Neal Locke invited me to post here. I have had the chance to read other posts here and I understand why. After reading Brink Lindsey’s article it appears that my own political dispositions, which have always seemed a tad hermetic, have a more stable environment within this sort of discourse. The following is a re-post from a few conclusions and questions at which I arrived this election season. I hope to be an active participant here as I begin dialogue with all of you.
There are consistent libertarian objections to both Democrat and Republican philosophies of governance. The primary objection is the notion in principle that autonomous individuals have universal self-ownership of property and rights. It is the idea that if I earn the right to possess something, I am the sole owner of that property. This also includes social behaviors such as gambling, marriage, smoking pot, religion, education, etc.
It is not to be confused with the typical understanding of conservatism which masks self-ownership of property (contra socialism) with often severe constraints on social behavior such as marriage, recreational drug use, sexual behavior, etc. Republicanism fails to provide libertarian principles in terms of social behavior, while Democratism, albeit its more limiting role in social behaviors, follows more socialist principles in terms of how wealth is distributed according to how ownership is defined. There, the state and not the individual owner, has the responsibility to distribute wealth acquired by the masses.
I have come to the conclusion that my own political disposition comes closest to equal-opportunity left-libertarianism which maintains a limited role in social behaviors and customs, while it balances limited state interference in the distribution of property and wealth and social responsibility to uphold the common good through equal opportunity to acquire resources for all. What problematizes all forms of libertarianism, however, is how natural resources that are not the property of any agent are fairly distributed.
Equal-opportunity left-libertarianism argues “that one leave enough for others to have an opportunity for well-being that is at least as good as the opportunity for well-being that one obtained in using or appropriating natural resources”. Thus it makes the most sense since it is a disposition that specifically targets those who are resource poor in order to give them a fair opportunity to compete for resources. Not to be confused with a socialist distribution of wealth, however, the question is how can we govern ourselves and maintain the balance between equal opportunity and equal competition to acquire resources among those whose lot in life is not something chosen. That is to say, some are born into environments that are resource rich and others are born into environments that are not as rich or resource poor. How can libertarianism, even left-libertarianism, ensure equal opportunity in the midst of such clear inequities that autonomous choice has nothing to do with? This is where I shall list a couple of key problems.
- In order for equal-opportunity left-libertarianism to work, it requires altruistic voluntary behavior from everyone involved. If one is unwilling to donate an un-equal share of natural resources and property to those who cannot possibly attain even a close share of property, there will always be inequity where the greedy suck up resources, and the resource poor are left with no property of their own.
- A general position of pacifism is needed from all participants in the system. The key is to support constant cooperation of all members of the society where benefits are maximized to everyone. This means that the resource rich are willing to share and resource poor are willing to do the same in order to achieve equilibrium. While the resource rich can balance the field of competition through altruism, the resource poor can donate a certain amount of “sweat-equity” to maintain that property and begin to earn their own share equally.
Therefore, bargains and negotiations need to follow game theory in which cooperation requires self-imposed limits on wealth in order to maximize wealth for everyone. The goal is for all to compete fairly for wealth through cooperation in order to earn fair shares of wealth as autonomous agents rather than enable inequity through government handouts and distributions of wealth. But is this possible without external agents of enforcement (e.g. the state)?
This is an ideal world that I think is quite counter-factual to human behavior in general where resources are rich and some people will, by their lot in life, aggrandize wealth to sustain their own well being at the expense of others. This is why a progressive tax system, not typically supported in principle by any form of libertarianism, is necessary in order to equilibrate competition on some scale. The question is what happens to that funding. Does it go back into the distribution of natural resources so that those with less competitive advantage can now earn their share of property? Or is that wealth put in programs that enable people not to compete fairly through cooperation and thus enable them to acquire an unfair share of wealth?
This is where I argue that the former option is better and welfare is, by its nature a bad thing. A flat tax should stimulate people to take pride in constructing environments where all persons cooperate with each other to maximize benefits and distribution of good and property. What needs to be enforced, however, is a limit on the self-aggrandizement of wealth when people who were once resource poor now suck up as much as they can perpetuating inequity and mitigating the opportunity of others to succeed.
So how can a society enforce equilibrium through cooperation without the state assuming ownership of the property? This is another way of saying that we cannot assume that autonomous agents will give a damn about their moral obligation to their neighbor even though a recognition of moral obligations to others is precisely what is needed for equal-opportunity left-libertarianism to work. That’s where the real debate should be and neither Obama, nor McCain directly asks that question or provides an answer for it.
However, Obama’s idea of equal opportunity maintained through progressive taxes in principle arguably comes closer to it in the end. The current financial situation should be proof enough that we cannot blindly trust the wealthy to donate resources in order to equilibrate the opportunity for the resource poor to compete. Even if this is in dispute, and it should be for obvious reasons, all can agree that the G.W. Bush presidency has been the greatest affront to autonomous liberty, rights, and reason that we should hope never to see again in the history of this nation.