Get The Facts Straight

Dave Killion — March 10, 2013

Ann Coulter recently garnered more attention than she deserves by declaring that “people think libertarians are pussies“. Over at The Volunteer, Terrence Watson says that libertarians ARE (mostly) wimps –

“Hiding the real reason you support some policy and allowing others to believe you support it for some other reasons is so close to hypocrisy as to be indistinguishable.

To let politics drive your priorities is to necessarily become more like a politician. And it is exceedingly difficult to object to politicians who do what is popular over what is right when you are, in your own way, doing the same thing. If you are an orthodox libertarian who wants to abolish all anti-discrimination law — even if the result will be a proliferation of “whites only” signs and a culture awash in hate literature – then you should say so.”

Mr. Watson has a pretty simple position: libertarians should recognize that our preferred policies have potentially negative outcomes, and we should be more forthright in declaring that we support those policies, regardless. However, his defence of that position is confused. Consider the above quote. Is there any libertarian who opposes anti-discrimination laws because he desires a ‘culture awash in hate literature’ ? I think not. Unfortunately, the article is sprinkled with such errors. None of them, though, is as serious as the error he makes in listing 10 beliefs he attributes to what he calls ‘orthodox libertarians’. Here are a few –

” 2. White employers should be allowed to hang a “Help Wanted — whites only” signs on their doors. Even if the result is that black people are unable to find employment.

   3. Property owners should be permitted to refuse to rent to gay people. Even if the result is that gay people end up homeless.

   4. Neo-Nazis should be permitted to publish whatever they want. Even if the result is that Jews and other minorities are attacked in the streets.”

Statements like these concede far too much, in that they confuse ‘should not be punished by the state’ with ‘should be permitted’ or ‘should be allowed’. Left unchallenged, they make it easier for our opponents to portray us as unfeeling and indifferent. Rather than playing into that, choose instead to state the libertarian position correctly – “Property owners who refuse to rent to gay people should be punished by the market and the community, so that gay people do not go homeless.” Leave the ‘even ifs’ with the statists – “People should be forced to support a coercive welfare state, even if  it destroys community and creates a cycle of dependency.”

None of this is to say Mr. Watson is entirely wrong. One of the reasons I think the coercive state will fail is because it is being attacked relentlessly on all fronts. Mr. Watson is suggesting one approach to that assault, and I wish him all the luck in the world with it.


Terrence Watson says

Hey, thanks for the comments.

Is there any libertarian who opposes anti-discrimination laws because he desires a ‘culture awash in hate literature’ ? I think not.

Recognizing the “even if” — a possible relationship between a policy and an outcome — doesn’t require desiring the outcome.

My point is simply that the “even if” is relevant to most people, whether or not individual libertarians desire the outcome. That abolishing anti-discrimination laws might lead to “whites only” signs is, for most people, an important consideration. That the libertarian who proposes abolishing anti-discrimination laws doesn’t want “whites only” signs is far less significant.

— March 10, 2013

Dave Killion says

It was my pleasure. The Volunteer is a ‘must read’ for me, and I’m grateful for your efforts. Keep up the good work!

— March 10, 2013

Todd Kuipers says

Sorry for the rambling babble…

Dave/Terrence – Both, thanks for the articles. Dave does sum up my view of Terrence’s article – hence why I’m posting this blather here.

Terrence you are very right most libertarians are complete wimps and are unwilling to actually talk about the downside of their positions. It’s very proper to accept the possibility of pogroms if the munificent state gets out of the way. But, possibility should not be equated with relatively high probability.

Stating the desire for removable of anti-freedom-of-association laws and immediately putting out a caveat for really rotten possibilities, without providing examples that clearly counter the ultra-crappy potential outcome, elevates the rotten possibilities to likelihoods in the minds of those we talk to. Noting that the real life pogroms that are evoked by the “minorities attacked in the streets” line, were effectively government sanctioned, is a good start. The existence of Whites Only signs, again were mostly due to legal sanction by the state, not by the average citizen putting up racist signs. “Even if the result is that many of the children of poor people will be illiterate”, ignores that many of the children of poor people are illiterate in a system with pervasive public “education”. Posing the immorality of forcibly taking a penny from Bill Gates to save a starving child assumes that everyone surrounding that situation is lacking a penny – which is nonsense.

If you present unlikely downsides as likely, and concede the viability of nonsense arguments you end up running down a rathole that’s very hard to get out of during a discussion. My suggestion is, don’t cede ground on the highly unlikely and nonsense in the first place.

Which leads to Terrence’s #8 – the lack of migration freedom means that people are coerced into staying in societies that treat them like dirt. If you get rid of migration restrictions you get solid mitigation of the downside of the other 9.

Terrance, I know that wasn’t the point of your article, but you did put it out there that way.

And, similar to Dave: Both the Volunteer and the Book Club sites are go to reading for me as well.

— March 14, 2013

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