Opportunities in purity

The designers of Formula 1 motor cars are well-known for being good at the very peculiar job of making the fastest possible car within a set of constraints designed to slow them down. This is because they do not focus upon the constraint but focus instead on finding something they can do to make the car go faster without violating the constraint. They do this in an environment that allows no messy compromise. If a wing is too high or a skirt too low then the the car is against the rules and needs changing. The authorities might be flexible about how fast it is changed or how much the team will be fined but the car is either wrong or it is not.

We need to take a similar approach to making social change.

RB9 © Kevin Rodriguez Ortiz


Libertarians need to find the changes that are beneficial (that make the car go faster) and that lie within a complex set of constraints. Such as:

  • that which is popular, and
  • does not create new violations of natural rights

What is popular is a fuzzy constraint. People can be persuaded of the benefits of a policy and one might employ the Overton window etc. It should be possible to work with that.

What violates natural rights ought to be a strict constraint, but like the FIA seeking to enforce the rules without bankrupting competitors libertarians must be able to play the game too. The way they can play that game is to accept that they are not responsible for the status quo and forgive libertarian policy creators who do not fix every violation of property rights in one go. These leaves policy makers an option of leveraging the status quo to make the new parts of a policy work. Libertarians are free to judge the new part, and the overall speed of change, but are not free to reject that which has already been forced upon them.

For an example, I present my oft-repeated call to use nudge to default people’s newly hypothecated National Insurance payments into an ultra-local system of friendly societies. National Insurance is a mandatory tax and I suggest it stay mandatory, at least for a year or two. I excuse myself for that apparent violation of individual sovereignty for the very simple reason that it was not me that implemented it.

Another, topical, example is backing an incremental raising of the lower tax threshold over the imposition of a high minimum wage.

This is a very different, and much superior, approach to simply ignoring natural rights. Some dismiss natural rights libertarianism because they believe it requires revolutionary change. It does not – it requires a more creative and more incrementalist approach.

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