Distribution of colors in a bowl of Fruit Loops cereal

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Wallace Corporation T-shirt

We finally saw the movie Blade Runner 2049 and will be writing up a review soon. In the meantime, you can order your very own Wallace Corporation T-shirt (pictured below) here. (In Blade Runner 2049, the Wallace Corporation is the entity that bought out the old Tyrell Corporation–see this fictional corporate timeline here–and manufactures advanced holographic beings like Joi, played by Ana de Armas.)

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Review of Muldoon’s defense of tolerance of anti-libertarian views

This post is part of our month-long series of blog posts reviewing select essays published in the new Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. In this post, we will review Ryan Muldoon’s excellent essay on “Reasons to tolerate.” (Professor Muldoon, a political philosopher at the University of Buffalo, is the author of Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World: Beyond Tolerance; see book cover below.) Although Prof Muldoon restates F. A. Hayek’s powerful critique of social planners as well as Hayek’s slam-dunk arguments for free markets and competition, Muldoon makes a strong case for tolerance of anti-libertarian views.

First off, Muldoon identifies three major moral ideals in the modern world–libertarianism, egalitarianism, and utilitarianism–and then formulates a fundamental syllogism of modern politics. Simply put, people espouse or gravitate toward different moral ideals; therefore, people disagree about a wide array of economic, moral, and political issues. Moreover, this disagreement runs deep; it cannot be resolved through appeals to reason or expensive empirical studies: “Libertarians, egalitarians, and utilitarians (amongst others) don’t merely disagree about what sorts of policies we ought to favor. Their disagreements run far deeper than that. They disagree about what the world is like, and what we should be measuring when we talk about what makes a policy better or worse.” Libertarians, for example, emphasize liberty and freedom from coercion; egalitarians emphasize equality and redistribution of income; and pragmatic utilitarians emphasize social welfare and aggregate wealth. Given this fundamental disagreement, Prof Muldoon argues that such diversity of views should not only be tolerated; this intellectual diversity should also be celebrated and encouraged, or in the eloquent words of Prof Muldoon: “No … theory captures everything that we have reason to care about–the world is far too messy. Instead, we need competition amongst various perspectives, bringing new insights to bear on how we can piece together rules for living together.”

For our part, we wholeheartedly agree with Muldoon’s diversity thesis and defense of tolerance, but nevertheless, there is a huge blind spot in Muldoon’s approach, what philosopher Karl Popper once called “the paradox of tolerance.” Simply put, what about those people who are opposed to tolerance and who are instead committed to oppression and acts of violence in the name of some higher ideal? (Political fanatics like Lenin, Mao, and Fidel, for example, come to mind.) In other words, as Popper once wrote, “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.” How do we untie this Gordian knot? When should anti-libertarian views be met with force instead of reason? We have no idea where to draw this line, but here is what Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1994 edition, p. 581):

If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

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Review of Wendt’s theory of moderate libertarianism

This post is part of a series of blog posts reviewing select essays published in the new Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. In this particular post, we will review Fabian Wendt’s dangerous essay on “Libertarian property rights and the Lockean sufficiency proviso.” (Wendt, a philosopher at Chapman University, is the author of Compromise, Peace, and Public Justification: Political Morality beyond Justice; see book cover below.) In his essay, Dr Wendt revisits Nozick’s “Lockean proviso“, distinguishes between “right-libertarian” and “left-libertarian” theories of justice, and then proposes a third way: moderate libertarianism.

Let’s begin with Locke’s property-rights proviso, which imposes an outer limit on the rights of acquisition and ownership of private property in the state of nature, i.e. in a world without formal property rights. According to the great political theorist John Locke (in sec. 27 of his Second Treatise), a person in a state of nature automatically acquires a moral (or natural) property right in a virgin parcel of land (i.e. a parcel that has not yet been acquired someone else) as soon as he claims that land and “mixes” his labor with it, i.e. by making improvements on the land, such as farming the parcel, building a house on it, etc. But at the same time, Locke imposes a limit on this right. One must leave enough parcels of land for others, or in Locke’s own words: “there [must be] enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

So, what should we make of Locke’s little proviso today? Right-libertarians either ignore it, play it down, or openly reject it as a non-sequitur, since we no longer live in a state of nature and since the idea of “mixing” one’s labor with land is vague or open-ended. Left-libertarians, by contrast, embrace the proviso with gusto to justify redistribution or the equal allocation of a minimum set of material resources to all persons. Wendt’s attempt to strike a balance between these two extremes–his theory of moderate libertarianism–is no doubt well-meaning and well-intentioned, but in truth, his theory is really a disguised form of left-libertarianism. Why? Because once we accept Locke’s little proviso, there is no principled way of imposing limits on the use of public coercion in order to provide everyone with “sufficient resources,” to quote Wendt himself. (That is why we called his essay “dangerous” at the outset of this post.) Worse yet, how much resources are sufficient? Wendt cannot say. The notion of “sufficient resources” is itself vague and open-ended.

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Review of Mulligan on libertarianism versus meritocracy

Happy Friday the 13th! We now proceed with our review of some of the essays published in the new Routledge Handbook on Libertarianism. In this post, we will review Thomas Mulligan’s erudite essay “Libertarianism vs. meritocracy.” (Mulligan, a political theorist/philosopher and faculty fellow at Georgetown University, is the author of Justice and the Meritocratic State; see book cover below.)

In his essay, Dr Mulligan compares and contrast a meritocratic approach to justice with a libertarian one. Although both approaches share many things in common–for example, both theories “believe that markets are the right way to organize economic activity, thereby promoting broad prosperity” and “… both reject the egalitarian’s call for equal economic outcomes”–Mulligan emphasizes the differences between both theoretical frameworks. To simplify, each approach employs a different core criterion to measure justice: the meritocratic perspective prefers merit to liberty, while libertarians, in contrast, prefer liberty to merit. As a result, for libertarians, “firms allegedly are at liberty to discriminate, in hiring and compensation, however they like. Under libertarianism, there is no moral requirement to hire, promote, or reward meritorious people.” From a meritocratic point-of-view, by contrast, “hiring and salaries should purely be functions of merit. It is unjust to deny a meritorious woman a job on account of her sex. It is unjust to deny a meritorious man a job in order to promote ‘diversity’. The same goes for discrimination on the basis of race, appearance, sexual tastes, religion, and all the rest. Merit, and merit alone, is what ought to count.”

Unfortunately for Dr Mulligan, however, his distinction between libertarian and meritocratic conceptions of justice is more apparent than real, since most libertarians would most likely take some type of merit into account when making decisions. But in any case, a more difficult problem–perhaps an intractable one–for Mulligan is that he is simply unable to provide us with a viable working definition of “merit” that everyone could agree to (i.e. beyond one at a high a level of generality). In the absence of a universal definition of “merit”, shouldn’t people be free to choose their own conceptions of merit?

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Hat tip: Cliff Pickover

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Review of Flanigan’s libertarian approach to medicine

In this post, we will review Jessica Flanigan’s thoughtful essay on “Libertarianism and medicine,” published in the new Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. (Dr Flanigan is an ethicist at the University of Richmond.) Professor Flanigan points out a potential asymmetry in the way the market for medical services is regulated. On the one hand, we have the doctrine of informed consent: doctors are not allowed to mislead, trick, coerce, or force their patients to undergo treatments they don’t want. But at the same time, the right of doctors to prescribe certain drugs or treatments–as well as the right of patients to obtain new drugs or treatments–is severely restricted, regardless of whether there is consent or not. Specifically, the FDA–in the name of health and safety–has the power to veto doctor and patient decisions, or as our friend and colleague Alex Tabarrok has so often noted (Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason U, has written extensively about the FDA’s paternalistic policies), the FDA may flat out prohibit doctors from providing risky treatments and experimental therapies, even when patients are willing to consent to such treatments or therapies. On balance, we agree with Flanigan’s (and Tabarrok’s) libertarian critique of the FDA: patients should be free to make their own choices, even risky ones. That said, however, why should the moral concept of consent trump the need for ex ante, third-party (non-patient) measurement of the harms and benefits of new treatments? In the alternative, might there not be an optimal amount of paternalism in medical markets? After all, just as the doctrine of informed consent does not apply to medical emergencies, one could argue that the market for medical services requires some level of oversight and some restrictions in order to prevent doctors and drug companies from exploiting severely ill patients. We have to draw a line somewhere; the question, as always, is where?

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