Patri Friedman has written that consequentialism is a means to his libertarian ends:
It’s important to distinguish between consequentialism as an end and as a means. I am not a utilitarian – my morality is not defined solely by results. I have strong internal beliefs that taxes, theft, and coercion are wrong. But these beliefs are not very proscriptive.
Ok, its wrong for my property to be stolen. How best to prevent that? Locks? Alarms? Constant vigilance? What about taxes? Work on the black market? Expatriate? Try to change the system? But in what way? Which leads to the big questions – why did government spending increase so much last century? How can we prevent a libertarian country from devolving into statism? What legal system will best safeguard my rights? How can I direct my efforts so as to achieve maximal effect on my own freedom?
Knowing my general philosophy is easy, but knowing how to make it happen is extremely difficult. The general approach is the same as any other question of strategy. Realistically consider your options, strengths, weaknesses, and the consequences of various approaches with respect to your goals. Pick the best and get to work. Often the answers will involve compromises and alliances.
In this case, answering the above questions requires seriously trying to understand and analyze the world. It takes a lot of thought, and one soon realizes that there are few simple answers. I view libertarianism as a science, not a religion, with tough compromises instead of easy platitudes.
If it seemed like libertarian rhetoric worked, Iâ€™d be out there thumping the Fountainhead and preaching the virtue of selfishness. But while such sermons are easy to generate, only the choir listens. Anyone can rant vaguely and passionately about how things ought to be, and many of them do. Yet (with a few notable exceptions) the world spins on unchanged.
Conversion is desirable, but very difficult. Yet while people disagree vehemently and inflexibly on morality and rights, they all tend to like systems that work and make them happy. Its not that this appeal is desirable as an end, but that its a key means to actually make change happen. Finding such changes may require compromise, but Iâ€™ll take a small real step towards freedom over an imaginary large one any day.
Such an approach misses out on the self-righteous glow of loudly insisting that the world conform to your desires, but it actually has a chance. Clicking your heels together three times only works in the movie . To actually get somewhere, youâ€™d best find a map, plan a route, and sometimes be willing to take the long way round.
This view is very close to the consequentialism of Micha Ghertner at and it increasingly influences other bloggers at Catallarchy.
Patri holds consequentialism to be a means to his moral ends but he really doesn’t take moral ends seriously. His assertion that he believes theft is wrong is undermined by his inability to make a meaningful distinction between morality and personal preference.
These two statements mean the same thing:
(1) I believe theft is wrong.
(2) I believe the statement “Theft is wrong” corresponds to reality.
Patri says (1) but he doesn’t mean (2). What he means when he says (1) is simply that he prefers that theft not take place. This begs the question of why he shouldn’t prefer theft that benefits him.
David Friedman conceded he didn’t know how to derive oughts. Patri and Micha have made the leap from that to moral nihilism – any oughts they consider are simply personal preferences which have no moral content in traditional terms.
Their consequentialism thus becomes the means to groundless ends. And because the ends are groundless the means push them around. And why not? Why prefer libertarian preferences?
Thus encouraged, we increasingly see Catallarchs applying consequentialist means without reference to libertarian ends. Should we outlaw suicide? Well , Scott Scheule may have started with the libertarian preference that people be free to do what they choose. But that preference has been trivialized and assumed baseless, so how can it stand up against a muscular utility maximization via Kaldor-Hicks efficiency? It’s always a lot more exciting to prefer the course of action that entitles you to roll up your sleeves and sort people out. People are eggs; efficiency is a mouth watering omelet.
David Friedman wrote:
One could object that the economist, defining efficiency according to what questions he can answer rather than what questions he is being asked, is like the drunk looking for his wallet under the street light because the light is better there than where he lost it. The reply is that an imperfect criterion of desirability is better than none.
The problem is the Catallarchs like the streetlight so much that they forget what they were looking for.