Archive for Political Philosophy

Public Versus Private Action

Dave Killion — November 27, 2012

I found a couple of stories recently in which private-sector actors undertook actions which libertarians would take exception to… but only if those actions had been undertaken by government –

“Dozens of strata members at Vancouver’s tallest all-residential tower hooted and hollered after a motion passed Tuesday outlawing smoking in any of the building’s 237 units.

Roughly 70 strata members of the 42-storey Melville building in the city’s tony Coal Harbour neighbourhood voted to fine residents caught smoking, while about nine opposed the bylaw.” Link

“… rather than taking yummy calorie-laden choices like cheese and chocolate away to help help employees watch their waistlines…  [Google] decided to “nudge” people to make better food choices.

In snack-filled micro-kitchens… Google now puts healthful options like apples and bananas front and center while relegating sugary and starchy foods to opaque containers in less accessible locales.” Link

So we have one case of apparent coercion, and one case of paternalism. Why would a libertarian defend that? Two reasons –

1. The ‘victims’ (tenants and employees) entered into their contracts voluntarily.

2. The ‘enactors’ (fellow-tenants and employers) must bear the cost of their actions. In the case of the condo owners, banning smoking may lower the value of their units by decreasing the number of purchasers interested in buying units that come up for sale. Or, the value of the units might rise because some people will be willing to pay a premium to live in a non-smoking building. In the case of Google, if they have chosen poorly, then they may lose employees or diminish employee productivity. If they have chosen well, productivity will rise, and more people will compete for Google jobs. In all cases, the enactors are incentivized to carefully consider new policy, and to monitor it to confirm it either (A) achieves its intended goals or (B) gets repealed.

Isn’t it amazing how genuine, voluntary cooperation makes all the difference in the world.



Most Club Members Would Elect Not To Vote

Dave Killion — November 5, 2012

The U.S. presidential election is upon us, and a few media organizations have been good enough to let us know how their staff intend to vote. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you can get the gruesome details over at The American Conservative, Slate, and Reason. Inspired by these articles, I have taken it upon myself to ask my fellow Libertarian Book Club members to respond to the following –

If you were eligible to vote in the US presidential election, for whom would you vote?

Barack Obama
Mitt Romney
Gary Johnson
Other/Write In (Please specify)
Prefer Not to Say
Would Not Vote

The response was underwhelming, which I take as a revealed preference by most members for “Prefer Not to Say.” Of the 6 who did respond, 4 have declared they would not vote –

“I would not vote. The primary reason is that I think its a waste of time, since it makes no difference. I also think it harmful psychologically, and undignified”…. “On the other hand, if someone else feels like voting, I have no problem with it. I just choose not to myself.”

One respondent declared not only his preference, but his ACTUAL vote –

“I voted in the Colorado election, and I voted libertarian (Johnson) across the board. I truly believe Obama is the lesser of two evils, but not even the prospect of a Romney win in CO by one vote would stop me from voting for Johnson.”

And the last repondent?

“I would select my candidates, presidential and congressional, in such a manner as to contribute to the greatest likelihood of division of the branches between the parties, in the hopes of generating as much gridlock as possible. The less they can do the better.”

Who that might be was not made clear, but since I suspect Republicans will maintain or increase control of the House, and will strengthen their position in the Senate, I will chalk that up to a libertarian vote for Obama.

As for myself, I would have liked to say that I would vote for Johnson. However, the fact is that, as a U.S. citizen, I actually COULD have voted for Johnson, but I didn’t. It seems that going through the steps necessary to vote as a U.S. citizens living abroad was so tedious that I procrastinated myself right out of the election. What that says about me, I’m not sure, but I must confess that I don’t feel very good about myself.

In A Blindfold Test, Do You Think Anyone Can Tell The Difference?

Dave Killion — November 1, 2012

You know how you order Coke at a restaurant, and they ask if Pepsi is okay, and you say "Whatever"?


Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative, Coke/Pepsi… Team Red and Team Blue want you to think there’s a big difference.

Are Movie Reviewers To The Left Of Movie Viewers?

Dave Killion — October 18, 2012


Movie reviewers give the new ‘Atlas Shrugged’ movie 6%, while your friends and neighbours give it 81%. Well, it’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of disconnect before. But let’s not be hasty. Perhaps movie reviewers aren’t mostly big-government, anti-freedom types. It could just be that the works of Ayn Rand translate into works that simply don’t appeal to more refined, discriminating cinephiles. It’s entirely possible that a film could be made in which regular, everyday people successfully struggle against powerful government institutions and special interests, and critics will find that film just as praise-worthy as do the masses.


Never mind.

A Coercive Day In The Neighborhood

Dave Killion — October 9, 2012

It is difficult to imagine someone more gentle than Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. If someone had suggested to him that he should command perfect strangers to give him money, and that he should threaten to send armed men to either imprison those strangers or take their money by violence if they refused, he would surely have declined. In fact, I cannot help but believe that he would have refused to do so even if threatened with violence himself. And yet, in the video above (6:50), we find him lobbying the state for funding, all of which is obtained by just such means.

Perhaps the late Mister Rogers was oblivious to both the true nature and the ramifications of his request, or he was not but felt strongly that the good ends he hoped to accomplish justified the means used to attempt them. Either way, his impassioned plea demonstrates how many people cause suffering all while trying to accomplish, through coercion, what they think is good. This mindset presents a tremendous obstacle, and it is important that we keep working to spread the message that there is nothing kinder nor gentler than true freedom.

The Facts Are Indisputable

Dave Killion — October 3, 2012

Yet Another Path To A Libertarian World

Dave Killion — October 1, 2012

In his book  “The Myth of the Rational Voter“, economist Bryan Caplan examines public opinion data, and finds that the public policies of First World democracies are more libertarian than one would expect, given the clearly statist views of the citizenry. In his review of Martin Gilen’s new book, “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America“, he discovers a possible reason why –

“[From Gilen’s data],Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich.  When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class.” ….”this does not mean that American democracy has a strong tendency to supply the policies that most materially benefit the rich.  It doesn’t.”….”(it) is simply that when rich and poor happen to disagree, the rich generally get their way.”

And so it seems that the rich are more libertarian than the poor and the middle class. Soooo, if the rich are more libertarian, and you are libertarian, then it is logical to conclude that you are supposed to be rich… well, not really. But if you are libertarian, you can get more of the policy you desire if you become rich. So get cracking.

And if you are looking for some other really effective ways to bring about a libertarian society, I have some suggestions for you:

– Have lots of kids. When they compare what you teach them to what they learn in public schools, they will become libertarian, too. And in time, they will make more little libertarians, and so on, and so on…

– Become a high school teacher or a university professor. You can then introduce libertarian ideas to people who will have likely heard of nothing except authoritarianism.

– Become a journalist. You can bring libertarian questions and views to an arena dominated by liberal/conservative enablers and cheerleaders.

– Become an artist. You can spread libertarian values through the visual and performing arts.

– Become a lawyer, or better yet, a judge. Defend libertarian causes, and overturn or strike down anti-liberty legislation.

– Become a priest. You can then protect your flock from the authoritarian nonsense they are fed by the media, the arts, their teachers, and their parents. And their old priest.

So many possibilities. I marvel that the coercive state has managed to hold on so long.




Left Libertarians

Antony — September 28, 2012

Many libertarians start their philosophical journey from a right-wing position, especially in economic matters, and through their studies and investigation gradually evolve to libertarianism. But I have recently become increasingly aware of a another, perhaps less well known, group who start at the left end of the political spectrum, even as avowed socialists, whose investigations of state power lead them to libertarianism. Some examples of this group are Roderick Long and Gary Chartier.

The thing that I find interesting about this group is that although they may come to the same conclusions as “right libertarians”, their arguments often have a different emphasis. This is valuable because they often have perspectives that can be more persuasive and appealing to others coming from a leftist perspective, of which there are many in current society. They focus on issues like “equity”, and argue for why these concerns should lead one to a libertarian stance. For example, Prof. Long’s criticism of Ron Paul’s answer to a debate question on health care offers an interesting opinion on how to better frame his argument to avoid appearing heartless. Because of their familiarity and experience with the leftist politics, these “left libertarians” are able to speak in a language that can effectively communicate ideas of liberty to a more left-wing audience. I am also very interested in, and hope to soon read, Gary Chartier’s book “The Conscience of an Anarchist“, discussed in the video below:

I am just beginning my investigations in this area, but it is certainly encouraging to see people from the political left coming around to libertarian ideas. For if we are to be effective in spreading ideas of liberty through society, the message must transcend political divisions. Only in that way can society as a whole move towards the ideals of a justice and freedom.

Board Game Offends, Amuses, And Educates

Dave Killion — September 14, 2012

Fun for the whole family.


This satirical and anti-liberal game debuted back in 1980, and has gained attention recently as an album of images showing the board, the rules, and some of the game pieces has made its way around the net (see album here). Despite being denounced as callous, sexist, and racist, Public Assistance enjoyed some measure of popularity, and an attempt to ban the game through the courts failed on constitutional grounds. You can find a defense of the game by one of its producers here. From the article –

“Our lampoon was based on street knowledge and common sense. My partner and I saw ourselves more as packaging experts than game inventors. We often told people, “We didn’t invent this game; government liberals did. We just put it in a box.”

I must confess, the album had me laughing from time to time, but the game appears to be more critical of the recipients of public welfare than most libertarians will find fair. After all, poor people respond to incentives just like everyone else, and their conduct is often a rational response to the circumstances they’re in. Our true condemnation is reserved for the coercive government policies that create those incentives. Once we get rid of social welfare, no one will ever have to worry about banning Public Assistance.

Social Contracts And The Amish

Dave Killion — September 7, 2012

Having completed our last book (“The Market For Liberty“), but not quite ready to start our next (“For Your Own Good“), the Victoria Libertarian Book Club has taken a slight detour into a draft by David Friedman (“Legal Systems Very Different From Our Own“). Last night we discussed the chapters on Amish law, and on Gypsy law. They are both very brief reads, and I had only one quote from each that grabbed my attention. I’ll share the Gypsy quote tomorrow, but for now, here is the quote from the chapter on the Amish –

“Twice a year, all members of the congregation gather to take communion. Two weeks before, each is asked “whether he is in agreement with the Ordnung, whether he is at peace with the brotherhood, and whether anything ‘stands in the way’ of his entering into the communion service.” Communion does not take place until all members agree.”

What Friedman is talking about here is an example of a social contract to which the participants explicitly consent. Perhaps because libertarians have to spend so much time defending against arguments that there exists a social contract to which we all implicitly consent, the idea of of a voluntary social contract often goes unconsidered. I found the quote striking because the existence of such agreements only recently came to my attention. You can hear Cato Institute Senior Fellow Tom G. Palmer describe them, starting around the 11:00 mark of this video –


The whole video is well worth watching.