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The Ethics of Libertarian Academics Employed by State Universities:

Is it wrong for libertarian academics who oppose government ownership of universities to take jobs with state schools? This issue came up in the comments to my previous post, and is raised often enough on this site and elsewhere that I think the time has come to address it more systematically.

In an ideal libertarian world, all (or nearly all) universities would be private. However, we do not live in that ideal world and are unlikely to achieve it in the near future. Therefore, libertarian academics have only two choices: 1) take jobs at state universities (if that is the best or only offer available), or 2) refuse any such offers, thereby ensuring that all the jobs in question will go to advocates of statist ideologies.

Picking Option 2 does not reduce the overall amount of statism. The job will not be abolished, but will instead go to a nonlibertarian. Moreover, Option 2 also probably undermines the cause of libertarianism. To the extent that academics influence political debates, picking Option 2 means that fewer such opportunities to influence opinion will be in libertarian hands and more will be controlled by our ideological rivals. Obviously, picking Option 1 serves the self-interest of libertarian academics (myself emphatically included). But it's also the right choice for an altruist whose only goal is advance the cause of libertarianism (and, no, I am not claiming to be such a person).

Finally, it's worth noting that private universities are also heavily subsidized by government in ways that most libertarians disapprove of. And many public universities earn a significant percentage of their revenue through the (relatively) free market, in the form of tuition payments and alumni donations. From a libertarian point of view, the difference between public and private universities is one of degree rather than kind. If the "right" decision for libertarians is to refuse jobs at any school funded by the state in ways that we find objectionable, the result would be a complete absence of libertarian faculty at almost every school. That outcome is hardly likely to advance the cause of limiting government power.

Esquire:
If one believes that taxpayer-funded universities are *immoral* (as some libertarians indeed believe many coercive subsidies to be a form of public "theft"), then there's probably no wiggle-room to rationalize partaking in the practice. However, if it's just a *pragmatic* free-markets-work-better type argument, then you're clearly free to work "within the current system." I know some folks who've struggled with this dilemma (especially when working under *federal* grants).
6.8.2007 9:00pm
frankcross (mail):
I wouldn't strain to justify it, people make compromises. Maybe that's Thomas's theory, if he hadn't accepted a race-based appointment to the Court, the alternative might not have opposed race-based decisionmaking at law.
6.8.2007 9:21pm
whackjobbbb:
They got ya', Somin... you're nailed colder'n a grave digger's ass, so just turn in your libertarian card right now posthaste. =;-)

But seriously, taking a paycheck from an employer doesn't imply I'm down with everything they do. I provide services... they pay for 'em. Now, if in the provision of those services, you ever kowtow to your employer's unreasonable whim, in a way that compromises what you strongly believe in, then it's time to find another employer.
6.8.2007 9:25pm
M (mail):
Bernard Williams discussed this type of reasoning quite powerfully in his "againt" section of the famous little books _Utilitarianism: For and Against_. His example was a more obviously dubious one, of someone working in a chemical weapons plant even though he opposes them since he needs a job to support his family and if he doesn't do it someone who supports chemical weapons will, and will do that more vigorously. I don't fully buy the argument, but it's certainly one that should be considered by those who find the above form of reasoning either attractive or dubious. In the end I'd tend to think Williams' argument isn't decisive, but it does make the reasoning above seem facil. (Not that I expect a blog post to provide a definitive argument!)
6.8.2007 9:29pm
rbj:
I oppose agricultural price supports, but it doesn't mean I'm going to stop eating.
6.8.2007 9:42pm
RMCACE (mail):
A libertarian can safely support working in a state school. First, a libertarian can support the theory of a state school by realizing that the external benefits conferred upon society by subsidized education (lower crime, etc.) are externalized benefits which will lead to under-investment in education generally. Therefore, government must spend money on education to make sure it is invested at its optimal level.

Second, an arrogant libertarina could apply this logic to his own scholarship. To an arrogant libertarian, society will clearly benefit from his great scholarship, and this benefit will be externalized (the libertarian will not received adequate economic reward for his own great work), therefore leading to under-investment in the scholar's work. Therefore, the scholar's work should be subsidized by the government, to spread the libertarian's ideas and help society at large and correct a tragic market error.
6.8.2007 10:20pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I would add, in addition to the points Ilya made, that libertarians do pay taxes. (Except for the handful of kooks out there who think that salary isn't really income or only foreign income is taxed or whatever.) As a libertarian, I often hear, "Do you use Government Benefit X? Do you drive on the public roads? Then you're a hypocrite." But a libertarian generally believes that the government shouldn't redistribute property from people who have earned it to people who haven't. When we pay taxes, the government is taking our money. It's unreasonable to suggest that we should give the money over and not get anything for it, in order to be consistent.

We shouldn't accept welfare -- benefits we haven't earned. But that doesn't describe paying taxes and using government services paid for with those taxes, or with exchanging services for money from the government.
6.8.2007 10:43pm
Guest101:
Ilya,

I think you mean to say, "But it's also the right choice for an altruist whose only goal is advance the cause of libertarianism (and, no, I am not claiming to be such a person)." I wouldn't ordinarily nitpick, but I had to read the sentence several times to figure out what you were trying to say.

On the substance of the issue, speaking as a liberal who's very much in favor of public universities, I think you're clearly right that there's no hypocrisy involved in a libertarian's accepting employment at one.
6.8.2007 10:49pm
Nathan_M (mail):
Structurally, this argument can be easily modified to justify virtually anything.

For example:

I disapprove of slavery, and in an ideal world it would be abolished. But that is unlikely to be achieved in the near future, so in the meantime I have two options, (1) use slaves on my plantation, or (2) pay my workers.

Picking option two does not reduce the overall amount of slavery; the slaves will not be freed but will instead be purchased by a less enlightened owner. Moreover, Option 2 also probably undermines the cause of abolishionism. To the extent that wealthy plantation owners influence political debates, picking Option 2 means that fewer such opportunities to influence opinion will be in abolishionist hands and more will be controlled by our ideological rivals. Obviously, picking Option 1 serves the self-interest of abolishinist plantation owners (myself emphatically included). But it's also the right choice for an altruist only goal is advance the cause of abolishionism.



Now, when applied to slavery, I find this argument ridiculous and morally repugnant. When applied to libertarian academics, I (as a non-libertarian) find it at least superficially plausible. I think the reason for this is that (at least in my mind) slavery is intrinsically incredibly evil, whereas I don't see anything morally wrong with working in a state university.

But it doesn't make sense to evaluate Professor Somin's argument on my moral principles, it only makes sense to evaluate it on libertarian principles. And, I would submit that these are missing from Professor Somin's argument. Exactly how wrong does he think the current state supported university system is?

If he thinks it is bad from only a utilitarian perspective, then I can see nothing wrong with his argument. If he thinks it is morally evil then I worry his argument is glib and unconvincing.

Ultimately, Professor Somin's argument is that the ends justify the means. Sometimes, no doubt, this is the case, but making this argument requires addressing precisely now bad the means chosen are, and Professor Somin fails to do that.
6.8.2007 10:49pm
Nathan_M (mail):
The last sentence in my comment should read "precisely how bad", not "now bad". It's a good thing typos aren't morally evil, or as a responsible person my only justifiable course of action would be to arrange to be convicted for theft in Saudi Arabia.
6.8.2007 10:55pm
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Some people believe in high taxes and a lot of government services. Others believe in low taxes and few services. Socialists are on the former end of this continuum, while Libertarians are on the other end. But just as Socialists are not obligated to pay more taxes than the rest of us, and are not given welfare and other government payments more generous than the rest of us, Libertarians are not obligated to avoid receiving government checks, and are not given discounts on their taxes.

We do not live in a society that conditions such transfers on the ideology of the taxpayer/recipient. (If we did, I think the number of Libertarians would go way up.) And even if we were to ponder becoming in part such a society, it would remain absurd to expect that only one of these 4 possibilities (that Libertarians must eschew government funds) would reign, while the other 3 would not.
6.8.2007 11:06pm
The Impressive Mr. X (mail):
David M. Nieporent,

There is no precise correlation between the taxes you pay and your consumption of government services. This is true even when one doesn't receive welfare. For example, government does not tax you more if you spend 10 minutes in a public park versus 5 minutes versus versus do not use the park at all. Thus, if you are against all government that is redistributive, you must be against all government. Thus, so far, your rationalizations of unprincipled behavior are intellectually inadequate. Perhaps in your response you will be able to do better.


We shouldn't accept welfare -- benefits we haven't earned.


Why shouldn't someone who has paid taxes at one time use welfare in a situation when they subsequently need it? What if using welfare enables a person to obtain employment sooner (using food stamps is more efficient than digging through the trash for food) and thus pay taxes sooner? The second your income dips to the point you do not pay taxes, should a good libertarian stop using government services? Does this mean that an seriously unemployed libertarian (maybe they are a student) should refrain from using public roads and public parks, since they are not paying taxes right then and there? Why shoudln't welfare be considered a sort of insurance?

As has already been established, there is no precise correlation between taxes paid and consumption of other government services. Your singling out of welfare as fundamentally different from all other government expenditures, which are also redistributive, does not appear to be intellectually sound.
6.8.2007 11:38pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I was the one who brought it up in the previous post and mentioned because GMU is full of a particularly vehement bunch of libertarians who seem to find statism morally objectionable. Ilya himself seems to find public education particularly repugnant. His argument that he is unable to find employment in the private sector (or that even if employment in the private sector were available it would still be tainted by public lucre) seems particularly weak.

I don't even understand why he would want to teach at a public university considering that by definition the public sector always provides an inferior product. Surely, no self-respecting libertarian would want to involve themselves in the inefficient, inherently inferior, and sub-par education offered by a public university. By definition, a private institution will always offer a better education than a public one. The government simply cannot compete with the private sector.
6.8.2007 11:42pm
The Impressive Mr. X (mail):
Equire makes an excellent point. A principled libertarian who believes that taxation is theft would not make the rationalizations that Ilya describes. Is it okay to buy car parts from someone you know is a car thief when your car is broken down?? Just because the transaction as between you and the thief is voluntary does not make it okay.

Furthermore, the reason Ilya gives to justify working in a government institution (to deprive people with competing ideologies of a position so as to advance libertarian ideology) is fundamentally pragmatic. Is it okay to violate one's own principles in order to "advance" those principles? What exactly is one advancing after one has already sold out?

I think that even as a pragmatist though, Ilya is sort of flailing around in his justifications. He irrationally overemphasizes the influence of mere law professors on political debates. Especially law professors from second-rate law schools. If you want to influence politics and political debate, you are better off as a politician, not a law professor. Perhaps their are a few exceptions, but those exceptions usually exist at Harvard or Yale and the like (though rarely elsewhere), not GMU Law.

It seems to me that the only conclusion that one can come to is that Ilya is a libertarian for pragmatic reasons, rather than being someone who is a libertarian out of principle. As a pragmatist (out of principle) myself, I welcome him to the pragmatist club. Although I worry that Ilya is not a pragmatist for the right (principled) reasons. I welcome his response if he objects to this characterization.
6.8.2007 11:52pm
The Impressive Mr. X (mail):
J.F. Thomas,

Excellent points. I think the real reason that Mr. Somin is at the GMU law is because he believes being their maximizes his personal utility, regardless of whether it is principled or not. That is, even though he is associated with an institution that should not exist, he has no better alternatives. And then he rationalizes: besides it is all a matter of degree anyway. Private universities violate libertarian principles to some degree, after all. Sure, public universities violate them a little more. And if we are going to violate them no matter what, what is the matter with violating our principles a little bit more if personally convenient? Its all a matter of degree, after all.

Of course, we could hang a principled libertarian who taught at a public university on the petard of his own principles, but alas, not a pragmatic libertarian who only is sort of committed to libertarianism anyway.
6.9.2007 12:02am
TruthInAdvertising:
Doesn't Hillsdale College forego federal funding? Don't they hire libertarians?
6.9.2007 1:36am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mr. X-

Thus, if you are against all government that is redistributive, you must be against all government.

That doesn't necessarily follow. The amount of government that libertarians believe necessary varies by each individual libertarian. Some believe in virtually no government, some believe in just basic services, some believe in more.

The second your income dips to the point you do not pay taxes, should a good libertarian stop using government services?

Because of sales taxes and all manner of taxes paid in the past, which you are incurring opportunity costs for, this basically doesn't happen. And of course the hidden tax of inflation is an indirect tax levied by the government on anyone who earned or is earning money in a particular currency.

As for this and your other examples, I don't believe libertarians have an obligation not to use government services. They are helping to pay for them, and until the size of government can be reduced they should use whichever services they feel necessary. But that doesn't stop them from abstaining from those programs they feel are the most wasteful, immoral, coercive, unnecessary, discriminatory, damaging, etc.
6.9.2007 1:50am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas-

His argument that he is unable to find employment in the private sector (or that even if employment in the private sector were available it would still be tainted by public lucre) seems particularly weak.

If the alternative is allowing people with differing ideologies, some of which are quite damaging and dangerous, a complete ideological monopoly in public education isn't some flexibility understandable? Especially if virtually all universities have become quasi-public?

As with the other government services, libertarians are helping to fund universities as well. Perhaps it isn't as ideologically inconsistent as you make it out to be - since they are simply advocating that government funding be reduced and taken up by the private sector. Same for ideological libertarians working in other areas of the government, like law enforcement.
6.9.2007 2:03am
Roy Haddad (mail):
"Is it okay to buy car parts from someone you know is a car thief when your car is broken down?"

Yes if you would otherwise lose the car, a loss which would greatly exceed the loss of theft, especially if the theft is not unexpected (one of the ways theft is damaging is the surprise, the sudden lack when ordinarily property rights allow you to depend on retaining items (imagine if someone were to steal your bicycle after you had ridden 20 miles away from home - you didn't just lose the price of a bicycle). Taxation is theft, but being regular theft does not damage at quite the same level.)
6.9.2007 2:21am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mr. X-

Is it okay to violate one's own principles in order to "advance" those principles? What exactly is one advancing after one has already sold out?

What if you are already involuntarily funding a less than ideal alternative and if the public isn't educated about better alternatives the less than ideal will perpetuate and get worse?

What about other ideologies? Have anti-war professors sold out because they still cash checks written by the current government? I realize they don't oppose big government, but using your logic haven't they sold out to a degree?

I think that even as a pragmatist though, Ilya is sort of flailing around in his justifications. He irrationally overemphasizes the influence of mere law professors on political debates. Especially law professors from second-rate law schools. If you want to influence politics and political debate, you are better off as a politician, not a law professor. Perhaps their are a few exceptions, but those exceptions usually exist at Harvard or Yale and the like (though rarely elsewhere), not GMU Law.

The notion that libertarians in education don't make a difference is a specious one, in my opinion. I was rarely exposed to libertarian ideas throughout my education. If I had been exposed to at least some degree earlier, there's a good chance I would have become a libertarian much earlier. And without more education and exposure, attempting to run libertarians for office is a losing proposition. So there's a good chance that what Ilya's doing might actually be more effective than what you propose.

It seems to me that the only conclusion that one can come to is that Ilya is a libertarian for pragmatic reasons, rather than being someone who is a libertarian out of principle.

That is very likely a mischaracterization. Are libertarians supposed to fund public education with their taxes AND allow public educators to miseducate the public about economics, government, and individual/natural rights in perpetuity?
6.9.2007 2:23am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Roy Haddad-

Taxation is theft, but being regular theft does not damage at quite the same level.)

I would think this principle depends on the offense. I would expect that government employees that regularly drug and rape people in their sleep inspire just as much rancor and rage as the more irregular private sector rapists.
6.9.2007 2:33am
Ken Arromdee:
We shouldn't accept welfare -- benefits we haven't earned. But that doesn't describe paying taxes and using government services paid for with those taxes, or with exchanging services for money from the government.

I'd argue that libertarians could accept welfare too, for similar reasons as I described in the other thread for accepting public education.

The key is that the libertarian believes the disadvantages of welfare outweigh the advantages. This means that a non-hypocritical libertarian would avoid welfare *if* he can avoid both the advantages and disadvantages.

But merely foregoing the use of a government program doesn't forego both its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages of such things generally can't be avoided merely by not using them. A libertarian might think that in the presence of welfare, there is market distortion which causes harmful effects worse than the benefits of welfare (for instance, reduction in private charity, or an increased cost of living which overall drains more money than the welfare provides). If this libertarian is given the option to avoid *only the benefit* of welfare, doing so is not hypocrisy.

You could argue that even if only one libertarian rejects welfare, that reduces the harmful effect, but the reduction is spread out among lots of people and is harder to see. However, if so, then the rejection of welfare has externalities--rejecting welfare is beneficial to society in general, but its harm is concentrated on the specific person doing the rejecting. A libertarian might then say that he doesn't feel obligated to reject welfare unless some property rights system is set up which allows the benefits of rejecting welfare to be individually owned and traded instead of being collective. Of course, any such system would look pretty much the same as just giving welfare to people who reject it.
6.9.2007 2:41am
JB:
To agree with The Impressive Mr. X:

Taxes are a forced sale of government services at a price based on your income. Given that one is forced to pay, it cannot be immoral to use what you have paid for, even if you believe that it is immoral to force you to pay.

Furthermore, a forced sale is better than robbery, to the degree that the good so sold have worth in proportion to the money paid. If you make enough money to pay taxes worth complaining about, you're benefiting from all kinds of positive externalities of government services (that allowed you to make that money).
6.9.2007 3:28am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JB-

Taxes are a forced sale of government services at a price based on your income.

Not necessarily. The government sometimes fails or refuses to provide services. I'd think of it more as a contract where one party is forced to comply and the other can comply if they decide to, with little or no penalty or sanction if they don't.

Even if the cops refuse to do something about a group of criminals, they still collect their salaries and the town still collects taxes from you.

Given that one is forced to pay, it cannot be immoral to use what you have paid for, even if you believe that it is immoral to force you to pay.

Whether it is immoral or not is a matter of degree. If a politician's relative pays the usual in taxes, but receives a multi-million dollar subsidy or someone else's property for something or other that is clearly immoral.

Furthermore, a forced sale is better than robbery, to the degree that the good so sold have worth in proportion to the money paid.

In some cases. Of course not for organs or people. Some things are not for sale at any price. How much would someone have to pay to mutilate and rape your child? Think of everyone else as someone's child.

If you make enough money to pay taxes worth complaining about, you're benefiting from all kinds of positive externalities of government services (that allowed you to make that money).

The government serves at the leisure of the people - it doesn't "let" people make money, the people let it perform certain functions. Remember the government is parasitical, it wouldn't exist if people were not making money.
6.9.2007 5:25am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Oops, I think I got carried away when I was "speechifyin'" above:

It should be "parasitic" instead of "parasitical" above.
6.9.2007 5:31am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The problem that I see in condemming Ilya and his virulent statists or whatever you wish to call libertarians of his ilk, is that the public university system is already filled with virulent socialists whose purpose seems to be to spend as much public money on themselves so that they can preach their virulent socialism. Yes, that is somewhat consistent, since in the end, that is much of what socialism is.

Nevertheless, if those trying to combat the socialism being preached by most of academia forgo public academia on philispohical grounds, they are essentially giving up a large part of their potential microphone.

Maybe you can look at it from a long term perspective. In the long run, Ilya, et al., can presumably expect comparatively less government intervention as a long term result of their being able to preach their libertarianism in a public university, than if they had refused and another generation of students graduated without being able to see an alternative to the socialism that is being preached by the vast majority of public univerity academics in relevant fields.
6.9.2007 5:56am
llamasex (mail) (www):
The side effects of teaching at a state school (assuming you believe yourself to be a good teacher) is A. making them more attractive than private schools B. legitimizing them. It seems like you are taking part in the strengthening of the public cool system at the cost of the private. Clearly you can work there and hold such views, but doing so hurts your cause, and if you are willing to hurt your cause in such a way I don't really take your crusade all that seriously.
6.9.2007 6:28am
lurker:
If a libertarian truly believes that taxation is theft, then either enrolling in or accepting employment at a state university seems indefensible. I'm not well-versed in libertarian philosophy, (I hope to reach my grave without reading Ayn Rand and have only dim memories of reading Anarchy, State and Utopia), but I assume that serious libertarian thought is grounded in principles more nuanced than "taxation is theft."
6.9.2007 8:47am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
llamasex-

The side effects of teaching at a state school (assuming you believe yourself to be a good teacher) is A. making them more attractive than private schools B. legitimizing them. It seems like you are taking part in the strengthening of the public cool system at the cost of the private. Clearly you can work there and hold such views, but doing so hurts your cause, and if you are willing to hurt your cause in such a way I don't really take your crusade all that seriously.

But if libertarian professors are successful in teaching libertarian ideals the effect will be the opposite - taxes will be decreased eventually and government will be made smaller, with all the beneficial effects on the economy, liberty, and society. How is that "hurting your cause"?

Conversely, how is giving socialists and collectivists a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas in our universities "helping the cause"?
6.9.2007 9:49am
llamasex (mail) (www):
American Psikhushka -

First of all I don't think Ilya Somin was hired to teach libertarianism. And hopefully he isn't. It is ok if he views come out in the classroom and different viewpoints are heard, but I would find it distasteful for a teacher to teach just to spread his or her political viewpoint to others.

Second, the cause that is hurt is privatized schools in America not the overall more libertarian bent of the nation.

Third there still wouldn't be a monopoly in the market place of ideas. I am not suggesting Ilya not teach, just he not teach at a public university. Hell if all the libertarian professors left public education the wage for teachers in private university's would drop (and it would raise costs for public schools) and more private universities might pop up to compete for people wanting to learn.
6.9.2007 10:04am
JosephSlater (mail):
How about libertarian law profs (or profs of any sort) lobbying their own institutions to get rid of tenure? Libertarians don't like the just-cause discharge default rules that most of the rest of the industrialized democracies have adopted, and ridicule those rules as they exist for some public employees under civil service laws and for union employees. And it's not as if tenure protections for professors are a result of the sort of individual bargaining that libertarians for whatever reason think is so much more legitimate than collective bargaining.

Heck, nobody would even have to leave GMU. GMU could just choose to get rid of tenure.
6.9.2007 11:10am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
This "purity test" argument comes up every couple years, and it's pretty silly. On this reasoning, not only could libertarians not work at state universities, they couldn't work anywhere, since getting from home to office will involve the use of state roads. Indeed, the home itself will typically fail this "purity test" since it'll likely be protected by a state-run fire department. The fact that in a perfect world, The State wouldn't operate the fire department, doesn't mean that in the actual world it's immoral to call 911 when your house is on fire. Ditto academics. In a perfect world, The State wouldn't run higher ed, but in the actual world, it does, so the question hinges on the intrinsic morality of the activity. Putting out fires is per se legitimate, so a libertarian can legitimately work for a state-run fire department. Teaching college is per se legitimate, so a libertarian can legitimately teach at a state school. NB this doesn't extend to all professions: I'd probably agree there's a problem with a libertarian working for BATF, or actively prosecuting medical marijuana users, etc. But teaching is an intrinsically moral activity, like firefighting, so the relevant question isn't about who operates the service.
6.9.2007 11:22am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
How about libertarian law profs (or profs of any sort) lobbying their own institutions to get rid of tenure?

Or they could simply take the principled stance of refusing tenure when it was offered to them.


The notion that libertarians in education don't make a difference is a specious one, in my opinion. I was rarely exposed to libertarian ideas throughout my education. If I had been exposed to at least some degree earlier, there's a good chance I would have become a libertarian much earlier.

Again, why on earth would anyone who is of a libertarian bent want to attend a public university, even if they are not fully converted to libertarianism yet? According to conservative and libertarian philosophy, state schools are hopelessly incompetent. You might be forced to attend our failing and incompetent public schools at the primary and secondary level. But my God man, this is America, and at the university level there is plenty of private competition. After all, because the private sector always produces superior results to the public sector, any private university or college is better than any public one. Nobody should be condemned to attend our failing, corrupt and subpar public universities.

If conservatives and libertarians had the least belief in their convictions they would stop attending and supporting public universities. All that would be left attending and teaching at these PC institutions would be global warming alarmists, evolutionists, and womens' studies advocates. Within a matter of a few years the whole edifice would collapse.
6.9.2007 11:43am
eeyn524:
This and similar cases can all be settled quickly. Whenever someone argues for or against any practice or institution, look to see whether they benefit or are harmed by what they advocate.

If their arguments and their personal interests align, they can be dismissed as merely selfish.

If their arguments and their personal interests conflict,
they can be dismissed as merely hypocrites.

Sometimes the benefits and harm roughly balance each other. In this case the person is of course a selfish hyprocite.

Easy, see?
6.9.2007 11:44am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'd probably agree there's a problem with a libertarian working for BATF, or actively prosecuting medical marijuana users, etc. But teaching is an intrinsically moral activity, like firefighting, so the relevant question isn't about who operates the service.

But wouldn't you agree that it would be kind of hypocritical for a pacifist to work for the military or at one of the DOE's weapons labs? Or a Mormon to work at a liquor store?
6.9.2007 11:48am
whackjobbbb:

First of all I don't think Ilya Somin was hired to teach libertarianism.


And this is the critical point, llamasex. Somin's "contract" is to teach something... and it ain't libertarianism, as I understand. His employer expects that he fulfill his contract, and he expects to be paid. I think the problem comes when a bunch of lawyers get together to forget these essential limits, and begin overlaying a bunch of philosophy and politics, diffusing these essential limits... until they're no more than vapor. So we're unlimited... metaphorical for the lawyering crowd as a whole, I believe. Know your role, and know the contract... then stop.


How about libertarian law profs (or profs of any sort) lobbying their own institutions to get rid of tenure?


Well asked, Slater.
6.9.2007 11:58am
eeyn524:
But wouldn't you agree that it would be kind of hypocritical for a pacifist to work for the military or at one of the DOE's weapons labs? Or a Mormon to work at a liquor store?

To follow up on what Mr. Skoble said, you could divide government activities up as follows:

1. Things that no one should be doing, public or private. (e.g. running a drug war)
2. Things that should definitely be done, but it would be morally preferable if it were done privately. (e.g. a university)
3. Things that should be done, and done by the government.

I think the argument is that as a compromise a libertarian can operate in region 2 but not in region 1.
6.9.2007 11:59am
Ken Arromdee:
I disapprove of slavery, and in an ideal world it would be abolished. But that is unlikely to be achieved in the near future, so in the meantime I have two options, (1) use slaves on my plantation, or (2) pay my workers.

Freeing your slaves removes both the advantages and disadvantages of slavery. You no longer get the labor, and the slaves are no longer enslaved.

This is not true in the case of receiving government benefits. If you turn down a government benefit, you lose the advantage, but the disadvantage you suffered from government benefits does not change. The government doesn't refund your tax money when you refuse to accept a benefit, and it certainly doesn't undistort the market from the effects of government benefits.

If slavery had some kind of nationwide slave allocation system where freeing a slave of yours would result in the slave being reassigned to another person, and not in the slave's actual freedom, then refusing to "free" your slaves might be a good idea.
6.9.2007 12:19pm
Ken Arromdee:
But wouldn't you agree that it would be kind of hypocritical for a pacifist to work for the military or at one of the DOE's weapons labs? Or a Mormon to work at a liquor store?

It's not like a Mormon refusing to work at a liquor store, because you get taxed for government benefits and you live in a market distorted by them even if you don't accept them yourself. To be analogous, the example has to be rather contrived. It's more like a Mormon who may not refuse to work at a liquor store, but who may refuse to accept his paycheck.

I would not consider it a moral failing of the Mormon in that example to keep collecting the paycheck.
6.9.2007 12:31pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
Working for a private university doesn't necessarily get you off the hook. I saw a couple of years ago a rather interesting presentation of the revenue sources of the various universities in Pennsylvania and to summarize, the private/public distinction is largely a difference in search of a distinction as the ratio of public to private financing among the two wasn't all that difference.

Indeed, the university in Pennsylvania that gets the largest share of its revenue from public sources was Carnegie Mellon.

The only difference between the two is the type of public funding: private schools tend to get it more as grants from the federal government, public schools get it more as per capita subsidies from the state government. But in both cases, the public financing is easily drowned out by student tuition and private donations, which were by far the largest revenue source for both types.

From a libertarian perspective, this might make the public schools morally preferable. Education is at least an enumerated responsibility of many state constitutions, so it seems preferable to federal support, where education is not an enumerated responsibility.
6.9.2007 12:39pm
Half Sigma (www):
It's still hypocritical when libertarians mooch off the taxpayer while complaining about high taxes.

It's even MORE hypocritical when the advocate open borders when they, themselves, have a guaranteed salary protected from free market forces.

As someone above said, libertarians should advocate for outsourcing professor jobs and abolishing tenure.
6.9.2007 1:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Working for a private university doesn't necessarily get you off the hook. I saw a couple of years ago a rather interesting presentation of the revenue sources of the various universities in Pennsylvania and to summarize, the private/public distinction is largely a difference in search of a distinction as the ratio of public to private financing among the two wasn't all that difference.

I'm sure there was a very creative use of statistics in that survey. For instance did it take into account the value of the real estate and capital improvements on the various campuses? While the year to year operating budgets between a public and private institutions may not appear to be all that different in the balance between public and private funding, it will almost completely ignore the cost of capital improvements, which at state institutions are generally funded almost entirely out of tax dollars.
6.9.2007 1:58pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Also, how did the survey count revenue? Were federally subsidized student loans or Pell grants counted as "revenue from public sources" to the universities? If so, that is a ridiculous stretch of the concept. Those are grants to students (and in the case of loans, not even really to students, but to the lender), not the institution.
6.9.2007 2:03pm
The Albatross:
The reason we Libertarians never get anywhere is because we spend too much time arguing about bullsh*t like this in a never ending attempt to prove which one of us is the greater lover of freedom.
6.9.2007 4:13pm
Kieran (mail) (www):
The reason we Libertarians never get anywhere is because we spend too much time arguing about bullsh*t like this in a never ending attempt to prove which one of us is the greater lover of freedom

This is why Libertarianism is the Marxism of the right.
6.9.2007 5:18pm
Waldensian (mail):

This is why Libertarianism is the Marxism of the right.

I prefer to think of Libertarianism as a coherent and forceful philosophy that for some reason appeals to only one person out of every 10,000.
6.9.2007 5:31pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I prefer to think of Libertarianism as a coherent and forceful philosophy that for some reason appeals to only one person out of every 10,000.

So is Marxism. It is probably more coherent than libertarianism (although if you have ever tried to read Das Kapital that may not be an accurate statement). At least in this country. Worldwide it is a little more popular than libertarianism and at least has a proven track record. I would hate to spend a century like the twentieth century having to prove libertarianism doesn't work like we had to do with Marxism.
6.9.2007 6:07pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I don't even understand why he would want to teach at a public university considering that by definition the public sector always provides an inferior product.
...and...
According to conservative and libertarian philosophy, state schools are hopelessly incompetent.
A good rule of thumb is that before discussing a doctrine, let alone criticizing it, you ought to learn what that doctrine says. There is no such view in "conservative and libertarian philosophy." There is no "definition" that the public section "always" provides an inferior product.

Now, government monopoly will ultimately lead to an inferior product, but unlike in the grammar and secondary school context, higher education is not a government monopoly. Government schools are forced to compete with a wide variety of private colleges and universities.


Half Sigma: not clear why you think professors have guaranteed salaries or are protected from free market forces. (Indeed, when you attend college, you'll see an awful lot of foreign born professors.)
6.9.2007 9:17pm
Gil (mail) (www):
I think Ilya probably came to the right conclusion, but hasn't offerred the right reason.

I don't think it makes sense to argue as if one is acting for all libertarians (just as it doesn't make sense to argue about whether to vote based on what would happen if everyone chose as you did). Also, he doesn't mention how much good he would do for libertarianism in the alternative hypothetical where he doesn't take a public job.

You should choose for yourself based on whether the expected outcomes of that choice are better or worse for what you value. In this case, it's very possible that Ilya's values are best supported (as far as he can tell) by his working for a public university as opposed to his alternatives. But, he should probably revisit the question often, as circumstances could change that.
6.9.2007 9:38pm
Gil (mail) (www):
Also, even though I don't agree with those who think that libertarians working for public institutions are automatically hypocritical, the fact that many people think this way makes it a factor to consider.

It might make your arguments marginally more persuasive to others if you can avoid their perception of hypocricy. Even if they're wrong to have such a perception, it's still a fact of life that should factor into decisions.

This is why I agree with some rules to avoid the appearance of conflicts-of-interest, even though I might think a particular act that violates the rule is completely proper.
6.9.2007 9:53pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Just to play around with the point David M. N. made. . . .

Suppose Ilya and other libertarians all go to some public law school and, because they are so good at publishing, they help make it a very highly ranked law school. So it's SUCCESSFULLY competing with private sector schools -- so much so, it potentially undermines the whole idea that the private sector will pretty much always do things better than the public sector -- or at least acts as evidence to the contrary. Oh, the irony.
6.9.2007 10:08pm
Andrew Okun:
I just love reading when libertarians are debating their own purity. It's laughable and, speaking politically, reassures me that libertarians are no threat anytime soon here on earth.

Of course he should take the job and he shouldn't have to explain it to anyone. He violates no law, custom, ethical rule or norm of our actual society by taking the job. If libertarianism is a strain of political thought, then he should take the podium in the significant institutions of our society and the make the case for its tenets, among them that some of those institutions should be abolished.

If, on the other hand, libertarianism is a religion (like environmentalism? ;-) ) in which ethical decisions are either right or else they are sin, and not to be countenanced, then he shouldn't take the job, consequences be damned.

The comments about the public university system being equivalent to theft or slavery simply demonstrate how incomplete and silly libertarianism becomes when it tries to be a complete, universal moral system. A little bit like a toddler trying to make a mighty castle with three wood blocks, it is frustrated and, ultimately, unconvincing. The university system is not theft, it is a university system. If you think the taxes that pay for them make for a lousy society, or that private universities are better, make your case. But if, as a matter of firm principle, you believe there is no fundamental difference between UCLA and a slave plantation or the Gulag, then you probably need some more blocks to play with.

Prof. Somin, you are well acquainted with and have strong opinions about the Soviet system. Is there a moral difference between UCLA and the Gulag?

I would also quibble with the idea implied by Prof. Somin that, if a university has n professors, of whom i are libertarian, it has exactly n-i "advocates of statist ideologies." Libertarianism v. whatever else there is is not the only topic of study or the only cleavage of thinking in our universities.
6.9.2007 10:14pm
Andrew Okun:
If slavery had some kind of nationwide slave allocation system where freeing a slave of yours would result in the slave being reassigned to another person, and not in the slave's actual freedom, then refusing to "free" your slaves might be a good idea.

An interesting thought. In fact, what comes to mind is Schindler's List. Did Schindler do the right thing?

But an irrelevant thought, as I would hope that any Libertarian, even in the severest rictus of logic, would be able to distinguish morally between, say, Farmingdale State College, NY and Birkenau.
6.9.2007 10:22pm
The Albatross:
Another thought, perhaps Libertarians can perhaps redirect their energies and forgive their limited apostacy (by teaching at public universities) through the understanding that their opponents be the bigger hippocrytes. After all, if a Libertarian cannot teach at a college that accepts public funds, then ergo a statist shalt not be allowed to discourse at a university accepting private funds. For these funds were undoubtedly acquired through exploitation and the evils of free market capitalism. As an example, do you think statist professors at Princeton are the teensy bit worried that they teach in an istitution home to the contributions of such arch foes of statism as: Rockerfeller College (or Rocky as we called it), Forbes College, Wu Hall (the richest man in Asia), or (gasp) Lake Carnegie. There are, of course, buildings on campus named for politicans, but how could any statist face his fellow statists knowing that he taught at an insituion with an Aaron Burr Hall, who, as you all rightly know, put a bullet through the very first American statist. However, somehow I do not think this discussion is taking place amongst statist academics. Again, as Libertarians we are often right but seldom practical.
6.9.2007 10:51pm
The Albatross:
Oh, and another thing. I don't think Libertarianism is a 1 out of 10,000 deal. Whenever I describe Libertarianism in a nutshell to people, they say "well that's what I am." Before going on to describe how Hillary Clinton or Benito Guilianni will make great presidents. I think Libertarianism is something that certain people feel in their bones--a love of freedom that is part of human nature. You don't have to read Ayn Rand (I never could stand her stuff--tried once--if I want a bunch of dry bull with interesting characters I might as well play sophisticate and read Hawthorn thank you very little.) Anyway, sorry for the rant, but I think many poeople would agree that loving freedom can be a little bit frustrating at times--you just are not sure whether you are more frustrated with your opponents or those supposedly on your side.
6.9.2007 11:09pm
Andrew Okun:
After all, if a Libertarian cannot teach at a college that accepts public funds, then ergo a statist shalt not be allowed to discourse at a university accepting private funds.

Again, confusing "anyone who is, to the slightest degree, not a libertarian" with "statists." Our public universities are packed with non-libertarian professors of economics, politics, law, history and other social sciences, who believe that it is good to have public universities, but also that it is good to make money, good to be rich, good to endow private universities and good to work at them. To project onto their perfectly sound view of the world your own division of the world into shining private and dark, infested public, is silly.
6.9.2007 11:29pm
Andrew Okun:
Oh, and another thing. I don't think Libertarianism is a 1 out of 10,000 deal. Whenever I describe Libertarianism in a nutshell to people, they say "well that's what I am."

I don't think this is right. I don't think you can say that, since most people love freedom, therefore, deep in their bones, they're libertarian.

I daresay most educated Americans, at one time or another in their lives, usually around college, think they are libertarians. It is natural because they are exposed to libertarian ideas throughout their lives, they live in a strikingly free country where freedom of expression and conscience are seriously defended, where in children is cultivated a strong sense of independence and protectiveness of privacy and initiative, where, more than anywhere else private enterprise, creativity and getting rich are lauded, where the first thing a frustrated citizen yells when encountering an obstacle is "I know my rights" and where, in the public schools, the books of Ayn Rand are aften on the assigned reading lists. So they think that, believing in freedom and disliking government intrusion, they are libertarians.

The phase does not last long, usually not surviving their first encounter with an actual, earnest libertarian. The dawning concern they feel when they hear about how the drug laws must, as a moral matter, be repealed, blossoms and finally reaches indignant maturity sometime between when they hear that the post office and the public university system are tyranny, indistinguishable from a Siberian salt mine, and when they hear that "practicality," a quintessentially American virtue, is the first step on the road to serfdom. The conversation will often end with them being told they are most assuredly not libertarian. "So be it," they say to themselves, moving on like good practical Americans.

Libertarianism in this country turns out to be a 1 in 10,000 thing, even though so many of its driving ideas are of practical value and resonate with our character, because of the choice some libertarians make to try to answer the question "what is the source of law, authority and morality" rather than "how can we get this gizmo to work better."

but I think many poeople would agree that loving freedom can be a little bit frustrating at times--you just are not sure whether you are more frustrated with your opponents or those supposedly on your side.

Quite.
6.10.2007 12:09am
The Albatross:
Okun,
Sorry, I try to work within the limited bounds of the English language and the good courtesy of succinct commentspace. I did not have the sufficent space do deliniate between the 1 billion(?) different types of Libertarian and the perhaps 5 billion(?) varying degress of "statist" (Hamilton to Pol Pot and a few others not even contemplated). However, I definately see your point and agree with it wholeheartedly (although someone will inevitably make a smarmy comment to the contrary that will not completely be unenjoyable). Anyway, my point was--as you correctly pointed out--silly. We spend far too much time emershed in these little details, rather than tackling the big things that those who love freedom and hate tyranny should concern themselves with. Then again (as you correctly point out) a "statist" may think it perfectly alright to make make money--after all, if it were not for its relative free-market economy "statist" Sweden could not afford its comprehensive welfare programs. If it wanted to be really "statist" and say be like the "orthadox statist" professors who would not work at a university accepting private funds, then "statist" Sweden" would more like "satist" North Korea. Anyway, I think we are on the same wavelength here. I am calling for practicality, as I think you are. You just quibble with my time saving bucketing, which is valid, but I think in this context (as in internet comment/blogging) irrelevant--although something I think most intelligent people could disagree about.
6.10.2007 12:24am
Bret (mail):
<blockquote>
This is why Libertarianism is the Marxism of the right.
</blockquote>

Except that at least tens of millions have been slaughtered under the auspices of Marxism. I'm pretty sure you can't say the same about an idealogy that promotes individual liberty and works to decentralize government.
6.10.2007 12:39am
Andrew Okun:

This is why Libertarianism is the Marxism of the right.

Except that at least tens of millions have been slaughtered under the auspices of Marxism. I'm pretty sure you can't say the same about an idealogy that promotes individual liberty and works to decentralize government.


It is to libertarians' credit ... I've certainly never encountered any who advocated killing anyone to create a libertarian paradise. (Of course, there is Ayn Rand. There are some pretty chilling passages in Atlas Shrugged where she lovingly describes the mass death of people who in her view hadn't earned any better. But her peculiarities cannot be laid at the door of other libertarians.) One could almost make a snarky comment about, say, Somalia being a trial run at a libertarian paradise, lacking as it does a strong government, but that would be unfair. So I won't do it.
6.10.2007 12:57am
The Albatross:
Andrew,
Sorry, I just saw your next post after I had composed my previous one. Again thoughtful--I find what you say enjoyable and insightful. Then again, I think we are struggling again with definitions. My definition of Libertarian is much broader than yours, and I beleive that a lot of people who say they are Republicans or Democrats are really Libertarians. Also, I must quibble with your comment that people are Libertarians (or experincing Libertarinism--perhaps while they are hitting the dubage) in college. Most of the Libertarians I run into are older people, who have long since left college and started businesses and, as a result, become really disenfranchised with the political process and realize how much the state intefears with their ability to produce value for their customers. Hell, why do you think we run into so many relatively intolerant religious folk in what I call "the liberty business?" I was at a table last night with some fundamentalist Christians that (my non-church going self) had nothing in common with other than our fundamental belief in individual freedom and liberty.
You point about actual conatct with a "real live Libertarian" is very well taken. As I mentioned before, sometimes Libertarians (especially the smartest) can really get out of hand when it comes to "playing the feud" with the "I love liberty" contest. Over lunch, I once heard a Ph.D. and very clever Libertarian Professor take an "I love liberty" argument so far that he proclaimed that he had no objection to he having himselve cloned so that he could have sex with himself (he was not gay). Ok maybe he had a point about freedom, but such exercizes are such a waste of time when we consider that we should really be hitting at destroying tariffs, cutting spending, eliminating (wasteful) regulation, and so forth and so forth. As far as I am concerned, getting rid of the war on drugs can wait.
Anyway, (sorry if I missed one of your points by now) what we need is a Pareto Chart for Libertarians (broad definition). That is we need to tackle the big things that create the most value first. And that means eliminating tariffs and cutting government subsidies, and making the law applicable equally to everybody before we start fixating with the schmutz--that is worrying about whether an empire-hater can take his pay in coins bearing Caesar's visage.
6.10.2007 1:04am
Andrew Okun:
Alby,

Fair enough about the broader definition of libertarian.

Hell, why do you think we run into so many relatively intolerant religious folk in what I call "the liberty business?"

An interesting question. "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Second Corinthians 3:17. Liberty is something you can only get through surrender to Christ, and it is liberty from humanism and worldliness, basically from people like you and me. A country is free to the degree it is obedient to Christian law. It is not a definition of liberty I subscribe to, I have to admit, and by the same token, it strikes me as unrelated to anything libertarian.
6.10.2007 3:25am
Andrew Okun:
This and similar cases can all be settled quickly. Whenever someone argues for or against any practice or institution, look to see whether they benefit or are harmed by what they advocate.

If their arguments and their personal interests align, they can be dismissed as merely selfish.

If their arguments and their personal interests conflict,
they can be dismissed as merely hypocrites.

Sometimes the benefits and harm roughly balance each other. In this case the person is of course a selfish hyprocite.


I like this partition of opinions into their necessary subsets of selfishness and hypocrisy. I'd like to add another partition of the set of opinions that can be overlaid on it in the case of politicians.

If a politician advocates a position that he believes his constituency wants him to advocate, he is, of course, pandering to them.

If, on the other hand, she advocates a position that she believes her constituency do not want her to advocate, she is necessesarily indulging in elitism.

It is a partition with respect to the constituency, but if you add other groups to the mix, say "the special interests," you can find situations where a politician is guilty of both pandering and elitism in the same breath. Indeed, some can be accused of "pandering to the elite." Perhaps more exotic combinations can be discovered.
6.10.2007 3:39am
David M. Nieporent (www):
But if, as a matter of firm principle, you believe there is no fundamental difference between UCLA and a slave plantation or the Gulag, then you probably need some more blocks to play with.
Andrew: I, like all libertarians, think there is a difference between slapping a random stranger across the face and taking a baseball bat and breaking it over his back. That doesn't mean they aren't both assault. And saying to the slappee, "Hey, I didn't hit you with a baseball bat; what are you complaining about?" is pretty lame.


Albatross: as you know if you were a resident of Forbes -- and may know even if you were a resident of Rocky -- the library there is the Norman Thomas library. Speaking of irony.
6.10.2007 5:17am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Incidentally, Andrew, I'd like to know what planet you're on if you believe that Ayn Rand books are assigned in public schools.
6.10.2007 5:19am
Public_Defender (mail):
Getting paid by the state to fight the state sounds like a good gig to me.
6.10.2007 9:34am
Philistine (mail):
Incidentally, Andrew, I'd like to know what planet you're on if you believe that Ayn Rand books are assigned in public schools.



A quick google search for {"ayn rand" "reading list" school} might surprise you....
6.10.2007 9:38am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
This is why Libertarianism is the Marxism of the right.

Actually, it is more correct to say that Libertarianism is the Anarchy of the right. Actually, it is indistinguishable from Anarchy other than the fact that Anarchists would eliminate all ownership of property.
6.10.2007 11:52am
Andrew Okun:
Incidentally, Andrew, I'd like to know what planet you're on if you believe that Ayn Rand books are assigned in public schools.


That'd be earth.

Following the above Google recommendation finds her books on lists in Montgomery County, MD, Houston, TX, Beaufort, SC, Trumbull, CT and Commack, NY.

Not exactly a carefully executed statistical study, but then again I only spent about 5 minutes doing it. My impression has always been that, like "1984" and other works of political fiction, the works of Ayn Rand are often part of public high school English classes.
6.10.2007 12:49pm
Andrew Okun:
But if, as a matter of firm principle, you believe there is no fundamental difference between UCLA and a slave plantation or the Gulag, then you probably need some more blocks to play with.

I, like all libertarians, think there is a difference between slapping a random stranger across the face and taking a baseball bat and breaking it over his back. That doesn't mean they aren't both assault.


Ok, I was perhaps too extreme in implying that some libertarians can't tell the difference between UCLA and the Gulag. Of course they can. We are discussing broad categories. But look at what you just wrote. The difference between slapping and attacking with a baseball bat is, you say, a matter of degree, but the two acts falling in the same category of assault. Presumably you mean the act of using tax money to establish a public university, while very mild in degree, falls in the same category as the much more severe collectivization of agriculture in 1930s Russia. Property is after all taken without the option from some and used for the good of others in both cases and that is the antithesis of freedom. The problem is both acts fall in lots of other categories. It is easy to argue, and I think more valid, that public universities are a mainstay of freedom in the western world. They are places where large segments of the public, chosen by academic merit, can choose to come and be taught a wide-range of skills and ideas they can use to exercise power over their own lives. Independence and free-thinking are taught and lively debate encouraged.

There is, as there should be, a lot of criticism of close-minded and doctrinaire professors. Doctrinaire and close-minded professors always have existed in all universities, public and private, as has criticism of them. Students go there to learn to be grown-ups, academically speaking, and that is part of what they have to learn to deal with.

I simply think it misses most of reality to focus solely on the category that says that Ohio State University is a detriment to freedom, enough of a detriment that a moral person should not take a post there, while Liberty University is not.
6.10.2007 1:22pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
>Incidentally, Andrew, I'd like to know what planet you're
>on if you believe that Ayn Rand books are assigned in
>public schools.

This first time I ever even heard of Ayn Rand was when I was assigned to read The Fountainhead in my public school 12th grade AP English class.
6.10.2007 1:25pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
This first time I ever even heard of Ayn Rand was when I was assigned to read The Fountainhead in my public school 12th grade AP English class.

You poor thing. Every time I think of Ayn Rand, I remember the immortal words of Officer Barbrady:

"Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of shit, I am never reading again."
6.10.2007 2:36pm
Andrew Okun:

You poor thing. Every time I think of Ayn Rand, I remember the immortal words of Officer Barbrady:

"Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of shit, I am never reading again."


I quite enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged, much as it made me dislike its author. I thought it was a gripping novel.

But I'm a long-winded gas-bag with the penchant for lecturing, so ...
6.10.2007 3:05pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I stand corrected on the reading list/Ayn Rand thing -- although in my defense, only one of those hits actually required reading of one of her books; the others had it as an optional summer reading thing.

Actually, it is more correct to say that Libertarianism is the Anarchy of the right. Actually, it is indistinguishable from Anarchy other than the fact that Anarchists would eliminate all ownership of property.
No; that's the difference between left-anarchism and right-anarchism. Libertarians, unlike both, don't seek to abolish government.
6.10.2007 5:43pm
Ken Arromdee:
I just love reading when libertarians are debating their own purity. It's laughable and, speaking politically, reassures me that libertarians are no threat anytime soon here on earth.

I'll tell you what, you get your side to stop thinking that you've found an unanswerable anti-libertarian argument. In response, libertarians will stop answering it.

It's disingenuous to suggest that libertarians are showing an obsession with purity, when by "proving their purity" you really mean "responding to their critics".
6.10.2007 9:29pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
llamasex-

First of all I don't think Ilya Somin was hired to teach libertarianism. And hopefully he isn't. It is ok if he views come out in the classroom and different viewpoints are heard, but I would find it distasteful for a teacher to teach just to spread his or her political viewpoint to others.

I know that professors aren't supposed to teach according to their political beliefs, but most automatically throw a lot of their beliefs in the pot. And many times the textbook and the course are skewed toward those beliefs as well.

Second, the cause that is hurt is privatized schools in America not the overall more libertarian bent of the nation.

I'm not so sure. It doesn't follow that all the libertarian professors going to private schools would help them - it would just limit the scope of the message. The socialists and collectivists would quickly replace them with more socialists and collectivists if they left teaching at public schools.
6.11.2007 2:23am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas-

Again, why on earth would anyone who is of a libertarian bent want to attend a public university, even if they are not fully converted to libertarianism yet? According to conservative and libertarian philosophy, state schools are hopelessly incompetent. You might be forced to attend our failing and incompetent public schools at the primary and secondary level. But my God man, this is America, and at the university level there is plenty of private competition. After all, because the private sector always produces superior results to the public sector, any private university or college is better than any public one. Nobody should be condemned to attend our failing, corrupt and subpar public universities.

I attended a public university for law/grad school because it was a decent combination of price and rating - it was cheaper than similar schools.

The strawman you are constructing that all libertarians automatically believe that "governmentally produced=inferior" is not accurate. Since the government can get access to so much money, it can compete with many private sector manufacturers and service providers. This just isn't the optimum, since the vast majority of the time the market could do better and the taxpayers and the economy would be better off with the taxpayers keeping their own money.
6.11.2007 2:33am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
eeyn524-

If their arguments and their personal interests align, they can be dismissed as merely selfish.

Not necessarily. It depends on how they would argue if the party in question were someone else. If I argue that my rights should be honored and that if you were in a similar situation yours should be too it isn't "selfish".

If their arguments and their personal interests conflict, they can be dismissed as merely hypocrites.

This doesn't follow either. If a libertarian teacher believes education should be privatized and would vote for this it doesn't mean they are a hypocrite. In fact, it could be an indicator of their integrity. It does depend on the circumstances.

Sometimes the benefits and harm roughly balance each other. In this case the person is of course a selfish hyprocite.

I don't know what you're getting at here. This statement could be wrong in some instances as well, it depends on the situation.
6.11.2007 2:42am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Half Sigma-

It's still hypocritical when libertarians mooch off the taxpayer while complaining about high taxes.

I think it would be hypocritical if they hadn't paid taxes in the past and/or were actively trying to get subsidies, etc. And of course we're talking about regular taxes here - if the government wrongfully confiscated your property and you are recovering it that's not "mooching". If we were talking about a private sector actor it would be called "recovering stolen property".
6.11.2007 2:54am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Waldensian-

I prefer to think of Libertarianism as a coherent and forceful philosophy that for some reason appeals to only one person out of every 10,000.

I think this is a function of awareness and understanding. If more people were aware of libertarian principles and knew what they meant in my opinion there would be many more people that called themselves libertarians - a lot more than 1/10,000. To a large extent this is due to a lack of awareness and understanding of economics as well. Many people think that libertarianism means robber barons and a lawless landscape like the "Road Warrior", and of course its ideological opponents tend to suggest this is the case.
6.11.2007 3:02am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas-

I would hate to spend a century like the twentieth century having to prove libertarianism doesn't work like we had to do with Marxism.

Well let's see - laissez faire economics works well when it has been tried. And when a modern set of fundamental human and individual rights is honored that seems to work well too. What makes you think that if they were both done together it would result in disaster?
6.11.2007 3:08am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JosesphSlater-

Suppose Ilya and other libertarians all go to some public law school and, because they are so good at publishing, they help make it a very highly ranked law school. So it's SUCCESSFULLY competing with private sector schools -- so much so, it potentially undermines the whole idea that the private sector will pretty much always do things better than the public sector -- or at least acts as evidence to the contrary. Oh, the irony.

Well if it were so successful, someone - actually lots of someones - would have to want to go there, want to hire their graduates, etc. And one presumes this would also result in a lot of these people liking their ideas, outlooks, opinions, philosophy, etc. So eventually these someone's would get in a position where they would be able to enact these ideas as policy - so eventually the university would be privatized anyway. This is all wildly speculative, just like your post.
6.11.2007 3:19am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Andrew Okun-

The comments about the public university system being equivalent to theft or slavery simply demonstrate how incomplete and silly libertarianism becomes when it tries to be a complete, universal moral system. A little bit like a toddler trying to make a mighty castle with three wood blocks, it is frustrated and, ultimately, unconvincing. The university system is not theft, it is a university system. If you think the taxes that pay for them make for a lousy society, or that private universities are better, make your case. But if, as a matter of firm principle, you believe there is no fundamental difference between UCLA and a slave plantation or the Gulag, then you probably need some more blocks to play with.

I think you misunderstood some of the references. The references to slavery were made as a discussion examples - no one said the public university system was "slavery". Taxation is sometimes called theft because in some respects it is and certainly in some cases it is.

As far as libertarianism being a universal moral system in some cases it is. And in some cases it is more universal than many religious systems, since many religious systems allow or even advocate violations of the rights of nonbelievers or fallen believers. Let's put it this way, if you were going to be put on a deserted island with either 10 ardent libertarians or 10 ardent believers of randomly selected religions (including Christian religions) throughout world history the libertarians would be the much safer bet.
6.11.2007 3:48am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Andrew Okun-

It is to libertarians' credit ... I've certainly never encountered any who advocated killing anyone to create a libertarian paradise.

I think its very telling that a libertarian government would tolerate limited forms of socialism, communism, and collectivism within its borders - provided they used their own money and property, followed the laws, and didn't violate anyone's rights - but trying to form a libertarian free market community in any of the communist or socialist regimes I can think of would be illegal or impossible.

One could almost make a snarky comment about, say, Somalia being a trial run at a libertarian paradise, lacking as it does a strong government, but that would be unfair. So I won't do it.

I think you're misunderstanding libertarianism. From what I understand the situation in Somalia is very un-libertarian. What authority there is relies on warlords, gangs, and similar criminal groups. I doubt there is enforced protection of property rights, either by public or private police. (Note the warlords aren't required or likely to protect individual property rights - they're just as likely to steal your property as protect it depending on several factors, so I'm not considering them police.) There doesn't seem to be a strong market system free from coercion and fraud. Etc, etc, etc... From what I understand Somalia is close to anarchy. I realize this is some people's misunderstanding of libertarianism, but it isn't libertarianism.

Note that if memory serves I think there are some functioning courts using islamic law there, but I'm not sure how stable, fair, legitimate, etc. these are and I'm not sure how nonbelievers, women, and minorities are treated in them.
6.11.2007 4:09am
whackjobbbb:

...if a Libertarian cannot teach at a college that accepts public funds, then ergo a statist shalt not be allowed to discourse at a university accepting private funds. For these funds were undoubtedly acquired through exploitation and the evils of free market capitalism. As an example, do you think statist professors at Princeton are the teensy bit worried that they teach in an istitution home to the contributions of such arch foes of statism as...


Is there such a thing as a "private" school? About 40 miles from my computer here, there is a little school called "Hillsdale", which is allegedly one such. But if I look close at their books, wanna bet I find a cancelled check from some public fund somewhere?

And even if an institution claims to be "private", and was created by "private" money from those evil capitalists, how long before the statist tentacles envelop that institution? Hank the Deuce sat down with the Board of the Ford Foundation back in the 70's, to try to rein them in, and they threw him out of the room. Maybe they were CREATED by a bunch of capitalist pigs, but by cracky that was all over now and they'd be going their own way... Hank II be damned.

I'm for systematically removing the more restrictive tentacles as Albatross advocates, but you ain't gonna remove them by swapping your current GPS coordinates, so you might as well stay put, Somin.
6.11.2007 12:02pm
Andrew Okun:
American Psikhushka,

I've gone back over the thread and now I'm not sure how many of the commenters I was responding to are libertarian, so my whole thing may have been off base anyway.
6.11.2007 12:30pm
rarango (mail):
Theme and variations on principles and pragmatism. Philosophy 101. I would argue those people who are completely consistent in their lifestyle and choices with their underlying philosophy are saints, and there are damn few of them around.
6.11.2007 12:52pm
JosephSlater (mail):
American P.:

First, actually, the rankings (and therefore, generally, the popularity) of a school have little to do with how much the students like or dislike the political leanings of a prof. Second, I wonder if the conspirators think it's "wildly hypothetical that a public law school with libertarian profs could rise in the rankings/outcompete some private schools.

Whackjobb makes a decent point that "public" and "private" is not as distinct as some would have it, at least in this context. Of course one wonders what hard-core libertarians make of that fact.
6.11.2007 1:10pm
whackjobbbb:
Slater, that sorta reminds me of a political cartoon during one of those presidential debating seasons years ago, when Ross Perot was running. There was 3 different cartoon frames, one for each of the 3 candidates, each guy speaking about the federal government and it's reform and so forth. The first guy says "We need to blah blah blah... and blah blah." The second guy says "Well, what we really need is to blah blah and blah blah blah blah." So they get to Perot in the last frame, and he's standing there crouched over with both hands on one of those old-fashioned explosives detonator plungers, with dynamite sticks wired into the whole governmental shebang, and ol' Ross says "Just say the word!".

"Hard core" libertarians might say that, I suspect! There ain't truly many of 'em, but there are many of us influenced by their thoughts, no doubt.
6.11.2007 2:50pm