Yglesias: Fair Weather Libertarians?

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 let’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? Frédéric Bastiat, the great 19-century champion of freedom, rightly called that “legal plunder.” 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.

23 thoughts on “Yglesias: Fair Weather Libertarians?”

  1. It is extremely funny that the author of this post would consider me a collectivist.
    It is also another indication of the lack of perspective which leads to libertarians — to our universal detriment — having virtually no influence in politics.

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  3. David,

    It’s accurate.

    I, as an individualist, recognize the primacy of individuals. I recognize that you cannot justly use individuals as a means to anyone’s ends.

    You clearly hold that society has primacy over individuals and that it may require of them whatever it finds “necessary”. That makes you a collectivist.

    I don’t have the slightest interest in having an “influence in politics”. That’s your game.

    Justice isn’t up for a vote.

  4. It is extremely funny that the author of this post would consider me a collectivist.

    Why aren’t you? You obviously judge that “sometimes you have to just let go of “theory” and help people”. In this case, the theory you’re letting go of is the idea that government has no right whatsoever to be taking people’s money by force and giving it away.

    “Letting go of that theory” makes you a collectivist by definition.

  5. What’s interesting is that so few folks are willing to stand up for the logical consequences of what passes for their ethics. David Sucher, above, is piteously crying that he isn’t a collectivist, really – he’s being caricatured by some humorist, see.

    Like the vast majority of the fake individualists that he’s slamming, he can’t come to grips with the very things he endorses.

  6. The problem here seems to be that immoral action A (taxation) occurs and is later being used to support moral action B (helping those who suffer, in this case tsunami victims), sort of like a thief buying a stereo with his plunder. It’s pretty clear to me that anyone who engages in A to get B is acting immorally, even though B itself is moral (since it’s good to help people).

    The issue here is slightly more complicated, though. In the past (forgive me for not providing citations) no-treason bloggers have attacked the following general kind of argument (Hoppe for example used it on the immigration issue): Government should end tomorrow, but since government officials won’t listen to libertarians we should call for government to do moral actions X,Y, and Z which we favor. This argument would seem to suggest we can support US tsunami aid yet oppose the existence of the US government, sort of like the way in which libertarians drive on public roads yet oppose the government’s road communism. Which is the case, and why?

  7. Wow, you guys weren’t exaggerating about Yglesias’ place in the animal kingdom:

    I suppose to the libertarian mind all this business of I’ll do x if and only if I can force everyone to do x sounds rather dodgy and immoral, but fortunately enough we live in the real world, where people understand the vital role coercion has to play in building a better tomorrow.

    News flash: Tomorrow won’t be any better if it still has violent jackals in it such as yourself, Yglesias.

  8. All that’s required is to stand up for the principle that A is wrong. Is it wrong to take some people’s money by force and give it to others? Yes.

    If a libertarian then says, “But look, the money’s already been stolen and it’s not going back. That being the case I’d rather see it go to tsunami relief than some more obnoxious mischief…”, I don’t have a problem with that.

    The problem with Hoppe’s argument was that not all of the things he wanted the state to do were moral.

  9. “Wow, you guys weren’t exaggerating about Yglesias’ place in the animal kingdom”

    Keep in mind that virtually everyone agrees with him on these points. He’s just especially candid about things most others would prefer to obscure.

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  11. Keep in mind that virtually everyone agrees with him on these points. He�s just especially candid about things most others would prefer to obscure.

    Now that Kennedy has pointed out the legions of somewhat reserved and mild-mannered jackels on the other side of my front door I think I’ll try to get some sleep…

  12. It is extremely funny that the author of this post would consider me a collectivist. It is also another indication of the lack of perspective which leads to libertarians – to our universal detriment – having virtually no influence in politics.

    It’s characteristic of collectivists and sociopaths to mistake lack of political acumen with lack of perspective. Kennedy’s take on fair weather libertarians is accurate and his argument is sound. It doesn’t take what is politically expedient into account because it’s not his concern.

    And, yes, David Sucher is absolutely correct when he says that libertarians will never be a force politically, but there are many libertarians who compromise their own priciples in order to bolster what they see as their political viability.

    They don’t want to condemn the government’s thievery, in the face of 24-7 graphic imagery of tsunami suffering, so they condone and even enthusiatically embrace the stealing of money to finance the relief effort. In doing so, they doom themselves to wander, rudderless, in the discourse. Once they discard their principled argument and begin arguing from necessity, they no longer have a leg to stand on.

    Such libertarians go from a situation where they lose the election, but win the debate to a situation where they lose the election AND lose the debate.

  13. On second thought, you have acumen up the wazoo. It’s the use of that acumen for political ambition that you, by your own choice, lack.

  14. There’s no better statement of my view of all of this than the words of the late Mark Penman:

    Given my ‘druthers, I’d mound the ten grand I’d have to sacrifice into a pile, and toss in a lit match. Gee, could that money have been used to provide diptheria vaccinations for young children? Tough shit. Does some young lady desire a “free” abortion? I’ll kick her in the stomach at no charge. Grandpa Billy needs subsidized butter? Not if I knock that crust of bread out of his trembling hands first.

    If I had the Magic Button that’d turn off the tax tap permanently, I’d push it in a New York minute solely for the pleasure of seeing all of those dirt-bag commies out there go into stark raving panic at the realization that their precious art grants and urban planning commissions and light rail studies and D.A.R.E. programs were gone, forever.

    I envision them crying themselves to sleep in the gutter.

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