Free Cities Podcast: Private Defense

gotojailFree Cities Podcast focuses on real life examples of decentralization and market alternatives to problems.

Anthony Caprio and I discuss how the free market might provide a victim-oriented justice system. Yes, we really can be safer without government cops, government courts and government prisons; and we can do it for less money.

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Free City Podcast Interview

FreeCitiesPodcastFree Cities Podcast focuses on real life examples of decentralization and market alternatives to problems.

Anthony Caprio and I discussed why Romans chapter 13 is not the blanket support for the state that many Christians believe; What about theft and greed in a free society? and might a stateless society offer better options for living a moral life?

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Freedom Feens – Why be libertarian?

microphoneFreedom Feens is a daily, liberty-related radio show with Michael W. Dean and a rotating cast of co-hosts.

Freedom Feen Hugo González and I co-hosted Thursday’s show. The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time and at noon on weekends.

Show notes for 06/11/2015:

Occupational licencing — Porcfest 2015 — Do libertarians approve of vices?  — Why people come to libertarianism — Make an AR-15 at home with Ghost Gunner

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I will be with the Freedom Feens broadcasting live from the Porcupine Freedom Festival in Lancaster, N.H. during the week of July 21-27, 2015, beginning at midnight Sunday night (CST).

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The Catholic Case For Libertarianism and The Golden Rule

Why Catholics should be libertarianOn June 3, 2014, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., hosted a conference entitled: “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism.” The initial buzz centered around the keynote speech by Cardinal Archbishop Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras. Catholic libertarians Tom Woods and Ryan McMaken have penned solid responses to the Cardinal’s speech, here and here.

The videos of the conference are now available. After watching the conference, I noticed a pronounced lopsidedness in the content, not because all the speakers were hostile to liberty, but because the speakers came mostly from a Catholic left perspective and seem chiefly interested in trashing free markets and the libertarians who advocate them. One has to wonder if the title ought not to have been: “The Case Against the Acton Institute.

Every speaker (except one, Msgr. Stuart Swetland) carefully avoid mentioning anything close to the one essential element of libertarianism: the nonaggression principle–which simply stated–means that one may not initiate physical force against another. I suspect that the nonaggression principle sounds too close to the Gospels and the Golden rule for comfort.

Bread for the WorldThe backdrop to the conference podium displayed a message from the conference sponsor, “Bread for the World” that underlines exactly whose job the group believes it is to help the poor. The poster read: “Bread for the World — a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.” According to the Bread for the World website, they are mainly lobbyists who do not actually feed anybody.

[Correction: Upon further thought, any fair analysis should at least credit these guys with feeding congressmen]

In their presentations, the conference speakers tended to mistake the non-Christian individualism of writers like Ayn Rand as being the very heart of libertarianism.

Catholic libertarians are not individualists just because we value individual virtue above government welfare, taken from its “donors” by the state at gunpoint. We are not anti-social individualists simply because we are not busybodies. I am sure that even the speakers at this conference understand the difference between tolerating a selfish jerk and being a selfish jerk.

One speaker explained that it is hard for a libertarian to see his neighbor as himself. I have no words for such an accusation. That just seems mean.

The speakers liked to throw around the phrase, the “common good” as if it were synonymous with the welfare state. None bothers to parse the catechism definition which teaches that the common good entails the protection of individual rights and security; and that these are protected when a person is allowed to live life peaceably and without interference. There is nothing in the catechism definition to support the redistribution of wealth by the state. The reason it is called the “common good” is because it is good for everybody, not just the beneficiaries of redistribution.

Another speaker, Matthew Boudway, an associate editor at Commonweal magazine, has posted his own talk at the Commonweal blog. Mr Boudway advises that “if you watch just one of the videos, watch” the remarks of John Dilulio, a political science professor who also served in the Bush administration.

John Dilulio presentation

Mr Boudway chose well, because Dilulio levels his sights dead center on those he calls “radical libertarians.” Dilulio takes just twelve minutes during which he caricatures the libertarian viewpoint, then tamps down the dirt on the Catholic libertarian grave, neatly ignoring what Catholic libertarians actually believe and their moral basis for it.

Dilulio argues that libertarianism is incompatible with a Catholic view of society:

The Common Good:

Dilulio charges that “radical libertarians harbor no conception of the common good.” This astounding indictment is so baseless as to raise a question as to John Dilulio’s conception of the common good. As noted earlier, the “common good” is not a club for critics to waive at libertarians, for the common good is best served when people are safe and their dignity as human beings is respected. Libertarians have no trouble with this idea.

Sinful Inequalities:

Dilulio says libertarians refuse to acknowledge “sinful inequalities” in society. He says libertarians disfavor government efforts to end them. “Sinful inequalities” is a phrase from the Catechism that is misused to support redistribution by the state. “Sinful inequalities” refers to “economic and social disparities” which are not conducive to “social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.” The Catechism calls us to “strive for fairer and humane conditions.”

As libertarians, we do not refuse to acknowledge “sinful inequalities” in society. True, we often oppose the increasing demands of the state, but Dilulio could not be more wrong in saying that we disfavor government efforts to eliminate sinful inequlities. Here are a few areas ripe for government action:

Crony Capitalism:

The sinful inequalities to be eliminated must include benefits that are not enjoyed by all. These include government subsidies to business, protective tariffs, too-big-to-fail corporate bailouts, and the use of eminent domain which destroys whole neighborhoods and takes land for big business at bargain prices. Intellectual property laws–which have the chief effect of protecting monopolies while stifling creativity and productivity–should also be repealed. On top of this, product regulations and occupational licensing requirements limit competition and raise prices, all to the benefit of established  businesses. Zoning and other state-mandated land-use restrictions tend in the same direction.

Barriers to Self-employment:

It is time to demolish all the “sinful inequalities” that prevent honest work; time to tear down the state-erected walls that separate workers from earning a living:

  • Allow street vending along the public right of way. No permits, no licenses, just food carts, trucks and flea markets, etc.
  • Eliminate taxi-cab permits and licensing so that a car or van owner can make a living giving rides without asking permission from the state.
  • Eliminate occupational licensing. Those who can cut and braid hair, midwives, carpenters, plumbers, beer brewers, nail clippers, babysitters, funeral directors, dental hygienists and other practitioners should be left alone to do their work without arbitrary educational requirements, testing, dues paying and permission from the government. Even professions like medicine, law, engineering and architecture would be better certified by private entities.
  • No ordinance should require state permission to operate garage sales, growing vegetables, chickens or other small animals and selling the resulting goods from the same premises.
  • People should be allowed to practice trades out of their homes; to build things, to can food and bake bread, to cater to customers out of their home kitchens.

The some on the left are critical of the whole idea of working for wages. They argue that the employer/employee relationship is coercive because the poor have no better options. On the other hand, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, so having more alternatives to working for wages has to be a good thing. If it puts employers and employees on a more even footing, that is good too. All Christians should support the removal of barriers to making a living.

If government is going to level the employment field, it is also time to repeal the minimum wage laws. The reasons are many: here, but the bottom line is that the minimum wage is nothing more than a barrier separating unskilled workers from a job.

While jobs are the top priority in raising up the poor, another way government can help is by getting out of the way of affordable housing by:

  • Eliminating minimum house and lot sizes and other building code restrictions that prevent the poor from owning a home. The entire “tiny house” movement shows people can live economically and well.
  • Repealing zoning laws that prevent homeowners from creating small apartments out of basements and attics, thereby creating income and increasing the amount of affordable rental housing.
  • Making it easy to establish boarding houses were people can live well and cheaply.

These are just a few areas where government could create widespread prosperity with libertarian ideas by eliminating “sinful inequalities.” Of course, this is just a start.

Libertarians want to end foreign military interventions and return the military to a purely defensive role, saving lives and resources that would be much better kept at home. Libertarians would limit the United States’ prison system to people who actually hurt other people and would treat the drug problem as a social and mental health problem, not a criminal one. A country with 5% of the earth’s population and 25% of the inmates–mostly poor and minorities–needs to find a better way.

Love for the poor:

Dilulio goes on to accuse libertarians of having no “manifest love for the poor.” We are, he says, “blind to the ‘another self‘ in others.” And he charges that the humble aphorism,  “There, but by the grace of God, go I,” is “not a sentiment that much stirs in their souls.” These are serious charges to level against a fellow Christian.

Catholic libertarians believe there is no poorer expression of love for the poor than a willingness to put a gun to our brother’s head with the purpose of making him a charitable man. We prefer voluntary charity, mutual aid, and the removal of all the barriers (noted above) that prevent people from making a dignified living.

Subsidiarity:

Pope Leo XIII taught in the encyclical Rerum Novarum that “Man precedes the State.” Leo wrote that “the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of community, and founded more immediately in nature.” This natural ordering of society is known as the principle of subsidiarity; that human activity ought to be governed at the lowest level possible, leaving higher orders of community with only those functions which only they can accomplish.

Dilulio knows that libertarians are all in favor of what could be called subsidiarity’s preferential option for governance at the lowest possible level. His criticism centers around libertarians who prefer to make up their own minds about when to kick a particular task upstairs to a higher authority.

Catholic Social teaching would seem to leave some prudential room on the question of when to apply government aggression to gain the cooperation of the people. Coercive violence by government, against its own citizens, is never the preferred option; and–as the Church teaches–the use of force is a sign of a government that does not respect the rights of its citizens. Such a government “can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.” See Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 1930.

In his closing remarks, Dilulio concedes that there are things to be learned from libertarianism and that government is not the answer for everything. Still, he insists, there can be no doubt that this world would be worse off were it not for the blessings of forced redistribution by government.

“Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism” was a refreshing opportunity to see how we libertarians appear to the Catholic left. They got a few bits of it right and much of it wrong; egregiously wrong in taking the measure of our motives. Most importantly, we are getting traction and they know it. We may expect more such efforts ahead.

Catholic Statist poster

The “vulgar libertarians” fight back

voluntaryThe term “vulgar libertarians” was coined by Kevin Carson in his Mutualist Blog to describe libertarians whom he views as cheerleaders for crony capitalism and big business, which exist to the detriment of consumers and workers.

Mutualist Carson is sometimes labeled a thick libertarian, along with other prefixed libertarians: Left-Libertarians, Bleeding Heart Libertarians and others who add to the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) their opposition to all oppression: sexism, racism, wage labor, religious hierarchy and other concerns (both real and imagined).

A new blog–the “VULGAR LIBERTARIANS“–proudly wears Carson’s name tag, apparently embracing the word “vulgar” in its primary dictionary meaning: “generally used, applied, or accepted.” These “vulgar” libertarians proclaim an unhyphenated libertarianism that sticks to the basics, i.e. the non-aggression principle. As this post notes: “The prefixed libertarians may claim that they have gone “beyond” libertarianism, we contend that they haven’t reached it yet.”

Thick and thin are not that far apart

My FreedomTo some extent, the thick and thin libertarians talk past one another. Both harbor suspicions that the other would use force to achieve their own goals. The truth is that thin libertarians really do believe in the NAP and would gladly strip away every vestige of crony capitalism: no more monopoly privileges, government licensing, bailouts or regulations. Such changes would create many opportunities, especially for the poor.

“Thick” libertarians are quite vocal about the importance of such changes, but a substantial portion of those view such changes as the natural results of liberty, not some private agenda they would see tacked on to the NAP.

These are good reasons for a clean unencumbered libertarianism which raises no barriers to those who have differing viewspoints.

Vulgar libertarians and property titles

We vulgar- thin- plain vanilla- libertarians need to keep in mind that the thick or left-libertarians have one issue that cannot be evaded once we achieve liberty. The issue is one of property titles.

If tomorrow there were no government to say who owned what, would we all agree that each person owns that property which he possesses at that moment? Or would it be fair to assume that each person would own whatever the (now-defunct) government would have said she owned the day before it was dissolved? This issue cannot be evaded. Murray Rothbard writes about the mythical kingdom of Ruritania on the eve of its overthrow by libertarian rebels:

KingThe king, seeing the revolt to be imminently successful, now employs a cunning stratagem. He proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his kingdom to the “ownership” of himself and his relatives. He then goes to the libertarian rebels and says: “all right, I have granted your wish, and have dissolved my rule; there is now no more violent intervention in private property. However, myself and my eleven relatives now each own one-twelfth of Ruritania, and if you disturb us in this ownership in any way, you shall be infringing upon the sanctity of the very fundamental principle that you profess: the inviolability of private property. Therefore, while we shall no longer be imposing ‘taxes,’ you must grant each of us the right to impose any ‘rents’ that we may wish upon our ‘tenants,’ or to regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on ‘our’ property as we see fit.

~ Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 9

Obviously, property titles will be up for grabs if those titles are known to be the result of theft. There will have to be some consensus regarding who shall own formerly-public property, which–with few exceptions–was acquired by theft.

Shall public schools be owned by the teachers? by the students? Perhaps the streets would be acquired by the adjacent property owners. Public utilities might end up as cooperatives owned by their customers, and so on. These matters can be worked out.

Property titles will always be questionable if they were granted as a government favor. Some commentators suggest that quasi-private institutions–largely or wholly funded by government–such as universities, hospitals or military arms manufacturers should be re-distributed. And it gets trickier.

Far-left-libertarians, looking to further the class struggle, believe that capital goods properly belong to whomever is occupying or using the property. It is difficult to imagine the workers taking ownership of every privately-owned factory; each renter claiming title to every house or apartment he occupies, and not encountering enormous resistance, even bloodshed.

These are issues that some “thick” libertarians present. They are worth thinking over, but they do not define libertarianism and should not limit the movement.

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Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium and the free market

dont-tread-on-neighbor300I am sure we are all busy this Thanksgiving week, so I considered my self lucky to have found the time to read through Pope Francis’ letter titled Evangelii Gaudium on Tuesday, but I hadn’t really figured out my reaction to parts of that letter that might be read as hostile to the free market.

This morning I was checking my email–waiting for most of my family to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner–when I received this message from a fellow named Kris who was troubled by the same concerns. I took a few minutes to hazard a response (which time may later help me to refine). Here is Kris’ letter and my early thoughts:

From: Kris Mxxxxxxxx
Subject: EVANGELII GAUDIUM

Dear Mr. England,

I came across a couple of your posts on catholic.com while searching for conservative/libertarian responses to Catholic Pope Francis’ newly released Encyclical.

Coincidentally, I own a copy of your book, Free Is Beautiful, and have read some of it. I admit I was disappointed by it because I don’t think it acknowledges that although Catholicism and libertarianism are compatible, the Church has worked against libertarianism in many ways throughout its history.

I’d like to know what your reaction to the Pope’s new Encyclical is. In particular, the remarks about “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” and “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

As a fellow libertarian Catholic, I found those statements disturbing. Should I?

Sincerely,
Kris Mxxxxxxxx

————————————————————————–
Randy England <randyengland@gmail.com>
11:59 AM

Hi Kris:

Thanks you for your thoughtful message. I’ve only read the letter once, and it is clear there are no doctrinal issues that I have any trouble with. There a couple things I wish could be clarified. One is his harshness with what Pope Francis calls “unfettered capitalism.” Neither you nor I, nor the Pope has ever seen unfettered capitalism. I assume he must be condemning our modern corrupt, crony capitalism which any decent person ought to condemn.

I would like to see a free market in which anybody–especially the poor–can practice their occupations, subject only to the need to please the people they serve. They should be able to do it without government permission.

They shouldn’t need a license or government permission to practice a trade out of their homes; to sell their wares as a street vendor; to braid, cut, color hair or apply makeup; to have all the garage sales they want, to care for children in their homes, to bake & sell bread, to to use their vehicles to drive other people around inexpensively; to raise small animals in town; and on and on.

These are ways the market could be “unfettered” and I think our Pope might agree.

As to “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” I don’t think that the rich getting richer necessarily helps the poor, but I cannot overlook the fact that a poor man today lives a better, longer, cleaner, healthier life than did a king 200 years ago. He can travel further, faster, use the phone, electric lights and probably see his children’s children born and raised, instead of watching them die. This is progress and the poor man participates as much as a king, arguably more.

I would give anything to be able to discuss these things with our Pope, but I have to trust in God that the Church will grow its understanding of liberty as government becomes more obviously corrupt and oppressive.

I am not worried about the past. It took the Church over a 1000 years to BEGIN to eradicate and finally condemn slavery (because of the “hardness of our hearts” as Jesus said). This may be that sort of thing. It can take time for understanding to develop. I really believe that liberty under non-aggressive institutions is the future.

God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving. It’s time for dinner!

Kind regards,
Randy England

———————————————————-
Kris Mxxxxxxxx
8:10 PM

Dear Randy,

Your response has made me much more comfortable being a Catholic libertarian. Thank you. I also believe that liberty under non-aggressive institution is the future. How could the kingdom of God be any other way? Please feel free to use this exchange in your blog if you feel it would help others like me.

Yours in Christ,

Kris

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