Thin and Thick Libertarianism and Sustainable Liberty

So when are you a Libertarian?

A question that is debated when people discuss the idea of ”thin” versus ”thick” libertarianism. Those in the thin camp argue that libertarianism is simply a rejection of the inititiation of violence. (you don’t think the worlds problems are solved by having someone else hurt others and take their stuff to force your ideals). While those in the ”thick” camp argue that libertarianism should go further into stronger advocacy for the oppressed, multiculturalism, essentially really advocating that people can and should make an effort not just coexist but thrive together.

I agree with both, I just feel they are answering very different questions.

The ”thin” crowd is arguing for a strict and clear definition of being libertarian as a view on the use of violence in governing society (violence is bad). They don’t want other virtues or social values to be added in because then it becomes unclear and drives people into a neverending fight on definitions. This bothers the ”thick” crowd because someone with social or cultural views they may abhor can fall within the libertarian banner as long as they don’t think violence and especially violence through government is the answer to bringing upon their worldview. Although we can’t redefine every aspect of ourselves to reduce commonalities with those we don’t like. I’m a male, and there are other males who’ve raped, murdered, etc. but I don’t suggest people redefine male to exclude those who do those things.

Although I do think the particular social virtues and values you promote play a role in building a world where Libertarianism can grow and thrive. One of the things that brings many to look into libertarianism is when they begin to see the effects that individual freedom has on general welfare. Many of these effects come from the network effects of markets, the exchange of good, services and ideas that create wealth and innovation. The smaller that network of interacting individuals the smaller these effects may become.

So to illustrate when I’m getting at I’ll make use of a rhetorical tool called a ”reductio” (taking things to their extreme). Let’s imagine a world where everyone rejects violence but their personal values and virtues still lead to isolated communities that voluntarily don’t trade, don’t travel, don’t talk. Many of the most positive effects of the market may not quite play out leading to less prosperous communities which can lead to an environment where the isolation and struggle leads to a reversal on the use of violence. (it’s easier to use violence on people you don’t know and especially when your struggling)

Throw in tolerance, forgiveness, empathy and pluralism in the virtues we promote, it may be beyond the scope of libertarianism but would contribute to an environment where libertarianism can sustainably be a value that travels generation to generation. The market network effects will create prosperity and non-violence that would reinforce continuing down that path. The interaction of individuals makes calls for violence that much more difficult.

Will the world hit either extreme, probably not. Although in the hopes of a sustainable libertarianism it seems valuable to want to push in the direction of the later extreme.


The Libertarian Perspective on the elections in Brazil

I guess the global trend of nationalist populism is still going. This talk of a strongman leader who is going to tell the rest of the world they can no longer tell their Nation what to do while focusing on national security and economy is a message that plays to the anxieties of a world plagued with terrorism still feeling the anxiety from a global economic crisis.

The problem is many of those trying to defeat this trend try do so by telling people their anxieties are wrong and they should feel ashamed for having them and vote for traditional leaders instead. (this does not work, you need to provide them a better solution)

Nationalist Populism is the wrong answer but so is the traditional establishment corruption. The Libertarian message is a message of individual empowerment that allows each of us to provide our own security, prosperity and virtue within each of our lives without looking at it as having to come at the expense of the rest of the world or a particular class. Individualism has room for everyone and I hope more the world discovers this message sooner than later.

Metaphors can change the world

Metaphors play a large role in how we view problems and solutions. One of the most consequential metaphors I’m aware of is the difference between looking at society and the economy as organic vs mechanic.

Those who take a more organic approach see the society, economy and the institutions within it as disparate parts of a larger co-dependent body or ecosystem. Often times when your body exhibits symptoms such as fevers or colds it’s the result of the body adapting and healing making it a temporary discomfort that usually doesn’t require intervention which can often make it worse. Also as bodies and ecosystems heal they adapt and change to deal with similar events in the future without any central dictation to do so. This approach of seeing society leads to a more free market approach and thought process.

Those who see society as mechanic see it as co-dependent parts of something that had to be designed. Like a machine if left alone it’s parts don’t improve. Even worse, they depreciate overtime, so it’s up to its owners to replace parts when necessary and designers are needed to create better ones when faults are identified. Since the machine can’t fix itself this requires much more external intervention to maintain, this leads to a mindset much more willing to see governments intervene in society.

This is merely one example of how metaphors influence how we see the world around us. A metaphor I quite enjoy and use in explaining good vs bad regulation/rules is board games. When you look at simpler games with less rules like UNO it’s easier to catch cheaters, need less enforcers, and allows for more to be willing to play. While games with much more complicated and discretionary rules (dungeons and dragons) make it hard to catch cheaters, need people to be designated enforcers/adjudicators, and are so complex many people get discouraged from playing.

Another great metaphor geeks like myself usually enjoy is seeing our lives like a Role Playing Game where doing things earn you experience points so you can level up and be more effective. This metaphor often leads people to embrace human capital without ever being aware of the concept.

Metaphors make a difference. Develop, disseminate and use them carefully.

Why Whataboutism matters

The left recently complained about “whataboutism”, the pointing out that left administrations did many of the same bad policies as the current right wing one. (Cronyist trade dealings, mass deportations, global intervention, massive deficits, accommodative monetary policy, etc.)

This is Important because why should I listen to someone telling me to vote differently if what they are telling to vote for will get me the same? I vote Libertarian in the hopes of actually electing someone that will do something different such as intervene less in the affairs of other nations, promote actual free trade, balance the budget and let interest rates be set by markets.

The odds may be high, but if things go my way, even a little, at least there will be genuine substantive change versus merely a change in tone, rhetoric and in whose cronies get political favors.

What Libertarians aren’t!

Libertarians are not against public goods… they question whether centralized monopolistic government is the best institution to provide it and whether taxation is an ethical or effective way of funding it.

Libertarians are not against regulations… they question whether centralized monopolistic government is the best institution that can create fair rules that are fairly enforced and whether it’s able to respond quickly when it gets things wrong.

Libertarians aren’t against assisting those who aren’t well off… but questions whether centralized monopolistic government can do so efficiently and effectively and whether the level of taxation needed to fund inefficiency is ethical and creates more poor people in the process.

A decentralized competitive market of voluntary institutions such as enterprise, charity and community can provide public goods, Regulations and Welfare. While each institution may provide only a small piece in aggregate, the quantity will be greater and quicker to respond when something works or doesn’t.

Libertarians aren’t just about what people should have but how it shouldn’t be provided (without the inefficiency of involuntarism).

Libertarians Love Regulations

I think many people have the wrong idea about libertarians and regulation. The perception of Libertarians is that we think all rules are bad which is far from the case. Rules and Regulations are a service like any other that provides value. Board games would be quite unenjoyable without rules to create a sense of fairness and achievement when one wins.

Essentially those who design board games are really in the business of designing regulations as games at the end of day are just sets of rules that turn mutual interaction into leisure. Although if a game designer makes rules that are too complicated or unfair it leads to people not playing the game and it failing in the marketplace. The interplay of market forces lead to better rules and better games, markets can and do exist for regulations at all levels.

The problem with government regulations is the same problem with government in all of its efforts, its monopolistic nature leads to bad rules (overly complicated and unfair) and bad enforcement (enforced harsher on the political weak and rarely on the politically connected). The lack of accountability from voluntarism and markets in the rules making process makes government the worst provider of such an important service.

Although when highlighting this point it begs the question how do markets provide rules? Here are some examples:

1. For Profit Insurance: Since people are paying Insurance companies to insure their risks, insurance companies often expect certain record keeping and risk mitigation to occur to be able to purchase a policy. If the demands of an insurance company are too onerous competing insurance companies will soak up market share with better less burdensome rules. If the rules are too light then the insurance company will find itself insolvent from too many claims. These extremes provide incentives for the insurance company to find the right balance. Of course, lack of competition in insurance markets often due to state laws can and has created the same monopolistic effects as government.

2. Private certification companies like Underwriters Laboratory lend their stamp of approval for a fee and rigorous testing which companies desire to either lower insurance premiums, limit potential legal liabilities or even just to be eligible for an insurance policy.

3. Hiring experts to act as middlemen provide accountability and protection in areas that are overly complex for the average consumer (remember travel agents or mortgage brokers). The better able they are in helping make your way through complex decisions the more repeat business and referrals they get. While there are always some agent/brokers who do bad business they often aren’t able to build up the repeat business to grow like a quality agent would.

4. All of the above can be further held accountable by public review services like Angie’s list or yelp.

5. Also information services that help create a more informed consumer provide accountability.

6. Also voluntary collective purchasing can give groups the negotiating power to ask for certain rules to be followed in exchange for large business transactions.

The point is Markets can and do generate better governance and regulation when allowed to do so.