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No Libertarians In a Tsunami

Josh Marshall mocks the Ayn Rand Institute's condemnation of US (and other government) aid to help the victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. In reality, though, the only thing that's odd about this is that the Randians have the balls to stick to their guns even in the face of this disaster. After all, writing with regard to tax cuts on December 26th, Will Wilkinson explained that "For many libertarians and conservatives . . . [e]very cent the government takes from us beyond what is strictly necessary to secure our basic rights is a token of injustice." Since tsunami relief is surely not necessary to secure the basic rights of Americans, Canadians, Western Europeans, Japanese, and others, every sent spent by these and other governments is a token of injustice. Yet, strangely, the Ayn Rand Institute aside, you don't see many libertarians and conservatives sticking up for this view, though as we all know, all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing. So where are the libertarian bloggers on this massive injustice being perpetrated by first world governments?

December 31, 2004 | Permalink

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» Why libertarians have little political impact: from City Comforts Blog
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This post from David Holcberg of the Ayn Rand Institute reminds me a little of the movie "Airplane" where the TV commentator says "They knew what they were getting into when they bought the tickets. I say let 'em crash." Money quote: The United States ... [Read More]

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Comments

Here's where a bankrupt ideology gets mugged by reality.

Posted by: praktike | Dec 31, 2004 12:20:46 PM

Well, there the loony libertarian Posner, who writes about it on his blog http://www.becker-posner-blog.com. Yet he manages all kinds of ifs and buts, so he doesn't look all that bad, but on principle, he sticks with the libertarians.

Posted by: Reader | Dec 31, 2004 12:45:56 PM

Matt, I'll stick up for ARI's view. Do YOU have an intelligible, principled reason why states, rather than individuals, ought to aid victims of disasters? Setting aside the injustice of the coercive transfer, it seems to me that state policy in this regard is likely to be highly arbitrary. Salient tragedies will provoke state aid. Less salient tragedies won't. You might argue that a state has an imperfect duty to help, and so there's no injustice when we give to tsunami victims, but not malnutrition victims, or victims of authoritarian governments, just as there is no injustice if I give a quarter to one panhandler, but not the next. But since this IS coercively transferred money, it seems that the state owes its citizens a principled reason for giving in some circumstances and not others. That a particular act of state charity expresses the preferences of Andrew Natsios, or whomever, is not a good reason capable of justifying the transfer.

I wonder what the crowding-out effect is here, as well. The Red Cross and others are raising a tremendous amount of money. I wonder how much more would be given if the state didn't give anything.

Posted by: Will Wilkinson | Dec 31, 2004 1:38:11 PM

I think you're changing your argument a bit here, Will. Discussing the supposed injustice of assisting some foreign unfortunates and not all others without a "principled explanation" for such inconsistency, or hypothesising a "crowding out" effect, shouldn't be necessary if you truly believe that "every cent the government takes from us beyond what is strictly necessary to secure our basic rights is a token of injustice." Is injustice okay if it's accompanied by a "principled explanation"?

At least the ARI guy attempted to stick to his (bankrupt) principles instead of focusing on extraneous issues.

Posted by: JakeV | Dec 31, 2004 1:48:54 PM

Maybe one of the world's great religious teachings...any religion... about charity touched their minds and hearts, and they see a better way.

Posted by: Deborah White | Dec 31, 2004 1:53:15 PM

Will -- well, to me the coercion simply isn't a big deal. If the increased marginal value of the money to tsunami victims rather than American citizens is sufficient to compensate for the deadweight loss involved in the transfer (which I take it to be) then it's worth doing. Coercion is oftentimes a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Dec 31, 2004 2:04:58 PM

Ahh Bentham would be so proud!

Posted by: Duncan | Dec 31, 2004 2:07:42 PM

Since the $3 billion or so paid out in compensation to the families of September 11th victims was not necessary to secure the basic rights of Americans perhaps ARI should be decrying that too.

Posted by: dan | Dec 31, 2004 2:23:57 PM

In other news, concerned neighbor mugs random rich person to prevent eviction of old lady. Matt mocks notion that any injustice has occurred.

From the libertarian perspective, yes, an injustice has been committed. From a consequentialist perspective, the question to ask is whether the mechanism that permits the taking of the money from some to give to others creates more harm than good. You have to consider what would have occurred in a voluntary regime and the costs of the erosion of choice in all cases and not just the one you feel best makes your point. Libertarian consequentialists could just as easily argue that the mechanism that allows the government to give to Sri Lankans is the same one that allows it to give to Halliburton.

Posted by: Jason Ligon | Dec 31, 2004 2:30:42 PM

This is a quote from the Ann Rand post.

"As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday's tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own."

I wonder what the Rand people think the 49% of the victims -- not the most -- who were at fault for this tradegy did.

Posted by: spencer | Dec 31, 2004 2:52:01 PM

Do YOU have an intelligible, principled reason why states, rather than individuals, ought to aid victims of disasters?

Because the state's monopoly on violence means that it has exclusive access to by far the best means of delivering relief (and maintaining order) currently extant -- the military. Further, there is no particular reason to change this.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Dec 31, 2004 3:01:23 PM

"Coercion is oftentimes a wonderful thing."

Not a deontological slippery-slope bone in his body. Not a meta-carpal.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 31, 2004 3:22:17 PM

Well if only the Indians and Thais and everyone else had deregulated more of their economies and cut taxes more this would've never happened.

Posted by: Snarkasaurus Rex | Dec 31, 2004 4:20:43 PM

Libertarians really piss me off -- they take a few really good ideas that I myself adhere to, and turn them into a wholly reprehensible political ideology that can only exist by the good graces of other, more sane political ideologies that do the hard work of securing the advanced societies that allow the masturbatory philosophical pondering that libertarians engage in to exist.

Oh, I got off on a rant. Probably made a few enemies, too. *shrug*

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Dec 31, 2004 5:34:23 PM

"But since this IS coercively transferred money, it seems that the state owes its citizens a principled reason for giving in some circumstances and not others."

The principled reason, my dear Will, is -- as should be obvious -- the seriousness of the situation. Very few people are proposing a government program to provide every slum dweller with his own swimming pool.

As for your overall statement, I get a kick out of the a priori nature of your definition to "our basic rights" (what are they, exactly?), and for that matter of "the fruits of our labor" (apparently including ALL the fruits of the easy mental labor that people who are lucky enough to be smart -- or well educated, or just in the right place at the right time -- can use to pull in huge amounts of money).

By the way, a few days ago -- as noted by William Raspberry -- the president of the Ayn Rand Institute also announced that Bush's real error in Iraq is not slaughtering Iraqi civilians publicly and indiscriminately in order to terrorize the entire country into accepting the obvious beneficence of the US and the West: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28092-2004Dec26.html . One wonders what Western civilization would have done without that lady to serve as our moral lantern.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Dec 31, 2004 6:08:44 PM

I think that the major problem with private v. public funding of emergency disaster relief (and note that this is pure speculation, I have no data to back this up) is one of coordination.

While I appreciate how much better the private sector usually solves problems than the government, I think for immediate disaster aid relief, you need centralized organization to get help to the victims ASAP. Private donations are all well and good (and will help more in the long run), but because they go to many so different sources, coordinating all these funds is difficult.

(Simple example: if your house is on fire, you could call all your neighbors and ask them to pitch in out of their own good will to help you put it out. Or you could just call the fire department.)

Again, pure speculation on my part. Would be open to other perspectives.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Dec 31, 2004 6:20:19 PM

Matt, I'll stick up for ARI's view. Do YOU have an intelligible, principled reason why states, rather than individuals, ought to aid victims of disasters?

Anyone who went to college and listened to any number of Ayn Randroids drone on about Objectivism can come up with an argument that reflects their views. Matt isn't asking what that view is. He already knows. He's wondering why the libertarian blogosphere and Grover "estate tax-payers are the modern-day holocaust victims" Norquist aren't publicly and loudly complaining about the influx of aid from our government.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 31, 2004 7:42:25 PM

From The Onion:

Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department

CHEYENNE, WY—After attempting to contain a living-room blaze started by a cigarette, card-carrying Libertarian Trent Jacobs reluctantly called the Cheyenne Fire Department Monday. “Although the community would do better to rely on an efficient, free-market fire-fighting service, the fact is that expensive, unnecessary public fire departments do exist,” Jacobs said. “Also, my house was burning down.” Jacobs did not offer to pay firefighters for their service.

Posted by: Andrew | Dec 31, 2004 10:20:11 PM

It kind of makes me feel icky to take the Randian terms seriously, but to state the obvious: couldn't we all quite selfishly benefit from the PR in which the aid results? I mean, if you accept that the government can coerce its citizens to support a military, shouldn't helping people around the world get a needed positive image of the US be acceptable as well? Unless you believe as Bush or Rand do that terrorists spring full-formed from ontological, pseudo-oriental Evil disconnected from actual populations.

Posted by: theogon | Dec 31, 2004 11:45:16 PM

Hank Rearden said it best:

"I could say to you that you do not serve the public good-that nobody's good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices-that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation-as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won't. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own-I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with ever power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being's right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!"

Posted by: Tecumseh | Jan 1, 2005 2:37:32 AM

This is a joke, right? The idea that Ayn Rand's pseudo-philosophy should be given any credence? Marx's and Engel's pseudo-philosophy is discredited. Why should anyone give any credence to Ayn Rand's pseudo-philosophy? Because it gives shelter to the selfish among us?

Give me a break. Randians are more than willing to rationalize benefits at government expense when it benefits them. They're nothing more than hypocrits.

Posted by: raj | Jan 1, 2005 3:31:20 AM

raj,

Not a joke. I agree with the quote, which is why I supplied it.

Posted by: Tecumseh | Jan 1, 2005 4:31:33 AM

I can only speak for myself, but as long as phrases like "torture memo" and "war on drugs" appear in mainstream public discourse, there's not a lot of time to spend worrying about coercive transfers to tsunami victims.

Posted by: digamma | Jan 1, 2005 5:08:10 AM

You know what, screw the "principled reasons." This isn't a philosophy seminar, it's a natural disaster of staggering proportions. States have a lot of money and aid to give, and mechanisms for delivering it, and it needs to be done ASAP, without indulging in gedankenexperiments about whether the aggregate of purely individual contributions could get the job done. Why don't you fly over to Indonesia and have an intellectually stimulating beard-stroking debate about coercive transfers with someone who lost his family and his home and is having a hard time finding clean water to drink?

Posted by: starpower | Jan 1, 2005 10:48:32 AM

Thank you, starpower.

Posted by: Eclaire | Jan 1, 2005 11:53:57 AM

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