12 libertarian policy statements

I find myself thinking, once again, in terms of leaflets. In particular I had an idea to produce a postcard with policy statements on the writable side. Check boxes might invite the owner to tick the boxes they agree with and share and compare what they ticked with other people. On the glossy side? Something eye catching and simple.

Here are the policy statements. Are they in the right order? What would you include?

1. Lifestyle Choice

People should be free to live as they please within a legal framework that leaves them personally accountable for the consequences. Drug consumption, smoking, salt, alcohol, fat consumption, sex, pornography, gender identity and the meaning of marriage are not matters that affect others unless they are drawn in by problems in our institutional arrangements. Introduce personal accountability in the health system. End state licensing of marriage and marriage venues.

2. Free Speech

Speech logically precedes both society and law and neither should restrain it. With exceptions only for fraud, libel and words that directly incite violence (“burn the witch!”, etc) or cause a panic (“the theatre is on fire!” etc) every other kind of speech is permissible. Individuals have free will and are held to be accountable for their own actions and own state of mind.

3. Minimized Regulation

There is no “one true way” to achieve anything. Most commercial malfeasance is due to perverse laws. Constant experimentation yields better results than permanent political decisions. End prescriptive laws and promote accountability via markets and the Common Law which are better at adapting to a complex changing world.

4. Taxation is Slavery

When the Incas herded their subjects up a hill, to spend the summer building huge stone temples, that was slavery, albeit it part time slavery. Taking 40% of everything you earn is more comfortable, but is still slavery. Likewise, taking a portion of what you own is just slavery applied retrospectively. Move immediately to a simplified flat tax system, abolish non-core Government departments and agencies or move them to the private or voluntary sectors. Switch, eventually, to voluntary taxation and a lottery.

5. The Rule of Law, Not Leaders

The law should apply equally to all, no law should be written to target particular groups be they rich, scary or unpopular. Laws should target criminals – those that use force or fraud. Ministers must not try to run things though threats and innuendo. If we have to have leaders we want Theory Y leaders who advise and facilitate, not rule.

6. Price signals not command and control

Command economies fail everywhere they are tried. Venezuela ran out of toilet paper because it fixed the price below the profitable level. Lakes were poisoned in Eastern Europe because Russia declared that whole countries must grow cotton. Let society choose what to do by the mechanism of supply and demand, communicated by voluntarily agreed prices.

7. Property Rights

Many sources of social tension can be resolved with reference to the rules of ownership. If a room in a pub is occupied it is up to the owner to decide if you have the better claim to using it. If one user wants to smoke it should be up to the landlord if his staff should serve drinks in there, and up to his staff to decide if they want to stay – since they own themselves. End laws which undermine the ability of property owners, of every kind, to control their property.

8. Honest Money

Changing the quantity of money changes its value. Changing the value of money changes the outcome of decisions that have already been made about debt and credit. Monetary stimulus forces business to into errors, confusing new money with new demand and leads to investment decisions that can be catastrophic for the whole economy. Governments do all of these things regularly and have shown they cannot be trusted to have exclusive control of money. End legal tender laws, remove barriers to printing notes, and accept any remaining taxes in physical commodities.

9. Drug Legalisation

People should be punished by their sins, not for them, unless they directly impact another person. Aside from that principle, it is ridiculous to ban honest law abiding people from such a valuable trade and expect a positive outcome. The outcome of the “War on Drugs” has been profoundly negative. Stop it. Try something else.

10. Peace

We must be armed and ready to defend ourselves, and our shipping. We must have effective policies about preempting attacks, but we should stick to existing commitments to refrain from wars of aggression. We should avoid entangling ourselves in remote battles which we are unable to properly understand.

11. Free Trade

The division of labour is an incredible boon to human life, on a par with the invention of language. Trade enables us to take advantage of dispersed knowledge and resources and to save time which we can then use to achieve more. Anyone might learn to make a charcoal stick. Nobody knows how to make a pencil. Pencils, and all the amazing complex inventions on the market are only possible through trade. Locally or internationally, why would you ever restrict it?

12. Open Borders

We should have the same expectations about personal accountability for foreign people as we do for local people, but offer them the same liberty to live as and where they please. Economically, there is little difference of principle between importing goods and importing labour except importing labour may be more efficient and should lead to a general rise in prosperity. Greater liberty to trade and speak as you please may lead to minor acts of unpleasantness in the short term but more genuine, stronger social cohesion will quickly emerge.

26 Comments

  1. The city gates should be open to friends and closed to foes – that is my own view of the non aggression principle. I do not see how it includes open borders to those of hostile intent – as Richard points out the masses who would arrive would not be very friendly (to put the matter mildly). Although I find the present obsession with eastern European immigrants baffling – after all they are mostly friends (they mostly have no hostile intent).

    On distant wars – the British military has collapsed to about 2% of the economy and is heading to about 50 thousand men.

    So to send them to war is not really an option – unless one wishes to send them to certain defeat.

    You will get no argument from me against the rule of law, or against economic sanity, or about the difference between sins and crimes.

    However, it is all a bit late now.

    But I am a gloomy guts – prove me wrong people!

    Prove that what is left of liberty can be saved, and lost liberties can be restored.

    And be non party – I am sure that people who support various aspects of liberty (not all of it – but aspects of it) can be found in several different political parties.

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  2. Simon, a great effort, but:

    1. No postcard-sized postcard will hold all that.

    2. Anyone so minded can easily provide obvious counter-arguments to just about all the points, and that includes those of us in the choir. The points nearly all are merely flat assertions, and I don’t think there is a one of them with which I can agree as stated.

    I don’t say this to rain on the parade, but I do think it would be a good thing to state your points in a way that does not leave the audience saying, “It depends on what you mean by that,” or “I have to disagree, because as it’s put here it’s just not correct.” I hate true-false and yes-no questions for just this reason; should I mark “Agree” because I partly agree, or “Disagree” because I partly disagree? (The polls that allow you 5 choices from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” don’t solve the problem.)

    For example, in Point 7 on property ownership you write,

    “If one user wants to smoke it should be up to the landlord if his staff should serve drinks in there, and up to his staff to decide if they want to – since they own themselves.”

    I can’t tell you how heartily I disagree with that — because the staff are his employees, presumably there voluntarily, and he has the right to set the rules for what his employees are expected to do on the job.

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    1. I added the word “stay” to that. I hope that covers it while staying brief.

      I scheduled tweets quoting points 1 to 10 last night. It was not too difficult to pull out the essence in under 140 characters, with some exceptions. I could use those essences on the postcard and link to a version of this.

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  3. Just to cover the bases — of course unless they are specifically under contract or some form of binding agreement, employees do have the right to walk off the job then and there if they’re asked to do something they find unacceptable. But that goes farther than the reasoning presented in the example. (And even in this lax age it is supposed to be bad form, if that matters.)

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  4. “4. Taxation is Slavery

    When the Incas herded their subjects up a hill, to spend the summer building huge stone temples, that was slavery, albeit it part time slavery. Taking 30% of everything you earn is more comfortable, but is still slavery.”

    That is simply an unsustainable proposition. Slavery is a state of subjugation with forced labour. Anyone in the UK is free to work without taxation being exacted, until they exceed their allowance. Please don’t overstate the case. Taxation is appropriation and legalised ‘theft’ of money, but it is not slavery. To say that it is just sounds like a whiny 13-year old who has just read some Rothbard.

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    1. Getting technical, which one must in discussions of this kind, whether “taxation is slavery” depends on one’s definition of slavery. To me, the word denotes the deliberate attempt to “take over” another person: that is, to keep him from exercising his own self-determination, in whole or in part. This broadens the concept to include such things as knocking a guy’s teeth out purely because you felt like doing it, or because his ex paid you $500 to knock him off. (You get what you pay for, honey.)

      Whether to include the caveats in the definition is an issue, of course. If the guy is put to hard labor as the penalty for assault and armed robbery, is that slavery? What about enforced quarantine for known, or highly-likely, TB carrier? What about stopping people just as they’re about to defenestrate?

      Paul points out below that taxation is not forceful removal of a person’s money, but rather extortion: give me your money or I will lock you up, seize your assets, and god knows what else. Very true. But extortion requires the credible threat of forceful subversion of self-determination, so it is threatened slavery.

      There are, of course, lots of people who are so used to taxation that they don’t feel [sic] it’s wrong; their complaint is about the amount they pay, or the uses to which the money is put. Actually if a person decides for himself, without any coaxing and without any threats or other coercion, that he wants to pay taxes, that’s a voluntary action of helping to fund government, so not any form of slavery.

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  5. Taking money by the threat of force is actually extortion (the “Protection Racket” – “pay me money or else…….”) not slavery.

    But taxation is not 30% of the economy in Britain – it is much higher than that. Taxes on sales (such as VAT) are just as much taxes as taxes on income.

    Remember that government spending is about half of the entire economy in the United Kingdom – and most Western nations.

    And military spending is about 2% of the economy in Britain (typical for a modern Western nation). Even in the United States it is only about 4% of the economy – and dropping towards 3%.

    This is why the Rothbardian obsession with the “warfare state” is so baffling.

    Whatever the problems of the modern Western world are – military spending is not one of them.

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  6. “Anyone in the UK is free to work without taxation being exacted, until they exceed their allowance”.

    Quite right, Mr Ed.

    Likewise, anyone in the UK is free to engage in any mutually advantageous act of exchange they like, until they exceed the boundaries of what the state defines as a mutually advantageous act of exchange.

    Likewise, anyone in the UK is free to engage in any peaceful activity they like, with/on their own property, until they exceed the limits on what the state considers a) peaceful, and b) their own property.

    Etc, etc.

    In short, there is no reason whatsoever to complain about anything the government does, has done, or will do; every man is as free as the law allows him to be, and it follows from our definitions that this is always the right amount of freedom for him to have. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

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  7. Well thought out points, in any political entity people will not see eye to eye on every issue. I personally found little to disagree with here.

    Although I have to admit that I’ve never understood the ‘Libertarian’ reasoning behind controlling immigration.

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    1. The reason for controlling immigration (not emigration) is that a libertarian political order will not work if the immigrants are going to set about destroying that very order. So where the record shows such intent and actions, it is suicide to allow immigration to these people or groups.

      Same issue, by the way, if an immigrant is known to carry a serious contagious disease.

      And that is the reason even, or especially (from a moral point of view), where the country on the receiving end offers no practical inducements to immigration (such as welfare) except liberty and, one can hope, a society where most people are reasonably friendly human beings.

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      1. I can understand that view point, and your remark about disease and the control of pandemics in a stateless (or minarchist) society is important. And yes, aside from employers offering attractive contracts, the government shouldn’t be in the business of drawing in migrants. But I’m still not convinced.

        Surely if we moved towards a Libertarian society the unease about hoards of ‘freedom hating’ outsiders would be unfounded. The very structures and institutions of collectivism that states utilise would be absent. Therefore, even if you saw a large influx of communists (for example) it wouldn’t matter because the tools they might use to impose their ideology wouldn’t exist….

        If however you are suggesting that the outsiders might impose their views on you by force (invasion) that’s a different matter. But I would argue that ‘foreigners’ are no more prone to using violence than anyone else- surely we must take evey human being as an individual, and not be afraid of a dirty and foreign speaking ‘mob’

        Even if a radical Communist where to set up a Commune on their private land next to yours, it would be none of your concern. They own the land….they can do as they wish.

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      2. Yes, Jordan, I have in mind specifically people and groups whose idea of making a place for themselves in Libertopia involves guns, knives, acid, bombs, airplanes, and whatever it takes. I can think of one or two real-life examples.

        This need not involve invasions en mass, as we have also certainly seen.

        By the way, it also needs to be made clear to one and all that just because a patch of dirt doesn’t have somebody’s house on it (or even if it does!), that does not mean said patch is up for grabs. Somebody owns it and no “visitors,” be they from another township or another country, have a right to squat there. Even American-Americans for generations need to be reminded of this occasionally.

        Similarly, just because an item seems to have occupied the same space since forever, does NOT give anyone the right to appropriate it. (Contrary to statute law, where property is considered abandoned after 5 years, or 7, or whatever, depending on the state. I understand the reasons for that, and I know it’s considered one of the glories of the Common-Law as it’s developed over nearly two millenia — but it’s still wrong and immoral. It’s a compromise, which most law must be–I admit that–but to my mind it’s unacceptable, so there.) This rule, at least in its statute form, newcomers as well as old-timers must be prepared to understand and follow.

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  8. Etc, etc.

    In short, there is no reason whatsoever to complain about anything the government does, has done, or will do; every man is as free as the law allows him to be, and it follows from our definitions that this is always the right amount of freedom for him to have. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’

    Evidently sarcasm, but not wit. And unwarranted extrapolation, perhaps indicative of a lack of willingness to reason. If you cannot properly define that which you oppose, and miscategorise things, you look unintelligent and you discredit your position. It is as simple as that. I’m sorry, but if you hope to be taken seriously, be serious and precise in argument.

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    1. It’s not sarcasm, mate. It’s what follows from the belief that (to paraphrase Bob Black) a man is under an obligation just because someone else has had some stationery made up.

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    2. Not meaning to speak for Rocco, but the point is that when you say “You can work £X-worth for free but after that you have to pay for the privilege or your assets will be seized or you will be jailed or both,” you have narrowed the sphere of self-determination for that person by introducing extortion; and you have to present rational, cogent, strong arguments for doing so. ANY attempt to limit the “space” in which a person may act solely according to his self-determination requires these.

      That is why the various points about “externalities” that Classical Libertarians with a strong streak of Utilitarianism in them prevents them from claiming primary allegiance to the libertarian principle, and it is a problem for us because in many cases they have a point, Walter Block to the contrary–although in my opinion some at least of these concerns bespeak a lack of imagination more than anything else.

      You may as well say that the prisoner is perfectly free as long as he stays in his cell and doesn’t make a fuss. Or that I am perfectly free on my own land as long as I don’t move a single stick without written permission from the head of the EPA, or paint my house purple or have Mom come to live with me without getting a “Variance” from the Zoning Board, or grow tomatoes in my front yard, or use incandescent light bulbs, or get my rotten-lousy insurance at an outrageous price from the Exchange because that is the Law. Or have to get special permission for a bypass because Dr. Zeke thinks I’m too old to be taking up valuable medical resources. (I mean, nobody’s stopping me from not getting the surgery. Or trying to find some country where it’s available and I can afford it.) Or whistle while I whittle outdoors (noise ordinance), or park my car in the driveway instead of the garage. Certainly none of those deprives me of “liberty”– I mean, I still have my sphere of autonomy, yes?

      Well, no. There is a point with nearly everything where a difference in “quantity” becomes a difference in quality, and another where a difference in quality becomes a difference in kind.

      (This, by the way, is a sequence that can perfectly well occur in the “Covenant” “private-property-only” Utopia, save only the medical stuff. We need to have a care with everything we sign up to, however good and principled the deal seems.)

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  9. The 12 topics are good, but for me, the order in which we tackle, an how we tackle it is important as, or more important than, which 12.

    Sorting out welfare to a defined contribution system would, imho, need to occur before open borders, for example.

    If one explains why, it might then de-fang certain arguments of those who might be persuaded.

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    1. Agreed Tim. And it is not just timing – style (although I am the worst stylist in the known universe) is important in its own right.

      For example I think American history would have been very different had the Ten Amendments of the Bill of Rights been presented in the right order.

      The Ninth Amendment should clearly be the first, and the Tenth Amendment should be the second (one needs to build the foundations before one raises the walls and puts on the roof).

      Also bad wording – the Tenth Amendment clearly needs an extra word, either “expressly” or “specifically”.

      Never assume anything, never just assume people will be reasonable in their “interpretations” – be paranoid.

      Even if you end up with a Constitution as long as that of Texas or Alabama.

      Constitutions should not be written by “constitutional lawyers” they should be written (if written by lawyers at all) by CONTRACT lawyers.

      After all it is supposed to be a CONTRACT.

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  10. “And military spending is about 2% of the economy in Britain (typical for a modern Western nation). … This is why the Rothbardian obsession with the “warfare state” is so baffling.”

    Some of us care about things other than money. Some of us think that organized mass murder is a big deal, even if it’s relatively cheap financially.

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    1. That is why your form of “anarchy” will not work my dear Duke.

      Whilst you regard such things as World War II or the Korean War as just “organised mass murder”, not what people have to do survive against ruthless totalitarian enemies, you remain in error.

      I have no objection, in theory, to “anarchy” – as long as it included business enterprises large enough (say with bases on other planets) and vast military forces (including nukes) able to deal with enemy threats around the world.

      “Anarchists” who assume that real enemies do not exist (that they are just made up be “big business” as excuse for military contracts) are mistaken.

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  11. “Some of us care about things other than money. Some of us think that organized mass murder is a big deal, even if it’s relatively cheap financially.”

    What has that got to do with military spending? Has the Swiss Army ever engaged in ‘organized mass murder’? There is a distinction between the two matters, are you able to make it?

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  12. 1. Agree, except shouldn’t say these things don’t “affect others.” Of course they do. Point is: they don’t violate rights.

    2. Agree, except libel laws are wrong. No one has a right over other people’s opinions.

    9. Again, of course private vices “impact” other people. If we narrow the scope of freedom to actions that don’t directly affect anyone we’ll have little left. This is why Spencer’s equal freedom principle is better than Mill’s harm principle. The limit to A’s freedom s not whether it negatively affects B but whether it violates B’s equivalent freedom.

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    1. Yes – the Common Law non aggression principle (which is what Herbert Spencer was talking about) is better than a “harm principle”.

      For example stealing the goods of a church, fraternity, trading company (or whatever) is a crime, selling at a lower price (“undercutting”) than a competitor is NOT a crime – even if one bankrupts the competitor and he kills himself, still no crime (as the Common Law understands the concept) has been committed.

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  13. On “honest money” – I think that implies something that people value BEFORE it is used as money (that economic value is subjective does not alter this). The “this is valuable because we use it as money” seems a bit of a dodgy argument.

    The above means that I am pushed in the direction of commodity money – a commodity that people value apart-from its use as money. This need not be gold – many commodity that people value apart from its use as money, might be used.

    For example silver – as long as its price in relation to gold (or anything else – its “exchange rate”) was not “fixed” by the state or by some other armed group.

    None of the above means that electronic means of transferring the ownership of the physical gold or silver (or whatever) could not be used – people would not need to walk around with bags of gold (if they did not want to).

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