Wednesday, 19 May 2010

My take on left-libertarianism

For the purposes of this exercise, I will use the following definition of left-libertarianism:

Left-libertarianism, as defended by contemporary theorists such as Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka, is a doctrine that has a strong commitment to personal liberty and has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is illegitimate for anyone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others. Some left-libertarians of this type support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources.


In other words, like right-libertarians, they believe that a person's body is theirs to do with as they will, and a person can presumably entirely own the proceeds of their labour minus some redistribution of the contribution of natural resources.

So, the first part of my take on this concept is pretty simple: "Why bother?"

Why would you bother to expend any effort if, in the UK, you would only get 1/61,000,000 of the reward you make from any given set of resources? (Excluding what you get from your direct labour.)

How would you calculate the value of the resources you need to distribute? What happens if there's a dispute over the valuation of the resources? Perhaps refer it to some impartial body, like, oh, say, a quango? In what way is that different from the state?

And my second objection to this idea is a very personal one: I'm not a miner and I never will be. I'm not a farmer and I never will be. I can't for the life of me see why someone who works a piece of land to give me potatoes needs to give me a share of his profits because "we all own the land". Similarly, for the miner: I want the ring or pendant, I'd like to pay less, but I really can't see why I deserve a "dividend" because Rio Tinto isn't actually allowed to own land. I have no interest in the land (and I know I'm not alone in this.) The perfectly sound and libertarian-compatible ideas of specialisation and division of labour mean that as far as I'm concerned, if Rio Tinto wants to own that land for its mineral rights, they can quite happily do so.

I realise I'm probably alone in the UK in believing this, because every bugger seems to have some sort of grievance about it, but to my mind it's much more internally consistent to me that people who own resources should benefit from them, and those who have nothing to do with them should receive nothing from them.

Aha! I hear you say. But the land is the result of theft from people, either hundreds or thousands of years ago. Without those thefts, it would be perfectly feasible to implement this form of libertarianism.

Yes, that's perfectly true, but we are where we are. And if it was wrong to have those thefts happen hundreds or thousands of years ago, why is it right to steal from those people who own those rights now? The 13th Duke of Wimpole was not the bloke who did the thieving, the 1st Duke or the King is dead many centuries.

The people who were stolen from may have died out or may have proliferated into such a mess that reallocating the resources back to the rightful owners might be to all intents, practically impossible. And how you would untie the value derived from those thefts would be even more impossible.

If you just take the resources at gunpoint and distribute them equally to society (where a large part of society will have no interest in those resources anyway!) how does that differ from the state taxing you today?

In the article above was the following addendum:

some anarchists who support private ownership of resources and a free market call themselves left libertarian and also use a different definition for right libertarianism


I think that this is probably a source of some confusion. I am an anarchist who supports private ownership of resources and a FREE market (not the current corporatist abomination.) So, by the above paragraph, I would be considered a left libertarian, although inevitably:

Others, such as scholar David DeLeon, do not consider free-market private property anarchism to be on the left.


Like everything, it all depends on your frame of reference. If you look at my "moral compass", about two-thirds down the page on the right, you will see that I am very socially libertarian -- so I could be left- or right-libertarian as far as that is concerned. But on the same graph my economic standpoint is very far to the right: I believe in free and unregulated* markets and in private property. Yet by the definition above, some people would consider me a left-libertarian.

Using the moral compass as a more intuitive and less arcane definition of the whole left / right divide gives a completely different argument:

A large section of the social democrat parties like the LibDems, the Labour Party and even the Hannan / Carswell fringe of the Tory party would consider themselves libertarian in various ways. The LibDems and Labour have significant numbers of social libertarians, i.e., people who believe in things like legalising drugs and allowing people to do whatever they like to their own bodies.

Even Tory "libertarians" are edging towards this the long way round, by encouraging local police forces to agree with local communities what crimes they want to see prioritised. So if the community is cool with drugs, then the policing thereof would fall away.

And of course, Tory libertarians are much more amenable to allowing people to keep the fruits of their labours (ha! ha!) are therefore much more inclined to economic libertarianism.

My take on the left / right divide in this case is simple: you cannot be a left-libertarian in this definition. You endorse social liberty, but deny economic liberty. You are saying that I may have any freedom I like, as long as it's a freedom that you approve of. And since you don't approve of economic freedom, you are denying me the fruit of my labour. The fact that you're cool with me taking drugs or having an abortion merely marks you out as a hypocrite, because you're "giving" me the liberties you value, and not giving me complete liberty.

*Market regulations exist only to create a barrier to entry for new competitors. This is why businesses always support new regulation - they already have the resources in place to cope with it, but a new competitor would find it that much harder to fund the startup process. The true way to "regulate" business is to allow unfettered competition.

30 comments:

schlumpf23 said...

I'm impressed, faultless.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Oh, I fucking doubt it. :o)

Old Holborn said...

This could be interesting.

I would consider myself a left wing Libertarian in that:

We are all equal
Property is probably theft from our children (ask a Plantagenet)
The vulnerable need protection, if necessary by the State
3 Tescos in Braintree is not a free market
Money is not the reason we are here.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"I would consider myself a left wing Libertarian"

I can see Demetriou bursting a blood vessel already. :o)

BenS said...

OH, you really think Tesco would be so dominant in a free market?

Roger Thornhill said...

If nobody can claim resources, who would invest to expoit resources and with what?

If I want to "exploit" land to live on or build a factory, why should I if what I produce has to be shared?

Now, you could say taxation is another form of this, but LeftLibs seem to think their version is somehow morally correct whereas I consider taxation as an evil that is for now necessary. Quite different.

The problem with saying land is nobody's forgets a) that many people turned up at a place first and deprived nobody of that land and b) how on earth to get to "there" from "here"?

The Boggart said...

Well written piece there obo well impressed,
this is exactly what the mongs
in Parliament can't understand
because they are incapable of getting their heads round the complexities of it, the thick twats.

AntiCitizenOne said...

> How would you calculate the value of the resources you need to distribute? What happens if there's a dispute over the valuation of the resources?

http://anti-citizen-one.blogspot.com/2008/05/geonomics-geonomics-is.html

BigGibb said...

Very interesting.

I'm a liberal, but also libertarian.
Which to me basically means that I think Libertarianism is the best base we have to work with, but it still needs some work to be perfect.
I'm not against the free market, but I am against monopolies,
& a financial free market is flawed.
For example Alan Greenspan considered himself a libertarian & was a big Ayn Rand fan, but look what his so-called libertarian deregulation did to the western economy.

There's work still to be done.

AntiCitizenOne said...

Greenspan didn't understand he was regulating a currency, which is a government monopoly.

In effect he turned the credit market into a commons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Obnoxio The Clown said...

@AC1- thanks, will reflect upon geonomics.

@BigGibb: If you really think the financial market is deregulated, consider these:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_Services_Authority

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_of_European_Banking_Supervisors

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CEIOPS

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Organization_of_Securities_Commissions

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_regulation


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Loss_Prevention

http://www.bis.org/publ/bcbs128.htm

http://books.hse.gov.uk/hse/public/home.jsf

https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/security_standards/pci_dss.shtml

This list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, this is just a handful of UK legislation. Most financial institutions will also have different regulations for each geography in which they do business. There is probably also a shedload of EU regulation which I haven't even looked at.

Do you really, really think banks are not regulated enough?

Jack'd Ripp'd said...

When you're flush you're a capitalist, when you're poor you're a socialist and if you're clever, you're both.

Just ask Lord and Lady Kinnock.

JuliaM said...

"I realise I'm probably alone in the UK in believing this, because every bugger seems to have some sort of grievance about it, but to my mind it's much more internally consistent to me that people who own resources should benefit from them, and those who have nothing to do with them should receive nothing from them."

Well, you're certainly not alone in that.

Jill said...

Interesting. I agree with AntiCitizenOne about Greenspan and currency. I also tend to see uninterest (as opposed to disinterest) in property ownership as a more sophisticated/evolved incarnation of the human condition. But that could either be prejudice or naivety, who's to say?

Ultimately, I think the moral compass thing has it right - right/left, libertarian/authoritarian are two different things. I'm a vertical mirror reflection of you.

Tomrat said...

More and more each day I am convinced of a need for LVT and a properly thought out IPVT for many of the reasons you have ably fisked here. It is important to differentiate between deriving a Ricardian tax from land value taxes (ownership being nearly impossible to prove or define when considering that at some point in the dim distant past no one owned any partiilar piece of property); to moot that maybe we should call it quits on fighting for land rights because everyone who originally fought and was disenfranchised by said land grabs is dead whiffs a bit - generations are disenfranchised, not just one person.

As it stands I think we have an uphill battle to get LVT; few (including myself) barely understand it, and againt modern promegeniture, the CAP and who knows what else involving paying for people to own land we have a great wall to scale; I'm not holding my breath.

ejoftheweb said...

Good, but you leave out any reference to a crucial factor: information. Free markets lead to perfect competition with perfect information. Monopolies would be less likely if competitors knew what they knew.
Banks aren't under-regulated, just wrongly-regulated; lack of access to information is the the problem.

The one-dimensional left-right spectrum has always been far too simple anyway. I don't know where I am on it but I am a transparency extremist, wherever.

Kingbingo said...

“I think that this is probably a source of some confusion. I am an anarchist who supports private ownership of resources and a FREE market (not the current corporatist abomination.)”

Dear Clowny,
In an anarchic society, without a state and without an body of law, how do you have a free market? A prerequisite to a free market is property rights. Without property rights you cannot enforce ownership claims except through the brute force that you can command to do so.

Ultimately to have a free market you need a small state that can effectively enforce a simple body of law. This does not mean you need to buy into the sort of bloated 50%+ of GDP state we have today. It simply means you acknowledge the need for a state.

I note this country commanded the world during the Victorian era with a government that stretched to only 5% of GDP, and whos London executive and bureaucracy in absolute terms numbered less than a modern town council, not a district or country council, a bloody town council!

But it was a state nonetheless and NOT anarchy.

Kingbingo said...

“Alan Greenspan considered himself a libertarian & was a big Ayn Rand fan, but look what his so-called libertarian deregulation did to the western economy.”


BigGibb,

Greenspan was in his youth an outspoken advocate for monetary responsibility, which is a shame because he abandoned those beliefs in the fed and substantially increased the money supply. This lead to false signals to the market and mal-investment.

This mal-investment was amplified by government policy that forced banks to act in a non-optimal way. For example the US 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. It forced banks to make sub-prime lending to non-crediworthy borrowers.

I am perfectly happy to concede to you that the markets caused the crash in 2008 and indeed all other modern crashes. The greatest favour you could do to your understanding of the world you live in is to ask what caused the preceding boom. In all modern cases I believe you will discover it was government, partially their inflation of the monetary base and partially their distortion of normal pricing signals and investment decisions.

Anna Raccoon said...

Obo,
Could I have permissiont to cross post this?
It is excellent.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Anna, I'd be flattered if you did. ;o)

J Demetriou said...

Obo

I'm very sorry for being slow to respond to all this. Work has dragged me away from my blog and I've been, how does the excuse go?...busy.

But I will write my take on this very soon.

Good piece by the way.

regards

JD

Sam Buckett said...

My mind keeps coming back to this. It is the only truly stimulating thing I have seen since I discovered the blogosphere last week, mainly for the reason that it resonates with beliefs I held in my adolescence, only half-remembered now. I would have been glad of the libertarian label; it has a ring about it that would have helped to wind up the opposition.

BigGibb said...

@Obo

I accept your point that there is a raft of regulation already, but it is all basically shite, or counterproductive, & the few worthy scraps are poorly enforced.

Something I doubt we could do without were the key parts of Glass-Steagall such as the seperation of commercial & investment banking. Anything that would allow the banks to hold us to ransom, again.

@KingBingo

Again, obviously I accept that what we have now is far from a free market, but my concern is that the free & unregulated financial system would also have severe pitfalls. If you take the seperation of investment & commercial banking on its own, you can see that not enforcing this played a part in allowing the 'too big to fail' situation.

I'm as sure as I can be without a few years at the Mises Institute that there would need to be some safeguards.

What am I missing?

And please don't say a brain... =)

sconzey said...

I know that Konkin and the agorists define "Left Libertarianism" as anarchists who are opposed to intellectual property.

Phil Dickens said...

"Why would you bother to expend any effort if, in the UK, you would only get 1/61,000,000 of the reward you make from any given set of resources? (Excluding what you get from your direct labour.)"

Obo,

Since you've made exactly the fallacy I was referring to, I'll repost part of my comment from B&D's blog;

The problem with right-libertarianism lies in private property. Free markets and free communism aren't incompatible, as long as both exist without coercion, and the likelihood is that practical application would see the two being closely interrelated.

Private property, however, requires coercive enforcement. There is a common fallacy that communism means every bit of everything being divided into 6-billionths, but that's simply not true. "Ownership" is determined by occupancy and use, essentially Rothbard's homestead principle without the ability to keep something without ever returning to it yourself. In a property system, the state or something akin to it is required, and you're left with either feudalism or its private equivalent in corporatism.

Or, as Kevin Carson put it, “expropriation of surplus value–i.e., capitalism–cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist.”

J Demetriou said...

Don't worry, Phil, you wont get a reply as I failed to elicit much debate from Obo post-challenge. This is because he has no answers to the questions and comments posed in opposition to his stance.

He has been thoroughly bested in debate.

Unlucky Obby, better luck next time.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"In an anarchic society, without a state and without an body of law, how do you have a free market?"

One possible way is through voluntary submission to a private "regulator".

One of the consequences of "we are where we are" is that the ownership of private land is already clearly defined. But that's my own personal "get-out" clause, other people have researched and postulated many different options and if a truly free and reasonably well-informed market existed, I'm sure that between 6 billion (or even 60 million) of us we could work something out.

One of the things I haven't even thought about is what would happen with state-owned land, for instance. But I'm sure we'd work something out.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

@Tomrat: I think being out of the EU and having no government to pay those subsidies would change things a little. :o)

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"expropriation of surplus value–i.e., capitalism–cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist"

I'm really not sure I agree with this in the slightest. I am quite certain that surplus value can be created without the state. Carson is quite entitled to his opinion, but I don't think it's any more valid than any of the right-libertarians who believe such a thing is, indeed, possible.

At a micro-economic level, it's quite easy to see that any voluntary trade between two parties involves some creation of value, so I'm not sure why a state is necessary for this to occur.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"Don't worry, Phil, you wont get a reply as I failed to elicit much debate from Obo post-challenge."

Perhaps because I've got other things to do?