Politics Using Rational Self-Interest

If you want a libertarian society, Objectivism is a dead end. Liberty is a public good in a democracy (or republic, if you prefer). Somebody has to vote against receiving their own fair share of largesse from the public treasury. Somebody has to plant signs, knock on doors, pay for ads, attend meetings, etc. without adequate compensation. What libertarians might receive in tax cuts is dwarfed by the cost of getting those tax cuts. Liberty requires freedom-loving altruists.

David Friedman acknowledges the conflict between self-interest and liberty and has vocally denounced even bothering with electoral politics. His writings call for dismantling democracy entirely in order to reconcile concern with justice and the general welfare with self-interest. Alas, though I find Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom to be a truly fascinating work, I am skeptical of his proposal these days. I read Forbes too much. Mergers and industry consolidation happen all too often in industries where competition is more feasible than core government functions. Like it or not, those core government services are much more efficiently delivered by monopolies. Choice has higher costs than the alternative of monopoly profits. I’d rather not risk autocracy (or conquest, or civil war) in order to experiment with anarchy in the U.S. If someone wants to have a go at creating anarcho-capitalism somewhere where the government is already extremely bad, then more power to them. Cuba awaits.

Though one cannot sell the complete libertarian package through self-interest and get paid for doing so, one might sell parts of the package this way. I’m going to take a crack at it, going after perhaps the least likely customers: people looking for free money from the government. Obviously, these people are not in the market for straight libertarianism, but perhaps a variation on Charles Murray’s Plan might work. That is, dismantle the welfare state and give all citizens a monthly dividend check.

Evil? Maybe. But not nearly as evil as giving out Ayn Rand books.

Whose Morality?

Another update of the On Enforcing Morality book: Whose Morality? It’s all well and good to say the government should make people better, but who gets to determine what is better?

The original edition focused on the danger of enforcing morality in that the immoral vote, and can enforce immorality. This lesson remains — because it is a very real problem. But this time around I present a few work arounds for conservative Christians. And it introduces a new set of chapters I intend to write on restoring marriage.

This post is here to let people know of the update, and provide a place to comment on the chapter. Comment away if you are inspired.

The Most Unpleasant Holiday of the Year

It is that time of the year again: time to go without food or liquid from sunset to sunset. It is the Day of Atonement, one of the seven Holy Days of the year given in the Bible, a day observed by Jews and a small minority of Christians.

I hate it. I hate fasting. As I write these words I am weak, dizzy, and irritable. I do not feel spiritual, and I do not feel closer to God. Yet I am doing it. Why?

The Bible says so [Leviticus 23:27]. That should suffice. The Creator is entitled to be inscrutable or even arbitrary in his commands. I don’t need to like them or even understand why they are.

But the command is likely not arbitrary. Jews and Christians may need to obey it for reasons other than “just because.” Some possible reasons to fast:

  • Self punishment for our own sins is contrition backed by revealed preference. This explanation fits well with the original ceremony, with the scapegoat and all, and it fits well with the early parts of the Old Testament. The later prophets and the New Testament scriptures downplay fasting in favor of good works for this purpose, however, and I’d much rather do good works than fast!
  • A reminder of our blessings. We live in a golden age. We have so much food and entertainment available that many become fat and jaded. But I am neither fat nor jaded. In fact, for most of my life I struggled to keep my weight up.
  • Fasting allows one to meditate deeply, or so some claim. It works not for me. A raw food diet and abstention from alcohol, yes. Zero food or drink (including water) and I am irritable, not meditative.
  • A reminder of the will, that spirit can override fleshly urges. This I value, unpleasant though the process may be.

We live in a society that forgets the will. Teenagers want to fornicate so we must give out condoms or even provide legal abortions since they might not even have the willpower to use said condoms. Joe Camel appears on billboards and so millions cannot help but smoke. Only big corporations are to be held accountable for their actions. Only the federal government is truly responsible.

Here is my message for lovers of liberty: “If it feels good, do it” is a dead end. It leads not to liberty but to a European style nanny state. This is not to endorse the Bill Bennett agenda. That too, downplays the will. Freedom requires discipline from within. The process may be unpleasant at times, but discipline from without can be even more unpleasant.

The Moral Priority Quiz

I hear many Christians say that abortion is murder, yet few if any call for the death penalty for committing abortion. In fact the silence is deafening when it comes to any discussion of the penalty for abortion from any pro-life politician.

Personally, I am not sure that abortion is murder, but it does come creepily close. I am not ready to call for capital punishment or dole out life sentences, but I do think the penalty should be higher than that for smoking a joint or or copying a copyrighted video.

I think our overall legal system is messed up when it comes to making the penalty fit the crime. Too often our lawmakers think atomically and simply jack up penalties based on how effective enforcement is going. This leads to serious injustice and a breakdown of law and order. Witness our extremely high incarceration rates accompanied by high crime.

Some years ago I made a small attempt to remedy the situation by devising a Moral Priority Quiz for the Asheville Daily Planet. Just recently I have updated it a bit and added it here in the Enforcing Morality series.

So have a look at my updated Moral Priority Quiz and let me know what you think in the comments below. Do your priorities match the law of the land?

Should We Enforce Morality?

Years ago, back in 2004, I wrote a few articles under “On Enforcing Morality” making the case that the government has a limited role. I tried to be sympathetic to conservatives but I don’t think I pulled it off.

Today, I am older, more conscious of my mortality.  And with a mortage and a toddler, I plenty of worldly interest in reducing crime and providing a safe, innocent environment for children. I can now better reach out to social conservatives because I am one, to a degree.

Rest assured I still disagree with the insane War on Drugs and certain other failed attempts to enforce morality. But I have a nifty new bag of ideas to enforce morality which do have a decent chance of working. I intend to add them to the Enforcing Morality book in the near future. In the meantime, you can use this entry as a place to comment on the first rewritten page (the intro).

Am I now scaring off civil libertarians needlessly? Or have I achieved the proper balance?