I don’t remember libertarians getting tarred quite so heavily with guilt-by-association the last time the Republicans ran a primary. We must be doing something right.
Anyway, a while ago I wrote that change feels coercive. Back then I was approaching it from a more or less liberaltarian perspective, but it’s just as effective an explanation coming from a hardcore an-cap basis. This time around, Ari Kohen complains that we nasty libertarians are talking about societies in which he doesn’t want to live, and (worse) we’re even trying to find ways to make them happen:
- Last time around… (Running Chicken)
Dr. Kohen’s post jumps off from the Tea Party debate’s audience chanting “let him die” about a hypothetical man who opts out of health insurance, then gets hit by a truck or something and can’t afford life-saving treatment. He argues (not unreasonably) that most people are personally quite risk-averse, then writes:
Why, then, do we have such a problem with the idea that we could be forced to carry health insurance or to pay for the necessary medical treatment of others?
The answer, of course, is that health insurance costs money and so the government is forcing people to pay for something they claim neither to want nor to need. This is a major infringement on our freedom in two ways: we aren’t allowed to choose not to have health insurance and we aren’t allowed to choose to do whatever we like with the money we earn.
The trouble for me, I suppose, is that the decision to do as I like with regard to health insurance isn’t a decision that touches only on my life; it impacts a great many others.
It happens that I’m planning to write something on public health and external costs, also prompted the Tea Party debate (although in this case it’s Michele Bachmann’s anti-vaxxer hysteria), but I’ll leave that for another time. After describing the libertarian perspective in commendably objective terms — though he attributes it to “the Tea Party”, which I find obnoxious — he hits the crux of his argument:
The difference that exists between my own position and that of the Tea Party, at bottom, is that I don’t feel less free when I look at the amount of money that comes out of my check every month, even though I’d rather have that money in my pocket. The reason is that I’m actually making a choice too: I choose to live in this country, with its government and tax structure and social safety nets. In fact, I embrace it. We can certainly do better in terms of those safety nets by working to make our government more efficient and effective, but that’s not what Paul is advocating; instead, he thinks that the vast majority of the government — and the services it provides — should simply be eliminated. To my mind, that would mean we’d be living in a very different political community, one that I wouldn’t like nearly as much. I want to live in a political community that chooses to take care of others, one that is committed to the idea that no one should go hungry or be unable to get critical medical attention.
Anarchocapitalists, or at least the honest ones, are far from Utopians. Anarchotopia, if and when it ever comes into being, might be a fantastic place to live and work, but it’s not likely to be an easy or comfortable one. If you want a safety net, you’ll have to buy it and string it yourself. Early 21st Century North Americans are vastly unlikely to slot seamlessly into such a place, which makes it unpleasant for (most of) us to think about, and the above is one reason why. (It’s also one reason why I’m a gradualist about anarchocapitalism.)
Nonetheless, let’s suppose that Ron Paul does — by some absurd stroke of luck — get elected President, and further that he manages actually to eliminate Dr. Kohen’s beloved social safety net. That’s going to make a lot of people acutely unhappy, possibly to the point where they’ll want to leave the country. This is where open borders and exit rights — let’s call them mobility liberties, because I’m in the mood to make up a new term this afternoon — become critical to the libertarian agenda (so much as we have an agenda). Libertarians spend a lot of time talking about how much we’re going to enjoy living in a state with a smaller, uh, state. We don’t spend much time talking about what the folks who don’t want to live in a more minarchist state are going to be able to do about it, and when we do it’s usually smug speculative schadenfreude. That makes us look like an existential threat to people who feel naked and vulnerable without the sheltering hand of the welfare state, and — quelle surprise — pointing out that we want to legalize drugs too isn’t enough to get them on side.
I think we ought to be emphasizing the human-welfare benefits of open borders and immigration a whole fucking lot more than anyone besides maybe Bryan Caplan has done to date. (Before you read on, you should at least click that first link. Here, I’ll repeat it for you: click here. Seriously, it’s fucking important.) When I started thinking about anarchotopia I imagined it as “the place”, not least because it’s where I imagine I’d want to live. The more I think about it from a practical perspective, though, the more I suspect that feasible anarchism will only come to pass in a large cluster of micronations with very low migration costs. It would be stupid to the point of recklessness for me to ignore the likelihood that, even in such a market- and liberty-friendly environment, there won’t be a vast market for citizenship in a welfare state.
We need to recognize and engage the “shackles and crutches” argument, and we need to recognize and promote the fact that closed borders are one of the heaviest shackles around. (See what I did there? I linked to that Bryan Caplan post again. I’m not fucking kidding; click the fuck through.) And while we’re at it, it would be nice if we’d quit speculating quite so gleefully about how miserable statists are gonna be after the an-cap revolution… at least in public.