Balko On Yglesias

I like Radley Balko and I like his blog. That’s why I feel obliged to take him to task for stuff like this:

Matthew Yglesias says that coercion “has a vital role to play in building a better tomorrow.”

Okay, so Yglesias isn’t a libertarian. But statements like this one from otherwise smart people continue to confound me. Even tossing out the quaint notion that a man ought to have ownership of his own body, his own labor, and what he creates with it, Yglesias still has to assume that those doing the coercing will be coercing in a way Yglesias approves, that they’ll be coercing goods and labor Yglesias is okay with, and that the coercer’s definition of “better” more or less jibes with Yglesias’s.

How often is he going to get that? And how is he going to get it? Through rule by democracy? Philosopher kings? The editorial board of The American Prospect?

How can Balko, a minarchist, a statist libertarian, imagine that he disagrees with what Yglesias wrote there? I’ve pointed this out before. In a comment on No Treason he wrote:

To answer your question, I personally subscribe to Lockean natural rights theory. So I think some form of state is necessary to preserve those rights, from forces both internal and external. So yes, I do believe in a minimalist state, and in the taxes we’d need to impose for a criminal court system, prisons, and a national defense.

How do you get that without the very coercion that Yglesias is talking about?

Now I’ll grant that Balko is not Yglesias. Balko doesn’t want to wield government for everything Yglesias does. But what’s the difference in principle? All they really have to argue about is which projects should be imposed by force.

If Balko really doesn’t agree that such coercion has a vital role to play in building a better tomorrow then he ought to recognize that he’s an anarchist.

16 thoughts on “Balko On Yglesias”

  1. “How can Balko, a minarchist, a statist libertarian, imagine that he disagrees with what Yglesias wrote there?”

    I used to be a minarchist or “statist libertarian” but began pondering this very thing before becoming a full fledged anarchist. I thought to myself, “as a minarchist, how am I principally any different than the republicans, democrats or any other brand of statists?” I realized the only difference was degree not principle.

  2. I don’t see why the difference should be deemed unprincipled. Balko, as a minarchist thinks coercion is justified in some cases and not others. Yglesias thinks there are still more cases where coercion is justified. You, JTK, presumably think coercion is justified in some cases as well, though not in some cases where Balko thinks it is. Why is that a difference “in principle” but Balko’s disagreement with Yglesias isn’t? Presumably all the parties think that where they draw the line is a matter of principle.

  3. Lee,

    I don’t see why the difference should be deemed unprincipled. Balko, as a minarchist thinks coercion is justified in some cases and not others.

    What does he disagree with in the passage he quoted?

    You, JTK, presumably think coercion is justified in some cases as well, though not in some cases where Balko thinks it is. Why is that a difference “in principle” but Balko’s disagreement with Yglesias isn’t? Presumably all the parties think that where they draw the line is a matter of principle.

    I’m taking coercion to mean initiation of force which is what I think both of the others mean. Y is happy to initiate force. Balko is appalled, except he’s willing to do it too come to think of it.

  4. And yet, that doesn’t disprove my main point, which was that it’s possible to be a principled minarchist – i.e. someone who thinks it’s sometimes okay to initiate coercion.

    I’d like to see an example.

    And something similar to person X initiating coercion against person Y because Y is threatening X (or might threaten X, or whatever) doesn’t really hold water, because the typical state initiates coercion against people who are not a threat to anybody.

  5. Yeah, upon reflection I think you’re right. Coercion does include threats. Though, of course, there’s always a question of how explicit a threat has to be to be actionable. But the fuzziness of a definition hardly counts against it.

  6. John,

    I agree that Balko is being rhetorically sloppy here – he appears to be using ‘coercion’ synonymously with ‘unjustified coercion.’ Presumably he thinks there are cases where it’s legitimate to initiate coercion-i.e. not all initiated coercion is unjustified in his view. Personally I find justified/unjustified coercion to be a more useful distinction than initiated/non-initiated coercion (because it’s possible that sometimes one can be justified in initiating coercion, in which case initiating coercion is not bad per se). This is why I think it’s possible to be a principled minarchist, conceptually speaking. Now, whether minarchy would work in practice is, of course, another matter.

  7. Me : (because it’s possible that sometimes one can be justified in initiating coercion, in which case initiating coercion is not bad per se).

    JTK: How can that be justified?

    Me: I can imagine a case in which someone is threatening you and it might be justifiable to initiate coercion rather than be aggressed against (pre-emption if you will). At least, I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility that initiating coercion might be justified in such a case (unless you’re prepared to say that threats count as coercion). In other words, I’m not sure that “He started it!” is sufficient to assign moral culpability.

  8. And yet, that doesn’t disprove my main point, which was that it’s possible to be a principled minarchist – i.e. someone who thinks it’s sometimes okay to initiate coercion. That is, I don’t think that “It’s always wrong to initiate coercion” is itself self-evidently or necessarily true. One could coherently hold that it’s prima facie wrong to initiate coercion, but that this could be defeated by other considerations. Why would that necessarily be an unprincipled stance? (you can be principled and wrong)

  9. I’d still expect one to explain how it could be justified.

    Look, Balko is writing every day as if coercion is simply wrong but when you get down to the matter of how his preferred minarchy can exist without it all you hear is <crickets.wav>.

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