Sunday, April 15, 2007

Does anyone need another libertarian straw man?

There are so many straw men flung at libertarians that we must almost be eligible for some sort of agricultural subsidy. (This, in case you missed it, is irony) Jonathan Pearce at Samizdata and some of the Samizda commentariat have between them collected up some of the most common (some of which came verbatim from this Guardian comments section):

  • Free marketeers do not believe in law and rules of any kind.
  • If you are a skeptic about global warming and other alleged environmental terrors, you care nothing for future generations and might also be in the pay of Big Oil.
  • Libertarians believe in the idea that humans are born with a mental "blank slate" and hence pay no heed to inherited characteristics of any kind.
  • For capitalism to work successfully, everybody has to be obsessed with making money all the time.
  • Capitalism can only survive in an expanding economy.
  • Libertarians are uninterested in preserving certain old traditions and cultures.
  • Libertarians tend to be loners and discount the importance of community life.
  • If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear from a state-sponsored identity card.
  • By opposing state ownership, libertarians are taking things away from people - education, healthcare, food from their mouths etc.
  • Libertarians talk as if every family lived on its own forty acres, and that everyone is more or less an equal player.
  • Libertarianism ignores the collective power of modern corporate capitalism.
  • Libertarianism is fantasy. The world needs pragmatic political and economic thought, not some deeply rationalist philosophy that has never, and will never, reflect the reality of the world we live in.
  • Both Marxist and libertarian may congratulate themselves on their superior and enlightened understanding of how society ought to be run...
  • ...It's a case of 'every man for himself', and devil take the hindmost...
  • An easy example of market failure in this regard is homeopathy ... yet the stuff still sells. This is is not rational behaviour.
  • Libertarians deny human nature ... in the Libertarian fantasy, once Libertarianism is brought about ... everything with go swimmingly.
  • The problem with economic libertarianism, is that it has to repress the human instinct to organise into collectives.
  • Libertarians would prefer to revert to a state where hired help was cheap and the person
    cleaning the street lived in a slum and had a life expectancy of 35.
  • Libertarians evidently want a pure abstract system where people make choices purely based on me me me.
  • Libertarians are all selfish bastards who want to see people dying in the street
  • Libertarianism lauds union-busting,but ignores the power of corporate collectivism.
  • The market was created and is sustained by 'government intervention'.
  • You don't believe in public education? You must want everyone to be uneducated!
  • A Libertarian is just a dumb conservative who wants to be able to do drugs and cheat on their wives without feeling guilty.

More straw men there than a thousand-acre field in Kansas. Read rebuttals of most of those canards here in the original post and the comments thread, and feel free to post any others in the comments below.

25 Comments:

Anonymous Kane Bunce said...

and feel free to post any others in the comments below.
I am not sure where to start. I can think of several rebuttals for all of them. The problem for me is picking which ones to rebut. I will come back when I have made up my mind.

4/15/2007 10:19:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A genuine question: is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?

Lindsay Perigo proposed this as a "libertarian ideal" during his Radio Pacific talkshow era - and was immediately beseiged by caller after caller ridiculing his proposal.

The upshot, as Lindsay openly acknowledged, would be the potential for private tolls - and he saw this as a natural incident of a private property right.

My question: is this open to criticism by the socialist-minded as unrealistic fantasy-land libertarianism?

4/15/2007 12:36:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"...is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?"

Yes, of course it is. What do you think you have in shopping malls?

4/15/2007 02:36:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"...is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?"

Yes, of course it is. What do you think you have in shopping malls?"

Exactly.I'm always amazed by people who make claims like Anon's while oblivious to the real working examples all around them....

Its a simple matter of crossing a line...we do it all the time when we enter shops as PC points out as well as when we enter the front gates of our properties etc

4/15/2007 03:45:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I wasn't talking about shopping malls, but about footpaths on the high street - not the store interior. That was Lindsay's point of reference. So your argument somewhat misses the point.

4/15/2007 05:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I wasn't talking abuot the store interiors, but about the footpaths in, around and through the shopping malls.

So we're talking about the same thing here.

4/15/2007 05:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Kane Bunce said...

and feel free to post any others in the comments below.
I am not sure where to start. I can think of several rebuttals for all of them. The problem for me is picking which ones to rebut. I will come back when I have made up my mind.

--
Posted by Kane Bunce to Not PC at 4/15/2007 10:19:15 AM

4/15/2007 10:11:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A genuine question: is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?

Lindsay Perigo proposed this as a "libertarian ideal" during his Radio Pacific talkshow era - and was immediately beseiged by caller after caller ridiculing his proposal.

The upshot, as Lindsay openly acknowledged, would be the potential for private tolls - and he saw this as a natural incident of a private property right.

My question: is this open to criticism by the socialist-minded as unrealistic fantasy-land libertarianism?

--
Posted by Anonymous to Not PC at 4/15/2007 12:36:48 PM

4/15/2007 10:12:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"...is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?"

Yes, of course it is. What do you think you have in shopping malls?

--
Posted by PC to Not PC at 4/15/2007 02:36:05 PM

4/15/2007 10:12:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"...is it realistic to divide "public footpaths" into private ownership?"

Yes, of course it is. What do you think you have in shopping malls?"

Exactly.I'm always amazed by people who make claims like Anon's while oblivious to the real working examples all around them....

Its a simple matter of crossing a line...we do it all the time when we enter shops as PC points out as well as when we enter the front gates of our properties etc

--
Posted by James to Not PC at 4/15/2007 03:45:29 PM

4/15/2007 10:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I wasn't talking about shopping malls, but about footpaths on the high street - not the store interior. That was Lindsay's point of reference. So your argument somewhat misses the point.

--
Posted by Anonymous to Not PC at 4/15/2007 05:30:01 PM

4/15/2007 10:15:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Actually, I wasn't talking about the store interiors, but about the footpaths in, around and through the shopping malls.

So we're talking about the same thing here.

--
Posted by PC to Not PC at 4/15/2007 05:41:10 PM

4/15/2007 10:15:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

If store owners were able to own the sidewalk outside there shop a whole lot of social problems related to "public ownership" would disappear.

Got hookers touting for business outside your shop....? Have them moved on now by the police as the property owner.Same for drug dealing...kids hanging about intimidating customers etc...

The conflict caused by public ownership (really State ownership) would evaporate as people not forced to pay for the side walks would be far more live and let live about what happens on them...same for private roads and boobs on bike parades etc...

4/15/2007 10:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand why you guys see the two situations as philosophically similar... and I'm halfway there in terms of agreement... but a slight commercial reality check?

Take your shopping mall analogy. I agree up to a point: suburban shopping malls offer free carparking, for example, as a point of difference from inner city boutique stores. And, yes, it would be commercial suicide to charge an "entrance toll" at the point of pedestrian entrance to the mall. The commercial reality is that the shopping mall owner generally "owns" the surrounding commercial real estate, including the carpark and the adjoining pedestrian areas.

Compare that with a high street footpath. How does the owner of a high street footpath - assuming someone who doesn't also own the adjoining shops - derive a return on investment other than charging pedestrian traffic for what is, in reality, a non-service?

4/15/2007 10:49:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"Compare that with a high street footpath. How does the owner of a high street footpath - assuming someone who doesn't also own the adjoining shops - derive a return on investment other than charging pedestrian traffic for what is, in reality, a non-service?"

But is it? That's for the potential customer to decide.Personally if I had the choice of picking my way through hookers'kids,vomit,used needles ,graffiti covered walls,urine stained doorways etc or paying a bit extra for my purchase to ensure a clear run I would do so....and if I was taxed less because I was not having to pay for public sidewalks etc I will not use I'd be happier still...

The market...ie: free people acting in their own selfinterset will work it out...

4/15/2007 11:26:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Exactly, James.

Anon: The section of footpath in front of ABC Shoes is owned by ABC Shoes. The sections in front of the neighbouring businesses are owned by the neighbouring businesses. They sweep it; they hose it down every morning; they can stick a damn planter on it if they wish.

It's no different to owning a section of land adjacent to your building for parking. It's land - an asset.

And taxpayers/ratepayers aren't taxed to provide a state/council 'service' that is usually lacking at best and non-existent at worst.

4/16/2007 09:33:00 am  
Anonymous James said...

One only has to consider the condition of most "public toilets" compared to privately owned ones to see how property rights lead to more desirable outcomes...;-)

4/16/2007 11:59:00 am  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

... and then how owns the road in front of the stores?

-"Well the stores would own that and pay for up-keep."

...that's fine. So each store is responsible for a 5-10 meters stretch of footpath, gutter, and road.

-"yup".

... each store gets a contractor to build the 10m section of road in front of the store. Another contractor to build the pavement, another the gutter. Next shop down does the same thing.

... gee wouldn't 5 or 10 of these shop owners realise that it might be cheaper to band together and gain economy of scale for installing the paving, gutter, road, lighting, power, etc. by obtaining a larger civil contractor?

...next thing you have a neighbourhood beauty scheme and before you know it's metastatsised into a council asking for contributions.

That's also a market at work.
Individuals pursuing personal ends through collaboration.

4/16/2007 10:14:00 pm  
Blogger libertyscott said...

Body corporates exist to do this sort of thing all the time.

Of course what this neglects is that if we are talking about divesting footpaths in city blocks to property owners, we will have already come a very long way towards liberalising so much else!

4/17/2007 12:28:00 am  
Anonymous Sus said...

"...next thing you have a neighbourhood beauty scheme and before you know it's metastatsised into a council asking for contributions."

But that's the problem, Greg. Councils don't 'ask' for contributions. They issue rates 'demands'. And invariably provide third-rate services in return.

Here's a question for you:

Why are you so frightened of individual freedom that you would settle for (local) state control?

4/17/2007 09:14:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

The footpaths and the roads should be owned by the public. Imagine a society that you can't get from A to B, since A had refused to allow you through his/her road? Or perhaps that owners of A (Michael Law) banned you because you dress like a gang member? This Libertarian concept of property right is fine if they are private properties such as a super-markets, but not roads.

4/17/2007 11:03:00 am  
Anonymous Sus said...

"Ok for supermarkets, but not roads".

Then you miss the point of libertarianism, FF.

Surely the question should be why would I *want* to stop a potential customer from entering my shop - unless I didn't like the look of them, (eg they were intoxicated), in which case I should be fully entitled to prevent them from doing so.

And if I'm a bigot, and don't like their colour, say, well then more fool me for doing myself out of a bob or two.

And the latter will sensibly take her custom to a more appreciative outlet.

Invite the state in to fix the problem if you like, but you should know by now that it will invariably result in the opposite to that intended.

4/17/2007 12:36:00 pm  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

sus.

I apprecaite your point but I can not conceive it working in practice.

I'm just pointing out the practicalities of building and maintaining 15 pavements, gutters, sewers, lights, roads, in front of 15 libertarian shops.

Why would a libertarian want to hire a contractor for such small jobs when it would be far cheaper to team up with your neighbour and gain ecomomny of scale.

This thread seems to assume that if the rate money is never levied that shopkeepers could build a good pavement with the money they retain.
How much pavement, gutter, sewer, road, can you build for $5,000? $15,000, $25,000. Not much. Be practical. (I'd like to hear a counter-plan)

We're talking suburban roads here, not council junkets to sister cities, basket weaving, or special autobahns.

For a post that was about "strawmen" isn't it curious that it has ending by an appeal to philosophy by the proponents rather than project-costing. For objectivist there is a lack of objectivity on this scenario!

(I agree with you in principle though.)

4/19/2007 09:44:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

"Why would a libertarian want to hire a contractor for such small jobs when it would be far cheaper to team up with your neighbour and gain ecomomny of scale."

And that's precisely what is likely to happen in practice, quite voluntarily, perhaps with appropriate easements or under a body corporate arrangement, and with voluntarily agreed measures for maintenance and standards and the like. And who knows what future benefits might result!

And that's precisely the point of libertarianism: leaving people free to develop their own social and economic structures organically, which over time come to look nothing like the legally-contrived starting points, and certainly nothing like the imposed-from-above solutions that too many think are the only means whereby people can live together.

4/19/2007 10:39:00 am  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

But aren't councils just the organic development of the commerce between individuals after several itterations?

I accept the point.

Do you have any foreign examples in mind?

4/19/2007 08:15:00 pm  

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