LP blog: What it means to be a libertarian – an IHS video with Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron

Wes Benedict at LP blog:

The Institute for Humane Studies produced a two-minute video featuring Harvard Professor Jeffrey A. Miron.

Book Libertarianism A to Z

The video, "What it means to be a libertarian" does  an excellent job explaining the difference between libertarians, conservatives, and liberals.

Jeffrey A. Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in economics at Harvard University. He blogs at http://jeffreymiron.com and is the author of Libertarianism, From A to Z.

18 thoughts on “LP blog: What it means to be a libertarian – an IHS video with Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron

  1. Robert Capozzi

    I’m curious whether our absolutist brothers and sisters feel about this video. I would think they’d say it’s “heretical” or “squishy.”

    Miron says L have “a lot of respect” for individual rights and “a lot of suspicion” of government action. No either/or, black/white statements there, so Miron must be a sell out from the absolutist perspective, I’d think. If not, why not?

  2. paulie Post author

    Seems fine to me. I didn’t hear him say anything that an “absolutist” libertarian couldn’t have said.

  3. Robert Capozzi

    “A lot of respect” would be weak from the absolutist perspective, IMO. They are prone to say that individual rights are absolute, not merely something to have a lot of respect for.

    A lot of suspicion does not capture the “government is a gang,” notion, a gang that must be smashed.

    As a TAAAList, I share the notion of suspicion of government, but I don’t think it’s a gang and I think government — severely constrained — serves a useful purpose…a “necessary evil”…at least for the foreseeable future.

  4. paulie Post author

    You seem to want to create an argument where there is none. Absolutism doe not always mean using absolutist language in every situation. There are times and places where I would express my views more like in this video and others where I would express them more like the hypotheticals @5, all without changing a single view.

  5. Robert Capozzi

    p6: You seem to want to create an argument where there is none. Absolutism doe not always mean using absolutist language in every situation.

    me: I do confront the initial premise of the LP, which some believe is absolutist in nature.

    That is an interesting point that absolutism does not necessarily mean the absolutist needs to use absolutist language in every situation.

    That’s huge! So, an absolutist could believe that “taxation is theft,” but might advocate, say, a FAIR Tax. Correct?

  6. paulie Post author

    Did you see Prof. Miron advocating for any government program? I didn’t.

    You make a leap in saying that using non-absolutist language – “a lot of respect” for individual rights and “a lot of suspicion” of government action – means that we might advocate “fair” taxes. All libertarians have a lot of respect for individual rights and a lot of suspicion of government action, even anarchists – anarchists just take the train all the way to the end, while others get off at some theoretical point in that direction.

    We can advocate lower taxes as stepping stone, but I don’t believe that any tax is fair, and “a lot of respect for individual rights and a lot of suspicion of government action” in no way implies support for any “fair” taxes or any other aspect of government.

  7. Robert Capozzi

    p, I’m just tryin’ to understand…so let me rephrase: Could a consistent absolutist L believe that “taxation is theft” and yet advocate a shift in the tax system to a consumption tax that lowered the overall tax burden?

    The key term here “advocate,” vs. “support.” An absolutist might keep his/her ultimate view private while advocating — not supporting — less government.

    Your answer might solve the ultimate riddle of why everyone isn’t a L, since I contend it’s the most natural political philosophy.

  8. paulie Post author

    You put way too much stock in my answer.

    Nevertheless here it is: shifting taxes is a dangerous game, since it’s far harder to get rid of an old tax than to bring in a new one, and your efforts can be co-opted by other people whose views are different – they may want both taxes.

    When we work on incremental steps, we should always work to reduce government, never to shift it around, expand any government programs or taxes or start up any new ones. At best, any such advocacy is a wheel-spinning waste of your scare resources, but that best case scenario is rare.

    And if you are talking about the so-called fair tax, I have numerous problems with it, which I have spelled out here a number of times in the past.

    I still don’t see what any of this has to do with anything that was said in the video. In what way, shape or form does “a lot of respect for individual rights and a lot of suspicion of government action” imply support for consumption taxes?

  9. Robert Capozzi

    p, one can have a lot of respect for rights and suspicion of government action and take a whole host of positions. Some of those positions might lead to any number of outcomes, depending on any number of variables over any amount of time.

    Consumption taxes might be an example that maximizes rights and minimizes government action, depending on your take on how they would work. Shifting from one form of coercion to another might be “a dangerous game,” but one could say that about the current state of affairs AND about NAP-solutist anarchism. It’s a world FULL of dangers, especially for anxiety-ridden Ls! 😉

    Miron is referred to as a consequentialist L by Wiki, I suspect correctly so. Absolutist Ls tend to be deontological Ls. I’d certainly want the LP to be more Miron/consequentialist in approach, yet we remain stuck IMO in the deontological approach’s mud.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    oh, yes, P, I put stock in your answer because you are one of the few I know who can do a reasonably good deontological consequentialist translation.

    That’s like doing Basque Bangerang translations…a tough assignment.

  11. paulie Post author

    Consumption taxes might be an example that maximizes rights and minimizes government action, depending on your take on how they would work.

    My take is that they would do the opposite.

    I’d rather spend my time working to reduce government, not rearrange it, and certainly not to create any new taxes.

    I’m cool with “a lot of respect for individual rights and a lot of suspicion of government action.” To me, that includes a lot of suspicion for plans to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but there are many people who have such plans that agree with me on many other issues, and I’ll work with them where we agree.

    I hope this has been helpful.

  12. Robert Capozzi

    P, yes, I know your personal take. What I’m struggling with is something deeper…and you are the one person I know who might be able to explain it in language I can understand:

    In the deontological mindset, there seems to be this absolutist sense that consequentialism is not L. Team Deontology seems to believe they have cornered the market on Truth, and I’d really like to understand how they arrive at that conclusion. Something seems very lost in translation, and I still — even now — don’t understand it. I feel like Sgt Schultz on the matter!

  13. paulie Post author

    Well, in my mind, there’s no conflict between the results I expect by applying consequentialism and the results I get by applying a rights based approach. To me, both arrive at the same place, and are just different paths to get there.

    On the other hand I think some people (of any number of ideologies) take a rights based approach as an excuse to macho-flash, penis-measure, and in general flaunt hostility and find the mote in the other person’s eye. In those cases, the ideology is just the excuse, and the real aim is to parade around barking loudly, trying to get attention, making up for internal insecurities and inadequacies, and playing domination games (usually, but not always, sublimated).

    At times, one will see such people drastically change their ideology, while their behavior and chosen modes of expression change little if at all.

    I suspect you understand that mindset as well as I do. I know I have some of those tendencies, but I try to be conscious of them and curb them.

    Now, as for cornering the market on truth…I can’t say that I have. I’m a work in progress, and suspect I always will be, as long as I live.

  14. Robert Capozzi

    p, yes, psychological projection explains a lot, but I’d like to think that the deontological/absolutist approach is not just about compensating for deep-seated anxiety. If one is really, really afraid, the impulse to oversimplify and build crude mental constructs to overcome fear is understandable. Macho flashers can get very effective executing the compensatory behavior, and even present a seemingly poised, confident mask.

    Yet, it may be that there may be a more transcendant form of deontological absolutism that has thus far escaped my experience. Perhaps the writing off of consequentialists has a higher purpose, and is not just some sort of acting out.

    The search continues….

  15. paulie Post author

    Perhaps the writing off of consequentialists has a higher purpose, and is not just some sort of acting out.

    Well, there’s also simply doing the right thing. That can be a powerful motivation in itself. For me, it’s not terribly important which reasoning prevails, since I see them as arriving at the same place, but both a compass and a path are good to have. Getting tangled and never getting started down the path – not so much.

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