Fund Liberal Enlightenment
8. Coercively Tending the Moral Foundations of Liberty
9. Log Rolling for Liberty
10. Stabilizing the Second Best
11. Military Actions, Etc.
Then they weigh the importance of each of these. Their conclusions may surprise you, so read it for yourself.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
John T. Kennedy writes:

From the paper:

Better to have ninety-something percent principles that help us than only principles purportedly 100 percent that either fiddle with definitions in opportunistic ways or imply madness (we have encountered libertarians who have said that they would not murder an innocent person even if the survival of humanity depended on it!).

How does the given example suggest madness? Would it be mad to prefer to die oneself rather than murder an innocent?

How many people would the authors be willing to personally rape, torture and murder to preserve humanity? Whatever number it takes?

I don't see what's mad in preferring not to murder.

Matias Forss writes:

Kind of a philosophically incoherent paper. They just take something from Rothbard and apply it to Smith, tacitly assuming that utilitarianism is scientifically defensible (which it isn't even in a Hayekian classical liberal setting).

They also seem to have no clear notion what the government is, sentences like "the taboos are usually partly the result of government restrictions, as with sex and drugs", beg the question: Who is this entity called the government, going around and impressing taboos on innocent victims? Seems like the government in this meaning is something very different from the government that people use to protect the environment.

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