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Anti-Libertarianism argument difficult to refute, can you help ?

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Murray Rothbard Posted: Thu, May 12 2011 3:34 AM

I was arguing libertarian views in a left wing comment thread, under the pseudonyn of Murray Rothbard here:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/05/09/on-the-nhs-this-is-the-week-labour-need-to-get-their-act-together/

Someone argued that:

“Redistributing from the wealthy to the poor increases overall utility.”

Which I attacked with the strongest anti-utilitarian argument I could think of:

If 100 paedophiles want to torture and rape a six year old girl, then as long as the utility gained by the paedophiles exceeds the disutility of the six year old girl then overall utility has been increased. If the paedophiles film the whole thing and share it with 100,000 others on the internet, then overall utility has been increased any more.

A philosophy that places maximizing overall utility at the expense of individual rights leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent.

But then I was hit with this:

 

"What if the 100 paedophiles had found that girl scavenging on a rubbish tip, close to death from malnutrition, and offered to pay her just enough to buy food for a week in return for a spot of torture and violent sex?

According to your libertarian philosophy, this girl has now voluntarily entered into a contract with the paedophiles – she has freely chosen to be tortured and gangbanged – while the paedophiles are to be morally praised for acting selfishly (but without *coercing* the child into anything)."

I am not ready to accept this conclusion, so I consider the elements of the situation one at a time in an effort to find the loophole that will enable me to escape the conclusion.

1. Ignoring the issue of it being a child, ignore the extreme nature of the sexual act and ignore the desperate situation of one of the parties.
I have no problem with a wealthy prostitute chosing to sell sexual services in a voluntary exchange. 

2. Bring back the extreme nature of the sexual act.
I have no problem with individuals chosing to engage in sado-masochistic sexual acts if that is what gives them pleasure. I can't have any reservations about somebody paying a wealthy prostitute for sado-masochistic acts as long as it is a voluntary exchange.

The two areas that I have difficulty with are the fact that it is a child and even if it was not a child the fact that the situation is so desperate that it can be argued that the contract has been extorted, rather than being a genuinely voluntary exchange.

The easy dodge for the specific case is to say that a child of that age is not capable of entering into voluntary contracts. 

But I am still uncomfortable with the situation even if the child is replaced with a 25 year old woman.

I don't have a problem with choices being voluntary even if they are between unpleasant options.
If somebody has a choice of existing on benefits or entering work in a job they detest, I am comfortable that   they have still made a voluntay choice. They have not been forced, they have voluntarily selected between unpleasant options.

Perhaps my discomfort (in the case of the 25 year old woman) simply boils down to the price!
If she was offered a lifetime of future luxury, in exchange for gentle sex with a man she found quite attractive, I certainly don't have a problem.

I think the conceptual question that I am actually struggling with is:

In the extreme situation where one party to a transaction is a monopoly supplier  of the only thing that can save anothers life and sets the price extremely high is it a voluntary exchange.

Another example would be a drowning man in a river, if in response to his cries for help, the only passer by offers to save him in return for his house and all his wordly goods, is that a voluntary exchange.

I guess one way out might be to say that in situations of extreme desperation an individual becomes incapable of entering a voluntary contract, in the same way that a child cannot.

Another might be to argue that in situations of monopoly supply contracts are not truly voluntary.

Another might be to accept that in situations where the value to one party is life or death, then an exceptionally high price is to be expected

I would appreciate some views to help me unravel this problem to my satisfaction.

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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Lincoln replied on Thu, May 12 2011 4:06 AM

 

 

Hi there.
 
I don’t think you meant the bit about the “monopoly supplier”. A monopoly is essentially a government granted privilege that eliminates competition. If there only happens to be ONE person walking past as you’re drowning then you’re just unlucky. I don’t see how it is a monopoly, as such. I suppose there is a very low supply of a particular service. As such, the price would be correspondingly high. 
 
Nonetheless, it was voluntary. Ultimately, it is no different to the rules that govern the price of other things in society. Given the extreme high-demand and extreme low-supply of people to save me … it makes economic sense to me.
 
Having said that, there are other forms of reward other than money – and we live in a society that culturally rewards behaviours that involve saving another life if it wasn’t too difficult to do.
 
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Maybe I'm missing something, but how does their "what if" retort do anything to refute your point about increasing utility at the expense of individual liberty?

Don't let them change the subject.

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Brutus replied on Thu, May 12 2011 5:02 AM

Murray Rothbard:

I am not ready to accept this conclusion, so I consider the elements of the situation one at a time in an effort to find the loophole that will enable me to escape the conclusion.

One, you're doing something many people on here would consider to be hypocritical: using a metaphor to equal truth. Yes, examples are good, and I believe that if you understand one, you can understand the other, but you cannot consider the metaphor itself to be the very truth you are expressing in your theorem. Truth is not figurative.

Also, it sounds to me like you're putting the objective over truth. Plenty of people do this, and it all stems from adherence to a set of principles, no matter how open-ended they are. Stop trying to adhere to the libertarian agenda and look at the question in itself. If the answer requires your skillset to become broader or makes you relinquish your tenets, so be it.

Truth ought to be the sole purpose of all philosophical discourse; not adherence to systems.

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" -Patrick Henry

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The person with the what if, accepted the criticism of utilitarianism

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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Brutus:

Also, it sounds to me like you're putting the objective over truth. Plenty of people do this, and it all stems from adherence to a set of principles, no matter how open-ended they are. Stop trying to adhere to the libertarian agenda and look at the question in itself. If the answer requires your skillset to become broader or makes you relinquish your tenets, so be it.

Truth ought to be the sole purpose of all philosophical discourse; not adherence to systems. 

It would be strange to jettison an entire belief system the first time you are presented with an example that seeks to challenge it. The rational approach is to test the counter example and see if it can be refuted or accommodated within your existing system. If it cannot, then relinquishing the tenets comes next. That is the process of seeking truth, You have no basis to assert that I am putting the objective over truth, the objective is truth. 

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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Murray Rothbard:
The person with the what if, accepted the criticism of utilitarianism

Well in that case I'm not sure what your issue is.  Look, there is a difference between morality and principle.  Yes, in principle the pedophiles are not obligated to help the girl in any way in a libertarian sense.  But that doesn't mean that if they left her to die it would be moral.  And by the same token pretending a child could consent to sex acts and abuse is just idiocy and to propose the idea that "paedophiles are to be morally praised for acting selfishly" when they do so is beyond ridiculous.

You're right, a child is generally not capable of entering into voluntary contracts.  But let's say it was an older woman.  Again, there is a moral judgement at play.  Are there any normal circumstances in which the woman would trade her own torture in exchange for some good or service?  Doubtful.  If the group were just asking for a high premium on the food (e.g. asking for double what it costs on the open market), that is more an issue of supply and demand.  There is nothing wrong with charging a premium above what someone might otherwise pay in a situation of more abundance.  But to force the woman to choose between death or being subject to something she would never otherwise trade with (e.g. torture, kill her dog, sex acts with strangers, etc.), there is a case to be made that it is extortive.

Of course you can't get easy answers along these lines.  Thought experiments like this are meant to take ideas to their extreme and test the boundaries.  Things are not always easy calls.  But again, I do not believe libertarianism requires one to "morally praise" someone who would force a person to be subjected to torture in exchange for survival.

 

But Hayek commented along these same lines using the situation of a man with a monopoly on a local spring, the only source of water.  And Rothbard gave his own commentary:

And what is wrong with monopoly? It is coercive. [Hayek] states:

A monopolist could exercise true coercion . . . if he were, say, the owner of a spring in an oasis. Let us say that other person settled there on the assumption that water would always be available at a reasonable price and then found, perhaps because a second spring dried up, that they had no choice but to do whatever the owner of the spring demanded if they were to survive; here would be a clear case of coercion.

Rothbard’s refutation is definitive:

Yet, since the owner of the spring did not aggressively poison the competing springs, the owner is scarcely being ‘coercive’; in fact, he is supplying a vital service, and should have the right either to refuse a salve or to charge whatever the customers will pay. . . . Both actions are within his rights as a free man and a just property owner.

Rothbard goes on to postulate the single doctor in the community who can successfully cure people from an epidemic. Is this monopolist to be forced by law not to take a vacation at that very point in time? Is he to be subjected to price controls for his services? As long as this physician did not start the epidemic, it would be slavery to compel him to serve sick people on any terms other than mutual agreement.

(from "Hayek's Road to Serfdom")

The point is, as Rothbard points out, you have a right to charge whatever someone will pay, just like you have a right to let someone else die...to argue otherwise is to argue for slavery.  But this does not mean that whatever they choose to do has to be considered moral.  But the minute you start claiming you have the right to invoke force on someone else to make sure they behave morally, it is you who are being immoral.  Two wrongs don't make a right, as they say.

George Ought to Help

 

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Just tell them that it requires violence to redistribute from the wealthy to the poor and that doing so is therefore unethical.

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You don't have to attack utilitarianism on moral grounds, their utilitarian argument fails in the first place. Yes, if you redistribute money from the rich to the poor it will have created additional utility, if you just stop there and don't take indirect effects into account. Taking away income from "the rich", i.e. top income earners, discourages the very people who's services society needs the most from producing wealth. Meaning society loses out on all the utility that they would have created. That especially hurts the poor, since for them the productiveness of the economy, i.e. the affordability of basic necessities, makes the greatest difference. The net effect is a loss in utility for the poor. Thought long-term distortion of the capital structure this definitely makes society poorer. As a general rule, there is no way to 'trick' the market into releasing a free lunch, every kind of meddling always has an equal or greater opposite (often unseen) reaction.

Also, it is very important to understand basic market pricing when considering such questions, which many of the proponents of these schemes do not. They do not understand that prices change in reaction to more money chasing fewer goods, but rather think that goods will appear out of thin air, at current prices, if you make more funding available. They essentially think taking a million from Bill Gastes releases a million worth of goods for the poor. But what would Bill Gates have done with that money? Most likely he would have invested it to build factories that create goods for poor people. Taking that money lowers the amount of goods available to the poor, how could that ever make them richer? Even if they have more money, they'd be poorer because they have less stuff. This beautifully illustrates how economic illiterates think the economy is about money, not about stuff. But even if Bill would have spent that money on himself, maybe he would have bought an expensive designer watch. It only costs a tiny bit of metal and labor to make such a watch, how many poor families can you feed because you release those resources into the economy? Not a lot, it does not release a lot of resources into the economy to take money from the rich. But without additional resources being released, all this additional money does for the poor is to bid up the price of stuff that they would have had anyways. It actually raises the amount of money the poor have to pay for necessities, much to the delight of rich producers. And Bill Gates probably still gets his designer watch, just cheaper! So in other words all such wealth redistribution does is to take resources away from productive purposes like building factories that produce goods for the poor, to bidding up stuff the poor would have either way. That sure sounds like a smart move. I could go on and on, it is easy to destroy redistributionist schemes once you dispose of the assumption of objective value and take into account that prices change depending on how much money chases how many goods.

Another thing we have to take into account is that redistributionism requires a authoritarian state that has the legitimacy and ability to steal peoples income. Historically these elites have always grown to the point where they abused their power and started ethnic cleansings. This was actually the leading cause of unnatural death in the last century. At least part of that destruction of utility should be taken into account when considering the "net utility" of redistributionism.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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jay replied on Thu, May 12 2011 6:50 AM

Silly. Anyone can come up with concocted, extreme "what if" situations to find a chink in their opponent's worldview.

"The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -C.S. Lewis
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jay:
Silly. Anyone can come up with concocted, extreme "what if" situations to find a chink in their opponent's worldview.

Yeah. Libertarians make the mistake of responding to them, while leftists usually just answer something like "that's fictional". That's why libertarianism is always explored in the form of these unpleasant examples, while statists get to go on and on about their utopia to the point where people forget that it is impossible.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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John James:

The point is, as Rothbard points out, you have a right to charge whatever someone will pay, just like you have a right to let someone else die...to argue otherwise is to argue for slavery.  But this does not mean that whatever they choose to do has to be considered moral.

Thank you, that clears up my issue. I was confusing having the right to do something with the moral status of exercising that right.

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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EmperorNero:

Yeah. Libertarians make the mistake of responding to them, while leftists usually just answer something like "that's fictional". That's why libertarianism is always explored in the form of these unpleasant examples, while statists get to go on and on about their utopia to the point where people forget that it is impossible.

I think it helps you to develop a better understanding when you test your views at the extreme. I have had an error in my understanding corrected which makes me better able to present liberatarian views to others and counter statist propaganda more effectively.

I recommend jumping into a left wing discussion thread and putting the Libertarian perspective as I did in the link shown on my initial post. What better way to hone your arguments than in a heated battle with hostile opponents !
(Although the temptation to type "nonsense", "idiot", etc, is often hard to resist)
 

 

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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James replied on Thu, May 12 2011 7:44 AM

 

Youth isn't the only factor that diminishes legal capacity.  I don't think anyone in an extreme situation of immanent life or death can be judged to have proper legal capacity to contract.  In an extreme, much diminished, state of mind, they would likely be irresistably compelled to beg to be saved without sufficient legal regard for what their prospective rescuer is proposing to them, and therefore I don't think it's reasonable to infer that they had capacity for their pleas to be judged as legally binding, much as it would be unreasonable to presume legal capacity on behalf of an immature child.
 
Strictly speaking there's no "extortion", as such, as the other party did not unlawfully give rise to the grave situation in which the first party finds herself.
 
I think the principle that is really under attack here is the basis of contract itself, though very extreme examples such as this are going to muddy the waters, as they tend to preclude the reasonable likelihood of both parties having had the capacity and intention to contract in the first place.  Nevertheless, subjective preferences being what they are, no contract in creation can be said to provide objectively equitable outcomes to all parties.  Does Mr What-if propose a principled basis for deciding whether or not a contract is suitably "fair" to both parties before it is allowed to have legal consequences?  Who can decide for their peers what is objectively best for them?
 
Furthermore, Zeus does not descend from Mt Olympus to strike you dead if you repudiate a contract.  In many "anti-libertarian" arguments critical of the law of contract, one gets the impression that people think contracts are binding-unto-death no matter what they say.  They just don't seem to understand the point of a contract at all.
 
Contract law is not criminal law.  If you repudiate a contract, you have only placed yourself into an unlawful position vis-a-vis the other parties to the contract.  Even then, if you repudiate a contract, the other party has no immediate or unilateral recourse to punish you or to harm your property in any way.  He has to persue legal remedies through a competant arbitrator - contemplated in the contract itself, under private law systems - who may grant him an order compelling the repudiating party to compensate him for loss suffered as a direct result of the repudiation, if this loss can be satisfactorily demonstrated.
 
Where a contract has actually been repudiated, remedies are NOT unilaterally available to the aggrieved party, as they may be in the case of property violations, which concern real rights.  Voluntary transfers of property must have their basis in a valid contract, but they cannot be defined purely in these terms, as they give rise to a real right, and contracts themselves only give rise to personal rights and obligations.  The cause for transfering title may arise wholly from a contract of sale or donation, but the transfer itself must be regarded as legally distinct from it in order to give rise to a real or 'natural' right on behalf of the transferee against parties not privy to the contract itself.  Furthermore, the purpose of enforcing contracts which have been repudiated is NOT to punish the offending party, but to provide compensation for actual loss to the aggrieved party, inasmuch as this can be demonstrated at all.  If compensation cannot be had, punishment is no substitute.
 
In essence, even if the sexy torture were validly consented to initially, consent can be withdrawn unilaterally at any time, and further sexy torture is no longer defensible in terms of the contract.  The promise to render services does not constitute actual transfer of property in any way - it only constitutes a personal obligation.  This is why 'slave contracts' are impossible.  This is one of the many reasons why the notion of a 'social contract' is ridiculous.
 
Contracts are incredibly important to a private law system - to any legal system - but they are not soul-binding documents written in blood.  By far the most socio-economically relevant consequence of repudiating a contract, in general, is not the weight of legal judgements that get granted against such people, but rather that their estimation is reduced in the eyes of the law-respecting community, who will feel less inclined to contract with the offending party in future.  In situations such as these, where nice people don't enter into such contracts at all and wouldn't expect anyone else to, nice people are not going to be offended by someone repudiating such a contract, even if it did exist in a technical legal sense.
 
They may well be offended by someone entering into such a contract, however.
Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro
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Murray Rothbard:

I think it helps you to develop a better understanding when you test your views at the extreme. I have had an error in my understanding corrected which makes me better able to present liberatarian views to others and counter statist propaganda more effectively.

I recommend jumping into a left wing discussion thread and putting the Libertarian perspective as I did in the link shown on my initial post. What better way to hone your arguments than in a heated battle with hostile opponents !
(Although the temptation to type "nonsense", "idiot", etc, is often hard to resist)

I completely agree.  While it is true that libertarians humor these challenges while statist brush them off with "that's not realistic", I don't find anything wrong with sharpening your sword not only against an anvil of opposing arguments and views, but also of extreme "what if's".  As Friedman said: "you very often bring out the logic of an argument by carrying it to an extreme" (which is why leftists hate it so much).

This will most definitely make you think harder and study more, and understand better your positions and the logic and reasoning and reality behind them...not only because you are devoting more time to learning and study, but because you are debating and teaching as well...which are quite possibly the best ways to learn.  As Ayn Rand put it:

"If you keep an active mind, you will discover (assuming that you started with common-sense rationality) that every challenge you examine will strengthen your convictions, that the conscious, reasoned rejection of false theories will help you to clarify and amplify the true ones, that your ideological enemies will make you invulnerable by providing countless demonstrations of their own impotence."

I have definitely found that to be the case in my own experience.  And it can be quite fun.  But don't forget your ultimate goal should be the persuasion of more minds to our side.  Of course, there are plenty of places and people where this is virtually impossible and a waste of time, which, is usually the case for leftist Internet forums.  So there, it is a perfect training ground to hone your conversation skill as well as your arguments, and become better acquainted with your positions, and come to a deeper understanding of their roots and principles.  That way when you are faced with the opportunity of truly active minds searching for answers, you will be equipped to offer a path.  And as a bonus, you might actually open a few eyes or plant a few seeds of interest in those forums when you're not even trying.

I'm glad I was able to help.

Just remember, they'll probably come back to you and try to claim that laws are based on morals and you shouldn't be allowed to do something immoral, or something along those lines.  (And of course that's just the slippery slope of "who gets to decide what's moral"?)  They may even say "well you're deciding what is moral when you place restrictions on what people can do".  But the fundamental point always comes back to aggression.  Whatever your moral belief set, there is no possible way to argue aggression is morally acceptable and be able to be consistent.  That is one of the easiest arguments to bring out the logical and consistency flaws in that I know of.  The only moral principle (at least that I know of) that is logically consistent is the non-aggression principle.  You can draw whatever other moral lines you want, but that principle is the only one that works across the board.

And that is why just because it may be immoral to let someone die when you have the power to save them, it doesn't make it moral for someone else to force you to.

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Murray, John, I debated the rubes plenty, there is nothing more for me to learn. I know how they go wrong in every single of their arguments. Mostly it's just illiteracy of basic economics. I'm not saying I know everything, but there is nothing the economic illiterates can teach me. It's not like I somehow overlooked the feasibility of a particular free lunch scheme. Anyways, my statement above was about marketing, not about making sure we got it right. I know I'm right, the problem is how to convince the primates. Libertarians are so fricking intellectually honest that they don't get anywhere in convincing people, that was my point. They think the same analytical arguments that convinced them could convince the mob, if the arguments were only refined enough. So they keep studying their precious "economics" while the primates rally behind the guy with the nicest free lunch scheme. Libertarians are Leninists when it comes to marketing. Just look at North and South Korea, is there really any need for better arguments in favor of free markets? No, it's blatantly obvious to anyone who looks at the world objectively, or makes the effort of reading one book. Politics is mostly about emotion anyways. Rational arguments at best have an effect on the most analytical quarter of society, everybody else has to be treated like a child: they like pretty pictures of utopia. If libertarians are more eager to debate and 'sharpen their sword' than to make some headway, they are endangering societies welfare for their own selfish gain.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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EmperorNero:

Politics is mostly about emotion anyways. Rational arguments at best have an effect on the most analytical quarter of society, everybody else has to be treated like a child: they like pretty pictures of utopia. If libertarians are more eager to debate and 'sharpen their sword' than to make some headway, they are endangering societies welfare for their own selfish gain.

There is a lot of logical incosistency here, from someone with nothing more to learn ;-)

Firstly any new recruit to libertarianism must surely learn and test his understanding before he can even call himself a libertarian. Once he has reached the "Samurai Master" status and his understanding is total and his ability to recall everything is certain, such as yourself, then perhaps it would be a waste of time to continue.  

You want to convince "the mob of primates" by treating them as children. But in saying this you appear to be advocating some sort of democratic majority political process and a need to convince the majority. Yes democratic politics is based on emotion, but it also based on coercion .You want us to make headway in democratically coercing people into being libertarian ?

You then seem to deride people acting for their own selfish gain and demand that they act in the interests of society, which sounds remarkably like a short definition of socialism to me.

In the humble opinion of this neophyte, you appear to be in a state of ignorance of your own ignorance, rather than one of omniscience.

 

 

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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Murray Rothbard:
There is a lot of logical incosistency here, from someone with nothing more to learn ;-)

I didn't say I have nothing to learn, I have nothing to learn from debating economic ignoramuses. Again, my whole argument here is not what we can learn, but how to spread what we do know.

Murray Rothbard:
Firstly any new recruit to libertarianism must surely learn and test his understanding before he can even call himself a libertarian. Once he has reached the "Samurai Master" status and his understanding is total and his ability to recall everything is certain, such as yourself, then perhaps it would be a waste of time to continue.

To debate the illiterates while you're still unsure mostly just confuses you and adds clutter and distraction to issues. 80% of the ideological problems I solved over the years were fabricated complication that the left invented to make everything appear complicated. You're better off not exposing yourself to that.

Murray Rothbard:
You want to convince "the mob of primates" by treating them as children. But in saying this you appear to be advocating some sort of democratic majority political process and a need to convince the majority. Yes democratic politics is based on emotion, but it also based on coercion .You want us to make headway in democratically coercing people into being libertarian ?

To have any kind of social change you need to convince a large share of the population, that does not mean I endorse democracy as a system.

Murray Rothbard:
You then seem to deride people acting for their own selfish gain and demand that they act in the interests of society, which sounds remarkably like a short definition of socialism to me.

They would be acting in their long-term self-interest to make some actual headway instead of spending all day refining their theories.

Murray Rothbard:
In the humble opinion of this neophyte, you appear to be in a state of ignorance of your own ignorance, rather than one of omniscience.

All I say is that one can be too self-doubting. Sure, you should test your premises, but libertarians are fallibilists to the point of ideological paralysis. A little populism is necessary to get things done. I'm not saying they should turn into the left, and just shout undefined words without any concern for empirical reality, but libertarians enjoy their theorizing so much that they never leave the 'testing theories' phase. That's why they follow leftists down these ridiculous hypothetical rabbit holes where they can't win.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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AaronBurr replied on Thu, May 12 2011 10:55 AM

For me the argument is easy to refute.Since we don't beleive that children can make such agreements then we must assume that it is an adult woman.

In a Libertarian society we can assume that no one has a monopoly on supplying food to this starving  woman. As such we can confidently assume that someone else will give her a better deal.Indeed you can directly address your opponents to say that THEY will give her a better deal.

 

Bring back the Gold standard.
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Neodoxy replied on Thu, May 12 2011 11:16 AM

When you get into questions like this then it's the only time that I start to abandon libertarianism and property rights.

I think the best response is "in what world would the government help the child, but no single person would voluntarily help her?"

If you believe in a democracy then they would be selfish and not give to the girl

If you Believe in dictatorship you are a zealot in presuming the dictator would be benign

If you believe that too many people would be too poor you don't understand economics.

Also, as for the original question assuming that the rich do not escape the redistribution through capital flight or the like then the standard of living will not be, in the long run as high as it would have otherwise been. The rich are the most likely to invest their wealth which will lead to long run growth. The redistribution will also subsidize poverty by making it more profitable to be poor. In a free market people get paid more because they provide more valued services, so you're encouraging people to produce less demanded goods, which will decrease everyone's standard of living.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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Good replies imo. 

 

EmperorNero,

Great post on wealth redistribution. I understood the principles already but after reading your post I think I will be able to better articulate the argument. I usually just say "how can the poor buy more goods if the goods are not produced?", which usually just confuses people lol. 

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Seraiah replied on Fri, May 20 2011 3:06 PM

Get voluntarily raped by paedophiles in an extremely unlikely scenario or get involuntarily raped by the State on a regular basis?

I'm sorry, but this passes as a difficult question?

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scatt replied on Fri, May 20 2011 3:39 PM

She cannot enter into a contract as she cannot consent. That was easy.

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bitbutter replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 3:30 AM

"What if the 100 paedophiles had found that girl scavenging on a rubbish tip, close to death from malnutrition, and offered to pay her just enough to buy food for a week in return for a spot of torture and violent sex?

According to your libertarian philosophy, this girl has now voluntarily entered into a contract with the paedophiles – she has freely chosen to be tortured and gangbanged – while the paedophiles are to be morally praised for acting selfishly (but without *coercing* the child into anything)."

I am not ready to accept this conclusion, so I consider the elements of the situation one at a time in an effort to find the loophole that will enable me to escape the conclusion.

To keep things simpler, assuming the 'victim' is 25 years old, not a child. Why are you not ready to accept this conclusion?

It's true that it would be strange to 'morally praise' the would-be torturers, since they haven't done anything exceptionally praiseworthy. But they have potentially improved the situation of this person by offering them an extra choice that they wouldn't otherwise have--they certainly haven't made her situation worse.

So if the torturers are to be morally condemned, it can only be because they haven't done enough to help this person. But in this case, since they've already done more to help than all the others who haven't intervened in any way, all the non-interveners must be condemned even more severely--all the people who aren't scouring the rubbish heaps, looking for people in trouble.

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I agree. The trap I fell into was confusing benefit giving actions and moral praise.

The transaction is mutually beneficial, but that does not mean we have to morally praise the torturers. It would have been morally praiseworthy to simply help the woman, rather than add perhaps the least beneficial additional choice to her options. However, it is certainly correct that this is better for her than doing nothing, by her own subjective criteria if she accepts the offer.

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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MaikU replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 8:40 AM

thing is.. it is NOT mutual beneficial transaction. Pedophiles get pleasure, and girl gets food and shelter AND torture and rape. One has to be INSANE to call it beneficial. At least, according to my use of word "beneficial". Some libertarians tend to think in black and white terms too much, as if everything is ruled by logic and reason.

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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bitbutter replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 9:03 AM

thing is.. it is NOT mutual beneficial transaction.

If it was not, why would the woman accept the offer? Given that she's free to reject it, acceptance indicates that she prefers it to the available alternatives.

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Any voluntary transaction is by definition mutually beneficial, otherwise it would not be entered into voluntarily. Clearly this is one of the most extreme cases possible, but if the proposed "trade" were not considered beneficial by either party then they would simply turn it down and be in the same position as if the "trade" had not been offered. 

Clearly it is not a good transaction in the moral sense and everyone would morally condemn the torturers, but the alternative to the offer is certain death. It is not illogical to value being tortured and raped more highly than being dead. (Although some would clearly make a different choice)

The point I am making is that when faced with the ultimate negative consequence (death) even really horrible alternatives can be beneficial.

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frederic Bastiat
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MaikU replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 9:05 AM

she is forced by the circumstances, and the rapists acknoledge that and are using their temporary power to abuse her. That's it.

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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bitbutter replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 9:08 AM

she is forced by the circumstances

Everyone is influenced by factors beyond their control, all the time. That's neither here nor there. This doesn't change the fact that acceptance of the offer reveals that the accepter believes it is to her benefit to do so. The agreement, assuming it is made, is mutually beneficial.

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MrSchnapps replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 10:20 AM

Right, there's no question that it wasn't mutually beneficial. Each party suffered a detriment and gained a benefit. The child/woman acted and so swapped a set of unfavorable circumstances for a set of more favorable circumstances in order to remove unease.

Now the real question is whether this is moral or just (in terms of positive law) or not. 

“Remove justice,” St. Augustine asks, “and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms?”
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I'm not very familiar with how it is in common law countries, but over here even when disregarding the content of the contract and the age of the child, such contracts would still be thrown out of the court due to it being an abuse of circumstances. Agreements made through an abuse of circumstances lack consent in the same way an agreement made through deception,intimidation and such lack consent. If I were to convince you to sign a contract because I kept nagging you to do so right after you heard a loved one died, or because you happen to be a brilliant supermodel heiress who is smitten with my masculine charms who I convince to put a signature at the bottom of the document because my hands are caressing erogenous zones it would get thrown out for the same reason.

Another reason why a judge could throw it out is that it can be thrown out based on what I believe in English is called either equity or natural justice. If the judge considers the contract unreasonable he can ammend it or throw it out. It happens quite a lot with pre-nups where there is a seperation of goods but the judge decides that because the wife has been a housewife for a while she has a right to a share of the wealth, because she gave up her career for the well-being of children or something else that can't be transfered into wealth. Or because the pre-nup was signed too close before the wedding. If those agreements get thrown out then I assume you have done the math and realised that the example the person gave is rubbish.

While societies based on libertarian philosophy would have slightly different laws than current ones, I doubt it would:  1) Allow children to agree to contracts unfit for their age, 2) Have legalized pedophilia, 3) Allow civilians to torture 4) Not consider an abuse of circumstances a defect of consent, 5) Have a judge that is unwilling and/or unable to throw out unreasonable contracts.

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jay replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 11:42 AM

Again, still a ridiculous hypothetical. It's like Molyneaux answering the "what if some maniac pulled a shotgun on me for accidentally stepping on his property?" situation. People just do not do this sort of thing in any kind of society, and that sort of person would probably already have been dealt with by enjoying the persona non grata status.

If there's a chance there's a roving horde of pedophiles, there's more likely a chance that one or two charitable people will find the child first. These situations don't happen in a vaccuum.

"The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -C.S. Lewis
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Say, "Prove that it increases utility." There you go.

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Wheylous replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 12:48 PM

Dangit, bitbutter beat me to the response.

When considering a libertarian scenario, always consider the alternatives and see which is better:

1) She gets tortured but is able to survive and live on (because there is no one else around, apparently)

2) She is simply left to die

Would these leftists now argue that it is better to let her die?

Plus, the same exact argument can be made against democracy: If 75% of people vote to kill all black people, is it moral and just? Obviously not. Hence, democracy is disproved!!! No, not quite. See how such hypotheticals break down?

As someone else mentioned, none of this happens in a vacuum:

1) Why is the girl by herself and starving?

2) Why are there no other decent people around?

3) How come there is a marauding gang of pedophiles walking about randomly?

4) Is there really literally no food around her? (No roots, berries, anything?)

5) Does she have no cell phone?

6) Has she entered a contract with her guardian that prohibits her from entering into such contracts with pedophiles? (because this could very well happen in a libertarian society)

If the leftists want to put you in a corner, they will say this: The girl fell out of a van in the middle of the desert with no food or water or clothes or cell phone, doesn't have a guardian who has taken the precaution of letting her know what contracts she cannot enter, and is mysteriously found by a group of 100 pedophiles who search random deserts for helpless girls (and these girls, I might add, always have no food or water or clothes or cell phone, and don't have a guardian who has taken the precaution of letting them know what contracts they cannot enter). Also, these pedophiles do somehow have a source of food and water to support the entire nomadic army of 100 pedophiles that the girl magically has no access to. Furthermore, there happen to be no nomadic groups of nice people in this desert, which appears to be occupied by only gangs of pedophiles who obviously find this barren desert to be the best spot for finding helpless girls.

And in this case, the leftists conclude that they should not save her from the desert, but should instead let her die.

Cool story, bro.

Throw out libertarianism for an unpalatable yet voluntary and mutually-beneficial example so that you may live a thousand years in slavery to the state. Alright, then sir, you win this debate. I shall now go back into my corner and cry for the fate of humanity.

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Joe replied on Thu, Nov 24 2011 7:39 PM

I would point out that any 'utilitarian' would also agree that its better for the girl to be raped and saved from starvation (or whatever it was that was going to kill her), so I am not sure what the point of his arguement is.   Its not like the options are the girl gets raped or angels come in and save her.

 

I think the biggest argument agaisnt utilitarianism is that you cannot do interpersonal comarisons of utility.  This means the only thing you can really argue for is pareto efficiency  Then your task simply becomes establishing the burden of proof, and showing that anarchy is the natural default and that interventionists are the ones in fact arguing for a special case, and then ask for them to think of any single intervention which would be pareto efficient.

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 Someone argued that:

“Redistributing from the wealthy to the poor increases overall utility.”

Such a statement requires interpersonal utility comparison, which is impossible.


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jodiphour replied on Wed, Jul 11 2012 7:44 PM

So then there is a different between what is right (exercising just property rights) and what is moral?

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jodiphour replied on Wed, Jul 11 2012 8:11 PM

 

 

 Someone argued that:

“Redistributing from the wealthy to the poor increases overall utility.”

Such a statement requires interpersonal utility comparison, which is impossible.

It requires a clarification of what "overall" means. If they mean a sum of all utilities, then you are correct from an Austrian perspective. If it means more people have increased utility than the number of people who have decreased utility, then the statement is probably true since there are usually fewer rich than there are poor.

I think what people usually mean when they make such claims is that they think the "general welfare" of society is higher under some level of wealth redistriubtion. Usually they don't mean egalitarianism, they usually mean something akin to modern western taxation schemes. 

 

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Jul 11 2012 8:20 PM

jodiphour:

So then there is a different between what is right (exercising just property rights) and what is moral?

Absolutely. Someone might consider lying to be morally wrong behavior but not wrongful behavior in terms of what the law ought to be.

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