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J Vine Discusses Corbynomics With The Advisor


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Imagine a society in which it is morally acceptable to leave a strangers child dying in the street for lack of care on the basis that you owe no obligation to anyone but not morally acceptable to trim your neighbors hedge without their consent on the basis that they have the moral right to be left alone on their property.

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What I was getting at is how could it (the market economy) or would it function or fail to function?

For instance if one could not conceive of money except that issued by state institutions then clearly a market economy without state institutions would be contradictory. Are there any such contradictions?

If it is not contradictory, what might it be like?

I understand - but in the context of the thread, there are those who are weirdly still trying to paint the crisis as a'socialist'/'statist' problem.

In other words its a bit like how the NRA often claims that the problems America have had with guns could be solved if people ....have more guns.

Its not clear to me that the world would necessarily have come to an end if we'd allowed the banks to fail. But I'm extremely sceptical that total laissez-faire could ever work.

We could puzzle through perhaps the setting up some sort of 'independent' system of 'smart contracts' where there is almost no involvement of the 'state', in truth the technology is either here or just around the corner. But with billions of people armed with technology of increasing power and complexity all actively looking to screw each other over as well as the shrunken state I'm a bit pessimistic as to what the end result would be.

Wonderpups interesting post posits an way of cutting to the chase: maybe we're just trying to pander to an egotistical myth. If you're successful, wealthy or powerful, its easy to fall into the delusion of total independence - of believing that somehow you don't need anybody or anything else, and in contrast to your own virtues, all that represents is 'interference' or 'restriction' and anything that goes wrong is due to this 'Other'.

You don't have to imagine the carnage that might be caused by enough people believing this - isn't this mess a small example of how it might turn out ?

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Its not clear to me that the world would necessarily have come to an end if we'd allowed the banks to fail. But I'm extremely sceptical that total laissez-faire could ever work.

I'm sceptical too. It's quite a scary idea, but so are the powers held by governments and corporations now and under various other types of political system. I think the worries about laissez-faire systems are more a generalised worry though, because critics don't tend to link their criticisms to any mechanism or causation. Consider the jump from "I object to Friedman's foundations" to "imagine a society in which it is morally acceptable..." Why would people care less about each other if the government was removed from the picture? Might it be preferable to live in a wealthier society in which people care less about their neighbours anyway? (Compare life today versus peasant villages centuries ago)

I think it's important to try to understand how the mechanisms work in our current system and how they might work.

I think this egotistical thing isn't particularly relevant to serious libertarians. After all they are the ones who insist on the importance and desirability of interdependence. Milton Friedman famously pointed out (I think the example came from Leonard Read) that nobody can even make a pencil. We all rely on each other for thousands of inputs and pieces of knowledge which are often inarticulable. They may be a bit closed-minded, but the ego is with the planners.

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The argument is absurd and contradictory from the outset.

Line four of the introduction says this;

We also reject the idea that people have an enforceable claim on others, for anything more than being left alone.

This makes no sense- if you reject the idea that a person can have an enforceable claim on another person you cannot then demand that that person must leave you alone, because if you do make such a demand you are attempting to make an enforceable claim on that person, something that you explicitly reject.

On the other hand if you accept that you have an enforceable claim to be left alone then you have violated your first principle that no such claims are valid.

What the libertarians are trying to propose is the absurd proposition that they have a moral right for their amoral position to be respected- they are in effect saying this;

'I reject the concept of obligations of any kind between human beings and you have the obligation to respect this position by leaving me alone.'

Seriously?

And then there's this- again from the introduction;

But nobody would have a right to force his way of life upon his neighbor.

Or- put another way- everyone has an obligation to leave his neighbor alone if he wishes to be left alone.

The problem of course is that you can't have rights on one side without there being obligations on the other- so my right to be left in peace imposes an obligation on you to respect that right.

In visual terms the libertarian landscape is a flat amoral plain as far as the eye can see- a world in which no one owes any obligation to anyone else- but with one glaring anomaly- astride this vast desert of amorality sits a single solitary peak of moral implacability- that 'right' to be left alone. But what is the basis of this 'right'? Does it have it's origin in a shared network of mutual aid and obligation? No it does not. Where then does this 'right' come from? Well no where- it's just been tacked on in a totally arbitrary way.

Imagine a society in which it is morally acceptable to leave a strangers child dying in the street for lack of care on the basis that you owe no obligation to anyone but not morally acceptable to trim your neighbors hedge without their consent on the basis that they have the moral right to be left alone on their property.

This is the laughable basis upon which the libertarians have constructed an entire mountain of humbug. They want to have their amoral cake but add a moral cherry on the top- this is the kind of thinking that gets discarded by five year old's in favor of something a little more sophisticated and coherent.

Wow, you have clearly thought about this stuff.

I see what you are saying. Haven't read the text but would think that the libertarians are trying to say that the minimal amount of rights and obligations should exist. They think the basic minimum is a right to be left alone and an obligation to leave alone.

This is fine as far as it goes, but real life means humans have needs - to stay warm and eat to name but two. These needs require 'stuff' external to your body to resolve. That creates property. Presumably the libertarians have a problem over property because as soon as ownership of property exists we have a new set of rights and obligations.

Maybe they can expand their simple rule to "a right to be left alone with one's property and an obligation to leave alone".

Now comes the big problem that you allude to. If all property belongs to somebody/ies and other bodies have insufficient to meet their basic needs, even by free negotiation with the property owners or availing themselves of charity, is it the best of all worlds that those people should suffer or die? A libertarian says yes because it is a clean and coherent philosophically. The spiritual or political person of course says no, we can do better than this.

That fully describes the world and the debate we live within in 2015. No further on than the ancient Greeks. I believe we can do better than libertarian aloofness. The extra component in the picture is the 'land' concept of Smith, Mill, George. The bounty of nature should not be owned as private property but retained to meet the basic needs of all people. In taht context the libertarian principle does make sense and being left alone with your property then loses its aspect of selfishness.

EP

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What I was getting at is how could it (the market economy) or would it function or fail to function?

For instance if one could not conceive of money except that issued by state institutions then clearly a market economy without state institutions would be contradictory. Are there any such contradictions?

If it is not contradictory, what might it be like?

The problem for libertarians is that they want to be a little bit pregnant- they want a system with just enough moral constraints installed to protect their persons and property from violence and theft- but at the same time want to reject any other moral claims that one man might seek to impose on another.

The problem is that morality is not an à la carte proposition- for example if you take the position that it's morally ok for you to stand by and watch me drown- even if you could throw me a lifeline- on the basis that you owe me nothing, then why on earth would I respect any moral claim you might make on me to leave you in peace?- after all I owe you nothing-right?

So I would argue that the idea of a purely laissez faire market contains an identically flawed proposition . You can't really have a dog eat dog world in which the winners have absolutely no moral obligations toward the losers while-at the same time- demanding that those losers have an absolute moral obligation to respect the rules of the system that led to this outcome. Why would they?

In the same way that it's impossible to be just a little bit pregnant it's also impossible to be just a little bit moral- either you have a system in which moral obligations between men exist or you have a system in which there are no such moral obligations, just a free for all in which the only deciding factor is how ruthless and by extension violent you can be.

The libertarians really do want to have their cake and eat it too- they want to reject all possible moral claims that one man might make on another, for aid or for any other reason. And if they left it at that I could at least respect their position even though I disagree with it. But they don't leave it at that, what they do-having stated this bold position against any attempt impose moral demands on others is attempt to smuggle in a moral demand of their own. 'We want to be left alone!' they insist- 'and you have the obligation to respect this wish of ours' they add.

Do I? Why is that then? Why- in a world of liberated men all of whom owe each other nothing- should I not take everything you own and even your life if you try to stop me?

Edited by wonderpup
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I'm sceptical too. It's quite a scary idea, but so are the powers held by governments and corporations now and under various other types of political system. I think the worries about laissez-faire systems are more a generalised worry though, because critics don't tend to link their criticisms to any mechanism or causation. Consider the jump from "I object to Friedman's foundations" to "imagine a society in which it is morally acceptable..." Why would people care less about each other if the government was removed from the picture? Might it be preferable to live in a wealthier society in which people care less about their neighbours anyway? (Compare life today versus peasant villages centuries ago)

I think it's important to try to understand how the mechanisms work in our current system and how they might work.

I think this egotistical thing isn't particularly relevant to serious libertarians. After all they are the ones who insist on the importance and desirability of interdependence. Milton Friedman famously pointed out (I think the example came from Leonard Read) that nobody can even make a pencil. We all rely on each other for thousands of inputs and pieces of knowledge which are often inarticulable. They may be a bit closed-minded, but the ego is with the planners.

Well, to be fair the very specific policies and politics of neoliberalism has been occupying discourse for a while now. Rightly or wrongly I tend to conflate this with libertarianism, the exception being I tend to view libertarianism as also having a social component, not just about the purely 'practical' issues of creating a pencil - social stability, law and order, education, psychological health and purpose etc etc as well as roads communication and specialised industries.

And its not just some anarchic endpoint that worries me - its the actual mess caused by actual policy direction, a prominent component of which is the subject of this site. Take CDO's for example. The 'deregulated' genius of which essentially is about off-loading risk and responsibility to the point that the whole worlds neck is on the line, not just the foolish house-buyer or even a specific bank. Who benefits ? Who suffers ?

I woudn't worry about egos screwing things up - they're everywhere. Wonderpup applied logic to debunk 'pure' libertarianism in principal - lets start from there.

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These are important issues, but I think we have to dig a bit deeper.

I'm not sure I understand the causation between morality and politics. I haven't met any notable libertarian writers, but when they say "nobody has the right to make any demands on me" that doesn't necessarily mean they would not help people in need. It just means they don't think they should be coerced into it (typically through tax).

If there was a massive shift to libertarianism and we ended up with a nightwatchman state (just preserving law and order) would you start being selfish?

Even if you did - and people generally became more selfish - they would refrain from most crimes due to the risks and costs. In an unpleasant case (I won't say worst case, because perhaps the worst case is riots and civil war type chaos) there would be a lot more security guards, but I think this would really just be an intensification of what we currently have. People refrain from crimes for a variety of reasons and they still would, even if some reasons diminish.

Wouldn't you agree there already is a free for all? And don't you think enthusiasts for some form of democracy are similarly misguided? Sometimes PR men do a good job of convincing us we're all in it together, and perhaps that does actually enhance our public-spiritedness, but really we have all sorts of motivations to do good and bad. And we're quite variable, so I don't think there's some kind of shared morality (even the "forced morality" through the tax and benefits system is one which many try to avoid or evade) under democracy.

I know a lot of libertarians would go further saying morality and politics are antagonistic. People become immoral because the state takes over the role of charity: "What? Look after granny? We pay our taxes, so that someone else can look after her. And we provide enough for poor people already, so why worry about anyone else?"

I don't find that particularly convincing, but I'm not sure any big changes in morality or behaviour are obvious. I would like to know more about the mechanisms (incentives, ideologies?) which you think would cause change.

A final thought (I had two, but lost my train of thought. Perhaps it will come to me later):

You wrote: "they want to reject all possible moral claims that one man might make on another, for aid or for any other reason." True, but I think you've missed the motivation which underlies this for many (perhaps most?) libertarians. They deny the right of a coercive institution to forceably take our resources for any reason. They probably do believe they have a numerous moral duties, but think it is an important safeguard that these remain in the hands of individuals.

Some people may feel proud of our NHS and welfare state etc., but what about the wars and all the other terrible things governments are responsible for?

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pig - it's comments like this that make me think we're talking at cross purposes.

Pure libertarianism is very far from neoliberalism. I don't think wonderpup did debunk it, because he seems to be relying on big changes in behaviour without explaining the mechanism which was cause this. It's worth repeating: if we adopted a libertarian political system tomorrow, people may believe they have moral duties to others and act upon them. We may be as moral as before or more so.

The CDO clusterf**k could have been avoided if there hadn't been deregulation. Perhaps it also could have been avoided if alongside the deregulation there hadn't been implicit guarantees.

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pig - it's comments like this that make me think we're talking at cross purposes.

Pure libertarianism is very far from neoliberalism. I don't think wonderpup did debunk it, because he seems to be relying on big changes in behaviour without explaining the mechanism which was cause this. It's worth repeating: if we adopted a libertarian political system tomorrow, people may believe they have moral duties to others and act upon them. We may be as moral as before or more so.

The CDO clusterf**k could have been avoided if there hadn't been deregulation. Perhaps it also could have been avoided if alongside the deregulation there hadn't been implicit guarantees.

Libertarianism is very far from neoliberalism? Really?! Surely a conviction that small government is best is a tenet central to both? This economic dictat is the de facto and de jure mechanism through which changes are imposed on our behaviour as other (non-market) forms of social organisation are rendered politically and economically unviable. A corollary of the throwaway observation that decent welfare provision doesn't come cheap is a recognition that radically diminishing the ability of the state to raise taxes means no national healthcare.

As for those 'implicit' guarantees? No-one was more surprised by the events of 2008 than the denizens of the Eccles Building - they assumed until the very last that their absurd self-equilbriating, risk-distributing neoclassical models were true.

"All we can do is put foam on the runway," was Geithner's notable contribution to the debate when it became apparent that Lehman's was lost.

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Well, if you're after hysterical levels of morality politics (and libertarianism), just take a look at America !

By coincidence I've just been doing some internet head scratching on libertarianism/neo-liberalism relationship - this has reinforced the connection but I also deliberately sought out something that could distinguish - interesting study that whether you agree or disagree sets out a detailed delineation with other right-wingers:

Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians

In (very very) short,funnily enough, Libertarians are comparatively low on empathy and high on seeing individual liberty as a moral end in itself. Would the system reflect the views and emotional standpoint of its proponents ? Would it encourage this psychological standpoint in others ? I think yes.

I guess there is some logic in creating a system that is designed to increase suffering, such that people are likely to feel sorry for the sufferers and thereby engage in more acts of altruism than they would otherwise - its fair to assume that nowadays beggars on the street shouldn't actually literally starve. But it would be fair to be suspicious that actually said system was designed to improve the prospects of people who wouldn't suffer under it and weren't too bothered by people who did suffer.

You asked about mechanisms. 'Thatcherism' did after all promote opposition to itself. Perhaps, for example, it increased and strengthened peoples sense of community and solidarity in mining towns. And wasn't it David Cameron who promoted 'The Big Society ?' In the aftermath of the riots, (before immigrants started getting the blame) where a lot of looting of desirable consumerist goods went on, didn't it promote some locals to get together and sweep up the mess ? Plenty of moral and social readjustment going on there in reaction to political change.

However, thats not really what Wonderpup's key thought experiment re hedges and dying children was about. I saw it as something of a 'reductio absurdum' to illustrate the apparent 'in principal' moral and logical incoherence, not necessarily a prediction of what would happen.

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I'm not sure what people were referring to by neoliberalism, but in the context of this thread - and someone above commented that neoliberalism has dominated public discourse - it most certainly does not mean small government. The USA and UK have vast governments and in fact we've even had pretend privatisations (of railways for example) which have resulted in a bigger government, more subsidies for the rich. You must also be aware of the billions of housing benefits. This is not libertarian!

There is another definition (see Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis go to waste) which is more about the economics profession. They may be closer to libertarianism, but I still doubt their that close, but it's hard to say because they don't talk politics much.

I just don't see the relevance of the moral foundations of the system in theory to the workings of the system of practice. Friedman sets out the moral foundations on which he believes libertarianism can be justified. I think he wrote this with the intention of justifying the system to the reader, but he is a consequentialist basically. He thinks libertarianism is good because there would be more goods (e.g. wealth, freedom) and fewer bads (e.g. war).

There are obvious things one can say about the mechanisms at work in libertarianism.

It would not be possible for banks to extort (at least not to the same extent) as they would not be aided by central banks or state-sanctioned fiat currencies.

It would be a lot easier and cheaper to buy or build property.

No intellectual property rights.

No collusion between corporations and states so less exploitation, more competition.

I think markets are naturally volatile and the resulting distributions of wealth and income are unfairly unequal. But in many ways our present states exacerbate these problems. The question is whether there are some public goods so serious we need a state to solve them, or whether we would be better off without them. I think financial markets might function better without governments. I think perhaps the best argument against libertarianism might be global warming, but governments aren't really doing much to help on this, so I'm not sure all the pain and suffering they inflict elsewhere is justified.

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I don't think wonderpup did debunk it, because he seems to be relying on big changes in behaviour without explaining the mechanism which was cause this. It's worth repeating: if we adopted a libertarian political system tomorrow, people may believe they have moral duties to others and act upon them. We may be as moral as before or more so.

What you seem to be saying here is that the libertarians don't really mean what they say- that in practice they would not act out their creed that no one owes anyone else anything.

And you may be right- there is some evidence that altruism is hard wired into most humans and in most cases we do tend to help the stranger in trouble.

My argument is not that libertarians are nasty people, it's that their core ideas are inconsistent with each other- it simply makes no sense to argue that no man has a right to make moral claims on others and then assert a moral claim to be left unmolested- the first proposition is contradicted by the second. Either you take the view that no man can morally bind another or you do not- you can't do what they do and say that no man may morally bind another except for the one single case where they need that moral injunction against molestation in order to close their model.

My real objection to the libertarian creed is that it conflates liberty with self interest, and in so doing performs the role of 'useful idiot' for the Neo Liberal cause, lending a spurious intellectual weight to the idea that we can only be truly free if we are free to f*ck each other over at every opportunity- and any attempt to limit this 'freedom' is a socialist plot to enslave the masses.

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What you seem to be saying here is that the libertarians don't really mean what they say- that in practice they would not act out their creed that no one owes anyone else anything.

And you may be right- there is some evidence that altruism is hard wired into most humans and in most cases we do tend to help the stranger in trouble.

My argument is not that libertarians are nasty people, it's that their core ideas are inconsistent with each other- it simply makes no sense to argue that no man has a right to make moral claims on others and then assert a moral claim to be left unmolested- the first proposition is contradicted by the second. Either you take the view that no man can morally bind another or you do not- you can't do what they do and say that no man may morally bind another except for the one single case where they need that moral injunction against molestation in order to close their model.

My real objection to the libertarian creed is that it conflates liberty with self interest, and in so doing performs the role of 'useful idiot' for the Neo Liberal cause, lending a spurious intellectual weight to the idea that we can only be truly free if we are free to f*ck each other over at every opportunity- and any attempt to limit this 'freedom' is a socialist plot to enslave the masses.

it seems some are very nasty indeed....name calling is hate, disagreeing with someone on the internet is hate...hate is bad...it should be banned.

The left redefine what hate is.

Everything is sexist. therefore this must be pointed out adnausiem to the great unwashed who get on with their lives without noticing. Leftists love to notice the trivial, and make it important. by force. by fear...by Political Correctness....then they get tangled up exactly as you say....

Hopeless case.

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Do I? Why is that then? Why- in a world of liberated men all of whom owe each other nothing- should I not take everything you own and even your life if you try to stop me?

Jeez, imagine if Injin was still around. I think he would have self-combusted at this bit.

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By libertarianism we've so far been referring to the minimal state (classical liberalism) or pure libertarianism of a market and private property based variety. Alternatively there is libertarian socialism (perhaps the most well known advocate is Noam Chomsky, and the closest real world example were the Spanish Anarchists for a few years before Franco). Not surprisingly they make similar criticisms of libertarian ethics. They also want a stateless society, but wish to organise things co-operatively (see for example Michael Albert's writings on Participatory Economics) rather than through markets and private property. They say under libertarian socialism people would have much more rights than just the right to be left alone. Libertarians have often criticised libertarian socialists for thinking they are being utopian and making unrealistic claims about behaviour under libertarian socialism.

I think less has been written about the likely organisation of libertarian socialism. In particular I'm not aware of how they'd prevent the emergence or excessive growth of markets (perhaps either they couldn't, or they'd have to use coercive methods), ultimately perhaps leading to the other form of libertarianism. In a similar vein one might wonder if libertarian socialist "islands" might spring up under libertarianism.

In the middle are some who call themselves left-libertarians (see for instance the Bleeding Hearts Libertarians blog) are worth a look. What's interesting is these people and the libertarian socialism present a less selfish and sometimes less individualist vision, but unless they are specifying different institutional arrangements perhaps all they are doing is revealing their personal vision and it has no bearing on what libertarianism might be like.

I'd still be interested to know your answer to my question: "Isn't it already a free for all?"

If you assume people would be selfish under libertarianism and aren't currently, what is the moral foundation of our behaviour? I think the whole approach is wrong-headed, but I would be interested to know the opinions of those who disagree.

I'd say our current form of representative democracy is the result of the masses pushing for male suffrage in the 19th century and then the Suffragettes. People had interests and fought for them. It seems to me there's no general motivation. Democracy (social democracy, welfare state, neoliberalism whatever) doesn't pre-suppose or create a particular morality. They are a set of institutions which constrain us and facilitate things and we respond to them, but we're always driven by a variety of beliefs and motivations.

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Any advances on pointing out some people claim to liberals but aren't and some are hypocrites? Can we safely narrow the political spectrum to new Labour versus the Conservatives?

Libertarianism, the Ayn Rand kind at least, is simply fascism. The mythical über men, who should have free reign to rule over us all.

The basic premise is not that there should be no government, but that government should be in private hands.

Libertarianism is superficially attractive because it steals the rhetoric of a far better, far older, ideology - anarchism.

Anarchism - left wing libertarianism - is the ideology we are missing.

Both agree that government are the problem.

Libertarians believe the government is keeping the wealthy down by enabling the parasitical poor.

Anarchists believe The government is keeping the parastical wealthy up, by enabling poverty.

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Ayn Rand and her followers are opposed to libertarianism (look it up!) - they want the USA to go around nuking any country which they suspect of not believing Rand's philosophy. They believe taxation could be voluntary and the state would be necessary to provide a safety net for the poor (despite believing the poor generally exploit the rich, they worry about the plight of the poor under complete laissez-faire). I think Rand and her followers are basically extremist neoconservatives with some very peculiar moral beliefs.

I'd say libertarians realise the exploitation often runs in several directions. It's not always easy (or possible?) to disentangle. Even if for some middling income people taxes and benefits sort of balance there is a lot of waste and provision of public bads.

The main questions between libertarianism and anarchism I think are: in the absence of the state what choices remain about organisation? (Both before it is set up and once it is running)

How much insitutional variety is there? Is there choice between co-operatives, more traditional firms? How much private property will there be? Could you set up as a sole trader? Are co-operatives or unions obliged to employ anyone? If not can people be completely excluded (like the dying babies)? If there are any constraints, how are they enforced? Are there significant problems in organisation, or is it a trivial matter?

I don't claim to have the answer to these questions and I'm genuinely interested to know what you think.

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...

Libertarians believe the government is keeping the wealthy down by enabling the parasitical poor.

Anarchists believe The government is keeping the parastical wealthy up, by enabling poverty.

...

The main questions between libertarianism and anarchism I think are: in the absence of the state what choices remain about organisation? (Both before it is set up and once it is running)

How much insitutional variety is there? Is there choice between co-operatives, more traditional firms? How much private property will there be? Could you set up as a sole trader? Are co-operatives or unions obliged to employ anyone? If not can people be completely excluded (like the dying babies)? If there are any constraints, how are they enforced? Are there significant problems in organisation, or is it a trivial matter?

...

Heading slightly back to the OP - what is the 'direction of travel' ?

Where really is Corbyn heading ? Where is the conservative government heading ?

If the bailouts weren't for our benefit then they were an attempt to keep the party going for those who, well, believed in that sort of 'party'.

Is the direction of travel 'libertarianism'? We've argued about whether the bailouts were 'really' socialism, but actually (wonder pups?) definition of libertarianism as a incoherent conflation of self-interest and liberty would be consistent with a cynical view of the bailouts. In this case freedom and non-interference to make money any which way you please, unless system meltdown (due to said freedom) threatens that freedom !

For me 'Peoples Q.E.' is as much politics as concrete policy. It seems a classic leftwing response to both petty envy and understandable anger. The obvious direction of travel would seem to be 'statism' and 'socialism' - its not quite 'redistribution' but it seems awfully similar. But, to complicate matters further the 'freedom's encouraged by supposed right-wing policies have resulted in a 'trickle-up' economy - redistribution in all but name. And an increasingly 'coorporatist' world - its almost as if the diminishing the state and the increasing power of corporations is a zero-sum game.

The current response seems to be that the increasing wealth gap doesn't matter, its still pulling the poor up, that food banks are for greedy fat or feckless people and so on....

Edited by pig
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Anarchism - left wing libertarianism - is the ideology we are missing.

Both agree that government are the problem.

Libertarians believe the government is keeping the wealthy down by enabling the parasitical poor.

Anarchists believe The government is keeping the parastical wealthy up, by enabling poverty.

Clearly, neither know anything about the inherent fallibility of the free market.

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I'd still be interested to know your answer to my question: "Isn't it already a free for all?"

If you assume people would be selfish under libertarianism and aren't currently, what is the moral foundation of our behaviour? I think the whole approach is wrong-headed, but I would be interested to know the opinions of those who disagree.

If the libertarians were to be consistent they would be easy to spot- they would be the guys who walk past the queue at the bank or the post office and take the first available slot on the basis that the people in that queue can have no moral claim on them to stand in line and wait their turn.

So the answer to your question is to be found in your own willingness to wait in line- by doing so you are implicitly accepting that other people can make moral claims on you in regard to how you conduct yourself- and this holds true even if that queue were composed of little old ladies whom you could easily push past in order to advance your position.

Interestingly even those who advocate the libertarian view most passionately will still stand in line at the post office- apparently not realizing that according to their own view there is no real reason to do so.

The point is not that people would be selfish in a libertarian world- selfishness is after all a moral concept that only has meaning in contrast to altruism. More accurately it would be like living in a society of autistic individuals who would simply not recognize the right of any other person to exert a moral claim on them in any form and in which relationships to the extent they existed at all would more closely resemble the activity of newtownian billiard balls bouncing off each other than anything we might recognize as human interaction.

It's the web of interlocking mutual obligations we share that make human relationships human- the libertarian vision of a world in which all such mutual obligations are absent strikes me as oddly juvenile- the ultimate teenage fantasy in which you get to do anything you want, when you want, and there's no blowback, no messy human entanglements.

Edited by wonderpup
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I think it is possible to abide by rules without considering them to be moral rules.

Of particular relevance here is the case when someone would like to act out the "ultimate teenage fantasy," but, having a teenage or adult brain rather than that of a two year old, realises he will be kicked out of the bank or post office and basically end up being shut out of society if he persists in being unco-operative.

We don't know what combination of motives induces people to conform to moral rules. So we have no way of knowing if anyone recognises any moral rules currently (we may know something of our own motives through introspection). As a political matter is important what motives induce people to conform to respect others?

If you think libertarianism would be "like living in a society of autistic individuals" how is it the government prevents autism currently? Do you really think people conform to rules in banks and post offices because.... the government?

Central to libertarianism is that we are intelligent enough and motivated enough (for a variety of reasons) to sustain our mutual obligations to each other without being forced to by the government.

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I think it is possible to abide by rules without considering them to be moral rules.

Of particular relevance here is the case when someone would like to act out the "ultimate teenage fantasy," but, having a teenage or adult brain rather than that of a two year old, realises he will be kicked out of the bank or post office and basically end up being shut out of society if he persists in being unco-operative.

We don't know what combination of motives induces people to conform to moral rules. So we have no way of knowing if anyone recognises any moral rules currently (we may know something of our own motives through introspection). As a political matter is important what motives induce people to conform to respect others?

If you think libertarianism would be "like living in a society of autistic individuals" how is it the government prevents autism currently? Do you really think people conform to rules in banks and post offices because.... the government?

Central to libertarianism is that we are intelligent enough and motivated enough (for a variety of reasons) to sustain our mutual obligations to each other without being forced to by the government.

The reason that people queue at the post office is not because they have a legal obligation to do but because they have a social obligation to do so- and most people would find it shameful and embarrassing to be caught jumping the queue.

However a Libertarian would not suffer from either shame or embarrassment since he would not in the first instance recognize any need to respect the moral claims the other people might impose on him to wait his turn. So a true libertarian on encountering a queue at the post office would not in theory even consider waiting his turn since there would be no reason to do so- that is no moral reason to do.

But you are however making another point I think, which is that the Libertarian might queue not out of a sense of moral obligation to other people but from pure self interest- which is a valid point.

However this cannot save the Libertarian position because they explicitly reject the view that self interest alone is the only constraint on action- they demand that self interest be limited by the rights of the other to be left in peace. So- for example- even if I were to decide that it was in my self interest to attack you and take all your stuff I would not be allowed to do so since this would violate your right and my obligation to leave you in peace.

If I seem to be trying to occupy two irreconcilable positions here it's because this duality reflects the inherent absurdity of the Libertarians desire to free themselves from all obligation to their fellow human beings while simultaneously insisting that those fellow human beings have the absolute obligation not to mess with them or their stuff. Exactly why people who recognize no obligations imposed on them by others would refrain from messing with them or their stuff is not clear.

It's as if the Libertarians are afraid of the conclusions of their own thinking- having arrived at a place where they feel the only way to be truly free is to free themselves of all obligations to others they lose their nerve at the last moment and want to insert at least one obligation- the obligation to leave each other alone- but in doing so they undermine the logic of their entire argument which is that all such obligations are a form of bondage.

To be consistent they would be compelled to accept that in their proposed society violent force would be as valid a mode of action as any other, since any attempt to prohibit it would be an attempt to limit the freedom of the individual by subordinating that freedom to the needs of others.
Edited by wonderpup
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So you accept people may co-operate through self-interest rather than a sense of moral obligation. If we set aside the moral foundations, can we probe any further to consider how such a system would function?

How can you be sure why people queue at the post office? I think most of us have internalised conformity because of the way we brought up (largely by our parents, but also how we were socialised at school). It is "naughty" to run around and take or do whatever you want. Children also have to learn that some natural behaviour is shameful. Libertarians are not proposing that parenting and social conventions are un-libertarian. I'm not sure, but I suppose you could (as you appear to be doing) argue that this is inconsistent. Setting this aside, in the absence of attempts to impose the removal of social conventions I think they would sustain themselves. What do you think?

But I think you misunderstand the point of libertarianism. It's not to free people of all obligations. Rather it's to remove the organisations which coercively impose obligations. This includes the state, though some libertarians would include others. The reason they wish to remove the state is it does a lot of harm. It seems to me the debate should be around how much good the state does and whether these goods could be done otherwise, and whether other harms would occur in the absence of the state.

Critics of libertarianism make much of their arguments of inconsistency, but I'm not sure the alternatives are any more consistent. Most on the Left say there is a conflict between democracy and capitalism and buying political power. This is on display in all parliamentary democracies as far as I know. But attempts to constrain inequality seem bound to require constraints on democracy (apart from anything else, what if people choose, or want to choose, not to constrain markets, capitalism and inequality). One of these forms of democracy may be best, but I don't see that they can be considered consistent.

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So you accept people may co-operate through self-interest rather than a sense of moral obligation.

This depends on everyone having a modicum of enough intelligence to see the bigger picture in order to deploy game theory.

However most people are d1cks, and it only takes one...

Besides not all liberty is positive.

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But one could equally argue parliamentary democracy requires similarly heroic assumptions about our politicians. Democracy is a nice idea, until you realise the kind of people who get elected...

Also, this doesn't work perfectly at the moment. Some people fail to behave and co-operate, even when it is in their interest (lots of people commit crimes and ruin relationships). Some people would under libertarianism. The point is to compare various actual and potential systems, not with utopian visions (libertarianism may be a utopian vision, but that is what I am trying to enquire about, and the key issue is whether the instiutions and mechanisms would be sustainable).

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