Matthew Yglesias asks why libertarians seem reluctant to criticize publicly funded tsunami relief:
Josh Marshall mocks the Ayn Rand Institute’s condemnation of US (and other government) aid to help the victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. In reality, though, the only thing that’s odd about this is that the Randians have the balls to stick to their guns even in the face of this disaster. After all, writing with regard to tax cuts on December 26th, Will Wilkinson explained that “For many libertarians and conservatives . . . [e]very cent the government takes from us beyond what is strictly necessary to secure our basic rights is a token of injustice.” Since tsunami relief is surely not necessary to secure the basic rights of Americans, Canadians, Western Europeans, Japanese, and others, every sent spent by these and other governments is a token of injustice. Yet, strangely, the Ayn Rand Institute aside, you don’t see many libertarians and conservatives sticking up for this view, though as we all know, all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing. So where are the libertarian bloggers on this massive injustice being perpetrated by first world governments?
Yglesias is employing a transparent and effective political tactic: Get your opponents to publicly defend positions which will be highly unpopular. I don’t object to the tactic; I think it’s perfectly fair to expect those who invoke moral principles in their arguments to stand up for those principles even when they are most unpopular.
Will Wilkinson was willing at least to weakly argue in Yglesias’s comment section:
But since this IS coercively transferred money, it seems that the state owes its citizens a principled reason for giving in some circumstances and not others.
But Willkinson’s position is as hopelessly compromised as ARI’s because they’re both willing to use state force to secure what they judge is “necessary”.
Though I find his appeals to the Constitution irrelevant, Sheldon Richman gets this much right:
So letâ€™s forget the Constitution and look at morality unadorned. By what standard is it permissible for government officials to take money from you in order to give it to someone else? FrÃ©dÃ©ric Bastiat, the great 19-century champion of freedom, rightly called that â€œlegal plunder.â€ Could it be anything else?
The principle does not change simply because the intended recipients are suffering. That is a matter for the owners of income.
I think this collectivist actually touches upon something important when he explains “Why libertarians have little political impact” – principled individualists are never going to be a significant political force.
This is the point of Yglesias’s tactic. You want to invoke the moral principles of individualism? Then kiss your viability in the political sphere goodbye. Prepare to be a political non-factor. He’s right about that.
And the individualist should welcome it.