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.

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13 Comments

  1. I think its worth commenting on this article here http://www.holisticpolitics.org/WhatIsFreedom/Government.php

    Translation, as far as I see it:

    Taxation is theft, however, its an OK form of theft.

    I would like to critique that. First of all “Thou shall not steal.” Theft is never OK.

    Second of all, I do question the validity of “Taxation is theft.” While I am a pretty radical libertarian, I do think that SOME taxation is necessary and not theft. I would defend my position on similar grounds that the left uses to defend corporations stealing “They take more than their fair share.” They aren’t objecting to all profits by the corporation but unfair ones. Difference is, the free market can decide what is “Too much” but in the government case, its similar to a monopoly, only worse because the penalty for refusing to pay is not only doing without but getting fined or imprisoned. Therefore, the responsibility is on the government to tax a fair rate for what they provide. If they give police to stop crime and thus tax enough to pay the police a fair amount, this is OK.

    Limited Welfare is a gray area IMO. There is not perfect equal opportunity, so I think inheritance tax is the best way to fund it. I am for inheritance, but I think taking a small amount from each one to run a limited welfare state and give incentives for small business to start up more competition is logical and fair, or at least, borderline logical and fair (I do understand the counter-arguments.)

    Thoughts?

  2. Some years back I wrote that you could justify taxation for government services if the value of the service was TWICE what the market could provide. (For example, economies of scale suggest that government based military could cost less than half of what you’d pay in personal military protection in the absence of government.) Taxation is theft with adequate compensation. Both Murray Rothbard and the Bible agree with a factor of two being adequate. Somehow, the Rothbardians were not amused.

    On my new site which focuses on the welfare issue, I give a rather extensive list of potential justifications for some transfer payments. See here:
    http://www.freemoneyforall.org/justifications/

  3. Can you give me a link to where the Bible mentions this issue? I admittedly have never read anything about it in scripture.

    As for wealth redistribution, your past injustice point is valid, your “Letting the poor suffer is worse than robbing the rich” is not. The poor DO have an opportunity here. It may not be completely equal, but they have one. And the rich, somewhere along the line, earned their wealth.

    I think a limited amount of redistribution to equalize opportunity is reasonable, but not permanently. Welfare, in my opinion, should give the less fortunate the tools to succeed, not success itself.

    Anything more than that is theft.

  4. That doesn’t seem to me to be related at all. That’s talking about punishment of theft, not morality of theft.

  5. Personally, I approach the “taxation is theft” issue from two angles.

    First angle, for today: yeah, it’s theft, but we really have to decide whether we’re better off with one thief or with many. I went into more detail on this <a href="http://darksidemobius.blogspot.com/2006/07/market-dynamics-of-police-protection.html&quot; title="here", but the short version is that I believe the State to be the natural outcome of a competitive market for police protection. Are we better off with multiple feuding warlords/crime lords or a single state? That question becomes a more serious question when the state becomes very, very bad. But for the most part, between the economies of scale and, in modern times, the democratic limitations of the State, living under a State is at least marginally better than the alternative. And this is the only "lesser evil" I acquiesce to.

    The second, in my Libertopian future (heh), is this: If you begin with the assumption that all people have an equal right to access to the land (in a broad sense that includes water, air, the electromagnetic spectrum, etc.), we can justify a land tax thusly. In this model the state is less like a central authority with an arbitrary power to tax (an entity that is excepted from the usual rule against theft) and more like a corporation, owned by the people (each person has a share in this corporation), which in turn owns Land (and nothing more) and charges for its use, spending the proceeds (Rent) on whatever the board of directors sees fit (the board being elected by the owners, ie. the people at large), disbursing the remainder as a dividend. Under this model, the tax is NOT theft, it is a proper payment for use of resources (we already pay it today, we just pay it to banks and corporations). Or, in Henry George's language, it's a tax in form, but not in substance.

  6. Anarcho-capitalism? Hey, isn’t that Russia? Didn’t they end up with thug oligarchists denying the liberties of anyone who calls them out?

  7. Russia never had anarcho-capitalism. Somalia is a better example. Maybe Albania a few years ago as well if P.J. O’Rourke’s description is correct.

  8. I first posted the following on the holistic politics website by mistake.

    The problem with self-interest in civilized societies is it can be seen to be a thing-in- itself – unconnected to the health and well-being of a given collective.

    Self-interest in a civilized society is centered around the acquisition of money. Money is the sole means of survival in a civilized society. That means the acquisition of money is inexorably connected to our survival instinct, our instinct for self-preservation. It’s difficult to quantify survival. If a dollar is a unit of survival, how much is enough survival? This is why one never seems to have enough money. The more money coming in the more assurance one has of one’s ability to survive.
    Making money is a measure of one’s survival apparatus.

    Now, the thing is, one makes money by contributing to the money making ability of a collective – a particular enterprise – and one gets rewarded with a paycheck. One’s self-interest, then, serves the collective-interest in order to serve ones self-interest.

    In the natural realm the organizing factor in tribal formation was individual self-interest. One’s survival was dependent on belonging to a tribe. And not only belonging but actively contributing to the tribe’s survivability. One’s self interest was subsumed by the collective which in turn served one’s self-interest. The self-interest/collective-interest dynamic is part and parcel of the nature of things. In nature self-interest is kept in check by one’s need of the collective, the tribe.

    There are, however, no such automatic limits to one’s instinct to survive in a society. So, one can become transfixed with making money to the detriment of the collective one belongs to.

    As evidenced by the latest financial crisis that was due to, among other factors, rapacious investment bankers.

    One has to be able to see the collective-interest in ones own self-interest. We need a social system where everyone is at all times hyper-aware of one’s need of the collective – be it the workplace, the society as a whole or the natural environment – to promote one’s self-interest.

    Unleashing self-interest in a libertarian type of framework where everyone would be solely responsible for their own welfare would be the way to achieve a conscious realization of the need for collectives on an individual basis.

  9. that last bit seems contradictory – one might assume that everyone being solely responsible for their own welfare would pit each individual against one another in a total competitiveness – the Hobbesian thing – on the contrary we would be able to see more clearly the need we have of other people to make a living for ourselves -being solely responsible for your own welfare does not mean having to make a living solely on your own – with everyone on their own people would see the need for forming associations, just as we do now, so that everyone could pursue their self-interest in a reasonable manner

    looking out upon the social landscape with the burden of one’s existence squarely upon one’s own shoulders each and every individual would want to create an economic and banking system that was primarily if not exclusively concerned with providing optimum conditions for small to medium sized businesses to thrive and thus creating plenty of jobs

    and would not each and every individual want to create communities whereby everyone could pursue a life for themselves while conditioning one another with the good habits that contribute to maintaining a vibrant agreeable society – good habits like governing oneself – which is implied in the idea of self-government

    being solely responsible for your own welfare means that there would be no reliance on government entitlement programs so that people would not only have to work but also save money which of course loops back into having the kind of economic and banking system that would allow for everyone to be self-reliant

  10. that last bit seems contradictory – one might assume that everyone being solely responsible for their own welfare would pit each individual against one another in a total competitiveness – the Hobbesian thing – it would result in a Somalia type of anarchy – but the people there are not freely choosing that disorder –

    with everyone totally self-reliant in a less traumatized state we would be able to see more clearly the need we have of other people to make a living for ourselves -being solely responsible for your welfare does not mean having to make a living solely on your own – with everyone on their own people would see the need for forming associations, just as we do now, so that everyone could pursue their self-interest in a reasonable manner

    looking out upon the social landscape with the burden of one’s existence squarely upon one’s own shoulders each and every individual would want to create an economic and banking system that was primarily if not exclusively concerned with providing optimum conditions for small to medium sized businesses to thrive and thus creating plenty of jobs

    and would not each and every individual want to create communities whereby everyone could pursue a life for themselves while conditioning one another with the good habits that contribute to maintaining a vibrant agreeable society – good habits like governing oneself, which is implied in the idea of self-government

    being solely responsible for your own welfare means that there would be no reliance on government entitlement programs so that people would not only have to work but also save money which of course loops back into having the kind of economic and banking system that would allow for self-reliance

  11. He tj. Rober Heinlein once wrote that “Any government will work if power and responsibility are equal and coordinate.” I think your statements about “being solely responsibility for your own welfare” and “create communities” suffer from a coordination problem. This coordination problem has vexed mankind throughout the ages.

  12. I am not just talking about a government here but a social system.

    This is not the world it once was – this is a world based on information processing systems and that is how we must now look at our social systems because that is what they are.

    The coordination of a social system would be that of an information processing system.

    I like to use the human anatomy, which is also an information processing system
    where a network of communication between cells and the organs they create coordinates everything, as a model for a social system.

    The cells of a social system are localities.

    Through a network of communication localities can create and manage all the organs needed to serve their needs and thus those of the entire social body including banks, businesses, communications and government.

    The infrastructure is there – just needs rearranging to accommodate the kind of bottom up approach that is required.

    Kind of a holistic view wouldn’t you say?

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