Monday, July 23, 2012

Strangely Sensible

One of my pet peeves is people who start by saying, "I don't know much about economics."  Actually, I don't mind that; that's sensible.  But what I object to is when they take another twenty minutes and PROVE it.  They had me at "I don't know much..."  I was willing to believe them.

This is about as opposite as it can be.  This young woman starts by saying she doesn't know much about libertarians, except that they are juvenile and shallow.

Then, she concludes by saying:

 To be sure, there are plenty of reasons for a non-moral relativist to favor limited government.
1.  In the first place, government tends to be inefficient at most jobs.
2.  Also, a person living in a pluralist society might pragmatically recognize that a small, relatively neutral government is the most optimal of the realizable options.
3.  Finally, there is the deep truth that some level of freedom is necessary for human beings to achieve full moral maturity, and exercise the virtues.

(more below the fold)

That's perfect.  I don't know that I could have said it more simply myself.  She DOES, in fact, know exactly what it takes to be a libertarian. She has it right.

But, to answer her question a little more clearly, what DOES it take to be a libertarian?  I answer from my paper on "basic income" and libertarianism (you can find it here, or I'm happy to send you a PDF).  What follows is an extended quotation from that paper:

There are two main paths to deriving libertarian policy implications: destinationism and directionalism.

The destinationist starts with two inviolable moral and ethical precepts that describe the ultimate libertarian destination, or ideal society:

(a) Full self-ownership, with unrestricted rights to control and alienate both one’s own body and the products of one’s labor.

(b) An absolute bar on the initiation of force, even if such force would have net social benefits in consequentialist terms.

The destinationist libertarian then uses these constraints as restrictions on the form and function of the state in the ideal, ultimate sense. No violations are tolerated.

The directionalist asserts that any move that increases self-ownership, even marginally, and harms no one is an improvement and should be supported by the libertarian. This is true even if, from a destinationist perspective, the policy is not “truly libertarian.”

One form of this approach is “weak Pareto”: Any policy that increases the liberty and welfare of one or more individuals, while making exactly zero individuals less free or less well off, is an improvement on the status quo. Any policy that increases the liberty and welfare of one or more individuals, while making exactly zero individuals less free or less well off, is an improvement on the status quo. If most people are indifferent, and a few are better off, moving from the status quo to a new policy is justified for the directionalist. The directionalist, if presented with several alternatives, would want to choose that alternative that enhances liberty and welfare the most.

Destinationists identify ideal policies, using ideal theory. Directionalist libertarians identify a path that leads from the status quo toward ideal policies, using pragmatic and consequentialist considerations. For the destinationist, of course, anything other than the ideal outcome is an unacceptable compromise, because sanctioning a new but nonideal status quo implies complicity.

So, it would appear Ms. Lu has mostly encountered "destinationists."  And it is true that many destinationist libertarians might bridle at her "three reasons."  But, as a directionalist, I applaud them.  Welcome to libertarianism, Ms. Lu!  Because if you beleve those three things, you are in fact a libertarian.  A directionist, to be sure, but a libertarian nonetheless.


Norman said...

I've not heard the "destinationist" and "directionalist" terminology before. I would have gone with the terms dogmatic vs. pragmatic libertarians. Your terminology highlights how they can be integrated into the same movement, though, which I find insightful.

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