A MODEST PROPOSAL
Professor Coase's brilliant article ["Economists and Public Policy"] in the December 1974 issue of REASON offers an explanation for the failure of government that is consistent with an important principle of economic theory. In Coase's view government fails because the expansion of government is pressed to the point that diminishing returns produce a negative marginal product. Coase assumes government is motivated to act in the interest of others and merely fails. My article in the same issue ["Bureaucratic Conspiracy and the Energy Crisis"] offers an alternative explanation that is consistent with the basic premise of economic theory—that people and organizations act in their self-interest. In this view government acts in its own interest and succeeds.
In Professor Coase's view reducing government runs counter to prevailing attitudes. In my view it runs counter to prevailing interests. It might be that the only way to solve the government problem is to greatly raise the cost to people of providing their services to government. This could be done by taxing those who work in the interest of government in amounts equivalent to the social costs inflicted on society by their services to government, or by other means. If people with fortunes used them to pay bounty for IRS agents and those who provide to government the services of the printing press, government would shrink drastically in size, with a corresponding drastic increase in the public welfare.
I was disappointed to see you print in your December 1974 issue, without comment, a letter from one Lannon F. Stafford, who (1) claims allegiance to libertarianism, and (2) advocates that Abaco, when and if it becomes a sovereign country, "should not permit any large influx of immigrants." While you have printed letters from self-described libertarians, including myself, advocating the elimination of various types of political coercion, as well as letters advocating coercion from people who did not claim to be libertarians, the printing of the claims of a would-be "libertarian" who advocates coercion in his letter is a new and unwelcome development. As a libertarian I believe that governments, where they exist, should not use force against any individual unless that individual (1) has violated the rights of another person, or (2) has demonstrably threatened to do so. Consider, however, the situation of an immigrant—for example, someone who has just arrived in Sovereign Abaco, has decided to stay, has rented a residence from its owner, and has begun looking for a job. In what way has that individual violated the rights of anyone else? And if he hasn't, what business does any government have forcing him to leave? Note, moreover, that forcing this individual to leave, or preventing him from entering the country, also violates the rights of the islander from whom that individual would rent a home, since ownership implies the right to sell or rent one's property to anyone, unless such rental or sale would violate an antecedent, voluntary contract. It also violates the rights of anyone with whom the prospective immigrant would trade, to mutual benefit, while living on the island.
It is an incredible insult to genuine libertarians involved in the new country project to claim that making Abaco into a genuinely free country, with open immigration, would make its native inhabitants go the way of the Hopi and the Mohican. The Hopi and the Mohican are not poor because they lost in free competition, but because their property was forcibly expropriated by the U.S. Government. The libertarian solution to the problems mentioned by Stafford is to give legal title to the "Crown lands" to their legitimate owners, the people of Abaco. This might be done by establishing a Permanent Land Trust, and distributing equal shares in the trust to all native inhabitants. Upon independence the "Crown lands" would be turned over to the Trust, which would become a private organization from then on, separated from the government and subject only to its own fundamental contract, the general laws, and the will of its owners. Within a few decades, demand resulting from massive immigration into the only free country in the world will have driven land rentals to levels matching those which currently prevail in Manhattan or English Bay. The income from the Permanent Land Trust would be more than sufficient to compensate the natives for the disadvantages, if any, of competing with immigrants. The most likely outcome would make the descendants of native Abaconians into a well-to-do upper class, at least until watertight construction on the continental shelf off Abaco became cheap enough to compete with island land. But by then, the Abaconians' grandchildren will have no trouble competing with anyone else.
Adam V. Reed
New York, NY
FREE SPACE COLONIZERS
The International Society of Free Space Colonizers is indeed flattered to have been mentioned no less than twice (Bruce Ramsey's letter in October and Greg Baron's in the December issue) in a major organ of libertarian thought. We are somewhat puzzled but not overly impressed with Bruce Ramsey's unprovoked attempt to misrepresent our organization. Envy for our ability to use the media to good advantage hardly seems like a libertarian trait. It is interesting in the light of Mr. Ramsey's experience as a sometime journalist, that he should be so quick to draw from the hip without ever having attended one of our numerous public meetings, or even attempted to interview the officers or members of the ISFSC.
The ISFSC is based on the idea that life in outer space represents the ultimate aspiration of a freedom seeking individual and offers the greatest possibility in the future for the establishment of truly libertarian societies. However, the ISFSC is not a crackpot, escapist organization as Mr. Ramsey would intone; it is profoundly concerned with the promotion of libertarian ideals and the establishment of a free society both on and off this planet.
Since the founding of the SFSC (now the ISFSC) in March 1972, we have been painfully aware of the mounting obstacles to private enterprise in space. Paul Siegler's recent article "Free Space" (REASON, July 1974) not only documents the feasibility of viable enterprise in space but also the existence of considerable government interference with this effort Establishing free colonies in space is going to require a long and arduous struggle. Libertarians would do well to consider that space technology may become extremely critical for survival on this planet in the near future.
Although our mission is not directly political, we are strongly committed to actively supporting the Libertarian Party and other friendly movements. Our actions via the libertarian movement have already spoken for our intent. The SFSC accounted for 35 of the 113 signatures required to place the Libertarian Party on the ballot in the state of Washington. During the campaign, SFSC members accounted for the bulk of the legwork. Over 25,000 leaflets were distributed and several thousand persons were directly contacted.
The goals and objectives of the ISFSC speak for the deep level of moral commitment and rationality of our organization:
OBJECTIVES OF THE ISFSC ON EARTH
1. To organize self-awareness among the Creator Class.
2. To construct an industrial-research system capable of launching and sustaining colonies in space.
3. To experiment in systems of values and organization enhancing conscious life in space.
4. To establish the means for a long term colonization of space from Earth.
5. To organize a protective mission permitting the Creator Class to achieve its goals in space.
ULTIMATE GOALS OF THE FREE SPACE COLONIZERS IN SPACE
1. To create a diversity of living, conscious worlds in space offering freedom for an infinite range of conscious entities.
2. To bring about the rise of individuation; the next level of human evolution.
3. To create new forms of life.
4. To extend life throughout the Solar System and ultimately, the Universe.
The ISFSC is incorporating under the laws of the state of Washington. Inquiries should be sent to: P.O. Box 9743, Seattle, WA 98109.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Readers of REASON might like to know that although many of the interviews published in the magazine are conducted by one person, the development of the questions—at least at the start of a certain line of inquiry—has benefitted from suggestions from various sources. Drs. Brozen, Szasz, Friedman, and von Hayek were interviewed by me (with some questions from others present at a few of these interviews). But the questions I asked were often sent in by people I contacted prior to the interview, people who are more familiar with the thought of these individuals than I.
Unfortunately it would be very cumbersome to cite the source of these questions each time. Nevertheless I should like readers to know that I had help from Bob Poole, Lynn Kinsky, Manny Klausner, Ralph Raico, Joe Cobb, Doug Den Uyl, Al Waterman, and, especially, Marty Zupan. It would be unjust to forget about this assistance, especially when the interviews turn out to be successful.
Tibor R. Machan
REASON's interview with Milton Friedman [December] aptly points out what is wrong with the libertarian movement—lack of thought as to how to put the libertarian program into practice. Friedman points this out in reference to the welfare problem. I see no moral difference between the multitudes who would perish under immediate implementation of libertarianism and the multitudes who perish under the implementation of any statist regime.
Libertarian apologists will scream that they did not sign any social contract and are not responsible for any consequences of ending that contract. Well, they should read Arthur Miller's Incident At Vichy to see just how responsible we are for our fellow citizens. They should also note that good medical procedure dictates that a dagger should be left in the wound so as to let surgeons remove it properly. Analogously, the daggers of the state should be carefully removed to allow the victims to live and not bleed to death.
Libertarian Party candidates rush around advocating pulling out all daggers now, oblivious as to the consequences at home and abroad (such as the extermination of good people, e.g. the Israelis). One can speculate that if an uprising of the wounded followed a libertarian takeover, the libertarians would use massive force against them and call it self-defense. The libertarian state would wither away as much as the Marxist states have.
I understand that REASON was founded with the purpose of educating us as to how to construct a transition program from here to there. Unfortunately it has degenerated into a forum for the LP and a Profile of those whose only claim to fame is skiing and campaign slogans. The saving grace consists of articles as those by Friedman and thoughtful letters to the editor.
Alan Scott Kaufman
Over the past year, Bruce Ramsey and I have stressed that libertarians ought to (1) dissociate themselves from conservative ideology and politics, (2) assess the authenticity of their public image, and (3) formulate their long-range cultural and social objectives.
The response has been discouraging: Robert Crim (March) condemns us as idiots, David Finkel (March & December) is repulsed by the entire topic, and Greg Baron (December) doesn't even read our statements closely. For me to rebut the December letters would be a waste of space; a conscientious reader, reviewing the references, could do that unaided. Rather, I would address myself to those who would neglect or evade the issues mentioned above.
You, as libertarians, should be well aware of conservatives' historical complicity in advancing fascism (fusion of Government and economy), imperialism, the draft, war, economic regulation, violation of civil rights, and cultural authoritarianism. Yet, as if oblivious to these facts, you seem willing to accept conservatives as comrades-in-arms against the oppression of the state. It has become "bad manners," as it were, to call out your conservative contemporaries on the various coercive positions to which they still owe allegiance.
It is ridiculous to think that conservatives have anything to teach libertarians. Except, perhaps, political expertise—as exemplified by trends in the LP to trade on existing conservative political groundwork.
The consequence of these liaisons and miscegenations is that libertarians have failed to establish a public identity separate from conservatives. As matters stand, there is little of libertarian philosophy and rhetoric that has not already been co-opted by trendy conservatives—to their political benefit, not to yours. What has made this possible is the primarily economic interpretation of libertarianism, an interpretation that is indistinguishable from that of conservatism, to a lay person. If Ramsey's and my emphasis on image is "repugnant," I can only ask whether being mistakenly identified as a conservative is less repugnant.
The only way by which libertarians will be perceived as separate from conservatives is for libertarians to emphasize a cultural interpretation of laissez-faire society. Conservative cultural views are predominantly puritan, conformist, and patriotic. As an alternative, libertarians ought to establish an avant-garde perspective of iconoclasm, sedition, irreverence for superstition/religion, rational hedonism, and intellectual radicalism. You must first attract persons to a way of life, before you can sell them the philosophy that would make such a life possible. It is not sufficient for freedom to be less oppressive than contemporary society. It should also be more exciting.
Despite its political activism, the libertarian movement has become stagnant and complacent. Few tough questions are being asked anymore. The long-needed re-evaluation of Objectivism is yet to happen. Libertarianism has almost exhausted the fields of politics and economics. It is time, therefore, to explore new concepts of society, of psychology, and of aesthetics, if libertarianism is to continue as a quest for the future. I earnestly hope that I am not alone in these convictions.
LIMITS OF GROWTH
I have just read Roger MacBride's article on the future of the LP in the January issue of REASON. I am afraid that I am not nearly as sanguine as Mr. MacBride seems to be. My own assessment is this: the LP will grow steadily over the next several years, until it reaches a sort of intellectual "saturation point." This would occur at about the point when the LP can command, say, one million votes in a general Presidential election. I see this number as an absolute, and probably highly optimistic, ceiling. (This will be true IF, and only IF, the LP continues to be the "Party of Principle"; of course, if it begins compromising on those principles to gain immediate victories, the LP may indeed win—and all the rest of us will continue to lose.) At this one-million vote level, we will have converted or attracted most of those who are philosophically amenable to such a party, and who are willing to put their ideology on the political block. The extreme left-wing parties seem to have reached this point; they are gaining slowly, perhaps, but I don't believe that they will make any significant gains beyond their present position. They reached their intellectual saturation point many years ago.
The LP stands for some definite political and social goals. The fact that a person runs on the Republican or Democratic ticket indicates very little about that person's political philosophy. If one is a Republican, one can choose among such leaders as Barry Goldwater and Edward Brooke. The Democrats, not to be outdone on the political smorgasbord, offer every conceivable ideology from that of Scoop Jackson (fascist, that is) to Woody Jenkins. In distinction to the major parties, a Libertarian does (or should) offer a clear alternative to the voter. He stands for ever less governmental interference in the lives of individual citizens.
From conscription to censorship, from pot to postal services, the stand is consistent: laissez-faire! Thus, the fact of the LP's existence will serve to suggest to the public that there is a rational, workable, MORAL alternative to collectivism.
The LP should never compromise on its goal of minimal government. However, it can and should remain attuned to current popular concerns. It should seek to exploit mass movements in such a way as to direct their energy against statist regulation in favor of individual action. Such issues would currently include:
- Education (voucher systems, private schools, bussing)
- War (abolition of selective service, amnesty)
- Inflation (gold standard, deficit spending, the "Fed")
As such issues come to the forefront of public attention, the LP should be ready to exploit them to its advantage.
If the LP does remain "hard line," it will probably never become a mass-based party. What we should expect, and even look forward to, is the co-optation of libertarian ideas by the major parties. If the LP reaches the point where it can command several hundred thousand votes in a national election, the Republocrats will certainly take notice. At least one, hopefully both, of the majors will look very hard at the libertarian positions on specific issues and begin mouthing what they feel to be the most politically salable of those positions. Of course, most Demipublicans won't take such positions from any principle, but simply as a matter of expediency. They will continue, for a long time anyway, to utter the most blatant contradictions and absurdities. But the important point is that the LP will have caused the whole political dialogue to shift in the direction of freedom. Ultimately, perhaps, the Republicans would remember that they were first established as an anti-slavery party, and realize that taxes and anti-trust laws are just as much slavery as the buying and selling of human beings. And perhaps the Democrats, too, will remember that they were once the party of Thomas Jefferson, and begin dismantling the vast bureaucratic machine they have created to rule our citizenry. If and when it ever does come about that either or both of the major parties should become parties of principle, individualist principle, then I would feel that the work of the LP was done.
Though I don't expect it very soon, I look forward to the day when the LP can hold its final convention—to disband itself, its work done.
David E. Long
MR. MACBRIDE replies: Just you wait and see. —R.L. MacB.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".