Letters Fom Nowhere

Premodernist Life in Postapocalyptic New Orleans

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Libertarian's Dilemma

"Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue."
-Francois de La Rochefoucauld

I have received aout $4300 from the federal government in the form of FEMA grants. In addition, I receive $90/week from the state of Louisiana for "disaster unemployment." The question is: Should a libertarian opposed to most all of the government's post-New Deal spending and scope of power accept this money? If so, under what circumstances and by what justification?

The indictment is compelling: You spend countless conversations trying to convince your friends that the government's only responsibility beyond national defense ought only to be to protect an individual from force or fraud. When someone objects that some entitlement spending is necessary because there are times when people are in need through little fault of their own, you reply that this ought to be the purview of private charity. Implicit in your condemnation of forced income redistribution, is the suggestion that to accept the largess of the government is to be an accessory to robbery. How then is it anything but pure hypocrisy to accept $5000 of money that others worked to earn, especially in light of the fact that this sum is more than you would have normally earned had there been no weather interruption?

My defense goes something like this: I do think a libertarian political system would be more efficient and moral. However, I am born into a unjust system that I am relatively powerless to change (please, no bullshit earnest responses here- let's just accept this sentence as axiomatic). This system requires me to make choices that weigh my principles against my personal happiness. Sometimes the marginal increase in my own comfort fairly outweighs the marginal harm done to others in acting against my principles.

An example: Say I lived in New York City, making about $300/wk working in a used bookstore near Tompkins Sq. In looking for a place to live, I come across a rent controlled apartment right on St Mark's. It's only a studio and it still costs $650/mnth, but my best alternative is a share in Williamsburgh that will cost me close to grand every month (not to mention the attendant perils of living amongst swarms of STD-carrying hipsters). Now, I think it is evident that rent control tends to cause often severe housing shortages, as well as inflated prices outside of the controlled sector. Moreover, I find the practice a morally opprobrious infringement on property rights. Nonetheless, I would sign the lease on the rent controlled apartment without hesitation (indeed, with excitement). Wouldn't you?

Now, there is a line to be crossed somewhere here- I don't know exactly where that is. I am not going to stop using the Post Office, walking on sidewalks, driving on interstates, and flying from airports because these things are provided for by the government. But I'm not going to profit by turning in a drug dealer for a reward. It may be that in my particular case I am on the wrong side of this line because I am diverting precious resources from where they are more needed, but I'm not sure that this even factually accurate.

In any case, comments, constructive criticism, and outright insults are appreciated...


  • At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Barrold Von Gayfartz said…

    A pragmatic libertarian is refreshing, but only about as refreshing as a warm Fresca. I usually shy away from libertarians, they are dogmatic and idealistic. I always imagine Ayn Rand as their dominatrix, leading them by a collar, telling them they are dirty bitches in a thick accent. They also cite Ricardo and Coase like a red-faced baptist cites Proverbs and Revelation. Josh doesn't fall for this idealism, and has a firm grisp on reality, or at least the bar stool at Parasols.

    P.S. Josh, I still believe libertarianism is just window dressing for plutocracy. Also, why is it you guys always bring up the strawman called "rent control." To boot, when deregulation fails y'all sound like communists trying to explain away Stalinism.

  • At 9:55 AM, Blogger cdc207 said…

    This is my first step into this blog world, I am not an avid reader of your blog or any other blog, I am a member of the northern working class paying for your state's and your municipalities lack of foresight into the inevitable disaster that has recently occurred. And who is now passing the buck to a federal government. All the while giving an excuse to our federal government to extend their hands even further and crying for more and more help. A good libertarian would have planned individually or with a group of neighbors of how to overcome these horrific times. A good libertarian would have voiced louder protest in the days, months, and even years leading up to this in the face of horrible decisions by the STATE and MUNICIPALITY to worsen the impact of an inevitable hurricane. Yet, this wasn’t done, now all those from the southern areas affected look to Washington with hatred while inviting the government to take an even more economically and social active role in your lives and mine. (I can’t help but point out- it was also the South’s shortsightedness into an immoral argument regarding state’s rights over federal rights in the early to mid nineteenth century that lead to the greatest expansion of federal power in the mid to end of the same century that this nation has ever seen.)

    I read your personal defense and confused.
    A “libertarian political system” what is this?
    Your god-like declaration of morality- “Sometimes the marginal increase in my own comfort fairly outweighs the marginal harm done to others in acting against my principles” (italics added). What set of criteria did you use to come to this conclusion?
    Forget the obvious economic impact for the moment- What about the harm it does to libertarianism to find ways, with a libertarian set of principles, to condone the increase federal spending and power!

    The cause of libertarianism is noble, just, and needed. But when individuals find themselves parting from the ideals of the party (philosophy), look at this as the shortcomings of these principles rather proclaim an axiom of the wounded citizen of an unjust society. If this so-called, principle were just and right they should not falter so easily and so often by individuals subscribing to them or by the political leaders advocating them. Libertarianism is not successful on a practical level for this reason of implementation.

    The fact is libertarianism has limits. And the moment one starts putting libertarian ideals into practice those ideals become evident.


  • At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    the response of cdc207 shows how libertarians are the trekies of politics.

  • At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Barrold Von Gayfartz said…

    cdc207, did you write your comments in english, then ask someone to translate it into german, and then use a webtranslator to translate it back into english? "Libertarianism is not successful on a practical level for this reason of implementation." What the hell does that even mean?

    "The cause of libertarianism is noble, just, and needed." Stick to comic books kid.

  • At 2:05 PM, Blogger Big Thing said…

    When I think of a Libertarian I think of a person who wears sweatpants and tries to lure little girls and boys into his basement. Liberatarians believe some day they will be free, free to wave their NAMBLA flags on the steps of the Capital.

    Josh dont be a pederast.


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