Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Re: Property Requirements for Voting and Other Misguided Ideas

Here is a sadly amusing reply to my comment over at that dogmatic libertarian blog:
"Sounds like Marxist claptrap to me. I even note you included a proletariat backstory to lend authenticity to your views. Also, why is justice in quotes?
Anyone disagree?”

This is the type of silliness, dogmatism, and ignorance within certain Austro-libertarian circles that saddens me.  As you all may know, this characterization of my views is pretty comical.  It’s unfortunate that diversity of views and informed discussion and debate is shunned by these factions within the “libertarian tent.”  Here is my response:

Wow, I can honestly say that I have never been called a "Marxist" before.  Although certainly not on my bucket list, I guess I owe you thanks for helping me check that one off.

First, the back story is not to lend authenticity to my views.  I could have picked any two different individuals from vastly different communities with vastly different backstories to make the same point.

Second, I put *justice* in quotation marks not intending to use scare quotes, but to emphasize that justice is an interpretive concept susceptible to differing conceptions and in need of moral argumentation in support of the conception put forth.  Perhaps I should have used italics instead.  My apologies.

Third, in order to assuage your concerns vis-a-vis a Marxist conspiracy, I will simply note that the problems associated with the human condition (moral fallibility, cognitive biases, limited information) is front and center in the political theory of John Locke.  Cognitive biases is what Locke is after in discussing the problems associated with persons "being a judge in their own case."  Fast forward a few centuries to the point I was making above in response to the claim that only property owners should be afforded the franchise: if I know that persons' conceptions of justice are skewed by their cognitive biases, thereby downplaying my interests in favor of their own (even if granting them good faith), it is unjustifiable to enforce those laws against me in which I had no say in their process of promulgation, i.e., those laws in which I was denied participation.  This is because these laws are necessarily skewed in favor of those who took part in the law-making process. 

Moreover, although this problem is acute in a pluralistic political unit in which people fundamentally disagree over the principles of justice and the good life, it is also a problem in more homogenous societies.  So even if we assume a libertarian political community in which all the citizens agree on the fundamental principles of justice (liberty as noninterference, Lockean homesteading, vast contractual rights, etc.), people would *still* disagree over the contours of these rights and their application.  For example, what is the status of risky or threatening behavior?  If I choose to play Russian roulette with your head and the chamber that comes up happens to be empty, would I have "interfered" with your liberty?  And if so, what of other risky or threatening behavior?  Does driving 65 mph rise to this level of risk/threats?  Does 75?  How about 95mph?  Most importantly, who decides?  In light of cognitive biases, moral fallibility, and limited information, I will not simply trust you and a small group to make the proper decisions.  I will demand a say in the process. 

Another example in case you are unconvinced.  As noted by David Friedman and Loren Lomasky, the rather miniscule 'interferences' in property and causal determinants of 'interference' raise questions of what is an *impermissible* interference.  Driving a car that releases substances that are causally contributory to cancer and other diseases is an interference.  So is shining a flashlight onto someone's property.  Are these *interferences* to be proscribed in the libertarian society?  The answers are not obvious and reasonable libertarian philosophers and citizens alike disagree.  The basic point is that these determinations do not read off of "the libertarian ideal" in a straightforward deductive way.  Nevertheless, a decision *must* be made: are we to forbid these actions or allow them?  Because a decision must be taken, a decision procedure is required.  This is where the democratic ideal comes into play: in light of the human condition (cognitive biases, moral fallibility, limited information) individual citizens are entitled to a say in the process of decision-making if they are to be obliged to abide by the system of laws and property rights in existence in the libertarian political society.

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