Category Archives: My postings on other sites

Murphy vs. Block: May Libertarians Accept Government Money?

Tom Woods recently had a debate between Bob Murphy and Walter Block on whether or not libertarians should accept government money (through employment, services rendered, or welfare). You can listen here.

My take on this question takes a bit from both of their arguments as I think they both make good points, however I think Murphy edged Block out just a bit in this debate. Walter’s reductio absurdum don’t really work (roads, currency, etc) because with those things we have no choice It’s like arguing the slave gives his imprimatur of approval to the slaveowner because the slave accepts food, clothing, and shelter from the slaveowner. He doesn’t, he has no choice in the matter (technically there is a choice in the sense that yes one can choose to die, but that’s not a practical nor principled choice).

I think what it comes down to is choice. If one has no choice in the matter then it is acceptable to use such government monopolized service. However, when there is a choice then one can debate principle vs outcome and neither is really “wrong”. Walter makes a good point in that if one can undermine the core mission of the state by working for it/with it then that can be a net gain for liberty (Ron Paul being the most notable example). But Bob also makes a good point in that if everyone withheld their services from the state, it would cease to exist. Of course getting 100% of people to simultaneously withdraw their consent is never going to happen so in the real world we have to make decisions about whether our actions on balance harm or help more people. Now yes, that utilitarian principle is one you can drive a bus through and use it to justify anything practically. But I’m saying we are only concerned with applying that principle in the very narrow question of “should a libertarian participate in state actions voluntarily?”. One can choose to be entirely pacifist when it comes to the state and simply accept all its abuses and never try to get anything back, there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also nothing wrong with defending oneself from the transgressions of the state – proportionate reciprocal responses to aggression being permissible are a cornerstone of libertarian philosophy.

Simply taking money from the state for the sake of doing so such that it has less serves no purpose whether they give it to you for performing a service or you steal it directly. The state is a thief and will simply thieve some more to get back whatever it wants. Thus your taking indirectly harms others via the state as your proxy. So I disagree with Walter on this one. There is no amount you can take that will weaken it, they will always just take more. However, to the extent the state has taken from you, then you are fully in your rights to take an equal amount back (or to be very principled about it, an amount that equals the difference between what the state took and what you believe you would otherwise have paid a free market entity performing the same functions as the state.) So if one can get tax credits, government aid, grants, etc that offset the excess amount robbed from one in taxes, that is ok. If one exceeds what they had stolen from them, then that would be wrong and one must stop.

So in a practical example, Bob should feel fine about accepting payment to give a lecture at a state school if his remuneration never exceeds what he paid in taxes (or should have paid for services received). But Bob should not set up a lecture business that accepts billions of dollars from the state to give lectures. That zero boundary between net tax payer vs tax receiver demarcates one’s transition from capitalist to crony-capitalist.

So in summary, here is the decision tree:

  1. Do I have a choice? If “no”, then it is permissible to use such service, since after all, you have no choice.
  2. If you have a choice then is the amount you are getting less than the excess amount robbed from you in taxes for a given time frame? If yes, then go right ahead, nothing wrong with taking from the thief that took from you
  3. If the amount exceeds the amount robbed from you in taxes then here is where it gets speculative and subjective: on balance are you advancing the cause of liberty by receiving more than you lose in taxes? If yes then this is ok, but… this is a very difficult thing to determine, be cautious. If no, then you should not engage in such activity if you want to remain principled and not open yourself up to the charge of being a hypocrite.

Defending the Undefendable? Walter Block addresses causes, not effects

On January 25, 2014 the New York Time’s published an article “Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance” in which they used highly edited and de-contextualized quotes from Dr. Walter Block (eminent and highly regarded libertarian scholar and economist at Loyola University) from an interview they had with Walter shortly before the article went to press. When The Daily Show makes light and distorts the words of Peter Schiff we understand they are mere clowns and it is their job to distort the truth in order to elicit a humorous response. However, when a publication such as the New York Times engages in such behavior we are slipping into the world of state-sponsored Pravda-esque media that deliberately distorts the truth in order to prop up the statist status quo by painting the picture that anyone who does not believe as they do must be “crazy” and if they do not appear to be “crazy” then it is perfectly acceptable to distort and misrepresent what they say in order to give that appearance (e.g. the Mises Institute comments in that article are so far off the mark it is laughable).

Subsequent to the Times article being published several members of the Loyola faculty as well as its President published open letters denouncing Dr. Block’s words. Tom Wood’s has built an excellent resource page giving all the relevant background for those interested in learning more. As a part of this effort to right the wrong against Dr. Block I submitted my own letter in response to the original knee-jerk finger pointing going on at Loyola. Here is my submission (with some slight style editing here):

15 February 2014

To: President, Faculty and Staff of Loyola University

The fact that you are so aghast at Walter Block’s recent remarks in the New York Times and elsewhere only serves to underscore why it is so important he continues to make the same point again and again. You are not simply missing the point – you are not even aware there was a point. Your indignation is wholly predicated on your (quite correct) disdain for the effects of slavery (violence, exploitation, horrendous living conditions, etc.) But that is not at all what his remarks pertained to. He was addressing the root cause and propagator of slavery: force. And how is such force made manifest both then and now? Government. Government (pre- and post- US revolution) protected, condoned, supported and legalized slavery. All the things you decry in your response were a RESULT of the very thing (force) he was denouncing.

Do you or do you not agree with the following sentence?: “<X> is good, but if <X> is forced upon the individual then it becomes <forced-X> which is bad.” If presumably you agree with this sentiment, then you must agree that by inserting the word “labor” for “X” we are left with nothing other than the very message Dr. Block was conveying. That is all.

Now, with respect to his characterization of slavery (i.e. the effects of slavery) being not “so bad” all I can say is that you clearly have never met the man, read his books or listened to any of his lectures. Were that the case you would realize he was merely engaging in pedagogical hyperbole in order to provoke a response that seizes the attention of the listener. To elicit thoughtful reflection from a student/listener, the deft lecturer will sometimes employ (obvious) exaggeration to invoke an [transitory] emotional response. Your decision to [remain mired in emotionalism] engage in a knee-jerk emotional response rather than [moving on to] thoughtful contemplation says more about your own intellectual intransigence than it does about your mistaken presumptions regarding Dr. Block’s beliefs. His provocation was meant solely to compel the listener to acknowledge the sheer futility of being angered by effects whilst simultaneously ignoring their very cause. Your response has only served to unwittingly demonstrate how correct he is in his efforts to spread this message.


Dr. Gregory T. Morin

Facebook debate: does the state reduce violence?

Recent crazy Facebook debate (don’t you love those), here is the original link. Basically the debate had nothing to do with the original post, it devolved into a debate by one participant claiming that there is evidence showing how the establishment of a strong state over time has led to decreasing violence over time.

I and others called BS on this and then it got interesting. Since this is my blog I’m just posting my responses 😉 I’ve invited others to continue here if they wish. Enjoy.


Response 1: Violent death was an order of magnitude higher in non-state societies before the imposition of the state. This is fact.” – This may be fact but it is meaningless in terms of justifying the supposed violence minimizing effects of the state because all things are not equal. Violence is simply a tool that is a means to an end and it has an associated cost. Mankind’s ever improving level of technology (tools) makes our tools more efficient and less costly to implement, however violence always carries with it the same potential cost (ones own potential death or injury). In other words non-violent means to achieve our ends have been getting cheaper and cheaper over time when compared to violent means. So a couple of hundred years ago one could spend months farming 12 hours days or one could pick up a rock and bonk the local farmers over the head with it. Which one has a lower cost in terms of labor expended? 

Today initiating violence against someone for food would be absurd considering our efficient ability to create it means food is just about dirt cheap in comparison to what it was even a hundred years ago. Violence still occurs today but it is much more rare because it only occurs around those things that have a very high cost… so violent means are still “cheaper” means to achieve those ends. But the overriding fact is that as the standard of living goes up violence goes down irrespective of whether the society is state based or non-state based.

Response 2: @Jeff Cav – Why do keep bringing up Somalia? I didn’t bring it up at all… but if you must, Somalia is not at all an example of a stateless society nor is it even a good comparison if we were to accept that it is stateless. First you do have states there, that’s why there is so much chaos and disorder, because the nascent states within that region are all fighting with each other for dominance/control of the entire region. That is, the essence of what a state is is alive and well there – a group of self-appointed thugs that want to control and dominate the lives of others and skim their cut off the top from the populace in the form of “taxes”. There are just many of them all fighting within the borders leaving behind the chaotic landscape we see. Secondly, Somalia was poor and undeveloped when it had a state, it is still poor and undeveloped when so many now say it has no state… so how can you compare a poor undeveloped region to say the US and say “see clearly the US has a strong government and that’s why we are prosperous and Somalia now has no strong central government and they are poor and violence ridden because of the lack of that government” There is no ceteris paribus comparison here at all.

Moving on….although I will grant that it is at least theoretically plausible that a strong centralized authority (the state) could decrease incidence of violence within its borders (due to the “one gang to rule them all” effect), this is kind of pointless – it’s like saying we can eliminate all health care costs by simply killing all the sick people. As with Somalia, all organized violence stems from proto-states warring with each other… so yes, if one big proto-state comes along and crushes and kills them all (their leaders anyway) then that type of violence will disappear from within its borders. But to any extent where this is true it is completely more than offset by the enormous rise in violence made possible by larger organized states when they go to war against each other. ALL wars are only possible because of the existence of states, such organized killing on such a mass scale could simply never happen in a purely free and stateless society (what’s the point -it’s bad for business to kill your customer). So to the extent intrastate violence decreased, extra-state violence shot up orders of magnitude beyond that.

So what’s the solution? A stateless voluntary society. This solution does not assume everyone will be angels and there will be no violence, in fact it works just fine under the assumption there will continue to be bad people that will try to control others through violence. The response to such people is that everyone will have VOLUNTARILY joined insurance or protection agencies to keep them safe from those that would aggress against them (the precedent for this actually existed in Somalia and ancient Ireland: the clan system kept people in line VOLUNTARILY). These associations would not need to be held along geographic boundaries (just as people are members of disparate religions today all around the world side by side). Kind of hard to have a war if your members are mixed in with those you supposedly want to fight. The stateless society would of course not be perfect, it’s composed of imperfect humans… but it is far better than the state based society from an ethical standpoint and a consequentialist standpoint. The stateless society would eliminate war from this planet IF the entire planet adopted this system. I’m not saying this will happen today or even in a hundred years, merely that it should, that it is the ideal… and isn’t that the point, to strive for the ideal, to strive for the goal, even if unattainable today, we should always continue on that path until someday we get there, otherwise, what’s the point, we might as well just accept we are slaves and get back to picking the cotton for our master (the state).

Response 3: @Bruce – I don’t see where anyone in this thread said or implied that adherence to the ideal libertarian philosophy of a stateless voluntary society would _always_ bring about the ideal outcome and that a state-centered society will _always_ bring about the worst possible outcome. The argument for the libertarian ideal is from an ethical standpoint, not a consequentialist one. Theft is wrong – but it is also entirely possible a thief could steal and use those stolen funds for a better purpose than the original owner, perhaps to save a life, perhaps to start a new business that improves peoples lives – all of these things could and sometimes do happen. So in the same way as the blind hen sometimes find corn, sometimes the state manages to improve things on net. But that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it ok. That’s all that is being said. However the state does get things wrong or screwed up way more frequently than it ever gets things right so it is very very easy to poke holes in arguments in support of it. Even those things you cite as being obvious benefits of the state (codified property rights, stable courts, etc) that libertarians should be thankful for can easily be shown to also be provided just as well not by a monopoly but a range of suppliers of those goods. To deny that more one entity can provide those things is to deny the possibility of anything other than a single global government. If 250 countries can provide these things, then why not 2500, or 25,000? There is no non-arbitrary method to determine the “ideal” number of competing political units providing their own unique take on property rights or courts. Saying we should be thankful to the state for these things is like saying slaves should be thankful to their master… I mean the master after all provides his slaves with food, clothing and shelter, right? Without masters, how will the slaves feed, clothe and shelter themselves? Without the state, how will people solve their own interpersonal disputes. The statist answers: they can’t, it would never ever occur to any humans to peacefully solve disputes through a court based system… we need special super intelligent humans to show us these things and force us to engage in them, these wise overlords know better and will show us how to run our lives, for without the state we are as but children.

Response 4: @Bruce  Sorry, if your response was more tongue in cheek I guess I missed that… tone is one of those things very hard to discern sometimes in forums such as these (and even email as well!) As far as your response… I didn’t think nor did I intend to accuse you of an sort of absolutism (e.g. “always” do this or that)… my comments were meant to be more generic in nature (i.e. when some people say such things, this is my response).

I’m not questioning your or anybody’s right to voice their opinion and say they think Jeff’s comment have some merit… I’m just saying I disagree with anyone that would say the idea has merit… maybe I’m wrong, who knows, I don’t think so of course or I wouldn’t open my mouth, I’m just saying I don’t agree and it is because of X, Y and Z. Simply because a bunch of us all do the same thing is not evidence of some grand conspiracy by libertarians to denounce and keep out all dissenting opinions – it is exactly the same response you would see from any opinionated group about any topic they hold strong opinions on when someone proposes a dissenting opinion. Try going over to a paleo group and discuss the merits of non-paleo diet… you’ll see the same kind of fervor in the response. In other words this is not a unique libertarian trait – it’s a human trait. If actual good logic or data is used to support the dissenting view some will just ignore it and some will incorporate that information and change their view.. but in this case it is my view there is no such good data as the data presented is easily debunked via an alternate analysis that is much simpler (Occam’s razor approach here)
The parallel of fundamentalism you bring in is an interesting one and I think it helps me make my point here. I see that those that we libertarians (anarchists?) would label as statist as being the political functional equivalent of a religious fundamentalist. Those apodictic beliefs are based on faith alone, they believe X to be true because they believe it to be true. For that kind of knowledge nothing can ever prove it to be wrong (i.e. I love my children, no one can prove that is not true, science can’t prove God is not real, it may not require a God, but that is not the same thing as actually proving one does not exist). Unfortunately the statists hold this type of faith based belief over subjects that are subject to falsification through inductive or deductive reasoning. When confronted with proof of their errors they squawk and hurl epithets and ad hominem attacks while slinging supposed “studies” that prove their case with cherry picked data in order to bolster their faith.
Most of what the libertarian “believes” in is based on inductive logic (economics) or a logically coherent philosophy (self-ownership) and should not be up for debate at all but sadly is due to religious fervor of the statists of the Keynesian denomination who attempt to use empiricism to falsify inductive logical truths. In other words if someone could logically prove some of what we libertarians adhere to is incorrect, we would (as scientists) change our views (well the intellectually honest would anyway). But the statist is unswayed no matter how much who show them to be wrong or misguided.
So when people question someone who makes a claim that here is an example where the state has actually done good and thus this is justifiable reason for a state we have to call them on it because based on our knowledge of these things we know this interpretation can’t be correct – this is not “faith” it’s call understanding of the knowledge framework. It’s like if you understand the theory of evolution and a creationist says “oh we found this thing and it disproves all of evolution therefore our view must be correct” not only does one have a duty to point out to them that (a) no, that data fits in with the theory like so and (b) even if that data were inconsistent with the theory it means we modify the theory as needed to fit the data, we don’t just dispose of the whole thing. Statists do the same thing, they want to say “oh, see the state did this one good thing that we don’t think would occur under your system, therefore your entire framework is wrong and the whole thing must be discarded” We libertarians can’t even get away with that approach – we can point out hundreds of things the state system gets wrong and yet somehow that doesn’t seem to invalidate it at all in the mind of the statist… so it’s odd that the statist seems to think they just need to find one example where they believe the consequences of a state based outcome are superior to the perceived possible outcomes of a non-state based system and that will then disprove all of libertarianism.
Now you then said “You’re tacitly agreeing that Jeff was right in his assertions while decrying that outcome as irrelevant because it did not conform to the libertarian ethos. I.e., that may have been the outcome but the outcome is bad because it’s not libertarian.”
No, that’s not what I said, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I said his interpretation was not absolutely impossible, just that it was less likely to be the principal cause relative to the cause I outlined. But even on his own terms he’s wrong. Even if we said the state is responsible for 100% of all decrease in violence in whatever time frame is being discussed, the decrease in intra-state violence is completely overwhelmed by the increase in inter-state violence (tens of millions dead in the 20th century alone from wars). War being completely a function of the state we can then ascribe all those deaths to the existence of the state. But my secondary point was not as you say the “outcome is bad because it’s not libertarian” – I said the outcome could even be good – (the ends) – but the means are still invalid.
Maybe that is the the core of the matter, libertarians are very focused on the morality of the means, whereas the statist is totally focused on the ends. Some might say the moral statist tries to balance the two (the individual rights vs the collective good), but I’m sorry, I just have to call bullshit on that. No one is wise enough to balance those things, and no one has a right to choose how they are balanced. Maybe my organs will save 10 lives… does anyone except me have the right to “balance” my right keep to my organs and live against the greater good of saving 10 lives?