David D. Friedman on Problems with Libertarianism

In this video from 1981, David D. Friedman lists some unresolved problems with libertarianism and also tells some funny stories about Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand. In general, he thinks that libertarians are too confident in their ability to answer all real world problems given the current state of libertarian ethical theory. For anyone interested in the fundamentals of libertarianism, this video will be a lot of fun.


TL;DW: First, he is concerned that there is no pre-defined rule for quantifying the kind and quantity of punishment and restitution that is appropriate in response to crimes. Continue reading

What is anarcho-capitalism?

ancap flag

Anarcho-capitalist flag

Anarcho-capitalism is a social system that aims to maximize freedom. It does this by combining the peaceful coexistence of libertarianism with the optimal productivity of laissez-faire capitalism. Peace is important because any conflict between people reduces at least one person’s freedom. Productivity is important because every bit of capital that people produce increases someone’s freedom. So to have the best life possible, we want to minimize conflict and maximize capital.

Libertarianism minimizes conflict with one simple rule: do not cause conflict. All other libertarian ideas like “stealing is bad” are derived from this non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle limits the freedom of individuals by forbidding certain behaviors like theft, murder, etc. Though this rule directly reduces everyone’s freedom, it tends to produce a society with more freedom than a society with no rules at all. You don’t get to kidnap other people but, Continue reading

Science and Technology Are Awesome


Technology rocks

I really like technology, and most other people do too. That’s not surprising because technology empowers us to do the things we want to do. Like fly around over the ocean. Or read a blog.

Quite literally, technology gives you freedom. Without technology you have to walk around naked everywhere. With technology, you can wear a jacket when the weather is cold or ride a train to get places.

Science is cool, too. It helps create new and better technology. Plus, it is fun to know how the universe works. Without science, the rate at which technology can improve is greatly diminished. So if you love freedom you should also be a supporter of science and technology. They free us from the constraints of nature and make life better in oh-so-many ways.

However, science and technology don’t solve problems on their own. Continue reading

Government Encourages Debt, which Discourages Entrepreneurship

debtDebt is good for government. Taking money directly from people, a.k.a. taxation, a.k.a. stealing, carries with it a lot of baggage. People resent it. Debt is the easiest way for politicians and bureaucrats to get the money they need to ruin lives both at home and abroad. But even if you think government is a necessary evil, consider how the desire to do good things leads government to make everyone worse off.

Joe Politician wakes up one morning and realizes that education is good. So good, in fact, that everyone should have lots and lots of it. To make this happen, he gets the government to make it very easy for people to get loans for education. People take on debt, purchase more education, and the price of education goes up. So people take out more loans and the price goes up. Soon it becomes normal for 22 year olds to have the equivalent of a mortgage with no house.

There are many ways in which this distorts the economy, but one that is not often discussed is entrepreneurship. Continue reading

Libertarianism is an Ethical System

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Libertarianism is a system for resolving conflict. In other words, it is an ethical system. Libertarianism simply tells you not to commit crimes like theft and murder. So, it only applies to how you interact with other people, and even then only sets some bare minimum of acceptable behavior.

This invariably leads people to ridicule libertarianism because it does not give any guidance on activities that are not crimes. Should you donate to charity? Libertarianism doesn’t say. People who don’t like libertarianism phrase this as, “libertarianism does not support charity, ” which is technically true but very misleading. Many libertarians give to charity, but they do not do it because they are libertarian. They have other codes of behavior that motivate them.

These other codes are called moral systems. They help people decide what is good and what is bad. For example, Jainism says that drinking alcohol is bad. Like libertarianism, a moral code might dictate how to interact with others. On the other hand, moral codes can also deal with how to behave when you are all alone. Continue reading

The Role of Intentions in Ethical Analysis

Dudley Do Right's attempted arson

Dudley Do-Right fails to commit a crime in “The Disloyal Canadians”

How do intentions factor in to ethical analysis? Can one be forgiven for doing something evil if they had intended to do something good? Deontological libertarians only care about whether the NAP is violated, so intentions do not appear to be relevant at first glance: all that matters is who is responsible for conflict.

So if someone attempts to do something evil, but ends up doing something not-evil, then from a libertarian perspective that is okay. If you try to build a death ray, shoot your neighbor with it, and unintentionally cure his cancer then you have probably not done anything unethical, even though you tried to. Similarly, if you try to do something peaceful, like give someone a massage, but you accidentally kill them then you have unintentionally done something unethical.

So intentions are not sufficient to determine ethical outcomes, and cannot be used as an excuse for some crime. Honor killing is still murder. However, intentions can affect who is responsible for a crime and thus indirectly affect an ethical conclusion under certain circumstances. Continue reading

Can Good Be Accomplished Through Evil?

virgin_sacrificeA common attack on libertarianism is that it prohibits certain behaviors that seem to make sense from a utilitarian point of view. For example, if you could save your village from King Kong just by giving the beast one of the young women who live there, that might seem like a good idea, especially if the alternative is that everyone dies. So, while it might be evil to sacrifice her to the monster, maybe it is a good thing to do since you end up saving everyone else.

To fully appreciate this kind of argument, it is necessary to understand that the idea of evil is an objective quality of human interaction, while the idea of good is a subjective quality of any kind of behavior. Whether something is evil or not-evil can be defined in such a way that everyone can agree on what is evil and what is not. So the town saviour in our example could recognize that it is evil to sacrifice a young woman, but he might think that it is a good thing to do. There is no contradiction here because evil does not mean “very bad”. In fact, whether behavior is evil is totally independent of whether it is good or bad.

Just as Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard might disagree on whether it is good or bad to smoke cigarettes, they would both agree that it is not evil. In the same way, anarchists and minarchists agree that stealing is evil, but anarchists believe that all taxes are bad and minarchists think that some low level of taxation is good. Continue reading