Saturday, August 25, 2012

Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

A reply to the blog post "Flaws of Libertarianism, Part 1:NAP" in response to the request to do so by Dalillama in a thread at 'Whose Liberty Are We Talking About?':


First, a warning:

This is going to be long, but I am going to try and address each of your points of contention, so bear with me.  The take-away message is simple though, initiation of violence against peaceful people is immoral.  If in every situation that is the guiding meta-ethic you are a voluntarist.

The NAP:

Libertarians like to talk a lot about what they call the Non Aggression principle, which they define as prohibiting “… the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another. “ --wiki
This is the NAP for a kind of libertarianism, though not the kind I intend to defend as self consistent.  The reason is that the above NAP for the Libertarian political stance which uses state enforcement (which you address later), which I do not believe is consistent with voluntarism or even its own NAP.  It is also fair to state that there are several competing formulations of the NAP, each with subtle differences.  To that end, I would like to provide a few more slightly nuanced NAPs:

The NAP is an “ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property.” --von Mises Institute

"The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships. ... In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use." --Ayn Rand

"the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others" -- John Stuart Mill
These are some of the NAPs from various subgroups which all consider themselves to be voluntarist, and some of them consider themselves to be libertarians.  There are two major constructions here, which look similar but have a fundamental difference.  One is a consequentalist construction and the other is the so called deontological construction.  Von Mises is using a natural rights (deontological) construction,  libertarian thinkers like David Friedman promote the consequentalist construction.  I will, for the purposes of this response be using the von Mises NAP.  It seems very like the one you provide, with a crucial difference.  The word legitimate is loaded, and implies an outside imposition on claims of possession.

Taken as it stands, it will inevitably serve to defend and entrench privilege, while denying the oppressed any ‘legitimate’ recourse.”--from the blog of Dalillama
The idea that a voluntarist community inevitably does anything in particular is somewhat flawed.  The idea is that every interaction which does not violate the NAP and which is consensual is allowed.  This means for instance polycentric law, and a market for both enforcement and arbitration.  What spontaneous order emerges from this is hard to say.  It is certainly possible that in pockets of some indefinite size privilege will be entrenched to some degree, though presumably the victimized do have recourse, with more options than are currently available.

“...these types of coercion are enshrined into law, and defended by the full (physical) force of the state and society at large (since private violence is acceptable under the NAP in case of threats to legally owned property)” where these types refers to “Economic and social coercion can be tools of tyranny...” -from the blog of Dalillama
This is again, a half-truth.  First, I think we can agree that so long as the right of consenting parties to freely associate is respected that the idea of social pressure can never be removed entirely.  If it is not respected, then again social pressure is being abused, but without any recourse.  Economic pressure (or coercion) again is a result of respecting the rights of consenting parties to freely enter into contractual agreements.  This means that if a contract is not consensual, there has been a violation and the aggrieved party can seek restitution.  This can obviously go a few different ways.  The mosts preferred route in the case is this: If the one-sided contract is theft for instance, the usual voluntarist recourse is a form of insurance.  A person contracts with an insurance company as protection against theft, fraud, etc.  In the event that they are victim to these things, they are then given restitution by the insurance company.  The insurance company then contracts with (or is also) a Dispute Resolution Organization who attempts neutral third party arbitration between the insurance company (or more directly the aggrieved party) and the person (or persons) who have committed a breach of contract.  The DRO and the thief or thief’s insurance company (who are contractually obligated to protect them from claims of theft) negotiate on a court they find mutually acceptable and from that point ‘justice’ proceeds similarly to the way you imagine it does.  At every stage of this  route, the ‘justice’ was merely a series of executed contractual obligations triggered by the breaking of what is seen as contractual law.  The aggrieved received renumeration (or had a DRO enforce the contract which showed renumeration was owed) efficiently and then the problem of what to do with the thief ceased to be his/hers.  In the event that the aggrieved catches the theft in progress, and that the item being stolen is in some way physical (has location and is something which can be held in exclusion i.e. not intellectual property) then the aggrieved is within their rights to try and not become the victim of theft.  This can (and probably would) include violence, but it might not.  In the event that it does include violence, it need only be sufficient to the cause (meaning not necessarily deadly force) and should be proportional to the potential crime.  For instance, you own two apples.  It is all you own, if someone takes your two apples you will die.  Someone comes along and steals one apple.  You try and stop that person short of killing them, in the event that they succeed they have not killed you, but they have done you a lot of harm so violence short of killing is almost certainly defensible.  If on the other hand the person tries to steal both apples, you would be justified in simply killing them in the attempt (because that is what they tried to do to you).  Now, you have killed an apple thief, and the apple thief's wife and children sue you for harm against their family, but you never settle on a court which is mutually acceptable (which means there is no upper threshold that the wife and children consider acceptable to pursue the matter) and ‘justice’ is done, or you go into a court both parties have agreed to and abide by the resolution (again as an execution of contract law).

The company town:

There are a few objections to this, first the precise idea of property rights (for example mineral rights for a piece of land) are not specified in voluntarism and there are actually several schools of thought ranging from there being no such thing as property ownership outside of use, to ownership  based upon possession.  In the case of ownership based on use, the company town can not exist.  In the case that property is based on possession, it can and so in that framework I will respond, though I would point out that both kinds of community can exist (peacefully) within the voluntarist framework without the exclusion of the other.  The problem of the company town is solved in the same way it has historically been solved, laborers are free to organize and resist being oppressed and laborers are free to leave when they find the contract of their employment no longer to their benefit.  You might think ‘Aha, “just leave” is an invalid argument, the company town might be all that exists’ and in that bizarre hypothetical you would be correct.


They have no money to leave town, because they’re in debt to the company store. Anyone who offers them shelter or assistance is subject to the same treatment. This means that, practically speaking, the company threatens their lives if they disobey; they will be thrown out to freeze or starve, and there is no recourse for them.” -from the blog of Dalillama
Being destitute is not a phenomenon exclusive to voluntarist societies, and it is handled in a similar fashion.  There will be people who are charitable, there will be organizations whose sole mission is charity.  Further, the debt to the company store is probably not recognized as legitimate by anyone other than the company, and the dispute would need to go through arbitration like any other contractual dispute.  If all of the miners/factory workers etc. are displeased with their jobs there is the very real problem for the employer of retention, since in a free market the employer must be operating close to the margin to compete.

Redlining:
Redlining consists of financial institutions simply refusing services to certain areas, which are largely inhabited by black people.” -from the blog of Dalillama
The simplest rebuttal to this is to point out that without a government backed monopoly this simply does not work in a free market.  A financial institution is in a voluntarist society totally free to not service some geographic region, if the need for a financial institution exists in that area someone will fill it.  The lack of competition could cause unfavorable rates for example, but again if there is enough need competition will appear.  The permanent cycle of poverty you mention is easily stopped in a democracy any time a majority of the voters will it.  In a voluntary society it is self correcting purely from greed if no other motive.

The problem of sexism:
First, I have already discussed why the ethics surrounding voluntarism do not distinguish between people and so what is ethical treatment of a woman is ethical treatment of a man. There is a lot to unpack in your complaint (none of which referenced the NAP I might add).  First, schools and universities (etc.) survive in their current form through the artificial monopoly of accreditation.  Without which there will certainly be schools of poor quality and schools which have a higher quality.  There will be a commensurate spread of costs (since it is all market driven).  If a school is incapable or unwilling to serve 50% of the population as possible constituents (or even to effectively market to them that it could serve their interest) then its market value will likely fall.

Second, the wider issue of popularly held beliefs and attitudes are not changed by adopting a political framework.  People carry the baggage with them to different frameworks, so presuming that a meta-ethic (which says nothing about this baggage) has any causal effect upon the baggage is flawed.  Once in a society which contains marginalized groups (which is any society) there are a few ways of attempting to ‘fix’ the problem.  One could outlaw marginalization, one could spend time and resources to convince people individually or in groups that they should not marginalize others, or one can accept that people are tribal and try and create a system which has as much social mobility as possible.  I think we both agree that the first option does not work either to change the situation or to alleviate the concerns of the marginalized (except superficially).  The second option might work eventually, it has the benefit of alleviating concerns because there is a show that something is being done (though again, if a majority of people wanted it done in a democracy it would occur) but requires resources of time, effort, and material goods (mostly to pay for the time and effort) which must be taken from somewhere.  Where do the resources come from, the marginalized group?  The last option may or may not solve the problem.  It has the bonus of directly harming no one, but it is unlikely to make anyone feel good about what is being done (since it requires that individuals take responsibility for when they are causing harm rather than spreading the blame around), it is also no extra cost to the marginalized or people who are not guilty of marginalization.


A list of things 'Dalillama' asserts, and my responses to them:

  • The NAP fails to account for reality.  The NAP is a moral stance, which is not an observation of reality, and this charge is there for absurd on the face of it.
  • Most libertarian (though for this purpose I am only really defending voluntarist) principles fail to account for reality.  There are only two (one with the other nested inside of it) principles to libertarianism, and I have addressed why the other does not fail to account for reality.  This by definition can not be correct.
  • You use the phrase ‘under a libertarian regime’ which at least in voluntarist ethics has no meaning.  There is no regime without a state, and to have a state violates the NAP.  In the looser sense that a Libertarian (the political party in the US) regime might do what you accuse it of, that is mostly in relation to its ‘Republican-ness’ rather than its ‘libertarian-ness‘ but even that I think is an overstatement.
  • Libertarians insist that this is different from a gun to the head, but are unable to explain how, except that they declare it so.” -from the blog (and other writings) of Dalillama  The full explanation of the differences between a direct action and allowing something which is occurring to continue is very long, but I will address you claim more directly.  There are libertarian (though in this case you should probably search with either the phrase voluntarist or anarcho-capitalist) solutions to the trolley problem which address the reasoning behind the distinction.  The short form of the answer is that externalities are not the fault of people who did not create the externalities, and thus the person (or people) owed restitution are owed by the madman who set the trolley problem in motion, not the bystander who might or might not help.  This paper studies some of these things (though it is not the focus of the paper), but it does reference some of the resources you might be looking for. 

"Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant" --Tacitus

4 comments:

promethics said...

Von Mises is using a natural rights (deontological) construction,  libertarian thinkers like David Friedman promote the consequentalist construction. I will, for the purposes of this response be using the von Mises NAP.
Right here, I'm afraid we have a fundamental disconnect. The existence of natural rights is a faith claim on its face, and arguments based upon such a claim are intrinsically fallacious. The definition of what constitutes a 'natural' right is entirely arbitrary, and all manner of contradictory things have been claimed to fall into this category by varoious people, with no empirical way to differentiate their claims.
...though presumably the victimized do have recourse, with more options than are currently available. This is a very large presumption, and is typical of libertarian arguments. You assume that such things will magically occur by themselves, but have no concept of how this would happen. This is not a way to construct viable policy.
Economic pressure (or coercion) again is a result of respecting the rights of consenting parties to freely enter into contractual agreements. 
When the options are 1)work for a company that trats you like a slave, 2) work for a different company that treats you like a slave or 3) starve on the streets, the idea of freely consenting to the labor contract in question is a joke. The demonstrable fix for this, which has worked where tried, unlike the libertarian plan, is a combination of strong unions, and regulations regarding what types of contract conditions are and are not acceptable. Workers' cooperatives are also a powerful addition to the mix where implemented. Unions and regulations have resulted in enormous improvements in working conditions in many countries, while laissez-faire has accomplished it in none.
A person contracts with an insurance company as protection against theft, fraud, etc. 
Using what money, from what source?
The insurance company then contracts with (or is also) a Dispute Resolution Organization who attempts neutral third party arbitration between the insurance company (or more directly the aggrieved party) and the person (or persons) who have committed a breach of contract.
So, in what way is this meaningfully different from a government? The only immediately apparent difference is that these DROs lack any means of enforcing their decisions, making them no recourse at all.
In the event that the aggrieved catches the theft in progress, and that the item being stolen is in some way physical
Now, you have killed an apple thief, and the apple thief's wife and children sue you for harm against their family, but you never settle on a court which is mutually acceptable (which means there is no upper threshold that the wife and children consider acceptable to pursue the matter) and ‘justice’ is done,
What does this mean? If you can't agree on a court system you have no 'legitimate' recourse? What happens when a company or individual always refuses to agree to a court with any of their accusers? What if they are only willing to use a court that they control? In reality, the situation you describe has existed in the past, among many of the Norse and some Celtic societies among others. Do you know what happened when people couldn't agree on a court? Something called a blood feud.

promethics said...

There will be people who are charitable, there will be organizations whose sole mission is charity.  Further, the debt to the company store is probably not recognized as legitimate by anyone other than the company, and the dispute would need to go through arbitration like any other contractual dispute. 
This is simply untrue. Debts to the company store have been recognized by the U.S. and state governments, and many governments of other countries, as well as the municipal governments of the company towns themselves, which often consist directly of corporate officers. Charity has historically been and remains wildly insufficient to care for the number of destitute who presently exist, let alone new ones created by bucking the company. Unions, as I noted above, are a way to fight these phenomena, but trying to organize one will lead to at minimum the consequences I noted in my article, and in many cases direct legal consequences as well, depending on local law, as well as extrajudicial violence by representatives of the company. This is reality, and no amount of platitudes about charity and voluntarism will change that.
...if the need for a financial institution exists in that area someone will fill it.  The lack of competition could cause unfavorable rates for example, but again if there is enough need competition will appear. 
Faith claim once again. There have been many decades for such a thing to occur, but the only financial institutions that appear in these areas are payday lenders, who charge usurious interest on tiny loans. There is no regulatory monopoly on banks or credit unions; anyone is free to start one any time. All it takes is capital, and people who know how to run a bank. So, money and education, which are in very short supply in these areas because of the existing redlining.

The permanent cycle of poverty you mention is easily stopped in a democracy any time a majority of the voters will it. 
This is true only if you agree that such things as the Community Reinvestment Act are valid acts of government, which appears to contradict your earlier statement that “A financial institution is in a voluntarist society totally free to not service some geographic region
“.
In a voluntary society it is self correcting purely from greed if no other motive.
Faith claim. People routinely do things which lower their earning potential for a variety of motivations. Greed is not the be all and end all of human endeavour.

The problem of sexism:

I used this as an example of social coercion/aggression. This is an act of aggression which harms and restricts the liberty of others, but is AFAICT allowed by your ethical system. You claim that it will wither by itself through the magic of voluntarism, but you offer no mechanism for this.
First, schools and universities (etc.) survive in their current form through the artificial monopoly of accreditation.  Without which there will certainly be schools of poor quality and schools which have a higher quality.  There will be a commensurate spread of costs (since it is all market driven).

Once again, we know what happens when schools are set up willy nilly without standards. It is not a hypothetical question. Right now there are dozens of non-accredited colleges in the U.S., which offer degrees not worth the electrons they're printed with. Non-accredited primary schools are mostly creationist bible academies teaching no facts whatsoever. When there are no standards for education, the overall quality of education goes down, and when there is no public education many people simply never receive any, because they are priced out of the market and unable to afford school. This ultimately harms everyone since a populace with a minimum education is needed to sustain a technological society.

promethics said...

One could outlaw marginalization, one could spend time and resources to convince people individually or in groups that they should not marginalize others


This is exactly what has been done, yes. The Civil Rights act of 1964, the Community Reinvesment Act of 1977, for example, outlaw certain types of marginalization, although enforcement of the latter has been spotty, leading to somewhat less effectiveness. There have also been massive public and private resources devoted to convincing people not to marginalize others, which has resulted in a generation which polls routinely show to be more tolerant of ethnic and sexual minorities than any other in American history. It works.
The NAP is a moral stance, which is not an observation of reality, and this charge is there for absurd on the face of it.

Following that moral stance will not, in fact, result in the outcomes which proponents claim it will. If it does not result in the desired outcomes, it is useless as a standard of behavior.
You use the phrase ‘under a libertarian regime’ which at least in voluntarist ethics has no meaning. 

'Regime' in this context means 'a set of conditions under which a society acts.'
There are libertarian (though in this case you should probably search with either the phrase voluntarist or anarcho-capitalist) solutions to the trolley problem which address the reasoning behind the distinction.

The trolley problem, in addition to being a useless thought experiment, has no relevance whatsoever to the topic of economic externalities, or for that matter to the discussion of economic coercion. You have still not addressed how the two situations are different.

Gaius Tacitus said...

You will find responses here: http://twopideltaij.blogspot.jp/2012/08/caveat-emptor.html

Post a Comment