It has been delightful to read about the Alaskan Independence Movement ["Trends," September 1973 and "Letters," November 1973 and February 1974]. In the midst of all these phony liberation movements we hear about, one of the genuine variety appears. While most libertarians will say "nice, but they haven't got a chance; Washington won't let them," I find it more constructive to ask under what conditions would Washington not be able to stop them? What can we do to create such conditions?
But it is a great thing; just what the doctor ordered; the greatest promotion vehicle, the embryo of rebellion. As Churchill said, "This is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning." Tally ho!
David K. Howard
Walnut Creek, CA
MORE ON FEMINISM
I found your REASON Profile on Ms. Sharon Presley [March] most interesting. In particular, I was obliged to agree with her statements concerning libertarians and sexism.
Reflection thereupon led me to wonder if REASON was considering devoting an issue to libertarianism and feminism. I, for one, would be most interested.
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
REASON's December 1971 issue was devoted to the subjects of sex, marriage and feminism. (A very small quantity of this 34-page issue is still available, at the price of $2.50 each, postage paid.) REASON plans to further cover these subjects in forthcoming issues. —Ed.
ACCOLADES FOR REASON'S SPECIAL BOOK ISSUE
Bravo! to Jeff Riggenbach, for his repudiation of the "sewer" school of literary criticism ["Is Modern Literature Really a Sewer?", March]. Far too many libertarians, influenced by Ayn Rand's cultural pessimism, have consigned themselves to a very unhealthy form of aesthetic misery—pining for the long-lost days of Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Rachmaninoff, etc. Not only is worship of some former Golden Age an indication of psychological defeat, it is patent nonsense. Riggenbach firmly establishes the truth of the maxim "There are none so blind, as will not look." There is good reason to suspect that present times match or excel the nineteenth century in the production of art, through the works of Solzhenitsyn, Prokofiev, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. LeGuin, Virgil Finlay, Maxfield Parrish, Walter Carlos, and others. Admittedly, the public taste is no certain guide to the truly beautiful—but then, when was it ever? There's a whole wide world of great literature, great art, and great music to be had. All it takes is for libertarians to come out of their ghetto.
Another hurrah must go to John Hospers, for nailing down the flaws in Harry Browne's "run-away-from-it-all" philosophy ["The New Epicureans," March]. In every case where one might be confronted with a complex problem—from pollution, to making oneself understood in one's family—Browne gives blanket advice that essentially amounts to taking flight (from L.A. to Vancouver, B.C.; from old acquaintances to new ones.) He never seems to realize that even the last Bastion of Purity will eventually be afflicted with rats and termites. The problem is not how to elude situations, the problem is how to solve situations—a problem for which Browne offers nothing. Not surprisingly, Browne's advice is sympathetically accepted by those who have been brought up on the Galt's Gulch approach to life ("If society stinks, withdraw.")
For too long a time, libertarians have run to the shelter of their ghetto, pointing accusatory fingers at the "evil" outside world. What they fail to understand is that there are noble people in the outside world, who are not necessarily libertarians—and that there are social problems which cannot be solved automatically by laissez-faire theory.
This means that libertarians must discard their blinders and tackle problems attendant to human interaction in general (e.g., sexism, racism, religion, adult chauvinism, etc.). The objective, after all, is not simply to erect a new government, but to create a new society.
BROWNE'S STRATEGY HAS MERIT
I was rather disappointed by Hospers' review of HOW I FOUND FREEDOM IN AN UNFREE WORLD [March]. I must grant the validity of some of Hospers' critical remarks. However, the main point of the book was not philosophical rigor, but practical suggestions useful to persons holding a certain viewpoint. I found many of Browne's suggestions excellent, and the overall tone stimulating; I would have appreciated seeing more than one paragraph, out of 3½ pages, devoted to them. One would not ordinarily review an engineering text with extensive discussions of the author's metaethical approach to engineering practice. Admittedly, Hospers is a professional philosopher; perhaps you should have found a professional selfliberator to review the book.
I must also disagree with some of Hospers' philosophical comments. For one thing, I don't see anything objectionable in Browne's denial of universal concepts of 'right' and 'wrong'. Must we base all criticisms of the State on the theory that we are morally entitled to rights which it denies us? I think it better simply to recognize the State as in fact our enemy, as are various thugs and con men. The notion that one's actions need some moral justification in various rights is in fact one of the most powerful mechanisms by which the state and its moralizing hangers-on keep people enslaved; anyone desiring freedom would do better to remove such blinders than to try to use them against the State.
Browne's definition of freedom seems flawed, but not in quite the way Hospers suggests. I think a good emendation might be: 'Freedom is immunity to other men's preventing you from living your life as you want to.' This is indeed a sort of opportunity—and it is secured by being able to defend oneself in one's endeavors, by actively seeking out and buying or producing invulnerability. One can indeed have this sort of freedom in an unfree world—given it isn't 100% unfree.
This leads to a wider point. Browne's underlying approach is founded in recognition that collective movements do not produce freedom. In the first place, since they rely on political rather than market signals of success, they cannot allocate resources efficiently to their aims. In the second place (and the two are related), the structure of such movements is a lure to power-freaks of all sorts, a source of politicking and a ready field for empire building; and any movement is all too readily subverted by people with valuable things to offer the leaders. The Libertarian Party and such groups as resemble it are in structure an imitation of the United States Government—and an organization cannot produce results for which it is structurally unsuited. Browne's self-liberation approach—together with exchanges among various self-liberators—offers the only strategy yet proposed which escapes this trap. Overall social change is always a collective good, and such goods offer insuperable problems to their would-be producers. Personal freedom, the ability to resist human interference through whatever means in whatever spheres one deems important, is a private good—and if freedom can be produced at all, this is what will do it.
William H. Stoddard
HARRY BROWNE STRIKES BACK
You slay me! I write a book attempting to show that you can be free without the need for political movements or political leaders. So who do you choose to provide a critique and review of the book [HOW I FOUND FREEDOM IN AN UNFREE WORLD]? A political leader.
Not surprisingly, he didn't decide to junk his political movement after one reading of the book.
Instead of letting John Hospers take statements out of context and compare me to Epicurus, why don't you seek out a libertarian who has read the book and attempted to apply the concepts toward his own freedom?
West Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Harry Browne's latest book, YOU CAN PROFIT FROM A MONETARY CRISIS (which has sold over 100,000 copies in its first three months of publication—and is now number 2 on all the national bestseller lists), was reviewed in REASON's Special Financial Issue last month. —Ed.
DAVID FRIEDMAN EXPLAINS
Eric Mack, in his review of my book THE MACHINERY OF FREEDOM [March], misreads several of the central arguments. Considering the care with which he has obviously gone over the book, the fault is probably more mine than his.
The bargaining process which I conceive of as producing market law differs from the political "bargaining" process that Mack describes in precisely the same way that any private industry differs from its socialist counterpart. It is true that political processes involve some bargaining analogous to market trade. That is probably why—pace Von Mises—socialist industries are not perfectly inefficient. But the political process does a far worse job than the market process of reflecting individual costs and benefits. That is why socialism works so badly. See chapter 27, 32, 38, and 39, esp. pp. 143-44.
Mack seems to have misunderstood the nature and effects of the bargaining described in chapter 29, misread my discussion of heroin laws, and so missed the whole point of how, under market law, real costs and benefits are accurately reflected in the costs to me of having a particular law. The cost born by supporters of laws against heroin is, as I thought I made clear, not merely the cost of enforcing such laws, but in addition the cost of either paying the addicts to accept such laws (i.e. paying them an amount equal to the injury the laws do them) or refusing the addicts' offer to pay the supporters of the law that same amount to accept laws making heroin legal (on the distinction between these cases see below). So laws against heroin will exist only if the benefit to the supporters of such law is greater than its total cost—including both enforcement and the cost to its victims.
Mack also seems not to realize (probably because it was only implicit and not explicit in chapter 31) that my argument depends on the assertion that libertarian law is objectively superior to non-libertarian law, even for nonlibertarians. People do not desire law primarily as an end in itself but as a means to other ends. It is my claim that most support for nonlibertarian law is based on factual error, on the belief that its costs and benefits are other than they in fact are. Under market law, a purchaser is faced with the actual costs and benefits of the laws he wants—not as political theories but as economic facts. If, as I claim, the costs to the victims of nonlibertarian law are normally greater than the benefits to the oppressors, only libertarian law will be purchased. This claim is the central assertion behind nineteenth century liberalism—that liberty maximizes utility. It is also implicit in the objectivist argument that a rational egoist must be a libertarian. It is no more necessary for a consumer of market law to understand economics and philosophy than for the purchaser of a car to understand engineering.
Mack does make one valid and important criticism of my argument. The analysis in the book provides no way of telling whether the opponents of heroin must pay the addicts to have heroin laws, or the addicts must pay the opponents not to have them. It provides no "zero point," no definition of what happens if nobody pays anyone. That is why Mack can see it as a system of mutual extortion, with insanely escalating demands for laws no one wants.
This is too serious a deficiency to repair in a letter. The problem is a special case of the initial distribution problem in the analysis of all societies—even libertarian ones (where it takes the form of "who owns things—rivers, unimproved lands, government 'property,' to which no one has a clear claim.") I suspect the answer (to the question of what will happen, not what should) lies somewhere in the ultimate possibility of force. How much I can claim and how much I will let you claim are somehow related, in any society, to what we think would happen to each of us if our disagreement dissolved the society. But that is a direction of enquiry, not an answer.
I cannot, even in a letter this long, answer all of Mack's criticisms.…I hope those of your readers who are persuaded by Mack's refutation of my argument will read the argument, as well as the refutation, before they make up their minds.
PROFESSOR MACK replies: Let me start by joining David Friedman in urging all the readers of my review (and the nonreaders as well) to read Friedman's book. It is, as I think my discussion indicated, the most original and stimulating libertarian book which has come down the pike in a long time. Friedman's letter raises and reraises issues worthy of lengthy debate. My unavoidably short reply should only be interpreted as an unavoidably short reply. I will deal briefly with the central criticism in Friedman's letter. I look forward to Friedman's eventual development of the arguments that are implicit or suggested in his book and in his letter.
In discussing the potential costs born by the supporters of laws against heroin I was mistaken in merely citing the costs of enforcing such laws. I should have included the costs, to the supporters, of foregoing payments (in cash or concessions) from those who oppose such laws and who would make payments to secure the absence of such laws. My attention was restricted because, at that point in my article, my purpose was to indicate one way in which libertarian law could result from bargaining and cost-benefit considerations.
Let us now include this potential cost (the cost of foregoing payments from those who oppose laws against heroin) in our scenario. With this broader view, we can see that the bargaining (between supporters and opponents of the laws against heroin) may result in the absence of such laws which absence is due to the opponents' agreeing to pay the supporters "protection money" or bribes in the form of concessions. That is, the absence of laws against heroin may be due to the opponents of these laws buying off the supporters of these laws. These bribes are part of the potential benefits to supporters of these laws and part of the potential costs to those who oppose these laws.
It is this feature of the bargaining situation as Friedman describes it that Friedman is insisting I should not ignore and it is this feature which suggests that the bargaining situation as Friedman describes it could very well fail to have libertarian resolutions. (When the protection money is paid the resolution is libertarian in terms of the final, statutory, agreement. But it is not libertarian in terms of what is done to the opponents of the heroin laws.)
Friedman says, "If, as I claim, the costs to the victims of nonlibertarian law are normally greater than the benefits to the oppressors, only libertarian law will be purchased." I should think that it would be clearer to speak of the total benefits-costs of libertarian law versus the total benefits-costs of nonlibertarian law. In any case, and accepting the premises, the conclusion of Friedman's sentence should not read, "only libertarian law will be purchased." The valid conclusion would read something like, "normally, or for the most part, libertarian law would be purchased—though, at least on some occasions, the purchase of libertarian laws will involve the payment of protection money." Bargaining will result in an efficient mix of libertarian law and payments made under the threat of nonlibertarian law. It is conceivable that what persons will give up under threats will be their own non libertarian demands. To the extent that this would happen, everything would be fine. There's nothing wrong about buying off an exponent of nonlibertarian law by offering him peace if and only if he changes his demands. It would be interesting for Friedman to investigate to what extent "bribes" and "pay-offs" are likely to take the form of giving up nonlibertarian demands. —E.M.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".