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How Much Freedom Should We Have?

And How Much Government?

by Scott C. Haley
June 1, 2004

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The principle of Freedom is simple: one should be free to do anything one wishes, AS LONG AS that action does not infringe on the rights or property of another. In other words, do what you want to, but no initiation of violence, coercion, or destruction on another person or that person's property. The role of government is to assure that that principle is upheld; thus, government should be limited to the police, the military, and the courts. Additionally, because government is "We the People", the principle also applies to government. No initiation of violence or coercion should flow from the government.

For those unfamiliar with Libertarianism, you're thinking, "Well, that won't work!", or, "That's not the USA."... you're wrong about the first statement, but right about the second. The primary reason that many people believe Freedom as I've just described it won't work is because they simply don't want to pay the price.

The price of true Freedom is not only on the battlefield. Just as importantly, it is in the toleration of anything that offends or disturbs you. That is, anything that also does not infringe on your rights or property. The price of Freedom also is in the risks of life. Here's a somewhat trivial example... the risk of injury if I don't wear a seat belt while driving. It is in my rational self interest to wear the belt. But that's not enough for the government; instead of leaving it up to me to run my life, I'm coerced into wearing a seat belt. The main rationale for the coercion is that everyone's insurance/medical rates will benefit. The point missed is that no one has the "right" to lower insurance rates. The price of Freedom includes toleration and risk.

Another example... For some reason, the government thinks it's OK for me to come home after work, lock my door, and drink half a bottle of whiskey, but not OK to come home and smoke some "illegal" drug. That's nonsense. The drunk is arrested AFTER he/she infringes on someone's rights or property; but the pot smoker is arrested (in many cases) BEFORE any infringement. Where's the sense in that? It's a matter of toleration. It's a matter of dethroning the tyranny of the majority.

Libertarianism is consistent; Conservatism is not. Conservatives claim to support Freedom, but they do so only if the free actions involved do not offend or disturb their senses of morality. Excuse me, but morals differ from group to group. One group thinks it is moral to have more than one wife (or husband)... another group thinks it is immoral. The definition or principle of Freedom cannot be based on the majority's morals and still make any sense.
Freedom is based on natural law; it is innate.

Unfortunately, in today's world, the government does more coercing than individuals ever thought of doing. The Income Tax: coercion and outright robbery. Legitimate functions of government (police, military, the courts) could be paid for by a national lottery or some similar means. Our Freedom is dying while most voters argue about the degree to which the government should coerce us.

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Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
June 2, 2004
Excellent article. I am within a hair's breadth of crossing the line to full-fledged Libertarianism. But I have some questions for the Partial Observer's Libertarian Caucus: Mr. Haley, Mr. J.L. Wilson, and Mr. Moo.

1. Where does the claim to private property originate? I will offer you my answer as I understand it: History tells me that government is a function of property owners to defend their monopoly. The claim to property must be staked to the quickest and held by the strongest - there are no external checks on the size of the claim. This means there are winners and losers, haves and have-nots. History shows me that as much property is claimed as can be defended. The defense of property being the first duty of an armed functionary, we see the beginning of standing armies loyal to people (the lord owns the land) and principles (if the lord did not own the land we would sink into chaos and instability and hunger) beyond themselves. These armed functionaries, like my ancestors, are drawn from the groups of people too slow and weak to stake and keep claims to private property (i.e. serfs, peasants, my ancestors).

2. When private property is successfully claimed and defended, an equilibrium develops. This is when property owners choose to stop competing with each other and choose to start cooperating. A government that represents a consortium of property owners is empowered to make choices on behalf of all of them, such as, where to build a road to facilitate the overland trade between properties. This leads to my second question: Where do roads and other features of cooperative infrastructure come from? Where should they come from?

3. The ability for market opportunities to expand is due to a widening base of cooperative infrastructure (of which roads are just a part), True or False. The very act of claiming property rights necessitates the creation of government and thereby makes the cooperative infrastructure possible, True or False. Question: Is it fair to say that the Libertarian Philosophy is not a first principles philosophy so much as it is a party based on the freedoms we take for granted in a world where the equilibriums of government-protected monopolies have produced a cooperative infrastructure?

If you can paint for me a model where the private property owners are able to develop a cooperative infrastructure for widening market opportunities without the assistance of a government they appoint among themselves, I'm sold. You can't show me it's ever happened in history, though, but the Libertarian view of history is that one compulsion of government followed another to get us here.

Government represents a short-cut for the propertied -- a more efficient means for securing their interests. So if you can show me that we would still have the Internet without government projects to build power stations and dams, I will become a Libertarian and not look back. If you can show me that a Libertarian civilization would have produced the means for me to drive a Mazda Protege to another city in another sovereign state, covering 350 miles in just 6 hours including stops for fuel and food, I will carry a card for the Libertarians and argue the philosophy to all my friends.

Scott C. Haley from Sacramento writes:
June 5, 2004
Response to Jonathan Wilson:

Keeping in mind that there are many shades of Libertarians, just as with other political groups, I shall attempt a response to your cogent comments.

Regarding your point number 1., I cannot disagree with most of what you said. Hence, as I pointed out, there is a necessity for police, military, and the courts. Nowadays, of course, many people in these armed functionaries also are property owners.

#2. Cooperative infrastructure currently comes from the government (federal, state, county, and municipal). As to where it should come from, I refer you to the LP Platform at www.lp.org, which states in part that all such infrastructure should be privatized. I often have had doubts about that one, precisely because of your phrase COOPERATIVE infrastructure (emphasis added). Notwithstanding any doubts, I have come down on the side of privatization.

#3. I believe that your first statement is true. As you can see above, I believe that your second statement is false. James Madison, in the 14th Federalist Paper, agreed (with you) that government was necessary in order to coordinate ...roads and canals.... I agree with Thomas Paine (in The Rights of Man) that The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security....

however, personally I would not (as some Libertarians would) go so far as to say that formal government should be abolished. Even if it were, the general association of which Paine speaks, is in a sense government (though perhaps not formal). Regarding your first principles comments, you may be correct - I'm not qualified to say one way or the other. However, I do know this: Objectivism is a first principles philosophy, and seems to me to be a big part of the Libertarian movement. I refer you to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand, edited by Harry Binswanger & Leonard Peikoff, and to Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff.

Government may be a short-cut for the propertied, but it's highly doubtful that it's ...more efficient... - having worked for a governmental department for a number of years, I can assure you of that. You are correct, nonetheless, that development of a cooperative infrastructure without formal government has not ever happened in history. (Well, maybe in some primitive groups somewhere.) But that doesn't mean that it can't.

More importantly, even if one concedes that formal government is required for the development and maintenance of a cooperative infrastructure, THERE IS NO DOUBT ANYWHERE that Establishment government has gone so far beyond the functions of police, military, courts, and (if you like) infrastructure as to be absolutely ludicrous. Again I say, our Freedom is dying...

Thanks for your comments. SCH

James Leroy Wilson writes:
June 7, 2004
I will resond to Jonathan Wilson's questions in my Notes From the Swamp column this week. I offer a different understanding of the nature of property. - James Leroy Wilson

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