Having long ago reached the point of having more money than time to support the libertarian movement, I take great care in picking out organizations to support. Although I do make gifts to a wide variety of groups, some of which focus on only one or a few important issues (such as Antiwar.com and the Institute for Justice), and others which don’t give me any tax deduction (such as the Center for a Stateless Society, Strike-The-Root, and The Voluntaryist), my largest contributions are monthly pledges to support 4 activities I consider essential to the future of liberty. Three of these activities occurred to me as a result of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s THE TIPPING POINT: he identified every successful movement as requiring 3 types of people: Salesmen, Connectors, and Mavens.
(1) Advocates for Self Government is training the Salesmen. It has been number one on my list for years, because it is helping to develop what I consider most missing from our movement, people with the skills to persuade others to libertarianism. We have a great idea, but a serious lack of people with the ability to persuade non-libertarians. The late Marshall Fritz started this organization in the mid-1980s and Sharon Harris is doing a tremendous job of running it today. Its wonderful and free e-newsletter, the Liberator Online, is chock full of easy-to-absorb ideas and tips for promoting libertarianism (I use Harris’ ONE MINUTE LIBERTY TIPS and Mary Ruwart’s SHORT ANSWERS all the time), as is its website (start with the Libertarian Dozen), and it sponsors some great outreach tools, including the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and Operation Politically Homeless. They spend my dollars very wisely and productively.
(2) Future of Freedom Foundation is my favorite Connector. In a movement filled with organizations that snipe at each other and refuse to work together, FFF sends out a daily email with links to many of the best articles written, drawing freely from all those organizations that hate each other. I only started donating recently when they hired Sheldon Richman as Vice-President: Sheldon is a great Maven, Connector, and Salesman all by himself, and as a long-time editor of the Freeman for an organization whose name I seem to have forgotten, drew many of the finest minds in the movement (including me) to write for him, as I’m sure he will now do for FFF and its monthly journal. If you don’t have time to keep up with what everyone is writing about, just keep up at FFF and you should be just fine.
(3) Independent Institute is my favorite Maven. While there are plenty of fine libertarian organizations providing ongoing reporting of current events and commentary (in fact, Anthony Gregory’s commentaries for II are among my favorites), the Independent Institute is doing scholarly work as well, including fine peer-reviewed studies and full length books on important topics. For example, John Goodman’s PRICELESS is the most useful book on health care available for libertarians wanting to be informed and informative when talking to others. I could have chosen some of the fine organizations associated with George Mason University, also doing scholarly work, but I’ve found myself reading more II publications than those of any other organization when trying to advance my own understanding, and feel I owe the money to them.
(4) Students for Liberty is my final cornerstone. Sadly, most people harden quickly in their basic outlook on public policy, and if you don’t reach someone before they’re out of college, it gets extremely hard to reach them later. Notice how Ron Paul, the oldest of all candidates, had a base of support consisting primarily of young people, which is one reason he never had a chance with the establishment Republican Party. Now Ron Paul’s people started an auxiliary for the young, but to be perfectly frank, I think the movement needs to go beyond identification with a single hero or leader: I want the young people themselves to lead. At SFL, they do: their blogs are active and intellectually stimulating, differences are discussed instead of buried, anarchy isn’t a prohibited word and is thoughtfully debated, and optimism abounds, as it must for a movement such as ours to succeed. There are elements of maven (book publishing), connector (regional and even international conferences), and salesman (advice on speech and attire critical for young people trying to be taken seriously). I’m happy to include them in my big 4.
Let me add that, whenever possible, you should sign up for monthly pledges rather than giving large individual sums. All of these organizations are forced to spend unnecessary time contacting former donors for future donations, and monthly pledging saves them time and allows you to ignore their begging, knowing you are already an ongoing supporter. Plus, you don’t feel as much of a pinch when your gifts are individually smaller. I know whereof I speak on this: trust me.
Happy Holidays: I hope my advice on cutting your income tax liability next year has been helpful.
[‘Tis the season, which always reminds me of a wonderful article Roderick Long wrote many, many years ago that I cut and pasted into a file and love to share with people every December. I went to Roderick’s website to find a copy, but all I could find was two mentions of the piece along with two dead links. It is still available on another old site that hasn’t been updated in years, but out of fear that that site will also someday disappear, I’m posting the copy I saved here. Based on his more recent writings, I’m guessing that Roderick would have chosen words other than “capitalism” and “privatize” in a couple of these sections, but I don’t think it obscures any of the brilliance of this article to leave it as was. All congratulations should go to Mr. Long at the Austro-Athenian Blog.]
Who’s the Scrooge?
Libertarians and Compassion
by Roderick T. Long
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” replied Scrooge.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. … It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
To many critics of libertarianism, the foregoing portrait of Scrooge perfectly captures the libertarian attitude to the poor: “I mind my own business; they should mind theirs. If they can’t support themselves, let them starve.”
We libertarians know better, of course. Yet even we tend, all too often, to let ourselves be cast in the role of stingy Scrooges, and to concede that being a libertarian involves some sort of deemphasis on or devaluing of compassion. This is a mistake, and it hurts us not only in our attempts to gain converts to libertarianism, but also in our attempts, even among ourselves, to visualize and formulate the institutions of a free society.
Let Whom Eat Cake?
The idea that libertarianism and compassion conflict is wrong for three reasons. First, it presupposes that libertarians are invariably to be found among the affluent, rather than among the potential objects of compassion. The libertarian is always portrayed as saying “I should not be forced to help you,” rather than “you should not be forced to help me.” Yet of course libertarians say both these things. To suppose that the rejection of welfare rights evinces a lack of compassion toward the less fortunate is to suppose that libertarians are always well-off and looking for an excuse to avoid giving charity or paying taxes; but in fact libertarians are to be found at every economic stratum. I have known libertarians who were multi-millionaires; I have also known libertarians who weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from. Many libertarians are willing to undergo serious hardships rather than seek to gain benefits through what they view as coercion; what is and is not required in this area is a matter of frequent discussion and debate among libertarians. The Marxist view of libertarianism as a rationalization of the economic interests of the capitalist class does not reflect reality. The “capitalist ruling class” are more likely to be lobbying Washington for special favors, protectionist legislation, and grants of monopoly privilege while their libertarian neighbors struggle to make ends meet.
Generosity vs. Justice?
But second, suppose it were true that libertarians are all rich. Would it follow that the libertarian rejection of welfare rights is at odds with the values of compassion and generosity? No. To begin with, libertarianism is not a comprehensive moral theory; it is simply a theory of justice — a theory about what rights people have. Generosity is the virtue that guides us in giving what we have a right to withhold; justice is the virtue that guides us in giving what we do not have a right to withhold. Hence libertarianism as such has nothing to say one way or the other about generosity or what it requires of us. To blame libertarianism for not dealing with generosity is like blaming physics for not talking about mammals. Physicists have nothing against mammals; by and large, they are mammals. But physics is not a theory about mammals.
A libertarian may say with perfect consistency that generosity requires the rich to give to the poor — while saying at the same time that justice requires the poor, or their advocates, to refrain from taking the property of the rich unless the rich consent. Hence libertarians need not be stingy or ungenerous. (If the poor really did have a right to the surplus property of the rich, then libertarianism, in denying this, would be unjust — but still not ungenerous.)
Or is the complaint that libertarians are stingy in handing out rights — that if they were truly generous, they would “give” welfare rights to the poor? But this seems to assume that rights are matters of social convention. If that were true, then any social convention, even Nazism, would automatically be just if enough people accepted it. That seems absurd. Hence rights must be matters of fact to be discovered through moral reasoning, not something to be “given” in greater or lesser quantities depending on whether the giver is generous or stingy.
It is true that libertarians refuse to be “generous” with other people’s money; but whatever may be said for or against the willingness to sacrifice other people’s property rather than one’s own, “generosity” seems like a singularly bad term for it.
The State vs. the Poor
But third, suppose it were correct to think of rights as objects of distribution, to be handed out on the basis of generosity and compassion. Would libertarianism then stand condemned as stingy? Again, no. The most generous, compassionate system of rights would presumably be one that most improved the lot of the poor and unfortunate. Critics of libertarianism — and, all too often, libertarians themselves — suppose that welfare rights are in the interest of the poor, and that libertarianism requires the poor to sacrifice that interest in the name of property rights.
But are welfare rights in the interest of the poor? The poor need welfare, all right; but do they need welfare rights? A hungry person needs something to eat; and you can’t eat a right to food. On grounds of generosity and compassion, therefore, a system that guarantees a right to food, but isn’t too successful at supplying actual food, is surely less desirable than a system that reliably supplies food but recognizes no right to food. Only a belief in the omnipotence of coercive solutions and the impotence of voluntary solutions could justify the assumption that welfare rights are necessary and sufficient for actual welfare.
In reality, the situation is exactly the reverse; it is the coercive system of enforced generosity that keeps the poor poor — while the libertarian system of voluntary cooperation, without any welfare rights, is a welfare system more efficient and beneficent than any socialist’s dream.
The principal cause of poverty is government regulations that legally prevent the poor from bettering their condition. Minimum wage laws increase the cost to businesses of hiring unskilled workers, and so decrease the supply of such jobs, causing unemployment. Rent control laws increase the cost to landlords of providing housing, and so decrease the supply of such housing, causing homelessness. Licensure laws, zoning restrictions, and other regulations make it nearly impossible for the poor to start their own businesses. Two examples: urban black teenagers have been prosecuted for braiding hair without benefit of expensive beauticians’ degrees; and in many cities, a taxi license costs as much as $100,000. Such low-capital enterprises as hair-braiding and taxi service are a natural avenue for people of little means to start earning money and achieving independence; but the coercive power of the state prevents it. (For an example of how medical licensure laws have deprived the poor of low-cost health care, see “How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis” elsewhere in this issue.)
All these laws conspire, whether intentionally or otherwise, to entrench the better-off in their current positions by holding the poor down in their poverty and preventing them from being able to compete. (Similar principles apply higher up the economic ladder, as tax laws and economic regulations entrench the power of big corporations by insulating them from competition by smaller businesses — incidentally helping to ossify these corporations into sluggish, hierarchical, inefficient monoliths.)
The Marxists were right in thinking that present-day society is characterized by power relations that systematically impoverish the lower classes while increasing the power of the wealthy. Their mistake, however, was to identify capitalism as the culprit. Adam Smith, a more observant social critic than Marx, recognized that capitalists may well be the chief enemies of capitalism. The rich often prefer to buy special government privileges rather than face the discipline of free-market competition. (The recent debate over farm policy has largely ignored the fact that most agricultural subsidies go to giant agribusiness conglomerates rather than to family farms.)
Indeed, government magnifies the power of the rich. Suppose I’m an evil billionaire, and I want to achieve some goal X that costs one million dollars. Under a free-market system, I have to cough up one million of my own dollars in order to achieve this goal. But when there’s a powerful government in charge, I can (directly or indirectly) bribe some politicians with a few thousands in order to achieve my million-dollar goal X. Since the politicians are paying for X with tax money rather than out of their own pocket, they lose nothing by this deal.
Government regulation — in its effects, regardless of its intentions — is Robin Hood in reverse: it robs from the poor and gives to the rich. One of the worst instances of this is inflation, caused by government manipulation of the currency. An increase in the money supply results in an increase in prices and wages — but not immediately.
There’s some lag time as the effects of the expansion radiate outward through the economy. The rich — i.e., banks, and those to whom banks lend — get the new money first, before prices have risen. They systematically benefit, because they get to spend their new money before prices have risen to reflect the expansion. The poor systematically lose out, since they get the new money last, and so have to face higher prices before they have higher salaries. Moreover, the asymmetrical effects of monetary expansion create artificial booms and busts, as different sectors of the economy are temporarily stimulated by early receipt of the new money, encouraging overinvestment that goes bust when the boom proves illusory. The unemployment caused by this misdirection hurts the poor most of all.
“So maybe in a libertarian society, it would be easier for poor people to rise up out of poverty; but what helps them while they’re doing that, if welfare programs are eliminated?” The answer is that welfare programs are not eliminated; they are privatized. In formulating descriptions of the critical institutions of a free society, we must always remember (for the statists will surely forget) that not all of these institutions must be codified in law.
Private charity is simply more efficient than government welfare, because inefficient charities get bad publicity and lose donations to competing charities, while inefficient government programs collect their income by force, are not subject to the discipline of the market, and so waste most of their revenue on overhead.
Not only would a higher percentage of the amount given for welfare purposes actually reach the poor in a libertarian welfare system, but the original amount itself would probably be higher too. Why? Because those who give to charity would have more money to give, as a result of a freer and consequently more prosperous economy, higher employment, and no taxation. (Since government monopolies with access to tax revenues have no incentive to cut costs — remember the Pentagon paying $1000 for a screwdriver? — what the government pays for in taxes costs far, far more than it would if private individuals and organizations, spending their own money, were to pay for the same things themselves.)
So people would have more money to give to the poor, and more of the amount they gave would actually reach the poor. In addition, there would be fewer poor people needing the money in the first place, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. Thus, in the absence of government regulation and redistribution, proportionally larger slices of an absolutely larger pie would be going to absolutely fewer poor people. A free society would see the virtual elimination of poverty.
“Are There No Prisons?”
Let us consider again our friend Scrooge, taking a second look at the passage I quoted earlier. Scrooge has no use for private, voluntary forms of charity. His solutions to the problem of poverty are all governmental solutions: prisons, with their forced labor (the treadmill), and government welfare (the Poor Law), with its Union workhouses. His visitor’s plea that these solutions are inefficient at best and maleficent at worst falls on deaf ears; Scrooge regards governmental solutions as sufficient, and dismisses private charity as a waste of time.
And this fellow is supposed to be the archetype of libertarianism? Hardly. But Scrooge’s attitude toward the poor does indeed exemplify an ideology. It’s called statism. And we’ve had enough of it.
I never met Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics, who has died at the age of 78, but learned much from her on how anarchy could solve the hardest problems. She devoted her professional life to studying how people around the world had actually attempted to manage common resources without resorting to either government property or private property methods, and drew tentative conclusions about what made some approaches successful and others unsuccessful. I hope you’ll read the piece I wrote at the time she won the award:
My attempt in that piece to summarize what she learned follows.
What distinguished the successful attempts to manage commons from the unsuccessful ones in her empirical studies were:
1. Clarity in the boundaries and rules. Lawful people that we are, anarchists have a great appreciation for the minimization of unnecessary conflict. When people know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior to others, it is easier for us to adapt our actions in accordance with those expectations. Of course, the idiots who spout nonsense such as “ignorance of the law is no excuse” are inevitably government prosecutors: the rest of us understand that common law provides its greatest service by clarifying expectations so that people can interact cooperatively and peacefully.
2. Local input and acceptance of these rules. Friedrich Hayek, co-winner of the first Nobel Prize in Economics, would be proud. The closer someone is to a situation, the more things they’ll know that others do not. Central planning, even were it performed by angels, would not produce good rules because of information problems. The fact that angels AREN’T in charge is, of course, another problem. Ostrom is well versed in “public choice” theory and knows that government regulators are humans with their own information AND incentive problems.
3. Active involvement of those most likely to be using the commons in the monitoring of use. The ones who care the most need to either directly involve themselves or else delegate to monitors who are accountable to them. Again, central planners, especially government officials who are accountable, if at all, to a much wider variety of people than those most interested in the commons in question and for a larger variety of activities than just the management of specific commons, cannot effectively monitor them and be held accountable. If the people who most need the commons can’t fire those who fail to protect it, the tragedy is inevitable.
4. Methods for dispute resolution. Central to anarchist theory is the idea that parties with disputes will agree to third party mediation or arbitration of those disputes. One of the inanities of government is that any dispute between the government and private persons is adjudicated by the government itself. The evolution of common law went far beyond the ad hoc choice of an arbiter to arrangements that let parties know in advance how disagreements would be resolved. Disputes are inevitable: dispute resolution methods are necessary, and do evolve.
5. Sanctions for violators. Naturally, those found liable by arbiters or, worse, those who declare themselves “outlaws” by refusing any third party arbitration may need to be encouraged to comply by proportional sanctions. Common law anarchists emphasize the value of non-violent enforcement through ostracism and boycott, most effective against those who are part of the local community, but recognize that some cases may require force against violators. Clearly, the arsonist may need to be restrained physically to protect the forest. Still, when local acceptance and monitoring of rules is strong, violations are rare, usually accidental, and typically resolved without the need for violence.
I promise, no more variations on Randolph Bourne’s line this month, but Antiwar.com is conducting its quarterly drive for donations. I’ve long been an admirer of their work and a recurring donor, and was greatly honored when they chose to highlight my speech on their blog at http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2012/05/09/less-antmans-antiwar-speech-at-the-lp-convention/. But that’s not the page I want you to visit. Go to:
We all do what we can within our personal financial limits, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do more than most, but even a $10 contribution adds up, and reminds them that their daily fight for the most important libertarian cause, the cause of peace, is appreciated. If you can’t spare even $10, spare a moment to email them thanks. If you can spare a dollar a day for peace: sign up as a $30 recurring donor. Don’t give until it hurts, give until it puts a smile on your face to be reminded that you’re not crazy and alone in your views. Or at least not alone.
Here is a YouTube video of my 7 minute speech at the Libertarian Party National Convention on May 5, 2012:
[This is the text of my speech at the Libertarian Party National Convention, which I delivered on May 5, 2012 in Las Vegas and was broadcast live on C-SPAN. Thanks so much to those who have given me such positive feedback and requested a copy of my speech. Since it was for oral delivery, I paid little attention to punctuation.]
Five years ago, almost to the day, the Libertarian movement exploded into the public consciousness. As someone who joined the Libertarian Party more than 32 years ago, when our party and platform already supported marriage equality for gays while the big debate in this country, including the Democratic Party, was over gay imprisonment, I can tell you that the first 27 years were the hardest. We had an appealing message of liberty that for some reason just didn’t catch fire with the public. Until May 15th, 2007. And there is one man we have to thank. Rudolph Giuliani.
On that day, the one-time 1988 Libertarian Party nominee for President, who I believe is still an official member of our party, was attacked by Giuliani for expressing the absurd idea that the 9/11 murderers, and let’s be clear that they are murderers, were motivated to kill Americans because of US military intervention on top of cruel trade sanctions in Muslim countries. Giuliani, as you know, is a foreign policy expert because he lived close to the World Trade Center and wore a hardhat on 9/11. Oddly enough, not only the CIA but the 9/11 Commission, which supposedly included Giuliani, AGREED with the man Giuliani attacked. As for the man he attacked, anyone who is an advocate of peace, whatever disagreements they might have on other issues, should join me in saying, God bless you, Ron Paul.
We have all heard Randolph Bourne’s famous quote “War is the health of the state”. War is the four letter word that lets government officials who are mere mortals, almost as human as you and I, place themselves above the rule of law, above due process, and above habeas corpus because, of course, all’s fair in love and war.
War is such a useful concept to politicians that they declare wars on everything. The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on ignorance, the war on poverty, the war on pornography, and even the war on trans-fats. You see, we can’t afford to respect life, liberty and property… WE’RE AT WAR.
Drowning people in fear is the key to power. But we also learned five years ago that antiwar is the health of the anti-state movement. And even if we do nothing other than end ALL the wars, real as well as metaphorical, we will be well on our way to a free society. And millions are ready to rally around that banner.
But only one party can be the Party of Peace, and it isn’t the Republican Party, which will only nominate a candidate who passes two tests. First, they must be pro-life. Second, they must want to kill lots of foreigners. It isn’t the Democratic Party, which has rallied around a man who now holds the record for most children killed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And it isn’t our good friends in the Green and Constitution parties, who understand the importance of military nonintervention but not the equal or greater importance of free trade, which the late libertarian, Joan Kennedy Taylor, called the necessary foundation for world peace. The Libertarian Party is the only Party of Peace.
Libertarians love strategic alliances … between people. Trade, travel, migration and cultural exchange build both prosperity and friendship throughout the world. We oppose strategic alliances between governments. They lead to war, terrorism, and a blind eye toward violations of life, liberty and property by those allied governments. When it comes to politicians, friends don’t tell friends to respect human rights. And with friends like that, we create enemies.
Libertarians believe in humanitarian intervention… by volunteers who are supported by others who volunteer their money. The most positive image of Americans is our personal generosity after natural disasters in other parts of the world. We oppose humanitarian intervention by governments, whose decisions are influenced by what President Eisenhower called a military-industrial complex that profits from finding crises, and whose arrogance causes them to fancy themselves experts about another country and culture simply because they viewed a YouTube video. Of all humanitarians, the US government is the one whose past record of horrible unintended consequences and distorted intelligence has most earned itself a “time out” in its own corner of the world. It’s time for some humanitarian nonintervention. Bring ALL of our troops home from around the world to their families, treat their wounds, and stop creating new ones.
I lost a dear friend, today, David Nolan. The Libertarian Party was founded in his living room in 1971, and he remained actively involved right up until his unexpected death two days short of his 67th birthday. One of my fondest memories was being invited to sit at his table at the 10th anniversary celebration of the LP in 1981 in Denver, and we collaborated on several projects over the years to try to guide the party toward a consistent message of liberty, an effort that is more important now than ever.
He popularized the Nolan Chart, which does the best job I’ve ever seen of psychologically breaking the addiction people have to a one-dimensional view of politics. I’m constantly asked whether I’m on the left or the right, and the only correct answer is that the question doesn’t make sense. The Nolan Chart makes that clear. If you have a minute, take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz at http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz so you can see how libertarians compare to progressives and conservatives.
Ironically, his birthday request on Facebook is on my page as I write this. He asked people to contribute to his favorite charity (which also happens to be my favorite charity), The Advocates For Self Government, and I’ve added a little extra this month to my regular monthly pledge. Perhaps you might consider a small donation in his memory at https://www.theadvocates.org/donate so that his birthday wish can come true.