For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard. 1973 book that gets recommended a lot on the anarcho-capitalist forums.
Some libertarians are willing to accept a minimal government for national defence and contract , but Rothbard wants to abolish it altogether. Defence funding will instead be purely voluntary:
In the first place, the form and quantity of defense expenditures would be decided upon by the American consumers themselves. Those Americans who favor Polaris submarines, and fear a Soviet threat, would subscribe toward the financing of such vessels. Those who prefer an ABM system would invest in such defensive missiles. Those who laugh at such a threat or those who are committed pacifists would not contribute to any "national" defense service at all. Different defense theories would be applied in proportion to those who agree with, and support, the various theories being offered. Given the enormous waste in all wars and defense preparations in all countries throughout history, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of reason to propose that private, voluntary defense efforts would be far more efficient than government boondoggles.Policing is similar:
...police services were supplied on a free, competitive market. In that case, consumers would pay for whatever degree of protection they wish to purchase. The consumers who just want to see a policeman once in a while would pay less than those who want continuous patrolling, and far less than those who demand twenty-four-hour bodyguard service.I was expecting that there would be at least some kind of token acknowledgement of the existence of collective action problems, and if not a solution, some attempt to downplay them. The obvious thing here is free rider problems. Everyone as an individual has an incentive not to contribute to the defence fund and rely on their neighbours: but if everyone acts that way there's not enough money. Similarly every merchant in Times Square has an incentive not to pay for the policing and rely on the others in the association. However, Rothbard simply ignores them.
...suppose that the Times Square area, including the streets, was privately owned, say by the "Times Square Merchants Association." The merchants would know full well, of course, that if crime was rampant in their area, if muggings and holdups abounded, then their customers would fade away and would patronize competing areas and neighborhoods. Hence, it would be to the economic interest of the merchants' association to supply efficient and plentiful police protection, so that customers would be attracted to, rather than repelled from, their neighborhood.
The obvious solution to the free-rider problem is of course to make the area of ownership big enough. If a single company owns Times Square, it can pay for security in that area with no such problem. Rather than run the shops itself, which requires specialist knowledge, it might lease out shops, or perhaps sell the permanent right to live or work there, in exchange for the appropriate
taxesfees, and as long as they follow the lawsrules. Rothbard doesn't suggest this, perhaps because it would raises awkward questions about whether that concept is actually different to a state.
Regarding the theory, the chief doctrine is the "non-aggression principle", that no-one can violate the property rights of anyone else. The entire libertarian world, including rivers, is to be private property. Issues like pollution are to be solved by lawsuits where everybody sues the polluter. Human rights are considered to be themselves property rights by the concept of "self-ownership".
The right of land ownership is considered to derive from labor. Rothbard quotes John Locke, who he considered to be a proto-libertarian extensively
Though the water running in the fountain be every one's, yet who can doubt but that in the pitcher is his only who drew it out? His labour hath taken it out of the hands of Nature where it was common . . . and hath thereby appropriated it to himselfRothbard, as most libertarians, talks a lot about the "homesteader" in this context:
For, as we have seen, no producer really "creates" matter; he takes nature-given matter and transforms it by his labor energy in accordance with his ideas and vision. But this is precisely what the pioneer — the "homesteader" — does when he brings previously unused land into his own private ownership. Just as the man who makes steel out of iron ore transforms that ore out of his know-how and with his energy, and just as the man who takes the iron out of the ground does the same, so does the homesteader who clears, fences, cultivates, or builds upon the land. The homesteader, too, has transformed the character of the nature-given soil by his labor and his personality. The homesteader is just as legitimately the owner of the property as the sculptor or the manufacturer; he is just as much a "producer" as the others.Rothbard argues that since the homesteader has applied his labour to give the land labour, he therefore has a right to sell this land to others, or to will it to his descendants.
The obvious problem here is what happens when you get to later generations than the original "homesteader". (Where I live, the homesteaders lived in the Bronze Age.) By then, the landowners will have either inherited or bought the land: they might do their own labour, or they might employ others to work for them. If they employ others though, then somehow the labour-rights of a long-dead homesteader to the land are overriding the labour-rights of many subsequent generations. The typical left-anarchist belief that the land belongs to whoever works or occupies it therefore seems more consistent than the anarcho-capitalist "homesteader" concept.
It could of course be argued that land ownership by non-workers is more economically efficient. However, Rothbard explicitly rejects any such utilitarian justification of property rights, pointing out that this inevitably leads to a softening from libertarianism to mere liberalism.
There were two grave consequences of this shift from natural rights to utilitarianism. First, the purity of the goal, the consistency of the principle, was inevitably shattered. For whereas the natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves militantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only values liberty as an ad hoc expedient. And since expediency can and does shift with the wind, it will become easy for the utilitarian in his cool calculus of cost and benefit to plump for statism in ad hoc case after case, and thus to give principle away....Overall, a bit disappointed by the book. I spent a bit of time on the Reddit anarcho-capitalism forums lately, and Rothbard seems to be regarded as the great intellectual heavyweight of the movement, but he doesn't seem to be a whole lot more convincing than the other Internet libertarians. The foundations of the movement seem to be based on a certain amount of magical thinking, and they evade the problems this causes rather than confront them.
It so happens that the free-market economy, and the specialization and division of labor it implies, is by far the most productive form of economy known to man, and has been responsible for industrialization and for the modern economy on which civilization has been built. This is a fortunate utilitarian result of the free market, but it is not, to the libertarian, the prime reason for his support of this system. That prime reason is moral and is rooted in the natural-rights defense of private property we have developed above. Even if a society of despotism and systematic invasion of rights could be shown to be more productive than what Adam Smith called "the system of natural liberty," the libertarian would support this system.
Why is it coercive when a state says "pay taxes, follow laws or leave", when it's non-coercive for a corporation to say "pay fees, follow rules or leave"? When land property rights come from "mixing labour with the land", why do the rights of a distant homesteader ancestor supersede the rights of the current labourers? What about collective action problems like the tragedy of the anticommons and the free rider problem? These questions aren't even answered unconvincingly, they're just ignored.
However, the book is clearly written and has detailed examples of how a libertarian world is supposed to work. I'm prepared to believe this is the best book on libertarian philosophy that there is.
What I'm Watching
Saw the Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa movie. Fairly entertaining, some funny moments. Helped by a great performance from Colm Meaney as a sacked DJ holding the radio station hostage. Suffers a bit from having all the best bits in the trailer. I also find the humour-of-embarrassment a bit wincing at times, but liked this though I found the later TV series a bit too hard to take.
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