The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

About the blog

Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

Anyone can make individual contributions on any subject covered in this blog by emailing


PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, June 23, 2014 14:02:15

happiness In the popular psychological sense of ‘happiness’, although the *free market gives people ever more material goods of all kinds, critics often observe that, 1) this does not seem to make them any happier, and 2) there is no significant gain in happiness above an average Western income. 1 is used to *criticize *materialism and 2 to criticize inequality. There is one major source of happiness that it is a *politically-correct taboo to discuss, 3) homogeneity of *race, ethnicity, and *culture.

1) People might well tend to become quickly accustomed to their circumstances however good or bad, and they then feel more or less as they did before. But it is hard to accept that people are really no happier at all with the market-enabled advances that cure early death and terrible diseases, and give us more leisure time and more things to enjoy during that leisure (though people often fail to count their blessings, and that is usually folly). Even if this were mistaken, happiness is not the only thing that people seek. We want some things as ends in themselves even if they do not make us happier; though these can sometimes fit in the broader sense of ‘happiness’ that includes personal flourishing. And if we are thwarted in these ends by *political intervention then we will, in any case, be made less happy. (See *commodities; *welfare.)

2) This argument has recently been used as a defense of *taxation to create a more *equal society. But such wealth as we enjoy now is only possible because certain types of inequality exist. *Market pricing (of products and *labor) is necessary for *economic calculation. And inequalities are an inevitable consequence of allowing it. The more that any market inequality is curbed, the poorer all would become; which, prima facie, reduces happiness too. And some people are only happy (though sometimes in the more general sense) with more wealth than most are content with, as is indicated by the greater effort they generally put into acquiring it. This is not to suggest that there might at least be some trade-off between the *free market and equality that maximizes happiness: as the various entries on equality explain, all movements toward forced equality are more than likely to reduce overall happiness.

3) Researchers into happiness often reveal a high positive correlation between racial and cultural homogeneity and happiness. But according to a leading ‘happiness economist’ Richard Layard (1934- ), at a public meeting on happiness, many researchers dare not publish their findings for fear of damage to their careers and even persons if they are consequently branded as guilty of *racism. (See *multiculturalism; *racial integration and segregation; *racialism and racism.)

John Locke (1632-1704) is famously supposed to have written of *natural *rights to protect one’s ‘life, liberty, and property’ (but that is all property: “… his property—that is, his life, liberty, and estate …”; or “life, health, liberty, or possessions”). Can it be without significance that the Declaration of Independence (mainly drafted by Thomas Jefferson [1743-1826]) prefers “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”? This suggests that a legitimate *state can expropriate our *private property (“estate” or “possessions”) while promising to facilitate our protection and happiness. The reality of politics is that we thereby have less of all three.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//


PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, June 23, 2014 13:54:39

consequentialism (teleological ethics) The theory that we should judge *moral desirability by the good consequences (however these are conceived), which we should usually maximize (though it is not logically entailed that more is always better), rather than the types of behavior involved (which is deontologism: observing specific *duties). In practice, we are almost bound to choose by reference to both.

An immediate problem is how far this distinction is coherent. For if we ought to do what maximizes some good end then that is itself a kind of duty that we must obey irrespective of any other, supposedly morally irrelevant, consequences. And all normal supposed duties have some prima facie good consequences involved. It is not arbitrary that theft and murder are generally thought wrong: they are believed to do overwhelmingly more harm than good. In any case, it is certainly compatible with consequentialism that there be general moral rules as these are needed to avoid uncertainty, *corruption and *moral hazard.

Consequentialism, as such, leaves open which consequences are good in themselves. Logically, virtually anything (and not just one thing) might be judged so, but prime contenders include varying conceptions of *utility. A less mental-state version of this (more conducive to both *libertarianism and *economics) would allow people to maximize the satisfaction of their wants irrespective of how this made them feel: why be forced to have more *happiness when you would rather achieve some other end? And some would restrict these consequences to *persons as relevantly superior to mere beasts (see *animal welfare).

A much-discussed problem is how much sense it makes to sum different people’s *welfare outcomes. Many deny that this can be ‘scientific’ or *objective so opt for strict *Paretianism. But with strict Pareto comparisons we could never even say that the abolition of the worst kinds of *slavery improved general welfare, because of the slave-owner’s supposedly completely incommensurable loss. So some rough and ready comparisons seem to make intuitive sense and are sometimes sufficient to show that certain rule-systems promote more welfare than others for the *populations that have to live by them. This argument does not entail, as is sometimes alleged, that 1) detailed comparisons must be possible, or 2) even if they were that they could overcome the problem of *economic calculation and so allow *state planning.

Libertarians tend to argue that there is a *right to *liberty, hence a duty to respect it, and that liberty has the most desirable consequences in terms of want-satisfaction (though some do opt strictly for one side or the other). Do they want to have their cake and eat it? No. The traditional conception of rights is that they arise and are defensible only in terms of their being the best general rules for promoting good consequences. What would be the point of a right that was generally damaging? And how could some good end be defended practically but by some general rule about behavior? Thus libertarianism can even be viewed as a form of rule-consequentialism (though this act-rule distinction is also of dubious coherence: if rules work best then the best act is to follow them; or if we see when it is best to break a general rule, then that can be put into a new rule). That libertarian rules maximize welfare cannot be demonstrated; it is a conjecture that invites *criticism.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//


PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, June 23, 2014 13:48:31

welfare *Libertarianism is not a theory of welfare in the sense of quality of life. It is, however, compatible in practice with preference *utilitarianism, which definitely is a theory of welfare. However, this is an unusual theory of welfare in that what we prefer need not relate to how we feel when it is achieved or even to ourselves at all. But if people regard themselves as being better off to the extent that they get what they spontaneously want (i.e., without *proactive imposition), then this seems to be the conception of welfare that they would choose for themselves (or choose above ‘welfare’, for those essentialists who deny that this can be a conception of welfare). And *liberty and the *free market give us more of what we individually want. *Politics involves politicians attempting to give us more of what they think we ought to want, and they often even fail at that. See *consequentialism; *happiness.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//

age of criminal responsibility

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 14:17:48

age of criminal responsibility The age at which a *person is liable for any *crimes he commits. There seems no sound reason that this should differ significantly and without explanation from the *age of majority; whatever that should be in any, possibly individual, case. It seems a practical inconsistency and unjust to declare that someone is mature enough for *libertarian adult responsibilities (such as paying full *restitution for crime) but not mature enough for similar adult *rights (i.e., rights not to suffer *proactive impositions; not rights to any benefits or advantages), and vice versa. However, the age at which one ought to know right from wrong in certain basic cases is plausibly somewhat younger than the age at which some other skills are likely to be attained.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//

age of majority

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 14:15:48

age of majority Though this expression refers to age, as being a rule of thumb, the real problem is finding the correct criteria for deciding that someone is mature enough for adult *rights and responsibilities for, most, legal purposes. This is problematic for all *ideologies, and there is no reason to think it particularly acute for *libertarianism.

Perhaps some rough criterion of a libertarian restriction on rights and responsibilities is possible here. Given that a child is not *proactively imposing on others, what is it likely that the, possibly untypical, child would agree was an acceptable restriction when he becomes clearly mature (insofar as he is likely to do so)? We might call this a Projected Maturity Criterion (PMC). Difficult cases might sometimes have to be decided in private courts, and would probably remain open to later revision. This standard should rule out for most *children what most adults would find unacceptable to have been allowed to themselves when children. Details might vary, though, with individual children and different social customs even within libertarian *societies. And people might consider that maturity is sufficient for some activities earlier than others. Thus the *age of consent is often distinguished from and set lower than the age of majority.

Thus there are two distinctive aspects with this particular libertarian approach: 1) the focus on not restricting a child’s rights and responsibilities except by reference to the PMC, and 2) that a child’s current view, in proportion as he approaches being that particular mature person, is more likely to be listened to (though not necessarily to be decisive). These should be an improvement in terms of overall, mature, *liberty and *welfare.

However, in the context of dependency, parental or guardian rules for children are broadly *contractually libertarian given that the child freely chooses to live with his parents or guardians (assuming that the child’s acceptance of those rules pass the PMC: to rule out sinister manipulation of the immature). And whether a child should be allowed to leave or stay should also be subject to the PMC.

See *age of criminal responsibility; *circumcision, infibulation, etc. of children; *consent.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//

circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 14:11:03

circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children What are parents and guardians entitled to do to their offspring and wards in ways that alter their natural bodies? As with the issue of the *age of consent, a useful *libertarian criterion might be that something is acceptable if it is likely that the *child would be grateful to have had it once he is clearly an adult. This sometimes leaves opposite possibilities open depending on the (sub)culture that the child is then to be raised within. In the UK, males that are not Jewish or Islamic but were circumcised might resent it. In the USA male circumcision remains the, declining, norm; possibly because doctors can claim the extra expense from *health insurance. *extreme interferences can appear normal in some cultures. Foot binding or infibulation can be not merely acceptable but socially required. Even if any of these practices can pass tests as libertarian, that does not imply that a libertarian must approve of them.

With the most extreme infibulation, this involves clitoridectomy, excision of the labia minora, and cutting and stitching together of the labia majora to form a cover over the vagina. So we have to be sure that the endorsements by the female children’s adult selves are genuine. Are they being frank or lying because of social pressure? Do they really prefer that their younger selves had their genitals severely mutilated without anesthetic while they screamed for mercy? Even if they appreciate the often high risk of death or disease that ensues with this in some parts of the world? The evidence is that women in such cultures are now, at least, increasingly seeing it as barbaric and saying so.

Can a parent or guardian therefore impose by not having some body-altering operation performed? No, because that is usually withholding a (possibly dubious) benefit, and not failing to perform a *contractual duty; though some conceivable special, social, circumstances just might make it a duty of care. And in some cases the child could simply opt for the operation when it is older; but not all, such as foot binding.

If the very young child is only a potential *person, how can any act by the parent conflict with its *liberty as a person? We have no obligation to conceive and raise children, but given that we do give them the gift of life we cannot set this gift against some mutilation and claim that they benefited overall. We have a libertarian duty not to *proactively impose on them, unless to protect them, even if the imposition causally antedates their becoming persons. By analogy, we ordinarily have no libertarian duty to save a drowning person. But if, ad arguendo, we were intentionally to mutilate him in the water (maybe while he is unconscious) and afterwards save him, then we are liable for *restitution or *retribution for the separate act of mutilation despite the overall benefit he receives from us.

See *acts and omissions; *eugenics.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//

child labour

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 14:07:35

child labour How splendid if we could have tomorrow’s progress today. Splendid but counterproductive if we attempt to bully this progress into being. That is what *statists are in effect doing when they see some desirable trend in the *free market toward such things as declining *child labour (or fewer working hours, or better working conditions, etc.) and then attempt to hasten the process by *politics.

Child labour is not an evil in itself. It is a good in the circumstances where it is chosen. It is only that it is even better to be able to afford child *education instead. Child labour tends to disappear with rising incomes, and will largely disappear at an *economically efficient rate if only allowed to do so. As the market becomes more productive it bids up wages enabling parents to afford not to send their children to work. And some businesses wish to employ somewhat more-educated labour, though most businesses will likely always need no more skills than can best be learnt on the job (see *qualifications).

In some *less developed countries, where politics is more than averagely *corrupt and diseconomic, it is not economic for the vast majority of children to be given *schooling when they are needed by their parents to help with the family income. And *state schools, which are often the alternative that is being advocated by critics of child labour, are rarely efficient educators. Long hours for low pay may be all that the *economy can as yet support (i.e., labour productivity is low), though the pay can usually go much further there (e.g., food is much cheaper). Such countries’ economies can grow only by going through the various stages of industrialization that more-developed countries have already passed. But they can achieve these fantastically quicker if the free market is operating and transnational companies can move in to *exploit the cheap labour, thereby bidding up wages in that region.

Where child labour is officially banned, many children end up in a hidden economy with worse jobs and worse pay, and so they and their families suffer. Fewer children are born or survive, as they have been turned into more of a burden instead of a blessing by preventing them from working (see *population on the advantages of having more people). Or if businesses are forced to pay the children more, they will substitute children with adults or more *capital, and thus children overall will again be worse off.

See *minimum wage legislation; *sweatshops.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//


PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 14:03:46

children Children are developing into *sovereign individuals. Children are not the *property of their parents, so they cannot be sold as chattel. But the *right to raise them can be sold.

Other things being equal, parents have the *libertarian right to raise their own children because of the *proactively imposed *cost on parents, and probably children, that would be caused by not allowing this *natural activity. But we assume a duty of care by taking on a child when there are others who would have looked after it. So if we change our minds we need to discharge the duty by handing it over to others if they exist. Not to do so is somewhat like agreeing to be a lifeguard but then doing nothing when the need arises.

As parents have this right to raise their children, they can give or sell it to others who wish to raise them; and thus there will probably be more children and in better homes than if this transfer were not allowed. Selling this ‘right to raise’ is not selling the child as a piece of property, as some detractors depict it. And neither the parents nor any *contractual guardians have an absolute right to raise the children. This is only a prima facie right that can be overridden by sufficiently clear, dangers of, abuse of the child; where the child’s opinion of the matter will become increasingly weighted with its development and where his likely eventual opinion as an adult will have weight otherwise.

This raises an obvious question. Given the almost universal economic dependence of children, and the right to exclude people from *private property, how can children be protected in a libertarian *society? Anyone has the right to protect (if only by simply calling a private *police service) anyone else, including children; and no one has a libertarian right to exclude a rescuer from entering his property to prevent a likely *crime more serious than the trespass. The cost of a successful conviction would be passed on to the guilty parties. Given the strong sentiments that people have toward protecting children, *charities are likely to be available to supplement the funding of this protection if necessary. Any abusive imposition on children would be severely deterred, much more so than by the current *state system, by the usual force of libertarian *restitution and *retribution.

What will not happen, is that children will be abused within *tax-funded institutions, or that protesting children will be in effect kidnapped and sexually molested (in the name of a medical inspection) when a mere suspicion of abuse within the *family arises in the mind of some state official, or that real abusers will escape proper restitution and retribution; all of which often happens in many state systems of child ‘protection’.

See *abortion; *age of consent; *age of majority; *child labour; *circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//
« PreviousNext »