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The Libertarianism-Morality Conundrum

By HARM   Follow   Thu, 2 Mar 2006, 9:30am PST   5,901 views   245 comments   Watch (0)   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

For many (if not most) Libertarians, the subject of morality is all but taboo. The very mention of the terms "social justice", "fairness", "level playing field", or "promoting the greater good" in polite conversation often results in icy stares, furrowed brows and suspicious glances. If you insist on debating using such terms, you're likely as not to be labelled a Socialist, Liberal, Left-wing wacko, etc. Some would argue that Libertarianism --in its purest/most extreme form-- mixes with morality like oil with water.

Many of my own views are heavily influenced by Libertarian ideals: pro-free trade, pro-tranparency, pro-individualism, pro-gun, pro-free speech/press, pro-limited government, pro-separation of church and state, anti-subsidies, anti-tariffs, anti-protectionism, anti-welfare, etc. And yet, I can't quite seem to shake the notion that government exists for some purposes OTHER than single-mindedly promoting the accumulation of wealth. No matter how many benefits that capitalism brings us (and it does bring us many), if completely unregulated it also tends to create rather severe social/economic imbalances over time. Imbalances, that if left alone (as Greenspan himself acknowledged), can seriously destabalize a society. The term "meritocracy" itself, is a term that centers on "merit", a primarily moral concept. And yet "meritocracy" strongly evokes the Libertarian ideal in its American form --as in, rising and falling in society based on your own merits and not by birth lottery/social caste.

Some people have described me as quasi or "Left-Libertarian". I guess this is accurate because I see other legitimate uses for government besides maintaining police and standing armies. I also see "greater goods" (there's that pesky 'morality' creeping in again) such as public education, public roads/highway systems, enforcing consumer protection laws, worker safety laws, civil rights, limiting pollution/protecting the environment (not to be confused with NIMBYism) and so on. I also see "goods" in these government services for capitalism itself. A healthy, educated, safe, mobile, self-empowered populace tends to be much more productive and efficient. This is a "good" that even the most jaded plutocrat could love.

Personally, I like the fact that I live in a country that prohibits overt discrimination based on gender, race, religion, etc. I actually like the fact that slavery and child labor is illegal. Having some of my tax money used for "social safety nets" for poor citizens (and legal residents) and the disabled/mentally ill --as long as it does not completely dis-incentivize industry-- doesn't bother me. Nor does prosecuting and jailing executives who cheat or poison consumers. Does this make me a Communist? If so, I guess a good percentage of Americans are commies too.

Is it possible to be a "proper Libertarian" and care about moral/social issues at the same time?
Do I have to believe in hard-core social Darwinism and market fundamentalism in its most extreme form to stay in the "L" club?
Is this a conundrum with no resolution?

Discuss, enjoy...

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Peter P   befriend   ignore   Wed, 8 Mar 2006, 6:05pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 206

Marxist/Communist states provided a social guarantee of full employment, universal access to affordable housing, and universal access to other social goods such as healthcare.

You can believe whatever you like to believe.

I am about to give up.

Marina is Prime

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Wed, 8 Mar 2006, 8:15pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 207


Peter P   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 3:29am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 208

I am just suspicious when people talk about politics, religion or basically any social ideal that is based on putting aside all of our baser instincts and putting our fellow man first.

I think people may put away all their baser instincts when they are very sleepy or very drunk. If we can keep the population in this altered state of consciousness, it may just work. :)

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 3:58am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 209

Unless of course you mean when they’re so drunk they’re comatose, then you might have a point.

That's what I meant. :)

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 9:14am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 210

by throwing out a bunch of stats and info the supposedly contradict the prevalent opinion on the topic.

Sorry, this is BS, SQT. The 'prevalent opinions' are only a bunch of people who don't actually work in law enforcement and are in no way policy makers. Further, I've pointed to opinions held more commonly than by the posters on a world scale. Many other countries abhor the practices of the US on a range of fronts. The stats are real and convincing. You seem to prefer uneducated prejudices over real statistics, which is a reversal of the normal scientific practice of evaluating evidence. That's your prerogative, I suppose, but it is neither rational nor reasonable. I argue that bloodthirstiness is a little immoral and unconscionable, but the general public is unquestionably bloodthirsty - however, in most advanced countries, that has worked its way out of the system of jurisprudence, where wiser heads have prevailed...

The only thing that bothers me is when people start talking about `the good of all mankind’ but they don’t live the philosophy. I worked at a Christian school, and believe me I met a lot of bullshit artists. I have nothing against an honest to goodness Christian, but I have a strong dislike for those who profess to love their fellow man and do everything they can to screw you over when you’re not looking.

This is even more BS. You are now accusing every well-meaning person of 'screwing people over'. I know lots of people who work in NGOs, voluntary organisations, church benevolent groups, healthcare, etc who are by nature very altruistic and caring. Of course, you may be talking about the narrow American experience again, where a whole culture is predicated on greed, fakery and being self-serving. As I said earlier, 'capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction'. The American way is just to internalise all the problems into the individual, become fatalistic and individualistic, and lead a life saturated with contingency. Then only small random acts of charity are allowed to stand against the system.

I believe Marxism contains elements of things that would make the world a better place.

I don't know that talk without action is pointless, plenty of people make a living by talking and getting the word out - an act of communication can be an act of education. I don't know how I've learnt anything much in this life without hearing it from someone else or reading it in a book. I presume all the heads of NGOs that I listen to to get an informed opinion are wasting everyone's time, in fact, and they should be engaged in low-level acts of individual charity without trying to address the roots of the problem, or soliciting Federal funding to do it, etc. We should all just listen to Fox News to get the real story and let them do all that fine work for us, ferreting out the truth. But that's all just talk and no action also, I guess...

Didn't I list my 'actions' in a recent post? Don't you think an act of lobbying, communication and education to politicians and their agencies is action? Creating blogs and websites? Appearing on the media? Being published in the newspapers? What qualifies as worthwhile action in your lexicon then? If I could, I would buy up a whole suburb and develop it as affordable, sustainable housing, but I don't have the readies for that at present... There's too much to discuss re talk/action than this space permits - there are so many instances of fuck-ups by the state govt here that they are about to get voted out - better communication and consultation with the public would have forestalled the problems. Not to mention an articulation of a philosophy of particpative democracy - but that's more of SQT's apparently 'random philosophy' again, I suppose.

Some of my philosophical posts have been wry gags, to be honest. But it has certainly brought out the lack of sociological interest in the group - everyone complains about housing prices, but they have no systemic or political fix in mind, except to bag out 'baby boomers'. My website proposes a number of workable fixes. Unfortinately, SQT seems not to enjoy any sort of 'life of the mind', and the value of her college degree, whatever it was, is therefore questionable - she seems to have learnt nothing of the major discourses of the last century from it.

You're beginning to disqualfy yourself from reasonable debate and discussion...

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 2:32pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 211

Touched a nerve with you at least, obviously. I'm glad you realise how full of BS the American media is. As per the 'random philosophical' quote about Baudrillard I posted above. Or is that pearls before swine?

I'm certainly not a member of the media at all. However, there are some very good journalists at the Herald here, and I've used their reports and analysis heavily in my housing affordability blog. Ross Gittins in particular, as economics editor, tells it very much the way it is. That's the beauty of doing sociology - you have a solid analytical framework to separate wheat from chaff - like the Realtor buzzlines thread, and the question of whether the bubble is going to burst like the Tulip Boom or the Tech Wreck - and the way capital shifts easily between 'markets', thus doing more harm than good in the case of housing.

Unfortunately, it's a brave newspaper that publishes stories that go against its revenue base of advertising, particularly real estate advertising - the Herald should be congratulated for its fairly frank and fearless reporting, although it is a little schizophrenic at times when it has to publish puff pieces and advertorials on real estate in the Sunday Supplement or whatever... But it's a very big broadsheet paper serving a population of 5 million...

I'm also doing media appearances soon, and getting articles submitted to whatever papers are prepared to print things that go against their advertising base. Also talking with minor political parties going against the 'Big Two' to provide disaffected voters with more voices in Parliament, being those parties who support affordable housing. (Unfortunately, having a few Independents in Parliament often leads to a system of horsetrading and bribes to get key legislation through. Having some decent representation from a 3rd and 4th party like the Greens or whoever with some principles is another story.) If I succeed in scaring the Labor Party into doing something constructive, and possibly get a couple more smaller party candidates elected, then I would consider I'd done something very worthwhile. I could even start a 'single issue' party of my own, it's been done before on unpopular themes, like low-flying aircraft noise over the suburbs.

I see affordable housing as a social justice issue across the spectrum of housing. I know a few people who work in govt in supported housing, and they're actually pretty blinkered and ignorant, and are just doing the job for the $$$ and learning just enough govt-speak to get by, and unfortunately, learning the jargon and getting embedded in band-aid govt structures is all you need to do to get the job. And they're getting paid for that - the lobbying I do is for nothing. (As per the Marxist analysis of crime above that suggests the welfare state is a band-aid attempt at social control by capitalists. Maybe not so random after all, if you 'get' it.)

There are people working for outfits like ACOSS, and all the COSSes in each state who really do nothing but 'bullshit' on behalf of low income people in order to get them a better deal and more funding for supported housing, fare concessions, better employment, and a fair go, etc. and these people, when fulltime, get a 'survival wage' of $40-50 K to be worked extremely hard researching, analysing, lobbying and writing recommendations and reports, and doing cogent television sound bites. Apparently, all that effort and lobbying on behalf of the downtrodden is just 'bullshit', and somehow won't change anything - people are better off being left in the dark about poverty, so that they can feed their own uninformed little prejudices. Coming from a journalist too, mind you... a journalist who doesn't believe in doing any research or examining statistics and thinks all written output is meaningless...

Anyway, I'm off to my 6.00 politics talk -

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 2:50pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 212

Here's one example of where political activism might lead, straight from the Politics page above to sourcewatch.org. But it's all BS of course, and America is the greatest country in the world even tho millions don't have health insurance, whereas in other countries healthcare is free to all citizens and PRs, etc. And if you don't like it, you can leave! Why don't you leave? Just don't ever think of criticising it in the hope of improvement.

Note Wal-Mart pays about $6/hour, and the CEO recently said, having seen the living conditions in NO after Katrina, 'maybe we should think about raising the US minimum wage - our customers are impoverished and can barely afford our stuff' - not to mention their own workers! But let's not talk about social improvement, SQT will get upset...


Wal-Mart's Blog Outreach-Turned-Ghostwriting
Topics: corporations | internet | public relations
Source: New York Times, March 7, 2006
Wal-Mart "began working with bloggers in late 2005 'as part of our overall effort to tell our story,' said Mona Williams, a company spokeswoman." Heading the blogger outreach is Marshall Manson, of the PR firm Edelman. Manson contacted bloggers who "wrote postings that either endorsed the retailer or challenged its critics." He emailed one, "I'd like to drop you the occasional update ... and an occasional nugget that you won't hear about in the M.S.M.," or mainstream media. But "some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from," reports the New York Times. Manson warned bloggers they might be "ripped" if someone noticed "nearly identical posts" copied from his emails. Wal-Mart's also opposing state bills that require large companies to spend a minimum percentage of payroll costs on health insurance. Wal-Mart claims, "These bills ... do nothing to take people off America's uninsured list," reports PR Week.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Thu, 9 Mar 2006, 10:35pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 213

oh, never mind...

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 3:38am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 214

look .. Einstein … any minimum wage is a stupid idea. It only lowers the regular working persons wages because it drives up costs.

Minimum wage or any price control mechanism is always bad. It may be popular but it is extremely harmful.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 11:30am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 215

wait a sec - the US already has one of the lowest minimum wages in the the OECD - and the most inequality and poverty - and you want to REMOVE it?

don't you think one way of fighting poverty is to make sure people have more money in their paypackets?

so, you would rather see some people's wages in the US go even lower? what, to $2 an hour? how do they then participate meaningfully and decently in society? how do you stop them kiling and robbing to supplement their incomes out of desperation? this was the reason the welfare state was created, to make a decent social settlement, make sure people had their basic needs met and could at least send their kids to school, etc. it's a protection against exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

i'm sick of all these brainless eco-rat arguments. you are living a life of self-contradiction.

further, how can something beneficial be 'harmful'? harmful to whom? to some money-grubber at the top? think about who benefits here, guys...you guys believe all the smoke and mirrors put about by the ruling class, don't you? you internalise every self-interested argument they put forward and make it your gospel without even realising it...

so much for bap and his bible studies, where jesus said, for instance, 'if you have two tunics, give one away'. apparently 'the economy' can't cope with any level of generosity. keep reading that bible and tell us the ongoing insights it gives you, bap...

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 11:33am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 216

Anyway, how will we calculate the productivity quotient of a 66-year-old lavatory cleaner in order to fix his pay? H. B. Higgins, in the famous Harvester judgement, said that a basic wage must be calculated on the basis of need, not some arbitrary market value.

And, he said, if a company could not afford to pay its workers a wage that they could live on in "frugal comfort" then the business should be abandoned.

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 11:38am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 217

so, you would rather see some people’s wages in the US go even lower? what, to $2 an hour?

Yes. Whatever the market dictates.

how do they then participate meaningfully and decently in society?

Look, we all want to eliminate poverty in the long run. That should be the goal. Helping people survive poverty is not a solution. I would love a society in which there will be enough resources for everyone. Therefore, we need to innovate. We need better education.

how do you stop them kiling and robbing to supplement their incomes out of desperation?

I have said this many times. We need law enforcement. We need deterrence. Now do you agree with my stance on death penalty?

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 11:40am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 218

And, he said, if a company could not afford to pay its workers a wage that they could live on in “frugal comfort” then the business should be abandoned.

Yeah right, then who is going to provide jobs?

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 11:50am PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 219

Side Note: Ever notice the high number of protest signs written in perfect english in the land-o-sand?? Geeeeze, do you think they may be using the lib media to share their view?? Remeber when I mentioned how the 911 attacks were sweeped [sic] off of TV as quick as the libs could make it happen??

Oh, jeez. There's too much stupidity in all this to rebut at once. I don't even know what the hell you're talking about, and most of it is contradicted in some other statement you make...

The footage was swept off the Republican-owned media asap so that people couldn't start slowing it down to look for anomalies and start asking difficult questions.

Half the photos from the Pentagon have been touched up or faked in Photoshop. What happened to the independent confiscated footage taken around the Pentagon? Why have only 5 blurry, inconclusive freeze-frames from 1 camera been released to the public? What about the cameras mounted on the Pentagon at 20 metre intervals along the wall? Where did that hotel footage go? Why were the beams from the WTC sold off for scrap without metalllurgical study? Why did 4 buildings fall down, not 2?

How can illegal workers claim forced benies (benefits???) if they're illegal? They would be deported by Immigration if found out, not given benies. Just because American are happy to use low-paid illegals as a virtual slave labour force to get cheap work done, doesn't make it acceptable.

Whoever the sand-writers are, and I have no idea what you're even talking about now, they clearly didn't get spelling lessons from you... Funny how intelligent, informed people are good spellers, isn't it, bap?

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:00pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 220

Yes. Whatever the market dictates.

Why is 'the market' right and human decency wrong? Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? What's this fetishisation of 'the market', when it doesn't even exist in reality? It's just a series of individual transactions between people. Why do courts and govts increasingly have to control and correct 'the market' on a broad range of fronts (meaning corporations and businesses)?

Look, we all want to eliminate poverty in the long run. I would love a society in which there will be enough resources for everyone.

No, you clearly don't. America has more than enough resources for everyone, it is just too selfish and blinkered on an individual level to share them fairly and decently. You guys want a granite benchtop and European appliances ahead of helping someone on $6 an hour. You may as well just admit it. Some great motherhood and apple pie stuff there, where a few people will have to starve in the short run to make everything 'better' in the long run. That's the way. Good thing that, whoever you are, you clearly have absolutely no power in making policy in your country. Wiser, educated heads prevail while the average American idiot runs around bleating about 'the market' and behaving like a sociopath.

I have said this many times. We need law enforcement. We need deterrence. Now do you agree with my stance on death penalty?

No, because the death penalty is immoral. You have put the granite benchtop ahead of someone else's bare survival, and, in fact, their life.

In the case of Peter P, much as it pains me, I have to use the strong Australian epithet of 'fuckwit'.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:10pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 221

And, he said, if a company could not afford to pay its workers a wage that they could live on in “frugal comfort” then the business should be abandoned.

Yeah right, then who is going to provide jobs?

You're saying a typical wage in America is not enough to live on in frugal comfort? Wages make up the greatest part of most businesses' overheads, given that they're designed to keep people alive and in a reasonable quality of life first. Why would anyone take on a job that did not even pay them enough to feed themselves? The people who are providing jobs are employers who have factored in the cost of wages to the cost of doing business. If anything, you should be driving down wages of senior govt workers, executives and everyone else on middle incomes, given that they don't need $70K a year to feed themselves. Corporate lawyers on $500K protecting polluting corporations etc don't need $1000 suits - they should be getting $40K a year instead. Mortgage brokers making $250K a year just for filling out a few forms don't need that much money.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:18pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 222

Only by starving people can we defeat poverty.
Only by being callous and inhuman can we become human.

Thanks, bap and Peter P for your wonderful insights.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:22pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 223

yes, just keep reading the bible and coming up with those great ideas, bap...

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:51pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 224

Only by starving people can we defeat poverty.

I am not taling about starving people intentionally. But welfare is not a good solution. We need good education. We need to help people to become self sufficient.

Only by being callous and inhuman can we become human.

This is not entirely accurate. Being callous and inhuman is the essence of being human. I am not very proud of these traits but ignoring the reality will not help us a bit.

There is one more paradox:

Only by the threat of total destruction can we maintain peace.

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:53pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 225

Did I miss the part where one of these libs explained why killing innocent babies is ok with abortion, but killing guilty murderers with capital punishment is a bad thing???

I don't know. It is too confusing for me.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 12:55pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 226


The Ministry of Peace
Concerns itself with conducting and perpetuating Oceania's peace through continuous wars.

The Ministry of Plenty
Responsible for rationing and controlling food and goods.

The Ministry of Truth
The propaganda arm of Oceania's regime. Minitrue controls political literature, the Party organization, and the telescreens.

The Ministry of Love
The agency responsible for the identification, monitoring, arrest, and torture of dissidents, real or imagined.

Now I understand. And at last I love my Big Brother George W, who always tells the truth...

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 1:01pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 227

I dunno, bap, whoever said I was for abortion? Especially relatively late in the term?

Is a cluster of 8 cells after fertilisation a baby?

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 1:10pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 228

To me, I think the best solution is to avoid the need for abortion. Instead of whether abortion is morally acceptable or not, we need to ask ourselves why people choose to abort. It is best to have a society in which abortion is not needed.

Peter P   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 1:12pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 229

Sean, what are your meta-ethical beliefs?

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 1:17pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike     Comment 230

so peter p would rather see impoverished people on $2 an hour become incredibly negative and disaffected and start robbing and killing people for money, using guns easily obtained illegally. So after they've killed 8 or 10 well-dressed businesspeople and taken their wallets and watches, and done a few burglaries and home invasions and killed a few more people, the police finally catch up with them after a half-day seige in which another 3 people die. Then there were all the people maimed for life but not killed in the robberies, and their ongoing low quality of life and loss of productivity, and a burden on their families. They then get an expensive trial with lawyers, they get locked up for a long time during proceedings, they end up on death row, also for a long time, and finally get executed with all of the public servants time and equipment required. So the cost to the state has been the scars of 16 tragic and avoidable deaths of uninvolved people, another 5 maimed for life, thousands of hours of police time, court time, lawyers time, judges time, administrators time, prison warders time, doctors for the lethal injection, undertakers and funeral costs for all the dead people, the need to build huge prisons and maintain huge police forces and a huge judiciary. Repeat this episode 1,000 times for all the other disaffected low wage people left out to dry by the system. In just one city alone. And congratulations, you've just created Brazil.

That's really shifting costs from the private sector employer to the state and the taxpayer, now isn't it? All because Peter P was too stingy to pay 6 bucks an hour. Very economically rational stuff, Peter.

Fortunately, decent people would not let this scenario happen, although the real situation in the US is already worse than most other high income countries.

Different Sean   befriend   ignore   Fri, 10 Mar 2006, 1:25pm PST   Share   Quote   Like   Dislike