ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FORMAL AND EFFECTIVE FREEDOM: Why libertarians and progressives don’t communicate about freedom.

schenectady_libertyI’ve touched on this before. I blamed semantics for my inability to communicate the message of individual liberty to progressives and conservatives. “Surely,” I thought “if we can just agree on what liberty is, we can come to some agreement on how to get there.” A recent, short Facebook exchange with a very smart progressive online acquaintance prompted me to dig a little deeper into this divide. I’m glad I did.

What I’m about to write about will be inadequate. I have skimmed a number of scholarly articles about this but I have barely scraped the surface, so if any of this grabs you I encourage you to do your own research.

Bottom Line Up Front: Instead of accepting my own definition for freedom, I’m going to use the term “formal freedom” for the standard libertarian term, and “effective freedom” for what progressives use. I didnt’ make these terms up by the way. Smarter people did. I’ve been trying to argue that there is only one freedom and prove that my version is the real one. I now accept that there is two ways to define freedom. And here’s the rub: both are legitimate. Libertarians and progressives just need to work together to encourage effective freedom in ways that we can both live with.

Libertarians see liberty from a “freedom-from” position. To a libertarian, a person is free when he no one is forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to, or using force to keep him from doing something he wants to do. Of course, all bets are off if what he wants to do includes using force on someone else. That would be logically inconsistent.

Progressives see liberty from a “freedom-to” position. To a progressive, a person is not free if he doesn’t have the means to do that thing that he is otherwise free to do. Progressives and libertarians agree on a lot of things that a person is free to do/ not do. Where we part ways is how we go about empowering people to do what they want, but don’t have the necessary tools to actually do it.

For example, contrary to some of the progressive rhetoric about libertarians wanting to see poor people starving on the street, sacrificed on some kind of “free market alter,” nothing could be further from the truth. We love people just as much as progressives do. That’s why we encourage free market capitalism so strongly: we really belive that it is the best way to ensure the least amount of people end up in that condition as possible. We really do, progressives. Really. And there is science to back that assertion up. So bear with us a little.

Alternatively, I’ve been convinced that the progressive agenda was really about “soaking The Rich” and that issues like poverty or access to necessities are really just excuses. But the vast majority of progressives just want hungry people to have food, and they see market capitalism as the reason they don’t have it. What I am starting to realize is that they look out into the economy and examples of market capitalism failing to do what libertarians (and conservatives) say it should do. Further, if government is supposed to secure liberty, progressives expect government to intervene in order to end the disparity. When resources are moved from where they aren’t being used to the betterment of society toward where they are being used that way, the mission of “securing the blessing of liberty” is clearly made evident. The evidence is right before everyones’ eyes.

Libertarians are quick to point out that what we are talking about when we say “market capitalism” is a far cry from what we have now. What we have now is a far cry from true free markets. But where libertarians advocate moving toward free markets, progressives advocate more central management of the economy instead. I get it: more of the same gets more of the same. When progressives advocate more central management of the economy, libertarians see more of what keeps the system from working. More of the same gets more of the same, again. And we stare at each other incredulously wondering why we would be willing to sacrifice people over “politics.”

Here’s the rub: both of us want a different system in place to allocate resources fairly and equitably. Both of us want it because we want people to be prosperous. Both of us want people to be free. Both of us believe that it is the proper role for government to ensure we are all free. So why the arguing?

Back to the different versions of freedom we espouse. How is a person free to eat if he can’t get any food? How is a person free to own a home if he can’t get a mortgage? How is a person free to go to college if he is too poor to pay the tuition? To a progressive, the answer is simple: government exists to ensure people are free. Government should ensure that people have the resources they need to do the things that they have a right to do. Effective freedom.

Libertarians on the other hand believe that formal freedom, freedom from coercion is the best way to ensure effective freedom. That is because we believe that the greatest enemy to freedom is the government itself. Government has a necessary monopoly on the initiation of force, and when it uses that force in ways that restrict our freedom, even if it is to provide the resources that proponents of effective freedom advocate, we see a reduction of liberty, not an increase in freedom. At best what we see is a transfer of “freedom” from one group to another. And I can see where that might seem “fair” to some people, it comes with enormous moral hazards. I submit that those moral hazards tend to make the problems worse rather than better. I wish libertarians and progressives could get past the yelling and investigate these occurences together. Conservatives are unwilling to do it at all.

We libertarians get a little carried away with rhetoric sometimes. “Taxation is theft!” isn’t helping our image with progressives, for sure. As I have said, there is a certain shock value we hope to gain when we say it, but let’s face it: there has been too much shock and not enough value, so I hope libertarians reign that in a bit. I’m trying to myself.

So here’s what I hope we can do, we libertarians and progressives. I hope we can come together and balance our approaches to government involvement in the betterment of people’s’ lives. I’m willing to meet you in the middle. Let’s start by understanding that we really want the same goals accomplished: human and civil rights protected. Economic prosperity made available to everyone. Then let’s respect each others’ concerns about the second and third order consequences to possible solutions to the problems we face. We have a lot of work to do and we’ll never get it done if we can’t talk to each other.

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A Libertarian States His Case for Immigration:Not to say it is ALL libertarians case, by any means.

schenectady_libertySo I’m libertarian. That means I believe it is immoral to initiate violence against someone. Even if a bunch of people agree that they should. Even if that bunch of people become organized through a democratic process and call themselves government. Let’s call that the Non-Aggression Principle, or NAP.

Juan is in Mexico walking north. John is in the US and is looking south, anticipating Juan’s arrival. Juan is looking forward to getting to work on John’s chicken farm. John is looking forward to someone willing to work on the farm. Work on a chicken farm sucks, and profits aren’t so hot, so pay will be pretty low. Most of the kids in town like big diesel trucks that blow white smoke, and those things are hard to buy on chicken farm pay. Plus their parents make sure they have video games to play.

John and Juan worked out an agreement. They agreed on a wage and the conditions of employment. Both are satisfied with the arrangement. Juan looks forward to working at about 7 times the wages he an get in his village. John looks forward to making enough profit that he can build more coops in a few years. With money from that coop, John might be able to pay someone to run the whole deal so he can spend more time in Ormond Beach, Fl with his family. He won’t have to keep doing that second job in town that is wearing him out, either. With the higher salary, Juan looks forward to saving enough money that he can get his kids out of the village and closer to nicer schools. Who knows, maybe someday his son can do something like run a chicken farm for an American who wants to spend more time at the beach.

When government is used to stop this transaction, both Juan’s and John’s rights are violated. It is no different than if you were to point a gun at either one of them and threaten to shoot them if Juan didn’t head back south. Using a man with a badge to do the gun-pointing changes nothing. Neither does backing the act up with a law that says it’s okay. That’s because government only legitimately exist to protect rights, not to infringe on them. And it makes no difference whose government we are talking about or where it happens to be located. But it especially needs no special pleadings in the US, where our country is young enough to actually be founded on that principle. Go read the first few paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence…I’ll still be here when you get back.

Welcome back! So, we should be able to agree on two things right now. First, that if you stop Juan from working for John you have used force to accomplish it. Second, our government protects rights, it doesn’t infringe on them. All we have to do now is agree that Juan and John have a right to enter into this contract. That part should be easy, since clearly neither one is violating anyone else’s rights with their arrangement. So they should be left alone. But it isn’t so easy to agree on that. Is it? Can we at least agree that using force to stop someone from exercising a right sucks?

Getting around to agreeing that keeping Juan and John from associating through a contract that both of them consented to honor will have to be for another post on another day. This post isn’t about convincing you I’m right. It’s about explaining my case for immigration. There are economic reasons as well. National security reasons. Other reasons you probably don’t agree with about immigration as I’ve laid it out. I just wanted you to know this guy’s (me, that is) reason: because it’s none of your business what other people do as long as it doesn’t violate your rights. And that is good enough for me.

Think about it, and let me know what you come up with, will you? I hammered it out pretty quickly so there bounds to be spelling, grammar and/or logical consistency errors. Let me know. Thanks for reading.

 

Trump Has a Phone and a Pen As Well: Executive orders are a double-edged sword

schenectady_libertyI’ll post a link to the particulars, but it appears that some of the particularly controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act were empowered by executive order instead of written directly into the law. Okay some of you knew that already. The more astute among you for sure. But regular people probably didn’t realize it and might not understand the implications, so here we are.

My guess is that it happened for things that wouldn’t pass congressional muster. Like I said, you can go get the particulars if you want to. Legislating by executive order is executive over-reach. It is one of the many ways we have seen the executive branch use power that is reserved to the other branches, the states or the people. This has been going on for decades. It appears that the president took advantage of this power and began the process of unraveling the ACA’s more controversial requirements.

Another problem with it is that it becomes harder for people to obey the law. As more laws becomes regulations, they becomes more open to interpretation. The State likes it that way though, so don’t expect to see less of it. Don’t get too excited when you see a new president use executive orders or regulation re-interpretation in a way that you agree with over the last guy. Each time it is used, it transfers power from all of us to the president. And it seems to be a one way transfer.

So here is a link to an article with specifics. If you don’t like the source, Google your own. Trump’s Executive Order On Obamacare Means Everything And Does Nothing The author of this article seems to believe that the Order “does nothing” and he is right in the context in which he says that: it doesn’t grant any power that the president doesn’t already have, but as I said: every time a power is executed by the president that should be a law passed by Congress, it solidifies that power in the executive. My opinion I guess, but the evidence seems pretty clear to me. You be the judge.

Thanks for reading. Share if you like.

Why Governments Fail Where Freedom Works:Force and virtue cannot be developed simultaneously.

schenectady_liberty Somewhere along the line, George Washington said that government is force. Maybe I’ll make it official and document the whole quotation with the source, but for now entertain the possibility and just take it on faith, okay?

Here’s the deal: Force, whether actual physical violence or coercion, controls acts but has little tendency to actually change minds. Changing minds is how virtue is developed in a society. And changed minds is how you get lasting results.

The government of North Korea doesn’t care much about changing minds unless you count propaganda and shear terror. The North Korean people don’t expect to be convinced with reason or logic, either. They readily accept that the death of four generations of a family is appropriate for killing a cow before it is so old and tough that you can’t eat it anyway. Legal equals moral in tyrannical societies.

But we (Americans) live in a free country. We have a reasonable expectation that we will get to use a little peaceful convincing to enact good ideas before force will be used. I don’t think it takes a Phd in philosophy to understand that it is better for society for people to willingly choose to do the right thing when and where that is possible. And when people make decisions freely, they tend to stick to the decision when times get tough and there’s no one with a bayonet pointed in their back. Moral equals moral in free societies, and legal has a chance to pass the moral test first, hopefully.

A society of people that willingly make moral decisions is a virtuous society. A society that does the right thing against their will is not virtuous. It is afraid. Let’s pursue virtue where and when possible. Let’s use force only when we have to.

Anyway I really just wanted to see of I could get an image to show up in the Facebook and Twitter shares that WordPress creates when I share post links. So here goes. Wish me luck, and comment if you want to. Share if you want to. I’ll try to post a more coherent thought later. Thanks for reading.