Bryan Caplan  

Bridging the Conservative-Libertarian Impasse

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Question for Conservatives... The Great Factor-Price Equaliz...
A puzzle inspired by last night's debate: Conservatives and libertarians were almost equally likely to praise "liberty."  You'd think this shared value would facilitate a constructive dialog.  But it didn't - not even for the subset of "economic liberty."  Why the impasse?

My best explanation: For libertarians, to believe in liberty is to believe in massive rollback of the state.  For conservatives, to believe in liberty is to oppose further expansion of the state (at least in the economic realm).  For conservatives, "liberty" means defeating Obamacare.  For libertarians, "liberty" means separation of health and state - which means abolishing even ultra-popular programs like Medicare.

From a conservative point of view, conservatives have every right to the banner of liberty.  After all, whenever they argue with liberals about economic policy, it's liberty they're trying to defend.  From a libertarian point of view, in contrast, conservatives have no right to the banner of liberty.  The U.S. already has a ton of government programs and regulations, and conservatives appear to accept - or even support - this statist quo.

Of course, conservatives might have the more reasonable position.  Maybe economic policy is currently roughly optimal, so liberals are wrong to favor further expansions in government power, and libertarians are wrong to favor massive rollback.  But even if this were so, conservative rhetoric is confusing.  Indeed, conservatives' own rhetoric needlessly makes them sound like hypocrites: If Obamacare is such an awful violation of individual liberty, why don't you oppose Medicare, too?  Well?

How can this rhetorical impasse be bridged?  Maybe it's impossible, but I'd like to propose a deal:

1. Instead of swearing allegiance to "liberty," conservatives should say something like, "Economic liberty is more important than liberals realize, but much less important than libertarians think," then explain where libertarians go wrong.  The textbook list of market failures is the obvious place the start.

2. Libertarians should stop complaining about conservative hypocrisy, and focus on conservatives' now-explicit critique of the dangers of excessive economic liberty.
 
Any takers?

P.S.  Hope to see you at Capla-Con this weekend.  Afterwards I'll be on vacation for two weeks, so expect low volume.


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COMMENTS (40 to date)
Becon writes:

From a libertarian point of view, in contrast, conservatives have no right to the banner of liberty. The U.S. already has a ton of government programs and regulations, and conservatives appear to accept - or even support - this statist quo.

Which makes Tea Party Republicans intransigence on the debt ceiling all the more frustrating. Republicans have been complicit in government growth for decades. Having a hundred or so junior congressional supporters in the House will not reverse that trend. Take the best debt ceiling deal Boehner can offer you and move on to the next fight. You need to win more than one midterm election to reverse the tide of government.

2012, 2014, state elections, local elections, school boards, zoning boards. It's a long long fight.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I think it's only confusing if you think about liberty like a libertarian. A lot of people are not libertarians criticize libertarians precisely because they don't consider it pro-liberty. They tend to talk about libertarianism as propertarianism, etc.

The point is, you find it confusing because you disagree with them. Others find you equally confusing in your use of the word "liberty".

Non-libertarians, at least, understand what libertarians mean when they assert that they are "pro-liberty". A lot of times libertarians don't seem to understand the reverse and simply think that conservatives or liberals aren't particularly concerned about liberty.

Taimyoboi writes:

Perhaps conservatives are, and their approach isn't different in principle just in the amount of prudence and time taken. I.e., the difference between a libertarian and a conservative is that the conservative doesn't let the perfect be the enemey of the good.

For example, it's not that a lot of us think that Medicare is okay but Obamacare is bad, just that the political reality today is favorable for getting rid of Obamacare but not Medicare.

James writes:

Daniel,

There may be people who use the word liberty to mean something other than freedom from interference. But the next time you hear a conservative use the word liberty, ask them clarify; do they use that word to mean freedom from interference? I'll bet you that they'll say yes.

So it's not that they are using the term to mean something different and the confusion is not arising from a plain disagreement. The confusion arises because conservatives claim to value the same thing libertarians think of when we think of liberty, presumably because it resonates with the general public, but their policy recommendations often bear little or no resemblance to this stated value.

There may be others who use liberty or freedom to mean something totally different, but I really doubt it. For example, when asked to define "free speech," do you know anyone whose definition is something other than the ability to express oneself without interference?

Blackadder writes:

Conservatives are perfectly willing to rollback government to the extent they believe they can get away with it (see, e.g., the Ryan Plan). But unlike libertarians, there is more of a focus on what is politically doable. This is why Republicans tend to win elections about half the time, whereas the Libertarian Party rarely gets above 1% of the vote.

James writes:

Taimyoboi,

I can see what you are getting at. I'd rather get rid of only Obamacare if the alternative was to keep both. But I've not heard many conservatives express that view. Can you name any prominent conservative who has openly stated that although only repealling Obamacare is possible now, their first choice would be to get rid of both Medicare and Obamacare because they interfere with people's liberty?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

James -
Some people that think, for example, externalities are by definition interference, it seems odd for libertarians to claim to be pro-liberty in the sense that they are pro-freedom from interference.

I'm all for definitions for clarification. What I'm challenging is the idea that libertarians are the clear and obvious ones. Even if we agree on "freedom from interference" the libertarian position still seems to be the confusing one to a lot of people. That's precisely why some people prefer to call "libertarians" "propertarians". When you say "I believe people should be free form interference", what you really mean is "I believe that people should be free from interference as judged by a certain understanding of property rights arrangements that I have". It's awfully circular to say "an externality correction is anti-liberty because it violates my property rights" when someone can just respond "your understanding of rights is anti-liberty because it creates externalities". When you wrap yourself in the "pro-liberty" banner and assume other people just don't like liberty as much you're avoiding the heart of the disagreement!

In my own view, any externality correction is obviously going to be coercive. But the property rights arrangements that INTRODUCED the externality are coercive by precisely the same logic! So there's no non-coercive option. So for me, it makes more sense to say "liberty is the minimization of coercion" rather than "liberty is the absence of coercion".

And I'm not a libertarian precisely becaues I think it fails to minimize coercion and thus fails to be sufficiently pro-liberty. I understand why Bryan feels differently, of course. But if he's confused by my use of "liberty" it's not clear to me why I have to adjust.

Not everybody articulates it quite as carefully, of course. But I don't think that means they should be cowed into embracing the idea that libertarianism is the pro-liberty option.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

That first sentence should be "Since some people think..."

hamilton writes:

"Instead of swearing allegiance to "liberty," conservatives should say something like, "Economic liberty is more important than liberals realize, but much less important than libertarians think," then explain where libertarians go wrong. The textbook list of market failures is the obvious place the start."

I guess conservatives could do that, if they wanted to win debates. As I suspect they want to win *elections*, it seems doubtful that they will waste much time trying to differentiate themselves from a voting block that is (a) often smaller than a survey's margin of error and (b) either going to break for conservatives already or not break excessively for liberals. It doesn't help them with their own voters, it doesn't help them with moderates (who don't know what libertarians are anyway, other than people who want pot legalized), and certainly doesn't help them much with liberals (who aren't going to listen to them). Why should they spend the time?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

This sentence I think comes across as unnecessarily belligerent: "But if he's confused by my use of "liberty" it's not clear to me why I have to adjust."

What I mean is simply that I agree using the word "liberty" consistently is ideal. But it's not clear to me that I'm being the confusing or inconsistent one. It's not clear to me that libertarians are a minority because people just don't like freedom as much as they like to think they do. I think it's a minority because libertarians have a very unusual definition of freedom that's captive to a very specific philosophical disposition towards the state. It's not simply a classical liberal skepticism towards the state. I share that classical liberal skepticism. It's not just skepticism - it's an assumption of illegitimacy.

Bryan seems to just point out that we use the word differently.

I agree.

What I think he ought to spend more time pointing out is why his use of the word makes sense, because that's what's not clear to me.

david nh writes:

Another couple of implicit differences:

a) The conservative position ("Economic liberty is more important than liberals realize, but much less important than libertarians think") is essentially based on a utilitarian world view. Many libertarians are not utilitarians. In fact, I suspect that many libertarians who profess or even believe themselves to be utilitarians (or consequentialists in the slicker formulation) are really not.

b) Libertarians don't generally see "economic liberty" as different in kind than other forms of liberty. There's not a special box labelled "economic liberty" that justifies different treatment. It's simply a subset of freedom of action (activities that one can engage in, including free speech, with one's own property). In fact, since most of us spend most of our lives involved in economic activities as either a producer or consumer, economic activity is not a bad synonym for "life". Economic liberty is perhaps the major part of "liberty" from a practical perspective.

@Blackadder:

" Conservatives are perfectly willing to rollback government to the extent they believe they can get away with it (see, e.g., the Ryan Plan). But unlike libertarians, there is more of a focus on what is politically doable."

That's certainly the conventional wisdom and I am sure that's what the best conservatives tell themselves. I would suggest that the reality is either that conservatives are not anywhere near as ambitious as they should be or they are as attached/beholden to big government as anyone else. I think both forms are prevalent but that the latter probably dominates. These conservatives want to retain the legitimacy of the state for purposes of their favourite forms of meddling. They just want to meddle differently.

I have been a professional advocate for much of my life and my observation is most people underestimate what can be achieved with principled and compelling arguments. People respond to logical and ethical argument. It may take longer and may require that you go "all-in" but at least it preserves the possibility of victory rather than guaranteeing a loss (the conservative approach). By arguing over matters of degree, the conservatives have conceded the basic principle to the statists and undermined their best arguments. Arguments over matters of degree are not compelling and are ultimately overwhelmed by incrementalization.

steve writes:

Conservatism is a coalition of political partners first with a veneer of philosophy grafted on. The hypocrisy can not be eliminated without significant purges of the conservative ranks.

Floccina writes:

Isn't conservatism about minimization of the risks that big changes bring about?

Nick writes:

"conservative rhetoric is confusing."

That's for sure. At last night's debate, their entire argument against the legalization of drugs rested on the fact that drugs are "harmful", without a definition of 'drugs' and without a definition of 'harmful'. What about prescription drugs, which are abused more often than illicit drugs? What about new drugs that are invented/discovered that might be abused but are beneficial for a small portion of the population? Should they be legal? Is not marijuana beneficial for a small portion of the population? By what standard are our 'conservative overlords' going to determine what drugs are to be legal/illegal?

Cato defined drugs very well at the outset of their argument: drugs are commodities, like anything else, bearing the possibility for abuse but useful to individuals as they find use for them. They are to be treated by government as any other commodity would be.

Heritage did nothing but affirm the status quo with arbitrary claims to superiority based on 'data', 'statistics', and 'common sense', all of which can be interpreted to yield the opposite solution to the drug problem.

Thomas writes:

Since both are losing to the statists every day, it seems to me that neither is in a good spot. The libertarians seem foolish in suggesting that if only conservatives would stop insisting on going no further we'd be able to roll things back, and conservatives seem foolish in pretending that their sullied hands are making a difference by slowing down the statists.

david nh writes:

@Floccina

" Isn't conservatism about minimization of the risks that big changes bring about?"

It is in the sense of a Hayekian respect for an ancient, freely and incrementally evolved order. The difficulty is that our present situation is best characterized as the accumulation of many very significant departures from a freely evolved order implemented over the last 100 years by government fiat. I am not sure that there is anything in that for a true conservative to defend.

Ed Hanson writes:

A much of the comments show, libertarian and conservative are simply too general of terms to encompass the debate. As Backadder explains conservatives as Bryan defines is not a unified movement but a coalition. I divide that coalition into to general categories, Big Government Conservatives and Small Government Conservatives. SGC's must compromise with the BGC's to move toward their goals. BGC's can always ignore the SMG's by compromising with all encompassing big government party, the democrats.

But note the key words, coalition and compromise. They are difficult things to create and live with, but each are the only realistic means to pursue political goals. It is just those difficult and adult things that Libertarians refuse to do. They remain happy in their smugness, and childish ways, of purity, never making a compromise to form a coalition that would tend the political direction their way. Libertarians continue to choose the easier path. And, of course, a path that will never lead to anywhere.

david nh writes:
But note the key words, coalition and compromise. They are difficult things to create and live with, but each are the only realistic means to pursue political goals.

And look how successful they've been as a strategy to pursue small government. Hard to argue with, really.

Adam Kaplan writes:

Ed Hanson,

As a libertarian, I am all too familiar and often reminded of my "childish" ways.

You have a reasonable point, in theory. In practice, however, this policy of compromise has dragged our country from a great free nation to a piddling oppressive one. Maybe I am too extreme, but that's how I see it anyway.

Daniel Kuehn brings up a point worth considering. Do libertarian views of private property oppose ideas of true liberty? Maybe. I see the converse as much more oppressive. You would alter property rights? Can one own land? Can one own anything they purchase? What if the world is running low on oil, can one purchase any?

Disrespecting property rights is a sure fire way to destroy a society, even if it is accomplished with the intention of restoring liberty.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

re: "Daniel Kuehn brings up a point worth considering. Do libertarian views of private property oppose ideas of true liberty? Maybe. I see the converse as much more oppressive. You would alter property rights? Can one own land? Can one own anything they purchase? What if the world is running low on oil, can one purchase any?"

Thankfully we don't only have to choose between a complete reliance on property rights as we know them and the absence of property rights. A trivial minority of the American political spectrum advocates anything remotely like what you're mentioning here.

The problem of course isn't with property rights. Liberals and conservatives both recognize market efficiency and the role that property rights play in market efficiency. The point is simply to consider "in what particular cases can relying on private property rights be anti-liberty - or to put it differently - in what cases can private property rights interfere with others involuntarily?" We have a fancy name for that now: "externalities". But we didn't need a fancy name for humans to figure this out and build institutions (like states, churches, private associations) to address situations where exclusive reliance on private property rights and markets would actually be coercive.

So I don't view libertarians as being "pro-property rights" and liberals (for example) as being "anti-property rights". I see both as intending to be pro-property rights, but libertarians misunderstanding and abusing them. I like to say it's like watching a kid running around with a hammer and banging in both nails and screws with the hammer. You don't say "wow - that kid is very pro-hammer". You let him know he's misunderstanding the use of hammer and that simply resorting to hammers isn't the same as being "pro-hammer". I'm pro private property rights beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Human beings aren't stupid. They figure these things out and a certain order emerges. For the most part, successful thriving societies evolve governments that deal with issues that are more-or-less externalities and leave non-externalities to markets. Societies with more oppresssive governments do worse. Societies with governments that think they can duplicate the price mechanism do worse. Societies are stronger, more successful, and more likely to survive with institutions that recognize when private property is not coercive (most cases) and when it is coercive (some special cases).

We don't have to choose between Rothbard and Proudhon here!

Anonymous writes:

"Non-libertarians, at least, understand what libertarians mean when they assert that they are "pro-liberty". A lot of times libertarians don't seem to understand the reverse and simply think that conservatives or liberals aren't particularly concerned about liberty."

This is wrong. Liberals are trying to balance liberty and egalitarianism. Libertarians put a premium on the former. It isn't a giant misunderstanding the way you're claiming, there's a distinct and often conflicting difference between the two ideals. They may overlap at times, but they are still categorically different.

Conservatives, I think, have a sort of traditional/intuitive view of human morality which guides their ideas, and this moral intuition includes liberty, equality, and a variety of other ideals, all kind of packaged into one. I use both words, "traditional" and "intuitive", because while I think their basis is merely tradition (ie, the status quo), they probably think it's based on some kind of deeper knowledge, which is accessed through either intuition or religion (or, perhaps, an intuition brought to the surface by religion?).

Anonymous writes:

"We don't have to choose between Rothbard and Proudhon here!"

That's because Proudhoun is just a critic who only confuses himself and his followers.

"Property is theft! Property is liberty! Property is impossible! And if you find any of this contradictory, well, you're just not nuanced enough!"

Whatever.

Proudhoun is irrelevant. We do, however, have to choose between Rothbard and Kropotkin. Or settle somewhere in between.

Noah Yetter writes:

Can you give us an example of when property rights are coercive? To this libertarian, as I'm sure you might guess, such a statement seems like a contradiction.

James writes:

Daniel Kuehn,

Your understanding of externalities presupposes a view of property rights too. So does any theory of the just. That's no weakness. My first post ended with a question but you failed to answer. Why?

Adam Kaplan writes:

I would also like an answer from Daniel. Are you referring to eminent domain?

If so please provide evidence that eminent domain is constructive for society or "beneficial for liberty."

I like the way Dr. Caplan words these arguments: I might not have evidence to support my side, but I'm not the one trampling on liberty so the onus is on you to pony up the data.

david nh writes:
I like the way Dr. Caplan words these arguments: I might not have evidence to support my side, but I'm not the one trampling on liberty so the onus is on you to pony up the data.

Nice, but I like to replace "trampling on liberty" with "using force".

Some people that think, for example, externalities are by definition interference, it seems odd for libertarians to claim to be pro-liberty in the sense that they are pro-freedom from interference.

Daniel Kuehn, is the presence of someone of an "undesirable race" in a town of racists a negative externality? It seems that it is. After all, preferences are subjective and the disutility experienced by a racist is just as real as the disutility I feel when I breath in polluted air outside of a factory.

Is the presence of someone of an "undesirable race" in a town of racists an infringement of the racists' liberties? It seems as though it is not. What liberty has been infringed, exactly?

If these aren't the same (and it seems as though they are not), then negative externalities are not necessarily a violation of liberty. Attempting to correct all negative externalities is definitely illiberal and probably even totalitarian (if done consistently).

Kevin Harris writes:

Since when has conservatism ever been primarily about liberty? It is about maintaining the status quo (or a slightly retroactive version of it). A conservative seeks to defend the liberty we have by opposing changes or seeking to roll-back recent changes (ie Obamacare bit not Medicare) deemed to do the same.

Tea Partiers are not conservatives - they are reactionary radicals.

Libertarians are about freedom from coercion full stop.

Conservatism is a disposition. Libertarianism is a philosophy or ideology.

Evan writes:

My experience with the average conservatives I talk to is that they think the government is supercompetent at things they want it to do and incompetent at things they don't want it to do. Ditto for liberals. The difference seems to be that liberals want the government to do more things than conservatives do. Libertarians are unique in that they think the government is incompetent at pretty much everything. This might be because a lot of them don't want it to do anything, or the causation might run the other way.

Conservative intellectuals are different from the average ones of course. They frequently stress that inherent flaws in human systems are what make the government better at some tasks than at others. They also usually make utilitarian arguments in favor of government projects they like that there is evidence of incompetence.

The difference is that a conservative intellectual confronted with, say, evidence that being "tough on crime" results in lots of false convictions will argue in a utilitarian fashion that it is still a good idea because fighting crime is a net benefit. The non-intellectual one will reject the evidence and say that the police are good people and good at their jobs.

Jp writes:

I also have a problem with the libertarian view (or at least my understanding thereof) that property rights must be enforced by the state. I dont understand a) why the state is assumed to be able to do a good job at that where it is assumed not to anywhere else, and b) how giving the state the right to use force in that narrow case wouldn't necessarily eventually devolve to our current situation. It seems to me we would need to completely remove the state if we wanted to sustainably curtail its power.
Whether that's a practical point of view is of course an entirely different question...

Daniel Kuehn writes:

re: "Proudhoun is irrelevant. We do, however, have to choose between Rothbard and Kropotkin. Or settle somewhere in between."

Well right - it's the "settle in between" that's precisely my point. When I raise issues with how pro-liberty a propertarian attitude is, it's wrong to presume I have something against private property. One can be against Rothbard without being against property.

Noah -
Any situation with externalities are an example of coercive property rights. That's practically the definition of "externality" - some involuntary imposition that is nevertheless consistent with property rights. One efficient solution is to change the property rights. That isn't always possible, of course. The point is, though, there's clearly nothing inherently pro-liberty about private property since it can coexist with involuntary interference.

James -
I failed to answer because I was talking about other points and didn't think much of it. I'm fine with that definition of free speech. I'm not saying "do X without interference" isn't a decent definition of liberty. I'm saying libertarians don't always seem to use the word that way.

Adam Kaplan -
I'm not refering to eminent domain. And you really must be missing my point. I agree that the people who trample on liberty ought to answer for it. My point is that libertarians often misdiagnose who's guilty of that for the reasons that the sort of people who say "libertarians are actually propertarians" usually provide and that I've provided multiple times on here.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Jayson -
re: "Is the presence of someone of an "undesirable race" in a town of racists an infringement of the racists' liberties?"

This sounds like a question for Hoppean libertarians to me. Look, the whole point is that "infringing liberty" is ALWAYS a judgement that's made with respect to some understanding of rights and legal standing (James alludes to this when he rightly notes that my position presupposes a set of property rights). What is aggravating is when libertarians say, for example, that status quo property holders who are violated have had their "liberty" threatened but those who suffer from externalities imposed by those property holdrs have not had their "liberty" threatened. That is not a philosophy of liberty and no libertarian is going to convince me it is. It is a philosophy that gives some primacy to status quo property arrangements. So libertarian should be less confusing and just say that.

Now, to get back to racists. We ultimately have to make judgement calls about who has standing, who has rights, who has rights that we care about, etc. We just have to say I really don't care about the standing of racists as much as I care about the standing of racial minorities. Racists probably would call it an externality. I couldn't care less what they think, personally.

Now - that probably sounds arbitrary.

But it's equally arbitrary when libertarians say that victims of externalities don't have standing in a given question.

We just shouldn't pretend that libertarians are pro-liberty when they're actually pro-property holders. I'm equally pro-liberty, I just think about legitimate standing on these questions a little differently.

Ultimately the problem is this: "property" and "liberty" are circular concepts. To take someone's property is to threaten their liberty, but their liberty is contingent on property arrangements. It's circular. Just admit that. And just admit that you are defending property arrangements and addressing questions of liberty as an afterthought.

James writes:

Daniel,

The point of my question about free speech was to illustrate that confusion between libertarians and others arises, not as you say, because of competing definitions of liberty.

Your comments seem to presume that libertarians believe liberty to include the liberty to trespass upon the property of others without interference. This is false. Every libertarian I can think of believes in the enforcement of property rights. Do you have any argument against libertarianism not based on such obvious falsehoods?

James writes:

Daniel,

Whatever point of view you are criticizing, it's not libertarianism.

Can you cite (as in a name and a quote) one of these libertarians who states, to quote you, that 'those who suffer from externalities imposed by those property holdrs have not had their "liberty" threatened.'

What you call externalities, libertarians lump into the more general category of property rights violations. All libertarians understand that violations of property rights are a threat to liberty.

Kevin writes:

This externality matter is a distraction. Anon is right that the desire for egalitarianism is far more responsible for modern liberals' disagreement with libertarians on these topics than externalities are. The two groups do differ as DK describes, but this whole discussion is just a descent into one of DK's preferred tangents that in this context happens to be so relatively small that it isn't really relevant at all. Put another way, if libertarians and liberals could agree about what level of externality correction actually maximizes liberty, they'd still have major disagreements about the extent that property rights should be violated in the interest of other agendas.

One could imagine an argument emerging that income and wealth redistribution is a form of externality correction. This would be a similar descent into the preferred topic of whoever made that argument.

Gil writes:

"We just shouldn't pretend that libertarians are pro-liberty when they're actually pro-property holders." - D. Kuehn.

Tada! Libertarians aren't about being pro-liberty/freedom but being anti-government. Do Libertarians want freedom of speech? No, they want speech not being enforced by a government. Likewise if in Libertopia there was a town privately-owned by racists then it's okay because it's their property to do with as they wish. If there's a similar town where it's the law to exclude the undesirable races then Libertarians would be up in arms. Libertarians don't care for Anarchism rather they're for private rule.

crossofcrimson writes:
Ultimately the problem is this: "property" and "liberty" are circular concepts. To take someone's property is to threaten their liberty, but their liberty is contingent on property arrangements. It's circular. Just admit that. And just admit that you are defending property arrangements and addressing questions of liberty as an afterthought.

Daniel,

The "propertarian" (as you call it) framework, "circular" as it may seem, can be arrived at deductively. If the libertarian connection between freedom and property seems perplexing to you, I'd recommend some of Roderick Long's commentary to get a fuller appreciation of the concept(s). Admittedly there's not just one libertarian argument on that front; and many that are given by various libertarians are somewhat fallacious...or at least not thought-out quite as well as others.

This is probably a good place to start - "The Paradox of Property"

Jack Davis writes:

Funny coincidence; Bryan asks:
Indeed, conservatives' own rhetoric needlessly makes them sound like hypocrites: If Obamacare is such an awful violation of individual liberty, why don't you oppose Medicare, too? Well?

I asked my conservative parents (who are on Medicare) exactly this question a few months ago--while they were complaining about a "government takeover" of health care. My mom's answer: well we couldn't get coverage on the market. I guess it's free markets for thee, but not for me.

Michael Smith writes:

DK introduces the externalitites argument so that he can be slip in this conclusion:

So there's no non-coercive option.

This is the way he evades the distinction between coercion that is retaliatory in nature versus coercion that is initiated against the innocent -- in other words, he thinks he can justify the latter by pretending that it is no different from the former.

Thus, the argument is that since government must use retaliatory coercion against someone who is, for instance, harming you by polluting the air, government may also initiate coercion against the non-polluter in order to loot his earnings to support Obamacare or whatever may be the leftist's looting proposal du jour.

So you see how the argument "works"? Since some government coercion is clearly appropriate, no one can argue against any proposed government coercion -- a conclusion that is only safe as long as the distinction between initiated and retaliatory coercion is evaded.

The point, of course, is that there is indeed a non-intitated coercive option: it is laissez-faire capitalism, a system in which government's sole function is the use of retaliatory force to protect the individual rights of the citizens -- a system of complete separation of economics and state, in the same way as, and for the same reason as, we have a separation of church and state.

George X writes:

Libertarians believe in liberty.

Conservatives believe in liberty and getting re-elected.

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