19 Little questions for Non-Libertarians

Every thinking Libertarian had already answered the “19 tough questions for Libertarians” before they were even asked, in the course of merely organizing his own thoughts. i’m not going to be the thousandth person to answer those questions; i want to play a different game instead. The following are questions that are very easy for Libertarians, and i suspect consistent Continue reading


Regulation and Robert Higgs’ objection

Regulation is the kind of law that says, “This isn’t a crime, but I’m going to stop you from doing it anyway” that is, the kind of law that intervenes and prevents admittedly innocent activities, insisting that oversight is needed, even where everyone involved consents. It’s very easy to attack the “bad” kind of regulation, as in the familiar inept or corrupt building official or the captured agencies overseeing banking; but attacking “bad” regulation gets us nowhere on the question of regulation itself, because people merely think it needs to be replaced with “good” regulation. So let’s discuss the most popular major regulatory agency in the US: The Food and Drug Administration. Continue reading

Isn’t the equality of men a problem for you?

There are believers in Liberty, and believers in power. There are those who say, “The only way for the many to be happy is through their own good choices, and so the greatest necessity is to prevent their free choices from being undermined, whether by crime or oppression. We cannot make them good, we can only prevent the rewards of goodness from being snatched away” And there are those who instead say “Whether these masses be good or no, I am good enough, or clever enough Continue reading

Distributism part 2

I missed a thing or two in my last post about Distributism, in order to conclude on a hard hit. I’ll sum the whole issue up in a few words, even though in my experience that’s the least effective way to make yourself clear; I have no idea why, since most of the time I wish long explanations were so condensed. To each his own, I suppose. Here’s the few words: The efficiency advantages of the giant corporations, and thus, their “natural” place in the market, is a false generalization. The reason for this is that the actual production methods that benefit from scale are relatively few, compared to those which only benefit from scale through regulatory and tax advantages. As a consequence, many, many huge organizations are really wasteful superstructure attached to a relatively small core of productive activity.

We are familiar to the comparisons between Distributist production and Capitalist production; the dozens of workshops versus the singular factory, the kitchen of every home versus the commercial kitchen, the five hundred farms of three acres each versus the single farm of fifteen hundred. But what if these aren’t the things we should be comparing? When we compare workshops and factories, we are not, almost by definition, comparing complete enterprises. We are comparing the productive cores of two enterprises, which is a very different thing when you consider the resources which are consumed in the other activities of the firm that owns that factory. Narrowing one’s focus to look exclusively at one of GM’s factories is to look exclusively at the most efficient part of the operation, and to disregard major forms of inefficiency, even those inherent even to the factory itself. Continue reading

Bitter, Free-Market Distributism [RAMBLES]

i used to wonder, when i stood in line at a permitting office (to understand what this is like for a Libertarian, try to imagine being a Puritan, somehow compelled to stand amid the crowd readying the sacrifice to Baal) why any eye of any official in the place remained unblackened. Or at least why such business was not conducted through bulletproof glass, to prevent every contractor or foreman from plucking every officer of interference from behind the counter and beating him senseless. Why was it possible for these officials, who had no more right to choose a wire gauge or outlet spacing for me than i have right to choose a wife for you, to get out three words of their interference or “correction” without having their interfering teeth kicked straight down their interfering throats? Why was i alone (or so nearly alone) in absolute rage?

The answer is startlingly simple. If i may speak for the worst kind of contractor, who has some skill in navigating the regulatory thicket, who knows when to pay fees, knows ahead of time which fees to pay, knows who to give donuts, knows whose boss to call…When he hears the official say, “That will be $387.00 non-refundable to check the plans for this shed.” He does not hear how unnecessarily difficult and costly his work is being made for him, he hears how impossible it is being made for others. $387.00 is a small price to pay for monopoly. His heart may well leap at the very absurdity of a regulatory requirement, as he laughs to himself, “Sure, a crew of illegal immigrants could do this job for half the price, but let’s see them perform an environmental impact study!” The more burdensome are the regulatory requirements, and the more unlike they are to production itself, the more viable competitors become non-viable.

‘”Here, I have some apples, would you like to buy them?” “Yes, thank you.” THAT’S HOW HARD IT SHOULD BE TO START A BUSINESS IN THIS COUNTRY.
-Ron Swanson

Continue reading

The Affordable Care Act and starvation

So, Human Resources sent everyone at my workplace a summary of benefits for the 2014 year, and long story short, they are slightly reduced benefits at a more than doubled cost. In fact, a friend of mine calculated that a typical hourly worker would be paying 22.98% of his take-home in health insurance alone, for the minimal family coverage. We’re not an unskilled bunch, either. If we had minimum-wage employees on this plan, they would practically be laboring for compensation only in the form of high-deductable health insurance. Of course accusations are flying in every direction, but “Thanks, Obama” has just become a much more popular phrase than it recently was. As to the opposite claim, that this is the work of greedy insurance corporations, let me just say that in 2013 they were at least as greedy as they are today, but in 2013, you’d laugh at an insurer asking such premiums; in 2014 the government is standing behind him with a truncheon, making sure that you don’t laugh.

I really wonder how many people are going through this right now, whether this is or is not a national moment of realization Continue reading

A little excercise…

“Reason is always a sort of brute force,” Chesterton might have said. And like literal force, it is surprisingly helpless in the matter of changing people’s minds. But I’m going to indulge myself a little and seek to prove that the “Equality” we talk about today cannot exist without the Liberty we refuse to talk about.

When I was young and inspired chiefly by the Heroic ideal, I used to say in my heart, “The world always goes wrong until a good man with a sword or rifle sets it right.” It was a vision born of fiction, of countless minor characters mired in error and evil or dominated by others who were, but with all their entanglements ultimately sliced through and undone by virtue wielding force. It is not an entirely unhealthy vision, but its defining sentence is untrue. The reason we ever do see virtue wielding force and setting things right is because sin first wielded force to set it wrong. Even when we see the hero ripping up the gilded luxury of an oppressor’s palace as the first outbreak of violence saving us from an atmosphere of silent conformity, he is only a hero if he is answering force with force. Of course I’m working from an entirely different definition of violence than the one a Liberal uses; I say violence is the use of power to violate rights, not merely the actual physical injuries involved when this approach is least successful. A Liberal may say that the government showed up at your house, pointed guns at you, demanded you turn over your property, and was thankfully able to accomplish this confiscation without violence. I say the confiscation is violence. I say violence begins when one begins to use power to transgress against another person’s life, liberty, or property, regardless of whether your power is so extreme that its mere threat reduces the victim to passivity. When you strike a man with a club, you transgress against his person by violence. When you threaten him with a club and demand his wallet, you transgress against his property by violence; one of these is worse than the other, but neither is nonviolent. So indeed in the confrontation between the hero and his sword and the silent oppression of some bloodless tyrant that rules by fear, violence has begun long before the Liberal would reckon. Odysseus is the first bringer of bloodshed to his house, but the second bringer of violence.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who first breaks the peace, McMurphy or Ratched?

But even if we reject this understanding of the nature of violence and persist in drawing a fundamental distinction (as opposed to a distinction of degree) between the robber’s nearby gun and the government’s far-off prison, we can still recognize the notion of coercion, that of one person overriding the choices of another. We recognize it both in the positive and negative; the hero in my younger vision was only using his sword or rifle as a means to coerce away the bad choices that produced the bad situation. In the clearer-headed version of the same thing, he is attempting to actually break coercive power relationships. The truly virtuous hero comes with a sword to set the captives free, not to make them his captives. But of course, such heroes are in far shorter supply than are rulers…If there were fewer positions of power, perhaps we could hope to fill them all with Cincinnatus or George Washington (of course it would be a heroic achievement in itself to avoid filling these same seats with Nero or Lyndon Johnson) but the more numerous are the positions of power in the world, the more impossible it becomes for the institution of power itself to be directed virtuously. Even with a perfect selection process, all the world’s incorruptibles could be given crowns, and yet the remaining seats filled with normal men susceptible to power would make the vast institution of authority absolutely dominated by corruption. It is nigh impossible to give the reins of the world to a single man worthy of them, one capable of using rightly such power, but every expansion of the institutions of power only makes virtuous rule more impossible. Mathematically, the heroes who can wield power wisely are so scarce as to constitute a tiny minority of all our presidents, judges, legislators, monetary authorities, and other rulers. We have said that it was impossible to find the perfect angel of a man who could rule safely as a despot; we have answered this riddle by building a machine so vast that it would not matter if we did find this one perfect angel, for alongside him would rule ten thousand normal men given strong incentives to be anything but angels.

This may sound like a rejection of Equality in itself, but once again this is an error. It is as exceptional to be capable of ruling justly over other men just as it is exceptional to be capable of seeing through walls, inventing calculus, or swimming the channel. The exceptional gifts are part of humanity and must be acknowledged under any theory; certainly the most audacious part of embracing Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s theory that all men are created equal is believing it in light of the existence of Jefferson and Lincoln who so exceed us. Our own inferiority is the challenge to equality which enjoys some traction in the rational mind, not any pretense of superiority. But of course this may be answered in any number of ways, most directly by saying that human worth is not determined by gifts or even the great feats, but by a fundamental quality of human beings, such as being made in the image of God, and given the power to practice virtue in any circumstance. We know that some are given the vast toolsets of intellects like those of Newton and Keynes or physical ones like those of Samson or Tiger Woods. We also know that the world record for the quarter mile on foot is an entirely different record from the world record for the same distance on internal combustion. And we know that the quarter mile in a top-fuel class is entirely different from the quarter mile with the humbler means of a stock vehicle. We know that there is a scaling of challenges and accomplishments that follows from the difficulty of the circumstances under which they are achieved. We know that there is worth in all right things chosen and achieved in the face of hardship. We know that the greatest work of the smallest child is cousin to the greatest work of the greatest genius. We know there is treasure in the widow’s offering. And thus we know that there is a purpose in our efforts and choices, though they look trivial besideĀ King Alfred’s work.

The scarcity of the good rulers and the plenty of bad rule that we see in the world is the basis of the clearest of arguments against Democracy, which for many, automatically constitutes an argument against equality, though of course it is not necessarily so. An argument that most men are not capable of virtuously exercising rule over others most certainly does imply that a simple replacement of a king’s whim with a populace’s vote is not a positive change. It closes out the possibility of an exceptional Nero, but at the same time excludes Cincinattus. Critically, what it leaves is the will of a group we know to be incapable of virtuously ruling over others: Most men are incapable of exercising power benevolently, and a vote puts the power in the hands of most men. But it should be clear that this is emphatically not an argument against equality, it only superficially resembles the pro-monarchy arguments we have all forgotten. Fundamentally the argument is not against equality, or even against popular rule, but against hierarchy.

A normal man is incapable of safely using coercive power over his fellow men because such a relationship between men is unnatural. It is a sociologically problematic situation for anyone to have his boot on anyone else’s neck. We take it for granted that the relation that existed between French monarchs and their subject must exist between somebody, and so we set up our democracy in such a way that the voters may put their collective boot on all their individual necks. Is it any wonder that such contortion is painful? We have introduced new institutions capable of acting and working on a principle of equality, but we have demanded that they work according to the principles of the asinine hierarchies of the aristocracy. Liberal Democracy is an attempt to make an electorate behave as its own despot. It is an attempt for the group to know better than all its members, so that we may by voting obtain knowledge that we can only need because it does not exist among the voters. We at once assert that the general populace is incapable of choosing individually what kind of food they will eat or what their work will produce or where their money will go, and for this very reason we approach this very same general populace and demand that they determine by voting what they could not be trusted to determine at all a moment before. I have formed a confusing chain of sentences, but I am trying to express an impossibly confused chain of thought. I am trying to explain the wishes of an intellectual class which at once loves and hates self-rule, that really believes in elitism and rule from above, yet seeks to conceal its wish to be the ruling elite.

I said I would try to prove that Equality was inseperable from Liberty, and I have not gotten very far. “The world always goes wrong until a good man with a sword or rifle sets it right.” But what is the world? If the world were one vast thing, the domain of one man, then a good man with power over his domain would be exactly what we need. But the world is the domain of billions. If “putting the world right” means (as it does to the Liberals) putting right things that are within the domain of others, correcting their way of life and directing them towards purposes which we see fit, the question of equality really does enter in. If we believe that the good man with the sword or rifle is setting right a matter which is wrong in the life of another because of the free choices of that other, we are tacitly taking a side in between two people we believe to be equals. We are saying that Man A, whom we have called good, sees wrongness within the private domain of Man B; we assert that Man A’s opinion has greater validity than Man B’s because of a qualitative difference between the men. We violate the principle of equality. This is inevitable though, for we have treated the two differently from the very outset. Man A has been given power and authority to correct Man B’s errors, but not the reverse. We have, on some basis, set up one man as superior to the other. If I am to set you right within your own domain (not in your treatment of me) I am set above you. I am making choices that are easily within your capabilities, for you.

When the Founders of America simultaneously proposed a revival of the ancient notion of a Republic, and the entirely new notion of unilateral restraints on the power of government itself (don’t let the Magna Carta et al. confuse you; Kings vs. Barons is merely a struggle over the reigns) we might be tempted to think they were being doubly ambitious to tackle both of these radical projects at once. But my intuitive sense is the opposite; I suspect that it was perceived or anticipated that a new (or revived) method of government would not be suitable to the same projects pursued by the monarchies. It is all involved in that tangle of irrationality where a man votes on the coercions that shall be imposed upon him. A method of self-government is used to determine the specifics of depriving citizens of their self-determination. For the monarch to coerce all the citizens is tyranny; for all the citizens to coerce all the citizens is mere idiocy. It is one thing to say that the importance of one man (the King) is so great that all other wills must submit to his, but only a madman would propose that every man is so important (in the noble vision of citizenship one may still vaguely recall…) that his will must be identically overridden by an aggregate formed of all the individuals it will disregard. Monarchy is a massacre of free wills, Social Democracy is their hysterical mass suicide.

If you don’t see it now, I think you need a better guide than me.