Sunday, 24 October 2010

Ben Goren

"The 'free market' libertarians and neo-conservatives seek to defend has, as I understand it, a logical conclusion in a world were no law impedes the ability of an individual, or business, to acquire and protect resources gained through any system of enterprise / exchange."
Then you don’t understand it Ben, and therefore, never have understood it. It is as though nobody has ever explained it to you honestly; libertarian thought is not the same as “libertine” thought (if that can even be called “thought”). A “libertine” calls for the abolition of all order and all forms of constraint – whether in the form of law or not. The Marquis de Sade was, for example, a libertine. I am not. A libertarian is simply one who insists upon the rights of the individual irrespective of race, gender, nationality, social background etc. Those rights must be recognized by law and as such, my insistence upon my own rights naturally entails the observance of the rights of others and this necessarily poses constraints upon me, that for example, if I do not wish others to aggress against me or my property, I must therefore refrain from aggressing against them and theirs. If another business sought to acquire – without my consent - resources lying upon my property, then, under a free market system, they would be guilty of theft and I could prosecute them. So your statement above as to how you understand the free market indicates that you actually don’t understand it.
"Additionally, ultimately all regulation and law that appropriates monies from the profits of business and individuals unbalances the natural equilibrium of the distribution of resources."
No – that’s a misreading. Three points: first, actually that argument is correctly made against distortion of “the time structure of production” by monetary policy (I will have to explain that another time). Secondly, whatever the “natural distribution of resources” may be, there is no good reason to think that it must necessarily be in “equilibrium” – both upward and downward trends in such things as wealth and population are good reasons to discard this idea from the outset. Third, your statement is internally incoherent because although it is true that taxes, laws and regulations obviously affect the incomes of businesses (and not always negatively so – many large corporations are among the first not only to call for legislation and regulation, but to actually write it for the government - in order to put their competitors out of business), the “natural” distribution of resources in a market would necessarily include provision for law and enforcement mechanisms, whether under a minimal State or a total market system. Consider: laws against minor cases of theft or fraud for example, might be applied by imposing fines on the culprits (and why could this not encompass your “and law that appropriates monies from the profits of business and individuals”?). The same reasoning also applies in cases of externalities in which, for example, a petrochemical plant, would by law be forced to make reparations against local residents for verifiable damages to their persons or property.
"The free market beloved of the new right seeks to make all resources a matter of exchange - including public goods."
All economic resources (i.e. scarce ones) already are a matter of exchange, Ben. The argument is over whether those exchanges should be forced at the point of a gun or not. Your “public goods” are only “public” because that is a nice sounding word to hide the fact that the exchanges which make them possible take place down the barrel of a gun. If I refuse for long enough to pay certain taxes, for example, I will eventually find myself staring down that barrel. Turton thinks this is an “efficient” way to get those “public goods” he thinks is best for both me and everyone else.
"The problem here is that we are generally all working on the nation-state model in which we hold collective ownership of certain resources within a predefined geographical area - an use or misuse of those resources have negative externalities for the rest of the population included in that imagined community."
Well you can leave me out of your “we”. That lots of other people agree upon the nation-state model doesn’t make it right, any more than if some skinny 12 year old got his nose broken by a bully at school meant that therefore he must have been in the wrong to refuse to hand over his lunch money.

As to your externalities point – sure. That is why power over those resources must not be centralized in the hands of the few, which is what a State owned corporation necessarily does. Now the Left’s typical solution to this problem is to democratize the decsion making structure of large corporations (e.g. water) – and although it appears to be an answer to the problem, it isn’t a very intelligent one.
"It seems to me that you are suspicious of a centralised legal architecture. What particular architecture do you think would best simultaneously enforce rights and motivate people to curb their random whims? I ask this so I can go and do some research to better understand your position."
You’re damn right I’m “suspicious of a centralized legal architecture” – I can call the whole military and political history of the 20th century as my witness for that. The very worst of all large scale human rights abuses always occurred under the auspices of States with extremely centralized legal architectures. But it is more than that, those monstrosities occurred due to the centralization of political and military power – which is the most significant corrollary of centralized legal architecture. There are many ways of decentralizing both political power and the legal architecture in which it may typically be expressed, but as to which system would be best, I honestly don’t know. The Ninth and Tenth Amendements to the U.S. Constitution, reserving certain powers to the several States could, and in fact sometimes did, work as a restraint on Federal power (the doctine of “nullification” expressed in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 for example went on to be used by the New England states against the trade embargo imposed by President Jefferson himself – who was largely the author of the Kentucky Resolutions) – but it would be dishonest to say that the U.S. is not now a country of basically unlimited government.
"For my part I reject the concept of responsibility in which it is a reflection of the rights we enjoy and rather state that in order for our rights to be protected, we have a necessity to consider the rights of others."
That’s (almost) what responsibility means Ben – strict observance of rights: I don’t steal from you, and you don’t steal from me. But it also means I must consider taking action against you if you do steal from me.
"If we are all continually mindful of the rights of others, there is no need for a concept of duty or responsibility, which is vulnerable to the state or power elites shaping using culturally subjective, exclusionary and discriminatory norms."
To be mindful of the rights of both yourself and others and to act on this value – irrespective of how these “rights” may be framed in law by a legislature – that is what it means to be “responsible”, i.e. someone who will respond justly to cases of injustice, which are what violations of rights are.
"The difference between us I suspect comes in the fact that I still see a need for a state apparatus and independent judiciary to regulate interactions between people and protect rights when individuals and businesses fail to."
OK, but individuals and businesses only fail to protect rights because they are largely prevented from so doing by the State which claims a monopoly over this critical social function (although individuals and businesses can and should challenge this). The minarchist libertarian would argue for keeping an independent, common law judicial system whilst stripping the State of much of its monopolistic power over this function.
"I also support a strong national infrastructure in realms such education, health, transport, energy, security and environmental protection / sustainability."
“National”. That’s another nice-sounding word to hide the fact that what you actually support is a system in which education, health, transport, energy, security and environmental protection services are based upon routine and systematic rights violations perpetrated by the State, principally theft, extortion and fraud.
"Perhaps culture plays a large part in the levels of collectivity of a nation."
"In the US, some states still want to sucede from the Union and individuals are suspicious of the Federal Government."
Actually I don’t believe that’s true. Many states wish to nullify some Federal laws and programs (e.g. California right now has effectively nullified the Federal prohibition on medical use of marijuana), but that’s not the same thing at all.
"Libertarians still have no coherent answer to the question of how to manage public goods and collective national services in a developed and industrialised nation-state."
Yes we do, you just don’t know what it is because you've been on automatic pilot for far too long.

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