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).

Share this

Scott: yeah, that last bit

Scott: yeah, that last bit was overly emotional. Sorry (and sorry in advance also to Joe). It's just that, well, my moral intuitions are quite strongly anti-instrumental; when people talk blithely about treating other people-- not just their possessions, but the people themselves, their own talents and skills and decisions-- as means to collective ends, I sometimes get too heated in response.

Patri, What you suggest is

Patri,

What you suggest is not a set of purely positive arguments as Jonathan suggests. Rather, what you offer is a two-part response: a set of positive arguments combined with a normative claim about the value of maximizing aggregate happiness. As I mentioned much earlier in the thread, I think that sort of response (and yours is, frankly, the one in had in mind here) is probably the most promising argument for libertarianism.

What I was trying to argue, though, is that the defense you give is precisely not the sort of "pure" libertarianism that many commentators here wanted to defend.

It's also still the case that your argument does make normative appeals, they are just appeals to a different set of ought claims. Indeed, all utilitarian appeals will have to have both a normative claim and a factual claim, roughly of the sort: Action A will maximize overall utility AND One ought to perform and action A if A maximizes overall utility. Jonathan's argument, at least as presented, left off the last part. So I stand by my claim that positive arguments, shorn of _any_ normative claims are not, themselves, evidence for any particular position at all.

Joe: Actually, perfect

Joe:

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?

No. A free market may very well result in externalities and monopoly power, which in theory can be regulated by governments to more efficient levels.

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 disagree. Looking through a dictionary right now, I see nothing specifying that merit not include natural abilities. If it is a dictionary dodge, it is one committed by Webster's.

In fact, your parsing of the word seems to me to be the dodge. You have carved merit into something which assuredly does not include natural abilities, which seems to me somewhat forced.

I buy a lottery ticket and win. Is the prize something to which I am not entitled?

Personally, I think I'm entitled.

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.

Even if he did, so what?

Your original claim was that libertarianism is not morally defensible "at all," which to my reading, is far stronger than saying that its defenses fail.

Moreover, even if its defenses fail that is only an argument for its abandonment if there is some more just philosophy available to adopt. I know of none, your utilitarianism included, with no offense intended.

Nick, I sympathize

Nick, I sympathize completely. But Joe means well; the least we can do is return the respect he offers.

Scott, Actually, my

Scott,

Actually, my definition came from the dictionary, from the definition of merit as a verb (i.e., to merit). It's the very first meaning of the word. And since dictionaries provide lexical definitions of words (that is, they assign meanings to words based on how the words are actually used), I think it's safe to conclude that it's your use of the word 'merit' that is unorthodox.

As for your lottery example, that's not the same thing, though it's an example I've seen used before here. When I buy a lottery ticket, I and all of the others who buy tickets are consenting to entering a contest, the result of which is that one (or maybe a few) of us will randomly win a big pool of money. I'm entitled to my winnings because it's a game that I consented to play knowing the stakes.

The lottery of life is nothing like that. No one gets the opportunity to consent to play by some particular set of rules. And it's not clear ahead of time that we _would_ consent to play the game ahead of time. Though I don't fully buy into his maximin strategy, I think that Rawls is right to say that, behind a veil of ignorance, most of us won't consent to a system that rewards people for traits that they don't get any choice over.

If you want to show that I'm entitled to my talents, you'll have to do better than the lottery analogy.

_Moreover, even if its defenses fail that is only an argument for its abandonment if there is some more just philosophy available to adopt. I know of none, your utilitarianism included, with no offense intended._

None taken. Of course it's pretty unlikely that you would find anything more just as long as you keep your odd definition of merit in place. No offense intended, either. :razz:

Joe, Let me try to restate

Joe,

Let me try to restate what I said about just outcomes. Again, let's start with your analogy. If A is convicted and I think that's wrong because I know A didn't do it, I don't have to propose an alternative trial mechanism, but I do have to have a good reason why I know A didn't do it, and that reason has to be epistemologically clear enough that I can be confident the court process (which is a generally good process) is in this case wrong and I'm right.

Similarly, suppose I think the economic outcome A derives from the market is unjust. I don't have to propose an alternative economic mechanism to say this, but I do have to have a good reason, epistemologically justifying a high confidence level, for why A's outcome is unjust. What I'm claiming is that most people's sentimental intuitions about desert do not provide such a good reason.

(Aside: you keep talking about "objective justice". I dispute that any such thing exists. Justice is a human construct, not an attribute of the cosmos.)

On lotteries and entrepreneurs, well, the normative gulf between us grows ever wider. I reject the notion that every hard worker is really a lottery winner because

(a) none of us really can know with any confidence how much of successful people's success comes from innate factors and how much from choices

(b) even if it's mostly innate, it doesn't matter, because of self-ownership. A person's innate talents, "deserved" or not (and as I've said I think the whole concept of substantive desert is useless), are his property alone; they do not belong to the community at large and may not be coercively redirected to whatever end will maximize overall human happiness; to state otherwise is absolutely tantamount to the advocacy of slavery.

Jonathan, Given your

Jonathan,

Given your definition of libertarianism, I'm willing to stand corrected. I have some reservations about your definition, though I'm sure that you could provide a more detailed account. I would worry about exactly how socially liberal and fiscally conservative one has to be to count as a libertarian on your view. Do you get to count, say, Rudi Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger as libertarians?

For that matter, I would argue that the federal government ought not spend more than it takes in, should deregulate a number of industries, eliminate subsidies for industry and for agriculture, and reduce or eliminate entirely tariffs on imports. By contemporary standards, that makes _me_ verge on fiscal conservatism. And while I think libertarianism has more going for it than many of my liberal peers (hence my continued presence here), I would hardly call myself a libertarian, and I would worry about any definition that might make me a member by default.

Joe, Again, I disagree with

Joe,

Again, I disagree with your conclusion that libertarians are a tiny minority because the LP gets so few votes. Yes, there are few big-L Libertarians and even fewer small-l libertarians by standards many "pure libertarians" use.

But if you consider someone who is broadly socially liberal and fiscally conservative a libertarian, as I do, then there is a significant fraction of the American public who are libertarians. They are not the majority, but they are a sizable fraction. They favor the market (broadly speaking), support free trade, competition instead of monopoly, etc while also supporting medical marijuana and opposing government intrusion into private lives.

So why so few Libertarian Party voters? Obviously these small l-libertarians are not as extreme in their views as the LP. But I don't think that's the only answer or even the main answer. I firmly believe that the libertarian split of economic issues with the conservatives and social issues with the lefties is no coincidence.

Instead, I believe that the two-party system is an equilibrium point in a liberal democracy structured like ours. I have written about this in the past:

Hypothetical Question on Political Parties

Hypothetical Answer on Political Parties

So my best answer to why so few small l-libertarians who are sizable in number but don't vote for the LP is that the structure of politics favors two-party outcomes and tends to split libertarians down the middle.

Joe: Actually, my definition

Joe:

Actually, my definition came from the dictionary, from the definition of merit as a verb (i.e., to merit). It’s the very first meaning of the word. And since dictionaries provide lexical definitions of words (that is, they assign meanings to words based on how the words are actually used), I think it’s safe to conclude that it’s your use of the word ‘merit’ that is unorthodox.

Joe, I'm using Webster's. Nowhere in the verb or noun entries do I see anything implying that natural abilities do not count in the definition.

If you want to show that I’m entitled to my talents, you’ll have to do better than the lottery analogy.

If you want to show that I'm not entitled to my talents, you'll have to do better than utilizing your own notions of justice.

None taken. Of course it’s pretty unlikely that you would find anything more just as long as you keep your odd definition of merit in place. No offense intended, either.

Likewise on every single point. As it stands, I tried liberalism wholeheartedly, but in the end didn't find it terribly appealing. Much of our first semester in law school was investigation of Kantian and Rawlsian theories. Indeed, much of what we do at law school is, quite rightly, intended to answer the question of "What is just?"

Skpetical as I am of my own morals, nothing has convinced me I'm wrong. And after the investigation I've undertaken, I am quite skeptical that there is some answer out there able to change my mind.

Though I don’t fully buy into his maximin strategy, I think that Rawls is right to say that, behind a veil of ignorance, most of us won’t consent to a system that rewards people for traits that they don’t get any choice over.

Most lottery players consent to a system that rewards people through mechanisms that they don't get any choice over: I don't get to pick the balls from the tumbler, after all. I still buy the ticket.

You, and Rawls, are making guesses about what people would do in a mythical metaphor. I have a different guess. Nothing you have said suggests I'm wrong. Or right, for that matter.

Nick: ...to state otherwise

Nick:

...to state otherwise is absolutely tantamount to the advocacy of slavery.

I agree, as it stands, but pray let's not be more dramatic than we need be.

Joe, the reason why

Joe, the reason why ownership of one's talents-- "deserved" or otherwise-- matters is that to establish the legitimacy of taking something by force from someone else, the entity doing the taking has to establish that they have an ownership claim to what's being taken. If the government may take part of the fruits of A's talents from him by force, it follows that the government partly owns those talents.

Likewise, if you agree that we can't tell how much of any given individual's success is due to "deserved" factors, then "welfare capitalism lets you keep most of it" isn't an excuse. If you want to tax some portion of an individual's income away by force, the burden of proof is on you to show that they don't rightfully own, or don't "deserve" if you prefer, the portion you're taxing away. If you admit that no such showing can be made in any individual case, you can't justify taxation.

BTW, the scare quotes around "deserve" are quite deliberate. I don't think the philosophically worked-out notions of desert are any better than the naive ones; the whole concept seems to me useless.

So you may be cheating by

So you may be cheating by bringing your preference for running risks behind the veil.

By the same token, you may be cheating by bringing your preference for avoiding risks behind the veil.

Do you really find it so odd to say that some people are not worthy of their talents? Does a claim like, “Someone who is such a jerk doesn’t deserve to look that good” really seem so terribly foreign?

"Looking good" is not what comes to mind when I hear the word "talent." I think of skill at the piano or something along those lines.

It doesn’t strike me as crazy at all to think that a complete degenerate–a misogynist, racist, wife-beating, child-molesting, rapist–who happens to paint well is somehow worthy of having such great talent.

Not crazy, but I do find the claim odd. It would be as if you said to me, "Somebody so good at painting doesn't deserve to be burdened with proclivities for misogyny, racism, spousal abuse, child molestation, and raping."

I just don’t see how one can disconnect a notion of merit, a term loaded with normative content (hence it’s close connection to a term like ‘desert’), from some reference to autonomy.

Nor do I, but I don't see how you can disconnect autonomy from innate talents.

One can deserve a better seat on the bus for many reasons (I paid for it; I’m a hero; I got here first), but one merits that seat by virtue of some past action, not simply by virtue of some arbitrary trait that my society happens to say is a good trait.

Of course those reasons by your view seem equally arbitrary: just because you were lucky enough to have ambition for gaining money, or be in the position of being able to gain money. Just because you were lucky enough to not be a paraplegic. Just because you were lucky enough to be born. Just because you were born with longer legs than I and thus were able to run faster and make it to the bus before me. I don't see how one can possibly divorce merit from one's innate abilities. Your usage remains quite odd to me.

These are the ways that people normally use the terms ‘merit’ and ‘desert’ and the like. To think otherwise is to have spent too much time hanging around with other libertarians.

There's no need to get personal.

It is your usage that strikes me as abnormal, and it will continue to do so no matter how long you assert that the converse is the case. As it stands, a very small percentage of my friends, and a small percentage of those I hang out with, are libertarians. My parents are not libertarians. My classmates are leftists. My professors are every one of them bleeding heart liberals.

Not many others share those intutions, nor do they share your use of language.

And the same to you.

(Didn’t you write on just this topic not so long ago?)

No, I do not recall making any attempt to quantify what percentage of people shared my intuitions or definitions.

You don’t have to agree with that use; but to the extent you use terms in ways that they aren’t commonly used, you have to acknowledge that fact up front.

Likewise.

Nowhere in that exchange do I try to undermine libertarianism.

Excluding, I imagine, when you said you suspect that libertarianism is not "morally defensible at all?"

Incidentally, since this intuition about deserving one’s talents really is the core intution required to make libertarianism work, I suspect that if most people really did share your understanding, it would be libertarians who were losing elections by a few thousand votes and liberals who would be wondering why there are so few of us.

You're assuming the democratic process works. I reject that assumption.

Joe - as you may have seen,

Joe - as you may have seen, I am generally bewildered by "pure" libertarianism, so I have no idea what a coherent positive claim would look like. I've never seen anything resembling one, myself. That is, they all must start with certain axioms, and I see no reason to accept their axioms. Lots of people disagree on the axioms, hence on the moral theory.

_Yes, I admit it’s

_Yes, I admit it’s different, but it does establish that people have taste for risks, gambles and gains. It is by no means clear that that taste would somehow vanish if the stakes were rather high, nor does it follow that people would fail to gamble if they weren’t allowed out of the game._

I agree with this entirely, which is precisely why I'm not a Rawlsian. I think that maximin is entirely too conservative; Rawls assumes that no one will run any risks at all.

I actually think that constrained utility maximization is far more rational as a strategy behind the veil of ignorance. I won't go for just any utility-maximizing strategy, since some of those could possible have outcomes that are disastrous. So after ruling out all of the arrangements that result in disaster for some members of society, I'll choose the one from among those remaining that maximizes expected utility.

In Rawls' defense, though, risk-taking is a personal attribute, one that varies from person to person. Some people are happy to take risks that others would never take (how else does one explain bungee jumping?) But because risk-taking is a personal characteristic, it's not actually allowed behind the veil of ignorance. Since you can't know you'll be a risk-taker when you're behind the veil, Rawls thinks it's rational to make sure that you'll be okay even if you turn out not to be a risk-taker. So you may be cheating by bringing your preference for running risks behind the veil.

_The phrase “people aren’t worthy of their talents” strikes me as supremely odd–and I imagine others would feel the same. This reinforces my notion that you are bending the language._

Do you really find it so odd to say that some people are not worthy of their talents? Does a claim like, "Someone who is such a jerk doesn't deserve to look that good" really seem so terribly foreign? Don't people say things like this all the time? It doesn't strike me as crazy at all to think that a complete degenerate--a misogynist, racist, wife-beating, child-molesting, rapist--who happens to paint well is somehow worthy of having such great talent.

I just don't see how one can disconnect a notion of merit, a term loaded with normative content (hence it's close connection to a term like 'desert'), from some reference to autonomy. I can only deserve things to the extent that those things are a product of my own actions. That's typically the argument given for punishing an innocent person; innocents don't deserve to be punished because they did not do anything to merit punishment. Conversely, it's this style of argument that we use to reject racism. It's wrong to say that white people deserve better seats on the bus because being white is not the sort of trait that connects up to desert. One can deserve a better seat on the bus for many reasons (I paid for it; I'm a hero; I got here first), but one merits that seat by virtue of some past action, not simply by virtue of some arbitrary trait that my society happens to say is a good trait.

These are the ways that people normally use the terms 'merit' and 'desert' and the like. To think otherwise is to have spent too much time hanging around with other libertarians. Not many others share those intutions, nor do they share your use of language. (Didn't you write on just this topic not so long ago?) You don't have to agree with that use; but to the extent you use terms in ways that they aren't commonly used, you have to acknowledge that fact up front.

_Of course it does. And, by the same token, requiring me to show that libertarianism follows from non-libertarian conceptions of justice stacks the deck against me._

But the point of our exchange wasn't that I was asking you to reject libertarianism on the basis of non-libertarian conceptions of justice. I began by pointing out that most people don't _have_ libertarian conceptions of justice, and that you were using words in non-standard ways. You responded with an analogy to show that people really do reason in a libertarian way. I gave you reasons for thinking that the analogy didn't work. Nowhere in that exchange do I try to undermine libertarianism. I just asked for a better defense of the claim that people's intuitions really are libertarian.

Incidentally, since this intuition about deserving one's talents really is the core intution required to make libertarianism work, I suspect that if most people really did share your understanding, it would be libertarians who were losing elections by a few thousand votes and liberals who would be wondering why there are so few of us. :smile:

(Thanks, I guess, for the

(Thanks, I guess, for the backhanded defense, too Scott. “He means well"?!?)

I was trying to be cute.

If you mean, “nowhere does

If you mean, “nowhere does the dictionary say ‘merit can’t include natural talents’” well, yeah. But it does say that merit involves being worthy of, and many people aren’t worthy of their talents. Incidentally, the American Heritage (my old college dictionary, 10th ed) is actually much clearer on the question, defining merit (v) explicitly as desert.

Thank you. The phrase "people aren't worthy of their talents" strikes me as supremely odd--and I imagine others would feel the same. This reinforces my notion that you are bending the language. You are reading your own notions into the definition--that's fine, I'm doing the same thing. But you haven't given any reason for me to think your reading is the superior one. You say: "When people say 'merit,' they mean this." I think they mean something else. Perhaps you're right, but you've given no reason for me to believe that.

My point about the lottery example is that it’s not actually analogous. The lottery example involves consent in a way that getting some set of talents does not (indeed, can not). That feature is morally relevant, and it undermines the analogy.

It distinguishes it, whether fatally so or not is arguable.

I’m not sure, though, what your response is supposed to mean. Am I required to show that libertarianism doesn’t follow from a libertarian conception of justice? That seems to stack the deck a bit, no?

Of course it does. And, by the same token, requiring me to show that libertarianism follows from non-libertarian conceptions of justice stacks the deck against me.

Yes, but the difference is that if you don’t like the mechanism, you don’t have to play. And, at the end of the day, the stakes in the sorts of lottery you’re talking about are pretty low. It’s a couple of bucks for a ticket; lose and you’re not out much. The “natural lottery,” to use Rawls’ term, has rather higher stakes.

Yes, I admit it's different, but it does establish that people have taste for risks, gambles and gains. It is by no means clear that that taste would somehow vanish if the stakes were rather high, nor does it follow that people would fail to gamble if they weren't allowed out of the game.

I am not saying you are wrong about what people would do behind a veil of ignorance. I'm saying I see little reason to believe you're right.

_(Aside: you keep talking

_(Aside: you keep talking about “objective justice". I dispute that any such thing exists. Justice is a human construct, not an attribute of the cosmos.)_

Sorry, I should have been clearer. I don't mean to imply that there is some sort of grand cosmic justice out there. In philosophy, particularly legal philosophy, "objective justice" usually just means, "Did he do it?" Because that's often hard to tell, we rely upon procedural justice as the best way of approximating objective justice. Sometimes, though, we can determine that procedural justice went awry, as, for example, when DNA evidence later clears a wrongly-accused rapist.

_Scott: I’m using Webster’s. Nowhere in the verb or noun entries do I see anything implying that natural abilities do not count in the definition._

If you mean, "nowhere does the dictionary say 'merit can't include natural talents'" well, yeah. But it does say that merit involves being worthy of, and many people aren't worthy of their talents. Incidentally, the American Heritage (my old college dictionary, 10th ed) is actually much clearer on the question, defining merit (v) explicitly as desert.

_Joe: If you want to show that I’m entitled to my talents, you’ll have to do better than the lottery analogy._

_Scott: If you want to show that I’m not entitled to my talents, you’ll have to do better than utilizing your own notions of justice._

My point about the lottery example is that it's not actually analogous. The lottery example involves consent in a way that getting some set of talents does not (indeed, can not). That feature is morally relevant, and it undermines the analogy. I'm not sure, though, what your response is supposed to mean. Am I required to show that libertarianism doesn't follow from a libertarian conception of justice? That seems to stack the deck a bit, no?

_Nicholas: What I’m claiming is that most people’s sentimental intuitions about desert do not provide such a good reason._

No doubt. But I'm not appealing to untutored intuitions about desert. I'm appealing to worked out philosophical conceptions of desert. There is a nice section on merit (from liberal perspectives) in John Arthur and William Shaw's _Justice and Economic Distribution_, 2nd ed. You'll find, I think, that my account is actually more moderate than what you'll see there.

_Scott: Most lottery players consent to a system that rewards people through mechanisms that they don’t get any choice over: I don’t get to pick the balls from the tumbler, after all. I still buy the ticket._

Yes, but the difference is that if you don't like the mechanism, you don't have to play. And, at the end of the day, the stakes in the sorts of lottery you're talking about are pretty low. It's a couple of bucks for a ticket; lose and you're not out much. The "natural lottery," to use Rawls' term, has rather higher stakes.

_Brandon: Mr. Miller_

If you don't mind my calling you Brandon, then I'd be happy to have you call me Joe. I'm not _that much_ older than you.

Mr. Miller: I don't see how

Mr. Miller:

I don't see how you can draw distinctions between unearned talent and merit without an all-out assault on the very concept of merit. Suppose that A has a strong talent for some trade but is very lazy, while B lacks this talent but is very diligent. Suppose further that both work in this trade, and that they are equally productive due to B working much harder.

Would you say, then, that B's merit is greater than A's? If so, why? What is laziness but an unusually keen sense of the disutility of labor? If A works only half as many hours as B, but if he experiences greater displeasure working 30 hours per week than B does working 60 hours per week, then how can we say that B's merit is greater? Why is B's relative insensitivity to the disutility of labor any more an earned asset than A's talent?

Once we've explained all differences in productivity in terms of natural tendencies--and who's to say what's a natural tendency and what isn't?--the concept of merit, as you define it, becomes meaningless. Progression from here to the communist ideal seems irresistible.

Nicholas, Scott, and

Nicholas, Scott, and Brandon:

Thanks for the apology, though none really was needed. (Thanks, I guess, for the backhanded defense, too Scott. "He means well"?!?) I hadn't taken offense at all. I don't mind having my views criticized as long as the discourse is civilized, and I've never read anything that was otherwise from you.

That said, I disagree entirely with your characterization of my views as tantamount to slavery (surprise). I don't see how that really follows. To say that you don't deserve your talents and thus don't own them in the strong sense that you and Nozick and Scott maintain isn't necessarily to say that someone else does own your talents. Indeed, I would hardly go so far as to say that the fact that certain talents reside in you is morally irrelevant. It's certainly morally irrelevant that you happen to have gotten those talents, but it is relevant that they are there now and that _only you_ can make use of them now.

That is why I don't think slavery is an apt description and why I don't think, Brandon, that the view pushes me all the way to communism. Unlike the communist, I recognize that talents have to be exercised by the individual in which they reside, and that people often require some external motivation to develop and exercise those talents (not always, but often enough). That's why I'm still a capitalist and a defender of free trade; these seem like the best things going as far as encouraging people to develop their talents.

Incidentally, that argument drives my response to your example, Brandon. In the example as you give it, A and B would presumably receive roughly equivalent wages, since they are of equal productivity (no, the real world never works so neatly, but the example is already pretty much entirely in the realm of theoretical possibility). The whole point of capitalism is to encourage A to work harder by, say, offering him more money as he increases his productivity. For some people, the tradeoff may never motivate them fully; 20 more hours of my free time might not be worth, to me, what you're offering to pay me. If no one else can be tempted by the same offer, then you'll have to raise your pay until it's worth it to someone.

What your example seems to do is to ignore free will. It may be that I have certain talents. And it may be that I'm naturally lazy. But at the end of the day, I still have to choose whether or not I will act on my natural tendencies or whether I will buck those tendencies and work hard even though I really don't want to. Capitalism helps to provide incentives to overcome those sorts of habits. After all, it may well be true that I'm not responsible for the fact that I'm naturally lazy, but that doesn't mean that anyone has to regard your natural laziness as a _good_ thing.

All of you are right that it's awfully hard to tell, then, how much of what a person produces is due to things she doesn't deserve (talents and the like) and how much of it is due to things that she does (the decision to develop those talents and apply them productively). Ditto for luck; sometimes hard work and talent together still aren't sufficient for market success. Figuring out what percentage you actually deserve is too hard to do on an individual basis. Welfare capitalists, by and large, let you keep most of what you earn. I just don't see how that's slavery at all. Certainly it's not communism.

That is, [coherent positive

That is, [coherent positive claims] all must start with certain axioms, and I see no reason to accept their axioms. Lots of people disagree on the axioms, hence on the moral theory.

Interestingly enough, all claims rely on some axioms, e.g. "the future will resemble the past."

Of course, some axioms are, as you point out, much closer to being universally held than others.

Wayne - nice to see you

Wayne - nice to see you here. It is certainly true that the LP hasserved to recruit many, and that is a useful purpose. But I think its important not to lose our rational focus and get caught up in politicking. Its also important for the LP to be realistic about its chances. Otherwise people may come, decide libertarians are nuts for thinking they can get elected, and leave.