Keeping the state out of your bedroom

A standard theme in (propertarian) libertarian thinking is that personal freedom in matters such as choice of sexual partners goes naturally with economic freedom, defined as the lack of state interference with property rights. To summarise this in a slogan, “If you want to keep the state out of your bedroom, you should support keeping it out of your (and others) business as well”.  But this is not only a false equivalence, it’s self-contradictory, as can be seen by example.

Suppose A rents a house from B, who requires, as a condition that no-one in class C (wrong race, religion, or gender) should share the bedroom with A. Suppose that A signs the lease, but decides that this contractual condition is an unreasonable violation of personal freedom, and decides to ignore it. B discovers this, and seeks the assistance (or at least the acquiesence) of the state in evicting A. On a propertarian/contractual view, B is in the right, and is entitle to call in the state into the bedroom in question.

And, this is the fundamental problem. Is it A’s bedroom or C’s? If we understand the phrase in its normal sense, no-one including a landlord, has the right to tell you what to do in your own bedroom. But, from a propertarian viewpoint, C’s ownership rights over the bedroom, derived from and ultimately enforced by, the state, trump all other considerations.

Of course, this example stands in for many others like this one

If you really want personal freedom, you can achieve it only by constraining property rights.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

172 thoughts on “Keeping the state out of your bedroom

  1. Terje cheerfully relegates morality and the public good to the backburner in the context of things that are economically convenient for him

    It would be helpful if you were more specific.

  2. Dan – we obviously have different views of what sits in the category of moral. Freedom of association is a pretty fundamental freedom in my view and it includes the freedom to not associate. The fact that you or I make judgements about who to associate with and that our own self interest is part of the calculus is not in my view a moral concern. Who are you to decree who I should associate with?

  3. Obviously – although it’s not actually a question of freedom of association.

    Denying someone employment on the basis of completely specious, possibly erroneous, and downright discriminatory assumptions on the basis of their possible fertility, in breach of the law, is not about liberty. It’s a demonstration that you felt so trapped by the imperatives of capitalism that you set aside liberal humanist values and a sense of the public good (why? because you thought other employers were doing the same thing? congratulations on being a place-getter in the race to the bottom).

  4. @TerjeP

    In society – society determines the extent that a freedom to associate or not associate, exists.

    Anyone citing a freedom to not associate, to protect their own privileges, act in bad faith.

  5. “It’s a demonstration that you felt so trapped by the imperatives of capitalism that you set aside liberal humanist values and a sense of the public good ”

    How much of your income do you donate to charity, Dan? If you keep to yourself more than a subsistence-level income, are you not letting self-interest trump the public good?

    How big a house do you have? If you haven’t allowed the homeless to bed down in your living room, are you not letting self-interest trump the public good?

    What do you do with your spare time? If you don’t volunteer to help those less fortunate every spare moment, are you not letting self-interest trump the public good?

    While you digest those and reconsider your sanctimonious crap, let’s briefly consider “the imperatives of capitalism”. If Terje hired indiscriminately, and was worse off economically because of it, then his business will be less able to expand and employ more people. He could even go bust, meaning unemployment for current employees, and no-one else having the possibility of a job in his business. How is that serving the public good?

  6. Hardly takes much digestion – as someone who thinks about living morally every single day, I can easily retort: it’s a balancing act.

    As it happens, I do donate a moderate sum of money to charity on an ongoing basis, and have undertaken volunteer work for hospitals, charities, and non-charity NGOs at times.

    However, this is beside the point. I could be the most aggressively self-interested twat in the world, and still be clear tha I wanted to live in a society where the public good is protected by law.

  7. “If Terje hired indiscriminately…” – that’s reductio ad absurdum, you’re smater than that and so am I. Come on.

  8. Haha, it just occurred to me that Jarrah’s response is an actual manifestation of a straw man which (I can only surmise) Jarrah himself takes seriously.

    ‘If you’re not doing absolutely everything in your power for others, you’re no humanist at all and have no right to a moral view on anything, including breaches of the law.’

    With such a binary view of morality, it’s no wonder that libertarians throw in the towel on the whole right-conduct thing.

  9. @TerjeP

    TerjeP, I am coming around to your ‘libertarian’ moral way of thinking, that it is perfectly moral to flout the law when you think there is advantage and a great chance of getting away with it and doing so will earn you a buck. That type of moral thinking seems to grow on you, a bit like fungus.

  10. “it’s a balancing act.”

    Yes, of course. Self interest and the public good do not trump one another. That’s the point. So your assertion – discriminatory hiring is “setting aside the public good” – is a false dichotomy. Ironically, you then accuse me of binary thinking!

  11. “Here’s a great article”

    It’s wordy and unoriginal, but covers lots of the thorny issues. It may surprise you to learn that I don’t disagree with many of the author’s points. The problems surrounding concepts like freedom, choice, coercion, and property are part of the reason I don’t label myself ‘libertarian’. I recognise balancing acts everywhere.

  12. “I think obeying anti-discrimination law is a fairly basic standard to hold oneself to, no?”

    Why? I think freedom of thought/conscience is very important. I don’t like laws that infringe on it.

  13. I don’t like paying for things in shops. They infringe on my freedom to get goods for next to nothing (so next to, you might even say nothing). I think I will be come a libertarian and apply the ‘ten finger discount’. Notice, ten not five. Now as a libertarian, I’ve decided why do things by halves.

  14. Terje@19 – quite right, of course laws can be unethical.

    Rather a stretch to argue that a law designed to prevent people from unemployment on account of the possibility becoming pregnant is an unethical one, though.

  15. Jarrah@17 – that’s not what’s at issue here. Terje is perfectly free to *think* he’d prefer not to employ someone who might get pregnant. It’s when he puts that into action in a deleterious way that the harm is done and the law is broken.

  16. Freelander :
    @TerjeP
    TerjeP, I am coming around to your ‘libertarian’ moral way of thinking, that it is perfectly moral to flout the law when you think there is advantage and a great chance of getting away with it and doing so will earn you a buck. That type of moral thinking seems to grow on you, a bit like fungus.

    I notice that since TerjeP has been revealing exactly what an ethical law-discarding rugged individualist he is, yet another Atlas shrugging collectivist shackles, his picture has disappeared. Fair enough I suppose, as law-breakers have to be the ultimate discriminated against minority. Even latte sipping liberals have failed to jump to their defence.

    And TerjeP criticized me for noting as my first action item in preparation for my new life as a libertarian – “get a mask”!

  17. @Dan

    Actually my cause for concern at the time was the likelihood of new legislation insisting that employers pay for extended employee leave after the birth of a child. In the end the government introduced the taxpayer funded baby bonus instead and the debate regarding paid parental leave has moved on from the notion of employer funding. Once that threat retreated I was no longer so concerned. However the threat of an unfair law compelling me to pay certain people who were not working was enough to shift my thinking for a time.

  18. @TerjeP #26
    Let’s just hypothetically say your wife or partner is pregnant with complications before and after birth for some time. If she was having payed leave, is not that to your benefit? If the baby is waking up several times every night and you can send your wife to take care of it since she have paid leave, while you keep sleeping cause you have big day at work next morning, isn’t that to your benefit and benefit to productivity of your employer?
    Are you aware of economic history where prospering times coincides with philosophy that happy and satisfied employee brings higher productivity? It also coincides with times that management did not have exorbitant benefits and with times of high marginal taxes and with times of strong unions.
    At present, all that satisfaction and happiness was given to management’s salaries.
    Since it seems that you are concerned only with corporate well being, does it matter if management takes profits or other employees? The effects on profitability and well being of corporations is the same if you look at sole corporations.
    If you look at the whole country then it is not the same effect, then taking away from employees and giving it to management is taking away from consumers at large and giving it to narrow number of consumers and the whole economy is worse of.

  19. @Jarrah #6

    If Terje hired indiscriminately, and was worse off economically because of it, then his business will be less able to expand and employ more people. He could even go bust, meaning unemployment for current employees, and no-one else having the possibility of a job in his business.

    Are you aware that in free market economies, if one corporation goes bust, another one takes over that market share? Have you heard of competition in free market? Are you aware that in non-monopolies one corporation can expand only against another corporation market share? If one corp goes bust, other one will have to employ more to cover the market share= zero sum employment. Are you aware of competition in free markets? Your model can work only in competition free free market- monopoly. Your model shows how little do you know about free market which you ask for.
    What is the difference if corporation employs indiscriminately and having non-exorbitant management benefits to having the all best employees but giving all productivity benefits to management?

  20. Freelander@29: Terje thought he was in a prisoners’ dilemma – sure, he could obey the law, but his competitors wouldn’t, putting him at a disadvantage. Bad scene.

    Terje@26: Thanks for the clarification of your concerns. Would you say that selective non-employment of women of child-bearing age under the present legislative circumstances is immoral as well as illegal?

  21. Dan – under current legislation there is little incentive to avoid employing women of child bearing age. In fact once the uncertainty cleared I did employ a woman of child bearing age and she now has a child and I’m happy for her. However I don’t think the law should prohibit such discrimination and I don’t think such discrimination is immoral. It is more a question of incentives and implications and legislators should be mindful of both when they legislate. Some people will be slavishly obedient to the law but more people respond according to the incentives that laws create.

    With regards to incentives and implications it is better to have taxpayer funded maternity leave than employer funded maternity leave. And it is better to provide a taxpayer funded social wage than an employer funded minimum wage. Employer funded maternity leave will lead to higher unemployment and lower wages for women of child bearing age. Whilst the minimum wage leads to higher unemployment amongst low income marginal workers. Good legislation requires much more than good intentions.

  22. Let’s just hypothetically say your wife or partner is pregnant with complications before and after birth for some time.

    Been there done that. And it was around the same time as the decision I made as an operator of a small business and as an employer. As an operator of a small business I rarely had access to the sort of surplus you talk of. I could not afford to give myself several months paid leave to care for a wife and my children. I did cut back to a four day week at one point so my wife could maintain her career, however I also took a 20% pay cut. And yet you want to obligate me to hand over any spare business surplus as a benefit to select employees. Those that argue for and would legislate for such employee benefits are in my view quite immoral. They essentially seek to steal. Put simply you can take your moral certitude and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

  23. Freelander@29: Terje thought he was in a prisoners’ dilemma – sure, he could obey the law, but his competitors wouldn’t, putting him at a disadvantage. Bad scene.

    That isn’t quite right. Even if all my competitors obeyed the law I still think it was wise to ignore the law. Essentially because the law in question had no moral authority and there was unlikely to be any consequences. If you think people blindly follow the law or use it as their moral compass you are misguided. People follow the law when doing so is of little consequence, where not doing so is of significant consequence or where the law happens to align with their own moral compass. I am not a bigot and I don’t like bigotry but that is not the same as discrimination.

  24. Well that’s kind of worse; essentially you gave your competitors a reason to flaunt the law.

    What if the law had had, in your lofty opinion, moral authority? Suppose your competitors disobeyed a law like that – how would you respond?

  25. LOL there were bugs all over my citrus trees and other things to do outside and now there are lots more things to think about on the thread like, maybe Nick is right about Terje and Jarrah not really being interested in understanding another point of view.

    But never mind, I am interested in Terje’s ideas about self-organisation. So what models or theorists you base your ideas on? Ten or so years ago there was interest by some areas of psychology for the idea of self-organisation as a theoretical model to replace the old ‘information processing’ model, but it seems clear now from my recent reading that evolution is winning out as the metatheory that will provide psychology with a real and useful foundation.

    It seemed to me, and to the other post grads I worked with back then, that self-organisation has no real explanatory power for psychology or human behaviour when ‘intention’ is involved and all meaningful human behaviour is based on the idea of ‘intention’. It wasn’t difficult to model simple behaviours or psychological phenomena in terms of attractor states and boundary conditions, but there was no point in doing it; it’s just a neat explanation; not a way of understanding anything about people and real behaviour.

    About Bolt, I wonder why there isn’t anyone on the right who can make the point that you want made, about white aborigines, without lying and creating more disdain for aborigines in general? I’d say because there is no point to be made. Bolt is wilfully ignorant and if you don’t read Ted Egan’s book “Due Inheritance”, you don’t really want to understand the problems either. It’s a very small book but is ‘truth’ from a man who has been there and knows them and us.

    Another book, I have just read is “Beyond Right and Left” by David McKnight. I know nothing about him but thought that he had some good ideas. I’m sure he’s a leftie though, as he was a house husband and father for 6 months and now I do remember him being on Radio National. You know if you want provocative ideas and insights, try RN – well some programs – I’d say you would need to avoid Poetica.

    Interesting bit on the Health Report Monday morning on health care costs in Australia.

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2011/3356296.htm

  26. Oh Terje though others wouldn’t be up to his high moral standards? Wait, his high moral standards don’t involve obeying the law (if there’s a dollar to be made) anyway.

  27. Jarrah when exams are over try updating your knowledge about human nature; read Stephen Pinker’s “The Blank Slate; The Modern Denial of Human Nature”.

    and try “Black Mass: apocalyptic religion and the death of utopia” by John Gray for some challenging ideas on the futility of utopian ideas, like ‘the invisible hand of the market’ guiding us all to prosperity and wealth and even, apparently, making discrimination ‘rational’.

  28. @TerjeP

    Yes, a bit odd. But then we libertarians are an odd lot. Terje, where is your mask. Not intending any law-breaking at present?

  29. Terje the free market is lots of things and has lead to lots of things that the people who developed the theory never imagined. The analysis by John Gray in his book “Black Mass’ provides a convincing argument for the ‘religous’ and ‘utopian’ basis of this theory.

    But I am not arguing that ‘the market’ has not been an incredibly useful theory that has provided us with some wonderful things. It seems obvious to me though that it has reached the limits of it’s utility; we have all we need in the way of material benefits and we – well many of us and that includes my conservative neighbours – know that we want something else. We want something that values the other parts of our human nature; the desire to care for others, to have some way of valuing non-material things and people who can’t live up to the requirements of the lilbertarian dream.

    The conservatives out here are ‘over’ the market you know. They would happily side with the Greens if only Bob wasn’t gay. And some of the more appeaser leftie people out here see that this would be a good thing. They want the Greens to stop with the moral integrity thing and be hypocrits just to stop you free market, growth fetish types from destroying our lifestyle and our countryside.

    Very few people of any political persuasion, who are committed to living out here, want CSG mining.

    And about the flouting the law thing. I don’t criticise you for disobeying the law. I criticise you for not understanding that your selfish behaviour in this instance creates negative outcomes for other people. You don’t understand that ‘self-interest’ is not the basis for the proper working of the market, (or for systems to self-organise); the thing that is needed is for people to act on the basis that your self-interest in the long term requires all all of us are looked after.

    Why is your comment in moderation?

  30. Freelander, we are all ‘odd’ surely. I have learned to value my oddness and not be ashamed of it. That is freedom, in my opinion. I want freedom from the message that seemed so ubiquitous over the past couple of decades, that if one wasn’t accumulating wealth and wanting more stuff, one wasn’t a valuable person.

  31. I think the issue of discrimating against women of childbearing age, is something different from the issue of discrimation against people on the basis of other things such as sexual preference.

    I agree with Terje that this is a real problem and it goes to the unresolved and very difficult issue of acknowledging that there just are differences between men and women although these are not as rigid and deterministic as conservatives imagine. Simon Baron-Cohen is an expert on autism and his theory is that there are male brains and female brains, and all sorts in-between and that it happens quite often, that some women have a ‘male’ brain and men can have ‘female’ brains.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/apr/17/research.highereducation

    But the real problem with ‘the market’ is that it does not have any mechanism to accomodate the fact that breeding is expensive. Who should pay for the next generation?

  32. @critical tinkerer
    “Are you aware that in free market economies, if one corporation goes bust, another one takes over that market share?”

    A, we’re not in a free-market economy. B, I’m well aware of the dynamic nature of market economies, it’s one of the main benefits. C, laws and regulations can make certain kinds of jobs uneconomical, and thus won’t be provided. That other kinds of jobs will automatically be available is an assertion dependant on those other kinds of jobs not also being limited by laws and regulations.

  33. @Julie Thomas
    “But the real problem with ‘the market’ is that it does not have any mechanism to accomodate the fact that breeding is expensive.”

    The market isn’t a ‘thing’, Julie. It’s an umbrella term for the sum of all the choices made about expending effort for the acquisition, allocation and exchange of resources. As such there is no ‘it’ to care about what is expensive and what isn’t – there are only humans making human choices. When it comes to children, the coping mechanisms pre-date humanity itself – group living, close families, pair-bonds, gender-based specialisation. People have always had children, regardless of socio-economic framework, and always will.

    As an aside, allowing people to make more of their own choices also means women have fewer children (for many reasons, one being the expense). This is not a bad thing.

  34. But the real problem with ‘the market’ is that it does not have any mechanism to accomodate the fact that breeding is expensive.

    I have three kids and at the time outlined above when I was in business I was well aware of this fact. Which is why I was concerned about proposals for a new system that would transfer some of those expensive costs belonging to other people over to me. That you regard my opposition to such a reform as “selfish behaviour” is offensive. You say you are about constructive dialogue but then you happily stick the knife in.

  35. @Julie Thomas

    Yes. What attracted me to libertarianism, and one of the reasons I have followed Terje in becoming a libertarian was its utopian aspects. Of course, that I don’t have to obey any law that restricts my freedom, they all do, and that I could feel moral about my law-breaking at the same time, was almost the clincher. I don’t like having to where a mask though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s