David Brin on Pragmatic Libertarianism

Its always nice when a talented writer beats one of your favorite drums, since then you can quote him and give your arms a rest. In the April issue of _Liberty_, David Brin writes:

I recently listened to the first of three hour-long monologues presented in a 24-hour period by Harry Browne, at a meeting of the San Diego Libertarian Party. He was given cheers and a standing ovation . . . and I came away understanding why the LP is hopelessly marginalized in American political life


...

I had been told by organizers that Mr. Browne would debate me about pragmatism vs. idealism. Finding instead a camp meeting, featuring monologue pulpit sermons, I grew frustrated listening to calls for perfect fealty to the precise liturgy of Received Faith, reiterating that failure after failure at the ballot box need never provoke significant reflection upon the message itself.

No, we must stick to a purist party line that the American people have relentlessly rejected (in one form or another) for 70 years. No tweaking. No fresh approaches to replace stale ones. No gradualist proposals for free-market alternatives that might compete with statist solutions. No concessions to an American consensus that the best-educated people in world history have generally ratified in biannual elections for three generations. No, we must continue to rant at our neighbors that their consensus is 100% idiotic. Hallelujah.

Mr. Browne preached that we must reject incrementalism and stick to "educating" the foolish, unenlightened masses, hoping that someday, like the Berlin Wall coming down, a sudden change of state will miraculously occur. This has all of the hallmarks of a religion, not a political agenda grounded in assumptions of individual sovereignty.

In a market, you would laugh at a businessman who kept blaming his failures on the customers. Or whimpering that the market is biased to favor big players. A competitor with a good product should be able to get past such obstacles....

Read the whole thing here (it's about 2/3 of the way down the page).

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I regard the LP as a

I regard the LP as a recruiting ground for people who want to really work toward libertarian societies. It seems far fetched to think that the LP will ever gain any significant power in a democracy. It seems much more reasonable to believe that the LP gains adherents to the libertarian philosophy by being visible to people who have political convictions and care enough to get involved in politics - and who already lean in the direction of libertarianism anyway.

Believing in electoral politics was a stage that I went through in college, on the way to my current anarchocapitalist position of believing that solutions to human problems should not and cannot be achieved by electoral politics. We must form private, non-coercive organizations to defend ourselves against the aggressions of others.

To do away with the LP would be detrimental to the libertarian movement - not because Libertarians will ever get elected to significant office, but because the LP is a recruiting ground and a place for debating and honing our philosophical convictions.

Harry Browne: wonderful

Harry Browne: wonderful preacher, terrible salesman. And his predescessor turned out to be even more tone-deaf, sadly...

Had some recent thoughts on some other foibles of the libertarian movement. IMO, on top of being unnecessarily absolutist, we're endorsing the "principles" portion all wrong.

My opinion is that it's not

My opinion is that it's not the Libertarian Party that's bad for libertarianism--it's politics en toto that's bad for libertarianism. Politics is a waste of scarce resources.

This is precisely my problem

This is precisely my problem with the party. I'm currently registered Republican, though these days I might as well reregister independent.

Joe, Actually the case of

Joe,

Actually the case of slavery doesn't involve a simple dichotomy; you can widen or narrow the class of people who can be enslaved, you can change the rules governing the treatment of slaves, etc. But to an abolitionist all such variations are wrong because all involve some form of enslavement of some people, and that's unjust. The abolitionist, in other words, argues that the absence of slavery is the only morally permissible arrangement.

Likewise, the alternatives to libertarianism all involve some degree of state interventionism; otherwise they wouldn't be alternatives, as libertarianism is simply an insistence on the absence of state interventionism. Arguing that libertarianism is the only morally permissible alternative *is the same* as arguing that state interventionism is, like slavery, necessarily unjust. I made an argument for this, to which you didn't respond.

Re process and outcomes: yes, most people have more outcome-based notions of justice than libertarians, and that's another thing we need to try to convince them they're wrong about. :-)

Actually, your analogy illustrates the problem nicely. If we say it's wrong to punish someone convicted of something because we know he didn't do it, that implies we have some other way of knowing whether he did it that's more reliable than the trial. In order to claim that the market produces unjust outcomes you have to have a non-market way of deciding what a just outcome is that works better than the market process. Most people think they can tell when the market produces unjust outcomes because most people think their sentimental egalitarian notions of substantive desert-- things like "hard work should be rewarded"-- work well as justice-determining mechanisms. This is where they're wrong.

Re consequentialism and justice: the good and the just are not the same thing. I can make consequentialist arguments about the good separately from any arguments about justice.

Jonathan, Fair enough. But

Jonathan,

Fair enough.

But that brings us back around to my initial point. There are lots of filters through which people can pursue their common normative goals. Rawlsian political liberalism springs to mind as one (though hardly the only) pretty good alternative. But to the extent that (a) libertarians value individual choice-making, and (b) there are competing, reasonable arrangements that allow individuals to arrange their own normative goals, then it seems a bit odd for libertarians to condemn people for preferring one arrangement over another.

In other words, one libertarianism is stripped of its moral grounding becoming instead one among many competing ordering principles, then the fact that lots of people prefer some other arrangement _does_ count against libertarianism.

This is my point from before. The slavery analogy works for discrediting popular views if and only if libertarianism is morally obligatory. Weakening the claim such that libertarianism is one of many morally permissible arrangements means that it is a relevant consideration that many people dislike that particular arrangement. You can't have it both ways. For the slavery analogy to work, you've got to have a _moral_ justification for libertarianism as the only justifiable arrangement.

Joe, The positive arguments

Joe,

The positive arguments are not by themselves enough, I agree. Though I don't think people will ever agree completely on normative moral claims, I think there is enough agreement on what society ought to look like to convince people that my means will serve their ends.

Most people want similar things, regardless of their ideological background:

-peace
-prosperity
-a feeling of belonging to a community
-the poor not getting poorer
-a certain degree of autonomy
-material and scientific progress
-a certain degree of privacy
-etc

My positive arguments are simply a filter through which common normative goals can be pursued.

Sure, there will be disagreements. If an egalitarian wants complete material equality, I won't share his moral intuition. I also cannot make the positive argument that the market will provide it. But I can argue that neither will the government, and that market actors have greater incentives to raise the standard of living for the poor than do political actors.

Jonathan, I'll try to make a

Jonathan,

I'll try to make a more detailed response later, but for now I'll just mention that the move you make is to abandon (B) and (C) in favor of (A). You essentially want to make a non-moral argument for the virtues of libertarianism. That's a perfectly legitimate move to make.

My quick response, though, would be to say that these kinds of positive arguments don't seem to carry all that much weight in terms of what really will, at the end of the day, be a normative argument about what we ought to do. Who cares, really, that political arrangements might interfere with economic efficiency? Unless you can show that there is some reason why efficiency ought to be preferred to (some) inefficiency, then all the social science in the world just isn't going to be terribly convincing.

Positive arguments are great in some respects, and I mean no disrespect to those engaged in such research. There is much value in knowing how, say, voters will react to certain incentives. But absent a moral argument of some sort, you have neat descriptions of how things are likely to turn out but nothing that counts as a reason for preferring one description over another. As long as you're content with providing descriptions, that's a great public service. But if you're in the business of convincing people to change their views, you have to have a moral argument somewhere. The danger I see is that of sneaking normative claims (e.g., efficiency is good) into what is purporting to be a descriptive theory.

In short (or not so short), I don't see any way for this particular non-moral argument to do all that much work in convincing anyone of the value of libertarianism.

(Maybe this turned into the longer post after all).

Joe, I think you too easily

Joe,

I think you too easily dismiss the slavery example.

But I disagree that this is a fair analogy because I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to show that slavery is morally abhorrent.

But at the time, it was difficult, because the vast majority believed in it, and it had existed since the beginning of civilization. Today, we look back at those times with shock and disgust, but at the time, it was widely accepted. Further, one of the strongest arguments in favor of it was the economic consequences of abolition were too horrific to consider. Slavery is seen as what made the economy churn.

Regardless, even if you are skeptical of the argument for the widespread moral acceptance for slavery as relevant to this discussion, the argument that large numbers of people hold beliefs that are untrue remains valid. The vast majority of the population at one time or other believed in -

- a geocentric view of the universe
- spontaneous generation of life (frogs from mud, etc)
- bloodletting as a cure for disease
- massive objects falling faster than light objects
- witches
- etc

I pick these out as examples because they do not involve normative claims, but rather positive ones.

I don't think there will ever be any sort of widespread agreement on what constitutes "fairness" or "justice", and I agree that libertarians who rely solely on their own views of justice are in for a tough time if they want to convince anyone else of the benefits of a libertarian society. But there can be agreement on positive claims on the nature of governments and markets.

For most of civilization's history, most people believed that trade between people of different nations was detrimental. When an industry suffered due to foreign competition, the instinctive reaction (understandably) was to support protection of native industry. People saw their neighbors losing their jobs. It took a critical mass of knowledge of the Unseen effects of trade on both foreign and domestic companies, written history, and economic reasoning to make the case for free trade. The Left has been against free trade for most of its history until very recently.

Even if one does not accept the moral argument for free trade - that people should be able to trade with whomever they desire - one can accept the ramifications of the positive argument for free trade - based on the Law of Association, empirical data, and historical records. Unfortunately, a large portion of the public, on the right and the left, still does misunderstands the effects of trade, because the effects are very counterintuitive. Yet, the size of that portion has been decreasing with time.

Similarly, it is my belief that there is widespread misunderstanding of the effects of certain political structures and public policies. This is a positive, not normative argument, based on the nature of the world we live in, the scarcity of goods, the nature of people, the structure of governments, and the incentives associated with governments. Most of the knowledge associated with my views has only very recently been developed (in the long view of things). A critical mass of background had to be reached before it was discovered.

Moral philosophers have been arguing about "what is justice?" and "what is virtue?" for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But the study of the political economy has only taken place over the last hundred. It was only during the early part of the last century that Mises and Hayek showed the impossibility of socialist planning. It has only been during the last 30 years or so that the public choice school has studied the incentives of governement actors and the behavior of voters. My skepticism of government and preference for markets rests on these positive data.

So yes, I do believe that the vast majority of people disagree with me. That's one reason I blog- to convince them otherwise, and hopefully for them to convince me that I'm wrong. But that doesn't mean that they're right because there are more of them. Nor do my views rest solely on conceptions of justice.

Nicholas, No, your analogy

Nicholas,

No, your analogy is still off. In the slavery case, there are but two options. Either practice slavery or don't. One can easily make out the argument that practicing slavery is morally wrong. Thus to rethink a stance on slavery based on popularity is clearly absurd.

In the case of libertarianism, though, there are multiple options. Sure, one can be a libertarian or not, but there are also other alternatives. So to make the cases parallel, you have to show that libertarianism is morally obligatory (i.e., not just that it's permissible, but that it's the _only_ permissible arrangement). That makes it parallel to the slavery case.

As for your claims about justice and outcomes, I think it's just false that justice deals only with process and not with outcomes at all. This is likely where the moral intuitions of libertarians and the moral intuitions of, well frankly the vast majority of the rest of the population, would differ. Your position strikes me as the economics equivalent of saying, "Well, his trial was fair, so it's just that we execute him _even though we know he didn't do it_."

Even if libertarianism turns out to be the least unjust process, that still leaves open the question as to whether, at the end of the day, libertarianism is objectively just. There is no real necessary connection between those things. To simply deny that outcomes matter is, first, to contradict your assertion that you are at least in part a consequentialist, and second, to hold a moral position that quite simply very few people share (for good reason).

Scott, You're right that

Scott,

You're right that many would agree that many people do hold intuitions about justice that say that we ought to reward effort and merit. But that's something of a red herring, since the question at issue is whether the _outcomes_ of an unfettered market are just. (That's why I used markets and efficiency interchangeably; perhaps I'm mistaken here, but isn't efficiency supposed to be the outcome of an unfettered market?)

It's evident, though, that markets do not reward effort and merit, or at least that they do not necessarily reward effort and merit. Plenty of people prosper in the market because of natural talent, which is far different from merit, and plenty of others who are unlucky put in plenty of effort while reaping little reward.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not questioning the value of the free market, and I side with many of you here in wanting to see markets be freer than they currently are (I'm no fonder of tariffs or corporate and agricultural subsidies than even the most rabid of free-marketers). What I question is the notion that market outcomes are intrinsically valuable. Or, to put the point a more technical way, I see no reason for thinking that "because the market has distributed things in this way" counts as anything more than a single, very weak reason for thinking a distribution to be morally justified. I don't even see market efficiency as a _prima facie_ reason for acting; certainly I don't hold, contra many of the "pure" libertarian commentators, that the fact that the market has spoken is the _only_ reason for thinking a distribution just.

But that latter claim, it seems to me, is exactly the one that a pure libertarian needs to defend. And an appeal to merit and effort, while not an absurd appeal, is also not a workable one. (Incidentally, I don't think that I said any defense of (B) would be absurd, only false. The two are very different.)

No, Joe, to make the analogy

No, Joe, to make the analogy to slavery stick I don't have to show that the free market is perfectly just; after all, to oppose slavery I don't have to claim that there would be perfect justice in its absence. All I have to show is that interfering with the market through the typical state devices of taxation, regulation, etc. inevitably involves gross injustice.

And this it does despite the problems of the market which you quite rightly note-- for every state intervention has all the same problems and more besides! Though the market does not distinguish between the unlucky and undeserving, neither does a tax distinguish between the lucky and the deserving; it robs the lottery winner and the hardworking entrepreneur alike. States are public goods that produce huge externalities, positive and negative, for which the political process accounts poorly at best. Politics rewards people based on the undeserved trait of being able to seduce the largest mob.

Besides which, your focus on distributional outcomes is misplaced; justice is a matter of process, not outcome. The positive moral case for the market claims that it is the least unjust *process* out there, since its building blocks are individual voluntary transactions for mutual benefit and not political decisions where the majority gets to overrule the minority by force.

Finally, you're making a false dichotomy here between consequentialist and deontological libertarians. Virtually any actual libertarian you meet (as you should know well from arguing on this forum!) is going to use some mix of both types of arguments; the proportions vary, but rare indeed is the person who uses one or the other exclusively.

I completely agree with you.

I completely agree with you. But I disagree that this is a fair analogy because I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to show that slavery is morally abhorrent. I haven’t seen, on the other hand, a really convincing defense of the claim that free markets produce a just outcome. (Scott in fact mentions that no one has claimed that the free market=justice; if that’s true, I find it a very puzzling claim.)

Joe, you'd do well to peg down your definitions. Earlier you claimed libertarians think economic efficiency equals justice. Now you are replacing economic efficiency with free market, when the two are by no means synonyms.

And for accuracy's sake, I did not say no one equated economic efficiency with justice--I simply asked who had.

As to a free market equating to justice, I do think that is morally defensible. People are entitled to the products of their own labor, in my view, and it is just to allow them the freedom to do with those products what they will. The sic utere maxim and whatnot. Rewarding effort and merit accord with many peoples' visceral notions of justice.

Such a view was at the very least close to that of classical liberalism, which predominated in the United States for the first century of its history. I can see how some would disagree that that was truly justice, but I hardly think the idea absurd.

_suppose you’re an

_suppose you’re an abolitionist in 1800. You know abolitionism is the only morally acceptable position on the slavery issue, and you know that the vast majority don’t hold it, not even a little bit– that all over the world, throughout history, people have chosen to enslave others and appear to feel no qualms about doing so...“rethink your views on slavery because most people don’t agree with them” is not a terribly defensible [view]._

I completely agree with you. But I disagree that this is a fair analogy because I don't think it's particularly difficult to show that slavery is morally abhorrent. I haven't seen, on the other hand, a really convincing defense of the claim that free markets produce a just outcome. (Scott in fact mentions that no one has claimed that the free market=justice; if that's true, I find it a very puzzling claim.)

What commentators here seem to be calling "pure" libertarianism seems to rest upon a deontological defense of negative freedom, such that interference with market transactions is tantamount to a violation of that negative freedom and thus wrong. Of course, for any defense of the market based on negative freedom, it will still be the case that transactions are justified only if they are not violations of someone else's rights. It would have to follow, then, that for the free market to be justified, then all of its outcomes must also be just. To the extent that the market fails to distribute justly, _someone's_ rights are being violated and thus the transactions that produced that unjust distribution are invalid.

It follows, then, that "pure" libertarians owe some kind of argument that whatever distribution the market produces is just. As I see it, there are but three options here. (A) Admit that markets don't always distribute justly and endorse libertarianism anyway. (B) Give some argument that the free market and justice are equivalent. Or (C) Admit that markets don't always distribute justly but argue that the distribution markets get is still preferable to any sort of redistribution scheme available.

Before you get too excited, (A) is not meant to be a slight. There might be lots of reasons for defending libertarianism even if its outcomes are not just. The most obvious reason I can think of would be if lots of people consented to libertarianism, including those who were the recipients of the unjust outcomes. Taking (A) just denies that there is a moral defense of libertarianism. Of course, (A) also undermines Nicholas' analogy, for on this understanding, libertarianism is no longer morally obligatory.

Option (C) is one that I've seen defended here by several folks, and it strikes me as the best defense going. Here the argument is that while some people might be harmed by the market, far more people will be harmed by any sort of state-sponsored redistribution scheme. Note, though, that this is a consequentialist defense and as such is not likely to be popular among the "pure" libertarians.

That leaves us with option (B), the one that Scott says no one is defending. I personally don't see how it's defensible, either. Objections to it are well known: markets don't account for externalities; markets reward people based on undeserved traits; markets don't distinguish between the unlucky and the undeserving, etc. But as far as I can tell, "pure" libertarians seemingly are committed to defending something like (B).

So I'll be happy to admit the validity of your analogy just as soon as you provide me with some sort of defense of the claim that markets distribute justly. Incidentally, I think that your task may actually be even harder. To really make your analogy work, you will have to show that markets distribute justly AND that any alternative way of distributing is unjust. Good luck. :smile:

I am a purist libertarian

I am a purist libertarian but a pragmatic Libertarian.

My argument is that the Libertarian Party exists to move public policy in a libertarian direction. Anything else is superfluous. And I am one of Badnarik's better friends and was a senior campaign staffer.

I disagreed with Browne's educational attempts, managed Russo's campaign because he agreed with me on the issue - and tried to convince Badnarik to run for office and not to spend his time teaching the elements of libertarianism to folks who could care less about it.

My opinion is to leave the purist educational roles to the think tanks, columnists, bloggers, talk show hosts and educational institutions - but libertarian politics require a degree of pragmatism.

Today's experience left a perfect taste of this divide in my mouth. At a state LP Executive Committee in Alabama this afternoon, there was debate over support of a medical marijuana bill (one initiated by senior Libertarians, no less) in Alabama.

There were arguments that 1) it still allows the state to decide who may use marijuana, and 2) this could turn into a great educational opportunity for libertarians.

The person offering the latter argument wanted to shift our media focus from the perfect poster-child patient (conservative, religious mother of three described on the front page of the biggest paper in the state as wearing June Cleaver pearls) to one of Constitutional issues. We are winning with the media specifically because we focused on compassion. This ain't an educational opportunity; it is a political one. My in-state issue related track record is 2-0 and I intend to make it 3-0.

This bill which has received unprecedented positive press coverage and has a good chance of passing. The role of the party is to pass such bills. Leave the education and purism to our local buddies at the von Mises or Molinari Institutes.

I blogged back in January on

I blogged back in January on this very idea. I was surprised, looking back at the link, the extent that I was promoting debate on consequentalist grounds at the time.

Incrementalism is the only way to achieve our goals. I hate to say it, but if you dismantled the welfare state immediately, our country would collapse. It took nearly 100 years to build the monstrosity that it has become, we need to take it apart brick by brick, replacing each brick with free-market alternatives. Dynamite doesn't accomplish our goals.

Creepy? hmmmmm and happily

Creepy? hmmmmm and happily voting for the state to steal your money must make you squeal with terror? I shiver in bed like a 5 year old when i think about 'futilitarianism'.:wink:

Is anyone actually foolish

Is anyone actually foolish enough think they're going to get anything out of politics through compromise? Take the Religious Right. They've been one the main movers in American politics for 25 years now. The Republicans couldn't win City Dogcatcher without their support. The Religious Right built their entire political movement around getting abortion recriminalised. That has been the main thrust of their movement and its driving force.

It's now been 33 years since Roe v. Wade, and they are further away now from getting abortion recriminalised than they were in 1980. This is a group with probably ten times as many supporters as small government advocates. They buttress the national governing party. And they can't even get a step towards their main goal. Does anyone actually think that libertarians, with a tenth of the supporters, will get anything out of either of the two parties through compromise? Get real.

What will happen, though, is that libertarians will end up being exactly what critics have called us: dope-smoking Republicans. People will regard libertarians as the tools of Republicans (or Democrats, but even the foolish know there's no hope there). Libertarianism will be become a byword for the public-private partnership, corporate welfare, state privilege mess that "free market" conservatism passes for. You can't win, but you can do damage to libertarianism's intellectual reputation. And liberty's real advocates will have to find another word, since "liberal" and "libertarian" will both be on the garbage heap.

- Josh

The Demand Curve for

The Demand Curve for Liberty
Patri Friedman at Catallarchy links to this David Brin commentary in Liberty. It's worth serious consideration...

Joe: suppose you're an

Joe: suppose you're an abolitionist in 1800. You know abolitionism is the only morally acceptable position on the slavery issue, and you know that the vast majority don't hold it, not even a little bit-- that all over the world, throughout history, people have chosen to enslave others and appear to feel no qualms about doing so.

What do you do about it? It seems to me that "work for gradual, incremental emancipation" and "insist on pure abolitionism" are both defensible answers, and there's a real and interesting debate to be had over which was more effective and/or moral. But "rethink your views on slavery because most people don't agree with them" is not a terribly defensible one.

The point is that sometimes the vast majority is terribly, even *evilly* wrong about basic issues of social organization, and those who see the truth need to find some way of convincing others, and saying "well, if enough others are opposed to you, they must have a point" doesn't go very far.

I think when it comes to the

I think when it comes to the votes that people make, the Number One problem is that most want what is an inherently contradictory arrangement. For example:

-The same people that when polled say they want to keep government programs X, Y, and Z, if you step away for a moment to calculate how much in taxes it would take to fund those programs properly, and then come back an' ask them what they think of the resulting tax rate(s) they'll cringe and say it's too high. Way I see it, you want something then you should be willing to pay for it, otherwise stop asking.

-on civil liberties, it's accepted Conventional Wisdom that one can request freedom for themselves but not their neighbors. The reason that things like the War on Drugs, "gun control", and restricting the rights of gays seem to stick in a high spot in the public mind is that they apply to an "other" that offends their sensibilities.

Well, we certainly could

Well, we certainly could advertise more:

http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=Libertarian&word2=Greens

http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=Libertarian&word2=Socialist

http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=Libertarian&word2=Democratic+Party

http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=Libertarian&word2=Republican+Party

Mr. Miller: As I said

Mr. Miller:

As I said elsewhere, morality follows from values, so I won't go so far as to say that liberalism is for everyone the only morally acceptable political philosophy. But so long as one accepts "thou shalt not murder" and "thou shalt not steal" as moral imperatives, liberalism is the only morally valid political philosophy. By definition, it is the only political philosophy based on peaceful cooperation rather than violence and coercion.

Most people advocate illiberal policies not because they reject these imperatives, but because they cannot imagine a world functioning without them. They have visions of millions starving in the streets, cars driving on the wrong side of the road, planes falling out of the sky, and rat poison sold as cough medicine in a world liberated from the iron fist of the state. And so they accept violence and coercion because they believe they have no choice.

In other words, people support illiberal policies not because they hate peaceful cooperation and love coercion, but because they are--for lack of a more tactful but equally descriptive term--economically clueless. If they really understood how unfettered markets worked, and if they understood the true cost of tampering with them, they would not be so hostile to the former, nor so accepting of the latter.

But it would seem to follow from that sort of commitment to choice-making that one is committed to respecting the choices that people actually make, not just the ones that we would like for them to make.

People have the right to make whatever choices they want to make for themselves. But they don't have the right to impose those choices on me. You see the distinction, don't you?

If certain illiberal members of a liberal society want to form some kind of Social Democrat club and redistribute wealth among themselves, there's no reason they can't. No true liberal anywhere will dispute their right to do so. Part of the beauty of liberalism is that it allows people to do things like that. There are numerous examples of socialist microcosms existing peacefully in liberal societies.

But it doesn't work in reverse. If you had your way--if we lived in a society governed by your political philosophy--would you allow liberals like me to opt out of the system and avoid participating in your redistributionary schemes? I think not. The welfare state requires forced participation, because those who provide the system's lifeblood are those who have the greatest incentive to opt out.

The notion that liberals want to "force" liberty upon those who don't want it is nonsense. All we want is acknowledgement of a right to opt out peacefully. If you don't want liberty for yourself, you can submit to any master you choose. It is you, and not us, who want to force everyone to conform to a single master plan. Do you see the distinction now?

Incidentally, I’ve never quite understood why libertarians have decided by and large to attach themselves to Republicans.

I was born in 1980 and first became politically aware during the Clinton years. The Republicans seemed so much more appealing when they were out of power and fighting valiantly against HillaryCare, Know Your Customer, and even the Department of Education. Bush II shattered that illusion for me.

Even though I no longer expect anything but betrayal from Republicans, I have to admit that the Democrats remain the party I love to hate. I don't like Republicans, but I don't like not liking them, either. I'm really not sure why this is. Part of it is that the Democrats' economic rhetoric is so offensively stupid. But so is Republican rhetoric on abortion and whatnot, so...I'm not sure. Old habits, maybe? It's an interesting topic.

Neither party is likely to

Neither party is likely to make government smaller (since, as I mentioned above, Americans don’t, by and large, want government to be smaller). Democrats are, however, at least somewhat more likely to be on the side of staying out of bedrooms and letting people smoke what they want to smoke.

That seems a spurious argument. Simply because A and B are going to increase the size of government does not necessitate they are both going to increase it by the same amount or at the same rate: so it doesn't follow we should look to some other aspect of the platform to break the tie. Incidentally, I've never heard any significant push by Democrats for drug legalization.

We of course respect

We of course respect peoples' choices, but not all of them. Choices to infringe upon the freedom of others--which is what we take non-libertarianism to be--are choices that I see little reason to respect. Senators who choose to use tax money for agricultural subsidies deserve not the slightest shred of respect for their own autonomy, nor do the voters who willingly support such behavior.

People in the marketplace act more rationally than they do in their roles as voters--as such I respect the former choices far more than the latter.

Simply put, we do want to respect peoples' choices, but democracies do not as a rule, seem to aggregate those choices in a particularly attractive manner. Or so is my own thought; I shouldn't speak in the collective.

(a) libertarianism is the only morally acceptable political ideology

Well it is, to libertarians. You can't fault us for thinking we're right. If we thought we were wrong, we wouldn't be who we are.

Personally, I find (a) to be dubious at best; I suspect that libertarianism isn’t morally defensible at all (one needs some sort of argument that market efficiency equals justice, a counter-intuitive proposition at best)

Whoever argued that market efficiency equalled justice?

As a non-libertarian, I must

As a non-libertarian, I must say that I find something slightly creepy and unnerving about much of the commentary I see in this thread. There seem to be three related claims underlying much of the discussion: (a) libertarianism is the only morally acceptable political ideology, (b) people in fact very much dislike most of the libertarian platform, and (c) people would like libertarianism if we could just convince them that their actual preferences are getting in the way of the preferences that they really ought to have.

Personally, I find (a) to be dubious at best; I suspect that libertarianism isn't morally defensible at all (one needs some sort of argument that market efficiency equals justice, a counter-intuitive proposition at best), and I doubt very much that it is the only morally acceptable position. As for (c) my worry is that it starts to sound very much like exactly the sort of attitude that free-marketers quite rightly criticized in Marxists, namely that a coherent ideology can really be built around some hoped-for set of preferences. Indeed, much of the power of capitalism is supposed to be its reliance upon sets of preferences and attitudes that people already have.

That brings us to (b). I think that Jonathan overstates things when he says that lots of people really are libertarians in that they are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I don't doubt that there are lots of people who meet that description; rather, I deny that many of the people who meet that description are really libertarians. It turns out that, even among small government conservatives, there really isn't all that much support for doing away with social security, and very few social liberals are okay with selling heroin at the grocery store. Libertarianism, even in the milder form espoused by the LP, just isn't a terribly attractive view for most people.

That's where my real worry comes in. The 'pure' version of libertarianism that so many here want to defend has to be rooted at bottom in some sort of conception of autonomy (though of a warped sort, the kind that takes Kant's requirement that we not treat others as mere means but rather as ends in themselves and just ignores the second part of the requirement--but that's a different complaint for a different time). The point is that respect for negative freedom must be rooted in some argument about the tight connection between choice-making and basic human dignity.

But it would seem to follow from that sort of commitment to choice-making that one is committed to respecting the choices that people actually make, not just the ones that we would like for them to make. At the very least, we have quite a bit of explaining to do when we want to argue that some preferred hypothetical choice ought to trump actual choices. So it seems to me that, for an ideology committed to valuing autonomy, the fact that people use that autonomy to reject overwhelmingly a certain political arrangement ought to count pretty strongly against that arrangement.

At the very least, it seems to me that this conversation is the wrong one to be having. That is, rather than asking about what is the best way to convince people to hold views that they don't in fact hold (e.g., hold the line or compromise some), the better conversation would be, "what does it say about our position that people in fact continuously reject it?" Or "doesn't it say something important when our best and brightest thinkers believe that our ideology is possible only when the world we live in comes to look much more like the SF worlds that, say, Brin writes about?"

It would be one thing if libertarians, like the current Democratic Party, kept losing election by small if statistically significant margins. But LP candidates, by and large, lose hugely. And they lose hugely because things like social security are tremendously popular (a lesson that the Republican Party is currently learning again).

Incidentally, I've never quite understood why libertarians have decided by and large to attach themselves to Republicans. In the Goldwater days, that may have made some sense, but it really hasn't since then. Reagan cut taxes massively during his first year and then raised them every year afterwards while at the same time actually expanding much of the federal government. Bush I did much the same, and Bush II pushed through a massive entitlement program that Democrats would never have been able to pass. Indeed, Bush II policies do nothing more than ensure massive tax increases down the road when the current level of debt becomes unsustainable. There is no Republican tax cut; it's just a tax shift to the future. Meanwhile, Republicans also are working actively to squash social liberalism in just about any of its forms (surely good libertarian Republicans must cringe watching Haley Barbour cozy up to white supremacists). Neither party is likely to make government smaller (since, as I mentioned above, Americans don't, by and large, want government to be smaller). Democrats are, however, at least somewhat more likely to be on the side of staying out of bedrooms and letting people smoke what they want to smoke.

That’s not really very

That’s not really very fair is it? Even if Kerry and Bush planned to do exactly the same thing wrt Iraq after November 2004, surely it’s relevant to think about what Kerry would have done differently before November 2004. To fail to make this distinction is to fall into the same sort of simplemindedness that led Bush to complain that Kerry couldn’t possibly takl credibly about fixing the situation in Iraq while at the same time holding that getting into that position was a mistake.

Many libertarians I know did vote for Kerry because they thought he would do things differently after Nov 2004. That is the position I am criticizing.

Why is this poor strategy? Wouldn’t much turn on what the single issue is and how important that issue turns out to be? If, for example, the single issue were, say, massive tax cuts, then it might make perfectly good sense for a libertarian to side with a major party candidate based on that single issue. Ditto for, say, ending the drug war as a single issue.

I believe it is a poor longterm strategy. A single vote is not going to swing an election. The main thing voting accomplishes is to send a signal in a large information-gathering system about preferences. A vote for Kerry might send a signal that said voter prefers for the US to not fight the Iraq War. But at the same time, it signals that he prefers the remainder of the Democratic platform as well - perpetuating social security as it is, raising the minimum wage, socialized healthcare, etc. There is no way to separate out the "libertarian" aspects of the vote.

If the single issue is important enough to the voter to override the many false signals sent by the vote, then the voter should vote on a single-issue strategy. For most libertarians, this is usually not the case. For the long term, if they vote, they should carry out the vote that best preserves the fidelity of the signal: the Libertarian Party.

_Many voted for Kerry

_Many voted for Kerry because they opposed the War in Iraq (as if Kerry was going to do anything different in Iraq)._

That's not really very fair is it? Even if Kerry and Bush planned to do exactly the same thing wrt Iraq _after_ November 2004, surely it's relevant to think about what Kerry would have done differently _before_ November 2004. To fail to make this distinction is to fall into the same sort of simplemindedness that led Bush to complain that Kerry couldn't possibly takl credibly about fixing the situation in Iraq while at the same time holding that getting into that position was a mistake.

Unless, of course, your claim is that Kerry would also have implicitly argued that Iraq was connected to 9/11 while distorting the available evidence to "prove" that Iraq was a threat all to carry out a long-cherished desire of a small but important part of his political base. But I'm sure that's not your claim, since, other than knee-jerk cynicism, there really isn't any evidence at all for thinking it's true.

_Many self-identified libertarians also vote for the big Party candidates due to single issues in a least-of-evils strategy, which I think is a poor strategy._

Why is this poor strategy? Wouldn't much turn on what the single issue is and how important that issue turns out to be? If, for example, the single issue were, say, massive tax cuts, then it might make perfectly good sense for a libertarian to side with a major party candidate based on that single issue. Ditto for, say, ending the drug war as a single issue.

I have to disagree with the

I have to disagree with the idea that "voters don't want libertarianism". If by "libertarianism", one means legalizing heroin, privatizing roads, and abolishing the FDA, then it's true, no doubt.

If, OTOH, by "libertarianism", one means being broadly socially liberal and fiscally conservative, preferring small govt to concentrated power, then I'd say there is a sizable element of "tempermental libertarians" out there, at least in America. Based solely on my interactions with people while living in the South and the Northeast, and interacting on various internet fora, I'd say that about a third of all the people I meet are these "tempermental libertarians".

They may vote Democratic because they are sick of the fundamentalist right, and by default, adopt a lot of leftie positions like greater regulation by the SEC without much thought because they feel more kinship with the left. They may vote Republican because they support the free market (and believe the Republican Party does as well), so they adopt a lot of rightie positions like support of the Drug War without much thought because they feel more kinship with the right.

Most of these people have never heard of the word "libertarian" or of Michael Badnarik or Harry Browne. They simply don't know that there is philosophical position that wants to keep the govt out of the market and out of the bedroom. These are the people most open to libertarian ideas because they are already tempermentally there, if not philosophically, thanks in large part of the culture of American civil society. And they're a huge segment of the public.

Many self-identified libertarians also vote for the big Party candidates due to single issues in a least-of-evils strategy, which I think is a poor strategy. Many voted for Kerry because they opposed the War in Iraq (as if Kerry was going to do anything different in Iraq).

Ha! I'd love it!

Ha! I'd love it!

oui, Lisa, unfortunately you

oui, Lisa, unfortunately you are correct. The first order of business is to ensure you interact with and contribute as little as possible to the mental disorder called goverment. offshore banking, bullion , whatever, just get your wealth out of thier hands. second, stop voting and contributing to the idea that voting is good and is going to 'change things'. its a grotesque charade blown completely out of proportion by the waring factions, of which one should strive to distance oneself as far as possible. if the LP wanted to do anyone a favor they should be WILDLY promoting tax evasion, the gold standard, and capital flight.
at the very least they might get some useful press.

Patri, I think you're

Patri,
I think you're absolutely right that what the voters want is not libertarianism or anything close to it. While I understand where people who push pragmatic libertarianism are coming from, I think they are wasting their energy. Even incremental reform doesn't have much of a future, since once the government starts doing something, people forget how we ever survived without the government doing it (the last time I had a conversation of that sort with someone, the subject was.....trash collection. Ever wonder what we would do without government trash pickup?). Anyway, I don't see that there's a point to the existence of the LP at all. The analogy with a business owner is apt- it doesn't matter how shiny and pretty the package is, the LP is peddling a product nobody wants. The majority of Americans, or even a sizeable minority, are not closet libertarians who are suddenly going to come out into the light because the LP finally couches its message in the right words. That's why I also think alliance with one of the major parties is pointless. People belong to those parties and not the LP because those parties are giving them what they want. The LP is always going to be a bunch of people wailing over freedom that most Americans don't give a crap about.

Nick - I certainly agree

Nick - I certainly agree with your point (d). However its not so clear to me that it is at odds with what he said. (Although I may have read what he said as what I would have said...so I could be misremembering). That is, I don't think he was arguing that the welfare state is a good thing because people vote for it. But rather, that the assumption that people are stupid and we should just argue them into different views is wrong. And that people may be, to some degree, getting what they want.

I think the latter point is important and valid. It is certainly true that the outcomes of voting, due to rational ignorance, etc, are not what the voters would want. But it is *also* true that what the voters want is certainly not libertarianism! Try polling people about any of our major planks, and you will see that they don't want to eliminate social security, or welfare, or medicare, or make heroin legal, etc.

So the voters don't have the same morals we do, and they don't even get what they want. Two reasons why its pointless to harangue them.

Jacob - if what Mr. Browne

Jacob - if what Mr. Browne preaches is "pure libertarianism", then mark me down as a thoroughly impure one! When I've heard him speak, it has been rousing and dishonest demagoguery. You can be passionate about freedom without resorting to that. (Although I suppose when you are passionate about anything, and speaking to a crowd of devotees, its easy to slip into that mode. Still wrong, though).

TJIC - You might want to read Arnold Kling's excellent piece on Type C vs. Type M arguments. You seem to be making a type M argument, and I am rather leery of it. I don't really care if Brin is a libertarian or not, I still agree with his points.

Jonathan - I think you have an excellent point about the nature of elections and politics. Who is more likely to ascend to chief Don among the Mafia? Someone who seeks supporters, promising to kill their enemies and get them lucrative sinecures? Or someone who says "Hey, if you make me chief...I'll, umm...not do anything with my power!". The former will have a coterie of allies, the latter will stand alone.

b-Psycho - I agree that

b-Psycho - I agree that Harry Browne is a preacher. I heard him talk at last year's FreedomFest, and was appalled. Rather than the rationality I expect from libertarians, it was pure political demagougery, full of empty feel-good platitudes. Disgusting.

Josh - I'm not sure whether we'll get anything out of politics by compromise. But we certainly won't get anything out of politics through political non-compromise. So let's throw that one out, and realistically consider our remaining options.

Personally, I think that oceans and space are the only realistic answers for true libertarianism. I don't think the libertarians will ever take over the US, compromising or not. But they can definitely have some impact. I question whether that impact is the most efficient use of their resources...but it is certainly not zero.

But elections aren’t

But elections aren’t simply popularity contests among vote-maximizing entities like the elections in school. There is a fundamental economic aspect to them. Elections are popularity contests between vote-maximizing entities whose primary goal is profit maximization.

I'm not convinced that that's the case. But even if it's not, there's another problem: Forming a third party is a suboptimal strategy in a winner-take-all electoral system. It's much easier to win a Democratic or Republican primary and then a general election against the other party's candidiate than it is to win a three-way general election against both of them. Remember that the only libertarian who's ever had electoral success at a national level in the US is Ron Paul, and he did it by running as a Republican.

Incidentally, the Libertarian party has apparently done quite well in Costa Rica in recent years, where it controls five of 60 congressional seats (they actually won six, but there was a defector). But Costa Rica has a system of proportional representation, so the Libertarians were able to take those seats without getting a plurality of the votes in any district. It doesn't work that way here.

My biggest objection to

My biggest objection to Brin's piece is that his view of voter intelligence is so naive. He argues that

(a) voters ratified the welfare state

(b) voters are not fools, otherwise libertarianism wouldn't work (since libertarianism depends on people being smart enough to take care of themselves)

(c ) therefore we shouldn't have such contempt for the welfare state and its supporters, and shouldn't advocate abolishing it posthaste

But this completely ignores the fact that generally smart people may make dumb decisions politically because they have no incentive to spend time and brain cycles thinking through their political decisions. It's not like you have to be a libertarian to notice this-- Louis Menand, a managerial liberal, had a great recent article in the New Yorker about how most voters make voting decisions for really, really stupid reasons. There's no contradiction in believing that people act intelligently in their personal lives and idiotically in their voting lives.

I can't believe Brin is unaware of this line of argument. Maybe he has a counterargument, but his Liberty piece doesn't even begin to offer one.

Brin is a self-described

Brin is a self-described libertarian. He is one of the primary critics of the "crypto-anarchist" brand of libertarianism. He makes many good points, but I think he comes up short in other ways.

I think a lot of the anguish

I think a lot of the anguish comes from disagreements over the goals of the Libertarian Party. IMO, the best "bang for the buck" comes from the ideas the LP exposes people to: that there is a consistent third philosophical option. That you can be against the Drug War and against Prescription Drug benefits. That you can be an advocate of the market without being an advocate of corporate welfare. Etc.

My first step into libertarianism came from watching Harry Browne give a speech on C-Span. I eventually met some small-l libertarians on the interent, debated with them for a long time, and concluded that I was a big-L Libertarian. Eventually, I found my way to Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, Friedman, etc. It started with Harry Browne.

Many people want the LP to win elections, and when it doesn't, they become frustrated. IMO, believing that the LP can win elections is a pipedream. Those who believe the LP can win elections have a fundamental misunderstanding about politics. They believe it is simply a popularity contest much like the student representative elections in school, and that the only reason the LP hasn't won any elections is that they get wackjobs to be the public face of the Party. IOW, they believe that the LP doesn't win elections because of its organizational shortcomings.

But elections aren't simply popularity contests among vote-maximizing entities like the elections in school. There is a fundamental economic aspect to them. Elections are popularity contests between vote-maximizing entities whose primary goal is profit maximization. Ignoring this point will waste many man-years and lives of time and effort.

To win elections, you have to promise violence to various factions. The violence comes in the form of tariffs, licensing, laws against prostitution, pork, subsidies, entitlements, Drug War, etc. The LP cannot win elections because its platform is fundamentally anti-violence. If it ever wins an election, it will be because it has sold out.

Liberty is an undersupplied public good under winner-takes-all electoral politics.

Having the LP win elections is a noble goal, but the best investment comes from ideas it exposes people to. If it makes people see the arguments for free trade, then it doesn't necessarily matter where those people go for politics - Dems or Repubs - the policy of free trade will be furthered.

A guy higher up in this

A guy higher up in this thread doubted that Brin is a libertarian. I am not sure whether he is or not. Perhaps we should ask him. I do like his fiction.

Josh, you're drawing the

Josh, you're drawing the wrong message from the rise of the religious right. The message is not that blind adherence to ideological purity works but that entryism works. If the RR had set up a purist standalone party instead of a hugely influential block within the republican party, their agenda would be currently furthered approximately to the same extent as that of the LP. This has nothing to do with "compromise" at all unless you hold that compromise is an inevitable feature of any engagement with any political party, in which case the example you hightlit refutes that notion.

Mr. Browne and Mr. Badnarik

Mr. Browne and Mr. Badnarik recognize the need for "pure" libertarianism to be kept alive in public discourse. The open question is whether or not a political party is the best way to do this.

On the one hand, the party is probably in the top 5 most visible libertarian organizations. On the other, the party fails miserably at its stated goals.

I'm confused about David

I'm confused about David Brin.

He's written for Liberty twice that I know of.

I met him once, about five or seven yrs ago, at a book signing in Harvard Square.

I began to ask him a question about his article on the Electoral College that appeared in Liberty.

He cut me off, and ranted for about half an hour on how destructive libertarian politics and selfish individualism were to The Community / The United States / The World / etc. He eventually used up the entire time and had to cut himself off and leave the book signing for another appointment. I got the vibe that the audience (about 20 people) was half pissed at me for asking the question, and half pissed at Brin for going off on a flaming tangent.

Anyway, my strong impression is that Brin is NOT a libertarian, and is not even particularly sympathetic to most libertarian goals. I think that Brin is engaged in a one-man campaign to get libertarians to work on his goals, and to simultaneously undercut libertarianism.

I do not want Liberty magazine to have an ideological litmus test before publishing folks...but on the other hand, I think that libertarians and sympathizers must be aware of where Brin is coming from, and look at any advice that he gives in the context of his beliefs.

Bring and libertarians are not allies; they merely have a few goals in common. When Brin speaks about politics, the only thing we know for sure is that he is working to further his own aims. This is not dishonorable of him...but liberty lovers need to be aware of it.

On the one hand, the party

On the one hand, the party is probably in the top 5 most visible libertarian organizations. On the other, the party fails miserably at its stated goals.

David Friedman's take on the party was that its purpose should be spreading libertarian ideals--not actually being a political power.

David Friedman’s take on

David Friedman’s take on the party was that its purpose should be spreading libertarian ideals–not actually being a political power.

But then, given the resources that we have to expend on spreading libertarian ideals, what is the most efficient use of those resources? I don't think it's a political party. Sure, it would have been worth every penny to have Harry Browne trounce Bush and Gore in a debate seen by tens of millions, but it seems increasingly unlikely that that's going to happen.

I'm inclined to agree.

I'm inclined to agree. Perhaps we should try--like the Scientologists--to convert a few celebrities. If we could get Garofalo, man, that would be something.

You’re right that many

You’re right that many would agree that many people do hold intuitions about justice that say that we ought to reward effort and merit. But that’s something of a red herring, since the question at issue is whether the outcomes of an unfettered market are just.

No, not really, as I believe the outcomes do tend to reward effort and merit.

That’s why I used markets and efficiency interchangeably; perhaps I’m mistaken here, but isn’t efficiency supposed to be the outcome of an unfettered market?

You are mistaken. Efficiency is the outcome of a perfectly competitive market--but "perfectly competitive" is not a synonym for "free," so far as I know.

It’s evident, though, that markets do not reward effort and merit, or at least that they do not necessarily reward effort and merit. Plenty of people prosper in the market because of natural talent, which is far different from merit, and plenty of others who are unlucky put in plenty of effort while reaping little reward.

That's fine, but it's a specifically non-libertarian view of rights. I do hold that merit includes natural talent and the luck of the draw.

But that latter claim, it seems to me, is exactly the one that a pure libertarian needs to defend. And an appeal to merit and effort, while not an absurd appeal, is also not a workable one.

I hear Nozick defended it ably, though obviously, many disagree. Regardless, I think the meritorious and consensual nature of an unfettered market is defensible as just. I'm not surprised that you disagree, along with many others, but the view of the free market I hold is not--to my knowledge--an alien one.

Nicholas: _In order to claim

Nicholas: _In order to claim that the market produces unjust outcomes you have to have a non-market way of deciding what a just outcome is that works better than the market process._

This doesn't follow at all. Why should it be the case that I have to offer a complete alternative to the market as a mechanism for determining just outcomes? I needn't do that any more than I must, in criticizing specific outcomes in criminal trials, offer some alternative mechanism for generating verdicts. In the case of the law, I need only allow some kind of formal corrective procedure that allows me to trump procedural justice when it conflicts with objective justice. We can argue about what those procedures ought to look like, but it hardly follows that I need to offer a different procedure for determining outcomes.

Similarly, it doesn't follow that I need to offer an entirely new mechanism for generating fair outcomes. I am perfectly happy to admit that markets are a nice first approximation of distributive justice. I would, however, propose formal procedures for correcting markets when they conflict with distributive justice.

_Though the market does not distinguish between the unlucky and undeserving, neither does a tax distinguish between the lucky and the deserving; it robs the lottery winner and the hardworking entrepreneur alike._

You are assuming here that the hardworking entrepreneur is not also a lottery winner. There is good reason to think, though, that even hard work is a product of the lottery. After all, your willingness to work hard is either (a) genetic or (b) something instilled into you by your particular environment. Either way, it's undeserved. This is not to say that there isn't some element of merit for those who have success in the market. After all, individuals still have to choose to exercise their talents, and those who do so deserve to be rewarded for that choice. But I would object to thinking that there is a difference in kind between, say, Bill Gates and Paris Hilton. There is _some_ moral difference between the two, but mostly the difference is one of degree. Both, however, won the natural lottery, so, no, I don't particularly mind taxing each one.

Scott, _Efficiency is the

Scott,

_Efficiency is the outcome of a perfectly competitive market–but “perfectly competitive” is not a synonym for “free,” so far as I know._

Actually, _perfect_ efficiency would be the outcome of a perfectly competitive market. "As efficient as it's possible to be" is supposed to be the outcome of a free market, no?

_I do hold that merit includes natural talent and the luck of the draw._

This is what some logic books refer to as a definitional dodge. You are welcome to use the word 'merit' in this way, but it's not what anyone else means by the word. Indeed, it's exactly what is _not_ usually meant by merit, which deals with being worthy of or entitled to something. The luck of the draw, however, is pretty much not something to which you are entitled. If it were, it wouldn't _be_ the luck of the draw.

_I hear Nozick defended it ably, though obviously, many disagree._

Although rumors of Nozick's defection from libertarianism have been greatly exaggerated, it is on exactly this point that Nozick does defect. But even if he didn't, so what? I didn't say that no one had tried to defend the claim or that one would have to be insane to defend the claim. I only said that defenses of the claim fail.

My quick response, though,

My quick response, though, would be to say that these kinds of positive arguments don’t seem to carry all that much weight in terms of what really will, at the end of the day, be a normative argument about what we ought to do. Who cares, really, that political arrangements might interfere with economic efficiency? Unless you can show that there is some reason why efficiency ought to be preferred to (some) inefficiency, then all the social science in the world just isn’t going to be terribly convincing.

I find this view quite suprising coming from a utilitarian. Don't you agree that general happiness, peace, and prosperity are values shared by almost everyone? So if our positive arguments indicate that one system is more likely than another to bring about those things, then people will care. We don't need to invoke any particular morality beyond the fact that everyone wants to be happy, and peace, wealth, and prosperity accomplish that.

To me, that is exactly the power of positive and consequentalist libertarianism. The QED at the end of an argument is because everyone wants to be happy, not because we've axiomatically deduced a fundamental moral truth about the universe. Are you really unmoved by such arguments?