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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Libertarian Candidate

Posted by Simon Halliday | Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Category: , , , |

Michael Munger's speech as a libertarian candidate for NC 08:

He says that libertarians are 'for giving people a chance to realise their full potential', but they are also 'for no one being able to take away the fruits of your labour'. How, therefore, do they propose making sure that everyone is able to realise their potential without taking away the fruits of some people's labour? It's logically inconceivable for them to be able to do both. You cannot have reasonable equality of opportunity without some kind of revenue system. Unless he is talking, simply about non-discrimination which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, result in any system that is 'for giving people a chance to realise their full potential'.

We need to create a just society first. We can't just assume that society will self-correct. The evidence weighs in heavily against the libertarian ideal of social mobility exists in the United States, especially with the current distributions of wealth and education. Munger makes no comment on how society would allow individual flourishing, as something accessible to all Americans, without any taxes.

Munger comments on "A couple who live on land that they own. that they control and that they can defend." Who regulates what constitutes 'defence'? Moreover, he says later that individuals cannot inflict violence on one another, who would regulate this?

He says too that individuals would be able to drive cars because they own them, but would not have to carry licences. How do we ensure then that individuals have some minimal level of capability? Do we just assume that society is comprised of 'responsible individuals' as Munger wants us to? Has he met any teenage boys? As much as I would like to think that individuals would self-regulate, I have no empirical reason to do so.

If I am misconstruing what he says, or misunderstanding some crucial concept of libertarian theory then please help me to gain clarity.

Currently have 4 comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    With the thrust of your commentary, maybe you should change your blog title to Imanuisance.

    Many people rail against freedom because they feel one value or another that they hold would be threatened. Well, guess what? That's freedom. While candidates like Munger often talk in utilitarian terms because most people prefer to debate results, the novel aspect of libertarian theory is that it treats human rights and human dignity as an end in itself. Whether we are poor, rich, environmentally conscious, wasteful, cool, nerdy, dark-skinned, light-skinned, or whatever else, we all view each other as human beings -and realize that no matter how badly we would like to see a particular change affected in society, we have NO RIGHT to compel others to meet our ideals.

    Thankfully, I find that armchair statists like yourself often have their bleeding heart in the right place, and that when you repudiate violence as a means to achieve you goals, you will find that many libertarians share your hopes for enlightening our species.

    I know this response was very antagonistic. I apologize to an extent, but you must understand that for us this is more than a political debate; it's about respect.

  2. Mike, I'm as much in favour of protecting liberties as the next person.

    The main thrust of my post was to attack his point that individuals could have equal opportunities without there being a government that uses redistributive taxes to sustain this. He makes no mention of this and my reading of libertarians (that I have read - Nozick, etc) do not make sufficient mention of this. I open to good arguments, if you can convince me that I am wrong on this point, that libertarianism offers as much of a way actually to offer equal opportunity for human flourishing without any form of taxation on individual income then I would welcome it. I have yet to see a convincing argument on this point.

    Note though that other aspects of libertarianism I complete agree with:
    a volunteer army
    getting rid of unjust subsidies
    diminishing negative neighbourhood effects
    All of which are from Milton Friedman.

    I just don't know how it can be proposed that this is done (the third especially) without some form of taxation.

    Thanks for your input.

  3. Simon: I would agree that we have to have public schools for the foreseeable future.

    Why would you make such a strange set of assumptions, without even reading my platform?

    The only way to have equal opportunities is to have a voucher system, with most of the money, probably, going to public schools. It would increase spending in poor rural areas.

    The speech was 30 minutes long. My platform has 10 issues, and you can easily read it, if you want to offer an informed criticism.

    But to dismiss my claims, when I *agree* that we need to put power in the hands of the poor to improve education....well, that's just irresponsible.

    Mike Munger

  4. Mike Munger,

    Truth be told I was forwarded a link to the video (as I posted it) and responded in the moment immediately after I had finished watching it. I think that I was annoyed because I so regularly see politicians reacting in ways that don't convey truth. Having heard various of your interesting podcasts on EconTalk with Russ Roberts, I didn't think that this video was representative of what I had experienced listening to those and that annoyed me. I thought, ``I expected better of this guy.'' This was my immediate reaction to the video. I suppose my immediate response to blog about it was irresponsible. However, I am pleased that my irresponsibility is allowing me to get input from people whose opinions I have respected.

    I agree that in order for me to assess your platform critically I should read your proposals and I will do so.

    What my point would then be (assuming what you tell me now is correct) is that the short video, as presented, does not adequately reflect the views that you hold. Or does not portray well their nuance and specificity. With respect to how videos are distributed on youtube this, in all likelihood, has nothing to do with you.

    One of the things that I think is crucial in this debate is not only that 'the poor' have the power to affect education and to benefit from vouchers or other systems of redistribution, but that there is greater interaction between the poor and the wealthy in order to combat the negative neighbourhood effects to which Milton Friedman refers. Education alone cannot do this as far as I know, or at least as far as I have read the research on neighbourhood and peer effects.

    Noting all of the above though, I think that what you are doing is absolutely fantastic. Starting a social movement and getting grass roots support is phenomenal and I respect you immensely for that. I also respect much of what you, and many other libertarians, are 'for'.

    Anyway, I must now go and read the rest of the proposals on your website.

    Thanks for your contribution. I sincerely appreciate it.

    Simon Halliday