Nonstandard Rights Protection

|

My old friend Glen Whitman emails to offer a query for libertarians—actually, an instance of a broader question I've always found interesting. Glen points to this Mark Kleiman post citing a study which purports to show that children born to low-income single mothers are less likely to commit crimes if a nurse visits them to provide some basic childcare tips. Assume just for the sake of argument that the study gets it right, and that at some margin, more crime-per-dollar is reduced by these nurse visits than by spending on police and prisons.(I can imagine objections bearing on long-term efficacy, or concerns about what sort of advice government-hired nurses might dispense, but in order to isolate this question, let's pretend for the moment that the advice is both effective and uncontroversial and isn't otherwise being supplied.)

The question, working under those assumptions, is this: If you believe it's a legitimate function of government to protect people from crime by funding police and courts, would it be equally legitimate for the state to seek to reduce crime by this method? If not, why not?

Advertisement

NEXT: Indecent Interval

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I think there’s a problem in the suppressed premise of the question as asked.
    In what sense is the ‘protection from crime and violence’ provided by the police and courts comparable to such “preventatives” as offered by nurse visits?
    The courts and police exist only to act after the fact, they have very limited authority, and arguably no right, to act prior to the commission of a crime. This is hardly the case for such remediations as home nurse visits.

    regards,
    Shirley Knott

  2. This is a very interesting question. Of course, it may not be realistic, or it may not be based on accurate data, or an accurate interpretation of data, or any number of caveats that will no doubt be applied by other posters.

    Still, if taken in isolation, this is rather different from most social programs because it consists solely in somebody coming to give advice. It isn’t a handout of food or money or housing vouchers or whatever else. It isn’t a free comprehensive education. It’s simply somebody giving a certain amount of advice.

    Off the top of my head, I find it no more objectionable than if the police gave out brochures advising people to, say, carry a phone, flashlight, and pepper spray when outside at night in dangerous neighborhoods. Or if the police advised people to be wary of emails from people who claim to have millions of dollars in Nigerian bank accounts.

    The biggest difference between this idea (which is only hypothetical since Julian has applied all sorts of caveats and assumptions that may not hold in reality) and most social programs is that the lack of any significant handout drastically reduces moral hazard. (Yes, I know, advice is valuable, otherwise the nurse giving it would not be paid any money, but there’s no denying that this has far less moral hazard than, say, cash handout.)

  3. Ah. An essay question. What are blogs coming to?

    How about framing your question this way?
    B. F. Skinner said punishment doesn’t work. Only positive reinforcement works. So why do we devote such a percent of our tax dollars to “justice” which translates into punishment, which doesn’t work.

    Keep in mind I’m an anarchist not willing to admit any government has any legitimate function.

  4. There are too many victimless crimes on the books to make the question loaded. I think we could get near 100% agreement that robbery is a crime, but we’d get somewhat less that 100% agreement on whether prostitution is a crime.

    And this is where the state becomes a problem: by defining so many questionable crimes, the state can justify any program it wants by expanding the definition of “crime”.

  5. “Shirley”:
    But we know that’s not how actual policing works. We pay police to patrol areas in hopes of deterring crimes, not just to catch the criminals after the fact. Are you also opposed to deterrent patroling? If so, why is it OK to spend public funds catching criminals (which also, of course, has a deterrent effect) but not to prevent the crime from happening in the first place, assuming this can be done in a non-intrusive way, especially if the cost of this is lower than acting after the fact?

  6. Funding police and courts tend to protect people from crime by catching, prosecuting, incarcerating/rehabilitating criminals.

    Funding nannies does no such thing since the low-income born child is not a criminal (yet?).

    It is by following such faulty reasoning that we allow the state into every facet of our lives and give up our liberties for safety. Being of low-income origin is not a crime and doesn’t require any state interference. Just because a certain ethnic or socioeconomic status can be correlated to criminal activity is no reason for the state to step in. That’s the kind of reason that has associated crime with drug addicts & prostitutes.

    I would go so far as to say that the function of the state is not so much to protect us from crime, but to provide an avenue to redress whatever force and fraud have been perpetrated.

  7. The government action, be it police + courts + jail or visits from nurses, will be funded by force and theft (taxation).

    The preferable route, from a libertarian perspective, is always to prevent the most force and theft (crimes with victims) by exerting the least force and theft (taxation).

    If the crimes which the nurse visits will prevent are crimes against persons or property (crimes with victims), and

    Assuming (as the question asks that we assume) that “more crime-per-dollar is reduced by these nurse visits than by spending on police and prisons”, then:

    The tax-funded nurse visits equal or exceed the legitimacy of the spending on police and jail/prisons.

    The above answer, however, has not considered any unknown or unintended consequences, of which there may be many.

  8. If this advice is so important, why not make the mother pay for it? After all, the mother is responsible for basic food and care.

    One argument that can be made is that the food benefits the child, but the advice benefits society. But the advice also benefits the child, as it is in the child’s own benefit to be law-abiding rather than criminal.

    Whenever I read about how “society” must provide X to children because of hitherto undiscovered benefits, I wonder: why shouldn’t it be compulsory for the parents to provide it? Especially parents who can afford it.

  9. metalgrid,
    As Slick Willie might say, “It’s depends on your definition of ‘redress.'”

  10. Funding police and courts tend to protect people from crime by catching, prosecuting, incarcerating/rehabilitating criminals. Funding nannies does no such thing since the low-income born child is not a criminal (yet?).

    Yet, given the assumptions of Julian’s hypo, the results are the same. Funding police and funding education both have the potential to reduce crime. If we assume that funding education results in more crime reduced per dollar compared to funding police, it seems pretty ridiculous for libertarians to support the latter and not the former. That’s just throwing money down the drain, thereby increasing the amount of coercive taxation necessary to achive the stated goal of crime reduction/rights protection.

    It is by following such faulty reasoning that we allow the state into every facet of our lives and give up our liberties for safety.

    Don’t blame Julian for pointing out an apparent inconsistency in libertaran minarchism. The faulty reasoning lies in the belief that coercion for the purposes of funding police is kosher while coercion for the purposes of funding education, health care, housing, and food is not.

    Feel free to be inconsistent in your opposition to coercion, but don’t complain when people point out these inconsistencies.

  11. If it were cost effective, the insurance cartel pay for the nanny service to reduce its costs.

  12. If it were cost effective, the insurance cartel will pay for the nanny service to reduce its costs.

  13. Pure libertariansim doesn’t state that it’s necessarily bad for the state to help people (such as provide nurse visits), only that it’s bad to coerce money out of people for that or any other purpose. Once you get away from that and allow for taxation for “necessary” purposes, the race is on to prove that one purpose or another is necessary. I’m not so sure I would be so pure as to eliminate taxation, but I recognize that once you tax, what you do with it is no longer a libertarian question per se but rather a question of “good government.”

    So hell, convince me that nurse visits really protect me dollar for dollar more than cops, and how can I refuse (if you’re going to tax me either way)? But I’ll warn you that it’s a hard sell, we should consider whether there’s a consensus for such a purpose (as opposed to 51% of us deciding how to use coerced funds), and we should bear in mind that (as someone pointed out on your own website when you brought this up once there) deterrent policing is largely an ancillary benefit of paying people to be in a position to catch criminals in the process of committing a crime or shortly thereafter.

  14. Genuinely curious question here: (i.e. not a combative question)

    I know that some people have supposedly worked out ways to fund a pure libertarian gov’t (police, courts, military, and not much else) without taxation. Could anybody summarize some of those mechanisms? Please, don’t point me to a long essay on philosophy, just a basic description of how the funding mechanism works.

    I ask because one could object to ANY gov’t action (even, say, catching thieves and murderers) on the grounds that it was funded by taxes. I’m genuinely curious to learn how one could fund the police without taxes.

  15. Obviously this question goes to the heart of both Libertarianism in general, and to the functions of the US government in specific.

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    (I?m guessing most recognize this).

    Regardless of what any individual may think, the law is pretty specific about the functions of the Government should be (at least under this particular document). They put liberty last, which I think was a mistake, but not an irreparable one. These things still need to be balanced.

    So, if I could have the government only assist in a minimally intrusive way, that did not effect Liberty in the long run, and was based on what actually worked and was based on independently verifiable fact (as in opposition for instance, to the example of the failed drug war, which bases itself on the worst kind of fear mongering)
    Then yes. But there’s the rub isn’t it. The ideal versus the reality. What else will the gov do when it gets in the door? Is the over reaching tendency of the Gov a failing in only itself? Or is it also the electorate putting the concept of general welfare above freedom to the point the neither exists?

    I probably lean towards wanting the assistance for the mothers. I could even welcome gov funding, as this definitely seems to fulfill the stated functions. But as a libertarian, I would rather have the gov work as a clearing house, and encouraging with funds, but letting local state and private resources manage it privately.

    That doesn’t mean its danger free though. And even if its right, still leaves the problem I have.

    My “brothers? keeper” side, says yes. Both the purpose of a healthy government and a healthy society is to allow for the free safe individuals, and perhaps in small ways assist in that individual?s development if that maintains their freedom. But my pragmatic side says, our present gov is not healthy, and does not respect the balance between its functions.

    But, living in a metro area (Chicago) I would rather see (hopefully) benign assistance early than violent correction later. The crime and the maintenance of a police force may be the bigger danger to my liberty.

  16. Even if it works, its still on shaky ground.

    Your dealing with crime prevention as opposed to punishment. The philosophical implication is that a person is not individually responsible for crimes they commit, but instead a mere product of their socioeconomic status. Otherwise, that one can blame collective classes of society for crimes they might later committ. That a person has no REASON but is instead a victim of their environment, which is the basis for any number of anti-liberty policies.

    If we want to pre-empt crime, lets just jail everynody.


  17. Don’t blame Julian for pointing out an apparent inconsistency in libertaran minarchism. The faulty reasoning lies in the belief that coercion for the purposes of funding police is kosher while coercion for the purposes of funding education, health care, housing, and food is not.

    There is no inconsistency. The purpose of the police and courts is to address the criminal. You know, the person who raped someone, or blew the head off the seven-eleven clerk, the criminal.

    The apparent purpose of the nanny is to address someone for something they might do in the future if the stars align right and Joe Pesci passes gas in their general direction.

    If someone can’t see the blatant difference between the first and second instances, there isn’t much salvation libertarianism can offer them. Of course, if I was inconsistent in my examples, please feel free to point it out.

  18. “deterrent policing is largely an ancillary benefit”

    I can’t say this with certainty, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t reflect the policy of law enforcement in both cities: my impression is that they view prevention as a mission on a par with ex post punishment. After all, police chiefs trumpet a reduction in the murder rate at least as loudly as an increase in the percentage of murderers apprehended. It’s also not clear why that should be the case. Again, assume you’re going to be taxed for police services one way or another. You can choose: Would you rather have a better guarantee that if you’re victimized, the perpetrator will be caught (and, if they have any assets, restitution made) or would you prefer, at the same or lower cost, to simply not be victimized in the first place? Is there anyone who wouldn’t choose the latter?

  19. If this advice is so important, why not make the mother pay for it? After all, the mother is responsible for basic food and care.

    Would that be any less problematic from a limited-government libertarian perspective compared to Julian’s proposal?

    But the advice also benefits the child, as it is in the child’s own benefit to be law-abiding rather than criminal.

    Not necessarily. Crime often does pay, and unless you have some religious or otherwise mystical reasons for believing that it will all catch up with you before you die, I see no reason to assume that it’s in everyone’s interest to obey the law (or even act morally). Members of organized crime and politicians* seem to do pretty well for themselves.

    *Sorry for the redundancy.

  20. Coming from a consequentialist minarchist position, I would note from my position that:

    1) The purpose of the government is to maximize negative freedoms. In the absence of government, the negative freedoms we seek to maximize are destroyed by, er, Hobbesian effects.

    2) I am not married to any certain shape that government happens to take, so long as it functions as a liberty maximizer.

    3) There is a cost in freedom to any redistributive act, including paying police. Paying police is okay only to the extent that we believe we are making an investment in freedom with a positive return. This is why we would not support one cop per civilian. The expense in dollars and the attendant abuses of power by authorities makes this a poor investment.

    4) Suppose on the extreme that we could virtually eliminate property crimes with a comparable investment in midnight basketball. I’m there. Fire the cops and hire Magic Johnson.

    The key for me is to keep your eye on the ball. The only purpose for government is to maximize liberty, so any redistributive act is viewed with sincere suspicion. That is not to say that if a redistributive act returns much higher individual liberty we should ignore it, though.

  21. “The philosophical implication is that a person is not individually responsible for crimes they commit, but instead a mere product of their socioeconomic status.”

    That doesn’t follow. We can say of a given criminal both that they’re fully responsible for the crime they did in fact commit, but also, counterfactually, that if other opportunities had been present they would almost certainly have made different choices. It’s obviously true, for instance, that if a given Gestapo officer had been brought to the U.S. by his parents at age five and grown up here, he would likely have gone through life without commiting anything like the heinous acts he actually did. That doesn’t entail he’s not responsible for the choices he actually made. If, say, Cato had offered me a six figure salary to be a policy director back when I worked there, I might’ve stayed there instead of coming to Reason. Given the actual facts, I still chose to come to Reason and am still responsible for the choice. This shouldn’t be particularly controversial.

  22. Assmuing someone is more likely to be a criminal due to their socioeconomic status bothers me. I agree with Pseudo, in that it smacks of selective incapacitation. We cannot know the future, and even if we could, would it still be acceptable to jail someone, for instance, because of something they are supposedly going to do?

  23. I’s like to see the study design and raw data before I want more tax money going to prevention.

  24. Julian-

    If George W. Bush had not been born into a political family he almost certainly would not have become President and signed that Medicare bill. He’s still responsible for his actions, even though his story has motivated me to support vocational training for low-IQ sons of privilege. If we don’t train them for something that fits their modest abilities, they’ll turn to a life of politics and make disastrous decisions once elected 😉

  25. The state working to shape citizens for the common good seems unneccessarily intrusive. Selective nannying is of a different character than general police patrols. If it is justifiably permissiable, based on results, for the state to discriminate its advising in favor of the poor, wouldn’t that same line suggest police should selectively stop black motorists and inform them of traffic law? (Feel free to replace black with any other category of statiscally bad drivers)

    In this discussion, what’s the underlying function of state: reduction of crime or protection of citizens? Crime statistics reflect protection but are not protection itself. A just state cannot be working to provide merely better statistics, it must provide better protection. Yet the common way groups measure themselves and submit for support is through statistics. The focus naturally shifts from the territory to the map, in a contest to game the system. In Minarchtopia, the state would not have the power to make such errors enduring, as the burden would be more squarely upon private concerns. Let a community group or church approach the poor with their future-crime-reducing nurses, rather than creating an open liability upon all citizens without regard to their individual assessment of the program.

    The fundamental principle of libertarianism is liberty, not effectiveness. Effectiveness may be a general result of the marketplace, but is not guaranteed in any specific instance over any measured span of time. We must trust that free people as a whole while maximize the common good. If we do not have such trust then we are slaves to some essentially arbitrary derived assessment of what is best for all.

  26. The hypothesis is nothing more than a rehashed and disguised version of “would you harm an innocent person in order to…”

    The first thought that came to my mind was: “Why can’t this service be provided privately?” – by charities, church groups, or what-not.

    If it MUST be done by the government, my counterquestion is: “How much do you trust the people in charge of the cost-benefit analysis?” Libertarians in particular should always remember that the power to do good is inseparable from the power to do evil, so if you grant people the power to use coercion in the name of good, you’re also granting them the power to use coercion for evil ends.

  27. thoreau,

    Randians are usually the ones who object to all forms of taxation but believe that government serves necessary and legitimate functions. They usually posit something along the lines of voluntary donations or state-run lotteries to fund this government. Not that this explains how a state could make much from a lottery in a truly free market or how a group of people who despise altruism could rely so heavily on charity.

    However, while I think its pretty silly to say that one could fund government without taxation (for even if one could, to maintain a government is to maintain a monopoly in the face of competition, which necessarily requires coercion, and the libertarian objection to taxation is fundamentally an objection to coercion), there are much more reasonable arguments for funding what currently exist as government services without taxation. See Chapter 29 of David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom for a good example.

  28. I can think of one important difference between providing nurses for partenting advice and providing a police force and justice system. A criminal justice system must have the power to exert physical force over nonconsenting persons. With the exception of anarcho-capitalists, pretty much everyone agrees that private parties should not have that power. The profit incentive just doesn’t work for that sort of service, and there could be serious problems if there are competing criminal justice systems. Parenting advice is different. Unless you want to make it mandatory for all parents, it’s something that private charity can effectively provide without any governmental authority.

  29. “The fundamental principle of libertarianism is liberty, not effectiveness.”

    Effectiveness at liberty promotion matters if one believes that liberty needs to be promoted.

  30. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    (I’m guessing most recognize this).

    Whether they do or they don’t, “Most” don’t speak for “We the People.” “Most” speak for “Most.” “We the People” speak for “We the People.”

    Props to Lysander Spooner for the pointer.

  31. “The fundamental principle of libertarianism is liberty, not effectiveness.”

    Truer words were never said.

  32. So hell, convince me that nurse visits really protect me dollar for dollar more than cops…

    If the argument was convincing, you’d see bitching from the police and courts when some of their funds get diverted to nurses. To stop the bitching, the funding of the nurses would be an additional tax rather than simply a diversion of funds. That’s why the argument would never be comparative, the nurse intervention would be sold as an additional device rather than a more effective device.

  33. > If you believe it’s a legitimate function of government to protect people from crime by funding police and courts …
    The only legitimate function of a government is to declare bankruptcy and shut down. The ethical way to protect life and property and to arbitrate disputes is through private enterprises that have to compete for their customers’ business.
    For an overview of these issues, see Benson: To Serve and Protect.

  34. The idea that the police deter crime can be sort of a myth.
    Some statistics:
    Burglars have a 7% chance of arrest. Only 88% of those arrested are prosecuted. Of those prosecuted, only 82% are either convicted or plead guilty. Of those, only 77% actually serve any time in prison. So, as a burglar, you have a 3.882% chance of going to jail for your crime.
    Is that enough to deter someone?

  35. The philosophical implication is that a person is not individually responsible for crimes they commit, but instead a mere product of their socioeconomic status.

    It doesn’t have to be only one or the other. We can simultaneously recognize that healthy adult humans are both (a) morally responsible for their actions and (b) influenced by social factors like education and income. A good libertarian need not deny the plainly obvious fact that poverty and lack of education are strong influences on negative behavior.

    Your dealing with crime prevention as opposed to punishment.

    Why else punish if not to prevent crime and/or compensate the victim? There is nothing libertarian with punishment for punishment’s sake.

  36. thoreau, Micha,

    My formal introduction to libertarianism was via a book called Libertarianism in One Lesson by David Bergland, the LP’s 1984 presidential candidate. In it he lays out the argument that taxation is theft, something I believe was said by libertarians more in the 80’s, perhaps before it became a larger (and therefore more watered down) movement. In the book he makes passing reference to there being other means of finance. I would venture: BAKE SALES! All seriousness aside, you either ask for money or you sell something. These means of finance go on all the time. Of course, to make the kind of money our federal government rakes in usually requires some sort of big business activity. And that’s probably why, as libertarianism becomes more popular, parochialism on issues such as this becomes less severe. I would hesitate to say we should immediately abolish all taxation, even though I admit Bergland’s case seems water-tight in and of itself. But I think we should limit taxation to purposes on which there is large scale consensus and which fairly directly goes to protecting people’s rights.

  37. JDM,
    “”The fundamental principle of libertarianism is liberty, not effectiveness.”

    Not to get all semantic but really? What is liberty? Do you not measure it? More liberty this way, less that way? If you measure it, why? Are you not measuring effectiveness? Of course the fundamental principle is not effectiveness. That is merely the measure.

    Ask a slave. Ask someone someplace without liberty. They might have a little different take on the concept of effectiveness.

  38. Assmuing someone is more likely to be a criminal due to their socioeconomic status bothers me. I agree with Pseudo, in that it smacks of selective incapacitation. We cannot know the future, and even if we could, would it still be acceptable to jail someone, for instance, because of something they are supposedly going to do?

    That isn’t the question at hand. No one is arguing that we should punish people before they commit or threaten to commit crimes (except maybe the current administration); rather, we are merely recognizing the non-controversial, obvious fact that poor, uneducated people tend to commit crimes more often than wealthy, well-educated people. This may bother you if your version of libertarianism is incompatable with basic sociological observation. So much the worse for your version of libertarianism.

    As Keynes once quipped, “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

  39. The question, working under those assumptions, is this: If you believe it’s a legitimate function of government to protect people from crime by funding police and courts, would it be equally legitimate for the state to seek to reduce crime by this method? If not, why not?

    When someone asks whether or not I agree that “…it’s a legitimate function of government to protect people from crime…”, I can agree, tentatively, so long as I’m able to add that when using the word “people” in this context, I hear the word “individuals.”

    Having made that stipulation, may I ask whether the visiting nurse is to be mandatory for everyone under a certain annual income or asset level?

    Regardless of property or income, the police and the courts are only supposed to intrude when someone’s rights have been violated. The power of the police to intrude is supposed to be restricted by probable cause, etc., and the power of the court to impose a sentence on someone is supposed to be predicated on establishing guilt appropriately.

    If the visiting nurse is the consequence of an investigation, prosecution and sentence, then I don’t see the visiting nurse as a big problem. But the government has no business forcing its way into someone’s home and telling him or her how to raise children on a mandatory basis.

  40. One quick follow up to my last point – while we cannot know the future perfectly (yet), and we certainly can’t predict what any individual person is going to do, we can fairly accurately predict what a large group of people is going to do. We know that crime rates across the population as a whole and among various sub-groups is going to remain fairly stable over time. This doesn’t imply that individuals don’t have free will; only that when social factors remain stable, the influence of these social factors on human behavior remains stable.

  41. Everyone is talking about government action vs. charity. Why not privatize? If a group of nurses could convincingly demonstrate to the middle class that they were effectively preventing crime, donations would pour in. After expenses, they’re making a profit.

    They can’t use force, so there’s no danger.

    Also they’d be subject to competitive pressure to prove that they really are cost effective. If they fail (as I suppose they would) the donations dry up. This is tremendously preferable to a politically untouchable government cluster-fuck.

    Seems like the only way to make sure they actually do what they advertise.

  42. Micha: I don’t see libertarians despising altruism. Classical anarchy rests upon the observed fact that people generally want to help each other and figure out how get along even in the absence of state or government. Along fyodor’s line, reliance upon voluntary contribution is a superb check upon the power of government, whether serving the many or oppressing the few.

  43. This thread, like so many others, seems to be bogged down by libertarian differences. There are roughly two groups: radical libertarians and conservative libertarians. Radical libertarians want to, almost immediately, “turn off” most of the features of governance, assuming that the benefits will outweigh the consequences. Conservative libertarians want to “turn off” most of the features of governance as fast as possible, without causing excessive social strife.

    As Julian formulated his hypothetical scenario, I’d have to support the use of nurses to dispense advice. The result would be a safer or equally safe society for less money. Conservative libertarians would support this program. One caveat: The mothers must have the right to refuse the nurse visit, as a matter of individual privacy.

    Maybe I’m a wonky conservative libertarian freak, but I’d love to see more discussions concerning gradual approaches toward the reduction of government; approaches that have a chance to work. One of my favorites is taxation; a subject that all libertarians love (to hate). A radical libertarian would support immediate tax elimination. A conservative libertarian would support gradual tax reduction and program elimination. My favorite first tax reform step: Pass a “Truth in Taxation” law. This law would prevent hidden taxation. For example, there is the payroll tax. The average worker isn’t fully aware of the actual burden of taxation on their labor. So, give all non-self-employed workers a 7.65% raise, but double their Social Security and Medicare taxes to 15.3%. They’d receive the same take-home pay, but would see the actual burden of taxation. (Of course, there are many hidden taxes, but Social Security and Medicare have the largest proportion. Unemployment insurance, workmen’s comp, etc. would also receive the same treatment.) Consider this “stealth” libertarianism. Workers will see that they are actually paying much more than they realized for the services they receive, and will likely be more supportive of tax cuts and more opposed to tax increases.

    I?m sorry if I strayed a bit off topic, but I hate to see so many good minds bogged down in ideological differences.

  44. In this discussion, what’s the underlying function of state: reduction of crime or protection of citizens? Crime statistics reflect protection but are not protection itself.

    How is reducing crime and protecting citizens two seperate choices? If the state can successfully reduce crime by reducing poverty and increasing education, does that not protect those citizens who would otherwise be victims?

    The fundamental principle of libertarianism is liberty, not effectiveness.

    Effectiveness is an instrumental principle necessary for the achievement of any goal, unless that goal is ineffectiveness for its own sake. And even then, one can either be more or less effective at being ineffective.

  45. “Libertarians Pursuing Liberty Ineffectively” should be the LP’s new campaign slogan.

  46. “Libertarians Pursuing Liberty Ineffectively” should be the LP’s new campaign slogan.

    As I said in another thread, I prefer:

    “The Party of Principle: Making Radical Leftists Look Unified and Disciplined Since 1971!”

  47. Generally, what’s good for the doctrine of personal accountability is good for liberty. The more you assume people are to responsible for themselves, the less you need to control them.

    Generalizing about people like this is not catastrophic to accountability, but it sure as hell isn’t helping.

    I’d support it if it was a private industry and demonstrably effective.

  48. Scatalogicus,

    Micha: I don’t see libertarians despising altruism.

    Note that I was referring explicitly to Randians. See the introduction to Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

    While I’m a big fan of charity, I don’t kid myself that it is enough to fund anywhere near the size government even minarchists call for. Heck, I’m skeptical that it’s enough to fund much of a military at all, even if we maintained a strict policy of non-interventionism.

  49. Julian,

    I think part of the libertarian’s antipathy to social programs is due to suspicion of the very assumptions you ask us to swallow for the sake of argument. But this is a little like saying, well what if Martians came down and etc etc. If one stands in absolute opposition to the assumptions of a hypo, it may make very little sense to discuss that hypo. There’s really nothing that government can do that we can have any reasonable level of certainty will reduce crime. Even if studies suggest that doing x and y will reduce crime, that’s no guarantee that the studies were good or that the government would successfully implement the programs in the same way as what was studied, especially in the long run. And all this likely goes for deterrent policing as well. Whatever is going on in the heads of police chiefs in various cities, the reason there’s a consensus for being taxed for a police presence is that the police’s overt job is to be the good guys versus the crooks, ie protect our rights, however the details of that job play out. And remember, if crooks know they’ll get caught and punished, that’s just as good a way to prevent crime as any. In fact, the rise of so-called deterrent policing is probably mainly a reflection of the inability of law enforcement to catch criminals after the fact, which is really their primary job. I should also add that police presence also leads to problems, as we all know, so there’s really nothing clear cut about the desirability of deterrent policing. That said, I acknowledge that everything in real life is a shade of gray, and I’m not foursquare against social services that supposedly prevent crime. Suffice to say, however, I’m very skeptical.

  50. “Libertarians Pursuing Liberty Ineffectively” should be the LP’s new campaign slogan.

    As I said in another thread, I prefer:

    “The Party of Principle: Making Radical Leftists Look Unified and Disciplined Since 1971!”

    Awesome! Too bad we don’t have enough motivation or organizational skills to make these into bumper-stickers.

  51. Is a Libertarian Party paradoxical? Libertarians are individualists. My guess is that they tend not to be “joiners”. Do groups and their group thinking make libertarians sick to their stomachs? Does anyone LOVE the Libertarian Party, like others love the Democratic or Republican Parties? I see it as a (pretty ineffective) means to pressure the Republicans and Democrats. Rambling thoughts and queries …

  52. I’m at work, so didn’t have time to go thru all the comments. So this may have been asked already, but in giving advice, are the people obligated to follow them?

  53. fydor,

    I’m not sure “There’s really nothing that government can do that we can have any reasonable level of certainty will reduce crime.” is true. I’ve been getting a birds eye view of the issue here in Chicago. A writer I’ve been working with lives in an interesting hood. Since the begginging of this year, they have been targeting manpower to intersections and areas that experience crime. So far it has worked. Whether it continues to work depends on a number of factors, for instance, the accuracy of the numbers, the approach of the uniforms themselves (are they creating situations instead of solving them) Catching a criminal after the fact is always tricky. (for example eyewitness testimony, when tested, shows itself to be not overly reliable, the one most likely to make the right identification is the one least likely to swear by it…some relation to the ability to question ones own judgement makes that judgement more accurate).

    And if one wishs to surrender ones liberty completely, random street crime can be reduced (of course you now have the mongoose of the state at your throat committing crimes).

    Certainly in the big picture the US constitution keeps me freer of various crimes than someone, say in Russia, China or the middle east. Free from Gov crime that is.

    Actions do effect crime. Increasing it and decreasing it. I think Bill is right about the way these arguements go here though. I might call them Pragmatic Libertarians, and Ideal Libertarians.

  54. The problem with the voluntary contributions idea is that there could be a genuine public goods problem (in the economist’s sense of the term “public good,” not the bastardized definition that characterizes any desirable service as a public good): you can’t exclude non-payers from getting the benefits. We don’t know who would have been victimized by the potential future criminal whose life path is altered by the nurse visits. If the nurse visits are provided, all potential future victims of crime benefit in some small measure. But some of those potential future victims aren’t even alive yet, and those who are can free-ride on the charitable contributions of others.

  55. Okay, I’m going to try once again to describe the difference between so-called deterrent policing and deterrent social programs. 🙂

    The presence of a cop may prevent a crime. Okay, I’ll accept that, for now. But the reason it does is because that cop could and would arrest the perpetrator if he saw him in the act. So whether or not one puts police in certain places for the purposes of deterring crime, this effect is still ancillary to the punishment role of police. It is only through the one that they can accomplish the other.

    How this differs from the deterrent social programs is self-evident.

    I guess the question then becomes, why should that matter?

    Ultimately, it should be up to the people who foot the bill to decide. For myself, I’m just a little skeptical that the nannies will pan out in the long run compared to something a little more concrete like police presence. So I’m skeptical, but I’m open. I’m open, but I’m skeptical. Etc.

    Skeptikos,

    You say that you’ve seen government action affect the crime rate. But then you go on to admit the numbers may not be accurate and that the trend is not certain. Doesn’t the latter contradict the former, and especially my contention that we can’t ever be sure what will work for crime prevention? If we could figure this out so well, I’d think we’d have solved the problem by now! That said, I’m all for seeing what works and learning from experience. It just seems like these trends come and go. So the closer crime deterrence is connected to the proper role of government of crime punishment, the more I have confidence in it.

  56. When I wrote:

    “Doesn’t the latter contradict the former, and especially my contention that we can’t ever be sure what will work for crime prevention?”

    I should have instead written:

    “Doesn’t the latter contradict the former, and therefore doesn’t it fail to address my contention that we can’t ever be sure what will work for crime prevention?”

  57. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that Janet Jackson’s breast probably didn’t cause any long term damage to the children of our nation, and there’s nothing wrong with arguing that gun control doesn’t necessarily stop the criminally minded from shooting people either.

    But while we’re pointing out that the other side’s solution doesn’t really address the problem, let’s not forget the principles behind the issues. Freedom of Speech is worth more than whatever we lose when someone like Janet Jackson exposes herself on television, and even if gun control really did save lives, the Second Ammendment is more important than the lives of the people who are lost to gun violence.

    The government could effectively end the threat of drunk drivers to Soccer Moms everywhere, but what it would take to do that just isn’t worth it–not even to Soccer Moms.

    Anyway, even if there is a benefit to sending a visiting nurse into the homes of people below a certain threshold, it isn’t worth having the government send someone into people’s homes on a mandatory basis without probable cause.

  58. Sorry, I assumed this was obvious in the setup: there’s nothing “mandatory” going on here; I can’t imagine anyone would think it’s effective to offer advice after forcing yourself into someone’s home against their will.

  59. Wow. I suddenly feel lonely as a consequentialist.

    The problem with a solution of this sort to me is that while there may be a public goods problem for future crime victims, there is also a dead weight cost associated with all of the wasted nurse trips that did nothing.

    What we are often asked to do is pay a definite initial price for some probability of a decrease in the crime rate. It is not the case that any possiblity of a decrease in crime justifies any definite cost, even if it means we would be saving a life. I really think that consequences are what matter, always bearing in mind the purpose of a government in the first place.

  60. …If there’s nothing mandatory about it, then, given the assumptions in the original post, I don’t see anything about this suggestion that’s more wrong than any of the other social programs I’m forced to pay for.

  61. I might call them Pragmatic Libertarians, and Ideal Libertarians.

    Skeptikos,

    You names are as good or better than mine. Yours are probably more descriptive. Radical and conservative seemed sufficient for my purposes, but they are two of the most over-used polical terms.

  62. I love Prof. Sanchez’s Libertarian Theory class! Kudos to Julian for exploring interesting questions around the tenets of libertarianism. Might Critical Review be better if Julian ran it? (not to imply that it’s bad now)

    First off, I think that the question needs a couple of qualifiers; 1: It has to be the consideration of the reduction of force and fraud type crimes, not victimless crimes. Also, 2: I will assume that since it is a given that more crimes-per-dollar are reduced by these nurse visits than by spending on police and prisons, that the proposition involves a reduction of the spending on police and prisons greater than the amount spent on the nurse visits. This is the strongest scenario for the proposition. (Of course, there is a lag time for the nurse visit program benefit effect to kick in and make this reduction possible)

    An anarchist might well contend, as part of an ethical argument for anarchy, that you can’t give ethical sanction to police and prisons with out giving sanction to other state functions such as this.

    The reasons why; if you believe it’s a legitimate function of government to protect people from crime by funding police and courts, it would NOT be equally legitimate for the state to seek to reduce crime by funding nurse visits include:

    It may be argued that the benefits of the nurse visit program are so diffuse that it is hard to determine if the taxpayer has actually derived any at all. The benefits of the police/courts as a deterrent and method of restitution is far surer.

    The nurse visit program is not a function of government that *protects* people from crime. It is a program which has been shown to reduce, in those involved with it, the number who *choose* to commit crimes. Tax payers may choose to live and spend more of their time further away from poor people to try to achieve the same effect. The program would be of less benefit to those that do. At minimum, this ethical objection would strengthen the case for a more local funding, as opposed to less local funding of a nurse visit program.

    As I said before, protection from crime by police is a much more direct protection, the efficacy of which is much more easily judged by the tax payer so that he/she may politically agitate for changes. Compare this to the nurse visit program, the protection benafit of which is an effect that takes years to materialize.

    Practical considerations for the case for non-government implementation:

    Perhaps this study indicates a private program like this would be a wonderful thing to benefit these children born to low-income single mothers. Maybe it works because the poor mother interacts with a middle class person in a situation where the child is the focus, so that middle class values are imparted, as well as health concerns. I’m thinking of things like reading to the child, which brings up the general value of reading as well.

  63. Of course by…”more local funding, as opposed to less local funding of a nurse visit program”…I mean more *local*, not more funding.

  64. I’d like to see a separate discussion address whether police have outlived their usefulness.
    (I prefer nurses to cops, but it may just be because I’m a “top.”)
    Much of the ancillery deterrent factor attributed to cops is simply because there are so many of them thanks to the war on drugs. Cops and the war on drugs have co-evolved into monsters.
    Assuming we subsidize nurses, they would eventually become “tops” too, but we could sure use a long break from cops.
    Reminder: I’m an urban pioneer who one might think would be pro-cop. Naaaah.

  65. Skepticos –

    sure, more cops on a given street corner or in a given neighbourhood will reduce crime on that street corner or in that neighbourhood, but if you look at the whole city of Chicago (to use your example), I think you’ll find that the overall crime rate would stay fairly constant. It would just get pushed into different localities within the city and away from the increased police presence.

    The only real way to prevent crime is to increase affluence. Obivously there will still be those deviants that are going to commit crimes no matter what, but in general, that’s the way to go. Coercion is not effective in the long run.

    Micha –

    I understand, but it still gives the ‘we know best’ vibe. And it may be a slippery slope, but if you grant that the government needs to send nurses to poor homes to teach poor people how to raise their kids so they commit less crime, well maybe we need to send cops into those homes for the same reason. And you’d be surprised to know how many folks have advocated selective incapacitation over the years.

  66. The effectiveness of intervention programs, such as the nursing visits discussed here, is pretty well established among social scientists who study crime issues. Kleiman is hardly the first to note this; Elliott Currie, who reviewed the evidence in his “Crime and Punishment in America” back in 1998, found it a pretty clear-cut case.

    On pragmatic grounds, the case for using tax dollars to fund such nursing visits is open-and-shut. Unfortunately, effective public policy on crime is impossible in our current political climate.

  67. thoreau at 03:27 PM:

    “I find it no more objectionable than if the police gave out brochures advising people to, say, carry a phone, flashlight, and pepper spray when outside at night in dangerous neighborhoods.”

    But, at least, these are of more identifiable benefit to the one who is taxed to support the activity.

    Micha Ghertner at 04:09 PM:

    “In fact, I find common good arguments much more appealing and persuasive than individual rights arguments.”

    But, I assume (hope) that you would not countenance a violation of individual rights against the initiation of force regardless of the calculated “common good”.

    Jason Ligon at 04:25 :

    “That is not to say that if a redistributive act returns much higher individual liberty we should ignore it, though.”

    Only if it is for the direct protection of liberty, right? Such as police or military restricted to protecting against force diected at the taxed citizens.

    Bill at September 05:47 PM:

    “Libertarians are individualists. My guess is that they tend not to be “joiners”.”

    The main characteristic of libertarians is that they tend to want to maximize liberty/oppose coercian. The main agent of coercion, by far, is government. Libertarians definitely show a tendency to join Scifi clubs and conventions. 😉

    Micha Ghertner at 05:30 PM:

    “How is reducing crime and protecting citizens two separate choices? If the state can successfully reduce crime by reducing poverty and increasing education, does that not protect those citizens who would otherwise be victims?”

    The question is; how can the state reduce crime and protect citizens with out violating individual liberty? Totalitarian states are quite adept at protecting citizens against force and fraud by other citizens.

  68. Jason Ligon,

    Don’t feel lonely. I am a consequentialist too (albeit an anarchist one). It’s fair to characterize Glen Whitman as another (consequentialist, not anarchist). Any other (neoclassical) economists reading or posting in this thread are most likely consequentialists too.

    Ken Shultz,

    …If there’s nothing mandatory about it, then, given the assumptions in the original post, I don’t see anything about this suggestion that’s more wrong than any of the other social programs I’m forced to pay for.

    Right, but that’s not Julian’s point. His point is not only that this program is no worse than other social programs to which libertarians object; rather, this program might even be better than marginal units of state monopolized law enforcement which minarchist libertarians enthusiastically support, since it achieves the same purposes or better at lower cost to taxpayers.

    Bill and Skeptikos,

    The problem with your two suggested dichotomies — radical vs. conservative, pragmatic vs. ideal — is that they don’t quite track the divisions between libertarians. I consider my goal both radical and idealistic — a free market anarchy — but consider my preferred methods for achieving this goal both pragmatic and conservative. Unlike people like Murray Rothbard, if I had the option to press a button and make the government disappear overnight, or even drastically reduce its size to a minarchist night-watchman state, I would not do so. I think cold-turkey approaches to deregulation and privatization can lead to the same unintended consequences libertarians are so famous for recognizing. Rather, I prefer a slow, gradual approach which would allow society to construct the necessary market institutions currently occupied by the government.

    So you need to be clear whether your radical/conservative, pragmatic/ideal categories refer to the process or the end states.

  69. Lowdog: We might reduce crime by reducing the size of the criminal code. Fewer laws => less crime. But then that says little about the actual situation.

    As to funding Minarchtopia: How about the Georgist Single Tax/Land Value Tax? The minimal state captures the gain in the unimproved value of land, while each can profit from the improvements made to his parcel.

    Bill: One of my pet practical advances toward a freer society is the Fully Informed Jury Amendment. Discussion even without changing the Constitution would have the effect of making the public aware that they have the power to nullify any law in jury trial.

  70. Rick Barton,

    “In fact, I find common good arguments much more appealing and persuasive than individual rights arguments.”

    But, I assume (hope) that you would not countenance a violation of individual rights against the initiation of force regardless of the calculated “common good”.

    Alas, your hopes are about to be dashed. As a consequentialist, I do not rule out coercion in principle. Nor do I think most libertarians–even deontological anarchists–do either, despite their claims to the contrary. To take but one example, unless you are an absolute pacifist–and most libertarians are not–you support defensive war under certain circumstances, even if you know ex ante that the defensive action will result in the killing of innocent non-combatants. In this case, as in others, the common good outweighs an individual’s rights.

    The question is; how can the state reduce crime and protect citizens with out violating individual liberty?

    That answer to that question is: it cannot. A state cannot even exist, let alone try to reduce crime, without violating individual liberty. Now, one could argue, as Nozick did, that a good libertarian state can exist to maximize liberty or minimize coercion–that is a respectable argument, although I disagree on pragmatic grounds–but a state cannot reduce crime or protect citizens without violating individual liberty, for in order to do so it must (a) tax citizens and (b) protect its monopoly from competition with private protection agencies (else it does not meet the definition of a state).

  71. Micha,

    I guess I didn’t make it clear that I think both groups want the same result, but some think it can be accomplished much more quickly (the radicals/idealists). If you re-read my post, I think you’ll see that your description of yourself falls within the conservative/pragmatic libertarian camp. Nonetheless, I’m aware of the limitations of the binary system I have used to describe the diversity of libertarian thought. It must be my physics background. In science, you begin with simple situations to get a handle on a phenomenon. Then you increase the complexity to further your understanding.

  72. As to funding Minarchtopia: How about the Georgist Single Tax/Land Value Tax? The minimal state captures the gain in the unimproved value of land, while each can profit from the improvements made to his parcel.

    I think it was Milton Friedman who said that a Georgist tax is less-bad than many other forms of taxation–i.e. it has a lower dead-weight loss–because it doesn’t provide as many disincentive effects as other taxes.

    That being said, a Georgist tax is still a tax. If you subscribe to Lockean homesteading as many libertarians do, what gives the government the legitimate authority to expropriate the unimproved value of land that I found before anyone else? Further, “unimproved value” is a contradiction in terms when we consider that (a) value is subjective, determined by individual buyers’ and sellers’ preferences and (b) even the discovery of land is itself an improvement which adds (in fact, creates) value. Discovered land is more valuable than undiscovered land; after all, something that humans do not know exists can have no value to us if value is subjective, or even if value is determined by labor input (which it isn’t).

  73. fydor,

    Sorry didn’t respond earlier, hope you see this.

    When you find a new compound in the Pharma end of R & D, you don’t know if it will work. You have an indication or two but that’s all. You begin research, you document your findings and you advance. Sometimes you find the molecule you are working with doesn’t work, but shifting the structure might.

    The same could be said for any endeavor. Just because I said human freedom encompasses the possibility of failure didn’t mean to discount the effort of success. Since I do not believe that Knowledge is a priori nor is it divinly inspired. You must experiment.

    But, from private space planes to gardening businesses the final decision still depends on the dedication and intelligence of those doing the work.

    I will agree with you on one point though. surity is not an option, but I think we disagree because I am never sure about anything. My cranial structure does not allow me that. I believe that without the possibility of failure, there can be no possibility of success. Surity is not an option for those seeking real knowledge.
    For instance I know now that the excellent document known as the US constitution works for crime prevention, keeps me free and grants me Liberty. But 200 years ago all they had was hope. Glad they tried the experiment anyway. There were many people who argued exactly as you do know. I understand it, but cannot agree with it. Life is best lived by trying. By doing. By not expecting limitations on knowledge, but constanty pushing the boundaries of what we know.

  74. If some object to resistance to the tax-funded visiting nurses on a libertarian ideological basis, might an appeal to experience convince them? In Milwaukee WI, such visits have been the norm for decades.

    In 1907 the VNA {Visiting Nurse Association} of Milwaukee was incorporated, with {Sarah} Boyd as president. (She served in that role until her death in 1924). More nurses were added. That year 4 VNA nurses visited 698 sick, injured, and chronically or terminally ill patients.

    In 1908, the VNA held its first fund-raising event. Infant welfare clinics were added to the services. Care was provided for sick children in the public schools and for tuberculosis patients at the South Side Free Dispensary.

    In 1920 the VNA began caring for pregnant women and new mothers. This continued until 1976, when that program was transferred to the Milwaukee Health Department.

    http.//www.aurorahealthcare.org/services/vna/history.asp

    Once in government hands, home visits continued.
    http://www.milwaukee.gov/display/router.asp?docid=421

    In this 84 year period, crime has fluctuated. Currently, reported violent crime in the city is at a 23-year low.

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/may04/232772.asp

    There are certain Census Tracts in the worst parts of town where crime is a greater problem, and ones where it is less keenly felt, of course. But what explains this?

    Thirty-three years ago, 144 public health
    nurses visited each of the approximately 14,000 infants born each year, making around 45,000 total visits per year. Twelve years ago, according to estimated high-risk selection criteria, 85 nurses made 5,552 infant home visits out of approximately 13,000 births. Three years ago, according to the same risk criteria, 47 nurses made only 3,599 infant home visits per year. Today, the health department has only 24 public health nurses have time to visit about 1,500 newborns per year. Consequently, it is important for nurses to visit newborns with the highest risk of infant mortality.
    In 2002 the health department started to base decisions about which infants to visit on evidence from past infant mortality records. The purpose of using evidence-based criteria is to focus on the infants at the highest risk for infant mortality.

    Reducing Infant Mortality: An Evaluation of Nurse Home: Visitation in the City of Milwaukee
    by Ben Monty, Adam Signatur, and Amy Zeman

    http://www.lafollette.wisc.edu/publications/workshops/ 2002-2003/spring/PA869/domestic/MilwNurseVisits-2003.pdf

    So, there was a marked decrease in home visitation during the same period that the crime rate declines. Now, correlation is not causation, and the visitation program is currently designed to fight infant mortality from SIDS and other problems amenable to public health education, but perhaps there is some independent variable to explain the crime decrease in that study?

    Kevin

  75. kevrob-

    It isn’t just that correlation =/= causation. There’s also the issue of detail. If you broke it down by census tract within Milwaukee and looked at crime vs. nurse visits within each tract, did the time-series study within each tract, and then compared tracts, that would be very interesting. Or maybe it would be better to break things down by some other factor other than census tracts. Also, you’d want to control for other variables.

    It wouldn’t be proof, obviously, but it would be darn interesting evidence, and would certainly merit more attention.

    I didn’t have a chance to read the article you link to. Maybe that article includes exactly the detailed breakdown that I suggested. My only point is that saying “X changed at the same time that Y changed” is far too crude to draw any conclusions from, even tentative conclusions with the caveat that correlation is not the same as causation.

  76. Micha,

    When I eschewed (and assumed that you would do the same) a “violation of individual rights against the initiation of force regardless of the calculated common good”, I was speaking within the latitude of the minimal state and excepting the accidental collateral damage to non-threats in a defensive action of that state.

    in order to (reduce crime or protect citizens) it must(a) tax citizens and (b) protect its monopoly from competition with private protection agencies …(else it does not meet the definition of a state).

    The state may perform these protection functions without taxation, by deriving revenue via a monopoly or at least a privileged position in something such as gambling. The state need not maintain an absolute monopoly from competition with private protection agencies, just restrict their activity.
    This condition is not the same as a Nozickian “ultra-minimal state”.

  77. thoreau:

    All my “scientific background” is in “social science” (sic). (I’ve got a B.A. in history and political science, and have taken statistics courses.) The point of what I wrote was that, following that study, one would expect crime to increase as the home visits fell off. Perhaps, had the visits maintained their mid-century levels, crime would have fallen even further, but the lived reality of the city in the last quarter century is that other trends – the baby boom demographic bubble moving out of the “crime prone” adolescent years into adulthood foremost among them – explain the change in crime rates well enough.

    There is an explanation for the worst crime that still exists here. Well meaning mothers or couples seeking refuge from the worst parts of Chicago relocate to M`waukee, while their children brought their street gang experiences with them. None of this has anything to do with infants, though it may in twenty years. This is anecdotal, but my historian side sees this as an explanation potentially as valid as the sort of data public health wonks manipulate.

    When I ran for office here about 15 years ago, I proposed that the city bill people’s health insurance for the visits, including those on state Medicaid (Title 19) rather than pay for them out of tax dollars. Those with private insurance could arrange for their own health provider to supply the nurse, reducing the need for city employees. I don’t oppose the home visits, as long as they aren’t mandatory, nor tax-funded.

    Kevin

  78. Rick,

    When I eschewed (and assumed that you would do the same) a “violation of individual rights against the initiation of force regardless of the calculated common good”, I was speaking within the latitude of the minimal state and excepting the accidental collateral damage to non-threats in a defensive action of that state.

    Well, why would you assume that? As I said, that’s not the only case where even most libertarians would agree that the common good outweighs an individual’s rights. See David Friedman’s “tresspass/rifle/madman” case in Chapter 41 of Machinery of Freedom.

    Once we have accepted cases in which a principle has exceptions, it is no longer an incontrovertible principle; it is instead a useful rule of thumb. Which is why I don’t subscribe to the non-aggression principle.

    The state may perform these protection functions without taxation, by deriving revenue via a monopoly or at least a privileged position in something such as gambling. The state need not maintain an absolute monopoly from competition with private protection agencies, just restrict their activity.

    Certainly, the state has the ability to perform these actions. What it does not have the ability to do, however, is perform these actions while simultaneously maintaining the claim that it is not violating individual liberty. It clearly is: deriving revenue via a legally-protected monopoly or some other state-privileged position is a violation of individual liberty on the part of both consumers and potential competitors. State restriction on the legtimate (i.e., non-rights violating) acitivities of private protection agencies is a violation of individual liberty on the part of both consumers and potential competitors. This violation of individual liberty may be justified if you believe that it is okay to commit coercion in some respects in order to decrease coercion in other respects, and if you also believe that markets are incapable of serving this function; but it must be recognized that it is still a violation of individual liberty.

  79. They put liberty last, which I think was a mistake, but not an irreparable one.

    The sentence is an example of climax. From least important to most important.

    The state working to shape citizens for the common good seems unnecessarily intrusive.

    That’s one of the goals of public education, isn’t it?

    It seems to me this is just an extension (in both directions) of public school. Parents learn stuff, kids learn stuff.

    If I lived in a community which offered such a service, I’d tick the box – even though I’m not a mother (or a father).

    However, such a programme under the auspices of the federal government would be a violation of Amendment X.

    How people in different communities organise their lives and governments is up to them. Even state government is too distant to deal with most “social” issues.

    If the people of Manitowoc try “visiting nurses” and it works for them, the people of Sheboygan Falls might be tempted to implement the same program. If Waukesha people decide school vouchers is the way to go, Hartford might try them too. The “marketplace of ideas”.

  80. Bill,

    A strong federal component for defense and civil rights can be a lot more inclusive that you might think. How narrowly you define “defense” and “civil rights” will in turn determine how small you want your federal government to be. Of course, a conservative Christian, a lefty gay-rights advocate, a neo-con, and a libertarian minarchist will all define these terms differently, and whichever group holds the most political power will be able to nominate Supreme Court Justices, Congressmen, and Presidents who share their favored definition of these terms. Over time, political power sways back and forth, definitions become ever more inclusive, and we are back to where we started. Granting the federal government the power to enforce your version of national defense and civil rights is also granting the federal government the power to enforce someone else’s version of national defense and civil rights. You cannot have decentralized federalism with a centralized federal government.

  81. So a majority of you think it is more of a threat to liberty and less legitimate to:
    1) have nurses visit pregnant mothers, and
    2) have people pay for this with their taxes.

    than to:
    1) lock people up in a situation where abuse and rape are common, and
    2) have people pay for this with their taxes (and it costs more, too).

    Do you have any idea how that sounds to a non-libertarian?

    To me it sounds as if you are concerned with your own liberty and not so much with others’. Which is why, for so many people who call themselves libertarians, the repeal of the estate tax and a lack of active support for the assault weapons ban will trump arbitrary deportation, imprisonment at the will of the executive, and possible tacit support for torture as issues in November.

    Yeah, I know, they are all deprivations of liberty. The thing is, they are not remotely comparable deprivations of liberty. And only someone who has to pay taxes, and wants to but is not allowed to own a semiautomatic weapons, but is not in danger of being sent to prison, would argue that they are comparable.

  82. I have another, less hostile, question.

    Say you are an anarchist who doesn’t believe there should even be a police force or jails or immigration laws or a border patrol.

    But you know you are vastly, vastly, vastly outvoted on this issue–these things exist and will continue to exist. And given their existence, more government money in some areas will lessen the harm they do to liberty. To public defenders and immigration lawyers, obviously. But not only to them–also to the INS, whose understaffing contributes to horrible backlogs, hours spent on lines to get your form stamped, forms being lost, and assorted other SNAFUS that can end with someone being deported at worst, and at best will affect their ability to travel, hold down a legal job, etc. etc. (Think the DMV but three times as bad and they have near-complete control over your life.)

    Shouldn’t you support higher government funding in these areas? Or does saying you’re theoretically morally opposed to immigration law, criminal law, etc. get you off the hook, even if in practice you known damn well that these laws will remain on the books.

  83. Katherine,

    It seems to me that more government funding for the INS would lead to more deportation, not less. Horrible backlogs, hours spent in lines getting forms stamped, and other assorted problems are unfortunate, but even more unfortunate would be an effective, well-funded INS that was actually able to enforce the terribly unjust and unegalitarian U.S. immigration law. Better to have an ineffective INS which only catches a few, but cannot stop the thousands of others who came to the this country for the same reasons our parents and grandparents did.

    A separate question is whether it would make sense, from a libertarian perspective, to agree to more funding for INS bureacracy in exchange for increasing the amount of legal immigration. The problem with this compromise is there is no guarantee that the INS will use the money for processing more legal immigrants rather than diverting it for detering more illegal immigrants.

    And in response to your previous post, I hope the fact that a majority of the people here seem to think that locking people up in prisons is more conducive to liberty than better education and improved opportunities does not lead you to believe that all libertarians think this. I oppose government involvement in both areas, but if the government is going to be involved, it makes more sense to concentrate on the latter than the former, assuming the predicted consequences are accurate.

  84. Katherine:

    The binary choice of

    1.) Spend tax money on dubious* social engineering now or
    2.) Spend more of it later on a higher level of incarceration

    isn’t fair to those of us of the libertarian persuasion. We would remove criminal sanction from a wide array of “offenses,” most notably use and sale of currently restricted substances to adults, so the prison system’s budget could be much reduced, and decent, safe accomodation made for the remaining violent felons.

    Kevin

    *see my post above

  85. Granting the federal government the power to enforce your version of national defense and civil rights is also granting the federal government the power to enforce someone else’s version of national defense and civil rights. You cannot have decentralized federalism with a centralized federal government.

    Micha,

    You are forgetting that this is not Britain, but the US. We have an actual constitution, not some phony one that can be changed with the winds of Parliament. But, I will admit, that the US Constitution would have to be amended for my system to work. Defense is a not a domestic issue, at least in the usual sense, so it is irrelevant to a discussion of local control of local issues, which is what I’m after. Civil rights are a different matter. Some constitutional rights would have to be altered or clarified, and some new negative rights would need to be added. So-called positive rights would be specifically prohibited (for the fed, not the localities). None of the interest groups that you mention would be able to change the constitution without broad-based support. In a system of local contol, such support would be extremely difficult to obtain. Why would people want to give up local control when their local government is more or less to their liking (which is the benefit of the system)?

    Your statements are thought provoking, but not well served by statements like “You cannot have decentralized federalism with a centralized federal government.” It’s not as if you’re stating a law of nature. Actually, the statement is untrue, as we do have decentralized federalism with a centralized federal government. Hell, that’s exactly what federalism is. From a dictionary:

    Federalism

    A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units.

  86. “Julian”:
    I’m still waiting for the demonstration that being a ‘low income single parent’ represents a comparable probable cause to a person waving a handgun in the street, or bag-snatching.

    Shirley Knott

  87. You want a federal system that works? Here.

    And here’s a translation. Not very good (For example, Article 7 says “La dignit? humaine doit ??tre respect?e et prot?g?e.” “Doit” means “must”. The translation says “ought to”, which is much much weaker), but it gives the non-French reader the basic idea.

    And yes. It’s not perfect.

  88. Rick Barton:

    Me: “That is not to say that if a redistributive act returns much higher individual liberty we should ignore it, though.”

    Rick: “Only if it is for the direct protection of liberty, right? Such as police or military restricted to protecting against force diected at the taxed citizens.”

    I would suggest that ‘direct’ is not a very clear way of looking at it. The game is this: how do we maximize negative freedoms of individuals? I believe that a minimal state is necessary after all is said and done, regardless of institutions that may evolve. I am with Micha and David Friedman to the extent that if it were possible, I would do without that level of government. My gripe with many of David Friedman type arguments is that you still wind up with things that look a heck of a lot like enforcement agents that I don’t think are distinguishable from localized governments in most respects.

    Anyway, if we say we have to have a government to neutralize what I called Hobbesian effects, I think the basic attendant realization is that absent the government, coercion by your fellow man still exists. I have no preference for one type of coercion over another necessarily, if we are talking about the government taxing some percent of my wealth or individuals stealing some percent of my wealth, I am equally unfree in my property. The reason to resist government action up front is that all government actions necessarily have a freedom cost. If it is at all possible to handle things through a voluntary system, that initial cost will not be present.

    The question at hand is, should we dismiss a government action that is not encompassed in what we historically consider ‘the role of government’ EVEN IF we believe the freedom cost of taxation produces a net gain in the absence of criminal coercion. Many of the arguments on this board so far, at least to me, seem to miss the point. If we grant that the resulting gains in freedom from coercion are greater than the cost of freedom due to taxation, this is a no brainer. It doesn’t matter what probable cause means and it doesn’t matter how one views the role of police and the inappropriacy of welfare.

    Keeping our eye on the ball, the only reason we hold any of those beliefs is that we want to maximize freedom. Any action that serves to in net increase freedom is defined to be the right choice for government, because government only has one purpose.

    I think some libertarians, and especially the LP, sometimes get caught up an ideologically preferred form and let the substance of liberty slide. I have recently had an epiphany about the futility of constitutional arguments I have been making for years. Constitutions are vague reminders of how things are supposed to work, but they are not especially useful to our cause in the grand scheme of things. For years I supported the idea of constitutional government as the answer, of a government checked by a piece of paper. I kept arguing with people, that look, if we’d just follow the amendment process, we’d be in much better shape. I still think that is the case, but it occurs to me that it misses the point. The piece of paper will be ignored when people want to ignore it, as it was when FDR threatened court stacking. The amendment process is just a section of that piece of paper. If people can ignore the document at will, what is the VERY FIRST thing they have to ignore by definition? The part that ostensibly prevents them from interpreting laws however they want, of course. The requirement to amend will always be the first major casualty of public will.

    The fight can’t be won on the structural or principle front. Putting certain judges in is a holding action. Saying that taxation is theft is irrelevant to most people, especially the beneficiaries of tax dollars. The only way to win is to convince the public at large to adopt our value weightings, and the only way to do that is to lay out the consequences to them.

  89. Skeptikos,

    I can’t disagree with anything you said in your latest post, and I wonder what I said to make you think you needed to tell me all that. I just think government is a relatively flawed institution by its very nature. Now that doesn’t mean we (although “we” is even a nebulous concept in this context, which is part of the problem) shouldn’t try to make it better, but we should recognize its limitations as well. Which means that even the best researched “solutions” to problems are likely to get screwed up when government tries to implement them.

    Here’s a new thought regarding Julian’s original question. He asks whether given all his assumptions, could state social programs be considered “legitimate.” Let’s put the question another way: given these assumptions, is it fair to not only be willing to pay for these programs but to force others to do so as well? Because that’s what we’re talking about here. And I know Julian wants us to accept his assumptions for the sake of argument, but I don’t know if it’s ever fair to force others to pay for something like this, even if we educated elites have decided upon perusal of the literature that the program does indeed work. And, as I believe others have pointed out, there’s “where do you draw the line” type questions that inevitably arise. Julian forgot to eliminate that issue with his assumptions! 🙂 Well, I generally don’t personally get all exercised by social programs myself (otherwise I wouldn’t usually vote Democratic as I do), but I still am skeptical that Julian’s reasoning can make them an actual good idea.

  90. Micha Ghertner:

    “Certainly, the state has the ability to perform these actions. What it does not have the ability to do, however, is perform these actions while simultaneously maintaining the claim that it is not violating individual liberty.”

    My point was to counter your contention that the state must extract taxes. For the least intrusive (and mercifully small) state, we could have one that is financed voluntary contribution and doesn’t even have to rely on being afforded a privileged position over a gambling operation or something.

    I agree that, either by definition or to look like something that resembles a state, the state must restrict legitimate, non-rights violating activities of private protection agencies. And, that these restrictions restrict liberty.

  91. JL,

    I think I’m going to write you in on my Presidential ballot.

  92. Micha: Yes, the LVT is not suitable for Anarchtopia, but a good consideration for Minarchtopia. Although I would like to live beside Ruthless in Anarchtopia, I would gleefully accept the LVT as something I might see in my lifetime, a la Bill’s “reasonable steps” proposition.

  93. Shirley — I think Julian has already answered your question. He clarified that the nurse visits would not be mandatory. Basically, a nurse calls up or knocks on the door and tries to arrange a visit. No probable cause is required to arrange a voluntary meeting.

  94. It’s true that it’s all where the INS spends it’s money….

    thanks for the answers. I may be responding partly to the twerps in my law classes who liked to describe themselves as libertarian and then would say things like “some people buy toyotas instead of lexuses” when we were discussing the sorry state of court-appointed legal defense for criminal defendants in capital cases.

  95. raymond: The strong version would be faut from falloir (necessary/required). Doit from devoir (must/should) is a weaker form.

    [/channel=Jean_Bart]

  96. A couple of observations –

    1) I think one of the biggest flaws of any political theorizing is that people concentrate on the goals and ignore whether the means actually help get us there. Philosophically inclined people argue for lifetimes about the “proper role of the state” while largely ignoring whether the state can even effectively fulfill that role. I think Julian’s question is a good challenge to those libertarians who think the proper role of the state is X, Y, and Z. What if Q, R, and S were more effective?

    2) The labels and phrases bandied about in many of the comments – “idealist”, “pragmatist”, “libertarianism is about liberty not effectiveness”, etc are not very useful and serve little purpose in answering Julian’s question.

  97. Scatalogicus

    “Devrait” is “should, ought to”

    “Doit” is “must”

    It wouldn’t sound right to say “il faut que la dignit? humaine soit…” in a constitution, imo.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.