NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why be a "left" libertarian?

What is the real difference, if any, between a "left" libertarian and a "right" libertarian? This is a matter of some debate, as evidenced by the Wikipedia article on the subject, so I will define at the outset of this blog what I mean by the distinction. Assuming libertarianism simply means that people have a natural right to their life and property and to pursue happiness in whatever way they want so long as they don't infringe on the equal rights of others, my belief, and what I take to be the simple common denominator of "left" libertarian philosophy, is that a correct understanding of and adherence to said parameters of natural justice would lead to a far more equal distribution of property than a "right" libertarian might think is just. Note that hardly any libertarians will ascribe to themselves the label of "right" libertarian, but if there is such a thing as a left libertarian, as I maintain, then there must be such a thing as a right libertarian. In large part the difference comes down to differing conceptions of natural property rights.

For example, while both right and left libertarians generally recognize that people own themselves and their talents and the fruits of their labor, a left libertarian generally considers land (but not any man-made improvements upon it) and other natural resources to be owned equally by all, while a right libertarian generally considers such resources to be the exclusive property of whoever first appropriated them or received them from such person through a series of exchanges or gifts. Therefore, by the lights of a left libertarian, a person finding himself marooned on an inhabited island where all the land had already been appropriated and divided among the inhabitants (or a propertyless young person finding himself in a similar situation upon attaining the age of majority in these United States) would nevertheless in justice have rights equal to the other inhabitants to the natural resources of the island, and the rights of those original inhabitants would be correspondingly limited by the equal rights of the newcomer. If it were impossible or impractical or unfair to give the newcomer an actual equal physical share of the land and other natural resources, then he would be owed compensation from the others to make up the difference, as a matter of justice rather than charity. A right libertarian would tend to disagree with this conception of natural justice. But what is the alternative? That the newcomer be forced back out to sea? That he be afforded some less than equal pittance in an amount determined arbitrarily by the original inhabitants out of the "goodness of their hearts" (cf. welfare)? That he be allowed to live and work on someone else's land so long as he pays out of the fruits of his labor as much rent as the landlord can get out of him? None of those alternatives are just, since they all deny him access to his natural share of the resources God has given to all.

Likewise, a left libertarian might view the property of a person who has passed on to his eternal reward as having fallen back into the realm of unowned things and as having a status analogous to that of unimproved land and other natural resources to which everyone in the society has equal rights, as opposed to viewing it as somehow still belonging to the decedent and whoever he posthumously transfers it to through the agency of the state and the legal fiction of an executor. A just but humane and practical custom and policy would provide for minor dependents of a decedent, take account of the personal value of things like family farms and businesses and heirlooms, and allow a substantial percentage of the property formerly owned by the decedent to pass to beneficiaries designated by him, but would be based fundamentally on the above conception of property rights and notions of distributive justice.

Some left libertarians have also addressed critically the limits of society's obligation to recognize an individual's entitlement to property received by inter vivos or lifetime gifts. This issue is less clear than the problems with the putative right to inherit, and is an example of a topic I might explore on this blog. Like Catholic Social Teaching's "preferential option for the poor," left libertarianism as I conceive it implies a rebuttable presumption in favor of equality. Clear natural property rights, truly conceived, may rebut the presumption. Today's typical leftist / socialist / "liberal" may purport to enlist and expand the power of the state to help the poor and/or promote equality, but does so as a matter of public policy and without much regard for individual property rights or natural justice. What distinguishes a left libertarian is the belief that a simple adherence to natural justice, truly conceived, both fosters and limits equality. Indeed, a left libertarian believes that such simple adherence to natural justice would foster equality and relieve the poor to a far greater extent than the government programs of the socialist / "liberal." For example, while a typical "liberal" appears to have no problem with current heavy taxation on the modest incomes of the poor and middle class, so long as some of the proceeds are doled back to the needy in the form of government programs, a left libertarian views such confiscation, i.e. of the fruits of one's own labor (and/or capital) that are needed to establish and maintain a decent and reasonably secure lifestyle, as robbery, and as the cause of many of those thus taxed falling into the class of the "needy" in the first place.