Archive for April, 2010

A Simple Explanation of Libertarian Philosophy

I was recently listening to someone trying to explain his libertarian political philosophy, and I noticed something: libertarians don’t always do a good job of explaining their political philosophy.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that libertarians tend to be extremely well-read, and forget that their listeners have very likely never heard the term.  To make sure that I’m not making the same mistake, I’ll try to lay out why I believe what I believe.

The underlying assumption is that government (correctly understood) obtains its authority from the consent of those living under that government.  In other words, the only legitimate governmental powers are those that have been granted to it by the people.  Now, that seems simple enough.  I think most Americans could agree with that statement.

The next step is to begin peeling back the layers of that assumption to see what it implies.  Imagine that I told you that I was going to rob my neighbor’s house.  You would obviously object that I don’t have the right/authority to do so.  Again, this is something we can all agree with.  But what if I told you that I was going to rob my neighbor’s house so that I could give his clothes to the homeless man down the street?  I may have good intentions, but I’m sure you would still tell me (correctly) that I have no right to do so.  I have every right to give away my own clothes to help the homeless man, but robbing my neighbor is a no-no.

Now, what if I told you that since I don’t have the authority to steal my neighbor’s property to give it away, I would just give you permission to do so?  You’d look at me like I was crazy.  I obviously can’t give you permission to do something if I don’t have the authority to do it in the first place.

So we’ve established that government obtains its rightful powers only from the consent of the governed, that individuals don’t have the right to steal (even if it’s for a good reason), and that individuals don’t have the right to give others permission to steal.  The fun part comes in when we start weaving these three together.

One of government’s favorite activities is to tax the public in order to fund politically popular causes.  This is something we’ve all become very used to, and many Americans support the idea of allowing the government to collect taxes for noble causes.  But let’s take a step back and use the ideas above to answer a few questions.

Q:  What is taxation?
A:  Taxation is the coerced seizure (by government) of money belonging to the people.

Q:  Where does government (theoretically) get the authority to use force to take money from the people?
A:  From the consent of the people.

Q:  Can the people give consent for government to take money from others, even for a good cause?
A:  No, because the people themselves do not have the authority to take money from others, even for a good cause.

Q:  So what you’re saying is that since individuals don’t have the right to steal, they can’t authorize someone else (government) to steal on their behalf, and therefore the only proper means for a government to collect revenue is through voluntary donation?
A:  Exactly.

What it comes down to is that the only legitimate powers of government are those that are granted to it by the people, and which the people themselves have the right to grant. Individuals have the right to defend themselves against violence and fraud, and the government then would have every right to carry out those tasks on behalf of those freely choosing to live under that government. Beyond that, there’s no excuse for government to ever use force to compel someone to do something against his will.

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April 11, 2010 at 6:22 pm Leave a comment

Blogosphere Battles over Austrian Economics

If Ludwig von Mises were alive today, his ears would be burning. Krugman, Cowen, DeLong, Kling, Boettke…the blogosphere has been abuzz with talk of the Austrian school of economics this week. Here’s a breakdown in case you’ve lost track.

  • It all started here at FT.com with Martin Wolf asking readers to weigh in on whether the Austrians really understand financial troubles.
  • Keynesian economist Brad DeLong then attempted to dissect what the Austrian school is all about. He failed, but those who know of him shouldn’t be surprised.
  • Keynesian economist Paul Krugman didn’t want to be left out, and decided to one-up DeLong and show that he too can misunderstand the Austrian explanation of unemployment.
  • Bill Anderson, at his wonderful blog Krugman-in-Wonderland, had to step in at this point to put Krugman in his place. Little did he know that Krugman wasn’t finished.
  • Later in the afternoon, Krugman, seemingly wanting to increase the amount of attention he gets for being ridiculous, decided to call the Austrians “Keynesians in denial”.
  • Bill Anderson (it must be tiring to keep an eye on Krugman’s nonsense), responded once again to remind everyone of how tiring it is to have to explain things to Krugman over and over again.
  • Robert Wenzel of EconomicPolicyJournal.com chipped in to express surprise at Krugman’s sudden discovery of civility. Is Krugman starting to get it…even just a little bit?
  • By this point, Wirkman Virkkala at LibertarianStandard.com says what we’re all thinking, “Apparently, Paul Krugman has never read the work of Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek.”
  • Tyler Cowen also feels the need to misinterpret the Austrian explanation of the slump before calling for a Frankenstein’s monster of AustroKeynesiaRealBusinessCyclism.
  • Arnold Kling goes back to Krugman’s original post and gives a simple answer to why transitional unemployment is worse in the slump than in the boom.
  • Robert Wenzel comes back in to point out that Austrian business cycle theory was largely developed BEFORE Keynes, and that this would make the claim that Austrians are “self-hating Keynesians” a bit ridiculous.
  • Finally (as of 10:38pm Central), Pete Boettke of CoordinationProblem.org steps in and calmly explains that, yes, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Keynes did recognize that economic transitions are complex. For this, the fact that Austrians recognize this point is not an “ah-ha!” moment.

My apologies to anyone I’ve left out.

April 8, 2010 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment


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