Sunday, May 06, 2012

Libertarian Fantasies

Every once in a while, when I'm not annoyed enough by ordinary life, I read some Libertarian nonsense. Bryan Caplan can usually be counted on to give me that feeling. From the link, here is a meme apparently circulating in libertarian circles:

Suppose there are ten people on a desert island. One, named Able Abel, is extremely able. With a hard day's work, Able can produce enough to feed all ten people on the island. Eight islanders are marginally able. With a hard day's work, each can produce enough to feed one person. The last person, Hapless Harry, is extremely unable. Harry can't produce any food at all.

Questions:

1. Do the bottom nine have a right to tax Abel's surplus to support Harry?

2. Suppose Abel only produces enough food to support himself, and relaxes the rest of the day. Do the bottom nine have a right to force Abel to work more to support Harry?

3. Do the bottom nine have a right to tax Abel's surplus to raise everyone's standard of living above subsistence?

4. Suppose Abel only produces enough food to support himself, and relaxes the rest of the day. Do the bottom nine have a right to force Abel to work more to raise everyone's standard of living above subsistence?

Needless to say, the only politically correct answers in lib land are no's.

Caplan:

But #1 and #3 arguably turn Abel into a slave. And #2 and #4 clearly turn Abel into a slave. I suspect that plenty of non-libertarians would share these libertarian moral intuitions. At minimum, many would be conflicted.

One secret of intensifying any argument is to put it in an artificial situation with nearly all elements of reality removed, and then attach some emotionally loaded words in manifestly questionable ways. "Taxation is theft and slavery" is the libertarian standard, but I'm sure you can think of others. As I have noted previously, taxation is actually taxation, theft is theft, and slavery is slavery. There are some points in common but lots of differences.

The core of my gripe with libertarians is the way I think they ignore human nature. Humans are social animals, and if you throw away our network of mutual obligations - as they do - I think you throw away human nature.