Arnold Kling  

A Sentence to Ponder

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From the comments on this post.


most people are libertarian with regards to their own lives and people they like, statist with regards to people they don't know, and positively fascist about people they dislike, stereotype, or don't understand.

What I have said is that it is easy to be libertarian with respect to behavior that does not bother you. If you don't mind people getting high, then it is easy to be libertarian about drugs. If you don't mind people differing in terms of how much health insurance they possess, then it is easy to be libertarian about health insurance.

The challenge is when you care about others' behavior. Do you restrain yourself from seeking to use the instrument of state power to change that behavior? Or do you work with voluntary actions?

An example that has been much in the news recently is the behavior of people with high incomes with regard to the money they contribute to the government. Should they be forced to contribute more, or should we simply encourage them to voluntarily contribute more?

I think it will be a great day when government has to hold a bake sale to achieve any purpose whatsoever. That is, I would like to see most public goods funded by private donations rather than forced taxes.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy




COMMENTS (8 to date)
Hyena writes:

In practice you'd live in a community someone else built with a set of rules you follow either made by a board or just by decree.

mark writes:

I think it is important to see the link between libertarian ethics on the one hand, and the values of tolerance and respect, on the other; and conversely between coercive social engineering, on the one hand and intolerance and elitism on the other. Opponents of libertarianism characterize it as "selfish" but properly understood the philosophy is anything but.

Frank Howland writes:

Conventional economic theory of course says that private donations won't provide anywhere near enough of public goods. I'm genuinely interested in historical examples where public goods were financed by private donations. Can you point me to a source? And: Do you differentiate between different types of public goods? E.g., do you think that national defense could be privately provided?

Arthur_500 writes:

I once worked for a volunteer fire department that served the community by subscription. If you were injured we would transport you to the hospital. If you could not pay we ate it. If
your house caught fire we would help you get out of the building and even try to help you carry your stuff out of the burning building. But our responsibility was to those who paid and we would protect the fire from threatening them. Your place will burn down.
Why is this different from a public system? Because we didn't help you if you didn't pay. In a public system people don't pay taxes and still get benefits. Government is innefficient and over-priced for most services.

Michael writes:

As the quoted poster at the head of this post (big day for me! Thanks Arnold!), I have to say it is quite a road to go from my former centre-vague beliefs to libertarianism. Along with the temptation to see others as stupid (I have a friend, an academic, who seriously advocates that voting rights should be tied to IQ), one also has to relinquish the constant temptation to see all beneficiaries of statist regulation as cynical and conniving.

But doctors who get rich off monopolistic rules, and teachers who enjoy huge benefits by working in a system that crowds-out private options, are neither stupid nor cynical. They do not walk into medical school (in Canada) then refuse to continue until the government agrees to pay 80% of the cost. That is already in place. And few teachers have any interest in the collective bargaining process, though they enjoy the benefits. The issue is always about interest groups, political incentives, and the rules that permit these kinds of distortions to exist and so invite the Baptists and Bootleggers to hit the trough.

I complain as much as anyone else about politicians and their subnormal abilities, but then I always remind myself that if their power and that of the state were a tenth of what they currently are, I wouldn't care about their incompetence. They would just be typically flawed humans without an atypically large ability to harm other humans.

Evan writes:

I have to say that, in addition to intellectual arguments, my conversion to libertarianism was helped along by two emotional factors, my horror of violence, and my anger at people who try to assert their status and dominance over others.

I became more libertarian when I realized that all laws and regulations were backed by violence, and when I began to think of statists as people who tried to grab status and dominance they didn't deserve. I realized that there were few behaviors I found so offensive that I was willing to use violence against the people who committed them, or empower politicians with status and dominance they didn't deserve.

So I suppose one of the reasons I've gained libertarian tolerance is that I'm intolerant of violent, dominating bullies.

Jayson Virissimo writes:
Conventional economic theory of course says that private donations won't provide anywhere near enough of public goods.

Frank Howland, many of the public goods that my sovereign provides me are not actually goods in my subjective evaluation (I would be willing to pay in order not to receive them). Why should I prefer this state of affairs more than one where actual public goods (ones that provide me with utility rather than disutility) are provided, but at a quantity lower than the socially optimal level? I'm not sure whether or not "conventional economic theory" alone can decide this one for us.

Seth writes:

I like the sentence from the comments. I would add the words, "disagree with" right after "stereotype".

I think it misses an important element though.

Embedded in the statist/fascist element is the belief that it is "cosmically" (Sowell) justified to impose your will and preferences on others.

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