The following article tries to make some kind of ‘libertarian’ case for state welfare. There are several logical flaws in it which I will point to and explain.
The italic and yellow text is from the author of the piece. My response is the ordinary text underneath.
As a libertarian, I try to judge the abstract legitimacy of any institution or government policy by asking whether it would exist without a state to uphold it.
Libertarianism itself does not ask whether any government policy is legitimate by wondering if such “policy” would exist without it. Libertarianism only concerns itself with the question of the legitimate use of force. Even if some policy could be considered good or even necessary for some people, if it wouldn’t exist without government it would still not legitimize a government policy for it. One very obvious example is non-discrimination laws. Many people abhor discrimination, but discrimination of all kinds, the sole exception to which is discrimination by force, would be allowable. The existence of non-violent discrimination does not legitimize anti-discrimination laws by state force. Precisely because they would be based on force. No government policy whatsoever is morally legitimate, regardless of what it aims to do, because it is based on the initiation of force.
I have in my mind the idea of a purely natural order, in which all association between adults, excepting only defense against aggression, is voluntary. Since this natural order would have no government, and therefore no taxes and no redistribution of income, there would obviously be no state welfare system. On these grounds, I say that the British welfare state has no abstract legitimacy.
Note, however, the qualifying adjective. Just because something is illegitimate in the abstract does not mean that it should be immediately abolished, or even that its abolition should be high on the agenda of any military junta advised by libertarians.
Note here the obvious moral contradiction presented by this “libertarian” when he pretends that libertarians would ever advise something like a “military junta”. Not only does this heap clear disrespect and a malicious shadow onto libertarians, it is also a complete lie on the basis of what libertarianism stands for. Just by writing this line this particular author is casting doubt on his own credibility as a “libertarian.” What real libertarian, after all, would ever suggest that libertarians would give advice to a military junta? Only someone trying to make false and malicious associations would. To put it plain and simple: no one that would help, support or advise a military junta in any way could be considered a libertarian. Period.
In applying libertarian principle to the world as it is, we need to take into account both abstract legitimacy and particular circumstances. Where state welfare is concerned, the circumstances should rule out abolition in both the short and medium term.
Though by any reasonable standard, I am on the political right, I accept one of the central insights of left-libertarians like Kevin Carson. This is that we should not confuse the present order of things with a natural order. We should not defend the present structure of outcomes as if they were the outcomes of a free market. To look only at England and America and the rest of the civilised (sic) world, there are many people – perhaps ten or twenty per cent – who cannot earn enough to enjoy what is generally seen as a fair standard of living.
This argument is problematic in that it obviously presumes that a natural order as per libertarianism, either would or should deliver a system in which every single human being would earn enough to enjoy what is generally seen as a ‘fair standard of living’ whatever this subjective term is supposed to mean (after all, which objective definition of ‘fair’ would be satisfactory to all?). But libertarianism, again, does no such thing. Libertarianism only concerns itself with questions of force. Is the initiation of force allowable or isn’t it? Libertarianism argues that it isn’t. For any reason. None. Including guaranteeing anybody a ‘fair standard of living’, which is a positive right, or better said a privilege, because such could never possibly be guaranteed unless by people propagating it and using force to guarantee it. After all, for a fair standard of living to be guaranteed for all, it is inevitable that others be forced, somehow, to deliver the requirements for it, be they housing, food, clothing et cetera. But forcing anyone to provide these things is tantamount to force, which is anti-libertarian. Precisely the reason that guaranteeing anyone a “fair standard of living” cannot be libertarian.
Ask yourself this question. With government and all other initiatory forms of force completely barred from existence, what guarantees could there possibly be for a ‘fair standard of living’ for anybody? What if, for whatever hypothetical reason, nobody wishes to employ you for wages that result in a ‘fair standard of living’, and you do not have any specific talents to provide for yourself a ‘fair standard of living’? Obviously you would have none, unless someone is forced to provide it for you. That is why this whole ‘fair standard of living’ business is a sentimental fiction conjured up by people that presume that a society can be both free and ‘fair’, or whom outright reject freedom in favor of ‘fairness’. Some people that call themselves libertarian ought to make a choice: whether to be libertarian or to be socialist.
Some of these people are what used to be called “the undeserving poor” – that is, they are lazy, or they are drug addicts or habitual drunks, or they have in some other way made parasites of themselves. But many are victims of circumstances that, like state welfare, would not exist in a natural order.
That is true. But many are also victims of ‘natural deficiency’, such as in intelligence, physical health, talent, or other characteristics in which nobody in particular is to blame. This does not justify force in any way either, even though the poor in this case are not themselves to blame for their poverty.
There is always a demand for taxi drivers and delivery couriers, and for child minders, and for beer and wine made in small batches, and for cooked food, and for other goods and services that, in themselves, require little skill and capital to provide. But these goods and services are so taxed and regulated that they can only be provided with credentials or on a scale that most people cannot manage. If they are to get a living by work, it must be for wages.
When I was a boy, this was not a great practical evil. There was no shortage of paid work, and most wages were not very far from the median. Since then, further market distortions have driven much industry out of the country, and placed a firm and continuous downward pressure on unskilled and semi-skilled wages. Worse, there are parts of the country where almost no paid work can be had.
This is all true. But does author realize that in a natural order, there would be no mandatory minimum wages? That there would be no government-enforced job security? That foreign labor who require lower wages would not be barred in any way whatsoever and that, therefore, all laborers would be forced to accept open job competition from people around the world? Let’s make one thing clear: no natural order has protectionism for laborers of any kind; and unions would have almost no power, certainly not any of the political kind. There would be no labor laws with the exception of those specifically and contractually agreed upon by employers themselves. Libertarianism does not offer any kind of Walhalla for laborers whatsoever. The free market would determine everything and not everyone will be a winner. After all, in all competitions, there must be people that lose.
The various kinds of state welfare available are a necessary corrective to what would otherwise be grinding poverty. I agree that state welfare may encourage idleness. But there is worse than idleness. State welfare is a secondary distortion to markets to correct primary distortions that some libertarians still insist on calling market outcomes.
Author provides no specific examples of what he considers ‘primary distortions’ and therefore leaves any potential critic unable to check his premises. Also, author agrees that state welfare may encourage idleness. Yet at the same time argues that state welfare should be supported, as if this very thing does not work to create a backward working mentality that would put such ‘idle’ people in a disadvantage once a natural order ensues. This idleness, is of course also generated by external factors, just as the primary distortions are external factors.
Also, as a libertarian, who is the author to presume that something based on force and parasitism is something all libertarians should agree is acceptable even considering the circumstances? Author is pretending that a ‘good’ libertarian should sacrifice his own interests for the benefit of a larger group of others, which is collectivism. Why should any innocent libertarian accept any kind of force acted out against himself, just because it would benefit some unlucky other? This is not an argument for libertarianism, but one for socialism which is also based on accepting of the haves being a sacrificial lamb for the benefit of the have-nots, as a penitence of sorts for the external factors that have condemned the have-nots to being have-nots.
Let’s present an analogy: suppose some slave owner in the past was born into a world where slavery was considering a completely natural and morally justified thing. Suppose then that abolitionists and the slaves started rebelling saying that slavery is a moral abomination, regardless of what chaos this would inflict on the then-prevailing society based on slavery. All of a sudden, the specific, then acceptable means of producing an income, based on parasitism and force, would be taken away from people who were born into a society that considered slavery an entirely normal phenomenon. How will they adapt to a new kind of society in which they can no longer use, by force, the labor – or fruits of the labor – of others in order to sustain themselves? All of this is entirely irrelevant from a moral standpoint because the initiation of force, for ANY reason, is immoral and should be abolished immediately, for that very reason. No matter the consequences for those using force against innocents. Author would have us libertarians that earn an honest wage accept our roles as slaves for the benefit of those even more unlucky. After all, even though we are innocent, we nevertheless have resources to mulct. Author is not arguing as a libertarian, but as an egalitarian. Robbing innocents for the benefit of state welfare is perfectly justified in his view, so long as the wealth is redistributed to the less well-off.
And let’s be clear, the large majority of people paying taxes (and thereby supporting state welfare) are innocents; not part of some rich, profiteering cabal of power mongers. They make their money from laboring somewhere around 40 hours a week. They did not steal anything or game the system to their advantage through political manipulation.
Force is only morally allowable if it is corrective or defensive vis-a-vis aggressors. But the poor of today have no right to use force against those innocent of causing their poverty. There is no such thing as the sins of the father. Just as you cannot hold any white man today responsible for what his forefathers may have wrought in times of slavery, you cannot hold any innocent and honest wage-earning tax payer responsible for the ways in which the state in collusion with big business has gamed the system to its own advantage.
It is a disgrace to claim welfare when you do not reasonably need it.
Actually, this is not true either. Every single person that is forced to pay tribute to the state without giving his express permission for the state to do so, has a right to be economically reimbursed to the last dollar that was taken from him by force. To the degree that he was forced to pay taxes, this is the degree to which he can justifiably claim welfare. Even if he doesn’t actually “need” it. Libertarianism is not about needs; it is about rights and about justice.
But there is no disgrace in claiming it when circumstances are against you. If we ever move towards a natural order, state welfare will eventually disappear.
Ah yes, didn’t the communist say that if only we correct certain perceived injustices, the state will eventually wither away? Of course, Lenin, Stalin and all other tyrannical maniacs proved otherwise. Dependence on the state breeds love for, captivity by, and worship of the state. Children do not stop believing in Santa Clause because they no longer require toys, but because they find out Santa Claus is a fictional character.
Again, author presumes that in a more natural order everyone will suddenly be a winner; a self-sufficient individual with a job and an income that will provide a ‘fair standard of living.’ This is nonsense. Furthermore, plenty of people simple prefer paid leisure over slightly better paid labor. It is a mentality bred by the very state welfare system, and its proponents, that author defends.
But it should not disappear before the distortions that presently make it necessary have been removed. By all means, let systematic fraud and willful idleness be discouraged. But, for the moment, no one with any sense or humanity should wish to take away the safety net.
As a libertarian, to argue for the continued use of force against innocents for the benefit of others, using a plea to ‘humanity’, presents a non-argument. Author, which claims to be libertarian, is making an argument for altruism, sacrifice by force, and state force itself, and by doing so is not making an argument for libertarianism, but one for socialism. Why should the whole of society be forced to pay for the crimes of a few? That is collectivism is ever there was an example of it. Appeal to pity (by invoking the easy moral blackmail word “humanity”) is a logical fallacy.
And I will be honest. I have said I live almost as if in a natural order. But “almost” is an important qualifier. When I was at university, I had a full student grant. I paid no tuition fees. I use the National Health Service. My wife collects whatever family allowance is nowadays called. We send our daughter to a state primary school, and are preparing her for the eleven plus examination that will let her attend a grammar school at public expense. In due course, I hope to claim my old age pension. If I get one, I will make full use of my free bus pass. No one who is in my position has the right to denounce the poor if they claim different benefits. So far as state welfare is based on robbery from the tax payers, we are nearly all thieving from each other.
It is highly ironic that author not only admits to having used state benefits in the past but openly admits to continue to doing so, while at the same time using this as justification that because he himself no longer has any moral right to denounce the poor for doing so, this would just as easily go for others, by projecting that his own hypocrisy is the same as that of other libertarians. Speak for yourself! Not everyone is actively seeking to act like a parasite. As a matter of fact most libertarians that i know about have nothing but contempt for the public education system and would prefer to avoid it as much as possible, rather than actively taking advantage of it.
Furthermore, there is once again the employment of a logical fallacy here that we “are all thieving from each other.” Nonsense. The state robs. And in the most absurd and meaningless sense we are indeed using funds appropriated from others since we would never use *exactly* the same tangible units of money taken from us by force. But the question here is not the specific and tangible units of money, but the amounts taken. If you have been robbed by the government for, say as an example, 10.000 dollars, they you have a moral RIGHT to be reimbursed by the government for exactly 10.000 dollars, either in money or in value of government services rendered. You are not “thieving” from other citizens; you are simply getting your own money back; money that you have earned honestly through labor.
In a sense, you even have a right to extra compensation by the state for the amount of time, energy and choices taken away from you by the system. Time, energy and choices you would otherwise have had to make an even better life for yourself, if not for the limiting regimes of government.
I turn now to the specific benefits that are said to be under threat. Working tax credits are paid to those in work whose income falls below a certain level. Child tax credits are paid to those with children whose income falls below a certain level. They were introduced by Gordon Brown. Though otherwise an infamous man, he did much to rationalize a benefits system that tended to encourage idleness.
Children are a choice. If you know well in advance that having children will pressurize your standard of living downward even further, then you made the conscious choice to do so. No other individual outside of the responsible people in government should EVER have to pay for that. Also, “income below a certain level” is once again based on the presumption that in a natural order they would be paid more. Without evidence it could never be claimed that this would be the case, especially because the current non-natural order actually has various labor-protection measures such as regulations that benefit working conditions, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, and politically protected unions. Not to mention forms of protectionism that shield national economies from foreign competition. Did the bailout of GM, for instance, not actually protect jobs that may otherwise have been lost?
Because, as said, I am ignorant of them, I will avoid going into details. But tax credits are a reasonable approach to the negative income tax proposed by Milton Friedman.
As a proponent of taxes and of central banking, Milton Friedman was not a libertarian.
If we are not to abolish state welfare, it should be fully rationalized.
There is no ‘rationalizing’ the initiation of force. It is either moral or immoral.
We should end unemployment benefit and housing benefit and old age pensions and family allowance and free school dinners and free gas boilers, and all the other ad hoc benefits brought into being in the twentieth century. We should replace them with direct cash payments, via that tax system, to bring every family to what is seen as a reasonable living. By all means, deter fraud, and exclude recent immigrants from the system. But let us have a welfare system that gives security and even dignity to the poor.
Again, punishing innocent people by forcing them to pay for others has nothing to do with libertarianism, and everything to do with socialism. “Rationalizing” socialism does not turn it into something other than socialism. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is about as anti-libertarian as you can get.
And so, to the extent that it really is trying to roll back the least objectionable part of the state welfare system, the Government is to be condemned. The politicians should think again about how to cut public spending. This is not the place to list the things that ought to be cut. But I am sure I am not alone in being able to find other economies than hurting the poor.
Which begs the question why the author specifically refuses to list the things that ought to be cut. This makes it easy, of course, for the author to object to the things that others would propose, or to prevent mentioning policies or departments that would generate criticism or objections from others. This is fleeing from reality, and intellectually dishonest.
If you believe government spending ought to be cut whilst keeping state welfare alive, the least the author could do is just mention some examples of policies and departments that ought to be abolished.
And so, whenever a self-proclaimed libertarian argues for redistribution of wealth, he cannot avoid making argument that are completely at odds with the principles of libertarianism because he will advocate the continued initiation of government force against innocents.