Decnavda's Dialectic 



A Left Libertarian Blog
Decnavda is a member of the California Bar. To contact Decnavda, click here.

What is a Left Libertarian?

U.S. Tax Court
Stuart Levine's TaxBiz
A Taxing Blog
Legal bitstream
Taxing Thoughts
Max Sawicky
Citizens for Tax Justice

< ? law blogs # >

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Site Meter


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Freedom - It's Good for Women, Too!

chris dillow wrote a post endorsing compulsory abortions for young women who cannot prove they have the means, both economically and socially, to bring the children up right. He cited a famous study by Steve Levitt that showed that legalizing abortions in the U.S. in 1970 lead to a sharp decrease in crime in the 1990's. He then quoted a long exert from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty that said, in part, "To undertake this responsibility - to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing - unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being." I wrote the following in the comments:

The above said, I still disagree with this post. The quote from Mill is in a sense technically correct - restrictions on reproduction are not violations of individual liberty because there are other individuals directly (the children) and indirectly (the society that must share the earth with the new person) affected.
However, Mill is here forgetting everything else in On Liberty about the benefits of diversity of lifestyles and distributing decision-making to the individuals with most direct knowledge of the particular situation.
Levitt's work makes no argument at all for compulsory abortions. Levitt's work shows that the abortion policy of the U.S. in the 70's and on lead to less crime than the abotion policy of the U.S. prior to the seventies. What was the old policy? Restrictions on abortion by most states. What is the new policy? Individual choice about abortion by the woman having the abortion. Levitt's work shows that when women are given a choice about abortion, they make better choices than when abortion is restricted.
AT MOST, this would support experimenting with compulsory abortions in limited jurisdictions as an emprical study to determin if compulsory abortions produce better outcomes than individual choice. But for someone who regularly complains (usually correctly) about "managerialism" in economic policy to describe a study showing individual choice produces better outcomes than government regulation as "a respectable utilitarian case" for government regulation in the opposite direction is bizzare. Maybe, just maybe, what the study indicates is that the belief that individuals tend, as a general rule, to make better decisions than central planners applies to the social realm as well as the economic.

Update: chris write in comments that he opposes utilitariansim and agrees with me about compulsory abortion. He goes on to state, "If we had a sensible welfare state - a basic income with no extra support for parents - the problem of teen mothers would diminish, as I suspect would the numbers of them." Well, I support a basic income, and the parent thing I will not go into for now, so good for him. Presumably then, his post was meant, in part, to impune utilitarianism. I am not a utilitarian, so that's okay by me, but I think even the utilitarian case for compulsory abortion is weaker than he suggests.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Government vs. Freedom?

I wrote the folloeing in the comments section to this post by Matt Welch:

Everybody here who can not see how the Democrats could ever be moved in a libertarian direction is clinging to a traditional (right) libertarian assumption that is emperically untrue. Braodly speaking, the libertarian project in America has been about aiming toward three over-arching goals:

1. Greater economic freedom
2. Greater social freedom
3. Less government

How is it going? In my lifetime:

1. Economic freedom has increased dramaticly. Lots of deregulation, no more wage & price controls, much greater free trade.
2. Social freedom has increased dramaticly. Women and minorities make gradual gains every year, there is more sex in every media each year, and gays can marry in one state.
3. The government has increased dramaticly, both in real terms and as a percentage of the national economy.

I have seen optomistic libetarians point to the first two accomplishments and predict the eventual whithering away of the government. And I have seen pessimistic libertarians point to the last "failure" and predict we will soon be living in a totalitarian theocracy.

Now, I do not necessarily believe that bigger government caused the gains in freedoms, but the emperical evidence proves one fact beyond a doubt: Big government is not necessarily incompatible with freedom.

And I would definately argue that some forms of big government could certainly cuase greater freedom. Matt can lecture the rest of you about how national health insurance can promote freedom. I argue that a basic income would promote freedom when compared to the current Nanny Welfare State. Heck, the highway system, people? Don't you like being able to drive to anyplace you want?

Are some government programs EVIL? Of course. (Poster child - The Drug War) Can some goverment programs be administered in a more pro-freedom fashion? Again, yes. (My basic income vs. welfare state example) But a vision of libertarianism that recognizes that government is not always the emeny - and can even, on occasion, be an ally - is a vision of libertarianism that can gain power in the Democratic Party.

Ego Post

Cool! Ampersand "elevated" one of my comments to the introduction of another post.

I should probably write more about this from a left-libertarian POV, but I am really am confused about this at the moment. I am fat, I support government health research, I am skeptical of the current anti-fat research, I want to lose weight, I need to eat healthier and exercise more regardless of my weight, I think health and safety issues offer the best argument for overcoming libertarian presumptions, and I do not want the government regulating what people eat.

So I really am confused about this. Worse, I really was eating Pop Tarts.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Homophobia used to be a good idea

I wrote the following in the comments to this post at Alas, a Blog:

This is a good post, but there is a word I was surprised not to find in it - rape.
I did an independent study in law school on this subject, writing what amounted to a master's thesis. I was specifically looking for the origins of legal repression of homosexuality. It turns out there was very little repression of lesbianism prior to the 20th century, and all of the repression of male homosexuality had to do with sodomy. At one point in my research, I read Dowrkin's Intercourse and got the epiphany. My understanding of Intercourse was that Dworkin thought that sex was natually rape, but more importantly, that this was not radical, but the TRADITIONAL view of sex. Consider the famous statement of the California state Senator to the feminists lobbying to criminalize marital rape: "But if you can't rape your wife, who can you rape?" Was this traditionalist's view of sex any different from the view conservatives "smear" Dworkin for having?
Foucault's History of Sex Part I revealed that while male homosexuality was common in the Greco-Roman culture, it always involved a man of superior status "using" a young man of inferior status, and writers of the time considered this a big problem for someone who would eventually be a citizen to be used this way for sex. The Greco-Roman view of sex was also very violent, with rape being Zues's favorite hobby.
Essentially, the development of homophobia in the West was a cultural advancement: Its purpose was to protect men from rape.
Feminism is therefore a necessary precusor to gay rights. We have to accept that no one deserves to be raped before there is no longer a cultural need for homophobia. Otherwise, we risk going back to the Greco-Roman view of sex, which was worse than what the American tradtionalists are defending.

Would reporters have treated Clinton this badly?

Shorter David "Not Rush" Limbaugh: Waahhh!! Reporters are asking question of the Presidential Spokesman that are not properly differential to our magnanimous overlord!

At least Republicans are not hypocrits

Shorter Rich Lowry: It is okay for Republicans to promote conservative women and minorities for political advantage, because they admit to being racist and sexist. But when Democrats target conservative women and minorities for the exact same reasons, they are being hypocrits because they are betraying their ideals.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Creative Commons

I have added a Creative Commons license to this blog. I doubt it will have any effect at all on anyone publishing my stuff, but I want to add my "vote" to the millions who have supported the concept. Plus, Larry Lessig's wife is an attorney in my firm. I believe the version I picked, attribution, non-comercial, share alike, will eventually become a standard for digital media, and will be where artists and writers start off, with the most famous then perculating up into for-profit commercial venues.

We can also pause here and consider the problem that all intelectual property poses for deontological right-libertarianism. One of two positions are logically possible.

The first is that intellectual property should not exist. There is no "thing" that can be owned, and the government creation of a monopoly on the use of an idea is close to mind control. But than how do you compensate creators for the good that they add to the world? And how to you provide for economic support for the creation of arts and inventions? Sure, eliminating intellectual property would have little effect on the creation of new music, short stories, and political commentary. But how could you fund the next Hollywood blockbuster or the next treatment for cancer?

The second possibility is the other extreme. Unlike objects made from material that existed in the universe befor humans arrived, intellectual property represents a pure creation of the labor of a sentient being. Therefor, intelectual property rights should be absolute and last forever. We have a moral duty not to publish or perform the works of Sophocles unless we track down his decendants and pay them royalties for the use of his works. (Unless some intermediate decendant voluntarily transfered those rights to others, and then we must track down the decendants in interest of Sophocles' intellectual property rights.)

Some deontological left-libertarians may have such problems as well, but most would say that your labor gives you only a life estate in the property you create and therefore declare that intellectual property terminates when the creator does. (A corporation being a creation of laws, if the left-libertarian believes they should exist, she can just state that there is no problem in legislating the length of corporate copywrite, if she also believes copywrites should exist.)

I am not a deontologist, I am a consequentialist social contractarian, so I have none of those problems.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bruce Bartlett took a hit of LSD

That's the only explanation I can think of. Bruce Barlett is one of the more lucid conservative commentators out there. But the following is the opening paragraph of his new column:

I don't believe in coincidences in politics. When I see the Wall Street Journal and New York Times both running big front-page stories within two days of each other on a subject that isn't remotely time sensitive, I know that something is going on. More than likely, it signals the beginning of an organized campaign by the liberal media to gin up an issue for the Democrats.

Okay, he is entitled to the general conservative belief that the mainstream media is the "liberal media", a fading-but-still-slightly-true characterization. And he is certainly entitle to call the New York Times "liberal". In any other industrialized country it would be "centrist", but here, okay, "liberal". And he is also entitled to present his (probably wrong) case against the thesis that there is little class mobility in America.

But the Wall Street Journal is part of "an organized campaign by the liberal media to gin up an issue for the Democrats"?!?!?

He took a hit of LSD. Or some other hallucinogenic drug. It is the only possible explanation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ginivan promises further response

Matt Ginivan has taken note of my reply to his commentary. Predictably, he responds to my taunting him about his Ivy-League education rather than any substance, although he promises more to come.

My real take on Ginivan's motives and mistakes: Ginivan is a passionate young idealist with a dangerous amount of knowledge in political economy. (Ref: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.") Some political economy text assigned in one of his classes presented the (entirely reasonable) price-setting and wage-setting fomulas he used in his response to me. Then in the middle of some discussion, in a certain context, the text stated that "x", which refered to the manufacturer's mark-up percentage based on their market power, the text stated that x is a constant. Matt misinterprets this to mean that x is a constant in all circumstances. Then he read my article, which offended his right-libertarian ideals. Energized by his idealism and misunderstandings, he does some calcuations which seem to prove that my plan will not help wages rise His blindness to his ideology makes him miss that he is begging the question and the absurdity of claiming that a manufacturer can continue to charge the same markup percentage in the face of rising costs. Being someone who is smart enough to get into an Ivy-League school, he is good at writing convincing-sounding B.S. - especially when he believes it. So he does, and it sounds good enough for The Free Liberal to post it.

My prediction for his response: His best stategy, I think is to track down whatever text states that x is a constant, then cite that statement out of context, noting the eminence of the author. He can also accuse me of being jealous of his education, or maybe of harboring egalitarian hatred of meritocratic institutions. I will probably just ignor such charges or make fun of them, but I am somewhat perplexed about what I would do about a citation. I am not sure I have the resources necessary to track down his source to view the context. But I am sure I will think of something. Capozzi's comments lead to conceessions on my part because he was being thoughtful and reasonable. Ginivan, whether he knows it or not, is just spouting bullshit, and I have never had any trouble exposing bullshit.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Left Libertarianism

Left-libertarianism agrees with right-libertariansim that strong property rights and economic freedoms are esential to individual liberty. However, left-libertarians seek to create mechanism that will empower all individuals with their own property or income. This is usually accomplished through either direct redistribution or a recognition of certain forms of property as held in common ("Predistribution"). The forms of property held in common depend on the particular left-libertarian theory, but the form of property included in the largest number of left-libertarian theories as held in common is land. Property held in common refers to equal rights of access, and is distinquised from collective rights, where everyone must agree on uses. Use of property held in common can be tansfered by the community to individual entities, but the community must be compensated. Direct redistribution theories rely on recognition of the marginal utility of money.

Resourses for left-libertarianism on the web include, The Free Liberal,, and Left-libertarianism: A Primer. Classic left-libertarian theorists include Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, and Henry George. Modern left-libertarian theorists include Hillel Steiner, Peter Vallentyne, Philippe Van Parijs and arguably Amartya Sen. The most successful politician who was relatively left-libertarian was probably Thomas Jefferson, although obviously many of his social veiws would be considered worse than fascist by today's left-libertarians.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

More on the Basic Income Guarantee

The Free Liberal has posted my reply to the Princeton punk, and Robert Capozzi has posted another response. In his response, Capozzi hits the best left-libertarian objection to the basic income, "My real fear is that the basic income would be additive, not a substitute. That tends to be the way of Washington. Realpolitick and history indicate that strong tendency. Until I see that the basic income could be a substitute, I'm not saluting."

This fear is justified, and I do not have a great answer, except to say that I stongly believe that the masses desrve compensation for the goodies passed out to the rich by the current system. The mixed-economy neo-liberals / neo-conservatives are in charge, and getting them to accept a basic income would be a matter of evolution, not revolution. So, the basic income would need to be phased in first, and proven to work, before we could discuss dismantling the old welfare state. This offers no assurances to Capozzi, who is right to point out that the history of government programs does not suggest that it is easy to get rid of those that have outlived their original purpose. The best compromise that is practically achievable would be to have the basic income, as it is phased in, considered to be "earned income" for purposes of welfare payments, and thereby slowly eliminate welfare programs by slowly eliminating the number of people who qualify for them. This still does not address issues like the minimum wage, and Capozzi is right to be skeptical about eventual repeal.

Note: The article includes a reference to "Figure 1", but the Free Liberal does not seem to have posted the graph. Unfortunately, I can not post graphs on this blog to compensate.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Contest: What Radical will Conservatives Steal Next?

Okay, Thus far we have seen conservatives claim:

Martin Luther King Jr. would oppose Affirmative Action.

Ceasar Chavez would support the Minutemen Project.

And my personal favorite:
Jesus Christ opposed Estate Taxes.

So what's next? Today, in a column by Brian McNicoll, a Senior Writer for The Heritage Foundation, the most prestigious conservative think tank in America, McNicoll complains that scientists need to learn a humility, and accept that the uninformed opinions of people who have never studied biology beyond high school might be just as valid as the consensus view of every biologist with a Ph.D. Such closed minded scientists believe, according to McNicoll, that "all issues regarding the origin of life are settled."

How does McNicoll respond to this?

When I hear such talk, I can't help but think of the distinguished members of the scientific community who killed George Washington by using leeches to cure him of what amounted to a bad case of the flu. Or the study that came out just this week saying that a procedure performed a million times a year in this country on women during childbirth not only doesn't help them but makes things worse. Or the sad treatment of Galileo, a distinguished scientist who spent the last years of his life under what amounted to house arrest because he'd been convicted of heresy for asserting that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around.

That's right folks. The fate of Galileo, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Catholic Church for reporting his scientific findings about the sun and the earth, demonstrates that we need to teach religious theories of biology as being equally valid to those offered by empirical scientists.

Proposed contest: What radical thinker will next be used to support the conservative agenda? I will start with my own prediction:

We must invade Iran (or Syria, or where ever)! It's what Gandhi would have done.

Remember, given the above examples, this isn't satire, it's merely speculation.

Right - Libertarianism

Right-Libertarianism is the philosophy that in the United States is usually just refered to as "libertarianism". The idea is that self-ownership is best expressed in the world though strong property rights held by individuals or voluntary associations of individuals. Capital should be owned and controlled privately, just as all (or virtually all) other property should be owned and controlled privately. Right-libertarian theorists disagree as to the full extent of ways which property rights can arrise, but all agree that they will arrise when an individual "mixes" her labor with unowned property. The property rights gained this way (and possibly other ways) are eternal, even though the individual is not. Strong or absolute property rights include the right to transfer these property rights to other individuals for whatever reason the transferor wishes, including the receipt or promise of labor or other property in exchange. Thus, distribution must be allowed through free markets.

Right-libertarian theorists include Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nosick, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, and Frederick Hayek. Excelent Web Resources include reasononline, The Cato Institute, and Dispite many more recent pretenders, the only famous political leader who could reasonably be described as a right-libertarian was Barry Goldwater, although his foreign policy views were too agressive for most libertarians.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Libertarian Socialism

This is the form of libertarianism I know the least about. Two great indroductions on the web are this one from and this one from Wikipedia. Libertarian Socialism was what was first meant by the term "libertarian" when the term arose in the later part of the 19th century. Libertarian socialists want to free individuals from both the state and the boses. They believe that property is theft, and see the state as the agent of the bosses, the coersive muscle who enforce the boss's "right" to extort labor and profits from the masses. They want to liberate the masses through socialism, which is defined, according to the blackened flag site as "the workers democratic ownership and/or control of the means of production". Some go beyond production, and advocate democratic control of distribution, such as Michael Albert in Paracon: Life After Capitalism. (Albert actually rejects the term "socialism", but his beliefs fall squarely within the libertarian socialist tradition.) The blackened flag site states of libertarian socialist theorists, "Aside from the significant number of anarchist theorists such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Alexander Berkman, some important contributors to libertarian socialist theory and philosophy would be Noam Chomsky, Daniel Guerin, and Murray Bookchin. " The most successful political leader who could reasonably be described as a libertarian socialist was probably Mahatma Gandhi.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Democrats vs. Republicans

Via Democratic Freedom we find a study from CATO on the massive spending of the Republicans. Bottom line: "Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years."

Meanwhile, a week and a half ago, Matthew Yglesias wrote a post that began by quoting Andrew Sullivan quoting Barry Goldwater complaining about the Religious Right trying to legislate morality. Then Matthew writes:
He then goes on to "wonder if Goldwater could even exist within today's Republican establishment." Well, of course he could. In Maine or Rhode Island or New York or California. But as a national leader? No way. Indeed, probably most Democrats would hesitate to speak so disrespectfully of the people in question, though they might privately agree. The way in which the rhetorical center of gravity has shifted to dramatically to the right freaks a lot of people -- certainly Andrew Sullivan -- out a great deal. But what about the policy substance? Well, abortion has moved slightly to the right since '81, mostly as a result of things done during the Reagan years. School prayer has moved somewhat to the left, and the GOP platform has moved left on the subject as well. Gay rights have moved way to the left in the past 25 years. And there's every reason to think that the next Democratic administration will push the gays-in-the-military issue further left (note that Bush hasn't tried to roll Clinton's steps on this back), offer federal funding to stem cell research, and make Plan B contraception much more widely available. I don't really understand how it is that the rhetoric and policy have moved in such different directions, but that's the reality of the situation.

Okay, I am left-libertarian, and so I have less of a problem with many types of government spending than right-libertarians. But at this point I really cannot see how a right-libertarian could possibly prefer the Republicans to the Democrats. In fact, I fail to see how a right-libertarian would not possibly prefer the Democrats by a large margin. The Republicans spend more money than the Democrats, AND they are worse on social issues. Even a Democrat who is lousy on social issues (Lieberman, or any Dem from the Confederacy) is not going to do any real damage in that area since, as described by Matthew, the government's efforts to legislate morality are impotent. But the government is quite competent at writing checks, and the Republicans write more than the Dems. Is it because of the tax "cuts"?!? Is merely shifting taxes to children and the poor really what right-libertarianism is all about?

This page is powered by Blogger.