Greensleeves Was All My Joy

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

My passing mention earlier this month of the possible merits of a Green/Libertarian alliance has raised discussion here, here, here, and here. Let me address some of the concerns that have been raised.

Kermit the Frog Much of the discussion has focused on the Greens’ “ten key values” – which I claim are worthy goals, consistent with libertarianism, though often sought by Greens via un-libertarian means. But it’s worth keeping in mind that there is no canonical statement of these ten values. Each branch of the Green Party is free to tinker with the wording, and of course the result is that one group’s specific formulation of a certain value will be consistent with libertarianism while another group’s specific formulation of that value will not be. It’s the values themselves, not any one specific formulation or implementation of them, that I’m advocating, so we shouldn’t get too hung up over wording.

Still, I think many of the libertarian criticisms of these values make the same mistake that many Greens make – namely, envisioning only a statist implementation of values that in fact have perfectly good libertarian implementations.

Jason Kuznicki writes:

I take issue in particular with the following value:

All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment.

This is just the sort of egalitarianism that libertarians have always opposed. It is not merely dangerous to a libertarian politics; the two are antithetical. 

What does it really mean, after all, for all persons to have “the rights… to benefit equally… from the resources afforded us… by the environment?” It means constant, massive redistribution of resources. It means an enormous and intrusive state to do the dirty work. It means the end of the free market and the beginning of socialism.

Well, it’s certainly true that that’s how many Greens would propose to implement that value. But is that really what the value means? Is that the best, the most defensible interpretation of that value? Are statist means really the most effective way of realising the aspirations it embodies? I deny it.

In his Economic Harmonies, Bastiat argued that the irresistible tendency of the free market is to increase the common realm at the expense of the private realm – because economic progress continually decreases the amount of human effort needed to produce a given result, and thus makes its benefits more widely available:

Wealth (taking this word in its generally accepted sense) stems from the combination of two kinds of operations, those of Nature and those of man. The former are free of charge and common to all, by divine gift, and never cease to be so. The latter alone possess [economic] value, and consequently they alone can be claimed as private property. But in the course of the development of human intelligence and the progress of civilization, the action of Nature plays a larger and larger role in the creation of any given utility, and the action of man, a proportionately smaller one. Hence, it follows that the area of gratuitous and common utility constantly increases among men at the expense of the area of value and private property. …

[T]hat portion of utility which, as a result of progress, ceases to be onerous, ceases to have value, but does not on that account cease to be utility, and falls eventually within the domain called common to all and free of charge ….

What is free of effort is held in common, for all men enjoy it and are permitted to enjoy it unconditionally. … What is acquired by effort is private property, because taking pains is prerequisite to its satisfaction, just as the satisfaction is the reason for taking the pains. …

This recourse to pains implies the idea of an obstacle. We may then say that the result sought comes closer and closer to the condition of being gratis and common to all in proportion as the intervening obstacle is reduced, since, according to our premise, the complete absence of obstacles would imply a condition of being completely gratis and common to all.

Now, since human nature is dynamic in its drive toward progress and perfection, an obstacle can never be considered as a fixed and absolute quantity. It is reduced. Hence, the pains it entails are reduced along with it …. But the utility remains constant. Hence, what is free of charge and common to all is increased at the expense of what formerly required effort and was private property. …

[I]t is characteristic of progress (and, indeed, this is what we mean by progress) to transform onerous utility into gratuitous utility … and to enable all men, for fewer pains or at smaller cost, to obtain the same satisfactions. Thus, the total number of things owned in common is constantly increased; and their enjoyment, distributed more uniformly to all, gradually eliminates inequalities resulting from differences in the amount of property owned. … A greater amount of gratuitous utility implies a partial realization of common ownership.

One can find a similar argument in David Schmidtz’s Limits of Government, where he argues that the effect of private property is to prevent the public benefits of private resources from being depleted, and indeed to increase those benefits.

Orion Slavegirl from Star Trek Is this what most Greens have in mind when they speak of people’s right to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment? No, usually not. But what I claim, with Bastiat and Schmidtz, is that economic libertarianism practically realises that ideal far more fully than any statist arrangement could. Thus the libertarian’s quarrel with the Greens on this point is, as I said, over means, not ends.

Jason continues:

So anyway… If Kevin Zeese shows what we’d get from a libertarian-Green alliance, I have to say I’m not interested. Pot legalization is great; ending the war is great. If I were a legislator, I’d happily vote with the Greens – on those issues. But I can’t go further than that.

Here I want to distinguish two issues. First, given Greens as they (mostly) are and Libertarians as they (mostly) are, what sort of political cooperation is possible between them? I would say that for the average Libertarian and the average Green, the benefits of cooperation will largely be confined to narrow, single-issue causes – though I think even here the potential benefits could be considerable. (I’m largely sympathetic to John Walsh’s proposal here for an alliance of Greens, Libertarians, and antiwar Demopublicans specifically on the issue of Iraq.)

But of course I also think we should be trying to change “Greens as they (mostly) are” and “Libertarians as they (mostly) are.” Libertarians have a good understanding of the value of private property, the effectiveness of competitive, for-profit modes of association, and the dangers of governmental forms of oppression; Greens have a good understanding of the value of the commons, the effectiveness of cooperative, non-profit modes of association, and the dangers of non-governmental forms of oppression. But each group tends to be weak where the other is strong; each group tends to see only the other group’s shortcomings, and to cling all the more firmly to its own shortcomings by way of reaction. Each group thinks – wrongly, in my view – that a concern for values from one set automatically negates concern for values from the other set. The Green/Libertarian coalition for which I would ultimately like to work (and I’m not talking just about the political parties here, but also the two worldviews in general) is a coalition of Libertarianward-moving Greens and Greenward-moving Libertarians. That coalition will be able to cooperate effectively on far more than single-issue causes, though it would have to be, at least initially, a much smaller faction or caucus (or, ideally, leaven) within the larger, more narrowly focused Green/Libertarian coalition.

Aeon Skoble runs through some more of the Greens’ key values and likewise finds them wanting:

1.Grassroots Democracy
“Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect their lives; no one should be subject to the will of another.”

This is self-contradictory. I agree that no one should be subject to the will of another, but that’s exactly the objection to democracy, under which we are all subject to the will of another anytime we’re outnumbered.

Martian Manhunter Well, yes, but of course “democracy” is a contested concept, and among radical left-wing proponents of “grassroots democracy” and “participatory democracy” it has been a frequently emphasised theme that political democracy as generally practised amounts to the rule of some over others, rather than being an embodiment of self-government. The radical left conception of democracy is, for that reason, precisely not usually majoritarian; after all, minority rights has arguably been the left’s defining issue for the past half-century at least. (It’s more often right-wingers, of the Borkist stripe, who are to be found extolling a majoritarian conception of democracy.) Now to be sure, left-wing democratic theorists have not reached agreement on exactly what a non-oppressive form of democracy should look like (will it require consensus? if so, does that mean unanimity? or can that requirement be avoided through decentralisation, letting each subgroup do its own thing? – take a look at the history of the New Left for sustained discussion of these issues), but they are certainly asking many of the right questions.

I’ve argued previously – drawing on Mises, Rothbard, and David Friedman – that libertarianism is the best embodiment of the left-wing democratic ideal, so rather than rehearsing those arguments here I’ll simply link.

Aeon again:

2. Ecological Wisdom
“Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society that utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation.”

Ok, but what are the resource limits? And what is the meaning of “sustainable”? That’s typically code for regulation and the precautionary principle.

“to this end we must have agricultural practices that replenish the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.”

“Must have” here seems to suggest (although I concede it need not) imposed rules.

Aeon’s objection here seems to be that this wording, while not inherently requiring statist methods, could be, and is indeed likely to be, interpreted by Greens as requiring such methods. Yes, of course. That’s not an objection to my position, it is my position: that Green values don’t require statist implementation but are nonetheless thought by most Greens to require statist implementation.

3.Social Justice and Equal Opportunity
“All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment.”

As Jason has noted, this economic outcome-egalitarianism is not at all consistent with libertarianism, or even Rawlsian liberalism for that matter, and reveals an underlying assumption that “society” is the true “owner” of all resources.

Aeon reads far more precision into this than I think is plausible. I doubt that the the author paused to ponder over the precise shade of difference between the Rawlsian “equal opportunity to benefit” and the un-Rawlsian “right to benefit equally” in constructing his or her hybrid phrase merging equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. And since every Green branch gets to word its key values as it chooses (one solution to the democracy problem), pondering the precise wording of this particular formulation as though it were some canonical text isn’t very productive. What’s being expressed here is not a rigid rule but a general aspiration, and I’ve already said why I think libertarianism in fact fulfills that aspiration.

“We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and heterosexism, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law.”

I know that this is the move Roderick wants to make about thick-versus-thin libertarianism, and I know that this is a key source of intra-libertarian dispute, even here at L&P. For now, though, let’s just note that the way it’s expressed here is sufficiently vague that we can’t tell whether it’s consistent with liberty or not.

I assume that in saying this principle is “vague” Aeon means that it could be implemented in either libertarian or un-libertarian ways (which of course it can). But I can’t see that that makes it vague; it just makes it generic. Because being a mammal is compatible with being either a cat or a horse, does it follow that the term “mammal” is too vague for us to determine whether being a mammal is compatible with being a cat?

4. Nonviolence
“It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to our current patterns of violence at all levels, from the family and the streets, to nations and the world. We will work to demilitarize our society and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments. We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote nonviolent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.”

This doesn’t seem too bad, although again the vagueness is worrisome. Does “demilitarize our society” mean we stop invading other countries, or that the 2nd Amendment can be disregarded? Generic “nonviolence” positions are worthless if they don’t make the moral distinction between aggression and defense.

Witch from Wizard of Oz movie Aeon writes as though in order to assess this principle we have to determine the original intent of the individual (or, more likely, committee) that drafted it. But I continue to think, with Spooner and Lyons, that what matters for meaning is not authorial intention but rather the intention of the instrument. The nonviolence principle is vague only in the same way that the Constitution’s “just compensation” clause is “vague,” namely not at all. Once again it’s simply generic, and the “right” way of specifying it is not “what the authors intended” (if indeed all the authors intended the same thing, which is often unlikely) but rather whichever way of specifying it is objectively most defensible.

5. Decentralization
“Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization.”

Yes, largely due to the state and the ways in which wealth buys political power. In a radically libertarian society, this would be mitigated, and in any case, this conclusion:

“Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions”

is radically inconsistent with liberty;

What? How? Don’t libertarians “support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions”? Gee, I thought we did!

again, there is the tacit assumption that markets are bad and that society is the proper owner of all resources, which may then be “distributed” in such a way as to achieve “social justice.”

“away from a system that is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few,”

That’s an argument against states, not wealth.

If Aeon’s claim is that most Greens are likely to think that the implementation of this principle requires coercive interference with the free market, then he’s not objecting to my position, he’s simply restating it, since in my original post I said “The Greens’ ten values are perfectly consistent with libertarianism, though the means chosen to achieve them may not always be.” So focusing on the already-agreed fact that Greens sometimes adopt statist means is a red herring. (A Green herring?)

On the other hand, if Aeon’s claim is that this principle could only have a statist implementation, that no defender of private property could endorse the concerns embodied in this statement, then his own comments seem to show otherwise.

In general, the chief problem with Greens is that often they can’t think of any non-statist way of implementing their ideals. It seems rather self-defeating for Libertarians to agree with them about this and say “Yeah, we can’t think of any non-statist way of implementing your crummy ideals either.”

“Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.”

Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it? Reconciling democratic decision-making with robust respect for rights (and here we see some artificial distinction between civil rights and property rights) has always been a tall order, and it only makes matters worse if you also think there should be egalitarian resource distribution.

First, as I’ve argued, it is precisely in the free market that democratic decision-making and robust respect for rights can be reconciled. Second, nothing in the text entails any distinction between civil rights and property rights. 

6.Community-Based Economics

I’m already lost. All economics is community-based. What theory of economics are we talking about here?

“We recognize it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living, for all people, while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a “living wage” which reflects the real value of a person’s work.”

Oh, now I see: a Marxist theory.

The Incredible Hulk Oh really? So non-Marxists are necessarily for meaningless work, without dignity, at a nonlivable wage? If Aeon really believes that, he’s just given a ringing endorsement of Marxism!

But I’m afraid I don’t share Aeon’s apparent enthusiasm for Marxism. I think one can be a libertarian and still favour meaningful work, with dignity, for a living wage. And I would add that the tendency among libertarians to react with knee-jerk aversion to such phrases is a large part of what contributes to the perception on the left that libertarians are cold-hearted shills for the ruling class.

“economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers’ rights, broad citizen participation in planning, and enhancement of our “quality of life”.”

Citizen participation in “planning”? That’s the market. Unless we’re talking about command-economy planning.

If Aeon is wondering what the authors of this principle were picturing in their heads when they wrote it, I would reckon that neither the free market nor the command economy was precisely in their minds. Instead I would reckon that they, or most of them, were envisioning some vague amalgamation of New England town meetings and café discussion groups. But I’m not interested in what pictures were going through the authors’ heads. As Aeon says, properly understood there’s no conflict between libertarianism and “citizen participation in planning.” My point exactly.

“We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible,”

Socially responsible meaning what? Not, I presume, in the Milton Friedman sense.

I should hope not, since I think Friedman’s position is indefensible. Even if Friedman’s imaginary contracts with shareholders existed, they would not relieve the contracting parties of their moral obligations.

So then they must mean that companies are only permitted if they mesh with the politically correct set of values and outcomes.

How on earth do we suddenly get from “we support X” to “only X is permitted”? Not by any rule of inference I know.

It’s important not to confuse the following two facts. They’re both true, but they’re distinct:

(1) Left-wing political programs often propose governmental means for achieving goals that libertarians think should be sought only by nongovernmental means.

(2) Left-wing political programs often set out a wide variety of social goals and ideals to be sought by a variety of means, not confined to governmental means.

When libertarians see a given goal listed in a left-wing political program, they tend to assume that the meaning of this must be that the goal in question is going to be pursued via statist means. Now given (1), this is certainly a possibility; with the left as it (mostly) is, statist means are usually at least on the table. But given (2), the appearance of a goal on the list certainly doesn’t entail that it is to be sought via statist means either. When such lists of lefty goals are drawn up, their authors usually don’t pause to sort out which are to be sought via legislation and which by education or nonstate organising.

As libertarians we often tend to assume that everyone else is as obsessed as we are with the choice between governmental and nongovernmental means. But for those who are prepared to regard either sort of means as potentially appropriate – which, alas, describes the left as it (mostly) is – this question is bound to seem less salient. Thus when Aeon asks, concerning this point or the others, “does this mean doing this by governmental means or nongovernmental means,” the answer usually is that it doesn’t mean either one. The leftist is generally open to either sort of means – and since the left hasn’t absorbed the libertarian understanding of the weaknesses of state provision and the strengths of market provision, the leftist will in practice tend to choose statist means fairly often – but the statism isn’t essential to the goal.

7. Feminism
“We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control, with more cooperative ways of interacting which respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.”


Another Orion Slavegirl Now if Aeon really thinks that the appearance of a goal on this list automatically entails that it is to be sought by statist means, then he shouldn’t say “Ok” to this. (I suspect on this point Aeon was just thinking “oh jeez, I don’t want to get into another wrangle with Roderick about feminism; let it pass.” ) Anyway, I here repeat my mantra: Is the average Green likely to choose statist means (or a set of means including some statist means) to achieving this goal? Yes. Is statism therefore essential to the concern expressed in this goal? No.

Incidentally, the line “the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want” shows that Greens aren’t indifferent to questions about means; they just haven’t yet understood the libertarian case for one particular restriction on means.

8. Respect for Diversity
“We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines.”

Sounds good, but let’s see where they go with it:

“We believe the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies”

Ah, so if the society is 37% Minority A, then 37% of all CEOs and surgeons and Senators and college professors must be Minority A?

Well, that sort of rigid formulaic approach is certainly one way of implementing the goal in question. But one can certainly share a commitment to ensuring greater diversity without being committed to that sort of silliness. (Of course if one wants to achieve this goal by state-mandated means, then rigid quotas and so on are the only way to do it. But: repeat mantra here.)

“we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles.”

I think they mean “people from ethnicities other members of which have in the past been closed out of…”

Jolly Green Giant I very much doubt that. I don’t see any Greens (despite their name!) plumping for greater representation of Irish people on the grounds that the Irish were previously discriminated against in the U.S. Their concern is pretty clearly for groups that are currently disadvantaged, discriminated against, or under-represented.

This is an anti-individualist way of thinking of people.

Why? If a doctor says she wants to help people with cancer, should she be labeled “anti-individualist” because she referred to a group characteristic? I don’t get it. It’s oppression and discrimination, not those who combat these things, that apply to individuals as members of certain groups.

“We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms and the preservation of biodiversity.”

While I think Spock was right not to want to kill the Horta, was not the Vampire Cloud also the only one of its kind? Some life forms are a threat to humanity. When respect for biodiversity becomes misanthropic, I draw the line.

I agree. But the passage Aeon is reacting to didn’t say “respect for other life forms and the preservation of biodiversity must take precedence over all other values including human life.” And while some environmentalists would sign on to the latter formulation, the vast majority would not.

9. Personal and Global Responsibility
“We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet.”

Sounds good, but there’s that expression “economic justice” again, which they seem to interpret not in free market terms but in terms of egalitarian redistribution.

“Economic justice” is of course a contested concept – not just contested between libertarians and lefties, but contested within the left itself. On my own view economic justice includes, but is broader than, respect for libertarian rights. (Aristotle’s distinction between general and special justice is relevant here – but getting into that would take a post of its own.) Most Libertarians would confine economic justice to libertarian rights alone, while most Greens would take economic justice to require departure from libertarian rights (sometimes because they build un-libertarian aspects into the concept of justice itself, sometimes because they regard un-libertarian means as necessary to achieve justice, and most often not distinguishing clearly between these two possibilities); I think both are one-sided on this question.

10.Future Focus and Sustainability

“Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or “unmaking” all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counter-balance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.” 

“Our” policies? Command economy? And how do we “assure” outcomes as prescribed here?

Aeon writes here as though advocacy of collective action can only mean coercive or state action. But I doubt he can really think this, since he participates in the libertarian movement, which is precisely a group effort to get large groups of people to change their minds about how to behave.

As Charles Johnson and I wrote in our libertarian feminism article, there’s a difference between forms of voluntary action that seek to “address a question of social coordination through conscious action … by calling on people to make choices with the intent of addressing the social issue” and those “in which the intent is some more narrowly economic form of satisfaction, and any effects on social coordination (for good or for ill) are unintended consequences.” The latter is clearly “market” activity, while state legislation is clearly “political” activity; but the former might be described with either label. In any case, the former has no necessary connection with violence, and nothing in this 10th value says anything about violent means.

That’s 1 out of 10. I fail to see how this platform can even remotely be shoehorned into libertarianism. The author of this platform fundamentally fails to see how markets work, or how liberty is indivisible, or how democratic institutions are in conflict with rights, or what it means for rights to be compossible.

Piccolo from Dragonball Z Well, if every time you see a goal listed that could in principle be implemented via statist or nonstatist means, you always interpret it so as to build the choice of statist means into the goal, then of course you’re going to get something incompatible with libertarianism. But I’m mystified as to why a libertarian would employ such a statist principle of interpretation. It would surely be more productive to use the decentralisation and nonviolence planks as wedges against statist interpretations of the other planks.

If Roderick can convince someone who holds all these views to actually respect individual liberty and not be aggressive, he’s the best salesman since Ron Popeil.

Well, that’s easy. I hold all those views, I subscribe enthusiastically to all the values on that list, and I’m a libertarian. So I’ve convinced at least one such person.

But moving beyond the first-person case, I can certainly say this much: I know plenty of people with broadly Green values who were initially hostile to libertarianism because they associated it with the knee-jerk anti-leftism prevalent among the only libertarians they’d encountered; and while they didn’t necessarily become libertarians they became much more friendly and open-minded toward libertarianism once they found out about the existence of the flavour of libertarianism I espouse. Click here for an example of the sort of thing that is thankfully becoming more and more common.

In any case, it’s puzzling for Aeon to put up so much resistance to the combination of Green and Libertarian values when he shares with me an attachment to what might initially seem the still more daunting alliance of Libertarianism with Aristoteleanism.

Anthony Gregory writes:

Greens believe all sorts of things, with anti-conservatism being their main, unifying purpose. The ten core principles appeal to a wide variety of people precisely because they are so vague and even self-contradictory. You get more anarchist-leaning Greens as well as ambitious central planners, and, because of the culture war and obfuscatory left-right divide in American politics, they all get along relatively well with not much more of a common belief than that the Republicans are the root of all evil and the Democrats are not much better.

Some Greens will be open to libertarian arguments and are potential converts. Others are a lost cause.

As usual, I agree with Anthony (except for the part about the ten core principles being self-congradictory).

Gus diZerega writes:

A great many Greens/environmentalists who once were skeptical of market based solutions are much less so now. My own work made a difference for some, including some fairly important ones, or so they have told me.

On the other hand, orthodox libertarians and their allies such as PERC and so-called classical liberals have generally refused to enter into good faith dialogue with Green points of view.


My second example is the utter garbage published on the right about global warming. … Rather than taking a nuanced view or seeking to find the least coercive approaches to adddressing the problem the general response among classical liberals has been to make ad hominem attacks on scientists’ motives. Just as they do with enviromentalists.

Again, amen. On the issue of global warming I remain agnostic because I suspect both sides are taking their positions for the wrong reasons (see here and here), but I’m sick of seeing each side malign the other side’s honesty.

The common ground libertarians and greens can find will not be found in pushing pure market institutions because such institutions are geared to feedback entirely originated within the relations of consumers and producers, disconnected from natural cycles. But it is a strange definition of freedom that finds it beginning and ending there.

Where there IS common and fruitful ground to explore concerns institutions rooted in civil society, such as land trusts, community based watershed restoration groups, and other voluntary organizations that can make use of but are not subordinated to market price signals.

Here too I agree. Many libertarians will reach for their revolvers at Gus’s rejection of reliance solely upon “pure market institutions,” but remember the distinction I cited above between forms of voluntary association that aim at social coordination through conscious action and intent and forms that aim at profit and promote social cooperation only indirectly. There is a broad sense of “market” in which both these forms count as market forms, and a narrow sense of “market” in which only the latter does. Gus’s suggestion that we shouldn’t rely solely on “pure market institutions” needn’t be read as an invocation of the state; it need only mean that market approaches of the latter sort need to be supplemented by market approaches of the former sort – and that I certainly agree with.

Of course Gus and I have a longstanding disagreement as to whether Madisonian democracy counts as a nasty “state” (says I) or a benign “spontanoeus order” (says he), so we would probably disagreement about the implementation of our area of common agreement; but disagreement about implementation doesn’t negate the principle.

The real issue to my mind is that Greens are ultimately issue oriented – which is why they are willing to entertain market friendly approaches when they hear them expressed in a way showing respect for their concerns – whereas most on the classical liberal/free market/PERC side have little sympathy with Green concerns and seek only to make converts to their ideology by weaning them away from taking these issues seriously. Greens are not stupid.

She-Hulk Again, amen. And the point that “Greens are ultimately issue oriented” goes along with my claim that for most Greens, while statist means may be chosen in pursuit of their goals, statist means are not built into the goals.

Anarcho-capitalism depends on a legal system that relies on enforcing property rights being able to internalize all significant negative externalities. Otherwise some are aggressed upon by the actions of others against which they have no legal recourse.

It can be hard to do this well, but it can be hard for government to do this well too. I don’t see why market anarchism is at a disadvantage in this area.

If the seriousness of the impact is what matters, it does not matter whether I am injured by the collective emission of one person with enormous power to pollute, or the collective emissions of millions, perhaps billions, of people each of whom has an insignificant power to pollute, but whom collectively can do real damage. They can also injure not only innocent others, they also can injure themselves. But if, knowing this, any individual stopped emitting CO2 pollution, it would have no impact because every individual’s impact is negligible. This is the ultimate free rider problem. … For the life of me, I can think of no solution to this issue in a anarcho-capitalist world.

Gus seems to assume that no market anarchist order would prosecute people for making tiny, incremental contributions to harmful results. But I don’t see why not. Market anarchists disagree with one another as to whether such lawsuits would be legitimate; there’s no “orthodox” or “canonical” position on this matter. And real-life stateless or near-stateless legal systems have often allowed for class-action suits, or suits on behalf of the public – legitimately so, in my opinion. So assuming arguendo that drastic reduction of CO2 emissions is necessary to avoid catastrophic global warming, I don’t see why an anarchist legal order couldn’t handle the problem as well as government. Better, in fact, since with government there’s only one legal agent that the polluter needs to bribe to escape accountability, whereas under anarchy there are prohibitively many.

Democracies are not states, except in a purely legal sense. This is why they do not act like states internationally. Most importantly, democracies do not fight other democracies, nor do they kill large numbers of their own citizens.

Fredric Brown's Martians Go Home Well, democracies do a pretty good job of acting like states in their relations with non-democracies. One reason they don’t attack each other as much is that democracies tend to be more prosperous than non-democracies so it’s riskier to attack one; I think Hoppe is largely right about that. Still, it happens; most of the “non-democratic” participants in World War I, for example, were in fact largely democratic. Many of the third-world countries in which the U.S. has intervened were also largely democratic, or at least more democratic before the intervention than after. And then of course there’s the U. S. Civil War. If you regard the Union and the Confederacy as separate nations, then we have a war between two democracies. If you regard the Confederacy as an unsuccessful aspirant to separate status, then the Union was a democracy that killed large numbers of its own citizens. Also, a democratic regime can vote itself into non-democracy and then kill lots of its own citizens, as in the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi regime. So I remain unconvinced by the democratic peace hypothesis.

Robinson Crusoe didn’t need property rights till Friday came along.

Maybe he didn’t need them, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have them.

But if courts compete, why should both side to a dispute be compelled to agree as to which court they go to? Courts presumably need to dfifferentiate themselves to market their services, and in the differentiation, canny litigants can guess where they will receive a hearing most to their liking. Two canny litigants are therefore unlikely to agree as to which court to consult, especially if one benefits from the status quo. And if they do not agree, doesn’t the possible aggressor win by default?

If they are forced to go to a particular court, isn’t that the equivalent of a government? … On what grounds can an accused person be incarcerated when he or she claims innocence, unless it be by the equivalent of government action that is indistinguishable from government?

Hashing out the merits of anarchism would unduly expand this already swollen post; but on the issues Gus raises, see my debate with Bidinotto here, here, and here.

For example, Murray Rothbard’s “solution” to air pollution was either too stringent (ban ALL pollution and thereby closing down industrial society because our bodily boundaries were violated by someone’s emissions) OR useless (ban only pollution where an individual polluter could be located and sued, making CFCs and auto pollution incapable of being effectively addressed due to prohibitive organizing and information costs.

Rothbard’s concept of the “relevant technological unit” (for discussion see B. K. Marcus’s piece here) forestalls the first option; I don’t see why the costs involved in the second are more prohibitive than in the governmental case, especially given the perverse informational and incentival constraints driving up costs in the latter sphere.

Otto M. Kerner says (to Gus):

[I]t sounds as if you want radical libertarians to moderate their positions. But, this is not the sort of alliance that I’m interested in

Maybe Gus does want that, but I don’t.

Okay, this is a very long post. I’ll stop now.

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11 Responses to Greensleeves Was All My Joy

  1. Sergio Méndez November 24, 2006 at 6:59 pm #

    Fantastic post. As far I can tell, count me on the people who were leftists with a very poor image of libertarians and has been convinced of the value of libertarian thought reading people like you…as much as my testimony counts for anything.

    P:D The only objection I have to this post is…Why didn´t you put an image of Yoda, my little green friend?

  2. Matthew November 24, 2006 at 8:23 pm #

    “Gus seems to assume that no market anarchist order would prosecute people for making tiny, incremental contributions to harmful results.”

    I wrote a column for my paper on this idea recently. Here it is

    For those not willing to click the link, I basically said that people should form a voluntary society and pay a cost for their own emissions, putting the money into mitigation (planting trees) health care (lung problems) and research on alternative fuels.

    Then they should sue the shit out of anyone who doesn’t pay their share, starting with big polluters and working down to individual drivers.

  3. X. Trapnel November 25, 2006 at 2:20 am #

    Yes, indeed–absolutely wonderful post. You’re a constant inspiration.

    I was helping some Greens campaign up in Portland, ME, and it sounded like at least some of them got this. Here’s hoping!

  4. Sheldon Richman November 25, 2006 at 2:13 pm #

    “On my own view economic justice includes, but is broader than, respect for libertarian rights.”

    Some specifics, please.

  5. Administrator November 25, 2006 at 5:37 pm #

    To Sergio and X. Trapnel: Thanks!

    Oh, and please feel free to post those comments in the L&P comments section too; over there they seem to think that potentially libertarian-friendly leftists are a figment of my imagination, and it would be nice to show them some contrary evidence.

    Re Yoda – well, I also left out Tars Tarkas, Jade, and the Brainiacs. No doubt there’ll be another Green-related post in the future ….

    To Matthew: Excellent idea!!! And a nice instance of “building alternative institutions.”

    To Sheldon: See toward the end of this post.

  6. MDM November 25, 2006 at 10:29 pm #

    Great post. I doubt you will be suprised that I am in substantial agreement with you. As you know, I was one of those leftists and now I’m a left-libertarian. And I can report that many of my leftist friends are much more sympathetic to my brand of libertarianism (at least when I’m in the room).

    As for green/libertarian fusion. I recently taught environmental philosophy using David Schmidtz’s textbook (highly recommended!). We also read Gus DiZerega’s work (his critique of Bookchin is especially good) and I did some political economy (price theory, externalities, public choice stuff, etc.). The students really liked it. The emphasis was more on Schmidtzian/DiZeregan green classical liberalism, then left-green market anarchism, but it’s a start!

  7. quasibill November 27, 2006 at 10:39 am #

    Simply excellent post – I meant to comment on Aeon’s comments at L&P, but never got around to organizing my response. Now it seems my response would have been, to put it kindly, entirely unneccessary and relatively feeble. I think this post needs to be published somewhere for wider circulation (I know it was at L&P, but there are a couple of other outlets, too).

    Count me as a former left-moderate who rejected the Republican flavored libertarianism that is in the mainstream. It wasn’t until I got past those inconsistent buffoons that I “converted”.

  8. SocraticGadfly March 12, 2019 at 1:01 pm #

    I hugely doubt small-l, let alone capital-:L libertarians could cooperate on anything related to climate change. And, I’m from the eco-socialist division of Greens and Green-leaners, keeping an eye on the SPUSA for a possible leap.

    Oh, on the philosophy? Amateur here, but with undergrad and grad classes as part of a graduate divinity degree. Humean/neo-Cynic here.

    • Roderick March 13, 2019 at 4:43 am #

      At the time I wrote this post (over twelve years ago), I still had one foot in party politics. I’m now mostly interested in non-state modes of social activism — — so the question of whether cooperation between Libertarian-party and Green-party activists is feasible has less bite for me now. Still interested in green/libertarian synthesis at the level of nonstate activism, though:


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