Tuesday, May 17, 2011


You often see people in blog comments claiming that the Democratic Party spends taxes on programmes aimed at certain groups in an effort to buy those groups' votes.

But political parties exist precisely for the purpose of representing interest groups, so what else should one expect? It should not be forgotten that when parties make promises in their manifestos, those promises have benefits (and costs) to different groups. If you say you will not increase spending, you are telling the haves that you will not share with the have-nots; if you promise to "invest", you are telling them that you will.

On another political note, I was writing a post on libertarianism but I ran out of steam, but here's the wreckage...


Reading this article and its associated comments, I enjoyed again the spectacle of oh-so-rational libertarians being handed their butts by liberals. Their problem is, as it is so often, that their "philosophy" is used as a defence of bigotry and inequity, but they believe it to be in some way "pure" (untainted, as it were, by the sordid compromises other systems of political thought are forced into).

The chief problem for that branch of libertarianism most commonly encountered in the States is that it depends on a right of property as fundamental, yet because it would be wicked to pretend that one could have property without the means of preventing others from taking it, it requires a government to ensure that right. (Those crazy realists among us might point out to them that all rights are ensured by governments, in so far as governments represent the power to enforce them -- there is no doubt that you could be afforded rights by a group, since this is precisely what human groups do: who has not been a member of something online where behaviour was restricted by the community involved in it?

It's a short walk from there to realising that if rights are things afforded, and not things inherent in humanity -- not endowed by a Creator but endowed by our fellows -- one cannot appeal to some notion that some are prior to others, more "natural". So the right to property becomes just one more claim on one's fellow man: the very things libertarianism seeks to deny. It's foundational to this libertarianism -- propertarianism -- that no rights exist that are not reflexes of the fundamental rights it claims are natural.

Indeed, one could deny the need of the government to assure the "right". It's simple to see what would ensue: a world of rightholders who had no enjoyment of the things they had a right to because the more powerful had stolen it from them. Their "right" would mean nothing. I can accept that you can argue that we do not surrender rights in potentia: we do not say that slaves have no right to liberty just because they cannot acquire liberty. In this sense, we understand that rights are claims we believe justifiable. But we also believe they should be enforced. When we say something like "gays should have the right to marry", we don't simply mean we believe their claim to it is justifiable but also that someone should enforce it.

In any case, any right to property involves denying the right to enjoyment of that property to others. I understand that libertarians like to pretend that it does not because once upon a time everyone did have that latter right but the application of labour changed the nature of the property and thus the nature of the right over it. Conveniently, this means the appropriation of Indian lands by Americans did not infringe their rights, because they didn't have shoe shops or sew crops (ignoring those who, erm, did). So I do have a right to my neighbour's back yard but erm... waves hand... we should go back on the gold standard because gold is so shiny and paper notes do not glister and hey, did I mention income tax is bad?

Well, the Indians' rights were like anyone else's: as strong as the power that backed them.


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