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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17188/against-a-ruthless-libertarian-criticism-of-everything-existing/

Against A Ruthless Libertarian Criticism of Everything Existing

June 3, 2011 by

Jeff’s post below inspired some lively discussion. I think that those who Steve Horwitz calls “one-drop libertarians”–those for whom a single drop of association with the state is cause for immediate dismissal of anything that is otherwise a manifestation of free market forces–are missing the point in a couple of ways.

First, consider Las Vegas. Here’s Jeff Tucker’s take from FreedomFest last summer. Vegas is one of my favorite cities because it illustrates just what people can accomplish. Vegas is probably where it is in part because of policies that have distorted markets for water and land, but Vegas still represents a lower bound on what we could achieve if we didn’t have so many hurdles to jump over or taxes, subsidies, and regulations distorting action.

Second, purity tests can lead us to absurd conclusions. Even if you decided to become a hermit, some of the air you would breathe and water you would drink would be air and water that was, somewhere and somehow, cleaned as a result of some kind of government mandate. Whether the state also pollutes is, in this case, irrelevant. Galt’s Gulch might seem like a road to libertarian purity, but think again: when you breathe state-cleaned air and drink state-cleaned water, you’re breathing and drinking communism. Think you’re not living for the sake of another or asking another to live for yours? That’s nice. Enjoy your next deep breath, comrade.

To turn this from absurdity to scholarship, I think the point one-drop libertarians are missing is just how radically different the way firms like Wal-Mart and Taco Bell made their money is from how people have gotten rich historically. A mix of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Era” series and the discussion of limited access and open access social orders by Douglass North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry Weingast makes me appreciate this even more. The novel thing about modern commercial society is not that Wal-Mart and Taco Bell are occasional (or even regular) beneficiaries of state largesse but that they made their money through production and trade rather than slavery and other forms of expropriation and exploitation.

I forget who said this, but the appropriate question isn’t “where did slavery come from” but “where did freedom come from?” American history is a study in contradiction, with one of the most obvious being that some of the men who signed their names to a document proclaiming that all men are created equal also owned some of these alleged equal men as chattels. And yet the really remarkable thing was the absolutely radical notion not merely that all men are created equal, but that this truth was self-evident. At an IHS seminar I taught at in 2009, the Institute for Justice’s Robert McNamara said something that will stick with me forever, not word-for-word but at least in paraphrase: we Americans have not always lived up to our ideals, but we have always had ideals worth living up to.

Adam Smith was right that “there is much ruin in a nation,” but the ratio of ruin to dignity, liberty, and prosperity has fallen dramatically over the last couple of centuries. The one-drops are missing the point by ignoring this. Yes, we would be wealthier and freer without agricultural subsidies and eminent domain, we would certainly avoid a lot of injustice, and we would probably eat different (and healthier) diets. The remarkable fact, though, is that Taco Bell and Wal-Mart make the lion’s share of their money not by stealing, enslaving, or buying monopoly privileges from a powerful ruler, but by buying and selling things people want in competitive markets. That’s what sets them apart from organizations in traditional rent-seeking societies.

Wal-Mart, for example, hired its first lobbyist in 1998 in part because threats to free trade are threats to the firm’s existence.* What worries me isn’t that that Wal-Mart, Yum! Brands, and other firms have extensive lobbying operations. What worries me is that they would be destroyed if they didn’t.

Finally, a few people touched on this in the comment thread on Jeff’s post, and I hope Steve Horwitz takes this up in one of his FEE columns. It would also make a great paper. In a society soaked with interventionism, how are we to know what the prices would be or what the structure of production would look like without the interventions? We can probably make some adjustments on some margins, but we run into the calculation problem explored by Mises and Hayek. Can we know the prices that would have emerged in the absence of interventionism? If not, what are we to use as guides to action?

*-See Emek Basker’s 2007 paper “The Causes and Consequences of Wal-Mart’s Growth” in the Journal of Economic Perspectives for a summary. The lobbyist info is mentioned page 193.


Wildberry June 3, 2011 at 9:43 am


This and Jeff’s piece were refreshing reminders of the importance of distinguishing between one thing and another.

If we are to lead ourselves out of the decline you rightly observe as characterizing our times, we must be capable of looking past the “purity test” to see what is good and right in things, even though they may not be absolutely so.

This, in my view, is where freedom comes from.

Wildberry June 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

This and Jeff’s piece were refreshing reminders of the importance of distinguishing between one thing and another.

If we are to lead ourselves out of the decline you rightly observe as characterizing our times, we must be capable of looking past the “purity test” to see what is good and right in things, even though they may not be absolutely so.

This, in my view, is where freedom comes from.

Hari Michaelson June 3, 2011 at 9:50 am


I wholeheartedly agree with you, as well as Jeff. However, I would like to illustrate an issue that I’ve come across often. When I’m discussing libertarian theory with liberals, I change my tactics. I tend to focus on the market distortions that liberals (rightly so) find objectionable. One of those objections typically deals with mammoth corporations and the huge income disparity in the country. Now, as a true anarcho-capitalist, I have no objection to big corporations or income disparity. If they are the result of government coercion, I believe that we should point that out (as the mises institute often does).

A quick glance at the top 10 for the fortune 500 yields these results:
Wal-Mart Stores
Exxon Mobil
Fannie Mae
General Electric
Berkshire Hathaway
General Motors
Bank of America
Ford Motor

Wal-Mart is the only company on this list that does not benefit from direct government intervention. It is absolutely incredible that Fannie Mae can even be on this list. In the heat of the moment, it becomes tempting to include all corporations when rightly excoriating some them. As a passionate lover of liberty and freedom, I sometimes find myself using the same collective thinking that I despise. Example: “All corporations are evil because the corporation is a government creation. All financial companies are evil because the government controls the price of money and the barriers of entry.”

It is very dangerous to paint with a wide brush, and I think that’s what often happens with libertarians who find fault in everything and everyone.

matt June 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

I’ll put myself out there as a case study. I easily fall on the net taker side of the ledger. I claimed a $36k tax credit for adopting three special needs children. I could have, on moral grounds, not claimed the credit. I also receive a $1200/month payment (tax free thank you very much) from the State of Texas to aid in their care. I would have adopted these three boys without either benefit, I see that as my personal duty to humanity (funny how humans can figure that out without govt compulsion). I served in the Marine Corps for 4 years “protecting your freedom” (read as playing cards and drinking beer with occasional breaks to sit at a desk in an air conditioned office in Japan and North Carolina) receiving pay, clothing, housing and medical care (burst appendix, broken foot, broken finger and wisdom teeth pulled). After that I claimed my GI Bill along with subsidized loans to pay for my education that, again, I would have paid for out of my own pocket (when you dream of being an accountant you don’t let any mountain stand in your way). Now certainly the ledger is offset by the state not having to pay to care for what are now my three sons and Newt Gingrich was safe to launch his republican revolution while I was keeping him safe so the balance is lower than what detail above but again I am a taker.
So there is no benefit in criticizing my choices? Is there no moral hazard? Yes Taco Bell makes money via trade and mutual exchange just as I do. If Taco Bell and I make slightly better choices the support structure for the subsidies erodes. Religous people tithe because the message that tithing is good, therefore not tithing is bad, is reinforced constantly. Organic locavores did not spontaneously erupt, messages were sent and received. If you get Taco Bell to adopt some small concessions, no tax increment financing, whatever, you can make a step towards removing that piece of statism.

Since there is no revolution imminent then the battle for liberty will have to be as incremental as its erosion.

nate-m June 3, 2011 at 10:26 am

When the state takes money away from you in the first place it’s not that big of a deal to get some of it back when you doing a good thing.

Bob June 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

Agreed–and paraphrasing Rothbard, how can it be bad to take property from a criminal enterprise?

matt June 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm

If all people had the ability to reclaim economic or personal liberty stolen by the state it would be a non-issue. It is the unequal theft and reclamation of liberty that is problematic. We would all be the goldfish saying “what water?”

Art Carden June 3, 2011 at 10:33 am

Something I just posted in a Facebook discussion:

It isn’t that Wal-Mart and Taco Bell are special. It’s that they are, for the most part, manifestations of social processes most people don’t appreciate or understand. The constraints have changed, and massively, in the last couple of centuries. For most of history, life was nasty, brutish, and short. The relative shift from expropriation and redistribution to production and exchange gave us Wal-Mart and Taco Bell–organizations that are, for all their warts, vastly superior to lives of poverty and starvation. My point–and I suspect Jeffrey Tucker’s, though I don’t want to presume to speak for him–isn’t about Wal-Mart or Taco Bell or Apple or Coca-Cola specifically. It’s about what we have been able to achieve by rolling back state intervention to the extent that we have, seeing how far it has carried us from primitivism, and then imagining the mind-boggling and unlimited possibilities that could be realized if we moved even further away from coercion and toward cooperation.

Tony Fernandez June 3, 2011 at 11:08 am

The pretenders claim that without these subsidies that these companies could not exist. Maybe they would not be as large as they are, but how can we know with any certainty that they could not exist? The claims are nonsensical. No one can possibly know these things. If we could then central planning would work. But then again, isn’t that what they believe?

nate-m June 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm

The only accurate statement you can make is:

If the circumstances governing the current current reality was different, then things would be different.

Maybe Taco Bell would exist, but instead of being called Taco Bell it would be called ‘Glam Rock Chicken’ and tacos would still be called tacos, but they would really be hand-shaped pastries filled with fried olives.

Mark Luedtke June 3, 2011 at 11:32 am

I think this “one-drop” characterization is a straw man. Just because people can only see one drop and can only name one drop, they know that corporations and government are tied together in thousands of ways that protect the corporations from competition and enable both the corporations and the government to loot the people. Only one drop may be seen, but there’s thousands of unseen connections, and it makes perfect sense for libertarians to rail against those connections.

Grant June 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Amen brotha! Down with corporatism, no matter what the degree!

DixieFlatline June 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm

This is just a bunch of people talking past each other. The LLs say that the firms would not exist as they are today, and the Austrians argue that they exist in spite of the state.

Two different arguments.

matt June 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm

So then the official Austrian take is that while the state is present using the state to gain any possible advantage even if that perpetuates the state is permissable? Let me be the first to withdraw from the club.
No, what is being argued here is that “everyone does it and based on that it is acceptable” that has nothing to do with Austrian economics, that is pragmatism and I have no problem with that but those who eschew pragmatism in search of fundamental change should not be derided. Pragmatism in these cases eliminates any need for urgency.

DixieFlatline June 3, 2011 at 11:30 pm

So then the official Austrian take is that while the state is present using the state to gain any possible advantage even if that perpetuates the state is permissable? Let me be the first to withdraw from the club.

Matt, that is actually the stance of some Austrians like Walter Block.

I think it is morally and intellectually bankrupt.

Adam Berkowicz June 4, 2011 at 4:21 am

Actually, I believe Block’s argument is that one can be morally justified in taking money from the state so long as he or she is actively engaged in working to tear it down. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it isn’t so cut and dry as to simply gain an advantage.

Tom Knapp June 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where Block is on things — whether he’s making an incredibly deep argument, or just yanking our chain.

At one point circa 2008, he didn’t just give support for the state a pass, he publicly postulated it (in the form of support for a particular presidential candidate — three guess which one and you won’t need two of those guesses) as a “litmus test” of libertarianism.

Jim P. June 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I have some real reservations about this whole “scrupulosity” episode. I thought it was maybe excessive for Jeff to call this random Brandon guy out, personally, on little ol’ Mises Blog here. That was one thing. But it was a good vehicle to an important discussion. OK.

But it was outright bad form when I saw it posted on LewRockwell.com today. (this struck me as odd also, because vastly worse articles appear regularly on LRC.) It was just some guy on the internet making points that were at least semi-legitimate. He’s not Paul Krugman, you know.

When any business has an inappropriate advantage due to government intervention, that should be recognized and is obviously open to criticism. Brandon, whether right or wrong, was simply pointing out what he thought was wrong on the part of Taco Bell. So what. He didn’t reject the free-market. He didn’t call Taco Bell an instrument of totalitarian socialism. He just pointed out a few reasonable concerns.

He said nothing that warrants being called, laughably, a “one-drop libertarian.” That exaggerated, made-up slander apparently kicks a libertarian out of the club. Saying “you’re not a real libertarian then!” is unbecoming of Mises.org. It tends to crush debate, and that isn’t helping anybody to or develop their own ideas.

I’m reminded of this quote by the “mild-libertarian” Milton Friedman:
“Anyone who is persuaded in one evening is not really persuaded. He can be converted by the next person of opposite views with whom he spends an evening. The only person who can truly persuade you is yourself. You must turn the issues over in your mind at leisure, consider the many arguments, let them simmer, and after a long time turn your preferences into convictions.”

What on earth does have to do with practicing individualism? We’re all learning and testing our ideas and thinking. This whole discussion has taken on an air of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I must call Bullshit.

Kid Salami June 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm


“Saying “you’re not a real libertarian then!” is unbecoming of Mises.org.”

“Unbecoming”? As far as I can see, this is official policy.

Roderick T. Long June 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm

This argument for loving Walmart seems like an equally good (or bad) reason for loving the u.s. postal monopoly. After all, isn’t mail delivery a good thing? And isn’t mail delivery how the postal monopoly makes its money? But an important context of state violence isn’t being taken into account.

Black Bloke June 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Isn’t the distinction that they’ll (Carden, Tucker, Kinsella, etc.) make that the USPS is a government granted monopoly, while the others are simply orgs that might be legitimate businesses except for a few peccadilloes?

If Taco Bell etc. had a monopoly then they might find the analogy apt, but I figure that the difference will be enough to ignore it.

Concerned Friend June 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm

My thoughts, after reading all the related blog posts and resulting comments/discussions/debates:
Coercion ruins everything.

Roderick T. Long June 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Maybe so, but “those for whom a single drop of association with the state is cause for immediate dismissal of anything that is otherwise a manifestation of free market forces” is a strawman description. Hardly anyone fits that description, but it’s being used as if it applied to those of us who (IMHO) are trying to make a much more nuanced point.

Grant June 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

“…Taco Bell…make[s] the lion’s share of their money not by stealing, enslaving, or buying monopoly privileges from a powerful ruler, but by buying and selling things people want in competitive markets.”

Competitive market, my ass. How much money do you think Coke and Pepsi have spent lobbying the government to enact legislation that has a role in eliminating competition?

PepsiCo went to the government saying Coke was unfairly competing Italy. (Coke’s brand name insured that it would need to be stocked; PepsiCo not so big in Europe.)”And Coke dismisses the claim that it has been trying to limit competitors’ access to the market and says the discounts it allows are ‘common practice within the industry’ and ‘are indicative of the competitive nature of the market’”.

Poor PespiCo, owner of Taco Bell. Trying to break into the European market by using state coercion.They’ve earned their money through using the government to further their anti-competitive practices and even for direct subsidies. Both were allowed by government to market to enslaved public school populations for generations. They’ve lobbied that their products (over beer and wine, which is arguably healthier in moderation than soda) be a purchasable item with government food stamp subsidies, the money for which was forced from taxpayers.

Fast food is not representative of a free-market approach. It’s so far removed that I can’t believe it’s being posted to Mises. Move on to something that is more representative.

Brandon Holmes June 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

My point exactly Grant.

Jim P. June 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

The point that Tucker and Carden are making is valid too. They’re pointing out the ability of businesses to operate, albeit in a hampered fashion, despite the efforts of government. Competitive businesses do the best they can with what they’ve got. Unfortunately, what they’ve often “got” is government force. Jeff Tucker is correctly pointing to this as the root problem. At least, that’s my short version of it. Don’t go expecting businesses to be somehow “moral” in some “libertarian world” any more than you expect individuals to be. This is not a utopian ideology. The idea is that they can’t use force to compete. That’s all.

I think Danny Sanchez makes the point best in his blog post on this far-too-beaten subject. Fast food IS representative of a free market approach. See his post for why.

I do agree, however, with those who point out that despite the good that those companies do, they are not beyond criticism for the Statism that they support. I can’t see where any of Brandon’s concerns were the least bit unreasonable – even if you disagree with the correctness of them (as I do on some). This whole episode here is a little divisive and odd.

Tom Knapp June 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm

So far as I can tell, “one-drop libertarians” are non-existent, or at least very rare, and being used here as a proxy target for left-libertarians who take note of certain historical facts and muse that perhaps different inputs would have produced different outputs.

As an example, might as well go to the “Big Hated Box Store,” Wal-Mart.

I don’t see it as “hating on Wal-Mart” to note that absent one of the largest state subsidies in US history — Eisenhower’s “Defense Interstate Highway System” — Wal-Mart would probably not look at all like it does today.

If Interstate 44 was still Route 66, etc., Sam Walton’s strategy of concentrated large-scale bulk buying at a deep discount and distribution to widely dispersed retail points via his own fleet of 18-wheelers wouldn’t have grown his business from a small midwestern discount store chain into the largest company on earth.

He might have found some other way to grow, but the historical fact is that’s the way he DID find to grow. That doesn’t make Wal-Mart evil, but neither does it make critics of the system that nurtured its particular mode of flourishing assholes.

Jim P. June 3, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Indeed. You could also ask the question, What the hell was Walmart supposed to do? Pretend that the highways DIDN’T exist? Just to avoid libertarian infighting?

But at the same time, were some fictional alternate-dimension future so lucky as to have avoided government roads and highways entirely, it seems clear that the Market would have found a way to do what Sam Walton managed to do anyway, but in a different manifestation.

Tom Knapp June 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm

“were some fictional alternate-dimension future so lucky as to have avoided government roads and highways entirely, it seems clear that the Market would have found a way to do what Sam Walton managed to do anyway, but in a different manifestation.”

Per some quasi-Marxist “theory of inevitable historical progression,” perhaps. In the real world, the answer to the question is “what would retail marketing look like today absent massive state transportation subsidies” is “we don’t know.”

In fairness, the tendency to resort to baseless historical inevitability claims isn’t a monopoly of bourgeois “the only possible difference is that I’d make my check out to ‘Acme Road Services’ instead of to ‘Department of Revenue’” libertarians. The hippy-dippy-doo “we’d all eat local, manufacture our own iPads and only trade distantly for our beloved Birkenstocks” crowd is just as guilty.

Jim P. June 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I wasn’t trying to predict the (made-up alternate) future. I just meant that people tend to find ways to meet their needs and wants with or without Eisenhower.

billwald June 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Sam Walton got his start big time by flying over rural areas in a light plane to find intersections of roads that were a reasonable shopping distance from three or more small towns and building a store to service the three towns. Anyone could have gotten that idea but he was the one who ran with it. Good for him!

Tom Knapp June 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

“were some fictional alternate-dimension future so lucky as to have avoided government roads and highways entirely, it seems clear that the Market would have found a way to do what Sam Walton managed to do anyway, but in a different manifestation.”

Per some bizarre quasi-Marxist “theory of inevitable historical evolution,” maybe. In the real world, the answer to what would have happened absent government roads is “we don’t know.”

In fairness, of course, “we don’t know” applies equally to hippie-dippie-doo predictors of a decentralized, local-trade, micro-manufacturing society in which the only common feature is Birkenstock sandals as it does to bourgeois “the only difference is that I’d make my check out to ‘Acme Defense and Security’ instead of ‘Department of Revenue’” types.

Sheldon Richman June 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I really can’t see what’s wrong with reminding people how pervasive the corporate State is, since it is routinely overlooked. If from that someone infers a hatred of commerce, I would challenge the inference because it is absurd on its face. The complaint isn’t about commerce. The complaint is about the State.

Jim P. June 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Exactly. He was actually lamenting the State interfering with commerce. Seemed pretty reasonable to me.

billwald June 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm

“Vegas is one of my favorite cities because it illustrates just what people can accomplish.”

What the Mob can accomplish? Maybe we should cut out the middle man (the elected government) and let the Mob officially run the country.

Gil June 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Presumably the Mafia have to be more accomplished what with being a small government competitor.

Brandon Holmes June 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I posted on the other thread and should not here too that I respect the work of Tucker, Carden, and Kinsella and I’m sympathetic to the need to keep the argument focused on the state. I reject the idea of libertarian purity tests to separate the ‘mild’ from the ‘real’ libertarians. As Carden says above, purity tests lead to absurd conclusions, like “random internet guy hates all business and doesn’t deserve the title of libertarian.”

Libertarians hate the state, but I think we all have a few issues that really get us fired up: some hate it because it won’t let them have guns, some hate it because it won’t let them move freely about, some hate it because it fosters war and destruction, some hate it because they really like to smoke pot and it’s hard to get because of the state, some hate it because it debases the currency, some hate it because it takes their wealth, some hate it because [insert your issue here]. I think most of these libertarians when pressed could explain why their pet issue is the most important because it ties into all the other ways that the state sucks. My issue is food: I hate the state for all those other things and more, but I really hate that the government promotes food that I believe is unhealthy, and then takes even more of our liberty away in the name of curing us when we get sick. I might not be 100% correct in my outlook, but I work every day to square it with my belief in liberty. [ I worked pretty hard today.]

Carden finds a good question to come out of all this right at the end: “what are we to use as guides to action?” If eating at Taco Bell isn’t good for us and gets us close to the state, and eschewing Taco Bell causes us to over pay for unsubsidized food (once for the real cost of the food and then more to cover the subsidy) and be worse off relative to those taking advantage of the subsidy, what are we to do? If you like take out Taco Bell in put in airlines, or highways, or the industry of choice: how do we really know where the state ends and the market begins without getting into the details of how much of Taco Bell or any other companies’ profit is a result of the state and how much of the market? But then as Carden points out that leads us to the calculation/knowledge problem, and since the knowledge problem can’t be overcome the reasonable position for the libertarian is to fight the state without worrying much about where it begins. That leads to the question of how best to fight the state, which leads to arguments over who is a real libertarian. It’s a vicious cycle.

jepchupogi June 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I do not understand why “one-drop” libertarians need to judge these big companies now in the context of a moderate/heavy intervening state of America.

Let us say that these companies receive direct/indirect subsidies from the gov’t, for sure those subsidies are inefficient due to bureaucracy, and the fact that these taxes could’ve been spent by the individual (instead of being taxed) for maximum happiness. So what?

Please remember that gov’t laws and restrictions shifts/distorts incentives and behaviors of individuals and companies alike, and for now, in the context of an interventionist state, it seems that there are incentives in taking the subsidies and survive in the now. We can find this objectionable on many fronts, and we are now criticizing the company that has its priorities distorted by the state. Please recognize that the root of this is still the state.

Finally, I present a scenario as a food for thought:
When the day comes, that America (and hopefully the whole world) goes towards smaller and smaller gov’t; subsidies vanish, taxes decrease, intervention gets weaker, we are ‘freer’, and libertarians argue online about which is better : minarchy or anarchy, not anymore fighting big gov’t…
These companies who mingled with the state will be in a very, very competitive market where even small budding companies will be able to topple them through efficiency. These large companies will not be safe since they are not any more protected by the state. In this arena, if they can keep up, then good, they have proven themselves worthy to serve the market (for now) even without gov’t help; if they cant keep up, then they die.

Summing up, I don’t see the need to judge companies now, their priorities are distorted by the state, let us continue to fight big government in the hopes that we can start a state-free market environment, only then the market itself can judge these companies.

Ned Netterville June 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm

MATT offered himself as a case study and after pointing out the fact that he has collected a considerable amount of money from tax-funded benefits. I don’t consider those tax credits a government benefit, for they serve to keep money out of the government’s hands not to require it to spend money as your Marine Corp salary did. MATT asks, “Is there no moral hazard?” MATT, I think there is, and I think it is grave.

First let me tell you about a friend of mine. He was once a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party. I just happened to be visiting my daughter in NH when he was campaigning there and since I had some time on my hands I volunteered and served as his (unlicensed) driver for about five days, including the traditional stop up at Dixville Notch. I ate three meals a day with this fine man and got to know him pretty well. In every respect he was a gentleman of the first order.

A lot of folks here know or at least know of my friend’s son, Peter Schiff, who made a name for himself by spotting the economy’s bubble before it burst and telling anyone who would listen to duck (buy gold). Peter’s father is Irwin Schiff. Irwin single-handedly took on the federal government way back in the 1970s over its illegitimate enforcement of the income tax. In the early eighties he self-published a book entitled HOW ANYONE CAN STOP PAYING INCOME TAXES, which became a best seller. About six years ago, when Irwin was 73 years old, after a trial that can only be described as a farcical railroading, a federal judge whose munificent emoluments all derive from the income tax Irwin so valiantly fought to overturn, sentenced him to 13 years in prison!

MATT, a lot of people every year are sent to prison on tax charges to make sure that the tax revenues keep flowing so the government can pay you your benefits, and therein lies one of the moral hazards. Others include giving up some small or large degree of personal liberty and privacy in order to obtain those benefits, and becoming to a certain degree a government dependent. I personally believe government dependency is addictive; that your acceptance of some government benefits paves the way (softens you up) for additional benefits in the future. Of course you can justify, excuse or rationalize all of them, and persuade yourself that you harm no one, but I don’t see it that way.

You can rest assured, MATT, that I do not condemn you for taking those benefits. As long as you didn’t kill anyone when you were a Marine, chances are that I’ve done worse things in my life than you have, so I obviously have no room to judge you or anyone else. But I do think you should be careful about working for or taking benefits from the government lest it become habitual and the State eventually requires your self-respect and your independence–if not your immortal soul —-in return for its favors.

Gil June 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm

The 16th Amendemnt wasn’t properly ratified was it?

nate-m June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am


nate-m June 5, 2011 at 9:38 am

The argument doesn’t follow. The government will not stop requiring income tax because some number of individuals decide to stop cashing their checks. The state is self-serving and would simply create some other expenditure to consume it’s tax income.

Ned Netterville June 6, 2011 at 10:57 am

nate-m, You really should think before laughing out loud, because folks may hear the noise you’re making and investigate to see whether or not there is a rational cause for your peculiar behavior.

If you will go back and read my argument, you may discover that the reason it “doesn’t follow” may be because you failed to read it carefully. I didn’t say nor imply that if some number of individuals stop cashing their government-benefits checks the government would then stop levying the income tax, nor even reduce its level. I was merely pointing out the manifest purpose of draconian penalties against those who challenge the government’s right to collect the tax or who refused to pay. To make it clear: the manifest purpose in putting men like Irwin Sciiff in prison for 13 years is to prevent folks like you from even contemplating doing the same thing. It is called governing by fear, an art that was perfected to its utmost by regimes like those of Nazi Germany under Hitler, The Soviet Union under Stalin and Communist China under Mao. The IRS practices a somewhat milder version of that art than the Gestapo.

However, the real point of my post was to make matt aware of the inherent danger in becoming a government dependent. Dependence upon the proceeds of force, coercion and stolen theft has more ramifications than the mere transfer of the proceeds from one person to another, as any Austrian economist or ethicist can tell you.

Ben Ranson June 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

Mr. Tucker and Mr. Carden paradoxically plead for broadmindedness and tolerance by attacking the one-drop libertarian. I do not think that this serves much of a purpose. Historically, we libertarians have been pessimistic, argumentative, skeptical, and suspicious. This is unlikely to change, since these very traits are what lead the vast majority of libertarians to become libertarians in the first place.

Whether or not they like it, the moderators on this site are going to have to put up with constant, nit-picking, hard-nosed criticism. Personally, I really like reading the bitter disputes and ardent refutations. If some commentary is illogical, wrong-headed and ill-informed, so be it. The people who read this site are perfectly capable of figuring that out on their own.

Ben Ranson June 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

That’s not to say that Mr. Holmes is illogical, wrong-headed, or ill-informed. It’s a fact that purveyors of subsidized corn syrup products are turning us into a nation of morbidly obese diabetics.

Gil June 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Why? No one is forced to eat unhealthful foods.

Ben Ranson June 5, 2011 at 8:24 am

People consume a greater amount of corn syrup than they would otherwise because the price is artificially low, due to the subsidy. Over time, however, the public has begun to recognize that corn syrup is unhealthy, and is now showing some distaste for corn sweeteners.

sweatervest June 6, 2011 at 5:32 pm

How do you know people wouldn’t gladly give up a healthy lifestyle to eat salty food all day?

D. Saul Weiner June 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Jeff Tucker could make the very same argument praising a successful MD today. He could say:MD did not establish or promote the AMA, medical licensing, patents, the FDA, Medicare, and so forth. He has merely managed to successfully jump through the hoops that the medical/pharmaceutical/government complex has erected and offered services that were demanded under these circumstances.And he would be right.But should we therefore celebrate (and this is a generalization) a form of medicine that has become very expensive and often ineffective/dangerous? I think not. Not that we should condemn such a doctor, but we should recognize that his services, through no fault of his own, are likely to be far less valuable than they would be if he were operating in a much freer environment.And if we made such arguments, then maybe when some clown in DC proposes an even greater government control of medicine, others might stop to listen to us when we argued that there is a better way …

D. Saul Weiner June 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

The bottom line is that Tucker’s characterization of Brandon’s post as invoking “sin” on the part of Taco Bell is simply off-base. Brandon was not attributing fault or blame to Taco Bell, as far as I could tell. He was merely less inclined to celebrate TB’s success than Tucker is, arguing that it was likely (at least in part) a result of skewed incentives resulting from government intervention (one could say a misallocation of resources). I am not going to weigh in on whether or not the case he presented is strong or weak, but for Tucker to construe it as anti-libertarian or anti-commerce is pure nonsense.

sweatervest June 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm

“Brandon was not attributing fault or blame to Taco Bell, as far as I could tell”

He said Taco Bell wouldn’t exist in a free market.

Black Bloke June 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

No he didn’t. Quote the exact words he wrote.

GSL June 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Excellent article. While I’m sympathetic to the arguments of one-drop libertarians, ultimately all of us have to reconcile ourselves to living in the world we live in.

Tom Knapp June 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm


I think it would be difficult to be sympathetic to arguments that no one is making. Conceptually, “one-drop libertarians” is a strawman (and one drawn, presumably intentionally, inside specifically racist outlines to make it that much uglier).

Criticism of a situation or of an environment that produces a situation is not the same as criticism of any and all institutions which happen to benefit from that situation or environment, nor is a call to some kind of weird “purity” (e.g. don’t use the sidewalk or you’re a statist).

Make allowances for the world I’m living in? Absolutely. Reconcile myself to it? Not a chance. I intend to change it.

Vanmind June 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm

In other words: “Some people lobbied to destroy free trade so I’m obligated to lobby in order to save free trade.”

Ha. Some libertarian, not.

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