Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Practical Libertarianism for Americans: Part IV


This is an excerpt of Part IV of a nine-part work in progress. I welcome constructive criticisms and suggestions. Please send an e-mail to: libertycorner-at-sbcglobal-dot-net .

[A] people who band together in liberty -- and who successfully defend their liberty against encroachments from within and without -- not only will be able to pursue happiness, but also will reap greater happiness (call it personal satisfaction or well-being, if you will). For, the pursuit of happiness isn't a zero-sum game; you can advance your happiness by helping me advance mine, and vice versa. But we can do so only if we are at liberty to do so -- untrammeled by predators, parasites, and constraints -- other than those constraints of law and custom that help to secure our liberty. A firm, communal commitment to liberty is therefore a matter of self-interest to all but predators and parasites....

Libertarianism, like physics, has evolved from rudimentary beginnings. Physics has evolved because physicists have expanded their store of facts about the physical world and found truer ways of describing the forces that make the universe what it is -- in the large and in the small. Libertarianism has evolved beyond the assertion that humans have "certain unalienable rights" because such thinkers as Adam Smith (1723-90), John Stuart Mill (1806-73), and Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992) observed the workings of society -- in all of its aspects -- and told us how liberty serves self-interest....

mith observed that when we are at liberty to advance our own economic interests we must necessarily advance the economic interests of others.

Mill instructed us that personal freedoms should be preserved because through them we become more knowledgeable and more capable. Therefore, the state should intervene in our lives only to protect us from actual harm, as opposed to mere offense.

Hayek made the case that economic and personal liberty are inseparable: We engage in economic activity to serve our personal values, and our personal values are reflected in our economic activity. When the state restricts economic liberty, it necessarily restricts personal liberty, and vice versa. The state, simply cannot make personal and economic decisions more effectively than individuals operating freely within an ever-evolving socio-economic network....

Not only are economic and social liberty indivisible, but also is liberty itself indivisible. To reap the full benefit of liberty we must be willing to accept "bad" outcomes as well as "good" ones. That is, we must adhere to the principle of liberty and ignore the occasionally unhappy outcome that flows from it. For, as I will discuss further in Parts V and VI, liberty can improve the lot of all but predators and parasites.

By what criteria, then, should we decide where to draw the line between governmental action and private action? I propose these principles:
1. Government may not act or condone action (e.g., civil litigation) except when it seeks to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm to liberty.

2. An actionable harm to liberty is one that arises or would arise directly from the commission of a specific act or acts by any person or entity, domestic or foreign. An expression of thought is not an act, for this purpose.

3. An expression of thought cannot be an actionable harm unless it
a. intentionally obstructs or would obstruct governmental efforts to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm (e.g., divulging classified defense information, committing perjury),

b. intentionally causes or would cause an actionable harm (e.g., plotting to commit an act of terrorism, forming a lynch mob), or

c. purposely -- through a lie or the withholding of pertinent facts -- causes a person to act against self-interest in an economic transaction (e.g., misrepresenting a product, inflating a corporation's statement of earnings).
4. An expression of thought cannot be an actionable harm until it has led or will lead directly to the commission of an act. A mere statement of fact, belief, opinion, or attitude cannot be an actionable harm, regardless of the subject of the statement, unless it amounts to slander or libel (both of which are offenses against liberty). Othewise, those persons who do not care for the facts, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes expressed by other persons would be able to stifle speech they find offensive merely by claiming to be harmed by it.

5. An act of omission (e.g., the refusal of social or economic relations because of some form of bias), other than a breach of contract or duty, cannot be an actionable harm. It is incompatible with liberty for government to judge voluntary actions that are not otherwise actionable harms.
In other words, to enjoy the benefits of liberty we must enjoy broad latitude of action (or inaction), speech, and thought....

Click here for the full text of Part IV.