Libertarianism says that people should not cause conflict. It wants everyone to get along. That’s why the non-aggression principle, which libertarianism is based on, is so simple. It does not tell you how to live your life. It just says not to cause problems in the lives of other people. This rule is great in theory, but not in practice. Not because libertarianism isn’t practical. It is. However, applying the non-aggression principle to everyday situations can be quite difficult.
The reason is that people do many different things each day. They make choices and take chances that can potentially affect the lives of other people. Trying to evaluate whether any particular thing you might do will cause conflict, and thus violate the NAP, could take a long time. Try doing that for everything you might do in a day and you won’t have time to do anything else.
So how do we protect liberty without bringing life to halt? Continue reading
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
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
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
A 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
Freedom is the ability to do whatever want. Unfortunately, there are many things that might get in the way. Gravity prevents you from jumping over buildings like an old-school superman. Poverty could prevent you from travelling to southern Australia to see the little penguins that live there. Your love interest might prevent you from sleeping over even though you sent all of those romantic selfies.
With so many constraints on how you can live, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if one were truly free. You could go anywhere and do anything. You would know everything, if you wanted to. These god-like powers would let you live your life exactly how you want. That is the ideal, so what is the reality?
Humans are nowhere near total freedom, but we have made great progress in improving freedom in some respects. Most prominently, new technology has continually pushed back the limits of nature. Access has improved to food, water, travel, information, and many other things that enable us to live more how we want. Science and technology free us in a very real sense, but they are not the only engines of progress. They are just part of a more general term for this type of freedom called capital. When most people talk about capital, they mean physical goods that allow people to do things: hammers, horses, and houses. Yet, capital can be other things too, like the knowledge of how to build a car, or the organizational structure that allows everyone in town to play soccer together, or the supply chains that keep cities fed every day without a farm in sight.
The relatively pleasant lives that people enjoy today, compared to five hundred years ago, is due primarily to the huge amounts of capital accumulated since then. Continue reading
As machines begin to take on more executive functions, the question of ethics has appropriately been raised. Who is responsible if a self-driving car runs over a mailbox? In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov conceived of a solution where machines would be imbued with rules to prevent them from behaving badly. Those rules were known as the Three Laws of Robotics and are as follows:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These rules form a plausible ethical system for robots, but even Asimov knew they would be insufficient. He wrote a number of stories showing how the laws could break down in his book, I, Robot. The problems with the rules are ambiguity and the possibility of internal contradictions. In the stories, poorly constructed rules for guiding behavior led to robots to commit all manner of misdeeds.
Inconsistent rules not only plague Asimov’s fictional world, but the real world as well. Continue reading