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Wheylous Posted: Wed, Mar 28 2012 9:27 PM

One of my friends pointed me to the blog of one of his friends:

http://burnallyouknow.blogspot.com/

He's a masterful left-libertarian wordsmith, yet at least regarding the blog posts which I have read, he appears to have his skill in language make up for his lacking logical thoroughness.

I am specifically talking about this post:

http://burnallyouknow.blogspot.com/2012/03/austerity-and-gerontocracy.html

Especially this paragraph:

Social Security and Medicare do not abridge freedom by way of government intervention. Instead, these social welfare programs expand freedoms for the members of a polity. Social Security allows the elderly to live free from the threat of starvation, provides the elderly to move about freely despite living on a fixed income, and frees the elderly from the threatening vicissitudes of post-employment life. This kind of reasoning must be extended to all corners of economic life. Austerity measures, contrary to what Democrats and Republicans say, do not expand freedom. Placing the fates of those citizens most in need - students, the poor, and the elderly - at the mercy of the market does not enhance individual freedom; it limits it.

This appears to be a recurring theme among left-libertarians - the arbitrary definitions which allow them to equivocate and sneak through fallacies.

What I mean is the concept of "freedom." For the right-libertarian, freedom is the ability to exercise your rights as defined by some natural rights theory.

For left-libertarians, however, freedom is about the ability to "do stuff."

I tried posting a critique below the blog post, but I am afraid I might have bungled it a bit. I'd like to post my ideas here and see what you guys think.

For this guy (Josh, it appears) we are increasing freedom by writing Social Security checks to the elderly. Sure, the elderly now have more money to "do stuff", but have we increased their "freedom"? Yes, they can do more stuff, but at the expense of what? How do we quantify the "freedom" lost by the people whose property was forcefully taken from them?

Freedom here becomes unquantifiable, and you have no idea whether you have a Pareto-efficient move toward more freedom. It is essentially the problem with utilitarian moral theory - due to the impossibility of interpersonal utility comparisons, utilitarianism in morality only tell us how useless it is in morality. Now, utilitarianism has useful implications in economics with the utility maximizing individual, yet the concept of "freedom" doesn't work in the same way.

If it is your freedom to take property I lay claim to, why could it not be in my freedom to attempt to take it back?

That's why the left-libertarian "do stuff" definition of freedom is largely useless - its undefinable nature leads us to be unable to describe the net movement of freedom in society.

A natural rights approach to freedom, however, does not encounter these problems. The question of "how many restrictions are there on natural rights" gives the extent of your freedoms, and any public policy which makes a Pareto-efficient removal of impediments to the employment of natural rights increases your freedom.

If I steal from you, I am decreasing your freedom because I interfere with your rights. There is a definite net negative movement of freedom. If I decrease tax rates, this is a net positive movement of freedom.

Furthermore, this has intuitive appeal - if I punch you in the face I am decreasing your freedom, but you do not decrease my freedom if you use the law to gain restitution for your injuries.

The question of what natural rights are is still up for debate, sure, and you may wish to argue against private property; fine, but at least define freedom in a way that makes sense, not an ethereal notion that can be bent to fit your whims of social justice.

Please give feedback both on these ideas and on my post on his blog. Also, I welcome your ideas on his thoughts.

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Marko replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 9:48 PM

And giving every pensioner a helicopter would allow them to move about freely in the air, so let's. He's just latching on a pecularity of the English language that is not necessarily repeated in other languages. For example you could not write 'free from the threat of starvation' in Slovene or Serbo-Croat, you would have to say 'without'.

Libertarianism isn't about "freedom" concieved in this manner, it is about that freedom which is synonymous with justice. It is about freedom that has a moral component. Is it wrong for pensioners to not be able to fly? No that's just physics, it has nothing to do with morality.

Go ahead and lament the fact pensioners can not fly, but don't make yourself out to be more enlightened because you would remedy a situation that does no involve injustice against another with an action that does.

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I think you're right on all counts.  The guy is artful with his words, that is a way to dodge logic and fallacy, they do claim "freedom" means "having stuff" or "doing stuff", and you did seem to bungle your argument.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with your critique, I don't think it needs to be that involved.  At least, not initially.  If someone wants to take it that far, you may have to get into that many words, but initially I would keep it a lot more simple.

Milton Friedman adroitly addressed this exact false notion of "freedom" over 30 years ago...

 

 

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Who cares about the definition of freedom? The whole quoted paragraph is a false dichotomy. It really saddens me that a "left-libertarian" would think the only hope for students, the poor and the elderly is through a rigidly bureaucratic state program.

"People kill each other for prophetic certainties, hardly for falsifiable hypotheses." - Peter Berger
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John James replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 10:03 PM

...one example of why I see "left-libertarian" as an oxymoron.

 

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...one example of why I see "left-libertarian" as an oxymoron.

"Left-libertarians", mutualists and other anarcho-socialists are just marxists who take up the "anarchist" label b/c it sounds cool. Remember that Proudhon the mutualist inspired Marx to become a socialist.

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Bert replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 10:36 PM

Remember that Freedom4Me has never read mutualist, socialist, or Marxist literature.

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Remember that Freedom4Me has never read mutualist, socialist, or Marxist literature.

And I don't need to stick my hand in a fire to know that it's hot. What's your point?

Mutualism is a failed ideology. Mutualist banking causes nothing but inflation, bubbles and HUGE amounts of malinvestment. Mutualism has no chance of working and turns into a tyranny of the majority scenario.

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Bert replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 10:59 PM

Mutualist banking causes nothing but inflation, bubbles and HUGE amounts of malinvestment. Mutualism has no chance of working and turns into a tyranny of the majority scenario.

Mutualist banking?  What the hell are you talking about?  Explain "mutualist banking."  (Don't tell me this is where you think mutualists are Keynesians or some looney crap.)

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Explain "mutualist banking."

Not charging any interest on loans.

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Jargon replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 11:13 PM

Leftists get to use freedom as whatever they want it to mean: goodness, civility, dignity, bla bla bla. Rightists will always be the stodgy old men smoking cigars and trampling workers underfoot. If you want to talk about the benefits or detriments of an economic proposal, fine. But if you want to talk about how my economic proposals are going to enslave the poor and give away unearned profits to greedy speculators, I would be a fool to engage you past that first step.

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The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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John James replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 11:27 PM

Freedom4Me73986:
"Left-libertarians", mutualists and other anarcho-socialists are just marxists who take up the "anarchist" label b/c it sounds cool. Remember that Proudhon the mutualist inspired Marx to become a socialist.

Where the hell is "anarchist" in "left-libertarian"?  That doesn't even anagram.  Is it like really really really small print somewhere?

 

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Bert replied on Wed, Mar 28 2012 11:30 PM

Not charging any interest on loans.

Right now my mind is LOL.  Also, in Islam, don't they also not charge interest rates on loans?  Since you feel that's the most libertarian religion, and now somehow that same action is "mutualist."

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Islam uses sound currency only. Look up the Islamic Gold Dinar in Malaysia.

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Marko replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 4:58 AM

BTW, is this guy left-libertarian like Roderick Long, or left-libertarian like Mikhail Bakunin?

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I think your primary error comes in assuming that Josh has choosen the definitions and assumptions his arguments rest on because they are best able to form an internally consistent conceptual framework. That really isn't how humans function. People's core beliefs, along with the assumptions and definitions that they operate under, are the result of emotional feelings which are dependent upon how the amygdala has recursively modeled previous neural states. They then use reason and logic to justify those feelings and beliefs within the best conceptual framework they can manage. An argument in the form of "my assumptions and definitions form an internally consistent conceptual framework, unlike yours, so you should think about adopting them" is not persuasive because the consistency that is important to him is that of the framework being consistent with his feelings. If you wish to persuade josh, you can either spend years in close contact with him and essentially attempt to rewire his brain or you can accept his definitions and assumptions and try to prove to him that free market outcomes are more consistent with his feelings. Milton Friedman was excellent at this. Of course, this is no easy task and some assumptions, such as property is theft, are incompatible with the free market and require nothing short of long term brainwashing to remove once they become entrenched.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 12:00 PM

Marko:
And giving every pensioner a helicopter would allow them to move about freely in the air, so let's. He's just latching on a pecularity of the English language that is not necessarily repeated in other languages. For example you could not write 'free from the threat of starvation' in Slovene or Serbo-Croat, you would have to say 'without'.

Libertarianism isn't about "freedom" concieved in this manner, it is about that freedom which is synonymous with justice. It is about freedom that has a moral component. Is it wrong for pensioners to not be able to fly? No that's just physics, it has nothing to do with morality.

Go ahead and lament the fact pensioners can not fly, but don't make yourself out to be more enlightened because you would remedy a situation that does no involve injustice against another with an action that does.

Going along with this, it's clear to me that Josh is equating "freedom" with "unqualified ability". For example, if you can't afford a new car right now, then Josh would say that you aren't free to buy a new car right now. He'd also say that only the Apollo astronauts were free to go to the Moon, etc. Anarcho-capitalists don't define "freedom" this way. For them, freedom is an interpersonal thing. If you can't afford a new car right now because someone stole your money, anarcho-capitalists would say that the thief restricted your freedom. That's why, for anarcho-capitalists, "freedom" is essentially synonymous with "justice".

More sophisticated leftists actually try to combine or otherwise resolve these two different definitions of "freedom". Marxists, for example, claim that workers are literally robbed by the capitalists that they work for. This is more difficult for anarcho-capitalists to get to the bottom of, because it doesn't involve a different definition of "freedom" so much as it involves other premises that differ from those of anarcho-capitalists. A good example here is differing theories of value.

In closing, anyone who equates "freedom" with "unqualified ability" is not what I'd call a libertarian by any means.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 12:02 PM

Bert:
Remember that Freedom4Me has never read mutualist, socialist, or Marxist literature.

I strongly recommend to all anarcho-capitalists to familiarize themselves with those kinds of literature - if only so they won't make repeated strawman arguments against mutualists, socialists, and Marxists.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 12:10 PM

Bert:
Mutualist banking?  What the hell are you talking about?  Explain "mutualist banking."  (Don't tell me this is where you think mutualists are Keynesians or some looney crap.)

I know you didn't direct that at me, but having read some about mutual banking recently, I can say that it doesn't necessarily cause inflation, bubbles, or huge amounts of malinvestment. The idea behind mutual banking is simply mortgaging tangible property for credit. Mutualists don't advocate such credit notes as being legal tender, because they don't advocate anything as being legal tender. If someone doesn't accept the credit notes of a particular mutual bank, that's up to him.

Come to think of it, mutual banking looks to me like a nice way to resolve the positions of full-gold-reservists vs. free-bankers. Mutual banking is a form of free banking but it also involves keeping full reserves, because all of the credit notes are backed by tangible property - just not necessarily gold.

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Bert replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 12:31 PM

His idea of freedom is for the individual to expand his own faculties without restraint, that a persons individual growth should not be hampered by the strive for necessities.  This is quite common a socialist argument for freedom, that in our development we should have moved past working daily for the bare essentials which hamper our individual growth into the arts.  Philosophically I believe it's materialistic to make such claims, that the material needs must already be satisfied for the greater good of humanity, so on a whole we can expand and grow.  This contrasts with the definition of freedom that would be commonly used amongst ourselves that reflects the individual in the scope of human action that does not rest on material needs, but the ability to remain uncoerced by any means.  (For example, this article I posted in the low content thread.  It's coming from a socialist and his views of freedom and individualism.)

There's a quote from Mises that's along the lines of "economics is not about goods and services, it's about human choice and action."  The problem with bias towards us is that a lot of people do not understand this, that since we are capitalist people make the bias we are always talking about material goods, when in reality it's more metaphysical than that.  When I explain economic functions I try to not directly talk about material goods or money, but rely on the individual and his place within society.  To make the argument not an economic one, but a sociological one.  Ironically enough a lot of socialists or stripes of leftist may still be dialectical materialists without realizing it.

In closing, anyone who equates "freedom" with "unqualified ability" is not what I'd call a libertarian by any means.

I might have to use this in further arguments!  It may be springing into something new, to differentiate between qualified ability and unqualified ability in relation to individual and wealth differences.  This could lead to some rather unegalitarian arguments that may just frustrate the opposition even more.

Autolykos, F4M has once asked before if mutualists "believe everything Keynes and Marx wrote" so it was a question that I would not assume to be answered by him.  There's some parallels between mutualists and Austrians in some ways, those who understand the Austrian position on banking may simply not agree for philosophical differences.  Only problem I see is accepting the subjective theory of value in full, which if applied to political philosophy as well might unravel a few things (belief in entitlement ranging from employee/employer wages and ownership, land ownership/rent, "rights" and so on.)

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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