Bleeding Heart Libertarian Posts

I’ve been reading some posts from Bleeding Heart Libertarian that I mentioned a while ago.  Some of it’s pretty good.  I’ll mark off the ones that I found excellent:

Dealing with Immigration, they point out the immigration is actually good and cite Utah as an example.  Stating from the article, “we’re not Arizona.”  Good thing too.

With positive liberty, Brennen argues that both is needed but he states that “Negative liberty matters in part because, historically, protecting negative liberties has been the most important and effective way of promoting positive liberty.”  This means that negative liberty is prior than positive liberty, which is what I was expecting from a libertarian philosophy, but why positive liberty?  Usually, libertarians are against that idea.  This is because the people in charge aren’t ideal.  Does this mean that, theoretically, if there were ideal people in charge, one would allow some sort of paternalism?  This all depends on how you define “libertarian” I suppose.  One may want a libertarian government because they find the current government corrupt, or one may want a libertarian government just out of principle.  Unfortunately, he mentions positive liberties and how it could be needed, but doesn’t explain why under libertarianism.

What about exploitation?  Marx stated that capitalism is inherently exploitive.  Zwolinski differentiates two different types of exploitation:

Classical liberals can and should, however, take pain to distinguish between two forms of exploitation: exploitation that is mutually beneficial, and exploitation that is harmful.  Both involve someone taking unfair advantage of another.  But in one case, both parties come away from the transaction better off than they would have been without it.  In the other, the exploiting party comes away with more, the exploited with less.

An exchange can be mutually beneficial and yet unfair or degrading.  If you are drowning in a lake, and I row by on the only canoe in sight, it is morally wrong of me to make my rescue of you contingent upon your signing over the deed to your house.  Granted, you would be better off taking my deal than passing it up.  But it’s wrong for me to offer it nevertheless.  I should – and I suspect most of you would – perform the rescue for free.

All else being equal, it is a good thing for governments to prohibit harmful exploitation – at least when the unfairness rises to a high enough level that we regard it as a violation of the victim’s rights.  Taking someone’s labor without giving them the money you promised them is such a case.  It is harmful, and seriously so – they come away worse off (sans their labor and their wages), you come away better off.  Laws that prohibit this protect the vulnerable and are a value tool in the promotion of social justice.

Things are not so clear with mutually beneficial exploitation.  And much of the exploitation that concerns us in cases of migrant or sweatshop labor is exploitation of a mutually beneficial sort.  They are cases in which workers voluntarilly and without misinformation choose to enter into an employment relationship even though the working conditions are unsafe, the hours are long, and the pay is low.  They enter into these employment relationships because, for many of them, the likely alternatives are much, much worse.

Sweatshops are bad, but not having them work is worse.  Ben Stein once said that all countries that are being industrialized must go through this process of exploitation.  Europe went through it, the US went through it, now the rest of the world is catching up.  However, this sounds like the ends justifies the means.  It suggests that we can use people in order to bring about a libertarian society, which doesn’t sound very just.  Zwolinski continues:

We can grant that even exploitation of a mutually beneficial sort is a serious moral wrong, but it simply does not necessarily follow from this that it is something that governments ought to prohibit it.   Think of it this way.  If you were the one drowning in the lake, and there was a third party nearby with the power to either allow me to rescue you (at the price of your house) or to disallow it, wouldn’t you want him to allow it?  Perhaps prohibiting exploitative transactions will lead would-be exploiters to offer mutually beneficial deals on fairer terms.  But, as is illustrated in the case of sweatshop labor, there is reason to worry that prohibiting exploitation by, say, mandating safety improvements or a higher minimum wage, will make the package sufficiently unattractive to would-be exploiters that they wind up prefering to make no offer at all. Classical liberals thus have good reason for legally tolerating mutually beneficial exploitation, even if they judge it to be a serious moral wrong.  One does not express a proper concern for the vulnerable by taking away what might be the best alternative they have for improving their lives.

Here’s a good thought experiment: what if you were wrong about economics? Keep in mind that economics is mainly an empirical science.  Thus, the rational person will follow a W.K. Cliffordian epistemology and believe where the evidence takes him/her:

We live in a world where standard neoclassical economics is much closer to the truth than, say, heterodox Marxist economics. But, as a matter of logic, it could have been otherwise, just as it could have turned out that no gases can ever been approximated by the ideal gas law. You generally need to leave the econ department to find a person who believes in Marxist economics, but nevertheless, it could still turn out that the Marxists are right. Like any science, economics is open to disconfirmation. There’s some possibility, and perhaps even some non-zero probability, that most of your empirical economic beliefs could be disconfirmed in the future.

Imagine that your empirical beliefs about economics have been disconfirmed. Imagine that a bunch of economists provide compelling evidence that life in a strictly libertarian polity would be a disaster. Imagine that they show conclusively that if people everywhere were to live in a Nozickian minimal state or a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist civil society, with everyone strictly observing property right rules, that 10% of people would starve, 80% would be near subsistence, and only 10% would prosper. However, imagine that they also show that in a liberal social democracy with significant redistribution or social insurance, most people would prosper, just as many people living in such welfare states are doing pretty well right now.

If economists and other social scientists were to provide compelling empirical evidence that you are wrong about how economies work, and that libertarian society would be a humanitarian disaster, what would you advocate and why? In particular, would you think it would be morally right for states to provide social insurance? How much and why?

An excellent question for not just libertarians, but for everyone.  I like most of the comments because most of them would say they would change their mind because the facts present them the evidence.

An interesting post about which countries are more free.

There are some things that libertarians and progressives agree on.  However, the reason this isn’t emphasized is because it’s not interesting.

Being a fiscal conservative mean anti-war.  Fighting a war in Libya far surpasses the amount to keep NPR on.  Ron Paul notes the hyprocracy too.

The Ethics of Voting from a libertarian point of view.  What really surprised me was that Brennen claims that voting is to promote some “common good.”

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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