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Students for Liberty article advises libertarians to adopt consequentialist approach

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FlyingAxe Posted: Tue, May 22 2012 7:31 PM

Just read this article. In it, basically, the author argues that —

The only logical answer would be that the government has no role since its existence would necessarily require the initiation of force through taxation. While this conclusion may please anarcho-capitalists, the reality is that most people are not so quick to “smash the state,” rather having a deep-seated belief in a role for government.

Indeed, most people would find the conclusions of the non-aggression calculus to be outright absurd. To them, taxation is not categorically theft, but rather can be appropriate to provide for some necessary functions of government like the criminal justice system. To them, war is not categorically murder, but rather can be appropriate to defend against existential enemies. Certainly the government’s monopoly of force can be scary at times, such non-libertarians may think, but abandoning this monopoly for the state of nature is even scarier. Any attempt to force anarchism down such their throats will only cause them to vomit it right out. Thus, it would be futile to try to convert non-libertarians with the non-aggression principle, since it will only give them an anarchist answer that they are fundamentally uncomfortable with. [...]

So, I suggest to you libertarian evangelizers out there to avoid the nebulous non-aggression principle for the graspable facts of government inefficiency. Economics and public choice theory are much more powerful persuaders than some imperceptible axiom that contains a fundamental contradiction. Oh, and leave the bow ties in your grandfather’s closet.

Was wondering what people here think about this. I don't agree with his suggestion to abandon following our principles just because their conclusions are difficult for people to accept. But I have found in practice that a more principled argument is more difficult to make than a consequentialist one. Mostly because the vast majority of people themselves are consequentialists. As I wrote somewhere else, of all the people I've talked to about libertarianism, only one person was impressed by the principled approach: my wife.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, May 22 2012 7:37 PM

If they really are consequentialists, then if the government told them that killing their children would usher in Heaven on Earth, they would gladly and eagerly do so.

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lykos makes a perfect point.

And I don't find this "it's too difficult for them to accept, so don't bother" philosophy to be very convincing or very healthy.  It is here that I agree with Hoppe, that you need to be uncompromising in theory and ultimate goal.  If you expect to get any closer to your goal you can't be "compromising" on your endgame...essentially giving up and saying "ah that's a pipedream.  That'll never happen.  We might as well just focus on minarchism (or sticking to the Constitution, or whatever other form of statism you think is 'practical')."

And while understanding and being able to explain government inefficiency is important and necessary if the message is to be widely accepted, abandoning NAP on the grounds that it leads people to a place they aren't ready to handle right away is just asinine.  People need to be hearing these ideas...if for nothing else than to shock them out of their matrix sleep.  People don't have to be "impressed" by your adherence to principle.  They just have to be piqued, or triggered, or otherwise engaged by the principle itself.

I can't get over how terrible this guy's logic is.  "People won't see the light right away, so you might as well not tell them the truth and just stick to safe stuff."  What a useless (supposedly) smart guy.

And I hear what you're saying, Axe, about the difficulty of a principled argument...but there are ways to present it, and there are best methods to go about engaging people.  See "Argumentation & spreading the word" here.

 

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FlyingAxe replied on Tue, May 22 2012 7:49 PM

Autolykos:

If they really are consequentialists, then if the government told them that killing their children would usher in Heaven on Earth, they would gladly and eagerly do so.

I think they would disagree with the government. But, basically, whenever I hear a consequentialist speak, I ask him: "So, your problem with Hitler is that he grossly mismanaged human resources, not that he was a murderer."

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Unfortunately, this contradictory acceptance of the initiation of force in the name of ending the initiation of force raises an uncomfortable question that leaves any libertarian evangelizer susceptible to argumentative attack. Namely, if the government’s initiation of force is acceptable for “the greater good” in providing limited services like police, courts, and the military, why couldn’t it have a larger role for the benefit of “the greater good” in providing even more services?

What? 

In what world is that "contradictory"?  It is a non sequitur.  No one advocates that.

Seriously, I've read this many times and each time it seems like the question doesn't follow from the claim of contradiction.

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boniek replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:09 PM

I am consequentialist austro-ancap. Consequentialist arguments are all about simple facts and simple logic (as simple as austrian economics anyway). I see no need and no value in deontologist arguments over consequentialist arguments mostly because they are a lot harder to follow with lots of what seems to me like logic holes, jumps and arbitrary definitions/limits. Consequentialist ethics is principled stance to me - the guiding principle is that of egoism (do whatever makes you happy). It makes perfect sense considering what austrian economics teaches us about subjectivity of value. Arguing consequentialism is mostly about using and teaching other people logic of human action so that they can better understand how to realize their dreams and passions .

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Autolykos replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:11 PM

All definitions are arbitrary, Boniek.

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gotlucky replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:19 PM

@FlyingAxe

The principled approach will work with a lot of people, just not everyone.  Part of the problem is that you need to take it slowly with most people.  They are not able to see what a stateless society could be like.  They only see chaos.  Take it slowly with people.

Some people are impervious to the principled approach, and the reason is that they have different principles.  Some people do truly believe that its morally okay to aggress against others.  Some people are just afraid of the boogeyman.  With these types, you probably shouldn't waste your time with a principled approach.

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Greg replied on Tue, May 22 2012 9:22 PM

With the smarter liberals I've argued with, we always get to a point where we just disagree on the morality of government. They will plain admit with no reservations that it is okay to rob me for social-security or what-have-you. Like the taste of food or music these matters of morality cannot be usefully debated IMO, but practicality can, like can the government even achieve the ends aimed at? My favorite is talking against price controls (minimum wage, rent control,) the answer with a bit of reasoning is emphatically no. Haven't read anything on public choice theory but some videos from Ben Powell are pretty convincing. Telling people that the government is evil has gotten me nowhere, economics actually has. The ends can't be argued, but the means certainly can - concequentialism as I understand it FTW.

I wonder what's the beef with bow ties I hope they're due for a comeback! I'm sure the writers tone will garner tons of hate here but it seems he's just saying focus less on the moralizing and more on the economics. I agree.

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Aristippus replied on Tue, May 22 2012 10:30 PM

The prohibition of torts is ultimately based on its consequences; it is so ingrained in human custom because it is the surest way to long-term peace and prosperity for all.  Since, therefore, the traditional conception of justice - upon which we base the NAP  - is founded on utility, the deontological and consequentialist arguments are inherently bound together.

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FlyingAxe replied on Tue, May 22 2012 10:38 PM

Well, interestingly enough, although they are bound together, in discussion of every given policy, the two approaches seemingly have nothing to do with each other.

For instance: why are minimum wages bad?

Ethical argument: because they violate people's right to freedom of contract.
Economic argument: because they increase unemployment.

The two arguments are seemingly disctinct. The same with socialism: disrespect of private property vs. economic calculation problem.

It's interesting whether there is any explanation why something unethical is also always economically bad.

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gotlucky replied on Tue, May 22 2012 11:17 PM

FlyingAxe:

It's interesting whether there is any explanation why something unethical is also always economically bad.

I think I know what you mean, but you should be careful how you phrase what you said.  Remember, Austrian economics does not make value judgements.  It only states if p, then q.  We might happen to believe that the people put out of work because of minimum wage is a bad thing, but not everybody shares our beliefs.  

However, to answer your question, I would think that voluntary exchange, which is cooperative by nature, should produce results that benefit more people than aggressive exchange.  When you think about it, a society built upon cooperation should be more prosperous than one built upon aggression.  The cooperation is to everyone's benefit, whereas the aggression is only to some people's benefit.

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FlyingAxe replied on Wed, May 23 2012 12:51 AM

Well, if you define "good" as "increasing social prosperity" and "maximizing utility" (the way consequentialists are doing it), then respect for natural rights turns out to be "good".

But there is no direct connection between property rights and calculation problem. No cause-and-effect link. One could imagine a society run by prophets where property rights would be violated and the economy would work out perfectly. But, since we don't have prophets running our society, we have the calculation problem. I.e., the ethical argument and the economic argument have seemingly nothing to do with each other, yet it seems they are (almost) perfectly correlated.

The only example I can think of when violation of natural rights might have led to greater overall economic prosperity is slavery. But even there I am not sure that a given society would not be better off by hiring workers as opposed to enslaving people.

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bloomj31 replied on Wed, May 23 2012 1:11 AM

I think that one needs to know their audience before thinking about what sort of argument to present.

Me for instance I can't stand moralizing.  I don't have a bunch of moral principles so appealing to me on that level will probably be ineffective.  I'd rather someone just tell me what's in it for me.  But first they need to know what I want.  That's salesmanship.

Tailor your message to match your audience.   Consider the impact of the venue on the message itself.  Giving a speech in front of a room full of people is different from trying to convince someone one on one.  Typing out an essay is different from speaking to someone face to face.  Consider these things.

 Study ideologies that you might disagree with.  Know your enemy.

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Clayton replied on Wed, May 23 2012 1:12 AM

the deontological and consequentialist arguments are inherently bound together

This.

I would add that this is the only view that excludes scapegoating - the "making examples of" people in order to "deter" misdeeds of others. If I steal something from you, surely, I need to repay you whatever amount will settle the dispute unless I want war between you and me. But who made you God that you demand not only that I make payment to settle the matter but that more be exacted in order to give the rest of society an object lesson in social order? Since when is it my duty - by virtue of having wronged you only - to render a payment in blood, flesh and tears to the rest of society?

Deterrence is caveman morality. It is one of the last vestiges of the primitive, brutal moral system of our pre-human ancestors and it is clinging on for dear life.

The illumination comes when you realize that deterrence is built into the very structure of the social order from top to bottom. Even your capacity for involuntary blushing is a form of deterrence. The deterrence is built into human nature. A sense of property, a sense of retribution, a desire to get recompense for wrongs committed, and so on. You can rest assured that if you steal money from someone's bank account through fraud that that individual - not the government, not "society", maybe not even the bank itself - will initiate the process of trying to solve the crime and recover the stolen funds.

Holding consequentialism as the sole legal value, however, permits the multiplication of punishments on every crank theory of what will produce "better outcomes". If only we fined speeders another $100, why, fewer people would die on the highways. If only we sentenced pot users to another 5 years in prison, why, that would solve the drug problem and gang violence. If you want to actually ban something, this recreational tyranny won't do - you have to go full Saudi Arabia. Start chopping off a hand each time someone is caught smoking pot, then you'll put an end to it. If you can't stomach that then you can kiss your dreams of a pot-free society good-bye. The rest of your cockamamie schemes are just ruining lives while you play at being a benevolent dictator.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, May 23 2012 8:40 AM

Aristippus:
The prohibition of torts is ultimately based on its consequences; it is so ingrained in human custom because it is the surest way to long-term peace and prosperity for all.  Since, therefore, the traditional conception of justice - upon which we base the NAP  - is founded on utility, the deontological and consequentialist arguments are inherently bound together.

I'm not sure if I agree that the NAP is based on utility. I take a different approach - I consider consequentialist arguments to be deontological arguments. Here's why: any consequentialist argument must rely on premises, just like deontological arguments do. The premises may differ, but that's beside the point.

Another problem I have with consequentialism is that it's impossible to determine the consequences of something until after the fact. Beforehand, all that one may know about, aside from the action itself, are the intended consequences of the action. So it seems that consequentialists care more about intentions than they do about actions themselves.

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Well I meant that the NAP is based on customary ideas of justice, which in turn (and deep in the past) are based on utility - not that the NAP is directly based on utility.

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FlyingAxe replied on Wed, May 23 2012 10:18 AM

I think in many of these questions, the issue is time scale: short-term vs. long-term. The consequentialist approach is that which worries about the immediate consequence of an action. A principled approach is the one that worries about the long-term principle, which can exist on ethical grounds or on long-term consequence-oriented goals. (I am a religious person myself, but I am also an ex-atheist. From what I understand/remember, the long-term utilitarian goals and "ethical principles" are one and the same for an atheist.)

 

Roderick Long gives an example in one of his talks of how utilitarianism is praxeologically unstable. Imagine I want to benefit applied science as much as possible. But then I discover that to do that, I need to focus on fundamental science (he gives the example of inventing electric watch: if that is your goal in the 18th century, you need to focus on the study of lighning, not study of watches). So, in order to be the best applied scientist (or, rather, satisfy the goals of applied science maximally), you need to be the best fundamental scientist. But the latter is driven by curiosity, not immediate application.

So, praxeologically, it is impossible to be consciously the best applied scientist if that is what your goal is. You almost have to decide to become the best applied scientist, then hyptnotize yourself to forget about that and decide to become the best fundamental scientist.

 

In the same sense, utilitarianism and consequentialism do not work praxeologically. If we discover that the best long-term strategy for our goal (prosperity in society) is to forget about our short-term goal but focus on the principles, then it is impossible to be a consequentialist.

That is the critique of the so-called "judicial activism" that people make from the large-scale consequentialist perspective. Justice Ginzburg may be inclined to rule in a particular case following her political agenda of what she wants to happen in a given case. But such willy-nilly approach to law destroys the legal/constitutional fabric of judicial process, and that has adverse long-term effect on the society that even she might agree is a bad thing.

Basically, it all comes down to having low or high time preference. People with high time preference will tend to be less principled and more immediate consequence–oriented, and that will have effects both on their economic policies (favoring short-term "boom" over long-term prosperity and stability) and their political policies (looking at the immediate presumed benefit for the society at the expense of the long-term erosion of societal ethical values and resulting consequences).

Maybe that is the link between the ethics and economics.

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John James replied on Wed, May 23 2012 10:18 AM

Greg:
I wonder what's the beef with bow ties I hope they're due for a comeback!

This:

How old are you?

Someone really hates the mises bowtie :D

 

If you notice, there's a number of guys donning the look as a sort of "tribute"[?] to notable figures in the austro-libertarian canon (most notably Rothbard).  It's kind of like the kid who wears the Superman cape.

 

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John James replied on Wed, May 23 2012 10:20 AM

FlyingAxe:
It's interesting whether there is any explanation why something unethical is also always economically bad.

God was trying to make things easy for us.

 

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bloomj31 replied on Wed, May 23 2012 11:34 AM

What qualifies as low time preference for humans?  Where's the cut-off point between low and high?

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FlyingAxe replied on Wed, May 23 2012 1:16 PM

bloomj31:

What qualifies as low time preference for humans?  Where's the cut-off point between low and high?

It’s a relative, not absolute distinction. You may be presented with a choice that gives a short (-er) term result of lower magnitude and a choice that gives a long (er) terms result with higher magnitude. In this case, you are trading off time preference and absolute value. It could be one marshmallow now vs. two marshmallows in ten minutes or a smaller house now vs. a larger house in five years. (Or smoke now vs. be cancer-free in 20 years.)

Obviously, if the choice is two marshmallows now vs. one marshmallow in five minutes, it’s not a serious choice. There will be no conflict there.

A way to generalize this is to make it a choice between something more abstract and something more concrete. The value of something concrete is easy to appreciate. The value of something more abstract is more difficult to appreciate. But oftentimes, the abstract choice tends to have more information built in into it and therefore has a better long-term outcome. (For instance, when a parent tells a child not to eat too much ice cream, the reason is abstract for the child, since the child does not have the experience and theoretical knowledge of the parent. The same way when a doctor tells a patient not to over-eat. Even if the patient knows that overeating is bad, that knowledge is more theoretical, while the experienced pleasure is more immediate.)

The reason why a long-term choice is more likely to be better is that long-term choices tend to be also more abstract.

You see the same dichotomy in religion too. Those religions (like Christianity or Islam) that are focused on eschatology (the world-to-come) present a trade-off between immediate pleasures and long-term awards of a greater nature. Those religions (like Judaism) that focus on the immediate effect of an action (not that there is no eschatology in Judaism; it’s just less imporant) present the choice as a trade-off between instant gratification of one’s animal desires and more abstract knowledge that one has done a universal good.

From economics point of view, long-term results are more beneficial because of saving and accumulation.

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bloomj31 replied on Wed, May 23 2012 1:36 PM

Ok thanks.  So I'm reading this article again and I can't help but notice how vague this advice is.  What I mean is that the advice is absent very much context.  Where are these libertarian evangelizers trying to convert people?  Who are these people?

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Greg replied on Wed, May 23 2012 2:00 PM

John James:
How old are you?

I'm pretty sure that pussy even stopped wearing bow ties after Stewart railed on him, seriously grow a pair and keep that thing on! lol 

John James:
It's kind of like the kid who wears the Superman cape.

Don't care who used to wear them I think they can look real chic - no I don't own a bow tie I doubt I could pull off the look. Please don't wear them out of hero worship though, style is style regardless.

"Any rational person would fear fighting a person who is wearing a bow tie. It also serves as a shield against attacks to the throat."

Those comments cracked me up. John James' comment came off as very asshole-ish but you got some mad linking skills I'll give you that.

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Ancap66 replied on Fri, May 25 2012 3:59 AM

I have sprayed people in voluntaryist soup in several forums, and people just don't respond. However, there is a time and place for choosing moral arguments over consequentialist arguments... as the John James indicates.

People need to be hearing these ideas...if for nothing else than to shock them out of their matrix sleep.  People don't have to be "impressed" by your adherence to principle.  They just have to be piqued, or triggered, or otherwise engaged by the principle itself.

 

Any attempt to force anarchism down such their throats will only cause them to vomit it right out.

Lol, I used that expression a week ago on here.

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/29194/469812.aspx#469812

 

 

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Greg:
I'm pretty sure that pussy even stopped wearing bow ties after Stewart railed on him, seriously grow a pair and keep that thing on! lol

I think you're right.  I the time vicinity myself actually.  That was also soon before Crossfire got canceled as well.  And Stewart is basically credited with that too.  One man wrecking crew that guy was.  Watch the full interview.  It's a beautiful thing.  I can't say he stopped attacking the media like that over the years, but I wish he would do more of it.

 

Those comments cracked me up. John James' comment came off as very asshole-ish but you got some mad linking skills I'll give you that.

wink

 

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Neodoxy replied on Fri, May 25 2012 5:36 PM

Consequentialist argumentation is the only form of argumentation which is really compelling to most people. Whether or not you believe in utilitarianism, the fact is that most people believe in some awkward combination of rights-based and utilitarian ethics. Therefore the only real way to convince most people is by arguing for the improvement in living standards that results from the transition to a free market. That's what's compelling, not the "ethical" approach, which could result in what many people consider an unethical situation. You can't change people's values very easily, you can play to their values by changing their conception of something quite easily. 

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Ancap66 replied on Fri, May 25 2012 9:58 PM

It's effective to combine consequentialism with suggested ethics in the same argument. E.g. the incentives of the state are no different from the mafia, therefore the state must also be parasitic - therefore it appears that the state is an evil institution; or forcefully extracting wealth from producers is similar to slavery, and both are harmful to productivity - therefore it would seem that taxation is a form of slavery, and so must be abolished.

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For the record; that blogpost is not an official statement of the entirety of SFL. There was some criticism from within SFL as well. 

You can find one follow up blogpost to criticize the position taken here.  The position defended in that blogpost is probably closer to what some people here defend. (Maybe not 100% what you would argue for, but closer nonetheless.) 

I work with Casey and he is a very good guy. However - as I told him - I disagree with some parts of this blogpost, as did others in SFL. 

The state is not the enemy. The idea of the state is. 

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Ancap66 replied on Sun, Jun 3 2012 6:53 PM

In a way, telling a statist that "taxation is theft", is like telling the owner of an oversized pick-up truck that "you don't need to make up for the size of your weaner." It's brutally honest, but also likely to provoke righteous indignation.

Implied ethics is more useful. E.g. by pointing out that the state is just a stockpile of weapons, you not only point out the limitations of what the state can actually do, but also imply that what appears to be armed robbery is probably a bad thing. We want to erode the statist's emotional attachment to the state, but they must be the ones who connect the dots, otherwise they may not grasp the full picture.

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Gumdy replied on Wed, Jun 6 2012 10:09 PM

 

Since the only valid non consequenstionlist justification I'm aware of are Argumentation ethics and to some extent de-Jassay's presumption of liberty, both highly complex, subtle and technical, and since the human psyche is very results rather than logical consistency oriented, and further since every ought presumes a can (you can't prescribe what is unworkable) I easily agree. 

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Aristippus:
Well I meant that the NAP is based on customary ideas of justice, which in turn (and deep in the past) are based on utility - not that the NAP is directly based on utility.

So you mean historically based, not logically based - am I right?

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Yes that's right.

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Okay, thanks. I thought you meant "based" in the sense of "logically based". Sorry for the confusion there.

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No problem.  I suppose I was just saying that the observation of the customs of property that evolved simultaneously and independently across (almost?) all agricultural societies was the inspiration for the NAP.  In a similar way, observation of market prices was one of the inspirations for the study of economics, despite its a priori nature.

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Conza88 replied on Sat, Jun 9 2012 1:55 AM

Re: "Was wondering what people here think about this."

Typical activist fallacy. More so; if you want to use the "consequentialist approach" i.e be "value free" = that is what AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS IS FOR.

Sorry, consequentalism fails remarkably - in all facets for libertarianism / political philosophy.

"As regards the utilitarian position, the proof contains its ultimate refutation. It demonstrates that simply in order to propose the utilitarian position, exclusive rights of control over one’s body and one’s homesteaded goods already must be presupposed as valid. More specifically, as regards the consequentialist aspect of libertarianism, the proof shows its praxeological impossibility: the assignment of rights of exclusive control cannot be dependent on certain outcomes. One could never act and propose anything unless private property rights existed prior to a later outcome. A consequentialist ethic is a praxeological absurdity. Any ethic must instead be “aprioristic” or instantaneous in order to make it possible that one can act here and now and propose this or that rather than having to suspend acting until later. Nobody advocating a wait-for-the-outcome ethic would be around to say anything if he took his own advice seriously. Also, to the extent that utilitarian proponents are still around, they demonstrate through their actions that their consequentialist doctrine is and must be regarded as false. Acting and proposition-making require private property rights now and cannot wait for them to be assigned only later." - HHH, pg 354, economics and ethics of private property

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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Gumdy replied on Sat, Jun 9 2012 2:06 AM

Conza, I trust you wouldn't start expaining AE to a socialist... even if you would persuade him to some extent of AE it wouldn't make a difference. 

I find that simply explaining something simple such as the minimum wage can be a real mind opener..  I think It's a matter of practicality AFAIC..

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If they really are consequentialists, then if the government told them that killing their children would usher in Heaven on Earth, they would gladly and eagerly do so.

Assuming "Heaven on Earth" means killing your children and randomly obeying orders from govt.

 

 

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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For instance: why are minimum wages bad?

Ethical argument: because they violate people's right to freedom of contract.
Economic argument: because they increase unemployment.

These are both ethical arguments.  If you ask why "something is bad", all I can give is an ethical response

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Ancap66 replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 2:48 PM

My video:

Libertarian Morality is Bad News

 

 

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