Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Floating Libertarian Countries

According to a profile in Details magazine, Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters. Thiel has been a strong supporter of the Seasteading Institute, which is an organization looking to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. These “offshore” countries would be free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing state.

The profile in Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”

Sounds interesting, but I want to open the floor and get your thoughts.

What are the trade implications if floating countries were indeed created and sustained? Political implications? Would this truly advance libertarian ideals? What drawbacks can you envision? What benefits? What bits of crazy are inherent in the idea? What bits of genius?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I see this as a real life Rapture from the game Bioshock. Which if you haven’t played you should. I think that what happened in that game (in general) will happen to each one of these that gets built. Everything will be cool for a while then someone will do something incredibly destabilizing and the whole thing will get wrecked. But all this is besides the point. There already is a libertarian paradise with no rules or regulations. No cultural morals that aren’t negotiable. Where there are no gun laws, and everyone is free to enforce whatever rules they wish or none. We call that place Somalia.

    1. Somalia is not a libertarian country.
      You seem to have confused libertarianism with anarchy.

      “no rules or regulations”?
      That is anarchy, not libertarianism.

      “everyone is free to enforce whatever rules they wish or none”
      That is anarchy, not libertarianism.

      Libertarians are for SMALL government.
      Anarchy is NO government.

      1. Anarchy: A state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.

        Anarchy, as any skinny 18 year old with a black bandana will tell you, means “no rulers”, not “no rules”.

        You’re confusing it with chaos.

      2. I hear this all the time from libertarians. What is acceptable for a government to regulate and what is not? What are the criteria by which you choose what is acceptable intervention and what is not?

        Unless you can outline all that, as far as I’m concerned, you’re just another intellectually dishonest hack that yells slogans like “SMALL GOVERNMENT” and “LOW TAXES” in the face of difficult societal problems.

  2. Libertarianism doesn’t work. Period. It never has and it never will. I do not understand why so many skeptics, who claim to support evidence-based reasoning, engage in the faith-based philosophy of libertarianism.

    I look forward to these people forming their private islands and going away. And when a hurricane or tsunami comes along and destroys everything that they have we can remind them that they are on their own and that no rescue or relief mission will be coming for them.

    1. I think libertarianism stems from a position of privilege. People who have it good and feel others are leeching off of their income through taxes etc…

      I guess ultimately they are blinded by a belief in the American Dream, where if you work hard, you get lots of rewards for it, and if you slack off, you get nothing.
      But reality doesn’t work like that, and people who start off with a disadvantage can work all they want without gaining much, while people who have it all can slack off and still not face any repercussions for that.

      Ultimately, that is indeed what would cause such libertarian “free-havens” to collapse as soon as things start going wrong. You need some kind of “government” that has the power to redistribute resources so those who are coming up short at this point in time don’t die because those who have plenty don’t want to share.

      But hey, I’d like to see them try. Nobody’s stopping them.

    2. This.

      Libertarianism which derives itself from the Austrian school of economics along with classical liberalism is rabidly anti-empirical and is considered by most economists to be unworkable in the real world.

      Nozick, arguably the most eloquent of the libertarians abandoned the theory after 20-30 years of daunting criticism. Rothbard was so deluded about the magical properties of the free market and the rationality of the invisible hand that if you take any essay he wrote late in his career and salt God and Jesus for the aforementioned free market and invisible hand, they sound like religious tracts because that is what they are.

    3. It is a simple logical mistake that is made. That is that the principles behind libertarianism are correct and beneficial in many situations. It is the switching from a specific instance of the principle being sound to it being more important than many other correct principles that is the failing.

      In this case a being discussed here a quick example I see is one over fisheries. Try telling libertarians how much they can fish…

  3. The only way it could possibly work is if it is entirely populated by millionaires who continue to invest in, participate in, and benefit from non-libertarian economies (and as long as they treat their support staff well). But then these would be floating resorts, and hardly the equivalent of a country with a working economy.

    Even then I can see these greedy assholes screwing each other (and themselves) over. But hey, I’d donate some money to get all the libertarians on an island in the middle of the ocean. Beats having them here.

    1. It can’t be entirely populated by millionaires. “Someone has to clean the toilets.” Quoted from Bioshock.

  4. I think they make excellent bombing targets.

    Sarcasm? Yes, but to prove a point. It’s easy to set yourself up as a hippy, dippy, living apart from the world, libertarian wonderland, but you will lack things like military, police, education, and health systems. I think it only works if they are a parasite of some more orderly country. If the inhabitants of such places were required to renounce their existing citizenships I don’t think they’d last long. If they are really willing to stand up as an independent nation and all that entails I say more power to them.

    As far as trade goes I don’t think it would be possible. Trade doesn’t work without accountability and the whole point of libertarianism is private companies aren’t accountable to anyone. It would be worse than dealing with Chinese startups.

    1. A minor point of contention Dave. In libertarianism there is indeed a form of accountability. Libertarians say that everything is accountable to the market. If you are too shitty to people they will stop buying your products ect.

      1. And a shitty company will go out of business, change it’s name, reopen. Lather rinse repeat. Without a functioning government there is no one to throw the fraudsters in jail. If you’ve ever dealt with startups from poorly regulated countries you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You could say the libertarian solution would be to avoid this country which is exactly what would happen making trade impossible which was my original guess.

        1. And I certainly hope they have a very large check in hand when The Coast Guard shows up to evacuate when the inevitable hurricane, fire, or sinking occurs.
          The rich people who get plucked off the sides of mountains alwaya seem to have left their checkbooks at home when they need help.

        2. You really believe that in today’s information-rich world–ever heard of Angie’s List?–that fraudsters could keep reinventing themselves?

          1. Of course they could – especially in a low-regulation Libertopia. They could change their personal or corporate names, move from city to city, and be unrecognizable. What are you going to do, tattoo an identification code on everyone?

            Scammers could also go for a simpler solution and pay your information clearinghouse to wipe out the negative reviews. Your clearinghouse could post bad reviews itself, if businesses don’t sign up for the program. You should google “Angie’s List is a scam” or “Yelp blackmail”.

          2. You can ‘what if’ the question to death, but the fact is ALL of that which you mentioned goes on today. The only difference is people get a nice, warm fuzzy because they are getting information from that most incorruptible of all human enterprises… the government.

    2. I think they make excellent bombing targets.

      If they truly are independent of any nation, would there be any legal repercussions for destroying one of these? “Yeah, I shorted their stock then sank their island. What are you going to do about it?”

      Of course, there is also no reason these islands could not be heavily armed, if the owners were willing to pay for that.

      1. PCISZEK,

        You may have a point there, and most likely they would be too small to defend themselves from even a small but fairly well armed military. Seasteading Institute’s creations are a success, its possible that it would ironically lead to their own downfall. If any of them become wealthy, they could become a tempting target to any rogue state due to their size. I doubt that any of them will be able to get to even the population of rhode Island, so its easy to imagine them having trouble defending themselves, even if every single one of their adult citizens is armed, and most likely, most of the people there will not have military training.

      2. A tiny island full of heavily armed egomaniacs with no authority. I don’t see what could go wrong.

    1. Yeah, I’m thinking an outbreak of Legionnaires’, cholera, or even bedbugs would have them flagging down the nearest Princess Cruiser.
      Hell, the Norovirus would do it for me; nasty little buggers.

    2. Libertarians are against fraud, and support regulations against fraud.
      You seem to have confused libertarianism with anarchy.
      Anarchy is NO government.
      Libertarians are for SMALL government, and preventing fraud (such as selling food with E. Coli) is an appropriate function of government.

      1. Really, because there are plenty of libertarian orginizations that espouse contempt towards the EPA, USDA, FDA, OHSA, FAA, XYZ, LMNOP.
        Your “not a true libertarian” argument doesn’t hold sway here, sorry.
        The line between libertarianism and anarchy is very thin and poorly defined, so you can understand the confusion.
        Help me understand this. Which of the following would you believe should be a function of some government (federal, state, local, or other)?
        1. The military?
        2. Fire departments?
        3. Roads?
        4. Schools?
        5. Water treatment?
        6. Consumer protections?
        7. Hospitals?
        8. Banking?
        9. Scientific research?
        10.Food production?
        All the libertarians that I know personally would say that #1 is definitely governmental though not done well right now. (I agree)
        All but a couple would say that #2, #3, and #4 should be contracted out to the lowest bidder or that they should be all local. (unless it doesn’t benifit them, then cut it)
        Most of them would say that #5 and #6 should be monitored by the industry itself. (a recipe for disaster)
        And all but a couple would say that #7, #8, #9, and #10 should not have any real restrictions put on them and consumers will simple choose the ones with the best service for the price.
        I realize that I am arguing against the more extreme version of libertarianism, not because I want a strawman to smack around, but because the libertarianism that is most talked about today (a rebranding of Republicans that are no longer wingnuttyliscious enough to call themselves Republicans anymore, and want to smoke pot) is frighteningly close to finacial anarchy.
        When some of your best arguments start sounding like the “wild west” you know you have a problem.

        1. Thank you for asking about my personal belief on this.

          In my view, it is all about enforcement of justice.
          The purpose of government is to implement the law, and the purpose of law is enforcement of justice.
          This means preventing the use of force and fraud against the citizens.
          The government should be the referee, not a player in the game.

          I think the line between libertarianism and anarchy is very clear:
          libertarians want an impartial referee, anarchists want no referee (or every player to be a referee, which is the same).
          The current major political parties want a referee biased for their particular side.

          Re. your list:

          1. The military
          The purpose of the military is to prevent the use of force and fraud against the citizens BY NON-CITIZENS, so that is clearly an appropriate governmental function.
          (This is like the referees keeping people from outside the game from interfering with the game.)
          You did not put internal law enforcement (police, judges, etc.) on the list, but the purpose of internal law enforcement is to prevent the use of force and fraud against the citizens BY FELLOW CITIZENS, so that is also clearly an appropriate governmental function.
          (This is like the referees enforcing the rules of the game between the players.)
          These are both referee jobs, and should be provided by the government.

          In addition, the government has an EXTREMELY important role in ALL of the other goods and services on your list, specifically the referee role of preventing the use of force and fraud against the citizens.
          Government should not provide any of these itself, it should not be a player in the game, but it has a crucial role as the referee.
          The referee role is a huge, huge role and should not be simply abolished, ignored, or assumed to take care of itself by the invisible hand.
          The invisible hand operates within the game.
          The invisible hand will ensure that, as a side effect of following the rules of the game, the players will produce optimal play to the best of their ability, providing great entertainment in the process.
          But the invisible hand must be supported by the long, strong, and very visible arm of the law.
          I definitely agree with you that leaving monitoring entirely up to the industry itself is a recipe for disaster.
          The players cannot be assumed to be their own referees.
          The game needs an impartial (above the game, non-player) referee.
          2. Fire departments
          3. Roads
          4. Schools
          5. Water treatment
          6. Consumer protections
          7. Hospitals
          8. Banking
          9. Scientific research
          10.Food production

          Each of these really deserves a detailed response (my local fire department is all volunteer, and has been for decades; in food production, labeling requirements and inspection for E. Coli etc. is prevention of fraud), but the libertarian economic vision (as I see it) is:
          a free market, supplemented by VOLUNTARY charity, overseen by an impartial governmental referee.

          1. “…a free market, supplemented by VOLUNTARY charity, overseen by an impartial governmental referee.”

            It might be educational for you to take a trip around the world to see what countries that do not provide welfare – in other words, countries that rely on voluntary charity from religious organizations, or NGOs to assist their poor – look like. I think you’ll find it’s not the kind of system you’d want to live in, probably not even if you were one of the privileged elite. Private security, after all, can become quite expensive.

          2. Look at the history of how well these things worked in the past. The world you want existed and is called the 1850’s. All those regulations were put in for good reasons.

  5. These are indeed little floating Somalias WITH THE PRIATES BAKED RIGHT IN!!!! mmmm… pirates.
    We get rid of the Libertarians and, since global warming is caused by lack of pirates, we lower the worldwide temperature.
    Win – win.

  6. Well I think it will definitely be a race to see if food poisoning or falling into the sea and drowning kills them off first. I noticed that looser housing regulations was really high on their list. If I’m living out on a scrap heap in the deepest part of the ocean I don’t want looser housing regulations cause that is the only thing keeping me alive!

    1. That was my thought. Loose building regulations in a place where a too-tall building can capsize your entire country doesn’t work well.

  7. Was that 1.25 million or 125 million. Oil platforms tend to cost in the range of 1-7 Billion dollars. Obviously there is less expensive equipment but a “city” would have to be larger than your average oil rig. Just seems a terrible Idea.

    If you are a billionaire and want to live a libertarian life style just higher several very expensive lawyers.

    1. Or, just stop being a dick and give your money away before the government can tax it; works for the two richest men in the world and they have heaps of good publicity because of it.
      Oops sorry, that would benifit those who are beneath you. That’s just my mental illness called liberaism talking. Carry on.

      1. I think I’ll build it for them, for the low low price of 100 million. I will build it to the ideals of the libertarian philosophy. I won’t let all those pesky engineering standards or HSE codes bloat the cost. Just need me some plywood, cardboard, duck tape & bubble wrap. A few nails, a bit of elbow grease and a very long piece of string and we’re golden.

  8. I find the intersection of the sets “skeptics” and “libertarians” to be especially curious. On one hand, those of us who prefer an evidence based approach to things have been learning that we, as a species, are innately irrational. Michael Shermer’s books, “The Believing Brain” and “Why We Believe Weird Things” demonstrate this quite soundly. Meanwhile, Shermer is a self-proclaimed libertarian.

    When libertarians are asked about their philosophy, they say it is based largely in the political philosophy of Adam Smith. This free market philosophy has, at its very core, the assumption that people are rational actors. Smith wrote during the enlightenment when many great minds believe that humans were essentially rational beasts. This led to popular democracy and lots of other good stuff. At the same time, it led to the assumption that a free market system could work because people will instinctively work in their own best interests.

    So, if one accepts that people are irrational by nature and also expose a vision of political economy dependent upon irrational beasts acting rational is highly inconsistent and flawed.

    Fundamentally, most libertarians claim that they differ from anarchists because they do believe in some government versus either none at all or, in a syndicalist system, lots of micro-governments. When asked what they saw as a role for government, their answers are never surprising; in short, they like to have a government to keep the workers necessary to fuel their economy in line.

    Ayn Rand, granted an “objectivist” and not a pure libertarian, in “Atlas Shrugged” describes how the horrible workers oppress the nice and kind capitalists. One can assume that her feelings on government would be to protect the personal possessions and income streams for the wealthy – sort of a police for the poor.

    Libertarians do, however, have their good points. Most seem to support legalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs and we can point to lots of good science on why this is good for society in general.

    1. I’ve been thinking of this mostly from the perspective of how much it would suck not to be an elite, wealthy bully in this society and how quickly it would collapse under the weight of its own greed, but hadn’t thought how much worse it would be to be a woman in it. Amanda has filled this gap nicely.

      What is the libertarian view of indentured servitude? A freely-entered contract to sell your self (and possibly your descendants) into slavery? Obviously this would be the source of the labor required to keep their toilets clean and the food on their tables. I’m sure they would find plenty of starving, desperate people in third world countries (including the US if they continue to have their way with the economy), who would sign on.

      That’s the problem with sinking their island paradise as well… most of the casualties would be the employees and slaves. Without any regulations, there definitely won’t be enough lifeboats. Look at the survival rates of 1st class versus steerage passengers on the Titanic…

  9. I’m thinking “relaxed building codes” and “platform in the middle of the ocean” are a bad mix.
    I’m also thinking it’s free loot day for the local pirates before Galtland burns down, falls over and sinks into the sea.

  10. I’m not a libertarian, but I do find it interesting how much ire they raise with people. Quite a few comments above talk about death, disease, and disaster quite flippantly…

    Anyway, the notion I thought was interesting is that each of these habitat/micronations wouldn’t necessarily be libertarian; each would be free to establish its own style of government and allow us to see what happened. Admittedly, one can’t exactly try a double-blind experiment, but how else would one propose we try new laws and policies? What limits ought to be placed on the policies that may or may not be implemented in such an experiment? It seems that those are more interesting questions, ultimately, than just asking what a bunch of millionairs sick of taxes might do when left to their own devices.

    1. They couldn’t be fully libertarian; that would lead to death, disease, and disaster.
      That’s the point.
      It would become almost immediately obvious that the market would not protect your society from greed or profiteering or spite or maliciousness or well, human nature; at which point laws would be passed (or, more likely, proclaimed) and you no longer have yourself a true libertarian society.
      Libertarianism, like Communism, is an idea that theoretically works on paper; but we do not live in Flatland. To quote Eliot Aronson ,”Humans are not rational being so much as rationalizing beings.”

      1. I can imagine many ways in which the maladies you describe could be prevented without the need for rules. In a world where information is readily available reputation becomes very important. If your reputation is such that no one will do business with you your chances of hurting anyone else in the manner you describe becomes rather limited, no?

        1. Which maladies? The ones from my earlier post (Legioneers’ etc. ) or the one from this post (greed etc.)?
          If you are talking about the first post, sure you could screen everyone and everything that comes to your “country” to make sure they won’t infect you, it might even work for some things.
          If you are talking about the second post I’m not sure how you change human nature.
          How do you go about making sure that your “country” stays over the water; I assume you will need to have some kind of inspections and if you have inspections there must be standards that have to be met, so regulations.
          Who would carry out these inspections?
          An independant agent?
          The contractor themselves?
          Your libertarian paradise would have to be a pretty tight ship and you don’t get there with lots of freedoms.

          1. No, I’m referring to your post specifically about greed and human nature. (Although I find your arguments regarding the logistics of keeping a boat afloat a bit specious as well. Why is it all inconceivable that the people who live there could come up with solutions to such mundane problems?)

            Right now we count on government to enforce contract laws to prevent criminal behavior. Those who’ve been convicted (and some who haven’t) accumulate a criminal record which influences the way in which they are dealt with by their fellow citizens.

            Why couldn’t the same thing happen aboard a floating city? How many people could you treat dishonorably in such a small community before no one does business with you anymore?

          2. People who have a monopoly don’t have to worry about customers, because everyone who wants their product/service has to come to them. No matter how much of a jerk you are to them.

          3. The only monopolies that’ve ever existed in US history are those sanctioned and supported by the government…

        2. Boomer – “If your reputation is such that no one will do business with you your chances of hurting anyone else in the manner you describe becomes rather limited, no?”

          Ah but it’s incredibly easy to manipulate “reputation”, that’s what marketing is all about (whether it’s on an individual or corporate level). “Alternative medicine” is a very good real world example of this, as is how pharmaceutical companies tend to operate (though there’s enough regulation that they can be held accountable in ways that businesses selling and promoting alternative medicine can’t be). We have laws about these things as a response to what happens when you don’t regulate corporations (which, by their nature, have money as their prime motivator).

          The problem with all political “isms” (which are ideals) is always people being people and how we deal with that. Personally I wish people would stop squabbling about their pet political ideologies (which are essentially fantasies about a “perfect world”) as if any “ism” is going to be a magic bullet. There’s a lot of magical thinking in politics and ideology, particularly when we base our personal identity on an “ism”. (I’d add that this can also be true when we think of ourselves as a “Skeptic” or “Atheist”- I’m looking at you Bill Maher, even if I do enjoy your snideness – and form our identity around it instead of just applying skepticism and critical thinking or are simply godless.)

  11. The first nine chapters of Bob Heinlein’s The cat who walks through walls are set on just such a Libertarian space habitat as Blissed suggests. Heinlein’s habitat is in orbit round the Moon. While the background is peripheral to the action, Heinlein, as usual, works in a good deal of political commentary on just how such a community would operate. The answer is effectively as a dictatorship.
    The action then moves to the surface of the Moon which runs on a more cooperative form of Libertarianism. You may breathe, so long as your air payments are up to date. It’s all interesting speculation.

  12. “Libertarianism doesn’t work. Period. It never has and it never will. I do not understand why so many skeptics, who claim to support evidence-based reasoning, engage in the faith-based philosophy of libertarianism.”

    Hmmmm. Someone reading this statement might assume there was a long list of failed ‘libertarian’ societies throughout history to study. The fact is a strong argument can be made that libertarian philosophies formed the basis of the 18th century enlightenment that led directly to the rejection of church rule and monarchy. Today, there are as many different flavors of ‘libertarianism’ as there are flavors of any other political ‘ism.’ Unless you’re simply condemning libertarianism in general (in which case a bit more than a declarative statement should be in order) you might try to be more specific.

    I think it safe to assume we all would condemn the orderless anarchy found in places like Somalia, but as others have pointed out, this straw man caricature is hardly what most libertarians would consider ideal.

    The primary tenet of most libertarian philosophy is that outside of protecting oneself or others, it is wrong to initiate violence (libertarians don’t distinguish between actual violence and a credible threat of violence) against an individual or group of individuals. Some refer to this ideal as the nonaggression principle.

    This is the ‘golden rule’ we all follow (or should follow) in our private relationships with romantic partners, family, friends, coworkers and fellow citizens. The problem comes for most when they try to extend this principle beyond individuals to the government. For some reason many people seem to believe government should have privileges when it comes to the use of violence that none of us would tolerate from any individual we know.

    No one–at least no sane person–argues the government should never use violence. Just as individuals may use violence to protect themselves or the innocent, government can and should do the same. But if followed to its logical conclusion, the nonaggression principle demonstrates that violence is government’s only tool to ensure compliance with laws. This isn’t a problem when the law being enforced protects fellow citizens from violence, but many (most?) have nothing to do with that–such as laws prohibiting the ingestion of certain substances, laws prohibiting prostitution, laws requiring individuals to pay taxes, or to purchase a particular type of health insurance.

    The ‘faith’ most libertarians hold in the market over government is based almost exclusively on the fact that involvement in the market by individuals is voluntary, whereas involvement with the government is not. In a market individuals have a choice; when was the last time any posters here truly felt they had a choice where their government is concerned?

    While I don’t identify myself as ‘libertarian,’ I find the nonaggression principle compelling, and I try to use it as a guide in my personal life and when evaluating competing ideas. So far, I’ve yet to hear a political philosophy that adequately justifies the use violence as a means to an end in instances other than self defense. But I’m always willing to listen.

    For one avowed libertarian’s view of libertarianism, read this:

      1. If I understand your question, you are suggesting I have no choice but to be involved in the market. Setting aside for a moment the fact that’s not entirely true, your supposition isn’t germane.

        By choice, I mean if I’m not satisfied with the product or service provided by a vendor in the market I’m free to choose another vendor.

        Such is not the case with government.

    1. “…when was the last time any posters here truly felt they had a choice where their government is concerned?”

      Well, where I live, there are these things called elections.

      1. Yup, and in our last Presidential election here in America we got to choose from Barack Obama and John McCain.

        How’s that choice thing working out for you so far?

        1. Well, not everyone can get the president they want, unless one candidate has charmed everyone, at least half the people are going to have to suck it up and move on.

          Of course, if the current (rather archaic) voting system would be abandoned and replaced with a truly popular vote, each and every vote has the same impact on the elections, and perhaps more candidates would become available to choose from besides those suggested by the two biggest political parties.

        2. I live in Canada, so my choices were somewhat more varied. And although my party of choice did not win, I still feel I had the opportunity to participate in choosing the government, and I had an opportunity to participate in the process of persuading others to choose similarly by joining a political party, and volunteering during the election.

          My original point is in challenging the false dichotomy you set up when you wrote:

          “The ‘faith’ most libertarians hold in the market over government is based almost exclusively on the fact that involvement in the market by individuals is voluntary, whereas involvement with the government is not. In a market individuals have a choice; when was the last time any posters here truly felt they had a choice where their government is concerned?”

          When it comes to government, I have considerably more choice than I do when it comes to the market. I don’t own shares in Pepsi, Coke or Apple, so I really have no say in how they operate or what they make(except through government regulation and laws, which I do have some say in). Only people with certain economic advantages truly have any meaningful choice in the market, whereas every citizen is a shareholder in the government, even when other shareholders out-organize and out-vote you.

          To me, your argument says much more about the need for electoral reform than it does about libertarianism.

          1. “I don’t own shares in Pepsi, Coke or Apple, so I really have no say in how they operate or what they make…”

            Nonsense; You have the choice whether to buy the product or not!

            What choice do you have when it comes to government services? You pay for them whether you believe the service you get is satisfactory, or even if you don’t use them. What kind of choice is that?

          2. Sure. I can choose to buy the product, if I can afford it. Whereas I can vote regardless of how broke, crazy, or stupid I am, thereby making a choice, based on my candidate’s platform, about which services will be funded and how they will be delivered.

          3. For the past several decades here in the US, Republicans have run campaigns which included the ideal of a small, fiscally responsible government. Those who voted for them were rewarded in the first decade of this century under the Bush administration with the largest expansion of government–in scope, power and spending–in history (until the Obama administration took over).

            For the past several decades here in the US, Democrats have run campaigns which promised a government more cognizant of civil liberties and higher taxes for the rich. Those who voted for them were rewarded under the Obama administration with a continuation of the USA Patriot Act and the Bush era tax cuts.

            So tell me again about our choices?

  13. The first thing I thought of was “pirate haven.”

    I’ve never understood the concepts of the skeptic libertarian either. Skeptics just shouldn’t believe in an invisible hand.

    As a (tasty) tangent: Top Dog is a libertarian, hole in the wall, hot dog stand in Berkely, CA. They have lots of libertarian propaganda on the walls. One item is a bumper sticker that says:
    Under Replican Rule Man Oppresses Man. Under the Democrats, it’s the other way round.

        1. I think under replicant rule, machine oppresses man.

          (That’s the second reply I make on this thread that’s about robots …)

  14. Americans have a long history of wanting to create utopian societies and establish blissful communes where everyone follows philosophy X to the betterment and prosperity of everyone. The back story has always been that folk want to be with like minded people where non likeminded people will not fuck with them. Fair enough, however people being the animals that we are eventually end up devising plans to subvert the happiness of others to secure greater happiness for themselves regardless of the level of abundance that is available or possessed by the members of the community. When it comes to the proposed islands will they have equal size accommodations and cooperative buying of subsistence materials? Given that a manmade island is a fragile and tenuous place to live by definition I would expect a level of extreme cooperation akin to the most interdependent socialist state you can imagine will be necessary for the project to work.

  15. A friend of mine once asked the question “If you could live in the Star Wars universe, would you?”

    Most people replied to the extent of “Oh, hell yeah I would! I’d be all using lightsabers and tossing folks around with the Force! It’d be sweet!”

    And then he told them, “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to be a Jedi. Most people in the SW universe are not Jedi. You’re much, much, much more likely to be a random civilian. And now you have to deal with aliens and evil robots and all kinds of deadly things.”

    “Oh, that doesn’t sound good at all. I don’t want to live there unless I get to be a Jedi.”

    I think a lot of these libertarians think they’re going to be Jedi in this new society. That they’ve been held back their whole lives and now there will be new rules and a new society just waiting to cater to their interests for once. They will rise to the top and live wonderful lives.

    Except they probably won’t. Most of them still won’t get to be “Jedi”. Mechanical Libertaria is still going to need shopkeepers, janitors, and cooks. Having no minimum wage sounds great before *you’re* the one cleaning toilets for $3.50/hr. And there’s no welfare to make up for the fact that you don’t make enough money to support yourself. You suddenly realize that you’re not a Jedi, you’re a regular schmo on Tatooine. And this will happen to a lot of the people in such a hypothetical country.

    1. Read The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman it is already happening.
      Libertarians applaud this great race to the bottom and back to fuedalism it is just not moving fast enough for some of them apparantly.
      No middle class, no one to lead the revolution.

    2. best assessment i’ve seen, here. by the way if they’r that far off shore, storms bad, but tsunamis should not be a problem.

  16. I see this going one of four places, which I list in my subjective order of decreasing likelihood:

    a) It never gets off the ground because these things would be freaking expensive, because people would have low confidence in the success of such a strange and seemingly risky venture, and because there are only so many people who are so devoted to libertarianism that they are going to spend millions and millions of dollars to live on a glorified oil rig. (1.5 million is not a lot, for this project.)

    b) They get far enough to build what amounts to a floating neighborhood or resort for millionaires, but never accrue enough space or population for a substantial economy. Everyone is either rich or part of the “hotel staff” or both, maintaining citizenship and intermittent residency in their home country.

    c) The system falls apart shortly after reaching the size of a town or small city, either due to an internal coup, a takeover from outside, or a disaster (such as the aforementioned hurricanes, diseases, whatever). The city is either abandoned or re-purposed to be something other than a libertarian paradise.

    d) They actually produce a small city, with a significant population of people. The city is controlled by the rich founders, who not only have the most money to start with, but also actually own the city itself since their money built the thing. They hire their own security, and control/own enough of the trade and resources on the city that it’s effectively an aristocracy. If the dictators are effective benevolent, the city remains an interesting curiosity, but not one that’s likely to be reproduced on the mainland of a developed country. The culture will stagnate due to the low degree of autonomy experienced by the lower classes (almost everyone). If the dictators are not benevolent, the system falls apart as the area becomes an increasingly bad place to live, and no one wants to move or stay there. Either way, the experiment will still be too small to produce a measurable effect on the world economy (although it will probably have a much larger effect as a cultural/political experiment).

    e) The end of the world occurs this year.

    f) The libertarians will finally have to face the differences between human nature and the idealized form of human nature that they wish represented real human behavior, but will somehow salvage libertarianism and produce a truly enlightened society.

  17. RE:”Derek Bartholomaus
    Libertarianism doesn’t work. Period. It never has and it never will. I do not understand why so many skeptics, who claim to support evidence-based reasoning, engage in the faith-based philosophy of libertarianism.”

    Two things: One, what societies have actually used libertarianism to prove it doesn’t work? I’m curious, because I haven’t ever heard of a society based on libertarianism. Someone mentioned Somalia, but that’s a fractured or no government, not a small government. From what I understand, libertarianism is not about everyone doing whatever they want whenever they want, it’s about doing what is best for the individual so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (which is very different). Of course, libertarianism is more varied than just one idea.

    Second, how is libertarianism faith-based? There are religious libertarians, but I see no roots in faith.

    1. Absolute belief in Adam Smith’s invisible hand (dispite it’s proven unreliability) is a form of faith.
      Refusing to acknowledge any failings in that belief system is a form of faith.
      Believing that if you only could remove all variables then your belief system would work perfectly is a form of faith.
      I could go on..

      1. I confess to not even knowing who Adam Smith is.

        Not all libertarians think that there is no failing in the proposed ideas.

        I don’t see how any of those things differ from hardcore skeptics or any hardcore political group.

    2. “what societies have actually used libertarianism to prove it doesn’t work?”

      New forms of government being tested in real-world application are and always will be fascinating experiments. But it’s not like we have no idea about how societies and cultures and political aggregates function. From reason and observation, we can make good faith predictions, such as: “A weak central government is weak to external military forces” or “Fully privatized education can expose lower closes to hegemonic forces, thus causing interest articulation to falter”. (Or whatever; these aren’t specific studies, I’m just making up examples.)

      “it’s about doing what is best for the individual so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else”

      That’s a bit of a slippery concept, though, isn’t it?

      1. I get your point. We can hypothesize, but how is it different than any other scientific or sociological experiment?

        And I think it’s still a good concept, regardless of how slippery, even outside of libertarianism.

  18. An island nation with no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons?

    And Haiti doesn’t satisfy these conditions?

  19. As a self-proclaimed libertarian, I’ll chime in.

    First, there are probably as many flavors of Libertarianism as there are flavors of socialism or conservatism. For my part, I am a Wendell Berry-type libertarian, which combines elements of anarchism, environmentalism and ‘back-to-the-land’-ism.

    Some kind of floating platform is the last place I’d want to be! What kind of life is that? If you’re rich enough to buy a place there, you’ve done quite well, and can probably do whatever you like anyway. Why would you isolate yourself in a few square metres of steel and glass? Makes no sense to me.

    Rule #1 of libertarianism is you cannot ‘initiate force’ on anyone. Therefore you cannot be an employer, or an employee; everything must be done by free contract. That rules out the platform concept as invariably, someone else must be coerced to do the dirty jobs, as someone commented above.

    For those who are tired of big business and big government ruling your lives, or concerned that the economy could collapse (a very real threat these days) there is a better idea: sell all that you own, buy some land with access to clean water, grow your own food; make sure you produce at least one service or commodity you can trade with your neighbors (in my case, it is firewood, a vital commodity here in Canada). This is not an easy life, but freedom isn’t meant to be easy.

    1. Thanks for pointing out that Libertarians come in all stripes. I do tend to forget that, and I know a handful of Libertarians who will stop voting once pot is legalized. You could call them single-issue.

      How does your flavor libertarianism work with environmentalism?

        1. Isn’t burning wood,more or less carbon neutral? I’m open to different opinions on this though.

          1. The exact opposite in fact.
            Carbon that’s tied up inside a living organism in the form of wood, is released into the air in the form of C02, where it contributes to the greenhouse effect.

          2. Oh,I certainly understand that.What I mean is,theoretically,you plant more trees to replace the ones that you burn,and so on.That is the thinking behind using biomass for energy in general. The intensive use of land for growing these things creates problems of their own,of course.

          3. Actually it is more carbon neutral than say coal or oil, but there’s more to be considered. Single source electrical generation can be monitored and filtered for particulates, and natural gas is fairly clean for in home use, the problem you are left with when you burn wood has to do with scale.
            One household in a rural area running a wood burning stove for warmth and cooking is not a real pollution problem, but imagine a village of say 100 households all burning wood and you could begin to see where smoke pollution could quickly become a problem, not to mention disposing of the ashes which only so much can go on a garden.
            What works in a small scale for a few customers does not always scale well, it’s the same problem that organic farming has.
            Again, for individual use it’s fine though.

    2. Interesting. Tell me, as a Canadian libertarian, if you were to, say, cut your leg open while harvesting your firewood, the sale of which I presume you do not claim on your income tax, would you let nature take its course, or would you avail yourself of our public healthcare system, which has been imposed on you without free contract, and which would essentially turn your doctor into your employee?

      1. An EXCELLENT point. As is usually the case, people who eschew the “shackles of big government” know it is there for them if required when they need it.

        It is the same for these libertarians on a platform island. Will they manufacture the steel needed to expand? Nope. Will they train their doctors and welders? Nope. Will they build the ships used for trade? Will they Put up there own satellites for communication and TV?

        No, but all of this will be available for them, because of the nations that aren’t run their way.

          1. It’s called “I got mine jack!” Does anyone really believe that a ‘true’ libertarian would eschew the social safety net on principle,if they really needed it?

  20. I think Frank Fontaine of Rapture kinda demonstrates the problem with this.

    “These sad saps. They come to Rapture thinking they’re gonna be captains of industry, but they all forget that somebody’s gotta scrub the toilets. What an angle they gave me… I hand these mugs a cot and a bowl of soup, and they give me their lives. Who needs an army when I got Fontaine’s Home for the Poor?”

  21. I counted 12 straw man arguments (some duplicates from different posters) and 3 just plain false assertions. I’m just going to address one.

    Adam Smith was one of the first people to analyze markets. There were many shortcomings in his approach, the most egregious was his belief in the labor theory of value. But the main point is that it didn’t stop with him.

    Consider physics. In spite of the fact that Newton believed some weird things and his mechanics failed certain scales, we don’t dismiss his work. Also we don’t treat him as the sum of physics thinking. Yet people do that with Adam Smith.

    1. Can you enlighten us to what these 12 strawmans and 3 just plain false assertions are? Or are you exercising one big stawman wrapped in a false assertion just to get attention (read: trolling)?

      1. No, I’m just being lazy. Too many subsequent comments to find them quickly. A few from the top:

        Somalia, Libertarian? There is initiation of force all over the place there.

        Several people conflated Libertarianism with anarchy.

        Someone claimed that it would inevitably sink, catch fire or get caught in a hurricane.

        Someone claimed that business would poison their customers.

        Someone claimed that Libertarianism has never worked without providing an example where it was actually applied.

        I’m not going to reread the whole thing to find them all.

  22. Boomer writes: “Someone reading this statement might assume there was a long list of failed ‘libertarian’ societies throughout history to study.”

    Well of course there are. I’ve never been able to fathom why Libertarians all seem to believe their ideas have never been tried before. Read any history that covers Europe and the US during the second half of the 19th century, if you want to know what the Libertarian utopia would be like.

    Read Dickens. Read Zola. It’s all there — the total lack of government oversight and safety regulations (because it’s cheaper to hire new workers to replace the maimed ones than it is to install safer equipmnent), the ability of corporations to fire any worker who says something they don’t like, corporate education that teaches the little ones how to be good brainless workers and nothing else, monopolies cornering commodities, filthy rivers and unbreathable smog — it’s an Ayn Rand paradise!

    What’s the biggest risk with this place? I’d say outright slavery. The people who would pay to live in a place like this would be big corporations. They’ll pay the price for desperate workers to come live on their island, and of course the workers are free to leave at any time — as long as they can pay for a return ticket. It’s too bad they owe too much to the company store to ever afford one, but that’s hardly the company’s fault, is it?

    Sheesh, this stuff has happened again and again since the dawn of the industrial age. It’s happening right now in China and the Far East, whenever the local officials accept enough corporate bribes to look the other way. How can anybody believe that any of these ideas are the slightest bit new?

    1. “…this stuff has happened again and again since the dawn of the industrial age. It’s happening right now in China and the Far East, whenever the local officials accept enough corporate bribes to look the other way.”

      How does what you describe gibe with the ideal of the nonaggression principle? Let’s not confuse the problems inherent in crony capitalism with libertarian philosophy. Corporations and monopolies are entities that cannot exist without the power of government backing them.

      “How can anybody believe that any of these ideas are the slightest bit new?”

      I don’t believe anyone has claimed such. Indeed, many libertarian ideas–such as a small federal government, limited in scope, powers and responsibilities–shaped the debates leading to the US Constitution.

      The question is should you condemn libertarianism as a political philosophy on the basis of man’s inability to live up to the ideals? If so, you can go down the list of ALL the ‘isms’ and do the same…

      1. The question is should you condemn libertarianism as a political philosophy on the basis of man’s inability to live up to the ideals?
        The short answer is YES!
        Let’s file it in the drawer next to other failed thought experiments like communism, theocracy, fascism, and true domocracy and work on making reality-based solutions.

          1. Well, before the corporatists were allowed to take over our Democratic Republic was working pretty well.
            It’s not perfect but, to paraphrase Churchill, it’s better than all the others that have been tried.
            Libertarians like to point out the libertarian ideas that liberals will agree with, because it usually liberals that they want so hard to impress, because they already have the Replublicans on their side (they will give on many social issues to keep their money).
            Non-agression, live-and-let-live, legalize all victimless crime; great.
            Problem is those are paired with little to no regulation, privitization of all services, and dismantling of the social safety net.
            And, despite the protestations of most libertarians, these ideas are being implimented; unfortunately only the bad one seem to be getting through.
            Real outrage will eventually replace the faux outrage drummed up by astroturf organizations that are funded by billionaires, I just hope that we still have a first-world country when that happens.

          2. “Well, before the corporatists were allowed to take over our Democratic Republic was working pretty well.”

            But aren’t ‘corporatists’ members of our Democratic Republic?

          3. But aren’t ‘corporatists’ members of our Democratic Republic?
            As inviduals yes, as corporations no, or at least they weren’t until the SCOTUS granted them personhood.
            These are multinational corporation that have no particular interest in forwarding anything that doesn’t help the bottom line and as such should be excluded from participating without disclosure.
            Our institutions are supposed to be represented by the elected officials in their area, but now they are being allowed to directly influence elections without saying who they are; fine for citizens, dangerous for corporations.

          4. But this discussion was about which political philosophy is best. You suggested our Democratic Republic was doing fine until the ‘corporatists’ were allowed to participate. I understand the arguments against allowing corporations to be part of the election process, but ‘corporatists’ are not corporations, they are individuals, people who happen to believe that corporations (which are made up of individuals) SHOULD be allowed to participate in the election process–and a majority of the US Supreme Court agrees with them.

            The process that legitimized corporate speech in the election process is part of our Democratic Republic.

            Your main argument against libertarianism is that it won’t hold together in the face of man’s greed and corruptibility. You seem to be saying the very same thing, with a very concrete example, about our Democratic Republic, no?

          5. I said that the corporatists were allowed to take over not that they participated. They, as individuals, should be given a voice but they have played the system to the point where people don’t think it’s ridiculous to assign peoplehood to corporations, or to allow regulatory agencies to be run by the regulated, or to let banks pass along bad debt with no punishment.

          6. But again, this is the result of our current political system. If you’re argument against libertarianism is that it is corruptible, what makes our current obviously corruptible system any better?

          7. If you’re argument against libertarianism is that it is corruptible, what makes our current obviously corruptible system any better?

            Exactly! I think you’ve got it now.

            Oh, you wanted to imply that these kinds of problems WOULDN’T occur in a system that has NO checks and balances on that kind of thing whatsoever?

            The only difference between the current form of democracy and libertarianism is that people with bad intentions have had a few more centuries to figure out how you can game the system to your advantage.
            That’s it …

            To think that libertarianism can’t be corrupted just as easily (or possibly even easier) is just plain deluded.

          8. No, that’s not what I’m trying to imply; I’m simply saying that if your only argument against libertarianism is that it’s corruptible then your argument is rather weak given how corrupt our current system (and every other political system on the planet) is.

            And a society based on the nonaggression principle and free markets has inherent checks and balances. Think of your personal relationships for a good example. You have no power to force, with violence or the threat thereof, those with whom you associate freely to do anything against their will. If you meet someone with whom you would like to associate you must convince them to do so with your wit and charm, not force.

            Why is it so hard to imagine a political system that functions in the same manner?

          9. Boomer – “But this discussion was about which political philosophy is best.”

            I’d say “none”, we all need to stop looking at ideology as a magic bullet. Granted, both the US and Canada would be better off with proportional representation (and certainly the declaration that in the US corporations are “people” bastardizes the idea of human rights and, well, being human) but it would still be an imperfect system. All systems will be imperfect and collectively (and eventually individually) we have bigger problems than that to deal with in terms of a habitable environment for humans (even rich people need to breathe and drink water).

            As an aside, the “principle of non-violence” isn’t exactly espoused by all Libertarians (and is espoused by many Buddhists, even if it’s not practiced by all). We all seem to shape our ideologies to our own personal tastes – a bit like how all religions seem to have versions tailored for different personal tastes – then claim that it’s the “true” version of whatever ideology, not like those other ideologues with the same classification that obviously have it wrong. All ideologies are perfect on paper (or in our heads), none of them end up being able to surmount the practical problems posed once you get people involved and they’re put into practice in the real world.

        1. Also, what is ‘unrealistic’ about asking that one’s government not be allowed to use violence outside of protecting citizens from violence?

          1. The unrealistic part of that is that people will defend all violence from the government already as protecting citizens from violence.

            Sure, you thought of a couple of examples already where you think government engages in violence outside this mandate. Now think of some idiot (insert a couple of SCOTUS members here) making a case that the above still holds.

            Basically, your question fails to make a real change to society even if everyone agrees.

        2. Ha Ha! He sort of set himself up for that one. “Just because my idea is totally incompatible with reality,does that make it unworkable?”

          1. The level of indoctrination required to make you believe mot only that your government’s use of violence and coercion to force you to behave in ways it approves is perfectly fine, but that you can’t even IMAGINE a system of government in which people willingly participate is not only astounding, it’s rather sad…

          2. Sorry,but I find it very difficult to ignore the realities of the ways in which humans can take advantage of people who let their guards down.We have locks on our doors,and security systems for a reason.I would love to live in a world where we didn’t have to continually make laws to protect ourselves.

          3. It seems we all agree that citizens should not initiate violence (and I include fraud, theft and other ‘property’ crimes in the definition of violence) in their dealings with fellow citizens. The main difference, from what I’ve read here, between libertarians and partisans of other political faiths is that libertarians believe the proscription against the initiation of violence should also extend to the government.

            I can imagine many different methodologies that would provide protections against violence for citizens that do not require a government which relies on violence to impose its will on citizens who are not engaging in violence. Perhaps that is why I’m more open to libertarian ideas.

  23. First off, I’m a little surprised by the venom here. I’m a libertarian myself, and libertarianism covers a lot of ground. Not all of us want to push all government aside, nor do we all thing government is invariably malign or incompetent (in fact I work for the government in my country). I actually think liberals and libertarians could learn a lot from each other (read this, if you’d like more detail), but I must say I find it disheartening that liberals are so quick to respond with hostility to libertarians. Sure there are a lot of stupid libertarians running around, but most political viewpoints are idiotic.

    Secondly, on the subject at hand, I like that people are experimenting with new political systems (it’s the only way to figure out what works), though I have little optimism that seasteading will work. Governments generally take a dim view of people subverting their authority, and should seasteads prove successful I suspect traditional governments will simply shut them down, whether through sanctions, blockades or by just pulverising them.

    1. whenever this subject comes up, you make your vague “I’m so hurt by your accusations” post, sometimes with a dash of “but libertarians belive in [something liberals also believe in like ending wars or legalizing pot]” without addressing the substantial criticisms of libertarian philosophy. Why? Clearly you’ve addressed these concerns in your own mind, why not enlighten us?

      1. Mainly because I find the entire concept of accepting or rejecting an ideology as a whole ridiculous. I imagine there are many beliefs some liberals hold that you disapprove of, perhaps even some you consider stupid, but I suspect you wouldn’t find this fact sufficient to reject liberalism as an ideology (I’m assuming you’re a liberal, if not I suspect whatever ideology you hold will work just as well).

        I’d rather focus on specific policy issues which are on the margin of acceptance in political debate. When it comes to issues of that type where I side with libertarians over liberals I’d go with these: liberalising international trade, reducing the scope of occupational licensing restrictions and reforming your entitlement systems so they don’t cause your government’s finances to collapse.

        That stuff’s worth arguing about, but I couldn’t even define “libertarianism” well enough to be able to defend or refute it.

    2. James – From what I’ve read in your comments I would say that you hold some libertarian ideas; I’ve also seen you express *gasp* socialist ideas as well; I doubt you would call yourself a socialist, why call yourself a libertarian?

    3. Actually James, I’ve reread this thread a few times and I’ve got to say I’m seeing no venom. I’m seeing some spirited debate, some vehement disagreement, and some good-natured shots at the original idea but no name calling, no accusations of bad skepticism, none of the bad blood that I see when I read Skepticblog or Pharyngula and the topic comes up.
      Nope, no venom.

      1. Joking about people dying of disease sounds a little venomous, in any case that’s what I reacted to.

        I’m definitely not a socialist. The essence of socialism is wide-scale central economic planning and/or government control of the means of production. Just about no one is socialist these days, and that’s the way it should stay. Just because the Republicans throw the word around doesn’t mean I’m willing to do the same. The reason I call myself a libertarian is that I believe a lot of modern governments do, they shouldn’t be doing. That doesn’t mean I want to privatise the army or introduce a gold standard or abolish the welfare state. If Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek can be called libertarians then so can I.

        1. Nonsense you just have to view the disease in the view of a business strategy.

          A simple one is to lay in a large supply of antibiotics then insure that there is an outbreak of some disease resistant to other antibiotics. The value of your antibiotics will skyrocket.

          You can do the same by inducing anaphalactic shock and then selling an epipen for say a hundred thousand dollars.

          Remember a lot of modern laws regulating pharmaceuticals started because of people selling poison. Why didn’t they stop because no one would by poison from them?

          It is kind of funny the amount of long term government tracking that would be needed to make a reputation based consumer protections work. Yet libertarians rarely seem to be enamored with that level of government tracking of everyone.

  24. The one ground that Libertarianism seems to cover, in every flavor, is the whole “do whatever you want, unless it hurts someone”. That statement is inherently flawed considering the human species cognitive evolutionary path.

    you want a society where everyone is left you their own devices to decide “when they start hurting someone”. Well in this kind of society you will have millions of shades of variation on this, all the way from “i’m a really good negotiator and minimum wage doesn’t really hurt them, so….” to “YOU must prove that my toxic foreign compound that i dump in my property in the hills is causing your cancer/poisoning your groundwater/ruining the environment, and until you do to my satisfaction, which my army of lawyer will handle, i am hurting no-one!”.

    logical thought and actual consideration for others is quite lost in typical human culture. at best we expand our “genuine care” to a few others around us. But never to everyone. That’s where government regulation and oversight comes in. To put a stop to all that self-deception before everyones time is wasted in court continuously.

    1. i.e. “I may not like what you’re saying, but will defend your right to say it” needs a government to back that up consistently and objectively. For everyone. even those you don’t like.

      But how quickly are people willing to indulge in censorship, or taking away someone’s soapbox, when the topic of someone’s “speech” is not to their liking, or in their eyes incorrect or dangerous?

      Unless you have some pre-created rules, and a means of enforcing transgressions of those rules, it’s going to be difficult to build a society that relies solely on people’s good intentions …

  25. So what I got out of this was that libertarians are idealists and idealists are bad. Is that about right?

      1. So the ideal of small government is also bad? You don’t think it possible that a libertarian could strive for a smaller government and be bound by the reality that it won’t happen exactly like the ideal?

        1. Well, hello Mr. Scarecrow!
          I’m all for a smaller more efficient government, but I doubt it would jibe with your version.
          Individual libertarian ideas may work and I believe some should be tried. Legalization of drugs and prostitution are a couple of examples, but they would need to be regulated because of human nature.
          That brings me to libertarianism’s (and most -isms) biggest failure; it relies on people to act in a uniform and predictable way, unbound by reality if you will.
          Idealism unbound by reality is what leads to belief in things like heaven, and free energy, and The Secret.

          1. Why do you doubt it would jibe with my version? You don’t know what my version is. You seem to think you know more about my position than you actually know.

            “That brings me to libertarianism’s (and most -isms) biggest failure; it relies on people to act in a uniform and predictable way, unbound by reality if you will.”

            Yet here you are expecting all Libertarians to act in a uniform and predictable way. May I assume that means you’re associated with an -ism then?

          2. You are arguing from the libertarian point of view so I doubt we would see eye-to-eye on everything. I do not expect that you would agree with every single thing on the libertarian agenda (or even what flavor of libertarian you are) but if you are close to that position we are going to disagree on some thgings.
            I do not expect all libertarians to act one way but I can argue against the central ideas of the core ideology.
            If I had to pick an -ism that I am closest to it would be socialism but there are many areas that I don’t agree with socialism; people are not so easily put into boxes.

          3. Given the things you said about Libertarians at various places, I really wasn’t expecting much from you beyond anti-Libertarian ravings. Here we are agreeing.

            I’m not asking you to not argue against the core values of my personal political preference. Hell, I have my problems with the party line. I’m just saying we’re not all lunatics; maybe you could paint us with less broad a brush. Like you say, people aren’t so easily put in boxes.

          4. What I was saying about libertarians was more about some that I know who are less than resonable. I have that same problem with vegans, never knew a resonable one though I know they exist in theory.

          5. Reasonable Libertarians do exist. Despite the damage that some are apparently doing on the interwebs, we are around and willing to talk reasonably. This might explain so many of us seem mystified by why there is so much anger aimed at us.

            As for vegans, I look forward to the day that I meet a reasonable one, though more and more I doubt that day will ever come.

          6. I think it’s worth noting that legalization of drugs and prostitution aren’t inherently Libertarian ideas in any way shape or form (though clearly them being promoted as Libertarian attracts a lot of people to identify as Libertarians). There are “Liberals” that also support the legalization of both these things (perhaps for different reasons, perhaps for similar reasons). If there hadn’t been such intense pressure from the US, it is highly likely that the Canadian Liberals would have legalized (or at least decriminalized) pot. Most anti-drug hysteria is ideological and not practical. Somehow I doubt that Professor Nut in the UK is a Libertarian but he’s rationally (not ideologically) put forth a good argument for more rational drug laws. Of course, those that favor strict drug laws (which obviously profit certain economic sectors, both legal and illicit) claim that they’re “protecting” the general public from the scourge of drug addicts….which leads us right back to “well, we need small government as a means to protect people from violence, by which we also mean theft of property” Libertarian thing. Drug laws aren’t rationalized in terms of protecting people from themselves, they’re rationalized via property protection and protecting “the public”. Also, the idea that Libertarianism somehow also owns the idea that governments shouldn’t use force against their own citizens (with the exception everyone makes for murderers, even Libertarians as far as I can tell, well except perhaps Koch-style corporate ones) is also pretty false.

        2. That is a straw-man, see no one wants a big government, possibly outside of short term employment acts like the CDC. It is all about how government can most efficiently perform the jobs it needs to do.

  26. Additionally @ James K (i meant to include this before, but had to leave), your belief that government will try to shut down such an island of libertarianism sounds weirdly paranoid.

    Governments at their worst (western democratic ones at least) tend to use their military to stabilize what they feel is important to their future strength, such as energy policy (aka oil) thru either covert or open warfare (and since it is warfare, covert or open, its often pretty disgusting with little regard to consequences, hence my “at their worst” comment).

    BUT we are talking here of large issues like foreign policy and a countries perceived need for future strength and stability, not some piddly island in neutral waters, which almost certainly will be set up by the fabulously rich as some kind of resort.

    No doubt libertarians will try to use it as a TAX haven of some sort (as if there could be any other serious reason), and this, and only this might draw the attention of government, and rightfully so, since those rich pricks who no doubt making their money off our contributions on the mainland, and now they get to dodge the TAX bill, which come to think of it is anyway redundant, since if they can afford an island, i assure you their army of lawyers have used every tax loop hole to avoid paying almost any tax already.

    And ofcourse, now we see what they do with all their tax dodge money, they invest them into crackpot island future tax havens.

    Libertarianism is the kind of philosophy you’d expect to hear 8 year old children to proclaim. It’s built around narcissism and self-interest, things that we are supposed to grow out of, as we start to work, co-operate and care about others.

    1. What is uncooperative or uncaring about the desire that no one initiate violence against others?

      1. The problem is not believing in those values, its the belief that you can actually adhere to them for the myriad of task/activities/industries you may undertake.

        self deception is a powerful human capacity, and its automatic to defend ones position even once you are hurting people, because our ego NEVER wants to be wrong and is always looking for a “but you see…what actually is happening is…….and thus i am not hurting anyone”

        1. It sounds like you’re saying you believe the philosophy of libertarianism is GOOD, but that humans are incapable of implementing it because we are too greedy and easily corrupted.

          If so, what makes any other political philosophy more feasible in the face of such a reality?

          1. If so, what makes any other political philosophy more feasible in the face of such a reality?

            By all means, go and give it a try. Seriously.
            But don’t be surprised if it turns out to be as much of a flop as communism was, which looked equally good on paper but not so much in reality where it involved actual people.

  27. @ethyachk

    that’s pretty funny.

    But not so funny when the “idealists” behave contrary to their own ideals most of the time, all the time trying to justify “how, no, actually, i am still being an idealist because of x, y, or z”. Human capacity to self-deceive right in the face of obvious truth is something that should not be underestimated.

    Its better to accept this human flaw and use a system that puts checks and balances in place (or at least tries to) I still hold that the american government is doing a piss poor job of regulating the market place.

    To my mind the american marketplace is far more libertarianism than social/liberal. Need we remind ourselves of the sub-prime collapse. And then sadly as soon as the system needs saving, which it possibly did to avert bigger crisis (which may have just been postponed instead of saved), suddenly socialism and big government is good.

    1. “Need we remind ourselves of the sub-prime collapse.”

      Yes, I think you do. Hmmm… like Fannie and Freddie Mac pushing sub-prime loans?

      1. Yes, Fannie and Freddie got in big trouble buying sub-prime loans during the housing bubble, but they didn’t invent the practice, nor were they main drivers of the bubble. In fact, from 2000-2004 (when the housing bubble really took off) they weren’t even allowed to count high-risk loans toward their affordable housing goals. They lobbied for (and got)that rule changed in 2004, because all of their sub-prime customers were flocking to private lenders that were already in a race to the bottom in terms of their underwriting standards. The big private lenders (Countrywide, BofA, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, etc.) were raking in huge profits from the housing bubble, enabled by deregulation (especially the Commodities Futures Modernization Act). The front-line lenders didn’t care about whether their customers had a prayer to ever pay off their mortgagem, because they immediately sold the loans (for a profit) to middlemen, who bundled the loans and sold them to the big investment banks, who sliced and diced them into mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, synthetic CDOs, and all manner of wacky derivatives, completely unregulated thanks to the CFMA. The ratings agencies (who were and are paid by the companies they rate) gave the senior tranches of the CDOs AAA bond ratings. And on top of that, they took side bets on whether the CDOs would fail or not buy buying & selling credit default swaps, which are like insurance but (wait for it) completely unregulated, so that there was no rule that a company selling “protection” keep any capital in reserve against the risk it might actually have to pay up (which of course is exactly what happened when the bubble burst).

        So libertarians can’t pin the housing bubble and its subsequent collapse on Fannie & Freddie. The private lenders were more than sufficient to take down the global economy all by themselves. Furthermore, Fannie and Freddie are for-profit, publicly traded companies (since 1968), and their CEOs and boards have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. Fannie & Freddie tanked because they took on the same risk as the big private banks did in order to chase the same profits. The mortgage crisis was a colossal market failure enabled and amplified by deregulation.

  28. I’d like to see the experiment be realized. I just really wonder who would want to go live there. Seriously, people willing to risk living in such a society has to be of a certain niche, so even if the experiment turns out to work (if it happens, that would be enough to turn an atheist into a believer), it wouldn’t apply to the rest of the world or on larger scales. Societal dynamics are scale-dependent. I think the idea is nuts, but like I said, knock yourselves out. I’ll be waiting impatiently for that “I told you so” moment.

  29. An interesting experiment, once these are up and running, would be to institute a trade embargo and see if they last as long as communist Cuba. A pretty good A vs. B battle of the extreme ideologies.

  30. Great AI post and lots of thought-provoking comments, blessedly free of some of the flaming that often characterizes any discussion of Libertarianism in (ahem) certain other fora in which I lurk.

    While I think this Seastead would be an interesting experiment, I believe that the self-selecting nature of its participants would prevent one from drawing any conclusions about the result(s). You would be unable to extrapolate anything from the experiment that could be considered applicable anywhere outside of one of these habitats. As such, it holds little or no promise of illuminating us vis-a-vis the potential of such a political system.

    FWIW, I identify myself as a liberal civil-libertarian. That is, I support civil liberties (freedom of speech, association, etc.) but believe there is a role for government in ensuring freedom of opportunity through regulation, a social safety net, etc.

    I went through a full libertarian (“I’ve got mine, so f*ck you!) phase when I was younger, but then I grew up. I realized that as a child of middle-class parents I had a whole bunch of advantages that I had done nothing to deserve aside from being born in Canada to parents of moderate means. Once I realized this, and realized also that I would never be able to relate on an experiential level to people who have grown up otherwise, I became more liberal (bleeding heart, I’m sure some would say) in my philosophy.

    1. Your experiences closely parallels mine, just substitute USA for Canada.
      My first presidential vote was for Ronald Reagan (I feel ill). I now find myself in the situation of being among the working poor and it is not an enviable position.

      1. Interestingly,Reagan would be deemed a flaming socialist in today’s political environment.Not to mention,an “elitist”.

  31. For folks who don’t understand the hostility to libertarianism from liberals, given how many data-points they allegedly agree on, one thing you need to realize is that virtually every time a self-declared Libertarian has gotten even a whiff of power, they bank hard into lassez-fair economics, while forgetting all the civil libertarian points. So they might mention dropping the War on Drugs, but they never seem to push for legislation supporting that position, the way they do for laws repealing business regulation and pollution controls.

  32. ethychk: “You don’t think it possible that a libertarian could strive for a smaller government and be bound by the reality that it won’t happen exactly like the ideal?”

    The fact that I think we can agree on is that we live somewhere on a continuum between all-out 1984/Stalin government control and free, unfettered corporatism. To some extent government and business act as checks upon one another.

    At least in my own experience, I’ve seen very few liberals who want to go all the way towards the government control end anymore. Sure, there were plenty of out-and-out communists fifty years ago, but I think they’ve mostly died off — everyone knows exactly why that won’t work.

    But I’ve seen PLENTY of libertarians and conservatives whose rhetoric, at least, seems to want to take us all the way in the other direction. Not “let’s ease up on a few regulations” but “all government is evil/stupid/worthless.” Many more who talk about, say, privatizing the public school system than those who believe in nationalizing the oil companies.

    Realistically, for this country to work we need to stay somewhere on that continuum. The ironic thing is that nowadays, the liberals seem to be the ones who want to defend the status quo while the conservatives and libertarians want radical change.

  33. Is’nt anyone interested in the opportunities for constitutional experimentation provided by revolving space collonies constructed by robots.

  34. Libertarians have tried the island thing before. I think Hemingways brother had a go at it. There has been a group in California for years trying to support for building a LIbertarian paradise out of some sort of concrete made from coral. It would cost so much to build such a “paradise”, I can’t imagine it working. I think the closest model you might have is Luxemborg. At least when I was there it FELT like a Libertarian paradise (a very wealthy Libertarian paradise)

  35. Perhaps the libertarians could experiment by setting up their country in SecondLife, or some such digital universe.

  36. What these Libertarians want is a place to park the wealth they have exploited from countries by gaming the governments of those countries and not pay even the minimal taxes their purchased government officials impose.

    Governments will not allow such a place to have a banking system that connects to the rest of the world unless there is sufficient transparency to prevent money laundering. Maybe they could do all transactions in gold, but what kind of trade or commerce can such a place do if they can’t transfer funds electronically?

    What are they going to sell? Safe havens for drug lords? Governments already can’t keep the drug lords from using violence. I suppose the Libertarians will make the drug lords promise to not use violence or they will kick them off the island.

    Safe havens for war criminals? Pedophile priests? The scum of the Earth?

  37. A philosopher named Anatole France once remarked ” The law in its majestic wisdom punishes the rich and the poor equally for the crime of sleeping under a bridge.” I have yet to encounter a libertarian who could grasp this concept. Without a grasp of such a concept, an intelligent discussion is impossible. Amanda Marcotte has it pretty well figured out already. Move along, nothing to see here …

    On the subject of Adam Smith, I doubt that most libertarians have actually read “The Wealth of Nations” or if they have it’s a libertarian cliff notes version or maybe a “Roy Comfort all the bits that give it meaning taken out” version. Read the full version. It’s available for free online.

    Someone asked why the venom. I have encountered a few more-or-less rational libertarians. But the majority I see are smug, smarmy liars who pull factoids out of their butts. Only the government creates monopolies?! In my work I am banging up against non-government created monopolies. All. The. Time.

    On the Clown Preserve idea, it’s worth mentioning that one version of this idea “floated” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) a few years ago by Milton Friedman’s son or grandson entailed building the island in San Francisco Bay. Evidently the younger Friedman did not realize that the Bay is still within U.S. territorial waters. Anyway, when a journalist asked him why San Francisco Bay, he answered “because of the amenities.” Yes, the evil bad liberals create a very nice place to live, which the libertarians wish to enjoy without contributing to or supporting it. I like that idea better than the present one since Ass-hat Island in SF bay means we could shell them from shore.

    Little point of historical trivia: Ayn Rand, the patron saint of many (most?) libertarians, hated them and thought they were nitwits. You can find some of her libertarian-bashing quotes on the Ayn Rand Institute web site:

    1. If you’re going to call someone a liar you should at least get your quotes right. I never said only government creates monopolies, what I said is monopolies cannot exist without the sanction and support of government. Here in America we have laws prohibiting monopolies, yet the government has allowed certain industries to consolidate such that de facto monopolies exist (utilities, hospitals, etc).

      I’m not familiar with anti-trust laws (or their equivalent) in other countries, but I find it difficult to believe that a monopoly can exist anywhere with the direct support of government. I’d be very curious to better understand the monopolies you are forced to deal with. Are you willing to share details?

      1. “what I said is monopolies cannot exist without the sanction and support of government. Here in America we have laws prohibiting monopolies, yet the government has allowed certain industries to consolidate such that de facto monopolies exist (utilities, hospitals, etc).”

        I wonder if you can figure out the contradiction in the passage above. I find this all rather puzzling. You admit that without laws against them monopolies will form, yes? Therefore, monopolies do not require government in order for monopolies to exist. That the government has granted real or de facto exemptions for some monopolies indicates an erosion of anti-monopoly law, not that governments somehow cause monopolies.

        Also, on the subject of lying, here is the quote to which I responded:
        “The only monopolies that’ve ever existed in US history are those sanctioned and supported by the government…” This quote clearly states (by using the words “only” and “ever”) that you mean all monopolies during the entire 1786- to the present history of the U.S. FYI, Anti-trust (anti-monopoly) laws did not come into existence until the 20th century. So using extra special libertarian logic, that the government did not pass laws against monopolies until the 20th century constituted “sanction and support” for them? Therefore government is responsible for monopolies? And that’s why government is bad? So if we get rid of government regulation then monopolies won’t form? Is this what you’re trying to tell us?

        How do you get there from here?!

        1. Ah, I see the problem. I certainly agree monopolies can form without government intervention. Perhaps what I should’ve said is the only monopolies that have managed to remain monopolies (in the US) for any significant time period were only able to do so with the sanction and support of government. Going back to the earliest de facto monopolies in the US–the railroad conglomerations of the 19th century–they would not have been possible without the direct support of the local and federal governments they bought and paid for.

          And the first laws addressing anti-trust issues were passed in the latter half of the 19th century, mainly due to concern over the power railroad companies to control industries outside of the railroad.

          Nevertheless, I never suggested the fact that government supports and maintains monopolies is evidence that government is ‘bad’ or that we need to get rid of regulation. I made the statement in rebuttal to those who suggested government is the ONLY effective foil against monopolies, to point out the fact that government doesn’t always prevent monopoly; it usually only prevents monopolies for those without the right connections.

          1. There did used to be competing railroads in much of the east coast at least. The thing is that in many areas there is not enough business to support competing infrastructures so it is not worth it to build there.

            You see this all the time in vital services, having multiple power distribution networks going to every home would be incredibly impractical.

            So it is easy to be the only hospital or such in a comunity

          2. I think your problem is you’re point of view is too US-centric.

            Never mind the fact that it’s pretty hard to break into an industry where one established player has all the power and can set the price to the point where any new business can’t make the profits needed to expand.
            But the same thing goes internationally.
            Just because a business has a competitor in one country doesn’t mean that this competitor has the ability to branch out onto the international market, or prevent the bigger company from merging with all the local players.

            And if your business relies on a particular new technology, the head start your company has on any others in the field could be enough.

            Like anything else, a free market relies on a certain balance between competitors and between seller and buyer, supply and demand. But once that balance has shifted too far, it doesn’t re-establish itself all on its own. There is no invisible hand, there’s only the very visible hand of the government pushing things back towards equilibrium.

            You can’t deny that.

  38. Offshore datacenters would be awesome. Beyond the reach of governments, anonymous free speech could reign supreme and absolute (until China invades them). No censorship, libel, copyright, product defamation, or other claims could impinge upon free speech.

    But offshore servers are not necessary, as long as people who run encrypted proxy servers onshore aren’t liable for what their users send and aren’t required to keep logs of anything.

  39. If Wikileaks were run from a known floating datacenter in international waters, Republicans would definitely bomb it.

  40. So the solution is to hide amongst them, not set up a physically separate bastion which is physically indefensible.

  41. It is fun to have philosophical or political arguments about “seasteading,” but the idea appears unlikely to become a reality any time soon. On an engineering level, the projects are little more than pipe dreams unless they obtain enormous funding — in the billions of dollars, at least. On a legal level, there is no special reason to believe that existing states will tolerate the creative use of international law, by ideologically motivated non-state actors, to magick into existence “libertarian states” or “pirate utopias” protected from intervention by conventional, land-based states. It is ultimately a form of science-fictional escapism, rather than consequential political activism.

  42. Self replicating technology could be used to mine the sea bed and claim a seabed nation. with habitable enclosers.

      1. A blacksmiths workshop is self replicating. We just have’nt evolved a self replicating technology so it’s autonimous, so needs no human intervention.

          1. Start attacking people!!!? :)

            No, artificial inteligence will odds on be much more intelligent than us, save the universe from us and cull us by making artificial sex and relationships with them much better than real sex and relationships between us.

          2. Or not cull us. Earth is more than minute when you can live anywhere in the vast solar system, let alone the unimaginable size of the universe.

          3. Damien, these AI robots will be bought by Libertarians, so they will be constructed to conform to Libertarian principles and would never start killing people or the Libertarians will demand their money back!

            Problem solved!

            Same with the possibility of the floating thing sinking. The Libertarians will put a clause in their contract with the constructors that if the island sinks, the Libertarians get their money back.

            Problem solved!

  43. Wow! Heavens to betsy!

    Look at all these comments!

    I had no idea this was such a hotly contested issue in this community. My my my.

    Anyway… just to throw my own little drop in the bucket:

    Whenever you get two people together there is going to be a power dynamic. One is going to have more power than the other. One will have more money or resources, or physical strength, or social privilege, or intelligence, or ruthlessness, or weapons, or whatever. It is totally impossible to have any kind of community without some having power of others, and given human nature, that always eventually leads to bullying, exploitation, and Hegelian master/slave dialectic thingies.

    Government is basically an agreement amongst a community as to how power gets distributed so that it doesn’t simply fall in the hands of the biggest, strongest, richest or most cold-blooded. Government’s job is to protect the rights and liberties of people from stronger people.

    Taxes and the redistribution of resources are to protect the poor and needy. It’s a community agreeing to take care of its own. Police are to protect the weak and passive from the strong and aggressive. Military is to protect the community from the outside. Hospitals are to protect the sick. Etc.

    So… to me, when someone says “small government!”, I hear “less protections! less community! less rights for the less privileged! more rights for the more privileged! hurray for bullies!”

    Yes, government can itself become the bully, sure. But government always has at least some degree of accountability to its citizens. At the VERY least there’s the threat of revolution.

    A power vacuum ALWAYS gets filled.

    To help everyone get an idea of how I envision a libertarian society… anyone here remember high school?

    1. There’s a really good, scary zombie movie in here somewhere.

      BTW, the banner ad below the reply box at the moment is a campaign fund-raising ad for Ron Paul.

      1. Mine is an ad for something called “shoe dazzle”. Hooray for gender targeted advertising. :p

    2. If you replace muscle with money Bushes USA looked pretty much like a high school to me. Though I’m British and nowhere is perfect but as far as I can see every time the Repoblicans run the USA the government isn’t just small it doesn’t exist. The Republican presidency was privatised years ago.

  44. “…as far as I can see every time the Repoblicans run the USA the government isn’t just small it doesn’t exist.”

    Then I guess the press didn’t cover the Bush administration very well in jolly ole Great Britain.

    The Bush administration saw one of the largest expansions of US government power in the history of the country. Spending skyrocketed, the Medicare prescription drug plan is the largest entitlement program since the passage of the original Medicare program, the No Child Left Behind act brought federal control over local schools for the first time ever, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is the most sweeping legislation affecting corporations and public accounting since the 1933 and 1934 securities acts, and last but not least, we saw the enactment of the USA Patriot Act.

    And none of this, of course, includes the massive (and massively expensive) military invasions of two sovereign nations.

    This is what you call ‘nonexistent’ government?

    1. Yep. I’m saying the Bush corperate coup didn’t serve the people who barely elected it but corperations who funded and owned it. Borrowing skyrocketed because of tax cuts and All those decisions were made to serve corperations balance sheets. The Bush cuop almost brought the USA to it’s knees. The USA needs political choice and they haven’t got it. Ron Paul has lots of views I disagree with but seems credible and probably hateable in power but not totally crazy like Bush or even Palin or Rick Perry (peace be upon him) or Michele (McCarthy) Bachmann :) If ay of them get elected just jump in the life boats and get out :)

  45. Yeahhhh, engineering wise this is totally infeasible. Peter Thiel just threw 1.5 million away.

  46. There’s an excellent BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis called All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace that gives some really good insights into where many of the Silicon Valley Libertarians beliefs originate. In many ways Silicon Valley Libertarians are somewhat different than Tea Party or Ron Paul Libertarians, in that quite a lot of Silicon Valley Libertarians are a mix of techno utopianism and/or SF/Burning Man hippy libertine philosophy with a big dose of Ayn Rand thrown in.

    Perhaps of interest to Skepchick readers is how the series also deconstructs some quite prevalent ideas about nature and biology and how our concepts of nature have been influenced by computer technology (and related theory/philosophy). I enjoyed it thoroughly because it provoked me to look at and question some of my own presumptions – plus it’s just beautifully made.) It’s a very good deconstruction of where the (false) idea of the self balancing system comes from (you find this idea being sold by alternative medicine types, that serve as a fine example of what happens when an industry isn’t properly regulated).

    I find it pretty amusing that someone can call themselves a Libertarian and then not even understand that Anarchy (with a capital A) is about “no gods, no rulers” and not simply chaos (not that practically applying Anarchy is necessarily any easier than Libertarian ideals – the original ideals in themselves often aren’t bad and are pretty damn close to Anarchy). If we discount the few people who actually live like Libertarians (the self sufficient back-to-the-land types, as opposed to those promoting techno utopias). And, then of course there’s the problematic Koch Brothers who fund Libertarian groups and are behind the Tea Party who seem to be essentially angling for a form of feudalsim and/or extensive wage slavery).

    As an aside, it’s not like Paypal actually does practically support supposedly Libertarian ideals – fantasies of floating islands aside – you only have to look at how quickly they caved to government pressure to cut off routes of funding to Wikileaks. It’s pretty entrenched in the economic/legal/governmental system (and supportive of it) – though I guess the founder likes to think of himself as a radical freethinker so a couple of floating islands helps him to shore up this self image.

  47. Boomer writes: “Going back to the earliest de facto monopolies in the US–the railroad conglomerations of the 19th century–they would not have been possible without the direct support of the local and federal governments they bought and paid for.”

    They bought and paid for government to LOOK THE OTHER WAY while they performed various underhanded, unethical, mean-spirited, and duplicitous — BUT NOT NECESSARILY VIOLENT — ways of getting rid of and absorbing their competition. What is the difference between a bribed government and a “small government” that has been stripped of any power over corps? Back then they bribed government not to regulate; now they encourage political philosophies that seek to remove the power of government to regulate. The corporations’ goal is the same either way; thus, why shouldn’t we presume the end result would be the same?

    1. Not really, the government knew it needed infrastructure and did not have the principle of public infrastructure on a national level. So they privatized it and subsidized it. Simple really and seems to fit well with libertarian principles to a degree.

  48. I would seriously like a libertarian to answer some of these questions. I’ve always wondered about these. I get the whole “no violence above all” foundation. What the libertarians don’t seem to get is that, without government protection, an employer can use many methods of control over its employee, without any violence being necessary. (In fact, it was only in the very last stages of the union birth-pangs in this country that the government got involved in backing up the corporations through its monopoly on violence — for the decades previous, the corporations didn’t need direct government assistance, just to be left alone.)

    Here are my questions. I’d like to know whether, in the “small government” Ron Paul utopia you’re working towards, any of the following non-violent business practices would be discouraged or prevented:

    Retaliatory firing: This is the easiest form of corporate control. Just axe any employee who says something you don’t like.

    Blacklisting: “Not only are you fired, but I will talk to all the other shop owners, so you’ll never be hired by anyone!”

    Deadly shops: No regulations means no OSHA. Obviously this works best when there’s a labor glut so your workers can’t just go elsewhere — unless you can persuade your competitors in your field to skimp on the safety themselves. (see next entry)

    Price-fixing: As long as you and your competitors can agree to a nice little cartel, you don’t need a monopoly.

    Discrimination: I asked a black libertarian I knew about this — he said it should be perfectly legal for coffee shops not to serve him, because if they would want to do that, then he wouldn’t want to go there anyway. Maybe so, but still, a world where I needed to check what customers were allowed into every business I frequented isn’t a world I’d care to inahbit.

    There are more, but I’ll stop with these for now.

    1. “What the libertarians don’t seem to get is that, without government protection, an employer can use many methods of control over its employee, without any violence being necessary.”

      Are you suggesting employees of today have no methods available to them with which to demand fairness from their employers? As far as I see, the nonaggression principle doesn’t preclude unionization, as long as it entirely voluntary.

      While I don’t consider myself a libertarian, per se, I can certainly take a crack at logically applying the nonaggression principle to your questions.

      Retaliatory firing:

      First off, I’m compelled to ask why one would wish to work for an employer with whom one has a deep disagreement. Regardless, yes, I believe ALL business relationships should be voluntary. If an employer feels a particular employee doesn’t meet his/her needs (s)he should be free to find someone who does. Likewise, if an employee doesn’t like the way his/her employer does business (s)he should be free to find another employer, or start a competing business. Would you call this retaliatory quitting?


      Assuming your theoretical employer is not being truthful about the employee she is attempting to blacklist, I question your contention that this form of retaliatory activity isn’t violence. I would most certainly consider attempting to destroy a person’s reputation with lies to be fraudulent, which is clearly a form of violence.

      If, on the other hand, an employer tells the truth about his relationship with a particular employee, why would this be wrong?

      Deadly shops:

      See my answer above regarding unions.

      Price Fixing:

      Of course this is a form of violence. A group of people are colluding to defraud their customers; how could this NOT be considered violent behavior?


      There are many ways to look at the restrictions placed on private businesses as a result of the Civil Rights Act. No doubt, racial discrimination by private business would have continued in some areas of the country had the practice not been outlawed. But even if the proscriptions against racial discrimination by private business NOT been included in the law, it would have served its primary purpose of outlawing the larger problem of institutionalized racial discrimination practiced by local GOVERNMENT in the form of so-called Jim Crow laws.

      Many seem to forget that when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus it was GOVERNMENT she was rebelling against, not a private business. Martin Luther King’s movement was aimed at eliminating GOVERNMENT discrimination, not trying to change the views of a few racist asshole businessmen.

      Indeed, a strong argument can be made that much of the discrimination by private businesses were encouraged and bolstered by government-backed racial discrimination, and that the practice would have died off on its own once the Jim Crow laws were eliminated. While we’ll never know now how it would have turned out, I have enough faith in my fellow citizens to believe this to be the case.

      Be that as it may, ultimately, some choices make a particular company look good in the arena of public opinion, others don’t. How do you think a company’s choice to arbitrarily exclude patrons based on race would work out in today’s America? People picket businesses ceaselessly for the silliest of reasons; can you imagine the number of picketers that would gather outside of a business that excludes blacks just because of their color?

      “…a world where I needed to check what customers were allowed into every business I frequented isn’t a world I’d care to inhabit.”

      Why? Do you make choices on who you do business with based on environmental concerns? On whether a particular company is union-friendly or not? Whether products are made in the USA or abroad? Whether those made abroad support de facto slave labor? Why not whether a business engages in racial discrimination?

      Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely abhor the idea of a business excluding particular customers based on race. But if the practice were allowed it would certainly make it easier to ensure my hard-earned dollars were NOT supporting the fuckers who did it. For all we know, you and I might be doing business with racists assholes every day without even knowing it.

      What better way, after all, to influence someone’s behavior or beliefs than through their wallets and pocketbooks?

  49. These questions will likely be lost on most libertarians. Many refuse to admit that any of the practices you mention either ever happened or if they did, it was not for long (?!) and therefore doesn’t count. Notice how Boomer has started to eat his own tail in response to my posts.

    Company towns? Well, the libertarian will say that each party to a business relationship has the freedom to leave that relationship. Problem solved! But recall the quote ”The law in its majestic wisdom punishes the rich and the poor equally for the crime of sleeping under a bridge.” How do you eat or go anywhere without money given that you are paid in company scrip? Nice berries in the forest? The reality of the power imbalance always escapes them since it lies so far beyond their experience.

    In response to the libertarian denunciation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act that required private businesses not to discriminate a more-or-less sane libertarian, Prof. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago wrote: “To be against Title II in 1964 would be to be brain-dead to the underlying realities of how this world works.”

    Brain-dead to the underlying realities of how this world works best explains the approach that many libertarians take to answering these questions.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by eating my own tail; I was unclear, so I clarified. I’m perfectly willing to admit my inaccuracies when provided more accurate data–a benefit of not being tied to a particular partisan position.

      Please tell me where I’ve been inaccurate.

      BTW, I note you have not shared details of the monopolies you bump against ‘all. the. time.’ Are these monopolies that exist without the support of government?

      1. “Please tell me where I’ve been inaccurate.”

        Ben Goldacre, who does a wonderful blog called “Bad Science” ( said something so wonderful during an interview that I transcribed it right away. After having spent an hour or so researching an answer to a global warming denier’s assertion in the comments on “Bad Science” then crafting a factual reply to the effect that the “counter-theory” had been examined and disproven decades ago, the denier breezily admitted with the word “yes” then proceeded to “but…” and on to another subject. Goldacre asked: “Can we just take maybe like 30 seconds to, sort of, celebrate or at least notice the fact that you just did something really annoying?” You pull factoids out of your butt, like there were no monopolies that lasted for “any significant time period ” period of time without government support (wonderful use of so much subjective, conditional words that no one can pin you down to saying anything – nice job). And “de facto monopolies?” As opposed to what? Although it might be fun to do an hour or so of research to find a monopoly that lasted what you consider a “significant time period” I am not interested in playing this game. You can read some of Philip Foner’s books on U.S. Labor and economic history if you like. Or not. I don’t care.

        You have constructed a circuitous argument that because the robber barons of the 19th century bought off government officials that somehow implicates government, as an institution and as a concept, in the creation of monopolies. Rather than advocate for transparency and accountability in both government and in corporations you make the argument that government has some sort of causal role in the creation of monopolies. This evades the paradox of unrestricted free-enterprise: that competition works temporarily only until someone obtains enough wealth to engage in tricks that eradicate competition. Buying government officials (or having friends in high places) is only one “trick” in the repertoire. But you direct your hostility toward government rather than the bastards who hijack it. Odd.

        You stated “I made the statement in rebuttal to those who suggested government is the ONLY effective foil against monopolies… ” OK, what are the more effective measures to prevent or break-up monopolies? When have these other measures proven effective?

        To answer your question about my experiences with monopolies, in one particular arcane area of services to libraries, one company has bought-out all viable competitors. I started to switch my library’s contract to a competitor that had a better service (slightly more expensive but worth it) then the mediocre company bought the competitor in question before I effected the switch. That’s only one example. In the databases we buy for student and faculty use I see a lot of consolidation going on – fewer and fewer players. There are several instances of a choice of one or none.

        1. Sadunlap, thanks for at least taking the time to answer.

          “Rather than advocate for transparency and accountability in both government and in corporations you make the argument that government has some sort of causal role in the creation of monopolies.”

          This has been your position for nearly every post you’ve made in response to mine, and it’s wrong. You are putting words in my mouth.

          I think if you look over my posts carefully you’ll admit I’ve never claimed that government is a necessary ingredient to the formation of monopoly, only that government is necessary for a monopoly that takes advantage of its monopoly position to remain in existence. I cannot put any clearer than that.

          Further, I’ve mentioned several times my faith in the power of transparency. I’ve suggested that in today’s internet world it would be impossible for any company to act in bad faith without news of such behavior becoming public.

          For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily think a monopoly is automatically ‘bad.’ When colonists pining for Old World comforts began arriving in North America, they quickly realized they wouldn’t have them without the financial and logistical support of large companies. Colonial administrators granted companies willing to provide such support exclusive business contracts, some of which endured even after the Revolutionary War ended.

          If a monopoly uses its economic advantages to supply a desired commodity in the most efficient manner possible while keeping its customers satisfied, then there is no profit in seeking to compete with it.

          A monopoly becomes ‘bad’ when it initiates violence in dealings with suppliers, distribution partners, etc. to prevent competition and/or initiates violence against its customers by defrauding them through price gouging. I contend that in a market where everyone is aware of the activity, this sort of behavior cannot last, at least not without the support of government. Pick whatever time period you believe to be appropriate, but absent government involvement, every bad monopoly will eventually fall. It dooms itself the minute people begin believing they are being taken advantage of.

          BTW, I used the term ‘de facto monopoly’ to describe the oligopoly that was the railroad industry in mid-to-late 19th century America. While oligopoly and monopoly have different dictionary definitions, the end result is the same: an industry where competition is prevented such that producers may take unfair advantage of their customers.

          “…what are the more effective measures to prevent or break-up monopolies? When have these other measures proven effective?”

          Free markets made America the land of opportunity, and there is no greater opportunity than an entire industry with only one supplier who everyone hates. When a monopoly becomes oppressive enough people will find ways to undermine it–unless the law makes doing so illegal.

          A perfect example is that of US Steel. After its formation with the merger in 1901 of industry giants, Andrew Carnagie, Charles Schwab and J.P. Morgan (among others), US Steel controlled some 70% of the market. As the industry giant continued to buy up competition, the government brought an anti-trust suit in 1911 amid monopoly fears, but the US Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the company. So what prevented the expected monopoly that government was unable to?

          Free market competition. In the ten years leading up to the suit, the remaining players in the steel industry proved more agile in meeting customer needs, cutting US Steel’s market share to less than 50%. The rest is history.

          At any rate, the fact is I really don’t have a problem with monopolies that don’t initiate violence in preventing competition, or against their customers. The lessons learned from Standard Oil in the early years of the petroleum industry showed that, in certain circumstances, a larger company could, through economies of scale, benefit a larger number of people more efficiently than many smaller companies.

          Although Rockefeller’s tactics in making it the huge corporation it became were certainly less than desirable, it wasn’t until the eventual break up of Standard Oil that its manifold benefits became known. The oil industry was much better able to control prices after Rockefeller used the resources and influence of Standard Oil to develop a distribution system independent of the railroad (a tactic that contributed to the fall of the railroad oligopoly). He was also able to enact quality control measures that made the oil industry much less prone to the environmental indifference of many smaller companies, some of which were willing to cut costs on inferior pipelines and pollute the local environment with industrial wastes. Standard Oil enjoyed enough resources to invest in finding ways to make use of its industrial waste, Vaseline perhaps being the best known product developed from it.

          From Standard Oil, government learned the value of monopoly to the public in certain circumstance, which is why it didn’t break up AT&T until 1982, and why we still have monopolies all over the country for things like utilities and hospitals.

          Be that is it may, I still contend that monopolies which initiate violence against their customers and potential competitors will eventually fail. Those sanctioned by government may endure longer than they otherwise would, but it’s only a matter of time until people are no longer willing to accept being taken advantage of…

    2. As far as I can tell, Libertarians argue that since the possible abuses of power that their opponents point out, which might occur under a libertarian system, also occur under the present system. So they propose removing one of the most potent means of redress of these problems, namely government regulation.

      1. I don’t believe I’ve argued in favor of removing government regulation. Since you brought it up, however, I will say I believe that politicians (on both sides of the aisle) have forgotten the true utility of regulation, instead using them to reward their allies and punish their enemies. Regulations in today’s America are nothing more than fungible political assets, payoffs to corporations who rightly view campaign contributions and lobbying politicians as far more profitable than actually competing in the market.

        I don’t believe the answer is NO REGULATION, but I could sure live with LESS REGULATION. The number of pages in the federal register numbers in the hundreds of thousands–some have estimated a ten-fold increase over the last five decades. What are the odds that your average law-abiding person can live through a single day without running afoul of at least one of those rules? Shouldn’t we, as law-abiding citizens, be able to live our lives free from the fear of inadvertently breaking the rules we are expected to live by? Why do average, law-abiding citizens who are trying to follow the rules tremble at the thought of an IRS audit?

        I see ads on TV all the time for law firms specializing in helping people obtain Social Security benefits. How can our social safety net, a system designed to help the least fortunate in our society, be so fiendishly Byzantine it requires that those who can least afford to do so seek the aid of a lawyer to obtain help? Do you think TOO MUCH REGULATION might be involved?

        A telling illustration of the craziness was then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s public gaff when in reference to the Affordable Care Act she said congress would have to pass the law before we could really understand what was in it.

        There is a place for law and regulation in every society. I think we trudged past that place some time ago with our heads bowed under the weight of hundreds of thousands of pages of regulation…

  50. To give Boomer credit, his last post about Bush was spot on. Bush (and the other Republicans as well) spent a lot of time talking about shrinking government, but only got as far as the lowering taxes part == the other half, where you’re supposed to cut spending to go along with it, instead got turned into RAISING spending on several wars instead. Now they are shocked — SHOCKED I TELL YOU — to discover we’re deep in the hole. Clearly it’s all Obama’s fault.

    1. With his characteristic perfect timing, the croupier arrives and says, “Your winnings, sir.”

  51. Modern commerce is a socialist enterprise. Umderpinned entirely by tax money. Commerce only exists because governments exist to secure the currency and provide the physical security of law and order. Love to discuss that point with someone from here

  52. Nah, savi, it’s just people who don’t want to take a step back towards slavery and feudalism. So far I’ve seen more “Libertarian” support (both in this thread and in the real world) for maintaining the tools of state oppression than I have from most other people that identify themselves via an “ism”. It’s a bit silly to say “I advocate freedom, well except for keeping all the enforcers”. The enforcers being both the police (used for oppressing people at home) and the army (that are used for repressing people both at home and abroad) – there’s no real talk about actually dismantling the authoritarian state, just about getting rid of the useful prosocial parts of the state.

    With freedom comes responsibility but I rarely see ideological Libertarians (as opposed to practical ones) speaking about the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Sure I know all kinds of practical (as opposed to purely ideological) Libertarians that I have huge respect for and share quite a few beliefs with regarding the relationship between freedom and responsibility. For all practical purposes, they’re really not much different than practical anarchists. There’s nothing like going back to live on the land or actually putting some of these ideas into action even in a TAZ to make you realize just how important social cooperation and sharing actually are.

    To me, and this is just my impression from your comment so I’m open to clarification, you seem to have fallen into the Liberals vs Conservative/Libertarian dichotomy promoted by the major political players. The people I respect who identify as Libertarians don’t get caught in this mental (and emotional) trap and can see where they have common ground with all kinds of other people and are also willing to discuss differences as adults that understand the relationship between responsibility and freedom. Not surprisingly, many of these people are somewhat put off at seeing “Libertarian” being coopted by people like the Koch Brothers and the Republicans. Ideology, even ones that claim to promote “freedom”, is pretty much always an intellectual and emotional trap – particularly if one starts to build their personal identity on it and increases the likelihood of creating confirmation biases for oneself.

    1. I broke out of the right/left false dichotomy years ago, which is why I hate liberalism (and pseudo-conservatism).

      1. I should elaborate a bit. I hate both sides of the false political dichotomy because I consider them to be two different brands of the same thing (statism). Both want to control the lives of others against their will.

  53. savi, unfortunately your response doesn’t indicate an actual breaking with that dichotomy – though I have no doubt you believe your assertion that you have. What gives this away is your use of “pseudo-conservatism” and “hate” for liberalism (a rather emotional reaction). It gives the appearance that you consider there to be some “authentic conservatism” that you align yourself with or approve of. You’re still locked into the liberal vs conservative mindset – you’re just telling yourself that Libertarianism is “real conservatism”. The reality is that, for all practical intents and purposes, truly anti-authoritarian/anti-statist Libertarianism shares more with Anarchy than it does traditional political conservatism. The kind of Libertarianism that proposes a form of “statism” where the government exists ONLY to enforce conformity and punish those who don’t bend to its will is highly authoritarian. So, if this is what “Libertarian” means to you, you’re not actually anti-authoritarian and quite open to the government (which remains as, if not more, open to corruption as any other form of government) using force to make people do things against their will. If you truly are an anti-authoritarian “Libertarian” then you would be just as critical of all conservatism as you are liberalism (and wouldn’t, as you seem to be doing, perceiving Libertarianism as a form of conservatism since traditional conservatism isn’t highly supportive of individual freedom and is often quite critical of the indulgence of the individual’s will). Your claims will make more sense if you can show you’re not still rocking a, quite possibly unconscious but quite emotional from your language, left vs right/liberal vs conservative dichotomy.

  54. The other reality you’re ignoring because you’re indulging in ideological thinking – rather than practical, skeptical thinking – is human nature. Even if there was no government there’d still be individuals or groups that would try to force others to do things against their will.

    It’s nice to believe there’s some sort of political magic bullet that would deliver some romantic form of freedom (I say romantic because it’s divorced from the real world responsibility required for freedom), but that’s ultimately magical thinking. I often get the impression that what people really mean when they say they want “freedom” is actually to be indulged – to have their desires indulged – rather than actually wanting to take the personal and social responsibility required to create both personal and some form of social freedom. As I said, I have a great deal of respect for some people that identify as Libertarians (or used to do so anyway) – not because of how they label themselves, which often really says more about someone’s self image than their most deeply held values, but because of their actions and ability to have moved out of the liberal vs conservative/left vs right trap.

    1. My goal was never to convince you that I’ve outgrown the left/right false dichotomy of American politics, or of my political knowledge in general. I just wanted to make an observation on the attitudes of the people posting here. But that was before you tried to play some sort of Columbo/Freud hybrid by putting clues together about my previous posts in order to examine my mind. You’re way off in describing both my own mindset and views, and libertarianism as a whole. This isn’t surprising, since I gave you so little to work with. But I can see you’re trying to make as many assumptions about me based on as little evidence as possible. Hell, I bet you actually think I’m a libertarian. In fact I support the concept of a resource based economy, as defined by the Venus Project (which addresses the point you made in your second to last paragraph, by the way). Anyway, I’m not interested in discussing these things any further.

  55. To address a point that Boomer made earlier when the claim that free markets was what made America the land of opportunity.

    What made America, Canada and Australia lands of opportunity was the possibility of free (or almost free) land, as well as the goldrushes, of course. That said, not everyone who paid for their license to pan for gold (and the other ways prospectors were exploited) actually found gold – we tend to hear about the success stories rather than the people who failed. We also tend to forget about the people being exploited – from slaves to indentured servants, to people who ended up wage slaves (it was pretty common to charge laborers more for room and board than they made). So, not so much “free trade” as exploitation of almost free labor (free in the monetary sense, of course), an exploitation of natural resources, and an unusual access to free or almost free land (and resources) that won’t be happening in any of these nations again.

    Historically (and today) America was certainly no more the land of opportunity than Canada or Australia, even though both countries remained colonies, with all the taxes and rules that entailed. It really had to do with easier access to resources (land, whether to farm, mine or set up a business on). In the US (and also Canada to a lesser degree) many families also got rich via slavery. There are wealthy and powerful families in both Canada and the US who made their fortunes initially via selling alcohol during American prohibition (where a false market value is created via scarcity). Today America has pretty poor social mobility compared to nations like Canada and the US, and America has less regulation and social support.

  56. In response to Boomer, post starting “Sadunlap, thanks for at least taking the time to answer…”

    You wrote: “causal role in the creation of monopolies. This has been your position for nearly every post you’ve made in response to mine, and it’s wrong. You are putting words in my mouth.”

    That’s what it looked like at the onset. Your latest post clarifies this point a bit.

    Having read your response I *think* I see your underlying assumption:

    Free markets work like magic.

    Compare and contrast what we know about how government (in the U.S.) works and how the invisible hand works. Take breaking up and/or preventing monopolies.

    1 We know that government works
    2 We can observe, measure and record how it works
    3 We can observe how it does not work
    4 We can observe how it can be subverted and corrupted
    5 We can observe how it can go completely off the rails and cause worse problems than the ones it tries to solve.

    For me, these are *advantages* of government over relying on the free market. If we can see what has gone wrong we at least have the potential to fix it.

    How does the invisible hand do its magic? You stated: “When a monopoly becomes oppressive enough people will find ways to undermine it.”

    How? What ways? Have they proven effective before the implementation of anti-trust law? (see below for why I ask this).

    “I contend that in a market where everyone is aware of the activity, this sort of behavior cannot last, at least not without the support of government.”

    How do you enforce the openness without government? For example, the SEC requirements for public companies compels corporations to reveal a large amount of information they rather would not. Monopolies and anti-competitive conspiracies are secretive by definition. More about that below.

    Here’s why I asked for a different example than U.S. Steel. (I say without sarcasm thank you for providing a concrete example. It allows for a more grounded-in-reality discussion).

    You wrote: “A perfect example is that of US Steel… So what prevented the expected monopoly that government was unable to? Free market competition.”

    I found an imperfection in your example. You assume that the magic of free market competition caused the market share to stabilize then decline. You discount the possibility that the anti-trust suit itself had an effect, despite it’s eventually dismissal by the Supreme Court. I understand and accept (as any good skeptic should) that correlation does not prove causation. But how can you eliminate the possibility of of the suit having an effect on the behavior of “Judge Gary” and the other players in the steel industry? If you are interested I suggest you read three pages of a free book:

    Coyle, David Cushman, 1887-1969. Steel, the nearsighted bellwether. (Washington, Public Affairs Institute, c1961.)
    p. 14-16

    Coyle argues for a cause and effect relationship between the anti-trust suit and United States Steel backing off on buying out its competitors and he also describes in detail the price-fixing scheme which benefitted the small competitors as well as U.S. steel. They reached a state of equilibrium – effectively ending the price lowering effects of competition.

    By focusing on the question of monopolies and their formation I suggest that we both have ignored and neglected other anti-competitive behaviors. This speaks to the point I raised about unregulated free markets failing to police themselves: absent government action we see a small number of winners who collude to subvert competition.

    “Pick whatever time period you believe to be appropriate, but absent government involvement, every bad monopoly will eventually fall. It dooms itself the minute people begin believing they are being taken advantage of.”

    As mentioned above how about before the implementation of anti-trust law? That way you can eliminate the possible effect of government on your example.

    You wrote: “government is necessary for a monopoly that takes advantage of its monopoly position … ”

    What monopoly has existed that hasn’t taken advantage of its monopoly position without government regulation to prevent it from doing so? Also, I am still not clear on how government is somehow necessary for maintaining a monopoly. In earlier comments you have mentioned the government not having enacted laws or having been co-opted/corrupted as if these were support of sanction. Can you provide an example of government taking an active role protecting what you consider a “bad” monopoly (I’ll buy into that distinction just this once) without any influence exerted upon it by the monopoly and can you describe the mechanism by which government does so?

    You wrote: “A monopoly becomes ‘bad’ when it initiates violence in dealings with suppliers, distribution partners, etc. to prevent competition and/or initiates violence against its customers by defrauding them through price gouging.”

    But price fixing is OK, so long as it’s not gouging? And if someone prevents competition “nicely” that’s OK? Just curious.

  57. “And if someone prevents competition ‘nicely’ that’s OK?”

    If a company in a monopoly position consistently provides its product/service at a price point which makes it unprofitable for another to start a competing business, then theoretically consumers are getting what they want at the best possible price–which is the point of a free market. Unless such a company is using violence in its efforts to prevent the formation of competitive businesses, where is the harm?

    “Can you provide an example of government taking an active role protecting what you consider a “bad” monopoly (I’ll buy into that distinction just this once) without any influence exerted upon it by the monopoly and can you describe the mechanism by which government does so?”

    I’m not sure how you missed it so far, but my position throughout this entire discussion is that monopolies most certainly do exert influence on government (it’s called ‘corruption’). If government were able to resist the corruptive influence of big business then we wouldn’t have anything to discuss, would we? For an example, how about the Salt Commission of Tang China in the mid eighth century, one of the earliest known monopolies? The chinese government placed a tax on salt (a commodity for which it also happened to control all production) to shore up a land tax system that wasn’t producing enough revenue. The government enacted laws requiring salt be sold only by licensced producers through licensed merchants. A modern-day example can be seen in the several US states which maintain control of liquor distribution. In Utah, for example, liqour can only be purchased from state-owned retail outlets. When I lived in SLC as a youth we used to make weekly trips (we called them pilgrimages, in homage to the LDS-church-controlled Utah government) to Evanston, WY to buy cheap, 5% beer–something that isn’t even available in Utah.

    “How do you enforce the openness without government?”

    Take, for example, eBay. When eBay first went live I wouldn’t have dreamed of using it for serious business, mainly because I felt the possibility of fraud too high. Today, via a comprehensive and fair user rating system, users know instantly the quality of a seller’s reputation. In addition, eBay itself, using its own resources, has instituted guarantee policies which provide fraud protection for both the seller and the buyer, independent of the motives of either. Since these improvements I’ve used eBay countless times to obtain goods–even a used car–at excellent prices, with little to no fear of being cheated.

    “For example, the SEC requirements for public companies compels corporations to reveal a large amount of information they rather would not. Monopolies and anti-competitive conspiracies are secretive by definition.”

    Large corporations of the size capable of seeking a monopoly employ tens of thousands of people. There is always someone willing to talk, and the internet makes it possible for a single individual to speak to vast audience–especially if done through a major news organization hungry for hits.

    “As mentioned above how about before the implementation of anti-trust law? That way you can eliminate the possible effect of government on your example.”

    The lack of anti-trust law doesn’t eliminate involvement of government in supporting monopoly. There are many, many ways government can be subverted into supporting monopoly, not the least of which is to simply NOT enact anti-trust laws. Eminent domain comes to mind.

    “But how can you eliminate the possibility of of the suit having an effect on the behavior of ‘Judge Gary’ and the other players in the steel industry?”

    While this is certainly possible, I would say the point is moot. US Steel won a ten-year legal battle with the government. If the threat of an anti-trust suit was enough to force a change in tactics wouldn’t US Steel have simply settled with the government instead of fighting what was surely an expensive ten-year legal battle? Regardless, US Steel’s market share dropped from 70% to 50% between 1901 and 1911, in the ten years before the government brought suit. It seems to me the free market cast the die regarding US Steel’s future long before the government involved itself. A better question to ask might be why did the government bring suit when it was clear the market had already destroyed any possibility for US Steel to corner the steel market?

    “In earlier comments you have mentioned the government not having enacted laws or having been co-opted/corrupted as if these were support of sanction.”

    I don’t believe I’ve suggested the failure to enact a law is the same as support, but if the decision not to enact law prohibiting monopoly is at the behest of the monopolizers, such as the railroad barons of the 19th century, how else would you interpret it? That government is no better than free markets in controlling anti-competitive behavior because it is too easily corrupted is exactly the point I’ve been making.

    “1 We know that government works
    “2 We can observe, measure and record how it works
    “3 We can observe how it does not work
    “4 We can observe how it can be subverted and corrupted
    “5 We can observe how it can go completely off the rails and cause worse problems than the ones it tries to solve.”

    Yes, and despite this, we currently enjoy government in the US bought and paid for by the very same large corporations it is supposed to be regulating. Because of that we get health care ‘reform’ that big Pharma, hospitals and health insurers all supported while 55% of the citizens it is supposed to help would like to see it repealed. We get TARP and secret Federal Reserve Bank bailouts of financial institutions–both foreign and domestic–along with new regulations that do not preclude the possibility of the very same conditions which created the need for the bailouts in the first place. How is all that knowledge of how government works helping us so far?

    “By focusing on the question of monopolies and their formation I suggest that we both have ignored and neglected other anti-competitive behaviors.”

    True. We have also neglected many of the other reasons–much more important reasons IMHO–libertarians argue for smaller, less-powerful government. Government encroachments on civil liberties, in the name of the ‘wars’ declared on various words–words like ‘drugs,’ ‘poverty,’ ‘terrorism,’ etc, especially in the last decade, are frightening to say the least.

    One of the MOST terrifying is President Obama’s recent public declaration that the office of the US president retains the power to execute individuals–without arrest, trial or conviction–it deems a danger to national security. President Obama has made it clear he believes this power extends even to US citizens. This flies in the fact of the US Constitution and various international treaties of which the US is a signatory, not to mention centuries of established domestic and international law.

    I often hear skeptics discuss the many lives that have been lost, the many wars that’ve been fought throughtout history in the name of God and religion. Too often we ignore the influence of government in our discussions. Underlying nearly all armed conflict in human history is the thirst for power and control, of people, land, natural resources, whatever. Governments may use religion to stoke the fires of hatred, but all too often religion is only the means, not the end. The amount of killing done at the behest of government in the 20th century alone is mind numbing, and I don’t believe the various Chinese conflicts, the various Soviet conflicts, WWI, WWII, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s purges, or any of the countless civil wars and ‘regional conflicts’ had much to do with religion.

    So, you’re right, our discussion of the role of government in anti-competitive business behaviors lacks true import in a discussion regarding the proper role and scope of government–the primary concern of the people who propose to build and live on ships at sea, as free from government influence on their lives as possible.

  58. I know I should drop this but I have one more question:

    You wrote: “US Steel’s market share dropped from 70% to 50% between 1901 and 1911, in the ten years before the government brought suit. ”

    Could you provide a citation for this market share data, please? It contradicts information I have found looking at historical sources. I’m curious.

  59. Boomer 08.29.2011

    Please share your references as well.

    I have been as I’ve gone along. Here are two I have not yet mentioned:

    U.S. STEEL CORPORATION WILL NOT BE DISSOLVED :SUPREME COURT DECIDES THAT ORGANIZATION IS NOT A MONOPOLY NOR ATTEMPT AT MONOPOLY Vote of Court Four to Three, With Two Not Taking Part– Justice McKenna Finds No Violations of Anti- Trust Act–Decision Expected to Have Stabizing and Beneficial Effect on Steel Industry U.S. STEEL CORPORATION WILL NOT BE DISSOLVED. (1920, March 2). Wall Street Journal (1889-1922),1. Retrieved August 24, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Wall Street Journal (1889 – 1993). (Document ID: 107423881).

    This WSJ article from the time was interesting reading.

    Schroeder, Gertrude G.
    Series: Johns Hopkins University studies in historical and political science.
    Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1953. 244 p. ill.

    This also contained some interesting information.

    But the one I already mentioned, Coyle’s booklet, is the more important one. This is one which described the different price-fixing schemes: the “Gary Dinners” and the “PIttsburg plus.” It also describes how the steel producers discovered the destructive nature of competition (destructive to them) and how they subverted it. In practical terms, how is a monopoly different – in result – from a price-fixing scheme?

    Anyway, I would also like to thank you for the citation you provided. I read the article and found that the primary source of the data in question comes from U.S. Steel itself. From the article: According to “The Corporation,” a company-commissioned history written by Brian Apelt,… ” Out of curiosity, if a government agency accused of wrong-doing investigated itself and declared itself innocent, would you take that at face value as well? Just curious.

    Some of your examples I find puzzling and not really speaking to the question I asked. For example, various states tightly control the sale of liquor and sometimes even all alcohol as an attempt at social engineering. Also, that whole paragraph makes little sense as you start out talking about government not being able to resist corrupting influences then describe two government monopolies that have nothing to do with the topic sentence of that paragraph. I wonder if you realize that the two examples do not even remotely relate to the point we were discussing? Feudal China does not relate to modern capitalism. The “invisible hand” as a concept did not exist then. Government social engineering (at least the liquor example) does not relate to the corrupting influence of business on government. If it does, how?

    I’ll try to address some of the questions you put to me. There are too many and not enough time for me to address them all.

    You asked: “How is all that knowledge of how government works helping us so far?”

    In the 1931 California gubernatorial election a socialist candidate was about to win. Hoover and the republicans’ hideous mis-management of the depression led to a wicked backlash. In order to defeat Upton Sinclair, the republican had to drop out of the race and endorse the democrat. This pulled the New Deal further to the left than FDR really liked, but he reacted to the will of the people. We now have social security, unemployment insurance, as well as rural electrification, and on and on. The regulation of the financial sector prevented an economic disaster such as the one which took place in 2008. The dismantling of modern liberalism and regulation, in particular the repeal of Glass-Stegal under Clinton, led to the mortgage/stock market meltdown. An absence of government intervention led to the current economic crisis, not excessive intervention. And until the right wing started to dismantle them, we had workplace safety rules (waiting for death and injury then suing, although the preferred libertarian solution, does not appeal to many people who do not want to suffer death or injury).

    An outgrowth of the great society program (which had its faults) was the head-start program. Right wing republicans have had this in their cross-hairs for decades *because* its a successful program. Phil Gramm calls it the “bad example” because it makes people think that government can work.

    On a smaller scale, people influence the government all the time, but typically not in ways that make the evening news. Disaster preparedness comes to mind (think backlash from Bush’s botching of the response to Katrina).

    Relating to the excess power of government that you described at the end of one of your posts: no argument over most of that. A President effectively “putting out a hit” on a U.S. citizen should disgust and enrage most anyone supporting democracy. We still have enough openness and civil rights that we have hope of putting a stop to it. Government can work well with transparency and accountability.

  60. Sundlap, you asked for examples of government supported/managed monopolies; I provided them. We have already discussed many examples of monopolies (and oligopolies) supported by government–via direct action or conscious inaction).

    Your example vis a vis effective government basically says government is effective when Democrats are in control and ineffective when Republicans are in control. You’ve missed the bigger point that one of the primary arguments against giving government more control is that the reins of power will ALWAYS shift between factions, and that even when the faction you like is in power there is no guarantee it will behave as you would like.

    In an earlier post I said:

    “For the past several decades here in the US, Republicans have run campaigns which included the ideal of a small, fiscally responsible government. Those who voted for them were rewarded in the first decade of this century under the Bush administration with the largest expansion of government–in scope, power and spending–in history (until the Obama administration took over).

    “For the past several decades here in the US, Democrats have run campaigns which promised a government more cognizant of civil liberties and higher taxes for the rich. Those who voted for them were rewarded under the Obama administration with a continuation of the USA Patriot Act and the Bush era tax cuts.”

    I’ll add to that under BOTH parties we now find ourselves in a deep recession with a gross debt nearly 100% of our GDP.

    To me, this clearly suggests too many people expect more from government than they are willing to pay for.

  61. Regarding your question about US Steel’s history, unless you are disputing the fact that US Steel’s market share dropped from 70% to 50% in the decade leading up to the US government’s anti-trust suit, what difference does it make where the information comes from?

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