Last year, American funny-man Jon Stewart asked a series of questions to libertarians. Since then, plenty of people have responded, giving fairly comprehensive answers. I agree with some of those answers, but I thought I’d put together my own “short answers” anyway… only six months late.
1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
We need definitions. If “liberty” means people being allowed to act voluntarily with each other (as I define it) then the antithesis is involuntary behaviour — e.g. violence, coercion, theft, murder. The government certainly does all of that, but they are not the only example (eg mafia, rapists). Further, some libertarians will suggest that if a limited government is able to decrease “private” violence & coercion, then they might even be a force for good. (This idea is known as the “night-watchman government” or “minarchism”.)
It’s worth quickly noting that government does not mean “governance”. You would still have much governance in a libertarian society (for example, cricket rules).
At the recent Mises Seminar in Sydney there was a speech by Chris Leithner that explicitly called for the banning of fractional reserve (FR) banking. Leithner and other Australian libertarians (including Michael Conaghan & Benjamin Marks from Liberty Australia) follow the lead of some American libertarians (Walter Block, HH Hoppe, JG Hulsmann — BHH) and argue that FR-banking is fraud and should be banned, and further that it is economically damaging and causes inflation.
These two issues need to be addressed separately. The first is a deontological issue about whether FR-banking is consistent with a free world. The second is a consequentialist issue about whether FR-banking leads to bad outcomes. It is possible that FR-banking is consistent with freedom and yet leads to bad outcomes, and then those libertarians who accept the “non-aggression principle” would have to tolerate FR-banking even if they don’t like those outcomes. But before delving into that debate, it is worthwhile quickly explaining what we are actually talking about with FR-banking.
Vaults, loans & banks
Anything can be money. In jail (and POW camps) cigarettes have been used as money. In the early years of Australian settlement, rum was used as money. In some small island nations, shells have been used as money. Through much of history, precious metals (especially gold and silver) have been used as money. And today, the most common sort of money is “fiat” paper money that is created by government but is intrinsically worthless (ie it has no value except as money). This is not the place to go into a debate about what should be money or who should decide, but the important point is simply that there is some original supply of money that then becomes the standard “unit of account” and “store of value” and “medium of exchange” in an economy. For the sake of this discussion, this original supply will be called “base money” and in Australia it is created by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
WARNING: VERY LONG POST
In a recent court decision, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Vilification Act (Eatock vs. Bolt, see http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FCA/2011/1103.html ).
From the classical liberal perspective, the good intentions behind the Racial Vilification Act do not justify the existence of the Act; Free Speech is an absolute right which is only bounded by fraud (for example, in the case of actual defamation) and coercion (i.e. making threats of violence or similar forms of extortion).
I am not a viewer of Andrew Bolt, although in full disclosure I did once send him an email which corrected a philosophical mistake of his; he accused Postmodernism of being Metaphysically Subjectivist (i.e. people’s minds literally remake reality). I believe that to be mistaken since Postmodernism is Epistemologically Subjectivist, typically on philosophical grounds derived from German Idealist thought. This has been my only interaction with his work in the past, and I know little about him. Although I was pleasantly surprised when reading his Wikipedia page that he’s an Agnostic rather than a religionist.
But the reason for this post is that I found a specific comment about the Bolt case interesting from the perspective of political philosophy.
Commentator Brian F. McCoy argued that the ultimate issue in the Bolt case wasn’t freedom of speech. He identified the core issue as “freedom of identity” (see http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=28512).
What a fascinating concept.
“Identity” in the context of the case was referring to social identity or the groups with which one identifies.
The following article is not so much a deliberate argumentative essay per se. Rather, it is a set of commentary on a series of interconnected issues raised by the Bolt affair. In it, I will cover epistemological and philosophical considerations relating to the concept of “social identity” and I will also discuss the various analytical frameworks and assumptions that are used when dealing with the concept. Ultimately I will launch into a discussion of Brian McCoy’s “freedom of identity.”
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Submitted for your consideration: “Ayn Rand is not a supporter of free markets”
That agonized screaming you hear inside your head after reading the linked paragraph is a trillion neurons shrieking in pain.
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A common practice amongst libertarians is categorization of ourselves into various little factions. Attempts to draw up classification schema of “types of libertarian” are a popular pasttime, and although one may argue this only serves to encourage infighting, it can also be useful for illustrative purposes.
I wish to make my own proposal. At risk of Yet Another Objectivist Cliche, I’m going to indulge in some trichotomic analysis and suggest that libertarians can be divided into three basic kinds.
I am dividing libertarians on the basis of three different broad lines in libertarian argumentation. All three kinds of argument have overlap with each other, so by no means is this system perfect, but I believe it has some use.
In essence, my scheme divides libertarians on the basis of which argument for liberty they most strongly emphasize. Whilst libertarian thought is very diverse and rife with internal disagreements, I think it would be fair to describe it as having three underlying “currents” that dominate the discourse.
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I recently wrote a long philosophical review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Libertarians may want to read the review because the game actually is remarkably sophisticated (and very libertarian-compatible) in its critique of Corporatism and regulation. Also, it clearly distinguishes these from an actual free market. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a sophisticated analysis of Corporatism in a video game before.
I didn’t post the full review here because it is both rather lengthy and analyzes/discusses a lot of philosophical issues raised by the plot. Since most readers here are not Objectivists, my philosophical commentary is probably less interesting in aggregate to this blog’s general readership than the political-economic commentary I made.
Full review can be found at Objectivist Living, here: http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=11126
All comments welcomed!