pageok
pageok
pageok
Even more on libertarianism and war:

I agree with most of Randy's and Ilya's comments on libertarianism and war. I'm just writing to silghtly disagree with Ilya about the nature of libertarianism.

As Ilya writes, the idea that "nondefensive humanitarian military intervention is potentially compatible with libertarianism" may seem to be "a paradoxical claim," but really isn't paradoxical at all. It only seems paradoxical if you think libertarianism, in its essence, is necessarily opposed to government action. But the variety of libertarianism I subscribe to isn't a set of answers; it's a way of asking questions. (Libertarianism is, of course, large; it contains multitudes. "The variety of libertarianism I subscribe to" is quite different than, say, anarcho-capitalism and many other varieties of libertarianism. However, I claim, my variety is consistent with libertarianism, and moreover, a better variety than others!)

And the questions one should ask about any government intervention is whether it will, on balance, increase the protection of rights (where "rights" are defined in a libertarian way -- an important debate but not relevant to this post).

Now -- step 1 -- many government interventions make no pretense at increasing the protection of rights. So that's sufficient reason to oppose them right there. (Adducing examples of this is left as an exercise to the reader.)

But some government interventions, in particular all recent U.S. interventions, make at least a claim that they will increase rights protection in some way. Then -- step 2 -- it's probably a good idea to be deeply suspicious that such claims will pan out, because governments usually do a bad job at this sort of thing. But this is an empirical claim and, as Ilya says, "cannot be deduced from the nature of libertarianism itself on a priori grounds."

Therefore, while I agree with Ilya that "libertarians oppose all or most large-scale government programs in the domestic realm," I disagree that "if they didn't, they would no longer be libertarians." I think libertarianism requires ruling out certain things at step 1, but once the government intervention comes with a claim of rights protection, it can only be rejected on the merits at step 2. Libertarians can disagree at step 2, and many of them will turn out to be incorrect, but such disagreements are fully consistent with the framework of libertarianism.

Thus, one can imagine a libertarian who's either exceptionally optimistic about the chances of success of most potentially-rights-enhancing government programs, or exceptionally pessimistic about the state of rights without the government intervention (even an incredibly bungled one). This libertarian might support most potentially-rights-enhancing government programs (and so you could potentially have a super-hawkish, high-tax libertarian, or similarly a super-environmentalist, high-regulation libertarian). Others, more pessimistic about the programs or optimistic about the state of the world without the program, might take the opposite view. But all of these can properly be called libertarians.

Ilya Somin:
I agree with most of what Sasha says in this post, and none of it is inherently incompatible with what I said in mine.

My sole reservation is that, at some point along Sasha's continuum, the "libertarian" in question may accept so many "rights-enhancing" government programs that he can no longer be considered a libertarian in any meaningful sense of the term (at least not as it is understood in ordinary discourse).
7.17.2007 6:56pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I agree that such a libertarian may not be considered a libertarian as the term is understood in ordinary discourse. Nonetheless, I do accept the libertarianism of the big-government libertarian.
7.17.2007 6:57pm
Salixquercus (mail):
Let's just call them all "idealistic goofballs who will never assume power in this country" and be done with it.
7.17.2007 7:28pm
Salixquercus (mail):
That includes me, btw.
7.17.2007 7:36pm
Mark F. (mail):
(and so you could potentially have a super-hawkish, high-tax libertarian, or similarly a super-environmentalist, high-regulation libertarian).

Sasha, have you been reading "Alice In Wonderland?"
A libertarian is a person who opposes the initiation of aggression or coercion, not someone who advocates expanding rights by violating them, or some crazed end justifies the means utlilitarianism. (Let's see, slavery really helped the economy of the South. It's too bad about the slaves, but overall it was a net benefit for liberty.)
7.17.2007 7:49pm
frankcross (mail):
I think this is getting to the question. One can readily rationalize libertarian support for war, on a purely theoretical basis.

But consider reality, not theory. War is consistently associated with new taxes and bigger government that doesn't go away when the war is over. It's consistently been an opportunity, or excuse, for the deprivation of individual liberty in pursuit of the war.

This is not to say that war is inherently anti-libertarian (the Civil War wasn't and probably neither WWII), but empirically there is an extremely high probability, I think, that a war will be quite anti-libertarian, unless it is a sort of imminent "national survival" war. The theory isn't enough, one must consider real world probabilities.
7.17.2007 7:49pm
SenatorX (mail):
Great post! I particularly liked "But the variety of libertarianism I subscribe to isn't a set of answers; it's a way of asking questions."
7.17.2007 7:51pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I would say that libertarianism, as defined by Ilya and Sasha, is actually "liberalism," broadly defined. Libertarians, (American) conservatives and (most) modern liberals are all descended from the same liberal tradition, but I don't think being pro-government regulation is "libertarian" though it can be "liberal" and I don't think wanting to use U.S. military power for humanitarian purposes is "libertarian" though it can be "liberal." Someone can lean libertarian in general despite these deviances, but the positions themselves are not libertarian.
7.17.2007 8:04pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Frank Cross: I'm deliberately trying to consider theory, not reality. All your realistic considerations are good reasons for a libertarian to oppose war. I'm only trying to consider whether a self-described libertarian who nonetheless favors the war should merely be called "mistaken," or should also be called "non-libertarian."

Mark F.: Good statement of one variety of libertarianism: "A libertarian is a person who opposes the initiation of aggression or coercion." I explicitly oppose this view of libertarianism, and claim that it is only one strand in the libertarian movement. Moreover, I claim that it is not even the most morally justifiable strand, but that's a matter for a different post.

David Bernstein: As this post hints at (but doesn't make explicit), I'm a rights-consequentialist; I think you can violate any rights as long as you maximize net rights protection. What makes it libertarian, I think, is (1) the fact that only rights are considered, not utility or anything else, and (2) which rights they are (not right to be free from pornography, or right to health care).

I think you're not an anarcho-capitalist, so I think you favor sometimes doing things that look like rights violations; all I add to this is that the test for being a libertarian doesn't depend quantitatively on how often you find that a rights violation is justified, but qualitatively on what theory you use to justify the rights violations.
7.17.2007 8:54pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, Sasha; how can supporting "Big Government" wind up increasing the sum total of rights enforced as libertarians understand them? Can you give me an example? As for Ilya, my objection is that I don't think it's "libertarian" to tax Americans to help people in other countries, period. It may be a net gain to liberty, but libertarianism, to me, is a theory of how government should act in regard to its own citizens. I don't see a libertarian justification to trying to topple foreign dictators at the expense of liberty at home, though I do see how it's well within the liberal tradition.
7.17.2007 9:56pm
whit:
i think many people who think libertarians have to be open border, pro interventionist war, or pro-choice for that matter don't really understand libertarianism. reason mag is sort of the libertarian national review and a lot of posters there seem to think so, but it's just not true.

sure, capital "L" libertarians may hold these views, but if you actually think about what libertarian means, a thinking libertarian could come on either side of these issues.

the kinds of issues that define libertarianism are things like prostitution laws, drug war, gambling laws, zoning laws, school choice, etc.

i am NOT saying that being pro-iraq war, being pro-life etc. are libertarian positions. i am saying there is nothing inconsistent with the libertarian tradition/thought process in holding those views.

the nuts and bolts is that libertarians (myself included) don't think govt. should be in the business of protecting people from themselves. dems and repubs both LOVE to pass laws to do so, just different types of laws. but they have the same mindset in this regard - a statist one

there is nothing statist about being pro-life (i happen to be pro-choice). if you believe the fetus has rights to live that supersede the "carriers" right to abort it, then you would be pro-life. that's not inconsistent with libertarianism.
7.17.2007 10:44pm
whit:
edit: should read "anti interventionist war"
7.17.2007 10:44pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
David Bernstein: Take any intervention which, on its face, could potentially protect rights. Just as the most obvious example, consider national defense. Now it could be that we happen to be a libertarian bastion in the middle of unremittingly hostile nations, all of whom are trying to invade us. It could be that the most libertarian thing to do is to have a massive national defense, and it could be that (given collective action problems) the only way to get there is to fund that national defense through coercive taxation. (The facts could be such that we all agree on this.)

This is pretty much the same as the world we live in now, only I've increased the level of the outside threat. As the threat gets super-super-super-huge, the proper libertarian response could be a very, very, very substantial military funded by what today would seem like confiscatory taxation. But if that's the only way to do it -- and if the result is still more libertarian than allowing the invasion (suppose these are all totalitarian regimes committed to our extermination) -- then I would call that the libertarian result, and it would also be Big Government.

Same goes with the police and crime. As for the environment, I'm open to the idea of using market mechanisms and common-law remedies and all that sort of thing, but there are various things that administrative agencies and the regulatory state might be able to do more efficiently, and if the environmental consequences are sufficiently dire -- so I can characterize the polluters as violating all of our rights -- I can't categorically say that I wouldn't favor very strong environmental regulation. Again, if the facts are like that, it could be the most libertarian thing to do.

As for your objection to Ilya, I disagree with you when you say: "I don't think it's 'libertarian' to tax Americans to help people in other countries, period. It may be a net gain to liberty, but libertarianism, to me, is a theory of how government should act in regard to its own citizens." To me, libertarianism is how to pursue liberty; so if it's a net gain to liberty, it's by definition the libertarian thing to do. From a rights perspective, borders and national jurisdiction make no difference. (You can tax me to protect a Haitian just as you can tax me to protect someone in the inner city far away from me.)

Of course, borders make a lot of practical sense for many reasons, but that goes to prudential concerns, that is, the merits of the question whether the intervention is in fact liberty-enhancing.
7.17.2007 10:55pm
SenatorX (mail):
WW2? Certainly there are scenarios where the government should act with other nations. Doesn't awareness dictate involvement to some degree? When survival is the ultimate right the philosophy had better be focused on process rather than absolute rules. At some final accounting don't we find things worth fighting for? Worth being taxed to all hell for?

The problem is the fraud and incompetence that is unfortunately typical in all governments. I don't think it invalidates the necessity though for nations to go to war or react to other large emergencies.
7.17.2007 11:06pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Okay, Sasha, I get your point now--protecting rights might require "Big Government" in some cases. Indeed, like Hayek, I think there can even be a libertarian justification for the draft, if that's the best (or perhaps the only) way to protect a country.
As for Ilya's point, we'll have to agree to disagree.
7.18.2007 12:03am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
"To me, libertarianism is how to pursue liberty"

True. The problem is you've presumed your definition of "liberty" is what we should all be pursuing, a categorical error for a true libertarian. Find a new term for your nonsense.
7.18.2007 12:05am
occidental tourist (mail):
It's all nonsense for the moment in terms of the label so I see no great insult in wedging the libertarian movement to embrace wider substance because it always was about process.

However, the question of the definition of liberty is far more important than the preoccupation with government action per se.

Nonetheless, many of Sasha's examples that seem to violate libertarians' precepts or leanings against coercive action and government regulation of the culture and economy make positive rights presumptions that, FMM, push the boundaries of even a broadly conceived libertarian label.

Just labeling something as within the sphere of activities traditionally committed to collective action and questioning whether market innovations might be insufficient to supplant government action tends to jump past the definition of rights. I'm not suggesting that Sasha has devoted no consideration to this, but his broad labels for the sake of depicting a range of libertarian thought do, I think, violate the bounds of even broadly conceived libertarianism.

Suddenly we are faced with a right to education, a right to health care, a right not to live next to a factory, a right to see the ocean, essentially a right to everything. And the leftist strain of those embracing some part of the libertarian ethic tends to imagine these as subsumed into a populist libertarianism in which government provides all needs (if government exists to protect rights, how could it not) but somehow is supposed to do this while not engaging in coercive behavior -- impossible.

Although mostly left leaning libertarians focus on non-intervention in foreign policy and the defense of behaviors against government prohibition -- say the 'right' to smoke marijuana or hire a prostitute more properly construed as the right to be free from government intrusion on personal liberty -- as evidence of their libertarian credential.

I would argue that you recognize libertarians by the synthesis of their approaches across the policy spectrum and the foregoing is not libertarian. Rather it is a la carte libertarianism. This is not to say that libertarian is some narrow concept that cannot accommodate pro-life, pro-war, or any collective action beliefs.

Government under law does have a remedy for most environmental condundrums that ought to be cognizable as deprevations of some actionable sort - it is called nuisance.

While I think activist judicial concepts have infected this storied common law device, it remains the potent limited government solution to environmental collective action problems.

Whether it might have brought us a similar outcome in terms of the improvements in virtually every indicia of environmental quality is only theoretically approachable because we took the command and control approach (thanks largely to the same president who brought us wage and price controls and made his predecessor's more oft noted social programs look like small change in terms of government action). But of course that is an entirely different question from whether a non-coercive non-government approach would now suit.

I don't see the libertarian persuasion as providing either a set of questions or a set of answers, rather a predilection to constantly reconsider the public choice or government failure implications of arenas in which collective action has been chosen as a tool for advancing liberty defined as freedom from coercion, e.g. deprivation of life, liberty and property (period, without regard to the fact the government is enabled to do with by the application of due process).
7.18.2007 10:17am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Whoa!

Suddenly we are faced with a right to education, a right to health care, a right not to live next to a factory, a right to see the ocean, essentially a right to everything. And the leftist strain of those embracing some part of the libertarian ethic tends to imagine these as subsumed into a populist libertarianism in which government provides all needs (if government exists to protect rights, how could it not) but somehow is supposed to do this while not engaging in coercive behavior — impossible.

Where do you get this from my post? I would have thought that I had gotten past this by putting the all-important qualification in my post: "where "rights" are defined in a libertarian way — an important debate but not relevant to this post." I don't think the traditional "positive rights" (right to health care, right to education, etc.) fit comfortably (or even uncomfortably!) within libertarianism, so I think the suggestion that my framework would justify broad interventions to guarantee these positive rights is a non-starter.

Similarly, where do you get the idea that "labeling something as within the sphere of activities traditionally committed to collective action and questioning whether market innovations might be insufficient to supplant government action" is enough to justify the activity? The activities traditionally committed to collective action — education and the like — go way beyond what's justifiable from a libertarian perspective.

And in case that wasn't clear from my post, I clarified in one of my comments above that "[w]hat makes [this view] libertarian, I think, is (1) the fact that only rights are considered, not utility or anything else, and (2) which rights they are (not right to be free from pornography, or right to health care)."

So what's necessary for me is not that something have been "traditionally committed to collective action" and that "market innovations might be insufficient to supplant government action." Rather, for me to endorse a particular environmental regulatory program (for example), I'd have to conceptualize the underlying activity as a violation of rights, and I'd have to believe that the non-regulatory alternative actually leads to more rights violations than the regulatory alternative.

Moreover, when evaluating the regulatory alternative, many of the acts of regulation themselves (for instance, technology mandates or whatever) come in as moral negatives. So you'd have to compare {level of rights violations by polluters under non-regulatory system} against {level of rights violations by polluters under regulatory system + level of rights violations by government regulating a non-inherently-harmful activity}.
7.18.2007 10:43am
occidental tourist (mail):
Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest that you held those views but was essentially arguing with your putative:


super-environmentalist, high-regulation libertarian


I think it is virtually impossible to imagine such a libertarian, even on theoretical grounds as they take an expansive and insupportable view of the fundamental libertarian proposition:

sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedes

maybe you can allege in theory this is not the de facto result of a regulatory libertarian, but I think this one of the arenas in which the cultural slippery slope too steep. All one has to do is convert the sense of not harming another to not bothering them. That is an internal referent that can't possibly be complied with.

While I would concede that there was at least a momentary failure of the common law to respond to challenges to the environment, I still see development of a neutral law as the fundamental libertarian proposition and administrative governance as fundamentally incompatible.

Thus I wasn't suggesting that you believe in positive rights, rather that by pushing the envelope of libertarian understanding you invite them. I think this is empitomized by David Bernstein's perhaps subconscious response that:


the kinds of issues that define libertarianism are things like prostitution laws, drug war, gambling laws, zoning laws, school choice, etc.


the latter just jumps out at me. We have school choice, it is called private schools. I don't think advancing school choice is a rights vindicating activity. It may slightly more imbue the collective action with libertarian traits but it is not libertarian.

Of course we are going to make compromises in advancing our policy propositions, but that does not make the result libertarian.

In any event, I tried, perhaps inadequately, to explain that I meant no absolute presumption on how you would come out on these questions but rather to indicate that folks who come out the wrong way on defining rights are calling themselves libertarians. I don't believe that the theoretically possible if oxymoronic "regulatory libertarian" is possible in practice -- meaning to say that the theory is thus emperically invalidated.

Of course that is only my lifetime of anecdotal experience speaking - at length as usual.

Brian
7.18.2007 11:36am
anonVCfan:
The disagreement about the nature of libertarianism probably comes, at least to some extent, from the fact that some libertarians are closet anarchists who happen to pick their battles ("I'm not against all laws, but this one is particularly bad."), but never find any law quite acceptable.

If I'm wrong, I'd ask the so-called libertarians on this list to give me an example of a legitimate purpose of government and a legitimate restriction it can impose on our freedom.
7.18.2007 12:43pm
SenatorX (mail):
anonVCfan, didn't Sasha give you examples in his comments above?

To some extent though you are right I think. That the best process is to find ways to guide society with as little government action as possible. In that regard libertarians "never find any law quite acceptable". As pointed out though you can define libertarians as a perspective or a filter of conditions whereby things not normally viewed as "libertarian" could come about. I think people have been right to point out risks with slippery slopes but still, there it is.

Besides how many libertarians believe there shouldn't be any legal system?
7.18.2007 2:16pm
occidental tourist (mail):
correction: it was Whit not David Bernstein who gave that short list of things that seem libertarian:


the kinds of issues that define libertarianism are things like prostitution laws, drug war, gambling laws, zoning laws, school choice, etc.


read too many comments too quickly. apologies
7.18.2007 2:29pm
Nigel Kearney (mail) (www):
Opposing "nondefensive humanitarian military intervention" because you oppose any government intervention is like opposing the teaching of mathematics in public schools because you oppose the existence of public schools.
7.18.2007 5:59pm
SenatorX (mail):
Sasha "I think you're not an anarcho-capitalist, so I think you favor sometimes doing things that look like rights violations; all I add to this is that the test for being a libertarian doesn't depend quantitatively on how often you find that a rights violation is justified, but qualitatively on what theory you use to justify the rights violations."

Sasha you should expound on this. It puts a finger on something important.
7.18.2007 11:01pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
SenatorX: Libertarians often make broad statements like "Taxation is theft" or "Regulation is slavery." I appreciate the general idea, but it turns out that many of these libertarians don't mean it literally: They just want a much more limited government than we have now, but they're not willing to categorically rule out all taxation or regulation. Either they think taxation isn't theft, or they think theft is sometimes acceptable.

So now let's put anarcho-capitalists to one side -- they really do think taxation is theft, and also believe you shouldn't do it, so they're an easy case. How all those other libertarians justify any level of coercive taxation is more interesting.

One way is to carve out accepted areas, for instance: "Taxation is only acceptable when used to fund a rights-protective activity (like police or military)." In fact I agree with this, but unfortunately it's incomplete, because in principle, I think some taxation might also be illegitimate even when only used to fund police: What if the government kept squeezing every cent out of us just to fund marginally less and less effective improvements in policing?

Another way is to introduce some notion of proportionality, for instance: "Taxation is only acceptable when used to fund a rights-protective activity, but the rights benefit we get from it has to be commensurate with the rights hit we take with the coercive taxation." This is promising, except that I think that more properly we should be comparing marginal benefits and marginal harms to rights from particular increments of taxation and police funding.

Which is why I would reformulate it as: "Taxation is only acceptable when used to fund a rights-protective activity, but any increment of taxation is only legitimate if the rights benefit it provides is greater than the reduction in rights caused by the coercive taxation used to fund it."

Which is equivalent to saying: "The amount of coercive taxation should be that amount that maximizes the total extent of rights protection, that is, the extra rights protected by the activity funded by the taxation, minus the reduction in rights produced by the taxation itself."

(The first statement is actually technically incorrect because of increasing returns to the first dollars. This is an unimportant technicality for my purposes now. The second statement is correct.)

This leads to my basic theory of rights consequentialism: The goal is to maximize the total extent of rights protection. Any (incremental) rights violation is acceptable as long as it produces a greater (incremental) rights protection.

(Incidentally, coming back to the "taxation is theft" slogan: I could have said either that acceptable taxation is rightful and therefore isn't theft, or that acceptable taxation is theft but nonetheless rightful. The way my setup goes, it should be clear that I take the second course: I have to consider taxation wrongful in itself, or else it couldn't count as a minus in the calculations; but it might nonetheless be outweighed by the larger positives it produces.)

One consequence of this theory is that I continue to disapprove of a lot of government activity that libertarians traditionally disapprove of. Some activities don't even claim to increase rights protection (in the libertarian definition), so we can rule them out immediately. Others may have some claim to do so, but in fact they don't increase rights protection because they don't turn out to work well, so we can rule them out empirically, on the merits. But -- as I've said in this post -- I can't rule out items in this second category a priori.

Moreover, I think that, as long as one agrees with the basic framework of rights-consequentalism ("Act so as to maximize rights," as I've said above, where "rights" are defined in a libertarian way), one is within libertarianism. But the second category of actions could be large or small, depending on how the particular person evaluates the proposals (how optimistic or pessimistic they are about the possibilities of success of the program, how optimistic or pessimistic they are about the state of rights before the program).

So all I'm saying is that what's important is that you have the framework right; as long as you do that, I'm comfortable calling you a libertarian, even if we differ on how much government is acceptable under that framework. The test is qualitative (whether you have the framework right), not quantitative (how much government you end up endorsing).

(Of course, a libertarian who endorses too much government may well be wrong. This is just a theory of what counts as being sensible to call "libertarianism." To be correct, you also have to apply the framework correctly, so the test for bottom-line correctness is also quantitative.)
7.19.2007 12:08am
occidental tourist (mail):
Sasha,

Trust you have accepted my apology from earlier in the thread but now I shall dissent slightly again. The problem with this framework, i.e. do you have the framework right, is that is seems to lack a background contemplation of whether rights that the government proposes to vindicate or advance by coercive methodology could advance without such coercion. This is quite different than a contemporary calculus of whether there will be theoretically more rights before or after the coercion.

Given the acknowledgment that


Other [government activities] may have some claim to [increase rights], but in fact they don't increase rights protection because they don't turn out to work well, so we can rule them out empirically, on the merits.


the framework as presented is wanting in my opinion although might be improved by additional qualification:


The goal is to maximize the total extent of rights protection. Any (incremental) rights violation is acceptable as long as it produces a greater (incremental) rights protection -- where this incremental gain has proven unlikely to be achieved by non-coercive action and the lack of the gain represents a clear and present danger to life or property.(italics added)



Thus, on my favorite topic, government regulation taken to end the killer pea soups of London or perhaps the kindling of the Cuyahoga might be deemed as properly within the scope of libertarian action while prior restraints of 'precautionary' scope against emissions of virtually any substance have no libertarian basis simply by loose analog as collective action problems to burning rivers or killer fogs or the completely anti-libertarian advance of some positive right to breath air unaffected whatsoever by the presence of ones fellows.

Finally, and to get us back to the substantive origins of this thread, I lost track and your formulation is not specific as to whose rights are involved. Is this formulation meant to advance the rights of those coerced to pay for the advance, or might the formula apply for those coerced to pay for the advance under government tutelage of the rights of other citizens, or perhaps to pay for advancing the rights of those outside the political compact under whose authority the coercion is executed?

in other words, is your framework accomplished under the maxim you stated above:


To me, libertarianism is how to pursue liberty; so if it's a net gain to liberty, it's by definition the libertarian thing to do. From a rights perspective, borders and national jurisdiction make no difference.


I agree in moral theory with your statement here, but in developing my own theory regarding 'What are Borders For' , the treatise I sometime hope to write on this conundrum,which I think is coming out somewhere short of geographic anarchist, I am suspicious of the extent of propriety of coercing those under one political roof to pay for the liberation of those under another.

While I don't object to the concept of such projects in the sense that they represent 'imperialism' - rather, I think liberal western society represents the objectively proper state of humanity as weighed against theocracy, feudalism, fill in the tyrannically illiberal-cracy - but I tend to think that some pure consensus or voluntarism or exemplarism ought to imbue them.

Of course one can ask in your framework, if military actions towards such equilibrium is the only likely way of advancing rights and is not readily achieved through an entirely voluntary regimen is coercive taxation and the draft the proper way to go about it. But this still must be weighed against the understanding that military action is an inevitably blunt and imprecise tool for achieving the results they promise (to the extent that those are rights advancing outside a society rather than rights defending against aggression) - not to mention that in the case of Iraq the promise of rights enhancement was secondary and emerged as a justification for the action as WMD didn't. (I'm not ragging on the whole Bush lied thing. I never saw convincing evidence presented before hand which is why I opposed the Iraq War. Anyone who analyzed any of the offical pronouncements would not have said there was a smoking gun, whether or not this circumstantial evidence proved probative in the end.)

Of course what did emerge was probably more evidence of genocide than they ever found in Bosnia, so I'm open to the debate that that type of circumstance represents some kind of special case (although my less than libertarian spouse said to me the other day in a poignant reminder of what goes around comes around, if the Government can spend billions to 'save' or vindicate 50,000 people in Iraq why wouldn't it be proper for the government to do so by funding medical research...).

In terms of my affection for free society, I found the pulling down of Saddam's statute an aspirational moment -- if only shortly to be lived followed by failure of the worst sort. I remain chastened about the possibility of success of spreading liberalism other than on the city on the hill basis although theoretically the Iraq war promised - especially in hindsight - the possibility of a freer world.

brian
7.19.2007 11:09am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Brian: (1) I think the availability of alternate methods is already taken into account by my more accurate formulation that you should maximize rights. If a coercive system does no better than a voluntary system, then the coercive system clearly isn't the rights-maximizing system. Even if the coercive and voluntary system are equally effective (at, say, fixing some environmental problem), the voluntary system is strictly better because, under my framework, the coercive system involves the moral negatives of coercion, while the voluntary system doesn't. This means that a voluntary system would be morally better even if it's less effective to some extent.

So, under my system, the availability of a not-too-much-less-effective voluntary program makes the adoption of a coercive program morally impermissible.

(2) You're right that, under my system, the identity of the coerced party and the identity of the benefited party are irrelevant. It can be morally permissible to tax me to fund the police protection of a far-off inner city (in another state, or another part of the same state, or even in the same city but far away from me). Similarly, it can be morally permissible to tax me to fund military action to save people in Darfur.

There are various reasons why, under my view, borders make sense. For instance, if the taxpayers are also beneficiaries, that may provide some protection that the program will be effective. And if the taxpayers are also voters in the same jurisdiction where the benefits are dispensed, that may similarly provide some accountability in whether the program is effective. (Maybe.) Generally, foreign aid, even apparently rights-enhancing foreign aid, might make the beneficiary country too dependent and prevent them from developing a good government of their own. And maybe allowing military intervention has bad incentive effects on the intervening country, because there are also too many bad reasons for military intervention and it may be too easy to come up with rights-sounding rationalizations for bad interventions.

These considerations are all relevant to effectiveness, and to whether the programs will end up being limited to rights-enhancing ones. So the existence of national borders can certainly be relevant to the morality of an action. But it doesn't enter into the analysis in an inherent way ("it's always immoral to tax people in one country to help people in another"); rather, the analysis proceeds in the same way, but the international aspects will affect what you plug into the analysis.
7.19.2007 11:33am