About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The fundamental contradiction of libertarianism

by Massimo Pigliucci

I just read an extremely thoughtful essay by Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch over at crookedtimber.org. It is a must for anyone seriously interested in discussing libertarianism and its logic. While Bertram and colleagues largely take on a new group that — apparently without trace of irony — calls itself “Bleeding Heart Libertarians,” many of the points they make can be applied to a broader analysis of libertarianism.

As is well known, the core idea of libertarian philosophy is the preservation of the maximum amount of freedom possible. Though the concept seems, in practice, to be limited to the freedom of employers, we will give the libertarian the benefit of the doubt and assume he really does mean freedom for all; which is what immediately generates the fundamental and, as far as I can see, inescapable contradiction of the libertarian doctrine.

The crucial problem is that one simply cannot have freedom without limiting freedom. I know, it sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact libertarians themselves acknowledge its truth. Libertarians are not anarchists, and they understand that individual freedom is maximized only by the presence of a government that regulates the rules of engagement among people (otherwise we are back to a Hobbesian war of all against all). So, for instance, no libertarian would argue that the possibility of charges of murder are an impediment to your freedom to kill me. That’s because if you do kill me, my freedom is going to be (terminally, as it were) limited.

The same goes for your freedom to steel from me, obviously. So we already have two fundamental rights — to life and property — that do require government regulation, or our existence is going to be nasty, brutish, short and all the rest. Curiously, these also happen to be the only two kinds of freedom that libertarians acknowledge. But why? Our society recognizes additional freedoms that libertarians would find hard to object to in principle, and indeed, they strenuously defend when they perceive them to be threatened by government  action. Freedom of speech and of action (e.g., how, when and with whom to have sex), to name just a couple.

And that’s where the problem becomes obvious. Why, exactly, is it objectionable for the government to infringe on these liberties, but not for a private employer? In case you doubt — or, like most Americans, are simply unaware of — the fact that employers routinely do infringe in an entirely arbitrary manner on our personal freedom, consider the following two lists (both verbatim from Bertram et al.’s article. Apologies for the lengthy quotations, but their force resides precisely in their being long lists).

Let’s start with examples of abridgment of workers’ freedoms inside the work place, which include, but are certainly not limited to:

“Workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they want, say what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things — punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). ... Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job — certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers — and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment.”

And here is a partial list of freedoms workers have lost outside of their job, just in order to be able to keep employment (both lists include copious links to sources in the original article):

“Employers invade employees’ privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates (“work for John Kerry or work for me”), failing to donate to employer-approved candidates, challenging government officials, writing critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to “show proper consideration…for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory — such as politics and religion”), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, for reporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband.”

If the above lists don’t strike you as an egregious infringement on individual rights and freedoms I don’t know what you mean by those terms. The crucial question is: why do libertarians so clearly favor the right of employers to do all of the above (in the name of their “freedom”), but object to any attempt — through unionization or government intervention — by the workers to retain their rights and freedoms?

Here is where we encounter one of the most persistent and pernicious libertarian myths: the idea that workers are not actually being coerced (or, as some Bleeding Heart Libertarians put it, “unreasonably coerced”) because, you see, they are free to quit their job if they object to whatever unreasonable demands their employer makes on them.

This is such a preposterous fantasy that you do wonder how intelligent adults can seriously entertain it, but the power of the human mind to rationalize things is truly awesome. Bertram and company do an excellent job of explaining in detail what is wrong with the free-to-work-somewhere else myth, but a few points should be obvious. First, often it is simply not the case that an equivalent or near equivalent employment can be found elsewhere, simply because of the way the economy works. Which means that (much) more often than not the employee will be at a disadvantage with respect to the employer — precisely the sort of asymmetry that made possible child labor and working weekends during the robber baron era, and which was brought to an end by unions and government regulations (I should immediately add that I do not consider unions to be a panacea, but simply a necessary if imperfect tool to balance things out as much as possible).

Second, it seems curious to me that libertarians do not apply the same “you can always go someplace else” argument to other circumstances. For instance, shall we say that if someone doesn’t like living in a country under a dictatorship or a theocracy, one cannot truly complain that their liberty is being unreasonably curtailed, because after all one is always free to move to another country? No, we don’t say that, because we immediately realize how ludicrous that sort of reasoning is. There are constraints and high costs in leaving one’s country, constraints and costs that often make the move essentially impossible. Which is why people are more likely to try to change things internally, if they have the power to do so.

And that brings us to the third objection to the idea that one is free to leave one’s employment at any time. There are costs and constraints (ability to find similar employment, impact on family members, inability to keep up with long term financial commitments like mortgages, etc.) that by necessity make an exit strategy an “unclear option” (to use Bertram and colleagues’ phrase), to be used only as a last resort. Which is why many employers ratchet up their unreasonable demands little by little, so that the employee is unlikely to threaten to quit just because, say, he is being asked to stay an extra half an hour without pay at the end of the day, or to pee in a cup at the discretion of the employer. Which, again, is why employees need fine tuned instruments to constantly negotiate conditions on the job, instruments like government regulations (yes, not too many of them) and union bargaining power (yes, that also subject to limits and rules).

How anyone can  find something reasonable to disagree with regarding the above analysis is truly beyond me. And yet, I fully expect a flood of harsh criticism as soon as this essay is posted. Three, two, one... Go!


  1. As you say Libertarians are not anarchists and democrats are not communists, there are trying to balance similar concerns but come to different equilibriums. I think that's pretty essential in a democratic system.

    I do find it perplexing why academics complain about restrictive employment conditions, academic employment is almost paradoxically more lax and more restrictive than traditional private employment. You are held to fixed working hours yet you can suddenly be requested to disappear to a conference for a week regardless of what plans you had made. The only thing that reassures me is that I can move into the private sector if I suddenly become a father.

    1. Sorry some corrections:

      "there are trying to balance similar concerns but come to different equilibriums" should read "they are trying to balance similar concerns but come to different equilibriums"

      "You are held to fixed working hours yet you" should read "You are not held to fixed working hours yet you"

    2. The fact that academics (at least those who are full-time and tenured) presumably have it better than others doesn't mean they can't speak for those who are disfranchised and for those who have no voice or public platform. Their own circumstances, good or bad, are irrelevant to the merits of their claims and the strength of their arguments, and it's the latter that should be the focus of the discussion.

  2. Libertarianism is about maximizing what you can do on your property. So a company can do whatever it wishes on it's property, nobody forces people to go work there.

    Companies can't come to your own house and spy on you, they can only do that on their premises.

    But government can.

    This is the logic at least. In practice I don't see it applying. But logically it's not contradictory as long as you understand how that liberty is defined.

    1. This would have some merit if it were truly zero cost to leave a job. As the article points out, that isn't the case, and even where the cost is relatively low, that alone may not justify certain abridgments of fundamental freedoms.

      The problem is exactly how liberty is defined. Rather than promoting liberty writ large, they only promote their definition of liberty. However, to say that promoting their idea of "liberty" has anything to do with the ordinary concept of freedom is equivocating.

    2. There are examples right there in that article of occasions when companies spied on people in their own homes. Did you even read it?

  3. When one makes the decision to trade one's labor for an income from an employer it seems obvious that the individual will naturally lose some personal freedom. However, the individual should not lose her rights because of this economic transaction.

    For an employer to suggest that an individual cannot do something outside of the workplace, say, write about religion, seems like an obvious infringement on the individual's rights to me.

    The trouble, as Massimo points out, is that there are transaction costs associated with leaving jobs. One can't just magically and smoothly switch companies without incurring some costs, even if their rights have violated.

    If the employee is rational, then, they will weigh the infringement on their rights with the cost of finding a new job. Even though I'm sympathetic to many libertarian ideals, I still think that government has a duty to interfere on employers' freedoms when rights are on the line.

  4. "How anyone can find something reasonable to disagree with regarding the above analysis is truly beyond me. And yet, I fully expect a flood of harsh criticism as soon as this essay is posted."

    Well, you should expect criticism because you don't have a clue. You misstate the position of mainstream libertarians and then proceed to demolish your straw man. For that, you should be taken to task. The errors are numerous, but let's just take a few of them:

    "Libertarians are not anarchists..." Actually, many are (the term "anarchocapitalist" was coined to describe some libertarians, for instance). Some (myself included) are "minarchists," believing in the absolute minimum state to protect me from you (police, courts, contract law, etc.), but otherwise rejecting all other state functions. Others are far more mainstream and believe in just enforcing the US Constitution as written.

    "So we already have two fundamental rights — to life and property — that do require government regulation, or our existence is going to be nasty, brutish, short and all the rest. Curiously, these also happen to be the only two kinds of freedom that libertarians acknowledge." While life and property are two fundamental rights, I don't know any libertarian who would say that those are the only rights. You mention speech and action as rights and every libertarian would agree with you on those. Thus, you're constructing a straw man that doesn't exist.

    "Why, exactly, is it objectionable for the government to infringe on these liberties, but not for a private employer?" Ignoring the strawman, it's acceptable because governments are (or rather, should be) an impartial referee in life. A libertarian believes that the only reason for government's existence (for those not truly anarchists) is to protect me from you. That's it. Government should have no right over me other than to ensure that I'm not running around infringing on the rights of others. But private businesses are owned by somebody with rights. Among those rights is the right to operate his business the way he sees fit and to hire anybody he sees fit. The employee, conversely, has the right to work for whoever he wants (no slavery). In other words, you have no right to force me to hire you or keep you employed, regardless of your behavior. While a libertarian would say that an employer has a right to ask you for your Facebook password, you also have the right to say "No" and to take another job if the employer has a problem with that. Personally, I would even go farther and support laws that say that employees are allowed to do anything on their own time as long as it doesn't impinge on the business. Thus, write anything you want on your own blog, but the moment it becomes controversial and it gets linked to the business, it now becomes the employer's right to take action to protect the public image of the business. Ditto with Facebook, whether you want to smoke, etc.

    In short, this article is mostly nonsense and you should spend a lot more time reading up on what libertarians actually believe before you pen a screed criticizing those beliefs. There may be legitimate criticisms, but the present work is just the construction and consequent shredding of a straw man.

    As a question, what is the source for your ideas about libertarianism. I think they are either flawed or woefully incomplete.

    1. I might be able to agree with a portion of what you write here, but you stopped before responding to (identifying?) Massimo's main argument.

      I think the major thrust of the OP was a response to a view that libertarians do endorse, and one which you echoed in your comment: "you...have the right to say 'no' and to take another job". I have to agree with Massimo when he says that this view is about as defensible as "you have the right to say 'no' and move to another country".

  5. Well, it's at least arguable there is a difference between a government and a private employer, is it not? I understand people often imagine that the First Amendment and others apply equally to the government and to private employers, but that is not the case. Especially when referencing the Constitution, the issue should be whether the limitations imposed by it on government should apply to private employers.

    I should add that it may be unreasonable to assume that libertarianism stands for the proposition that all should be free to act however they desire. Absent that assumption, it may be somewhat more difficult to make claims regarding its "fundamental contradiction."

    1. ciceronianus,

      yes, there clearly is a difference btw government and private employers, the question is why do - in the mind of libertarians - the latter get to trump everyone's rights with impunity on the sole ground that they are not a government. So the fundamental contradiction remains.

    2. I think there would be a contradiction only if government and private employers are, in fact, the same. If they are not, then it doesn't necessarily follow they each should be bound by the same restrictions. Perhaps they should be, but that would have to be established rather than deduced. There are certain differences, some of them significant. My employer pays me, for example, but the government does not. Instead, I "pay" the government taxes. I get to vote for my representatives, which renders them (and government) to a certain extent beholden to me. My employer could have declined to hire me as an employee, but chose instead to employ me. That renders me, to a certain extent, beholden to it.

    3. @ciceronianus They are more similar than you may realize:

      You work for your employer in exchange for money. You pay taxes in exchange for police, courts, fire departments, roads, etc.

      You can be fired for breaking a rule. You can be deported for breaking a law.

      You can quit a company. You can emigrate from the country.

      Both buying stock in your company and paying taxes entitle you to a vote on who represents you.

  6. I'm not that kind of Libertarian....

  7. downquark,

    > I do find it perplexing why academics complain about restrictive employment conditions, academic employment is almost paradoxically more lax and more restrictive than traditional private employment. <

    I don't see your point. First, anyone has a right to criticize any political position, regardless of his own type of employment. Second, most academics actually do *not* have fixed working hours (except for lectures, which they often schedule anyway), and they are certainly not *required* to attend conferences. That's usually a pleasure rather than a burden.


    > Libertarianism is about maximizing what you can do on your property. So a company can do whatever it wishes on it's property, nobody forces people to go work there. <

    You seem to have missed the point. First, why is it that companies' rights are overwhelming and workers' rights aren't? Second, the idea that one can change employment at will is a convenient libertarian myth, as explained in the post.

    Dave Roberts,

    I love it when people on this blog commit the "fallacy fallacy," i.e. they accuse someone (in this case me) of committing a fallacy that he didn't actually commit.

    I assure you that I read articles by libertarians often, and I constantly talk to my libertarian friends, so the views presented here are nowhere near a straw man.

    > Some (myself included) are "minarchists," believing in the absolute minimum state to protect me from you (police, courts, contract law, etc.), but otherwise rejecting all other state functions. <

    Nice, except that any form of government is anathema to actual anarchists, so libertarians are not anarchists, as stated in the post. The debate is about the proper role of government, not about whether there should be a government or not.

    > While life and property are two fundamental rights, I don't know any libertarian who would say that those are the only rights. <

    Oh, they wouldn't say it, but they are fine with allowing corporations to repeatedly violating those rights.

    > private businesses are owned by somebody with rights. <

    And those rights include the ability to trump their employees' rights? On what principled reason?

    > The employee, conversely, has the right to work for whoever he wants <

    Convenient bullshit, as explained in the post.

  8. If I'm dissatisfied with my employer then I'm (1)free to quit - yes. But I'm not free to (2) get another job unless there IS another (comparable) job available to me (ask current job-seekers about that!). Thus the difference between (1) "negative" freedom/liberty and (2) "positive" freedom/liberty. Libertarians seem to pay too little attention to these two kinds of freedom; or maybe they do attend to them but think that (1) is really important while (2) is of negligible importance. I find them of equal importance, and to emphasize (1) only is basically to endorse oligarchy.

  9. My sense is that the most freedom-depriving thing that employers do, by far, is to force employees do their jobs. Employers typically force people to spend upwards of 25% of their adult life in places they wouldn't otherwise be, doing things they wouldn't otherwise be doing. This seems far more problematic, from a freedom-maximizing perspective, than any of the right infringements listed, especially since those happen rarely, while this happens nearly always.

    This is meant as an ad absurdum.

  10. @Massimo, sorry my point was lost by a typo.

    I must be in a particularly harsh field because from where I sit, if people started getting fussy about work hours, scheduling, where they want to raise a family then the field would suffer. And while some of my colleagues see conferences as a privilege I deride them as a burden, but that's probably because I'm a nervous public speaker. Which raises the pertinent libertarian question, should I stay in the field where I am expected to do something I rather hate, get someone to regulate them away, or suck up the cost and move elsewhere.

    In a nutshell my point was that academic efficiency can rely on fewer employment rules.

  11. I think that it is important to distinguish between "potential" and "actual" freedoms. I am potentially free to flap my arms and fly (no one is preventing me from doing this) - maximum potential - but I don't possess this freedom in reality because it is impossible for me to do it - minimum actuality. I am potentially free to breathe and, so long as I am alive and my lungs work, I can realize this potential. If we could quantify the actuality of each freedom then the criticism against libertarianism is that the difference between potential and actual freedoms are ignored. Maximizing potential freedoms favours large employers because they usually have a low cost to actualize them while the cost is very high for individual workers to actualize theirs.
    To take Massimo's extreme example, imagine a country in which every company is owned by the same person. That person has the potential (and actual) freedom to require every employee to adhere to his selected religion. Every other person has the potential freedom to "work somewhere else" but virtually no actual freedom to do so without leaving the country.
    People like Massimo implicitly deal with actual freedoms as some proportion of potential freedoms while libertarians implicitly deal only with potential freedoms and deny the relevance of actual freedoms.
    Personally, I prefer to deal with what exists in actuality, not in some theoretical world that doesn't exist.

    1. I think you're half right. I think Massimo deals with "grand" freedoms that concern large easily identifiable groups of people. I think libertarians are concerned that this steps on "petty" freedoms that concern anonymous individuals.

  12. M,
    You have many logical flaws here. I am an anarcho-capitalist, and consider this the only truly consistent form of libertarianism.
    The simple statement that your relationship with an employer is strictly voluntary and your relationship with the state is by force should be enough to logically debunk much if what you wrote should be enough, but I'm sure it's not for you.
    If a business says you cannot be gay, this is a voluntary arrangement and you are certainly free to be gay by freely breaking your relationship with said business.
    If the state says you can't be gathrown you cannot actually be gay or men with guns will come to your home and take you to jail. This relationship is at gunpoint!
    I truly hope you can see the distinction.

    Your argument that there are costs with changing employment is absurd at best. This implies that you are owed some standard of living by private businesses.

    Your article has so many ligical flaws that I will take the time to write a full rebuttal on my blog and post the link. Will need a couple of days.

    1. "The simple statement that your relationship with an employer is strictly voluntary and your relationship with the state is by force"

      Except in reality, this statement is not true. You must have a relationship with some employer, or die. Frequently, if one relationship sours, it is not possible to form a new relationship without significant cost. The relationship is therefore not a free relationship, but a coerced one.

    2. Paul,

      From where do you get that unemployment = death? In the US, people with zero earnings are eligible for a fairly robust set of federal and state benefits programs such as EITC, SNAP, TANF, and others, plus programs run by private charities. You can always choose to not have a job if you're willing to forfeit certain non-essentials.

      "I don't want to leave my job because it pays better than the alternative" is very different from "I can't leave my job because I'll die."

    3. Paul,
      This argument that your relationship with your employer is coercion is just silly. I personally have changed jobs 7 times in my life. Each time resulting in better wages and total result was higher personal utility. This is an extremely common occurrence and most people in the market experience the same thing. I'm willing to bet you have as well.
      I once left a job because of a written warning I did not agree with. Yes it was not that instant, it took me 6 weeks to find new employment (I stayed working during the 6 weeks).
      It is also absurd that unemployment means death. Forget about all the state programs (which I don't agree with) we are all free to be entrepreneurs just like our employers. Of course that can be extremely difficult due to the massive amount of regulation and hurdles the state has put in place to protect large companies. But this has nothing to do with the free market. Were it not for the state it would be very easy for people to leave their employer and create direct competition.
      This happens most in young industries that haven't been massively regulated yet, like it did in the computer and software industry in the 80's and 90's.
      Then eventually the big Co's lobby for protective regulation that prevents competition. This is strictly a problem of the state hindering the market. You can argue that the market does the lobbying. But without the state, these tools would not be available. So they have nothing to do with real free market capitalism. Free market capitalism is a 100 percent non interference from the state.
      Even Dispite this state Intervention, no relationship with their employer is coerced. That is just bunk. The fact the most of us change jobs (and usually not by being fired or laid off) many times in our lives is proof. People leave their jobs every day. Most people do this many times in their lives by their own choice. So your whole coercion point is just silly.
      Only your relationship with the state is coerced.
      In reality Paul, if a business said you can't be gay, would an openly gay person actually stand for it? Maybe for a month or two until he finds something else, but in reality, he would not.
      Now what if the state said it and meant to enforce it? What then for the openly gay man? He has no option, men with guns come and take him, or he is no longer openly gay.

      Reality is, tyranny comes from the state! Not your employer! The latter is just silly

  13. Massimo, what do you think about Republicanism and it's concept of freedom? seems like a much more useful one.
    And Massimo, you better watch this:
    Raymond Geuss, a political philosophers, does a wonderful wonderful job here:

    Best Regards,


  14. Though I generally find libertarians to be misguided, with most Bleeding Heart Libertarian bloggers no exception, there was an excellent post on their site last month which made many of the same points that you made: Recharting the Map of Social and Political Theory: Where is Government? Where is Conservatism?

    Tomasi’s map of social possibilities confuses government with the state and the capitalist economy with the market. A more illuminating map would identify government with any organization in which some people systematically issue authoritative commands, backed up by penalties, to others. It would then distinguish liberal democratic from authoritarian governments, and public governments (states) from private governments such as firms... But what they mean by limiting “government” in favor of “markets” and the “private sector” is limiting the power of liberal democratic governments—whether states, labor unions, or workers’ councils—to impose limits on the power of private authoritarian governments such as the firm, the patriarchal family, and the church.

  15. I think critics of libertarianism are mistaken on accepting so easily the right of property. Property is not a natural right and is difficult to defend from a principled position of minimal government. The guarantee of property is in a way a service of the state no difference than the guarantee of health through healthcare.
    Certainly property it's a useful right and essential if we want to have societies similar to ours but this is a pragmatic argument. A pragmatic argument that has nothing to do with the principled argument of "maximizing freedom."

  16. I came across crookedtimber.org a couple days ago and traced back through all the responses on both sides (following a long trail of hyperlinks). The criticism therein applies not just to libertarians, but to many (modern American) conservative values and - granted - a select few (modern) liberal values.

    Many conservatives/libertarians/liberal "austrians" today have problems with any positive rights. The arguments against such rights, purely philosophical, rest on absurd claims about what constitutes coercion and manipulation. When you push the logic out of the abstract and towards items like public space and parenting their terms and ideas either become incredibly self destructive or so vague and verbose to as to reduce to hot air, bullshit.

    Its either weak philosophy, bad economics, or abysmal psychology which leads to the eventual perversion of thought that promulgates exceptionally vague, dishonest ideas. The economic and moral outrage this camp cries is itself outrageous.

  17. ciceronianus,

    > I think there would be a contradiction only if government and private employers are, in fact, the same. <

    I don't see why. My argument rests on a much less strict issue: why is it acceptable for private employers to violate people's rights? The standard libertarian answer, that a worker is not coerced because she can quit is, as argued in the post, largely a myth, and so provides no answer whatsoever.

    Jim Fisher,

    predictably, you entirely missed the point. See my comment above to ciceronianus.


    thanks for the link. What in particular about Republicanism are you referring to, and what kind of Republicanism?

    1. There seems to be a miscommunication, or perhaps we're using words differently. It seems that libertarians assert A (government) may not violate certain rights, but B (private employers) may. If A and B are the same, then libertarians are contradicting themselves. If they are not the same, there is no contradiction. One may argue that even though A and B are not the same (which you seem to acknoweldge)neither should be allowed to violate the rights in question. One may argue that libertarians distinguish between government and private employers improperly or that the grounds on which they distinguish them are insignificant or not valid. That is to say libertarians are wrong, but not that they contradict themselves.

    2. M,
      your argement that business can violate our rights (coercion) rests on our inability to not change jobs, ie it is a coercive relationship. This is far from the truth. It is no different than saying if you are at your next door neigbors home in a snow storm and feeling very comfortable so you prefer not to leave, and they say you cannot talk about politics in their home, then they are violating your rights. Because the fact even though you would like to talk politics, you prefer the comfort of their home over talking politics.
      employers are no different than home owners, you have no right to be at their place of work. Its not that it is coercive, it is that we always choose to work at the best place for our personal utility (or happiness or comfort, or money, whatever you want to call it) so the fact that we allow them to restrict our actions is based on the preference not to go to work at another job available to us, or to live self sustaining (which is absolutley possible, were it not for the state). It is strictly that we value the job higher than the action they are preventing.
      This is not coercion. The state however, there are no such choices involved. There are no choices involved.

      You use the fact that most humans choose to stay at their first choice of emplyment over their 2nd or 3rd or 4th choice as a bases of coercion. This is just nonsense. We just value the difference between our 1st option for employemnt and our 2nd option for emplyment higher than whatever action we are prohibited from doing at our current (1st choice) place of work.

      This is just simple praxeology. It does not define our relationship with our place of work as coercive.

      If our first option of work became so restirictive on our actions as to make our 2nd option of work get valued higher on our own value scale, then we would change jobs (as people often do every day, you have and I have). This is not remotely coercion. It is just humans valuing the difference between 1st choice option of work and second choice option of work higher than the action prohibited at our first choice.

  18. I don’t understand why the discussion doesn’t stop with the ideal that companies have rights. They shouldn’t. They only exist as legal entities authorized by the Government. The privileges they have only exist because “We the people” allow them to.

    I can understand the ideal the government should keep its nose out of the transaction between individuals but why shouldn’t the governments be able to regulate entities that they create?

    I don’t buy the concept of companies rights are the aggregate of the individual owners. If that was the case then the punishment of any illegal act by a company should be borne by the owners. How can you have rights without responsibility for the consequences of exercising them? When I see stock holders doing jail time for the crimes of their companies I’ll accept the notion that companies have rights.

    1. What does it mean for companies not to have rights? If I sign a contract to work as a security guard and then I don't work as a security guard, does the employer have the right to fire me? Assuming it does, why is the employer allowed to compel me to spend 25% of my hours working as a security guard, out of fear of being fired, but not allowed to force me to take a drug test, search my person, or prohibit me from insulting my boss or having an affair, out of fear of being fired?

    2. I don’t have a problem if the contract is between two individuals. If Bill Gates will only hire you as a security guard if you take a drug test that’s fine. It’s ok if he will only agree to the contract if you wear a jester’s outfit and refer to him as King Bill. If you actually dont fulfill your portion of the the contract he is under no obligation to pay you. If during your employment he has you do something that causes you injury he could be sued or even face criminal charges. He suffers the consequences of his decisions.

      When a company does this the owners do not bear the consequences of these decisions. Who goes to jail if the action of a company causes the death of someone? Not the owners. Yet companies are supposed to have rights?

      If we start with principal that companies don’t have rights then there shouldn’t be any argument about their regulations other than what’s best for the individual.

    3. luther,

      Accepting your premise that a company should have no rights, and that regulation should always favor the employee, it seemingly follows that if I work for Microsoft as a security guard and I never show up for work, Microsoft should not be allowed to stop paying me. It has no right to do so, since it's a corporation, whereas I'm a person and I have the right to keep getting paid.

    4. Not exactly. Getting paid is not a right. You have a contract with Microsoft that says in exchange for such and such they will pay you money.

      Government could require that all companies are required to pay their employees even if they don’t show up for two weeks. Not saying that would be good policy but no one’s rights is being violated.

      You have a right to free speech not Microsoft. They would be violating your rights if they didn’t allow you to say bad things about them on Facebook. They would not have any rights to be violated if they legally could not spend money on political ads.

  19. contrarianmoderate,

    the problem isn't to equate death with leaving a job. But, contra Jim's anecdotal evidence, it is a fact that employers have disproportionate amount of power over their employes, and that quitting a job is too often far too drastic a step.

    Hence the need for a better balance of power, which can be insured only by government regulations and/or unions. I simply don't get in the name of what sacred and mythical right do libertarians deny both the facts on the ground and the soundness of principle of more equitable labor relations.

    1. Massimo,

      Is it not equally possible to improve the balance of power between employer and employee by improving the social safety net? That is, the better off non-working people are, the less power employers have over workers, since the negative consequences of leaving one's job are reduced. I realize this is NOT the typical libertarian line, but I believe it is accepted by some if not most bleeding heart libertarians (for instance see http://bit.ly/N34guI).

      If you grant this, then this debate is mostly about tactics (what's the best / easiest / cheapest way to improve the balance of power), rather than a difference in worldview. We can agree that workers should be empowered vs. employers, and then decide whether to do so through additional laws and empowerment of unions, or by expanding social safety nets.

    2. I don't see the two issues as alternative, but complementary. As a matter of social justice and quality of life we need *both* better protection for employees and a better safety net. You know, like in every other country we'd care to compare ourselves to.

      Besides, I simply think the kind of gross violations of employees' rights mentioned in the post are unacceptable on principle. Why on earth would we allow that much latitude of dictating our behaviors to a small number of people with whom allegedly we simply have a professional relationship with?

    3. Massimo,

      It seems like you may have departed somewhat from your original position, which I read to be that libertarianism is not just wrong but also inconsistent--that libertarians' stated objective (freedom maximization) doesn't match their preferred public policies (employee protections).

      Employee protections may be needed for social justice and quality of life, but these aren't the objectives being ascribed to libertarians. It's fine to posit them as values, but do so is to argue against freedom maximization as a singular guiding principle, rather than to argue that freedom maximization as a guiding principle requires support of worker protections.

      As I tried to argue above, it's possible for libertarians to agree with you that employer coercion of workers is unacceptable on principle while rejecting both legal restriction and union empowerment, provided they support some alternative means of supporting workers, such as expanded social safety nets.

  20. I have written a post on my blog to refute this post by Massimo. http://www.teapartyhobos.blogspot.com/

    If you agree with M, please take a moment to read. This post is far from truth and full of strawman and bunk.

    1. What this view of liberalism volutarily forgets is that property has its origin in violence. Because the origin of property happens in a moment before the law, and hence is an action that is beyond authority.

      You can see it from this, you say:
      "The other core of Libertarianism is property rights. That is you own your body and all its production, you and you alone, no exceptions! "

      But if everyone only owns his body and its production the only thing we could sell is organs, sex and our excrements. Everything else would be using materials that we don't own and thus selling things that we don't own.

      Naturally your argument will be the Lockean argument of the origin of property in labor. But there is no natural rule that goes from "I worked for it now it's mine", because if there was then you would admit to believe in the marxian theory of value. There is no conversion of work into property in nature, because such conversion is regulated by the job market.
      Hence the origin of property is pissing on a tree and threatening your neighbor if he gets near it.
      In a word: violence.

    2. Iro,
      I am missing your stretch that property rights has its origin in violence.
      I did fail to include the whole homesteading and mixing labour with nature to assign property rights, just becuase this topic can have much to discuss within itself. But this certainly does not lead me to agree with marxian theory of value. Im not sure how much you understand on the different theorys of value with economics, but I subscribe to the Austrian theory of value, which is has no contradictions with my beliefs. Assigning ownership of propertry does not have roots in violence. You will have to elaborate on that point. You say it proceeds natural law, this is not true. Neither is the predicessor.
      I am guessing what you are referring to is the marxian theory that the working class only claims property (or capital) thought class struggles, in that the only way they get property is through class awareness and expropriating what is rightfully theirs (since they were exploited in the first place to bring capital to the ruling class).
      this is just nonsense that I must agree with marx to be able to have a system to assign ownership of property. There is a perfectly legitimate libertarian system of assigning ownership of property that need not include Marx's theory of value. If you would like to debate the system of assigning ownership for property rights, I would be happy to, it is slightly off topic (although very important to the subject at hand), but we may want to do it on a seperate thread.
      I would like to hear what you think about property rights. Usually people love to try and debunk the libertarian system without admitting to a belief in the Marxian or socialist system of property, becuase that has more contradictions and flaws than one can shake a stick at. Marx's theory of value has been debunked in the economic world.

  21. The contradictions are between the libertarians who actually understand what they believe and a handful who are confused by what libertarians say they believe. Libertarians say they believe in human freedom. Libertarians actually believe that freedom is the power of those with money to do what they want with their money.

    If a rich landowner wants to hire some off-duty cops to kill peasant organizers, they fine with it. If a government wants to rampage around arresting rich landowners for running death squads, they're tyrants.

    Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. There are no, repeat, no US libertarians who do not advocate against any tyrannical government repressing rich landowners. Says it all.(Indeed, most would advocate the use of US governmental powers to defend the death squads.

  22. If the crooked timber piece is "required reading" you might as well read the response on marginal revolution: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/07/libertarianism-and-the-workplace.html

    Some choice quotes:

    "When I hear the phrase “workplace coercion,” the first thing I think of is employee theft, estimated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at over $50 billion a year."

    "3. Is the complaint that workers are getting an inefficient mix of money and workplace freedoms? Maybe so, but I’ve yet to see the argument. And what if it turned out they were getting too many workplace freedoms and not enough money, say because of intra-family externalities and the intra-family tax rate on the money?

    4. Is the complaint is that workers should be getting the mix of money that the authors desire to see in place, rather than what the workers themselves wish to have, taking opportunity costs into account? If so, I’m probably not on board but in any case let’s see the authors fess up to that upfront and then defend it. Let’s see how many of the workers they can convince."

  23. The problem with these debates is there is something of an information asymmetry. Libertarianism is old, simple and largely absolute, anyone can research or derive likely outcomes (warts and all).

    When Massimo proposes a fair balance of government regulations, it on its own is a content-less statement. People can project their dreams or nightmares into it. A dream perhaps (for some) being liberalism with the warts removed and a nightmare being a slow bureaucratic governing nightmare. And there is little telling what outcome might be arrived at by a fickle democratic process, so it becomes the devil you know vs the devil you don't.

    Obviously, such a problem is not easily solved at the speeds human communicate ideas, but I think it identifies some of the anxieties a libertarian may have.

  24. ciceronianus,

    the contradiction I am referring to has nothing to do with the differences between government and private sector, which are obvious. It has to do with an ideology claiming that freedom is its fundamental tenet somehow not recognizing that freedoms need to be protected from private as well as governmental coercion. A safety net - while undoubtedly a good thing on other grounds - does not address the arbitrariness of private employers' infringement on people's rights. To suggest it as a solution would be like arguing that it is okay to have a tyranny in a country, as long as the tyrant also guarantees you a free airline ticket to leave the country, should you not like his methods.


    no, I have not departed from my original position, for the reasons just mentioned to ciceronianus above. I see social nets and on the work rights as separate issues, both necessary. There simply isn't going to be "freedom" without social justice, unless we are talking about the freedom of those who have a lot to arbitrarily impose their will on those who have little.

    Jim Fisher,

    you couldn't just say that you wrote a response to this post? You had to go down the road of insults like "straw man and bunk"? Suit yourself, my friend.

    1. I am curious massimo, if I told you that you must take a drug test if you want to come into my home, would I be infringing on your rights?

  25. M,
    Straw man is not an insult. It's just defining a logical error in debating.
    By Bunk I mean false (I hope you don't take it a different way).
    Neither of these terms are meant as insults. Insults are attacking a person not ideas. Both terms I used are to attack your ideas or post.

  26. Jim,

    > Straw man is not an insult. It's just defining a logical error in debating. By Bunk I mean false (I hope you don't take it a different way). <

    I trust that was your intent. But "bunk" usually refers to blatantly obvious falsehoods, as in pseudoscientific bunk. As for straw man, well, for a professional philosopher it is a bit of an insult, but I won't quibble too much on the phrasing...

    > your argement that business can violate our rights (coercion) rests on our inability to not change jobs, ie it is a coercive relationship. This is far from the truth. It is no different than saying if you are at your next door neigbors home in a snow storm and feeling very comfortable so you prefer not to leave <

    It is absolutely different, and your next question:

    > if I told you that you must take a drug test if you want to come into my home, would I be infringing on your rights? <

    to which the answer is obviously not, clearly shows how you (and, I take it, most libertarians) simply don't understand (or refuse to understand) the point. The problem originates any time there is a highly imbalanced relation of power between people. Governments are one example, but employers - under many circumstances - are another. And to cry infringement of freedom in the first case but not in the second is logically inconsistent, not to mention more than a little callous, ethically speaking.

    1. Libertarians don't recognise the power imbalance since both parties have their rights to life and property (just so happens someone have more property). The government has the power imbalance because it has the authority to remove freedoms.

      You have to draw a line for reasonable objections to power imbalances somewhere. Does PZ Myers have throw power around unreasonably through his followers? Would special consideration have to be given between you and and older philosopher because he maybe taller and have more books published?

      FYI: I'm not a hardcore libertarian, I'm just following the logic, which I don't consider self contradictory.

    2. downquark,

      well, if you really can't tell the difference between the hypothetical PZ case and those listed in the main post, I'm afraid I've run out of ways to explain it. Libertarians have an irritating tendency to pick an extreme example against which nobody would argue (PZ, or Jim's invitation to his home), and then assume that there is no difference between those cases and the ones actually under discussion, thereby concluding that there is no merit to the criticism. Again, I appreciate the feedback, but I find the logic baffling to say the least.

    3. Of course I (myself) see a difference, but I don't see where in the libertarian logic the demarcation that acknowledges the difference is.

      It's like consequentialists seeing no difference between telling a murderer where to find his victim and committing murder themselves, while a deontologist insists there's a huge difference.

  27. M,
    OK, so you have argued that I am refusing to see the point. Becuase there is a power imbalance that I am not acknowledging. There is no actual power! When two parties have a voluntary exchange, both parties benefit, otherwise the exchange would never happen. This is an economic or praxeological fact. This idea that one party is loosing is not correct. The second both parties do not benfit, the exchange will no longer happen. This is economics 101, and you are failing to ackowledge it. it is a fact that all exchanges in a free market benefit both parties, otherwise the exchange will not take place. employment is an exchange, just like any market exchange.
    I have carefully laid out the praxeological reasoning why people often do not leave their job. It is becuase of our own value system and preferences. We value X job (even if they dont let us smoke) more than Y (that may be our second option, even if they do let us smoke). Also, People leave their jobs every darn day, and you want to make this sound like some power imbalance system. Its not! its a system where two parties exchange to both their benefits. This is not coercion!

    Yet you want to use to coercion of the state interupt this relationship that was mutually agreed on by both parties.

    Maybe playboy playmates feel its against their rights to pose nude? I mean how degrading is that! Perhaps we should get the state to force playboy to pay them the same wage for wearing dress suites.

    After all, what 22 year old girl can turn down $50,000.00? So playboy has all the power!

    Yes I am going to an absurd case to make a point. But the point is perfectly valid. Its Playboys business! they made the magazine, they own all the capaital it takes to make a magazine. they made a massive investment. its theirs! no one elses!. they own it outright. No woman has to agree to pose nude for them! It is 100% voluntary! Many many woman would not do it for $10,000,000.00 so how can you say this is coecrion?

    Becuase posing nude is such an outrageous thing for mose people, playboy must offer very large amounts of money to get woman to do it.

    This same concept is in all business. If a business said you can have abortions, smoke, swear, be christian, and so on, and this was actually important to people, the only way people would work there is if they paid a wage higher than businesses that dont require all these infringements. Do you get it? It is free market exchange.

    What if an openly gay man who worked at company Y was offered a job by a Christian company called X, but the Christian company said he could no longer be gay? He would likely turn down the job, but what if company X doubled his salary?

    maybe he does it, maybe not? What if they triple his salary?

    The point is, becuase it is a free market, he will only take the new job if the compensation becomes worth more to him than being openly gay.

    This is not coercion, it is his preference!

    You refuse to see my point. I am starting with the presupposition of the non agression axiom and property rights.

    You are starting with a presupposition that once we work someplace and reach some standard of living, we are entitled to that standard. You start with a presupposition that something is owed.

  28. M,
    You should read up on your economics. I would recommend "Human action" by Ludwig von Mises. Your obviously the master at philosophy, why not learn praxeology and learn why economics cannot be handled the same as biology and physics. Why it must be deductive and cannot be just an observational science.
    In this book Mises sets up a complete frame work for handling social sciences.

  29. The differences between a government and a private employer, however, may very well impact on the extent to which they should be limited from doing certain things, including things which limit certain freedoms. Because of those differences, they have different functions, stengths, weaknesses. They effect us differently. It would seem to make sense that we should not expect them to have the same obligations.

  30. Massimo--

    Isn't there a matter of degree being lost in the comparison between going from one company to another and moving from one country to another? It is fairly easy for me to find another employer. It is a little harder for me to move to another country.

  31. Very good article ! The way employers (or worse corporations) very often get "carte blanche" from libertarians has puzzled me on many occasions. The only exception I know, is from those that call themselves "left libertarians" (I've heard Noam Chomsky refer to himself as such but I cannot remember where/when, sorry), and I do not think they represent the majority of libertarians or what one understands when libertarianism is mentionned.

  32. I have always wondered at the neo-feudalists, ahem, Libertarians and their demonizing of government while giving the corporations a total pass. It is as if they just don't see them and the things they do beyond their blinders.

  33. ciceronianus,

    > The differences between a government and a private employer, however, may very well impact on the extent to which they should be limited from doing certain things, including things which limit certain freedoms. <

    No question about it. But the libertarian position allows for practically *no* limits to the power of private employers (except, I suppose, when it comes to murdering their employees).

    Ritchie the Bear,

    > Isn't there a matter of degree being lost in the comparison between going from one company to another and moving from one country to another? <

    Yes, the comparison is a matter of degrees. But that's the point: libertarian mythology does not allow for the existence of *any* constraint or coercion in the employer / employee relationship. My example was meant as a reductio showing how absurdum that is...

    Remi Gau,

    > The only exception I know, is from those that call themselves "left libertarians" (I've heard Noam Chomsky refer to himself as such but I cannot remember where/when, sorry) <

    Yes, the term "libertarian" means a very different thing outside the United States, and it does characterize people who are skeptical of government powers while still supporting a progressive liberal agenda, like Chomsky.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. When I take this political quiz, which plots one's response on a matrix with Left-Right and Authoritarian-Libertarian axes, my response results in the following designation:

      left moderate social libertarian.
      Left: 5.94, Libertarian: 1.23

      In other words, I landed in the lower left-hand quadrant, more towards the left (Left) than towards the bottom (Libertarian).*

      I suppose that the stereotypical US "Libertarian" would land in the lower right-hand quadrant, more towards the right and the bottom, and the stereotypical Chomskyite/Left-Libertarian further in the same quadrant as I did, but perhaps even further left and bottom.

      * A more detailed breakdown is:

      Economic issues: +5.94 left
      Social issues: +1.23 libertarian
      Foreign policy: +3.05 non-interventionist
      Cultural identification: +5.15 liberal

    3. PS: How Libertarians defend their position is another matter entirely, and I agree that their arguments are riddled with flaws. I like to believe that I can do a better job of defending my position, but then I don't claim to have arrived at it via "pure reason" (if such a thing exists).

    4. I do not much about the distinction in other languages but in french, we had to come up with a neologism to describe the libertarian US-style ("libertarien") where as the traditional word ("libertaire") indeed refers to more "classical" anarchist position.
      But I have to admit to that the US-style libertarian political position is almost non existent in the french political landscape (I do not know about the rest of Europe), which makes the whole thing even stranger for me.

    5. Remi,

      US-style Libertarianism may indeed be an Anglo-American phenomenon (e.g. a legacy of the "classical liberal" thought that prevailed in 18th- & 19th-Century anglophone countries).

      But, from my perspective, Libertarianism is just a peculiar version of right-wing/conservative thought - one that may be more logically consistent than other versions in its critique of state power, but one that ultimately boils down to what cognitive scientist/linguist George Lakoff calls a "strict father model", using the metaphor of the nation as family and the government as parent.

      It's easy enough to interpret "strict father" in authoritarian terms, and insofar as Libertarians, say, support harsh laws against criminals (where most of the punishment may be out-sourced to privately owned prisons), I believe they embody just that.

      But there's another way to look at the strict father role (and, yes, the male gender better fits the stereotype), which is to imagine a parent who steps back and does not intervene in a situation where one's own child struggles, based on the assumption that struggle is ultimately healthy or cleansing (e.g. in a karmic sense) - particularly if the parent perceives that child to have acted disobediently somehow (e.g. based on one's belief in a natural moral order, as fallacious as that is).

      Of course, all metaphors have their limitations, but this one goes a long way towards explaining a lot of political behavior, I think (and not just on the right).

  34. Your obviously not going to acknowledge the point at hand so let me try it another way.

    You said that you agreed that people should have the right to tell someone they cannot swear or talk politics in their own home if they desired ( I say the "right", you would call this power).

    What if you were making cookies in your home to sell, and hired your neighbor to bake for you. Would you have the right (or power as you would put it) to tell him he cannot wear a cross while he is in your home baking cookies for sale? Or the right to tell him if he is working for you baking cookies he can not be openly gay?

    At what arbitrary point does this relationship become coercive? At what arbitrary point are you no longer holding the right to control what happens in your home.

    Coercion by definition mean "not voluntary"

    At what arbitrary point do we no longer choose where we work? When we are interviewing? When they give is the job offer and it's more money than we were making so now we really want it. Is it at this point it is no longer a voluntary action, because we're getting more money?

    When you left your last teaching position did your ex employer still have coercive power over you? Or does that coercive power automatically switch to your new employer? (they handed it off to one another?).

    How ever did you break the coercive power of your last employer? Or do they still have it?

  35. I hope you can see the point above here. You answered earlier that we do Indeed have a right to decide what people are allowed to do in our own home.
    But it is you who have the direct contradiction. In some instances our property justifies us having rights and dominion over our property, in some instances those rights disappear.
    You have used being an employer is justification for loosing those rights (because for some reason this becomes coercion, which you incorrectly state) but you can't explain why producing things that society wants is coercion. You false argument for this is that we are not actually free to leave our jobs, yet you yourself (and millions of others) have left their jobs, most of us many times by our choice. By simple definition, this is not coercion.
    And so you want to use real coercion of the state to remove property rights.

    Maybe not for the single cookie baker with 1 or 2 employees, but you have some arbitrary limit where you want property rights to be infringed on by the coercion of the state.

    This is the typical intellectual view of big business. They see big business as having coercive power (as it does in certain areas) but they fail to identify the source of this power. It is always through the state. Lobbying for protective regulation is the most common method. Rather than take the logical step of removing the real coercive power from the system (the state) the intellectual seeks to increase the power of the state in hopes they can use this increase in power to limit big big business power.
    Not realizing this is an oxymoron. It by definition can not work. Big business will always have access in this increase in power for it has the means to buy it. There is no such thing as altruistic politics. Give the politician more power to regulate big business, it will always regulate for big business. There is no system or form of government where this is not true.
    This is why the Libertarian has the only logical method, he says limit big business ability to use the state, by eliminating the state

  36. Since Massimo realizes this much, I hope he will now stop calling the so-called libertarians (SCLs) "libertarians." The word simply means advocates of liberty, just as "egalitarians" means advocates of equality, etc. No particular groups can own such words. The SCL Party defends the very worst features of capitalist wage-slavery, and they are not entitled to the name. Like the "pro-life" name of the anti-abortion cults, the SCLs adopted their name as a rhetorical trick. Socialists are the true libertarians, upholding the right of the workers in every workplace to democratically elect their own managers and supervisors, and to receive the full wealth that they produce, undiminished by the robbery that is the employers' profits and other forms of waste.

  37. Mike,

    How does one logically support this view of a supposed economy. You do understand that socialism can not possibly work.
    Ludwig von Mises and quite a few others have totally debunked the validity of socialism being even remotely possible due to its lack of "real prices", thus having no mechanism to relay information for resources.

    Periodically I come across people (I think that share your view) with this mysterious view that there is some new socialism that works like a free market, excpet that the companies are democratically run.

    I am curious, in this new socialism, that has a price system because it works like a regular free market except it has democratically elected owners (or managers, or whatever you call them), who is the entrepeneur?

    What motivation does an entrepeneur have, knowing there is no ownership of anything he builds?

    This view totally disregards the need for "Human action" in economics. It disregards Praxeology and why human action happens.

    The entrepeneur is the catalyst of all economic activity. For it is he who accepts the risk of all business. They are often a failure, and also often fail many times in route to success. For what reason would someone accept this role in your new socialists system?

  38. An person has no more right to compel another to be his employer than he would have to compel another to be his employee. (We fought a war over this some time back.)

  39. Jim,

    to take your argument further, once Walmart uses its superior leverage to eliminate all the other jobs available in the US (for example, choose whichever future monopoly you like), because there is no way that a group of concerned mothers who like local business or bearded college kids have enough economic force to keep open every little shop, and it is the only available employer in the area, when the slick young executive institutes his "Droit du seigneur" initiative for all employees, is it fair that you either have to submit or end up homeless and trying to hitchhike to another town to try your luck there? There are no other jobs left, or if there are, one is stuck at Target or Amazon (who seem to have similar philosophies). The power imbalance is terribly clear, and there is no way out.

    While the above is an extreme example, one need only look back 75 years or so to see it in action. The Company Store, the Corporate Town, etc. When your options are 1) follow Henry Ford's rules to the letter or 2) lose your job and become blacklisted and unemployable due to malignant corporate practices, lack of references, etc., coercion is definitely in play. "Get raped or starve" should never be a choice someone has to make.

    Your naive assumption that companies will not present such choices rests on a similarly misguided arguments that "other work is always available" and "there is always a competitor to serve as an alternative." This is not, and has never been, the case.

    There is no functional difference between a big enough company and the kind of government libertarians despise. The differences between a feudal state and the Halliburton run oil fields in Iraq are minimal.

    1. To respond director to one of your statements:

      "This is why the Libertarian has the only logical method, he says limit big business ability to use the state, by eliminating the state"

      Thus, we should eliminate all police, so all crime will stop, because sometimes criminals rely on police incompetence or bribery to get away. Good luck getting your television back, though.

    2. Spoilers,
      It was only a matter of time before the economic fallacys of the large firm (Walmart) were brought up. Yet the actual proof of Walmarts compensation is exactly the opposite of what you claim. You claim that along with the large firm or monopoly is an increase in coercion.
      Yet what does the actual proof show? Walmart actually compensates its employees much higher than the small firms did. The mom and pop stores that it replaced had much lower compensation and rarely gave any benefits if at all. I personally worked for one of those smaller firms that literally got put out of business by Walmart, the total compensation Walmart gives its employees is not just higher, but much higher. Health insurance was non existent to the cashiers and stockers prior to Walmart, only middle and upper management got these benefits. Now all workers in this industry have access to health insurance.
      So here's the logic you represent, Walmart comes in wiping out its competition by making all its consumers far more wealthy (otherwise it would not have had it's success), so the consumer got more wealthy by Walmart, and the fact they choose Walmart is proof (had it been something else that gave consumers higher utility such as mom and pop stores, than that's what would have succeeded), and also the employees became far more wealthy by Walmart, and this is somehow coercion on Walmarts part? This is a power imbalance? Why doesn't Walmart use this power imbalance? Why are they actually increasing compensation.
      When someone actually has the power of coercion over their employees, it seems logical they might forgo increasing their pay (I would think even decrease it?), yet the exact opposite happened?
      Something seems to be missing from your "once Walmart takes over, all their employees are now coerced" argument?
      The funny thing about your theory, is that this is not true just for Walmart and the retail sector. This is true for all sectors. On average large firms compensate employees much higher than small firms. This is true in manufacturing, Biotech, retail, and every other industry. Why with this increase in power imbalance, does this happen?
      Monopoly in a free market is not a bad thing, it actually rarely happens without the use of state coercion (like utility Co's, phama Co's getting monopoly protection on products, etc..) but if a monopoly occurs in a true free market, it does so strictly by the consumers choice, meaning it is making the consumer more wealthy than any competitor can. Only when state assisted coercion brings about monopoly, is it bad for the consumer. By definition, monopoly only occurs in a free market when it can satisfy consumer needs so well that all other competition can't survive. In a true free market, this is always good for the consumer. The monopoly fallacys that exist, like they will rape the consumer, limit production to raise prices and so on, can only happen with state coercion.

    3. As far as your second comment, comparing eliminating the state to eliminating the police, it's not apples to apples.
      . The pure Libertarian believes in the non aggression axiom. The state defies this axiom. You can have a free market police (and we often do) that does not defy this axiom.

      Your presupposition is that society cannot exist without the state. There would be no roads, no police, no defense, etc...

      Once one understands economics well enough (and you don't have to have your doctorate) and sees past the fallacies of Keynsian economics and even the Chicago school, you understand that anything with a demand (roads, police, etc...) can and will be supplied by a free market. Just because your used to seeing the state handle these functions, doesn't mean it must or they won't be present. There are examples of the market handling all these functions throughout history. So there is no need to create a monopoly with power of real coercion (the state) to have a society. The market can handle every function of the state, it just often doesn't because we grant the state a coercive monopoly on certain functions. Even Dispite the fact the state has a coercive monopoly on certain functions (like the mail) often the market still manages to take it over and improve on it immensely. Of course when this does happen. The state fights tooth and nail to hang on to it's monopoly (like it is currently doing with the mail) and makes all attempts to get its monopoly back with coercion.

    4. The need to create a monopoly comes from simple selfishness, and if you're convinced that the sort of person who goes into business to be successful is going to play nice and fair, rather than maximize all their profits by any means necessary, well... Why should I let a competitor undercut my prices? Why should I allow competition at all if I can prevent it and keep all the money for myself?

      If you can't see that an unregulated free market tends towards a monopoly, and that a monopoly results in coercion because there is only one available source for the product you want, you're being willfully blind. To use your big pharma example, you might enjoy Repo: the Generic Opera for the logical endpoint of that monopoly.

      The state is far from perfect, but it's much better than the alternative. If you'd like to live in a lawless libertarian paradise, might I suggest Afghanistan or Colombia? There's great work with the local military companies over there, and anything can be bought or sold for the right price...

    5. "the need to create a monopoly comes from selfishness"

      You completely miss the point. We all do what we do every day out of selfishness. As Mises states "greed is mans reaction to a world of scarcity" this idea that an altruistic state stops this is silly. It makes a good system into a bad.

      In a free market, the only way one can maximize his own profit is by first figuring out how to make others more wealthy. This is just economics 101. If you set out to create a monopoly, sure it may be selfishness as the motivator, but that's irrelevant, because in a free market, the only mechanism to fulfill this so called selfishness is to first figure out how to make others more wealthy.
      One cannot create a free market monopoly without first giving the consumer (which is the general public, meaning all people, meaning society) more wealth. If the Consumer (society) is currently buying X for Y dollars, and you want to beat out the competition, you must give the consumer (society) Better X for the same Y dollars or the same X for less dollars. Either way, you must make society wealthier than they were or you will fail. You Must first serve others better than they were being served or you will fail or do average at best.
      So to create a monopoly, you must first beat out all competition, in order to do this you MUST serve others so darn well, that you eliminate all competition. This is so difficult to do in a real free market because of constant innovation, that it rarely happens. And when it does, it is short lived before someone else figures out a way to even better.
      You have yet to explain why monopoly is bad (in a free market absent state coercion). The only reason a monopoly can be dangerous in a society is due to state coercion. If the state does not collude with with business, a monopoly would serve society well, right up until someone removed it by figuring out how to serve society better.
      All market exchanges benefit both parties, otherwise they would not take place.

    6. You say, this sort of person won't be fair or play by the rules. In a free market there need not be any rules. If a business does not hold its contractual agreements, it cannot survive in a free market. In a free market there is no regulation or rules to follow, the consumer is boss and decides what rules are to be followed. It is the ultimate democracy where society truly decides what direction business will move in. The problem is your view of the economy is so clouded by state Intervention that it is difficult to imagine a real free market system. It is not this current quasi mix of free market/ socialism / mechanitlism that you see before you, where big business controls regulation through the state.

    7. Also, when discussing economics, using terms like greed or selfishness is counterproductive. We all work to maximize our utility in a world of scarcity.

      Rather than use terms like selfishness, we are far better to truly view economics as a science. Praxeology is the basis for this. It helps us understand human action and is the study of it. It is not the study of the emotions and conscious and subconscious reasoning (this is psychology) it is the study of human action itself.

      All human action comes from a human state of uneasiness.
      In order to have human action there are three prerequisites.
      1. A state of uneasiness
      2. A belief or Imagined state without this uneasiness
      3 the means for acting.

      Once these 3 are met, you will have human action.

      This is the very beginnings of praxeology. A value free study of human action that deals with the epistomologocal problems of social science.

      Thus it is the frame work for economics.

      As stated above, I would recommend reading Human Action by Mises or Man, Economy and State by Rothbard (the latter was meant to be a study guide for Human Action to make it easier to understands).

      Using terms like selfishness, doesnt really tell us anything meaningful, since all Humans could be assigned this attribute for getting out of bed.

    8. So the Mexican Drug cartels currently terrorizing the American Southwest are an excellent business model, is basically what you're saying? Because that's the end point of the free market as you conceptualize it: a series of armed conflicts by private entities that can do whatever they please. Either join the gang and submit to their form of corporate culture, or run for your life.

      As I stated above, and which you ignored, any sufficiently large corporation effectively becomes a dictatorial government unto itself and the areas it controls. They can cause competition to become impossible. They can stifle innovation. They can easily crush any small investor or start-up. They can take away the control of the consumer by becoming the only source of crucial goods. If you can't see why, for example, someone damming up the only water source in the area and forcing people to either abandon their settlement at great monetary and personal cost, consent to outrageous demands, or die of thirst, you'll never see why a monopoly is bad.

      I'm very familiar with the Austrian school. I simply don't find their arguments or models convincing at all, as they are based on a lot of optimistic versions of human nature, ripe for abuse, that never play out that way in real life.

    9. Spoiler,
      Again, like Walmart, you use evidence that proves my ideology as correct. Mexican Drug Cartels are the exact production of the state and it's war on drugs. This is something Libertarians have been fighting against for decades. Eliminate state drug laws and you eliminate the cartels. The experiment was tried on a grand scale with Alcohol and the states prohibition created massive cartels, so bad that the people demanded repeal.
      All drugs are no different. The evidence shows exactly the opposite of what you are saying. Your Hobbesian view is disproved. Once the state removed prohibition, the cartels all but disappeared. The market took back over production of alcohol freely, and it became cheaper and safer (it was extremely dangerous to drink during prohibition due to common toxins) yet these toxins disappeared and prices fell with hardly any regulation.

      So the whole idea that without the state, all business would become violent cartels is just plain silly.

      The funny thing is, you rail against the monopoly, but that is exactly what the state is. It ha a monopoly on protection service. A monopoly on use of real coercion and violence, a monopoly on gambling (in most states), a monopoly on social security, and so on. Yet for some reason you think when one becomes a political entrepreneur, he will run his monopoly with altruism, but the market entrepreneur (who must serve humanity to survive) holds selfishness. Yet despite what we see right in front of our eyes, the massive corruption, you defend this actual monopoly backed by force, saying it needs to protect us from a supposed monopoly that can only come about by serving society better than every single other. Even though history has shown us real free market monopolies only exist when the state enforces it. History shows us that left alone, the market only has short lived monopoly (usually through new innovation that gets quickly copied). Yet Dispite what history has shown us, that markets are peaceful and states are violent, I am supposed to adopt your view Dispite the evidence?

    10. A black market operating against the violence and coercion of the state (mexican drug cartels) is not a free market. Free market means they are free to operate. We're the drug market actually free to all, Cartels would disappear. Evidence proves this, it is not just my ideology

    11. You say I ignore that any sufficiently large corp becomes a state into itself.
      You say it can cause competition to become impossible - How?
      You say it can stifle innovation - How?
      You say it can easily crush any start up- How?
      You say it can control the consumer by being the only source of crucial goods - How?

      I am hoping you will do some thought experiments and see, it is only possible to do any of what you claim by using the state. The evidence shows this.

      Regardless, I really hope you will answer the above questions. It will force you to see your fallacy

    12. Spoiler,
      Please take a minute to read this paper on monopoly. The empirical evidence does not support your claims and it is important that this fallacy of the monopoly gets stamped out.

    13. For some reason I can't paste the link with my I Phone but please type in "Witch hunting the Robber Barons: the Standard Oil Story." in your search engine.

      This paper in the freeman analylizes the exact claim you make and compares it with empirical evidence in the market.

      Even the quote often used "they stamped out all competitors by dropping the price below where other business could no longer compete."
      The quote is all telling, so they made oil (or steel, or pick your Robber Baron) so cheap that all Americans could now afford what once belonged to the rich and elite only. In short, they became wealthy (supposed monopolies) by making Americans far more wealthy than they once were.

      Please take a minute to read the evidence. It flys in the face of your claim, yet supports mine.

    14. "Yet Dispite what history has shown us, that markets are peaceful and states are violent"

      This right here is where you lose me. Both are violent, and you're arguing in bad faith otherwise. Slavery, of course, being the most prominent example.

      Your use of Standard Oil is also a telling example, as it completely undercuts your point about the non-violence of markets. To quote from the Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime's entry on Standard Oil (p. 763): "When all else failed, Rockefeller hired goons to break up uncooperative operators' businesses." Hardly a stunning endorsement of the pacifism free market there. Please, do explain how this violence would have been resolved if the US government had not existed?

      From "The Standard Oil Monopoly" by the Linux Trust: "Although there was some truth to these arguments, at least initially, they failed to take into consideration the huge detrimental effects on the economy and society resulting from the long-term (four decades in the case of Standard Oil) absence of free market competition (i.e., the market mechanism). Monopolies often do reduce the prices and improve the quality of their products in their early stages when they are trying to eliminate the competition. But history has proven time and time again that they lose their incentive to do so after the competition gets exterminated; in fact, they then have a very powerful incentive to increase prices and reduce quality. Free competition, in contrast, serves to minimize prices and maximize quality over the long run, and it thus results, at least in many respects, in what economists term an efficient allocation of resources for the economy as a whole."

      A monopoly removes the free market you hold so dear. Arguing that a monopoly is not possible is utter bull shit, and flies in the face of history. That they have been thwarted in the past does not remove their possibility in the future, and does not provide an effective argument for dismantling the few protections that exist against them.

      If Standard Oil had continued on its violent path to complete domination of the industry, how would one start an oil company? And if one cannot start a competitor to sell the product at a competing price or in a competing way, how can a free market be said to be present? And if a team of thugs intimidate my workers into not coming to work, break into my factory and smash all my electric car making equipment, and put a bullet into my head, and bury my corpse somewhere, because Standard Oil doesn't want alternatives to oil based transportation to exist, how is one supposed to combat this without a legal system? And if I am supposed to supply my own private army to defend my factory, how is that a non-violent system preferable to the one we use today?

      That Standard Oil were the Good Guys and the Victims of history is a nonsensical claim that flies in the face of all evidence.

      You're really not converting me to your side.

  40. 1. You choose your employer, but not your country of birth.
    2. Dictatorships tend to restrict emigration (see the Berlin Wall).

    1. 3. It's easier to start a new business than to start a new country.

  41. An obvious example of limiting freedom to maintain freedom is public safety measures. You're obviously not free to rape and pillage, you're not free to ignore traffic laws, and you're not free to falsely shout fire in a crowded theater.

    1. Again Max, your making the same mistake as M. It is not freedom as the basis for Libertarianism. It is the non-aggression axiom, in conjunction with property rights.

    2. Libertarians typically oppose public safety measures like airport screening, quoting Ben Franklin, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," but leaving out the qualifiers "essential" and "a little temporary."
      Christopher Hitchens trashed the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" metaphor because "Who decides if there's a fire?" Gimme a break.

  42. I think the question of whether or not you can change jobs has to be approached as an empirical one. The transaction cost may become prohibitive under certain market conditions, whereas it can be quite reasonable under others. In most cases, I think it would be fair to say that it is likely to be higher than the cost the employer incurs in replacing you. Hence, the leverage remains. So, it remains to be determined under what conditions that leverage becomes truly onerous.

  43. Massimo,

    reading through the comments, much of the logic of (U.S.) libertarians seems to rest on their idea of the rights of property. Might I tempt you to do a post on the (philophical) fundaments of property sometime in the near future? (Not economic property rights theory, although that might be work a mention.)

    On a side note and as an addition to Remi's point about France, Article 14(2) of the German constitution states that "Property obligates. Its use should at the same time further the common good." Thoughts like that will probably feel familiar and uncontroversial to continental Europeans. (Not sure about U.K.)

    Jim Fisher,

    you ask "At what arbitrary point does this relationship become coercive?" I don't know, but we can start by narrowing it down: your Playmate example is on the non-coercive side of the line (assuming the contract stated the nude pictures a priori) and spoilersbelow's Company Town example on the coercive side.

    Or are you saying that the point doesn't exist at all?

    1. Chbleck,
      Yes, I am saying there is no point at all.

      The fact that you don't know, and just give two examples saying one is and one isn't makes my point, that it is arbitrary.
      That is my whole point. Massimo's writes this points with supposed contradictions. I then carefully wrote a rebuttal showing no such contradictions exist withing true Libertarianism. This is why I gave to employer baking cookies at home with one or two employees, to show it is Massimo's that owns the contradictions. His defining point for when it becomes coercion is completely arbitrary. He defends property rights of the home owner, but once that property owner employs someone (or many someone's) they now loose their rights?
      It is this view that is full of contradictions

    2. Let me get this straight - in spoilerbelow's example there is no employer coercion, even though the employes clearly have nowhere else to go?

    3. Ok, forget it, I just read your answer above.

  44. Massimo,

    It strikes me that you're failing to understand the distinction between government exercise of force and private imposition of conditions. All government actions are, at their root, inevitably backed by force. I have to pay taxes not because it is a good idea, but because men with guns will eventually show up and take me to jail if I do not (thanks for that lesson, Wesley Snipes). All government actions are violent at their root. Your examples of limitations enforced within a workplace, however, are not violent, and I suspect that any libertarian would strenuously object to, as an example, a company press-ganging random individuals from the street into a factory where they are compelled to work, regardless of the compensation those individuals are given. If you are working in an environment where you are not allowed to urinate when you need to, you should leave, and you should be allowed to leave.

    But, you say, the alternative in this case (unemployment) is horrible. If left in that state long enough, you'll lose your home, your health, your social standing, or even your life. I will concede that this is true, but the critical difference between this "force" and the force of government action is that this force is natural and not intentional. You will suffer in unemployment not because it is right or wrong, but simply because that is what happens when you do not have an outlet by which you can earn your livelihood, in much the same way as you will plummet toward the ground if you step out of an airborne jet, regardless of the fact that the inevitable end to your life that will follow when you impact the ground would be a wrong thing to cause.

    Your central point of dissent with libertarianism, I suspect, will ultimately boil down to a values question that's probably not within the scope of reason. The question is whether you consider it the obligation of individuals to mitigate the natural processes of the world where the ends of those processes do not coincide with our values.

  45. mufi,
    I am curious: you speak about about a political quiz, could you include a link? It might have been in the post you deleted...

    1. I think it's the political compass test: http://www.politicalcompass.org/

      Beware the impartiality of the test is disputed.

    2. Thanks. Not sure they are the same (mufi posted a more detailed breakdown, which the Political Compass doesn't provide), but interesting nevertheless.

    3. Thanks, mufi. This one seems to have more framing bias, but the comparisons are interesting.

  46. I find it almost comical that the libertarians on this thread simply refuse to get my analogy between leaving a job and leaving a country. First off, it's an analogy, not an equivalency, so of course there are differences and limits to it.

    But let's play the following thought experiment: libertarians are unhappy with the politics (and particularly the tax structure) of this country. The US does not have any restrictions at all concerning emigration. Why don't you guys leave? The question is only half in jest, I'd really like to hear your answer.

    1. The actual Answer M is because America is perhaps the closest to a Libertarian state there is. There are some now that rival us in freedom, like Hong Kong, but because of our very Libertarian and anti- statist founding, this is likely the best place to be able to increase Liberty. There were plenty of statist founders like Hamilton and Madison (so no, it's not this consistent lovely story of Libertarianism), but relative to most nations Liberty is a prevailing part of our nature and culture. I believe if this battle of ideas can be won (and I don't know that it can) by us, America is the place.
      We are not moving towards tyranny in every aspect of life. If you are a black person in America, Liberty has increased over the past 150 years. There are some success story's.
      You would likely argue this is a result of the state, and I will argue it is almost 100% due to the free market. (we can save that debate for another post)
      But in most areas Liberty is decreasing. The major battle in ideas today is between the left and the right ideology. Left is for Social freedom but economic tyranny, and the right is for economic freedom and social tyranny. And there is a huge flood of mix and match over lap between the two. But this is the general battle of ideas today.
      The Libertarian is for both social and economic freedom and battles both the left and right in this war of ideas.
      The debate is starting to change in America. I believe we are Forcing the left and right into a blur of statists. When I get into these fundemantal debates, I end of getting the left to defend massive military programs they once abhorred. I end up getting the right to support economic tyranny like the bail outs, where they are supposed to be free market.
      The debate in America is changing from left right (which is the same to me, and Obama and Romney prove it) to Libertarian vs statist.
      The fact that Obama and Romney are identicle shows me the whole left/ right fallacy is dying.
      The left cant even define what progressivelism means. The right can even remotely define its ideology of supposed freedom.
      And The laugh is on them both as Romney, a huge supporter of socialized health care runs on repealing socialized health care. Or Obama, who ran on dismantling excess military and imperialism around the world, increased military intervention, and did little to decrease it. You even started writing an absurd post supporting his intervention in Lybia (and thankfully quickly pulled it down).
      The debate is changing in America and people are starting to see the absurdities of both sides. Even the supposed free market great Ronald Reagan doubled the size of the state in 8 short years, and now gets emulated by Obama in multiple references.

      I know, long winded post for a simple question. But short answer, is with the crisis at hand and our ideology the true answer to it. I believe America is the place we have the best change of creating a wonderful and free society that would be unrivaled in its prosperity.

    2. Which state of the United States is the most Libertarian, and if you don't live there, why don't you move there?

    3. Max,
      Most of our tyranny comes from the federal government. The whole idea of our system and constitution, was to do exactly what you are saying. Limit the federal government drastically and leave the power to the states. This way one could do exactly what you say and the states would be forced to compete. Business and people would flock to those states with the least intrusion. But unfortunately a Nobel experiment failed.
      You can't hand the federal government a piece of paper and say "now do what the paper says, limit yourself" , of course this failed. Yes separation of powers and so on made it take time. But even a short while after the ratification the states saw this happening and passed the 10th Amendment. This Amendment just affirms what is already in the consitution, but they saw it eroding that quickly and made this fleeting attempt to hold state power.
      Today, the states are powerless and all power centralized to the federal government (exactly what was supposed to be prevented by the constitution)

      Power always naturally centralizes in any government. Words on paper don't stop that.

      So there is no state to go to. Most of the theft that happens to me from our government is not from my state (I live in MA).
      However, there is a strong Libertarian movement in NH that has members in state government. I think it's called the freedom project. They are trying get Libertarians to take over this state. I have looked at property in NH as it would be no further for my commute and may join them. But this is for a different reason than what your saying, it is to help the movement and possibly fight the federal government.

    4. Jim,

      I find your ability to rationalize equal parts amusing and frightening.

    5. Jim: The actual Answer M is because America is perhaps the closest to a Libertarian state there is.

      ...which only reminds me of this this scene from Newsroom.

    6. Max, the answer is New Hampshire, and the movement exists: http://freestateproject.org/

    7. M,
      I find your thinking that a one sentence answers (or none at all) to a very thorough counter argument to your very poor rationalization on simple economics very disheartening.

    8. M,
      I have completely dismantled your argument about employment coercion. You take strawman and bunk as personal insults (even though they were not, you created strawman an wrote bunk).
      The way debate works is- now that I have proven your argument wrong, then you explain why mine is wrong. You have failed miserably at this, and then counter with no actual content, but call me laughable. This is the sign of a failed argument. Rather than read about libertarianism from an article attacking it with strawman arguments and economicly unsound theology. You should read actual Libertarian arguments and then counter them. On this very blog I came across a Marxist and failed to properly identify his position. So I painfully trudged my was through Capitalism to better understand it. I surprisingly found Marx has most of his economics sound and in line with many others of the day, but was wrong on several key truths about economics.
      Intellectualism isn't jumping on another article that is full of rubbish about something and putting it out for luck and seeing what sticks. It is understanding the actual Libertarian argument and then dismantling it.

    9. Jim,

      Forgive me, but from time to time I just need to have some fun. You have done nothing like what you claim, and your arguments had been pre-emptied by the main post and several others published he and elsewhere. You simply won't accept it because you are wedded to an ideology that has lots of logical holes and, frankly, plenty of ethical ones as well.

    10. m,
      Perhaps we're reading two different threads. I have pretty thick skin and honestly don't mind the comment. But I'm sorry, nothing I wrote was pre-emptied by your post. Your obviously not going to take the time to actually read the rebuttal and critique its content. There is much that I have wrote that counters your employer coercion theory, one simple point you have refused to acknowledge is the fact that most market actors change jobs by choice (including yourself) multiple times. This is not even the crux of my counter argument but is just simple empirical evidence that disproves much of your post. Yet you just think regardless of what is written, what you wrote stands as truth. This is just a tiny portion of my argument but alone must be answered or you have nothing to support your "the employees are being coerced" theory. It is you who refuse to accept truth! Your above statement is severely misinformed. But you at least have the integrity to leave its content for others to decide, and I commend you for that.
      Before you say an ideology has holes, perhaps you should take the time to understand it. Until you have actually read Mises there is no point in discussing economic topics with you. Your understanding of any economic position (whether it be Keynesian, New Keynesian, Chicago or Austrian) is severely limited. You post has complete disregard for economic laws that are accepted by multiple schools, so even past my ideology it is mostly bunk.

    11. Jim,

      You and Massimo probably actually are reading different threads. You each see only weaknesses in each others' arguments, and strengths in your own. As a result, you each believe you've definitively won an argument. You're using different frameworks of analysis, and in some cases specific words mean different things to each of you. It's as if you're speaking two different languages.

      I'd offer to interpret--I'm generally somewhere between liberal and libertarian --but to be honest, I don't understand 90% of what you're talking about. Seriously, I tried to read the "refutation" you wrote and just got hopelessly confused. And I'm much more sympathetic to libertarian ideas than Massimo is.

      Anyhow, mostly just wanted to say that I've immensely enjoyed this train-wreck of a conversation.

    12. Contrar,
      I appreciate your response. But I am failing to see the "were looking through different frameworks" theory can make the employment coercion point stand when market actors voluntarily change jobs all the time.

      What difference does it make if your a liberal or libertarian? This escapes me? If M and myself both understand that market actors leave their positions for other positions voluntarily, how can a coercion exist and how can he be allowed to call this truth, regardless of ideology or framework.
      And this isn't even my main point?

    13. This viewpoint of workplace coercion comes from Marx's theory on capital holders exploiting the worker.
      Marx's theory of exploitation has been thoroughly debunked by economics. How can one let this stand as truth?

    14. To argue that coercion exists, you only need to demonstrate that it exists in some cases. Pointing out that it exists in not all cases is not a very effective rebuttal.

    15. Contrar,
      But whether a person leaves a job or not is still voluntary action. My point in showing that people indeed do leave was just to show proof that it is a voluntary arrangement.
      It doesn't matter what the percentage is, the fact that we all have the right to leave is enough.
      Massimo's argument hinges on the fact it can be difficult to find a position of equal or close to equal employment.
      So by his very definition of what constitutes coercion, the better an employer treats their employee and the better he compensates him, the more coercion is in place.

      This is just absolutely absurd. The more one is compensated over his other choices in the market, the more he is being coerced?

      Again, I dont see why if one is a left liberal, you cannot see the idiotic nature of this argument.

      This is why it is important for people to understand economics as a science, rather than just looking at economics through Liberal Marxist fog.

      The Libertarian is rooted in Praxeology, the value free study of economics. Then applies the non-aggression axiom and property rights as the only values.

      M, needs to answer for this absurdity. He needs to explain whether a business should intentionally keep wages closer to other positions available to their employee to relieve him of coercion, or should they raise their compensation and this raise their coercion?

      M, is currently arguing for neither. He says we should just involve the real coercion of the state and centrally plan what a business can or can't do. This is a wonderful argument, because we just don't have enough central planning already from Washington. We need them to hold yet another gun to the entrepreneurs and tell them they must allow their employees to do what they want and be free. While in their employ.
      Because enforcing work place freedom is what the federal government t is really really good at. We should have a bunch of central planners like Massimo deciding what employers must allow in their own property. The central government has invaded the rights of business enough, they must decide everything, hell, even run the business itself. How can we leave that to the greedy entrepreneurs?

    16. Jim,

      The fact that some people have left their jobs does not prove that all people can leave their job at any time.

      Suppose someone believes that if he leaves his job, he and his family will all die of hunger. Given this belief (regardless of whether it's true), his employer can force him to do virtually anything on threat of losing his job. This sure looks like coercion. It's pretty hard, given these assumptions, to argue that this worker is engaged in a voluntary relationship, no?

    17. Contrar,
      What is happening here is that you (and M) are mistaking the need to live and provide for one self with coercion from an employer.
      If you do nothing and never get out of bed and don't eat you will die, this does not mean you are being coerced by life in general.
      If you don't ever go to a grocery store and buy food, you may hunger and die. This does not mean you are being coerced by the supermarket.
      If you don't buy a car and your job is not withing walking distance, you will likely loose your job. This does not mean you are being coerced by auto makers.
      Someone that starts a business where there was none and produces something with his own property cannot coerce people to work for him. People leave something else they were doing and go work him. This by definition is not coercion.
      Yes, if you do not go to work and just roll over, you may die, but this is part of life, not coercion.
      We live in a world of scarcity. Food, shelter, clothes and such are not superabundant. Were they superabundant, no one would have to work or do anything to survive.
      It is scarcity that brings on this need for humans to act and provide for themselves. Because an employer gives you the means to deal with this scarcity does not mean he is coercing you.
      You guys are failing to see where the negative comes from. The problem comes from nature and the fact that all goods are scarce.

      Here is the logical difference between government coercion and this so called employer coercion.

      The state says you cannot do X. If you do not listen to the state and do X, the state provides the negative force. Which is men with guns taking you to jail. - this is coercion.

      The employer says you cannot do X. If you do not listen to the employer they will fire you. Which means they no longer want to exchange with you. The negative comes from scarcity. Let's take your extreme and say this means you will die. The employer did not provide the negative to you. All they did was no longer exchange money for service with you. The negative is supplied by nature and the scarcity problem. Scarcity was not created by the employer.

      I think the difference between the state being a coerced relationship and employment being a voluntary one is obvious. We all take our jobs voluntarily. All of us are free to leave them voluntarily and employer will do nothing negative to us. We have no such option with the state. If we break our requirements of the state, men with guns will come and take you to jail.

      I think a pretty good rule of thumb to help decide whether or not something is coerced or not, is to ask if men with guns are involved in enforcing the arrangement. If no men with guns are involved, it likely is not coercion, if men with guns are involved, then it is coercion.

      All matters of government, regulation, taxes, law etc... are enforced by men with guns. If you do not do what is demanded of you, men with guns will take you to prison. That goes for everything from a speeding ticket to taxes. (you have to follow action all the way through) usually, someone will say " but a speeding ticket is just a fine". You must follow it through, of you dont agree with the speeding rule, then you obviously dont agree with the fine (and so on). All government action is backed by guns.

      This difference between the market and state is self evident, if I have to debate to convince someone of the truth that Employment is a voluntary human action, backed by all the experience of your life, we all understand this, we choose our jobs, we often leave them for better ones, we get raises, benefits ect. They often fail and we are made to choose other work.
      The fact there is scarcity in this world does not make this a coercive relationship. If

      The only way someone does not understand this is not coercion, is if they never worked in the market before.

    18. Hi Jim,

      I believe I understand the distinction you're making, but it doesn't particularly resonate with me. That is, I don't see any reason why human-created negatives should matter and nature-created negatives do not. I don't see the result "armed agents of the state come to my house and take me to jail" as being inherently worse than "I die of hunger", simply because one involves men with guns and the other does not. I get that you disagree with this--the first involves human agression and the second does not, but working from outside your underlying framework, I find this result entirely absurd.

      My understanding is that in the case of a person who owns no property, cannot sell his labor at a price high enough to buy food and shelter, and cannot find someone who will give him food and shelter, a philosophy founded on non-agression and property rights prefers to watch this man die, rather than seizing (yes, through threat of armed violence) a small fraction of someone else's wealth. To be clear, I think this framework is entirely coherent. I just find its conclusions to be absurd. I prefer a framework that recognizes the badness of nature-created negatives, and recommends policies that trade off between the two.

    19. We might frame this as a trolley problem:

      Case 1: a man is tied to a trolley track, with a trolley fast approaching. A stranger arrives and offers to untie the man for $1000.

      Case 2: a man is tied to a trolley track. A stranger arrives and offers to untie the man for $1000. If the man does not pay, the stranger will shoot him with his pistol.

      We all agree that case 2 is coercion / extortion / robbery. But on case 1 we disagree. I believe that you (Jim) don't see it as coercion, since it involves no agression on the part of the stranger--he's simply taking advantage of a fact of nature. However, the choice available to the man is identical (-$1000 or death). In my mind, this makes case 1 coercive. Whether the stranger is the cause of violence, or is simply leveraging his knowledge of natural violence about to occur, is not a significant difference.

    20. contar,

      Like you, I expect that Jim would object to describing Case 1 as an example of coercion.

      At least to my mind, both scenarios represent cases of exploitation, where the stranger uses the protagonist's vulnerable position to his own advantage. In Case 2, however, the stranger adds some extra force, relative to Case 1, to the protagonist's already forced decision. After all, in Case 2, there will be virtually no chance of rescue if the protagonist refuses to promise $1000 to the stranger, whereas in Case 1 there's at least a chance that someone else (e.g. a good samaritan) may come along before the trolley does.

      Whatever we agree to call these scenarios - "coercion" or "exploitation" (a term that's more popular on the left) - both involve a reprehensible stranger. If Libertarianism fails to recognize that or to take it seriously (after all, the stranger is merely pursuing his rational self-interest), then it, too, is reprehensible, in my opinion.

    21. mufi,

      I think there are forms of libertarianism that recognize there's a problem in Case 1 even if Jim's version does not.

      To extend the trolley analogy, Bertram, Robin and Gourevitch want to make it illegal for the stranger in Case 1 to offer to untie the man for a fee. The bleeding heart libertarians, meanwhile, recognize the problem that exists in Case 1, but want to solve it by redesigning trolleys so that they won't kill people they run over (this is the UBI), which eliminates most of the stranger's leverage. Bertram, Robin and Gourevitch in their essay object by arguing that the trolley redesign would be prohibitively expensive. Massimo, commenting on expansion of the welfare state, says he supports redesigning trolleys, but sees this as a separate issue, and that as a matter of social justice and quality of life, we need to both make lighter trolleys and ban strangers from making deals with people tied to trolley tracks.

    22. contrar,

      The same basic thought experiment might work without a trolley system. All you need is a dire situation that could not necessarily have been avoided (say, a car accident), in which a stranger is in a unique position to help the victim (e.g. by calling 911 or by pulling him from the wreck before the engine explodes) and the stranger decides to exploit the situation for personal (e.g. financial) gain. It seems a bit daft to assume that it's possible to avoid all such life-threatening situations (e.g. those that involve threats that are not man-made, like steep cliffs or rushing rapids).

      But even if the trolley situation is avoidable via some fantastic feat or re-engineering, what if those who profit from the current trolley system deny any responsibility for these situations (whether it be on the basis of expense or some other rationale)? Would these "bleeding heart libertarians" make them take responsibility? If so, then how, if not by some means that most people would recognize as coercion?

    23. Contrar,
      You have stated my position perfectly. Yes I would agree that case 1 is perfectly legitimate.
      I am glad you have stated your position without any hiding of facts. This is how debate should be!
      I understand how case 1 sounds like from a Libertarian prospective.
      But for complete open and honesty you must follow case 1 through from your prospective (which you sort of did do). But you are arguing that in case 1, if the stranger does not want to help, there will be men with guns standing by, if the stranger does not want to help or wants compensation for helping, those men with guns will hold a gun to his head and force him to help.
      And somehow your case 1 with real coercion is moral and my case 1 without coercion is not moral.

      And here is the real sticking point for me, in my case 1, the stranger may actually help free of charge, he may actually demand $1,000,000.00 to help. He is free to do as he will.
      Maybe it ends in the man personally helping, maybe not.
      In you Case 1, there must be immoral action, forcing someone to do something against his will.

      Your Case 1 assumes men are immoral and will choose the action of demanding money to help. And thus need a moral state to force them into correct action. Yet, you offer no explaination of where this morality comes from? Your point is that the stranger will not possess it because he is a man, so he will not help. Yet the state is made of men, and or some reason this now brings morality into the equation?

      Despite what we actually see with the state is the exact opposite. This wise overlord that will force the stranger into action is somehow more moral than the stranger how?

      Do you not see this fundemental flaw in your argument?

      So you need to explain why it is that men will not help others in need- the so called, lack of morality argument for a state. Yet, when men are given a license monopoly to coerce others, this somehow brings morality into the equation?
      I say men do not need a state to help others, adding theft into an equation does not make a more moral system. Adding real coercion into your trolly experiment does not make it more moral. Your argument is basically that we must have a system where we give a few men rule over all with a monopoly of force and coercion so that they may steal money from everyone to pay people to force strangers into helping troubled trolly accidents always.

      This is an absurd argument, that men can be more moral if given power over other men.

      This is a common anti-Libertarian argument you present that has thoroughly been debunked in my eyes. I am not sure how good a job I did explaining why morality can not be Increased by state coercion, I will find a good Rothbard link where he does a much better job I am sure.

    24. Isn't the logical outcome of this trolley argument that everyone (with money) is morally obligated to hire an unemployed person, regardless of want, usefulness or good business sense.

    25. Down,
      Technically if it is possible to do so, then according to contrary argument, if this (giving jobs) is a moral action, then the state will force them to hire.
      Somehow man is immoral or at least sometimes immoral, but if we give other men power, they will force men to be moral.
      Apparently men will demand money to help someone in need if the opportunity arises to take advantage of a situation, but as long as we give an elite few power over all men, then they will prevent this immorality.

      This is the continued failed argument for a state. That despite empirical evidence to the contrary, when men are given the power of coercion, magically altruism rules their heart. They will suddenly stop having the same nature as other men. They will no longer look to take advantage of trolly accidents. Even though the evidence shows us that power brings out the very worst of mans morality, this argument never seems to die.

    26. Hi Jim,

      I'm pretty okay with using the threat of force to prevent killing, whether it's being done through commission (the stranger pulling the trigger in case #2) or ommission (the stranger walking away in case #1).

      Maybe it's just me, but forcing a stranger to untie a man from a trolley track seems significantly less bad than forcing a man to get run over by a trolley, just as forcing a stranger to not shoot someone is less bad than allowing the stranger to shoot someone. This seems an appropriate use of government force, just as it's appropriate to ban murder.

      My argument is essentially that the stranger threatening to not untie the man in case 1 is committing an act of aggression.

    27. Contrar,
      You have completely missed my point. You need to read a little more carefully (or perhaps I did a poor job explaining)

      You say it's ok to have coercion to prevent the man from extorting money in order to save the man (in #1). But you fail to explain where this morality comes from. If it is men who would do this horrible action, why would it be men to prevent it? Why does giving men power over other men (the state) prevent extortion? The fact is, that through a state you actually create the exact extortion as in Trolly #1. The difference is that instead of there already being someone tied to the tracks, the state says "give me $1000 or I will tie you to the tracks"

      Murder? All major states have murdered more citizens than private citizens have murdered each other. ( including the U.S.) .

      You say your ok with coercion preventing immoral actions of men as if the coercion comes from an altruistic God. You fail to explain why - if men are immoral and in need of coercion to prevent immorality, why does giving men absolute power make the moral?
      The empirical evidence shows us the opposite. Giving men power makes them less moral.

      Extorting money from all people to prevent one man from extorting money from a trolly incident, is not increase in morality.

      By definition the state decreases morality

    28. In summary, you need to explain that if the problem is that a man may extort money from another in need of rescue (because this immorality is the nature of man), how does giving men absolute power over others make them more likely not to extort money from someone in need of rescue?

      The facts and evidence shows us that when given this power, men become less moral and extortion at gun point is not only probable, but necessary for its very existance. You have given a recipe for immorality you hope to prevent to be needed for the system to exist. As well as the problem of explaining why men would be moral given power and men will not be moral absent this power

    29. Jim,

      It sure seems like you're saying that murder should be legal. Is this your view?

    30. No, for murder violates the non-aggression axiom, which is the foundation for my personal pholilosophy. My guess (and this is fairly common) is that since I advocate for repeal of all state, that I am in favor of repeal of all law? (I am not sure but I'm guessing that is how you arrived at this conclusion?)
      Law, courts, judges, police, etc... Can all easily be provided by the market. The assumption is that these must be state functions, and I truly understand these assumptions as I once held them myself (even as a Libertarian).
      Then of course when one tries to imagine things like courts in a free market, they let the imaginations run wild and go against everything the market currently shows us.
      In fact many courts are run by the market and almost always to a more satisfactory result. Law itself would truly reflect the general concenses of society (unlike many laws today) without the state.

      This subject in itself is a large debate. I would suggest looking up "For a New Liberty" by Murray Rothbard to see all of the usually rebuttals answered. Or if you do want to discuss here, that is fine as well. But no, I am not in favor of murder being legal.

    31. Your argument for a state and coercion is very commonly debated. It says men are immoral so the state is needed. But this comes with the assumption that men who are the state are somehow more moral than men who are not. We both know the opposite is true. Men who are given power of coercion are always less moral.
      So this whole idea that we need to create a state because certain people need to be coerced doesn't make sense. Our natural inclination is to believe authority is somehow moral. I'm not sure why this is, but we both know the evidence suggests different.
      Power corrupts.
      So creating a coercive force to protect the trolly #1 man, may protect that actual man, but the over all morality in that pursuit is one of horror, far worse than the supposed injustice of the free man extorting money to perform a rescue.
      The exact thing you want the state to stop will be performed from the state by definition. And worse and more often.

    32. Jim,

      How do you enforce a law against murder without empowering someone to use force against would-be murderers? Set aside case 1; how do you protect the man in case 2?

    33. Contrar,
      What you are really asking (what case 2 actually is) is how do we have protection service absent the state.
      Case 2 is not really a trolly experiment, but just someone being robbed at gunpoint. (to my previous point, for a state to exist, it must rob at gun point).

      There is no reason that protection service cannot be a function of the market (and it often is). But there is no reason the towns, states and federal government must each have their own monopoly on a section of protection service. This is difficult to imagine until one actually does the homework and sees the differences between state monopoly protection service and free market protection service.
      I can't tell you exactly how a 100% free market protection service would look like anymore than I could predict what the shoe, computer, auto or any other industry would look like in 10 years. That depends on market forces (technology, preferences of society, etc...).
      But what I can say, is that with any industry where the market has taken over from the state (mail, telecom, Internet etc...,) or competes with the state (retirement funds, services etc...) the market does an infinitely better job innovating, making cheaper, providing better product. The empirical evidence of market vs state as providing for society is a case closed.
      Of course there are the usual agruements one must get past that have logical fallacies.

      Such as : if the market handles protection, the poor will have no protection service, only the rich will afford the best service and own the poor. There will be no service for the poor. Truth: had the state owned a monopoly on making shoes, and I suggested that shoes should be made by the market, people would say the same thing. "how will the poor buy shoes!"
      The fact is that protection will improve drastically as all market services and products do over time. State protection technically improves, but It doesn't improve service to the customer as a monopoly need not concern itself with such things, a market service company must or another will.

    34. Then of course the argument that a protection service will have guns and can force people to do business with it and beat out its competition by force and not service to society. Yes this is technically possible. Then we would call it "the state"

    35. There are really good papers on the subject of private law, courts and police that answer the typical fallacies on the market better than I can. mises.org has a wealth of these on the subject. I can summarize any of the points off hand, but likely not as logical and methodical.

    36. Jim,

      The question of whether courts/police are publicly or privately provided, while interesting, seems entirely tangential to the point I'm trying to make.

      Place my trolley scenarios in a future anarchist society where states do not exist and law and courts are private. In this society, there exists some mechanism, involving force, that prevents the stranger in case 2 from committing robbery. The stranger is coerced into not robbing the man. Maybe a private police officer defends the man, maybe a private court jails the stranger for his crime, or maybe some other mechanism is used, but it definitely involves force.

      The justification for allowing coercion of the stranger (forcing him to not rob/kill) is that since robbery is itself an act of aggression, the coercion of the stranger is less bad than the coercion of the man tied to the trolley (forcing him to surrender his property or be killed), which is what the stranger is trying to do.

      My argument is the threat made by the stranger in case 1 is comparable to the threat made by the stranger in case 2. As a result, the same legal mechanism that applies in case 2 is justified in acting identically in case 1. The act of not saving someone who is about to die when it is very easy to do so, I say, is an act of aggression, and coercing the stranger (forcing him to save the man free of charge) is therefore justified / less bad than the coercion being applied by the stranger to the man on the tracks (forcing him to surrender his property or be killed).

    37. Seeing this part of the comments somewhat late. Just as an aside, around here both 1 and 2 would be charged with extortion - if the trolley guy dies, 1 would also be charged with failure to render assistance and I am pretty sure he would get the maximum sentence of 1 year in prison.

      I am also pretty sure that 90% of the population in every civilized country would agree with both the extortion and the assist-failure sentencing... ;-)

    38. You make the same logical mistake that Massimo makes in this post. You confuse the so called "coercion" of nature and assign it to man.
      The stranger in case 1 (or Massimo's evil employers) is not coercing anyone. The coercion comes from nature and therefore by definition is not coercion. I haven't looked up websters definition but coercion usually implies one man forcing another against into involuntary action.
      The stranger did not force the trolly situation, nature did. The stranger only looks for compensation for action.
      Had the stranger set the whole situation and placed the other in harms way then demanded the money for rescue, this would by definition be coercion (by the stranger) but because he did not, by definition, he is not coercing anyone.
      Even if I'm wrong on the definition of coercion, it is still not the stranger coercing, it is nature.
      But if you say the man must help at gunpoint, then you have real coercion, from one man to another.

      Think of the implications of saying we are all responsible for natures coercion to other men and should be by force. It is an immoral concept in itself. (let alone an impossible quest) .

      There is a major difference between privately bought protection and that provided by the state. In principle, the state must first steal to provide it, which renders it no different than a mafia. So the vary action one hopes to prevent must be accepted. Then there is the practical end of performance of the protection agency. Where one must directly serve the customer, corruption and tyranny at its hands will all but disappear. The other being a self serving monopoly and need not worry about its customers satisfaction.

    39. Jim,

      I don't think there's any logical mistake being made, so much as a difference of starting assumptions.

      You're free to define aggression and coercion however you want; I just don't see any reason to define them in the way that you do. I don't understand why you find a naturally-caused bad to be less problematic than a human-cased bad. To me, death is death, whether by human-fired bullet or naturally-occurring trolley. Choosing between death and surrender of property is a terrible decision, whether death is naturally or human-caused.

      It seems like the only reason you see a difference between case 1 and case 2 is because you're defining there to be one. Which is fine, if that's what you want to do, just not very compelling.

    40. Contrar,
      I am not saying nature-caused bad is less problematic than human-caused bad. Sure, they can be equally bad and problematic. But only one is immoral. And this has nothing to do with how I define agression or coercion. Nature caused coercion by definition can not be immoral.

      BTW, I looked up coercion on Wiki:

      is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

      So I think I am being pretty consistant with the actual definition.

      I am not defining a difference between case 1 and case 1 as you say. By definition, there is a difference! One has force caused by nature, one has force caused by man. This is not me playing arbirary definitions! they have two very distinct qualit

      Do you not see the immorality of saying man must be held responsible for nature caused coercion?

      By this very definition all exchange should be outlawed. As anyone selling food for money is technically the same as the trolly # 1.
      Man will die if he does not eat food. Man with food demands money to prevent man from dying.
      Its an absurd concept to say other men should be responsible for a man with nature caused coercion being applied (and not just responsible, but we need to create a man made gun coercion to enforce it).
      I think we have gotten to the circle point here Contrar.

    41. Yes I think we're back where we started, which is that there's a fundamental difference in language. We've failed to agree upon the meaning of certain words (coercion, aggression, morality, definition) and as a result we're each making claims that are obviously true to ourselves and look truly silly to each other.

      I appreciate your taking the time to articulate your views. Cheers!

    42. I actually found you to be particularly honest with definitions, which I usually don't get from people with a statist view.
      Usually if I call taxation is "theft" then I'm framing the debate and it ends there and If try to debate these very definitions, people will not accept a rational argument or rebut with anything.
      People like to assign seperate definition to actions of the state than if it were actions of a person or business. You did not try and do that and let the same definitions that you would apply to people, apply to the state. I appreciate that.
      I think the only way we differed on definition was in what can be applied to "morality" and coercion.. Nature vs human action.
      Other than that, I think you were very fair.



    43. Sorry,
      One other thing I wanted to mention that did not get discussed because it has little to do with my framework but should be considered in yours is the issue of economics or Praxeology or Human Action or whatever you choose to call it.
      That even if we agreed on utilizing coercion of the state to force the stranger to untie the man in trolly #1. Even if it were somehow true that this coercive force was altruistic or somehow could be made of men that have a higher morality than the men of society (and I'm not sure why one would believe this) but even if it were all perfectly true. One still has the problems of economics or human action.

      That is making this law and coercive force does not prevent men from demanding money to untie.

      That this was as synonym for the welfare state, the evidence of this action has not made a smaller welfare state. Or reduced the amount or percentage of people needing and wanting to live in this state. It has massively expanded it.
      Economics is truly a value free science. And saying we will do X or Y does not mean the wanted result occurs. In fact it is impossible to have any idea of the result of X or Y and measure the good vs bad that was occomplished.
      For example: minimum wage laws or any price control. We have no way of measuring the actual damage or bad vs good that was accomished.
      I would argue that the negative of coercive action always creates a larger negative (regardless of prospective or framework) and depending on what it is, you might argue it is positive. But neither of us can offer quantifiable data or proof, but only qualifiable.
      But the evidence shows us that the outcome is completely unpredictable. Why has the number of people living in poverty increased massively the more we try to use your state to fight poverty?
      Would you choose to say the actions of the state are not responsible for this? That had we not created these welfare programs then it would actually have even been worse?
      Then there is no amount of damage that will prove that welfare increases poverty?
      I think through economics we can deduce the reasoning for this. (ie: if you reward people for not being productive, you will get more people not producing). The view of the statist or interventionist is not just immoral because of my argument throughout this thread. It is immoral because it does not achieve the goals that it set out to and actually makes the problems it sets out to fix, much worse. It is not a question of intent. I have no doubt your intent is to make people untie others for free. It that when the result is that you create 10X more trolly accidents than there used to be because everyone knows they can not maintain their trolleys because others will bail them out at gun point. So they stop repairing their trolleys all together.
      Economics stands like a wall or mountain in the way of the statist goals. It is a reality of Unintended consiquences that the statist ignores.

    44. Hi Jim,

      For any action, there's an empirical question as to whether it achieves its objectives or not. If unintended negative consequences of an intervention exceed its intended positive consequences, I would certainly oppose it. Your argument goes a step further though, by stating either that it's impossible for a government action to have net positive consequences, or that even if a government intervention has net positive consequences, it's still immoral. I don't really understand that.

      As an example, imagine a town that has a terrible problem with poisionous snakes. Every month 25% of the population dies from snake bites. All the townsfolk are preoccupied with living their lives and don't do anything about the snakes, until the mayor decides to issue an edict saying that everyone must either join the fight against the snakes or be forcibly jailed for a month. 95% of citizens join the fight, but 5% are anarchists and refuse and are jailed. Three days later, the town has killed all the snakes; a month later, the anarchists get of of jail; no one dies from snakes any more; and the ecosystem suffers no serious consequences from snake absence.

      Now, you can argue that this is an unreasonable scenario--that in most cases, government solutions are not as effective as market solutions--which I'd readily agree to. But in this hypothetical, did the mayor act morally? The consequences of the government intervention are positive for everyone--even the anarchists who lose a month of liberty but gain years of lifespan.

      What you've said so far leads me to think that even given these very positive results, you still object to the mayor's behavior, on the grounds that it violates the non-aggression axiom. I don't really get that.

  47. Or, which is the same in the broader context: why don't all libertarians move to the United States, at least those from countries were emigration is unrestricted? Do they not grasp the rationality of that decision? Are they not aware of their freedom to move? (No, I do not expect a rational response, just having fun.)

    1. Do libertarians obligate themselves to always making rational decisions (well except Randians)? I don't see any particular reason why they should or shouldn't move.

      You could probably argue they can stay and argue to change the government since it is a democratic system and thus the government is in part answerable to them by right. As opposed to the employer who is considered an island unto him/herself.

    2. There actually are some libertarians who promote emigration towards nations with greater freedom (see: http://www.seasteading.org/) though they're considered to be pretty extreme.

    3. I am all in favor of libertarians going to live on their own islands in the ocean. Can I contribute money, or at least non perishable foodstuff?

    4. Massimo, they have. I don't think we have any in Europe... ;-)

    5. Down,
      Who should the employer be answerable to? In free market system he answers to the consumer.
      In a so called democracy, change is impossible. The whole nation wants our government to live within its means and stop running up the debt. Governments answer ? Blank

      The employer constantly changes to consumer (society) preference or it perishes.

      Regardless of this truth and how many times it's repeated, this point is lost on you guys.

      The funny thing is with this whole "employers have coercion over employees" debate, by Massimo's definition this coercion comes from the fact you have chosen the employer that gives you the best standard of living. So the higher an employer compensates its employee over the rest of the market, the more coercion it has. So by this silly view, one should not be in favor of an employer lifting the compensation of its employees, because therefore it has more coercion.
      Just one of the many economic conflicts of the egalitarian

    6. >> In a so called democracy, change is impossible. The whole nation wants our government to live within its means and stop running up the debt.

      Massimo, thanks for stirring up the pot with your post. Don't know how many European readers your blog has, but for me this comment thread has put some clarity into one of those mystifying U.S. phenomena with high volume on the interwebs. (And low signal to noise ratio.)

      Anybody else reminded of watching "Fringe" when reading some comments? ;-)

  48. It comes down to the freedom to make contracts in a Libertarian Society, in which individuals might exploit each other by agreement notwithstanding any wider principles of morality and fairness, in Labor contracts for example.

    The same applies to private property in Libertarian Society, owned regardless of the fairness of a wealthy Estate bordering a shanty town with miserable conditions for its inhabitants, for example.

    It's a view. I don't have much to say about it except that laws of agreement and private property will always exist as pillars in society, at least I hope so, but based upon ideas of equality rather than freedom.

    I prefer "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" over "Life, liberty, Happiness". Equality is the basis from which agreements are reached even if we bargain away some of our liberties, but there is no underlying equality to ownership of property even though we are all born naked into the same world.

    1. Paul, well put.

      Various thinkers over the ages (e.g. Hitchens on Orwell comes readily to mind) have observed a tension between liberty and equality, and I think there's something to that, as well as to the idea that the political right tends to prioritize liberty over equality and the political left the reverse. Yet both stereotypes value liberty and equality to some degree.

      That said, on the topic of liberty (which has dominated this post and comments thread), I may not feel coerced into working for my employer, but I do feel coerced to work, period. (In other words, I do not feel at liberty to not work at all, lest I suffer all of the ill effects of poverty.) Yet I fully accept that type coercion as fair game, or as "earning my keep" or "paying my way" in society.

      It's the same with taxes, except that the coercion is one that I'm far less sensitive to (despite the significant chunk of my income that's directed towards them).

      Evidently, Libertarians are far more sensitive (or negatively disposed) towards the latter type of coercion and barely recognize (if they even acknowledge it at all) the former.

      Once we add in the equality dimension, which Libertarians (qua rightists on economic policy) seem less concerned about (relative to their conception of liberty), and we have a recipe for endless, irresolvable debate (i.e. even when the players are reasonable, critical, reflective thinkers).

    2. Paul,
      How can private property be based on equality?
      This is what I have a lot of difficulty with. The fact that you guys don't see the direct contradiction of private property being based on equality. If property must be based on equality, then it simply cannot be private property, it is public property.
      Some simple thought experiments should make
      this self evident.
      If one man goes into the woods while nine other men sleep, and he hunts a deer, if you say the meat must be decided equally and owned equally, then there is no private property but only public property.

      Private propert and egalitarianism are in direct contradiction with each other.

      Am I in another situation where ones view point frame work makes this not possible to see?

      This is just obvious.
      Private property rights has moral justification.
      Egalitarianism has no moral justification, as well as being a literally impossible goal as proof by every society based on equality ending up in massive inequality (and usually mass murder etc..).

      By what reasoning is equality moral or good?
      We can easily demonstrate how basing a society off of egalitarianism results in a massive reduction of motivation for Human action and production..
      The horrors of egalitarianism have been displayed by nations for us, yet people seem to think a centrally planned state can just somehow work this time (last time their wasnt real democracy and blah blah blah).
      You can't have egalitarianism without massive central planning, because you must remove property rights as the decider of ownership and move to the planners to make equal what is naturally unequal.
      Just the one point I'd like answered. How do you not see private property and equal ownership are not in direct odds with one another?

    3. Jim Fisher, I will have to leave you with your problem, and I hope that you do not really think I am one of the guys contributing to it, because I am not. I said there is no underlying equality to ownership of property, which therefore leaves open the door to private ownership.

      I am not your burden. I am indicating that it is interesting that private property applies even though we are all born with nothing. I am just adding a point rather than contradicting the logic you are concerned about. Closer reading is required. I actually think that naked origins should be respected to the extent of a guaranteed equal minimum of property for all, so they do not perish.

      I suppose you can dismiss the relevance of naked birth into a common world. One can even say what belongs to a parent or social group in some cases belongs to the dependant, but that gets away from strict individual property rights (which are maintained even in marriages, requiring splitting on divorce). Extending that idea to society in general leads to socialism, with which you seem to disagree, but it is a reality and it is sensible too as a guaranteed minimum.

      I suppose you could also try to say that private property is by definition private and therefore not to be measured against what others own. Some private owners may be completely isolated from any awareness of what others have, and they simply accumulate, although I do not know any personally, and particularly not as individuals within families and close social groups.

      There is no complete isolation of private owners, nor is there the absence of shared obligations regarding property in families, social groups or societies, so I really do not know what you are saying. You can have private ownership of publicly distributed property (or property redistributed by progressive tax rates). It's nice to find a little logical syllogism and hope to challenge me with it, but you failed there because you created a straw man, and the issue is far broader and deeper than little syllogisms.

      For what it's worth, I would have a mixture of both public and private ownership, but I haven't stated my political view. I am only disclosing it because you clearly have one, and I reckon mine is more balanced, as is my method of argument.

    4. Paul,
      I apologize if I mis- stated your position. You did say in your original post that property rights should be based from equality. If you don't mean egalitarianism, I dont really understand your position. Let me hopefully clarify mine and perhaps your rebuttal will help me clarify yours.
      I believe in the Lockean view which has two main principles for assigning title or ownership to property.

    5. 1. The absolute property right of each individual in his own person, his own body, his own labor. This may be called "the right of self ownership"
      2. The absolute right in material property of the person who first finds an unused material resource and then in some way occupies or transforms that resource by use of his personal energy.

      There is obviously more that needs to be discussed, such as exchange etc.. But this is the basis for property rights.

      I believe you are advocating for some degree of property rights, but are attempting to so called "balance" with some required Minimum material standard.

      What I really don't understand is your inclusion of equality?

      I am having difficulty understanding the "born naked" part of your personal philosophy ?
      What does this have to do with property rights?
      What is your actual system of assigning title?

    6. Even if you accept the second principle as valid (which I would guess most in this thread don't) it still seems highly theoretical. For land, I doubt you can find very many places in the world where ownership didn't change through violent conquest at at least one point in time, so there can't be a chain of voluntary contracts (explicit or implicit) from the first finder to today's owner.
      Since there is no moral statute of limitations, I don't see how your second principle is of any value in the real world.

    7. Chbieck,
      That is an excellent point. This is obviously a real problem with Libertarianism. Although it ls not a fundemental problem with Libertarianism per se. It is a problem with moving to a Libertarian system from a statist system.
      Land in the U.S. was being appropriated per the libertarian or Lockean system (as it naturally does absent a state or a mafia). Then of course government changed that and stole most of the land. It wasn't just the U.S. government but it was government in general the moved away from natural law of property (as it always is)

      Your point is well taken. Yes this is a problem with Libertarianism, but it's not a problem it's fundementals. You likely can see how it just makes sense that this is how property should be titled. This is a problem of having the theft of the state involved for so many years that people have accepted it.

      It doesnt change the fact the the state stole land from the Native Americans and many early settlers, religious groups, etc...
      Were state not allowed to function (yes I realize how improbable this is) most to all lands would have been titled by the Lockean system.

      So how to move back to a Libertarian system for land ownership? There have been a few good Libertarian papers written on this. If you are interested I can give you some links (for some reason I can't cut and paste on here with my I Phone).

      But this problem should not affect the question of whether or not the Lockean system is correct and moral. In fact, if you run many thought experiments I think you will see it is the only system that can be moral as any other would involve multiple owners, all owners of all property, the ruling class owns only and appropriates per their whims and desires, etc....
      There is not other just and moral system of property ownership that will resolve conflict.

      All conflict comes from the fact there is scarcity of goods. If all goods were superabundant, there would be no conflict (except for your body and the spot you stand on, they are logically the only two things that cannot be superabundant). So because we do indeed live in a world of scarcity, we must have a way to avoid conflict which is completely driven by scarcity. So we must have rules for assigning ownership of the scarcity.
      The Lockean system is the only one (and there are only a few choices) that can actually avoid conflict. No it's not perfect. People will try and steal ect... , but it is the only logical starting point where conflict can be resolved.

    8. Jim,
      seems we are agreed that the current distribution of property is unjust by libertarian standards.

      Moving to Libertopia looks trivial, then: since there is no way of knowing how the property distribution would have looked like without the historical property theft, but the likelyhood that anybody actually has the right to his current property is pretty slim*, the only way to reach a just distribution is through a clean cut. Every prospective citizen of Libertopia pools his property and then everybody gets an equal share as a starting point.

      *I am not just talking land here - you might have the right to the fruits of your own labor, but you don't get pure labor without other production factors outside of service industries. So you will have the right to some of your property, but only the (comparatively small) labor part - and again, you have no way of knowing exactly how much.

    9. Chbieck,
      When it comes to physical land, you have a valid point.
      But when it comes to the property I have bought with my labor, I am not sure what you mean?
      What does it matter what other factors there are outside my labor?
      Are you referring to things like school, roads, infrastructure?
      Yes you can argue that these things all had impact on my ability to produce. That is certainly true. But the Libertarian argument may rest on the non-aggression argument and property rights, but even if you were a utilitarian (which I am not) Libertarianism is still a better system and a far more productive system. So there is not a reason to argue that I must forfeit my property that was derived from my labor since if those factors were not present and Instead came about Femia Libertarian system, I would likely own more (as would most people.
      The only people you could make this argument with is the non-producers of society or those that receive from the state more than they produce.
      If you agree with the Lockean means of property rights, than by definition, all those factors you speak of came about through theft. A school is run from stolen money. Roads are built with stolen money.
      You don't say that the people that were stolen from their whole lives to build these things must now forfeit their property so that we may have a starting point that will no longer involve theft.
      Instead, you just stop the theft.
      This is why a pure Libertarian must be against the state period (unless it was 100% voluntary). No state could function without theft.
      I understand to someone who has never explored anarch-capitalism, this sounds like just Anarchy. But it is not.
      You don't need to have a big "do over" on all property because the more one owns today (usually) the more he/she has had stolen from them as well. There are exceptions to this, but for the most part this is true. The richest people have had far more stolen from them to fund these external factors you talk about.

    10. Physical labor alone does not do much, it's always a combination with other production factors. If you are a farmer, labor without land is useless. Your total output is always based on land and labor (plus other production factors, but I am simplifying here). Only, if you don't justly own the land, then you don't justly own your full output. Plus you have absolutely know way of knowing, much every person justly own.

      You can't forfeit what you never justly owned, now, can you? Starting Libertopia with an equal share of property is perfectly logical - when you have no way of knowing how much every person justly owns, you go by the percentages - plus equal share elimates the luck factor.

    11. Ah, ok, now I understand your point. You are referring to how much land impacts all factors of production.
      Well, again you have a very good point. But keep in mind it was the state who performed the original left. Not any private party.
      Per libertarian philosophy the state is responsible for making up the cost of this theft and any burden that should come with it. As that will never happen. I think it would be more practical to just give current title holders the right (as they did pay for it, even if the previous owner stole it) and then any history that can be done for original owners (like Native Americans) the state should take their current lands and literally give all of it to these parties that have a claim. Native Americans dont even own the current reservations they live on. This theft goes on today, with the state holding them hostage to a life of poverty living of what the state steals from others.
      If they just gave them the land to do what they will with it, they would be far more prosperous.

    12. Jim Fisher, I mentioned the middle ground in my post. There is no underlying equality to private property ownership by definition, but whether all property should be private, and how that private property is acquired and disposed of can be regulated by a collective (society) based on principles of equality. Equality can be created flexibly and fairly, which is what we do by redistributive tax rates for example.

      Agreements based on the equality of individuals to approach the table and be bound by a bargain is also a fiction created by humans to prevent us enslaving each other and enable our progression in society. There is no law of nature providing equality of agreement or of property, they are human constructs and you can debate their fairness, but the extreme position is a bit rich.

    13. >> But keep in mind it was the state who performed the original left.

      Jim, nice try, but that doesn't help you at all. Absent omniscience, you have no way of knowing who ultimately has the just claim to the property, and what part of your current property you actually have a just claim to (i.e. which part of the money you paid with is rightfully yours and which is based on theft). You can't simply assume that all you own today is rightfully yours, because though you own your labor, you don't know what percentage of your output is actually due to your labor and what is based on stolen property. (And we are actually ignoring all the other forms of coercion like slavery that led to output that wasn't justly owned.)

      Simple example: Baron X in Bavaria in 1250 C.E., who was completely out of funds, decided to hire a private army (by promising part of the spoils) and went on a rampage, stealing everything worth stealing in a 50 km radius and killing a good part of the original owners in the process. He then paid his army, sold all his loot, banked it and then for the rest of his life never lifted a finger in labor. Neither did any of his descendants, their only talent being in finding banks that didn't go bust and that paid interest. Today the X estate is worth 100m Euro.

      Leaving aside the question of whether the state stole the things, two observations:
      1. Not a single minute of labor went into the X fortune - by libertarian principles today's X has no title at all to the 100m. You seriously are ok with him keep it for practical reasons?
      2. You have no idea who has the actual title - you would have to find the (moral) heirs of every one of the rampage victims of 1250 C.E. for actual redress of the injustice.

      (Btw, Baron X is not very farfetched, if you look into history.)

      Now in the real world, you unfortately don't know that X has no title at all to his holdings, nor what percentage he does have. [cont.]

    14. [cont.]
      Still, at the start of your libertarion utopia, I would have thought you were more interested in a just start than to perpetuate injustice in the name of practicality. You would like to have had a Lockean natural start and then a theftless history - but you can't turn back history. So you need an approximation:

      You know for certain that the labor component for each person is his own. You also know that a large part of physical resources of the world changed hands due to coercion and theft at one or more points in time, but you don't know which ones didn't (I doubt that you would find much in the hands of the Lockean owner today.) So when calculating how much every citizen of Libertopia justly owns at the starting point, you can only count his labor - you have to set the other factors constant and equal for everybody. (Granted, given complete non-aggression through history, I don't know how likely it is that everybody would own equal physical resources today. Doesn't help you, though, given the lack of omniscience. Anyway, you could assume a probability that somebody justly owns the physical ressources he has in the calculation, but than you would also have to set a corresponding probability that the actual owners are somebody else. As the first probability is close to zero, it would probably not change the end result.)

      So we are looking at labor, ceteris paribus. The just desert is based solely on your theoretical labor productivity. That productivity won't be equal for everybody (after all, some people work harder than others), but how do you measure it? Comparing hours is obviously silly, and you can't use output or even current wage rates because these factor in the other production factors - we said ceteris paribus. What do we give everybody in the just society of Libertopia?

      The answer seems self-evident, to use one of your favorite phrases - over the course of history, the labor productivity will have averaged out. You had lazy ancestors and industrious ones, large and small family sizes, and so did everyone else. Based purely on libertarian principles, the just starting point of Libertopia is giving everybody equal property - which is the just desert that redresses the historical injustices of coercion and theft...

    15. Chbieck,
      You bring about excellent points. There are other considerations moving to a Libertarian system other than historical ownership ie. -who actually has the rights to lands. As even those ancestors of the theft victims have likely benefitted in some way from a quasi market economy over the years that had. As well as even those ancestors of those who had stolen property (as well as all people) would likely have a major loss in standard of living if we just took all property and divided it evenly.
      My guess is your thinking that this would make most richer, but you would literally have to dismantle every single company to accomplish this and literally dismantle the current market as to where all producers would not be able to produce.
      Regardless of what starting point you choose, equality, or current owners stand, there is a major injustice to rightful owners. Starting all equal does not correct this injustice. Youre point that it is the only fair way because we have lack of omniscience does not stand, as there is nothing to show that equality has more justice than giving all property to a single person. There is no moral justification for equality. In fact, of you did this, you would destroy what there is of a market and hurt everyones standard of living, I can easily argue that an equal starting point for property is far less moral than my original plan of at least attempting to correct the theft from the state by having the state forfeit its property to rightful owners.
      This is all a moot point. Because it seems to me that you are trying to use this to say that Lockean or libertarian system of property rights is not right. Even if we agreed that an equal starting point is needed or if we agreed that some other starting point is better, this is not an argument for or against a just and moral system of property rights.
      Either you agree with the libertarian method OD property rights or you don't. How we get back to a just system has no impact on how just or moral it is.
      Either I have the absolute rights to my labor or I dont. This must be decided and agreed upon first, then we can debate the best way to get to this most moral of all systems. First we must agree this is correct and just system.

      So Dispite what has happened in history, which I cannot impact. Do you agree with this Lockean system for property rights?

      One other point I would like to make, is that the term Libertopia is very inappropriate as libertarianism is the exact opposite of utopia. Utopia is the quest for the perfect society where everything is equal and all people are taken care of perfectly. Libertarianism is about the non-aggression axiom and property rights, even if this landed in horrible inequality, it is still the most moral system. It is not about trying to build the perfect society as liberalism and conservatism are. They are both seekers of utopia. Libertarianism Is the acceptance of whatever falls into place abiding by the non-aggression axiom and having absolute property rights. It just so happens that from a utilitarian prospective, Libertarianism happens to bring the most prosperity to the most people, but this is just consiquence.

    16. Paul,
      I still do not understand your position.

      "that a collective can regulate property ownership based on principles of equality"

      What does that even mean? What are principals of equality? This just sounds like fluff to me. You'll have to give me an example. So far you have given me the redistributive tax system. This is by actual definition, theft. You support this, but then somehow also support individual property rights with no underlying equality.

      This is just a contradiction. Redistributive taxes are just the state stealing from the rich at gun point and giving to the poor. If this were some mutually agreed on system, there would be no guns needed and it would be voluntary. It is not.

      So you still have failed in defining what your take on property rights are. The middle ground, means nothing. Middle of what? In between socialism and individual rights is still socialism. It's just the state not stealing everything because they know it would result in failure and destroy the market. Your "middle ground" still has no definition. At what point does someone keep what they labor for? 40%? 50%? 60%?
      This so called "middle ground" is completely arbitrary. You say- it's what society decides. No, every person in society would choose to keep 100% of their income and then support redistribution on their own terms as a voluntary action. No one voluntarily gives to the state for redistribution they would prefer to do in their own way where they see the best benefit. That may be 0% or 95% depending on the individual in society. There is no collective that wants their personal income redistributed by the state.

      So I beg you to define, what property rights are?

      Middle ground is not a definition.

    17. I have no idea why you misunderstand a clearly stated distinction between private property controlled by individuals with no concern for equality of property across society, and public control of private property by redistribution and so on. So there is public and private property, let's get that clear.

      Now, let's also be clear that individuals, as I have said, are all born with no property except what might be shared in a family, social group, or total society. That's how we live, as I am sure you recognize in the world around you. It's a mix of private and shared control, ownership, and so on.

      Now, as I have said, agreements have whatever underlying equality we choose to give them, and we choose quite strict control of contract law to ensure there is no enslavement in making bargains, fine. The same for property, we make abundant laws to control who ownn, controls, and shares what property, as you know, it's the way we live.

      As I have said, we can construct and justify our constructions of contract and property law, and you can debate your extreme highly theoretical personal perspective all you like, but I see no reality or value in it. Go back to basics, and the fact we all begin with nothing and are supported through life.

      There might be some justice in providing property to all to enable their sustenance whether they lift a finger for it or not. That's my perspective of justice, and you obviousy have another. I am quite amazed I have had to repeat my entire analysis again, but you might be heavily entrenched in one perspective.

    18. Just for fun considering this seems to mean so much to you that you like insulting references, let me point out that my wife and I would not count among the 100% in your post, and if you disagree with how laws are made, talk to your congressman. Stand as a no tax candidate and see how you go, or would you fear a conspiracy preventing your election? You won't be elected. Maybe you could secede from the Commonwealth ( - that word is 'common' not 'individual'). It's not theft, you pay your way or get out of dodge, its a society with a social contract. Good luck in your own invented country if you get to own an intact island somewhere.

    19. I have no doubt that you and your wife would voluntarily give to the state were it a voluntary agreement. The fact you don't give more to the state says you just happen to agree with the amount the take or think it should be less.
      I get the reality of the situation and the likelyhood of a Libertarian system becomming the norm. So no need to create conspiracy theorist straw men to debate with.
      What Ideolody is held by the main stream thought makes no difference to the validity of Lockean property rights. It doesn't matter how unlikely this is as to the morality of the state. Part of my argument is that the state is nothing more than a mafia (apparently with a few voluntary subjects, but something tells me they won't throw away their guns just yet) and your answer is to run for office. This was to show me how "away from center" I am.
      How away from center I am, has nothing to do with it.
      You have still failed miserably in defining property rights. Yes I understand much property is currently public and much is private. This again has nothing to do with defining how property title should be assigned. I understand we are born with nothing. This again has nothing to do with how property title should be assigned.
      All of the public property you say is there, really isn't public (perhaps in name) but is completely controlled by the state. Do you believe that your voting every 4 or 6 years gives you some say in it?

      Again Paul, you haven't defined property rights and a moral system for assignmentt. You just pointed out there is currently public and private property and that we are born with nothing. And also pointed out I am far from main stream.

      Ya so?????

    20. These are fact: we would not choose to keep 100% of our income and distribute by our choice, we are quite satisfied with the government's policy (we voted for it). Don't presume to tell us our motivations, so you comment about 'everyone' is factually wrong becaue you are presumptuous. Those sorts of extreme silly comments are common in unsupportabloe arguments. As for conspiracy theories, I have no idea, but they are common among common folk.

      So? So that's it. What more do you want except to engage in useless repetitive circular argument? If you want a definition of property rights consult a legal reference, it's not my job. I am wondering why you go around in cicles. Maybe it's because the penny hasn't dropped for you that there are no rights in nature, they are a human construct balanced with obligations in a social contract, so read law books about it.

      I don't have to justify my choice about justice and preference for the status quo of government policy and more than I have already said, and if they don't satisfy you, too bad. I reckon other readers will be satisfied. Too bad if you don't like them due to personal prejudice either. If you want absolute private property you are talking about the law of the jungle not the laws of humans, asserted by individuals over competitors for property who are free under jungle law to steal or do whatever to get it.

      I prefer the complex of human rights and obligations under law, but you can live in the jungle if you like, I don't care. You would best be armed at all times if you want absolute property because people will just absolutely take it (it wouldn't be stealing, because like shared property, theft is a human construct). Jungle attitudes are a disaster, but good luck with them.

    21. Jim,

      actually, I clearly showed why by libertarian standards an equal start is the only just one for Libertopia. (Because everybody owns his own labor.) Your answer doesn't address my argument at all - but that's ok because I didn't really expect you to ;-)

      Re the thread with Paul, you are right that the fact that libertarians are a small minority is no _proof_ that they are wrong, but does make you wonder. At the minimum it proves that you really have no clue about the motivations of a large part of the population. (And no, you aren't rational, either, assuming you are human.) Similar problem with Austrian economics - it has a horrible track record of explaining the real economy - and what's even worse is that they are proud of it. (Your so called discredited economic schools actually explain something about the real world.) Just for the record, I do have a graduate degree in Economics, from a University that put big weight on the neoclassics including the Austrians (and I put some research into the comparison Walter Eucken - the Ordoliberalist - vs. F.A.v Hayek when I started thinking about a dissertation. Ordo makes a LOT more sense...

      Before I remove myself from this thread, as has moved to the second page anyway, and because it hasn't been quoted here on RS before, my favorite libertarianism quote by the SF author Charlie Stross:

      "Libertarianism, like Leninism, is an attractive, internally consistent ideology which provides a prescription for achieving a utopian society populated entirely by frictionless perfectly spherical human beings.

      Lenin and his followers tried to achieve their goal by, well, the political equivalent of chopping off all the spiky extrusions and compressing people into vaguely spherical shapes. We’ve seen how well that worked, and most of us said “no thanks”. The trouble with Libertarianism is that because we don’t have a clear, recent historical example of a Libertarian nation built on the same pile-of-skulls methodology, Libertarians can apply the “no true Scotsman” argument when defending their fundamentally broken model of human behaviour. Which is why they’re so tiresome and persistent.

      TL:DR; don’t trust ideologues who come bearing attractive theories that over-simplify human behaviour."

    22. Chbieck,
      No, you didn't show why an equal start it's the only just way of starting "Libertopia". You just say that because we have no way of knowing how land and resources would have ended up in ownership through a libertarian history that we must then start with all property being equal.
      This assumes that equality has some moral justification, without having to explain why "equality" is moral.
      And for some reason you use this "we didn't have Lockean property rights all along" agruement as a reason that Lockean system for property is unjust?

      One has nothing to do with the other. I have continually asked if you agree with this system or not and for some reason you don't answer. My guess is, like Paul, you have no alternative to offer. Regardless of what it is, you will have to defend theft as part of your system. Because any other system must involve theft or a collective agreement with all of humanity. that is not part of mans nature (socialism has proved this)
      The problems with moving to a just and moral system for property ownership has nothing to do with whether or not the system is the most moral or not.
      I'm glad you have a degree in economics, but I accept no position of "authority" in debate. Although I have no formal degree, I have studied various schools of economics for many years and would love to debate Austrian economics vs whatever school you agree with.
      Its comical that you say the Austrians can tell us nothing of the real world when they were the only ones warning of the collapse in 2007/8.
      The Austrian business cycle explains the events better than any other theory I have heard.. Especially since the New Keynsians like Bernanke were telling us how things were going to get better right in the middle of the collapse.
      It is not that the Austrians are proud they can't tell us anything about the real world. This shows your complete lack of understanding for the Austrian method. Pretty lame for someone that apparently studied it and has a degree.
      What they are actually saying is that economics can not predict real world results as a quantitative result, but only a qualitative result. While main stream economics models claim to quantitative (if X does Y then price will be $11.34) Austrian economics says the this cannot be true, because in economics there is no such thing as a "constant" or a "constant relationship".
      So Austrian economics uses a deductive method to give a qualitative result (If X does Y and all other factors do not change, then the price will rise).

      Main stream economics is full of models that cannot possibly be true as there is no such thing as a constant in economics. Tell me one real constant in economics and I will concede Austrian economics is bunk. And by constant, I mean something that can be plugged into a formula or model that has an unchanging value or relationship. (ie, the reason E=MC2 has real meaning is because the relationship between mass and energy does not change. When one is changed, the other will change by a fixed amount always.
      This is not true for anything in economics. Which is why the Austrian method is the correct one. Unlike all other methods, it acknowledges this truth and does not try to use models that cannot be true, instead it used deduction to give a qualitative prediction.

      If you would like to debate or discuss the merits (or lack there of) of the Austrian school vs. whatever, jfisher@shire.com is my e mail address.

    23. Just for the record. The Austrians are currently predicting (due to the amount of reserves banks currently hold and that we are not allowing the deflationary correction period) that the economy will get much worse before it will get better. The New Keynsians are saying we still need to add more currency and they will likely do it, and this will get the economy going again.
      The Austrians predict another round of "quantitative easing" will hurt us much more than allowing the deflationary correction period.

      So you have the ideas of the two leading schools today and can see what will fit in the years to come.
      Of course the Chicago school or Friedmans is somewhere in between the two schools.
      Of course the typical Keynsian answer after they print more, cause another bubble and bust cycle (if it is even possible), they will say "thank God we did that monetary expansion, yes it was real bad, but had we not done it, it would have been even worse".

      This is their answer for every cycle they caused by printing money.

    24. As far as your chooser quote. It is laughable to compare Libertarianism with Marxism. They are exact opposites.
      There are examples in recent history of Libertarian societies. I believe I provided a link on this thread to a paper called "the not so wild west, an American experiment in Anarco-Capitalism". If not, just type it in, it is free online in PDF.
      They are usually short lived until the state takes over. Early American history is very Libertarian society even though it had a state.
      My personal may be Anarchy, but it is also moving in the direction of less state in any means. In that pursuit, I am not alone. The country is very split on reducing the size of state

    25. He seem to be trying to do the right thing, but I would just suggest Jim Fisher that absolute property and pacifism are incompatible.

    26. >> Its comical that you say the Austrians can tell us nothing of the real world when they were the only ones warning of the collapse in 2007/8.

      No, they just seem to be the only ones you read ;-)

      Anyway, just one more try using a simple example:

      Assume 10 people, A to K. All except A own (justly) 100k $ and don't know each other. Through some machinations, Person A comes into possession of everything, i.e. 1 million $ (leaving the others with nothing.) I.e. we have unambiguous theft, and for some reason it isn't redressed right away.
      All 11 of them work hard for 20 years, with everybody doubling their fortune - which means B to K still have nothing (having to spend the fruits of their labor on the bare necessities) and A now having two million.

      Now comes the start of Libertopia. Two questions:
      1. Who's labor was worth more:
      (a) A's
      (b) B to K's
      (c) all the same
      (d) don't know/can't tell from the example

      2. How would you redress the injustice through the theft
      (a) Let A keep the full two million.
      (b) Take the stolen one million and distribute it back to the rightful owners B to K, leaving A the 1 million gain
      (c) Take the full two million and distribute it among B to K.
      (d) Intermediate solution leaving A more than B-K.
      (e) Intermediate solution leaving A less than B-K.
      (f) Intermediate solution all 11 the same.

      To me it seems obvious what the answers by libertarian logic should be - but I am curious what your answers actually are. Please don't tell me it's an unrealistic example, that's beside the point - we are having a theoretical argument here anyway. Answer theoretically, leaving aside practical considerations.

    27. Chbieck,
      I don't want to seem to be evading anything. So for the point of debate, the way the thought experiment is written, I will choose
      1. D
      2. F

      So I think as it is written, we are in agreement.

      The problem is this does not reflect the exact situation at hand.
      The way you wrote option B under question 2. You are stating that A is the thief because you call B thru K the rightful owners. So you say the theft was unambiguous but write the experiment as though we know the party who landed with all the money was the thief. Otherwise there are no "rightful owners".

      Also, there can be no (nor was there in our history) unambiguous theft. The fact that we can call it theft means we know what happened. If we had no idea, we could not call it theft.

      Also, by even your own conclusions, by definition you must agree that the libertarian or Lockean system for assignment of property title is correct and moral. Otherwise there could be no "theft". There could not have been any B thru K participants that owned $100,000 each.
      You are using the libertarian method as a starting point to somehow try and disprove libertarian theory.

    28. This is why I say my method is better than a new "equal for all" starting point. The fact that we can agree theft has occurred means.
      1. We agree in the Lockean system as the only moral one.
      2. We know where the theft occurred ( otherwise there is no theft)

    29. Paul,
      I am not a pacifist. The non-aggression axiom does not mean pacifism. Most Libertarians believe (including myself) that once the non-aggression axiom is violated, then force may be used, but only to repel or make whole property loss.

    30. Jim,

      >>Also, by even your own conclusions, by definition you must agree that the libertarian or Lockean system for assignment of property title is correct and moral. Otherwise there could be no "theft". There could not have been any B thru K participants that owned $100,000 each.<<

      Actually, I don't have to agree at all. Starting at the end:

      - Theft is contingent on property, but not on Lockean property. You don't even need individual private property. If tribe X raids tribe Y and takes their communal cattle, that is already theft. Sorry, no redefining the word.

      - There is no inherent justice in the Lockean principle of first ownership, "first come, first serve". Even as a theoretical principle it is a matter of luck, not justice - and this all on top of the point that the victor is the one writing history (i.e. you don't know who owns it.) In Locke's England, it is highly unlikely that there was a single piece of property that was owned by the rightful "first principle" owner - after all, the Angles and the Saxons did a lot of invading, then the Roman invaded the Celts, later came the Vikings, the Normans etc etc. (Might have got my order wrong here.)

      - Is the principle of self-ownership just? It sounds reasonable, and as a justification why slavery is immoral it is great, but beyond that it is quite useless as a practical justification of ownership. Here is where the example is illuminating.

      Independent of how you define theft, it seems we are agreed that A had no just claim to the original 1m. 1D is reasonable, but why 2F and not 2C? Without the "machinations" at the beginning (btw, I didn't say that A was the actual thief, just that he came into possession of the money, i.e. was the beneficiary of the injustice), after the 20 years A would own nothing and the others 200k each. 2F is still the logical answer for you because of the principle of self-ownership - A labored for 20 years, and that is worth something. How much, you don't know (1D), but you seem to think it is independent of his actual right to property (which he doesn't have in the example).

      Fine and logical, only that has nothing to do with justice. We agree that labor has value, but how much value is not objective but arbitrary. Why is A's labor worth more than without his "stroke of luck"? Why is B's labor worth less? Or, to go to the real world and disregard whether anybody justly owns what he has - why should the labor of somebody who had the luck to stumble on fertile land be worth more than the guy who got the rocky patch? Etc etc.

      No, I don't agree with you that yours is a just system. Still, you gave the answer 2F, so there is still hope that you actually take your own logic to its conclusion... ;-)


    31. Chris,

      "Actually I dont have to agree at all. Starting at the end"

      No, you do not have to agree, but you can not start at the end. Think this out Chris. You are using theft as a principle in your argument, but insist theft needs to have no actual meaning.

      In order to have anything in your argument have meaning. You must define theft. To define theft, you must define property rights. I think you were using the Lockean means to define theft through this debate, but now you say that is not true.

      Until you define theft. the thought experiments and the rest is meaningless. Not only can there be no such thing as "unambiguous theft", but your not even giving the word "theft" any meaning. Theft is not just contingent on property, it is contingent in assigning title to that property.
      In your example of Tribe Y taking tribe X's communal cattle, this can still easily fit within Lockean property rights system. So long as Tribe X has agreed with each other that the cattle is communal and theirs together. What actually makes the cattle belong to tribe X?
      This is no different than our families (which is a tiny example of effective communism) but we still say property is owned by our family, such as a home, land etc..., and we say this because it is self evident under natural law (Lockean system). Our family worked together to pay for and thus our combined labor bought it, etc..

      There is nothing in this system that says people cannot agree to own something togther, which is what a family is, or a tribe owning communal property.

      Im sorry, but you cannot make an argument against property rights using theft, and have no assigned meaning to theft. You cannot, so to speak 'start at the end"

    32. Did you even continue reading? Theft is not integral to my argument that Lockean property rights are by no means a just system.

    33. Just to be clear - your statement was "by definition you must agree that the libertarian or Lockean system for assignment of property title is correct and moral. Otherwise there could be no "theft"."
      My point is that these are not the only property rights systems, and other systems have theft, too. The existence or even definition of theft in no way makes your system correct and/or moral.

    34. Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. You originally argued that there isn't much point in Lockean system because we can't rightfully move to such a system due to the theft that has occurred in the past. Or if we do want to move to a Lockean system we must start with equal property to resolve the theft that has occurred in the past.
      I said that if we know that theft occurred then by definition we must agree in Lockean system and also, to know that it existed, then by definition, we know what it was (and therefore can attempt to resolve it)
      You say there are other systems of property that involve theft so your point still stands.

      Ok? Please define the alternative system and define theft.

    35. Sorry, this is getting tiresome. Just reread what I have written and maybe you will get my point. Will be travelling from tomorrow anyway.

  49. "The crucial problem is that one simply cannot have freedom without limiting freedom." This statement well demonstrates the contradictions in libertarian thinking, which does not strike me as well grounded in economics, capitalism or human nature.

    A libertarian approach cannot solve pollution issues. (In fact many libertarians bend over backwards to deny the science behind various forms of pollution solely because of their political views.)

    Or let's take the tensions within the capitalist system. Should there more protection for creditors or more freedom for a business or an entrepreneur to be able to go into bankruptcy and gain a fresh start? Favoring one side limits the freedom of the other. Pluses and minuses exist on both sides. Should corporate law more favor the shareholders or management? Why in a libertarian society should their even be the concept of limited liability for investors, why shouldn't their assets be at risk to creditors under say a contract or tort theory? Should laws related to the intellectual property of pharmaceuticals or biologics be in favor of innovators or generics?

    Simply rambling on about how bad government is offers no solution to complex problems. Many things in real life comprise multiple complicated trade offs. But libertarians seem to have a binary view of the world: government is bad, private is good. Or to quote from above "a libertarian believes that the only reason for government's existence (for those not truly anarchists) is to protect me from you." Sorry, but this view of governing seems devoid of nuance and reality.

    1. I think you have a binary view of libertarians

  50. Matt,
    Libertarianism is not based on freedom. It is based on the non-aggression axiom and property rights.

    This is why in order to be a pure Libertarian without contradictions, one must be an anarchist. Governing per se is not the issue, it's the fact that governing is done through coercion that defies the non-aggression axiom. Above I posted a link to a post where I explain this thoroughly.
    The idea that Libertarianism cannot stop pollution is not true. For this to be true, then it means the few enlightened politicians know better than the masses. The fact the state currently attempts to control pollution through regulation does not properly allow market forces to work. My argument isn't that the market fixes and solves every problem, it certainly does not. My argument is only that if it is truly important to the masses then the market will move that way. So technically I am not arguing pollution can and will be solved by the market. I am arguing if pollution is important to society then the market will respond accordingly. So for one to argue that we need the state to control pollution, then one is arguing politicians in Washington are wiser than the society that elects them.
    There are simple easy answers to your above questions, if one forgets about this "Libertarians want the most amount of freedom for the most people" view of Libertarianism and instead actually looks to the intellectual Libertarians like Rothbard and understands that Libertarianism begins with the non-aggression axiom and then property rights. These two principles of libertarianism should make it much easier to see how I (or a pure libertarian) would answer the questions. To me, each question you asked was very simple.

  51. As is well known, the core idea of libertarian philosophy is the preservation of the maximum amount of freedom possible.

    No, respecting freedom and maximising freedom are not the same concept.

    Though the concept seems, in practice, to be limited to the freedom of employers

    You're aware, right, that many libertarians -- including some of us on BHL -- favour worker control of industry? This has been discussed pretty visibly on BHL.

    in fact libertarians themselves acknowledge its truth. Libertarians are not anarchists

    You're aware, right, that many libertarians are anarchists, including some of us on BHL? This too has been discussed pretty visibly on BHL.

    they understand that individual freedom is maximized only by the presence of a government that regulates the rules of engagement among people (otherwise we are back to a Hobbesian war of all against all).

    No. Read : http://osf1.gmu.edu/~ihs/w91issues.html

  52. Jim,

    you have a peculiarly restrictive definition of coercion, which of course suits your pre-defined purposes very nicely.

    btw, I can't believe you guys are still at this one! It confirms the intuition that whenever I want to boost traffic on this site all I need to do is write something about libertarianism (or misogyny).

    1. M,
      Wiki's definition of coercion (not mine)

      is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

      Regardless how you define coercion, the logical flaw you make with saying employers coerce their employees is that the coercion (or the actual force applied to people) does not actually come from the employer. A person needs to work because of scarcity (or nature itself). So the source of your so called "coercion" comes from nature, not the emplyer. Regardless of how one defines coercion, you still havent made a just case for bringing in the real coercion of the state to alter a mutally agreed on contract between an emplyee and employer.
      Now coercion from the state on the other hand is completly different. Unlike the employer/employee relationship, The force is actually supplied by the state not nature. This is what makes the latter completely immoral. And I dont care what your definition of coercion is, you still must deal with this issue, to make your case!


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