Reflections on Libertarianism and the Judeo-Christian Tradition

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Travis Hallman,  5/10/2018

Much has already been written about the Founders of this nation being Deists rather than orthodox Christians. That is, they had a worldview that a Supreme Being created the world and set things in motion, but then backed off from intervening in nature and human affairs. Nevertheless, part of that understanding was that the Creator had given human beings inalienable rights, and that when such rights were jeopardized by a tyrannical government, it is justified to rebel against it. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Even though active participation in organized Christianity has declined in America, it is worthwhile to explore the compatibility between the ideals of Libertarianism and the Judeo-Christian tradition that has shaped our history. One of the principles of Libertarianism is that, as Jefferson stated above, governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” A large majority of the governed have accepted the judeo-christian tradition as the basis for our national culture, even if they don’t participate in organized religion.

Judeo-Christian tradition first came to America along with the European colonizers who started settling in North America at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century. They saw themselves as the Chosen People of God—children of Abraham by faith if not by lineage. Therefore, they felt they had a God-given right to take land that was already occupied by a large, well-developed civilization. This follows how the ancient Israelites had taken land they believed was promised to them by God, even though it was already inhabited by the Canaanites.

Therefore, it is important to understand how both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament shaped the mindset of the European colonizers. The history of the Hebrews involves a people who had been enslaved in Egypt. In a dramatic and seemingly miraculous rescue, they escaped their bondage, and after a period of wandering in the wilderness, were successful in wrestling the land of Canaan away from its original inhabitants. Importantly, however, they were commanded to continually ritually remember their origins.

In the beginning of their occupation, the Hebrews were organized in a loose confederation of twelve tribes, each independent of the others, with respected elders giving guidance. Whenever an external threat arose from surrounding peoples, a charismatic leader (called a “judge”) would emerge to galvanize the tribes to band together to respond to the threat. When the threat was defeated, the judge would return to obscurity. This seemed to work well and runs parallel to the Libertarian value of local government, where leaders are known and actions are taken by consensus of the community.

However, the Israelites began looking at other nations around them and became anxious about their growth in political power and influence. Around 1000 BCE, the Israelites began to clamor that they needed a king to protect them from the surrounding nations. The prophet Samuel warned them that this was not necessary because God was their king and was watching over them. If they adopted a human king, the result would lead to taxation, conscription of young persons to serve in the military, and in forced labor. Nevertheless, the people persisted, and Samuel anointed a man named Saul as the first King of Israel, claiming him to be the one God had chosen. This story is recounted in 1 Samuel 8-9.

Samuel’s prediction came true and a century later, during the time of King Solomon, the taxation and conscription had become so onerous that it led to civil war and the dividing of the land into two kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. It seems the natural tendency of government is to become bloated and bureaucratic.

One of the basic tenets of Libertarianism is non-aggression toward one’s neighbors and their property. This value can be compared to the Golden Rule espoused by most religions. Jesus stated it as part of his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12): “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the prophets.” According to the Jewish Talmud, Rabbi Hillel, who was a contemporary of Jesus, taught something very similar based on his understanding of the Jewish Law (Torah). It is unfortunate that the European settlers did not apply this Golden Rule to the native inhabitants already living in North America, nor to the African slaves brought to the continent.

The summary of the Ten Commandments, according to Jesus, was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) Later, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther would write in his Small Catechism that the commandments are not just prohibitive, but are also prescriptive—that is, calling for benevolent proactive actions on behalf of one’s neighbors. For example, in explaining the commandment, “You shall not steal,” Luther said that it is not enough merely to refrain from stealing from a neighbor oneself, but also to “help them improve and protect their property and income.” Similarly, the commandment against murder admonishes us to likewise “help and support them in all of life’s needs.” Certainly Libertarians encourage voluntary support and encouragement of one’s neighbors.

At issue for Libertarians is using government coercion through taxation to redistribute wealth and resources to those in need, rather than relying on voluntary altruism. There is evidence to suggest that non-profit social service agencies—both faith-based and secular—have a better and more efficient track record of meeting human needs than government agencies. They also tend to be marked with genuine compassion and they enable volunteers to support with their time, energy, and skills, as well as financially.

The prophet Ezekiel pointed this out in Chapter 34 of the book that bears his name in the Hebrew Scriptures. “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” he cries out in verse two. In this context, “shepherds” refers to politicians. There was a sense in Judaism that the King and his administration should provide for the minimum needs of the populous. But as with Samuel’s earlier warning that only God could be the rightful king, so, too, Ezekiel says that only God is the Good Shepherd.

Jesus also called himself the Good Shepherd, in one of his statements meant to associate himself as the Messiah, the Chosen agent of God—or, as Christians believe, God himself. There is a curious story about Jesus concerning the payment of taxes (found in Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; and Luke 20:20-26). The Jewish authorities try to trap him by asking whether or not one should pay taxes. If he said yes, then he would alienate his fellow Jews, who hated the Roman taxes imposed on them. If he said no, he risked arrest from the Roman authorities. Wisely, he asked them to produce a coin, and then asked whose likeness was on the coin. The answer, of course, was the Emperor, Caesar. Then Jesus responded, “Therefore, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” On the surface, that may sound like Jesus is supportive of paying taxes. But his skillful and enigmatic answer leaves the question open, “Are taxes actually legitimate? Do they actually belong to the government?” Yes, the government mints money to regulate and expedite commerce, one could argue, therefore it legitimately deserves a tax to pay for that industry. But is it proper and ethical for any government to mint money at all? If so, should bartering also be taxed? These are issues of great concern to Libertarians.

There is actually a subversive undertone to Jesus’ answer about taxes in this passage. For both Jews and Christians believe that everything ultimately belongs to God. So essentially, Jesus is saying, pay taxes if you want, but remember that God created everything, and so it ALL belongs to God.

There are two more passages in the New Testament that need some consideration in terms of what the Bible says about government. The first is Romans 13:1-7 and the second is 1 Peter 2:13-17. Both have been traditionally used by Christians in support of government. It is important to note that many Biblical scholars think those verses in Romans are a later addition and not necessarily a part of Paul’s original letter. Similarly, most scholars agree that the letters bearing Peter’s name were NOT written by the leader of the twelve apostles, Simon Peter.

It is also important to note the context of the time in which these words were written. Christianity was a very small sect within the Roman Empire, and somewhat in competition with Judaism. Therefore, it was beneficial for Jewish leaders to foster enmity against the Christians on the part of the Roman Empire. Christians were said to be impious and seditious because they would not worship the Emperor as a god. These passages were specifically written in order to convey reassurance that Christians were not organized to oppose the rule of Rome.

Centuries later, European Christians living under Nazi power would wrestle with obedience to a government that embraced persecution of the Jews as legal. Some Christians concluded that when laws are unjust, there is a higher divine law that takes precedence. In our own times, the modern Sanctuary movement, in which Christian churches provide safety to undocumented immigrants, hiding them from immigration authorities, is similarly practiced because immigration laws and punitive enforcement of them are deemed unjust.

Finally, we should note that the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John, has a very dystopic view of government. Written at the height of Roman persecution of Christianity, it noted that persons could not even conduct commerce—neither buy nor sell—without the stamped approval of the Empire. Libertarians question the multitude of professional and business licenses that are necessary, all of them supported by fees to the State. This book seems to be the antithesis of the passages from Romans and 1 Peter quoted earlier.

This is a very brief overview of some of the ways Judeo-Christian heritage intersects with Libertarian thinking. Judeo-Christian heritage and Libertarian thinking intersections are largely important because consistency improves legitimacy for a philosophy. Questioning, studying, then adopting the values upheld by Judeo-Christians and the values upheld by Libertarians is an option that empowers the individual to have a structured philosophy for decision-making that consistently remains non-contradictory. Neither Judaism nor Christianity are monolithic. There is a wide diversity of opinions within each religious tradition. This article can help Christians to be reminded that no government is perfect, and there is enough overlap between Libertarian principles and Christian principles not to outright reject Libertarianism.

 

In liberty,

-Travis Hallman

 

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Kneeling, Patriotism, And The Constitution

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Kris Morgan 5/27/2018

Ever since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner, the NFL has been rife with controversy. First, the players who have joined him are seen as being disrespectful to our country and the military. Second, the NFL’s recent move to fine players for doing so is viewed as an infringement on their freedom of speech. As we shall see, those holding these beliefs are wrong on both counts.

Let’s examine the claim that kneeling is disrespectful to the military. What’s interesting about this charge is that it does not come from kneeling players. It comes from politicians like President Trump, and others who feel it prudent to listen to him, rather than to the players themselves. So what did Kaepernick say was the motivation? “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Not only did his message have nothing to do with the military, but according to Sports Illustrated a Green Beret was in contact with Kaepernick discussing a way to get his message across without disrespecting the flag, the troops, or the country. The football sensation originally sat down on the bench during national anthem, until informed by Nate Boyer kneeling would be more respectful. While it’s true Mr. Boyer received some criticism from his peers in Special Forces, others have also praised his view. Whatever the case, what matters here is intention more than accuracy. While we can disagree on whether kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner is disrespectful, it is a mistake to believe it is the intention.

Now, let’s suppose you don’t care about intentions and find the act of kneeling disgraceful. Of course, you have the right to refuse to purchase tickets to NFL productions, to change the channel when a game comes on, or make any other changes in your life that you see fit. But what does the First Amendment say about it?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Clearly, Congress cannot make a law punishing players for kneeling. But contrary to popular misconceptions, the NFL can punish players for damaging their reputation. Under natural law and under our constitution, every person has an equal right to free speech. If a player can say ‘I choose to kneel in protest at this time’, there is no reason their employer cannot say “I refuse to associate with this person’ or ‘I don’t like them, but I also need them to have a football league. Maybe I can discourage their behavior with a fine.’ (assuming it is not addressed with in player contracts)

Both acts are expressions of ideas that deserve equal protection. The NFL is not infringing on free speech by determining the conditions upon which they will interact with others; everyone in the world does this every day. However, there is an issue related to free speech that desperately needs to be highlighted.

The Huffington Post reported: “The Department of Defense doled out as much as $6.8 million in taxpayer money to professional sports teams to honor the military at games and events over the past four years, an amount it has ‘downplayed’ amid scrutiny, a report unveiled by two Senate Republicans on Wednesday found.” There is no question this is a free-speech issue. Unlike the situation involving the players and the NFL, in this case law is being used. Tax law. Where we put our money is symbolic of the things we like, including ideas. But don’t take my word for it. The Supreme Court had a similar position when answering the question of campaign finance.

In 2002 the Supreme Court ruled that limitations on campaign finance violate free speech. According to csmonitor.com, those opposed to regulating the funding of campaigns argued that “corporations should enjoy a First Amendment right to spend money and advocate political and policy positions during election seasons just as individuals can.” If blocking corporations from spending their money in a way they see fit is a violation, then we must also conclude collecting tax payer dollars to finance the advancement of any idea, such as taking a pro-military stance, is as well. Those saying we should boycott the NFL (such as President Trump) over kneeling players have to choose between accepting this position or admitting their priorities place personal bias over justice.

At this point, you may be thinking, ‘but I do support the military, so it’s not something I have a problem with.’ Whether the Armed Forces are a force for good or evil is debatable. The questions you should be asking yourself here are, ‘how would I react to my money being taken from me to push ideas I disagree with? Whether I personally support the message or not, is using other people’s money against their will to advance causes they despise an honorable and just thing to do? Is the fact that I agree with the message even relevant?

 

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Mises vs. Hobbes: Fortnite Edition

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Kris Morgan 5/17/2018

For those of you who don’t play video games, Fortnite is is the hottest game around. In fact, Forbes reported in October 2017 that it “may have hit the 10 million player mark faster than any other game in history, thanks to its inclusion of Battle Royale.” Battle Royale is a player-vs-player mode in which 100 gamers battle each other. Once connected to a server, players parachute onto a map and search for guns, shields, building materials, and other items and attempt to eliminate each other. If you would like a visual, click here to see gameplay. Aside from being an incredibly successful and fun activity, it is also an excellent portrayal of Thomas Hobbes’s perception of humanity without governments.

Hobbes believed if left alone, human beings would be in a never-ending state of war with each other. Life would be short — full of conflict and chaos. This belief lead him to support the absolute monarchy form of government. Stanford.edu informs us that “his main concern was to argue that effective government—whatever its form—must have absolute authority. Its powers must be neither divided nor limited.”

Fortnite involves constant competition for resources, always looking over one’s shoulder for enemies, and rarely sitting in one place longer than a few seconds. There is no time to mourn the loss of dead teammates if you are playing on team mode. Others will not hesitate to kill you and loot your inventory if you drop your guard. But Fortnite and Hobbes both make the same common mistake so many others fall prey to. They have chosen a single characteristic of humanity and used it to define the entire species. People are extremely dynamic and infinitely complex; labeling our species with a single trait is extremely narrow and leads to mistakes. Ludwig Von Mises articulated this point in his world-renowned work Human Action.

In his Treatise on Austrian Economics, Mises created a systematic approach to economic analyses based on the axiom of action. Stated simply, any time a person acts, they do so because they are trying to remove some uneasiness. He wrote, “His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things.”

Unlike Hobbes, Mises never claimed to know the exact outcome of unmitigated actions. In the era of specialization, it’s easy to conclude him a simpleton and Hobbes brilliant as a result. However, as we shall see, leaving the possibilities open was much wiser than the notion humanity can be accurately portrayed in a narrow lite.

What Thomas Hobbes refused to recognize is that cooperation is another tool for gaining resources, which left no room in his framework for a marketplace. We can forgive the programmers of Fortnite for that omission since its purpose is merely to entertain. As for Thomas Hobbes, being born in 1588 relieves fault for not witnessing the Industrial Revolution work to build wealth, shred infant mortality rates, and build a middle class with a quality of life he could not have dreamed. Those alive today who subscribe to the Hobbesian view have no excuse for overlooking the positive effects of a liberalized economy.

The consequences of allowing personalities like Mr. Hobbes’s influence us are in motion today. The idea of liberty can be very frightening to someone who believes humanity without rulers would be violent and chaotic. However, we can’t forget that for a government to be formed in the first place, the population must want peace more than conflict. If those two things are true, freedom is not something to be afraid of.

In fact, a Misesian would argue that since the people form the government, and they do so because they value peace and eschew friction, it is the idea of conflict that makes people tense. Forming a state is just one approach to resolving that issue. Without one, or under one with limited powers, the population would find alternate means to live in harmony.

For too long, on too many issues, our population, out of fear, has been making decisions on that diminish our basic freedoms indefinitely. The media makes money off showing us all how dangerous it is out there, how there are criminals lurking at every corner, but when we look at our day-to-day life, the peace vastly outweighs the conflict. We have more wealth in the modern era than any other time in history, and it takes cooperation to build it. We need more Misesians and less Hobbesians.

 

 

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Not A Good Plan, Even On Paper

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Kris Morgan 5/10/2018

Most of us have either heard or used the saying ‘It’s a good plan on paper, but it just doesn’t work out in real life,‘ when discussing Marxism. With libertarians being the underdogs in politics, it seems we should just be glad the person we are conversing with is open to that concession. However, when we appease our opponents by pretending it’s not a bad plan, we keep the door open to the ideas. If we want to permanently crush his ideas, we have to go for the jugular. It is my hope that by using what follows effectively we will be able to do that.

When discussing such a complex topic, it is wise to adequately describe our terms. Marxism here is defined as the dictatorship of the proletariat through the political means. The labor class in society seizes control of the political power structure, in our case the Federal Government, and uses its power to create a classless society. For this to happen, everyone must get an equal share of resources despite providing different services. There are no capitalists as the market abolished, and all production is directed by the state.

Nobody should shy away from saying these ideas are terrible on paper, have never worked out anywhere to date, nor will they in the future. The notion that organizing a population in such a way would succeed in peace, harmony, and prosperity is hinged on believing many things contrary to our daily experiences. For example, we accept that a single private company having a monopoly over just one product would lead to low quality and high costs. Marxism demands we believe a small group of politicians controlling everything would yield a much better outcome.

Additionally, receiving the same amount of resources regardless of function mocks something all workers experience at some point in our lives. Attaining skills and/or college instruction is an investment we make in ourselves. We expand on our abilities in hopes of using them to make a higher income. Still, there are those who make no such investments and stick to roles which require only a willingness to work. If there is no reward of higher income, the number of people investing in themselves will be vastly reduced. While we all would prefer a doctor who loves helping others enough to do so for free or very little, we are willing to accept one who does it for profit to having no doctor at all.

Does it really sound good on paper for those with no skills to make the same as the ones who made themselves more valuable? Does the janitor really deserve the same pay as the doctor? Are we prepared to say the act of cleaning floors matches that of saving lives? Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that the doctor’s life is worth more than the janitor’s, only that the task being performed is in higher demand. The skill set of a doctor is also far more scarce than that of a janitor.

Marxism’s own contradictions are the final case against it as a plausible plan. First, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a goal inconsistent to that of a classless society. There is no better way to create divisions than for one group to control the entire economy. Attempts at weeding out all the capitalists will always run futile since individuals are perfectly capable of fluctuating between laborer and entrepreneur, and often hold both roles simultaneously. In fact, major parts of the Soviet Union operated only due to black market operations. The classes would not disappear. They’d simply be redefined and entrepreneurship swept underneath the rug. Rather than having separations based on income or whether their role involves investment or labor, they’d be rooted in power politics.

According to Marxist logic, the bourgeoisie have more than the lower classes due to systematic exploitation of surplus labor value. The lower classes rising up and installing a dictatorship is a response to this injustice. But the abuses committed by the capitalists are based on economics, not politics. Assuming this reasoning holds, are we to believe complete economic and political power in the hands of a few would not result in similar or worse exploitation? If economic power split up by many capitalists is bad, how can total power embodied by a single group be good? Would the proletariat not also become entrepreneurs in this system, as the state directs production?

There is no reason whatsoever to beat around the bush. Marxism is a terrible plan on paper and in practice has been a disaster. In a century of communist experiments, over 100 million people have died, according to the Wall Street Journal. The contradictions are obvious and the issue of trusting people with unlimited power really should put the matter to rest. The plan is rooted in hatred for capitalists with economic influence, and relies on trust for laborers-turned-entrepreneurs with no limits on power. Let’s not be afraid to be bold, but still respectful, and refuse to entertain the idea that Marxism is a good plan that just didn’t pan out.

 

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Wealth Isn’t (Just) Money, Pt 2

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By Jared Miller

We have already explored the idea that wealth is all of the things that money does, and isn’t necessarily money itself. That’s a pretty good foundation. But we still need to expand it further. Maybe a better definition is, “Wealth is all of the things that money does, AND the economic growth that the accumulation of money represents.”

I mentioned in part one that our exaggerated revulsion towards inequality depends on the ideas that the amount of wealth is fixed, and that wealth equals money. Since we’ve already covered the latter, I want to address the idea of fixed wealth by first examining “The paradox of thrift.” The idea is that the more people save, the less money there is in the economy. Less money in the economy means less economic activity, which means people lose jobs and businesses close. In times of economic distress, someone might be able to make the case that this is a genuine concern. But as a truism for all economic activity, it’s complete nonsense.

Maybe that’s a little unfair. Maybe it’s more accurate to say it is the result of another misunderstanding brought about by the use of currency. Once again, it’s much easier to understand the true nature of things without using money. Without proper understanding of wealth, talking about money just muddies the waters.

Let’s say a farmer can produce about a bushel a month: enough to buy about a month’s worth of beef. In this scenario, the economy is in complete equilibrium. It is neither growing nor shrinking, and there is no profit to be had as both parties are simply meeting their basic needs.

If the farmer comes up with a new technique whereby he is able to increase his yield to 2 bushels of grain, he is now building capital (profit) to the tune of 1 bushel per month. In our economy, he would sell this grain for a certain amount of money, but this makes no difference. He now has a surplus of capital to be used for a variety of means.

He could trade for some fruit or some new clothes, or use it to further improve his farm with a plow, or some land, or by paying a farm hand. Or he could save it at absolutely no expense to the rest of the economy. And that’s the most important part.

He has more because he produced more, not because he took it from someone else. If he were to trade the extra production, everyone would benefit from that additional wealth. But if he does not trade it, nobody is worse off. In the modern world, we are one step removed from the appearance of this, but we are not removed from its reality.

To understand, it needs to be completely clear that the word “profit” is not the vomit-inducing, greed-ridden, class warfare cliche that it’s made out to be. As long as it is not earned through fraud or exploitation, profit is good. It is growth. It is the numerical representation of exactly how far societal wealth has expanded — Not shifted, expanded. Profit means that everyone is wealthier, not just the person who earns it. (One might still try to argue that workers must be exploited for profit to exist at all, but that is a topic for another time. If I were to get into that here, this would be so long that nobody would read it.)

The same is true for personal wages, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Income (revenue) minus expenses still equals profit or loss. Profit in this case refers to the amount of value you have added through your labor that is above what you need to live. Like the farmer’s grain, this excess is not a drag on the economy. And increasing it by eliminating expenditures (reducing your consumption of limited resources) is also good for the economy.

Yes, it looks like the economy is shrinking because you aren’t consuming as much stuff. Activity slows down, but consumption of resources is by definition the destruction of wealth. It is absolutely true that businesses and systems that depend on constant consumption will suffer from an increase in thrift. But shifting our habits away from consumption is the best way to ensure both economic stability AND more general distribution of wealth. After all, who suffers most from lack of thrift? Is it the wealthy, or the rest of us? Who benefits most from a throwaway, consumptive mentality?

Increasing production and reducing waste, or more plainly, creating more than you consume: that is the definition of economic growth — not how much money is flying around. The only arguments against this fact result from an unfortunate preoccupation with money, or the immediate effects of personal decision making. When the extended consequences are considered, everyone eventually benefits.

There’s one more characteristic of profit we need to address in order to understand how this relates to inequality. Probably the most important function of profit is as a bat signal to entrepreneurs. High profits are the most clear way to say, “This model works! People want this! You can make money here!” The higher the profits, the brighter the bat signal. As new people copy the success of the first guy, competition forces profit margins to decrease as each competitor fights for a bigger piece of the pie. More new methods develop, efficiency increases, and labor and price are both reduced dramatically over time.

This happens because people see opportunity, and are allowed to pursue it to the best of their ability. But when something happens to limit the ability for new businesses to try their luck, success remains concentrated. The wealth gap grows. Usually, but not always, this happens when often well-meaning restrictions make it too costly for new players to face off with existing ones.

Therefore, if there is an arena where wealth concentration must be fought first, it is the addition of obstacles to entrepreneurial activity, and the reduction of competition by artificial means. That includes an element of personal responsibility for poor financial choices. People like you and me could become entrepreneurs ourselves, or at least stop squandering our own capital for the benefit of the elite. This may be the most important way to battle inequality, because it’s the only arena within which you personally have control.

Shift your definition of wealth. Learn to manage your finances wisely. If you’ve got the stomach for it, act entrepreneurially. Learn patience and stop borrowing money. Then maybe one day your success could contribute to reducing inequality.

 

 

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Wealth Isn’t (Just) Money, Pt 1

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By Jared Miller

Inequality is a much bigger deal than most libertarians like to admit. Ignoring the gravity of the problem isn’t doing us any favors either. It undermines our credibility, but not because we are completely wrong. It weakens us because it makes us far too willing to dismiss the validity of the opposing view. Instead, we need to be able to admit that it is an issue, and then address the incorrect assumptions that lead people to incorrect answers.

The misunderstanding starts with conventional wisdom that says putting so much wealth in the hands of so few makes everyone else poorer. It does make a certain sense; there is only so much money in circulation, and the more you have, the less I can have. It is certainly the case that extreme inequality has the potential to cause obvious economic harm to those without.

People often try to fight this idea by saying that there will always be a high level of natural inequality no matter what system we have. This is true, but incomplete. We cite things like regulatory capture (which includes general cronyism, punitive tariffs, overzealous occupational licensing, targeted taxation, and other forms of economic protectionism) that make the problem worse by limiting both opportunities for personal growth, and the kind of competition that benefits workers more than employers.

We’ve covered those topics so thoroughly that halfway through that list you probably got bored and skipped to this paragraph. Don’t worry. I won’t judge. Anyway, it’s much more important to challenge our perception of inequality in general. The assumption that all inequality is harmful relies on two of the most prevalent misunderstandings in our culture: the idea that the amount of wealth is fixed, and that wealth equals money.

But wealth isn’t money. I mean, of course it is, but it isn’t only money. This isn’t just philosophical nonsense either. It’s a cold, hard, economic fact. So what is wealth? Wealth is all the things that money does. Though it seems minor, this little nitpick is all the difference in the world.

Money is a shortcut. It is a tool – like a shovel, or a ruler. We use it to measure value, and also exchange the value of labor or investment for the things we want or need. (Since investment is using the fruit of your labor to make someone else’s labor possible, labor and investment are nearly identical for the purpose of this discussion.) If you can satisfy those without money, or with less money, your wealth has increased even if your financial situation is unchanged.

if you meet your personal needs and desires with less money than you make, you are as wealthy as you ever need to be — regardless what the rest of the world tells you. So long as it is the life he wants, a man living in the mountains selling just enough moonshine to keep the lights on and the fridge full is as wealthy as any Wall Street broker. Obviously most of us aren’t content with a shack in the woods, so our desires tend to be a little more extensive.

The good news is that in the modern world, most of them can be met as easily at the low end of the economic spectrum as the top. Housing, transportation, food, electronics, leisure activities, etc… all are within the grasp of the majority of the population. With very little money, we are able to do many of the same things as those with much, much more.

So why doesn’t it feel any better for those of us who have struggled, or are struggling? What about those of us who, no matter how hard we try, can’t seem to get any further? Sure, people with less income have access to the same things, but they may be less desirable or of lower quality: like owning a used Ford Tempo vs a brand new Cadillac. Both satisfy the need for transportation, but one is notably more desirable than the other.

This is a big problem when thinking about our own lives. Typically, as our situation improves, so does the quality of our possessions. This process of slowly “trading up” can leave us feeling as if we haven’t gained a thing. “Yeah, I have a nicer phone, but I’m still living paycheck to paycheck.”  

That’s because, in a way, we haven’t improved at all. Since we are fulfilling the same desires as before with no additional savings or satisfaction of wants, we have not made real progress. We have only “upgraded.”

That’s the funny thing about wealth — it doesn’t always pay the bills. It is an indisputable fact that even the lower class in this country is considerably wealthier than previous generations. For God’s sake, most of us have one of the most powerful pieces of technology in human history in our living room and we use it to kill zombies or play fake football on a television screen the size of a Buick… But when it comes to paying the mortgage or buying groceries, we find ourselves struggling, and barely getting by.

Because of this, we tend to forget the work our money does as soon as it’s complete. This is often why the magnitude of our prosperity escapes us, and is another important opportunity to separate money from our idea of wealth.

It’s also the reason the virtue of contentment holds the key to accumulating the kind of capital associated with traditional wealth. If you can stop upgrading and focus on developing your financial future, you can start saving money immediately. You can divert resources towards retirement, buying your own home, or starting your dream business.

And yes, everything on that list takes money. But that doesn’t change the truth that the product of your labor is going further than it could have. Instead of only having a new car, you could be driving a dependable, used Toyota and saving the other 20 grand for a down payment on a house. One develops your own wealth, the other gives it away to the landlord and the car dealership.

You can even stop taking out loans and paying other people interest for the privilege of using your own property. There is no more obvious example of self inflicted wealth destruction than consumer debt. It is such a direct transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top that you can see it happening every time you get your bill.

You may say the availability of low cost alternatives is just the result of technological innovation. You’re absolutely right! But in saying that, you are already implicitly accepting the premise. If you accept that technology makes things cheaper and more accessible, you automatically accept that labor is accomplishing more while expending fewer resources. Money is doing more — in other words, wealth has increased — even though there is no more money in circulation than before.

Of course, it will be much harder (sometimes impossible) for low income households to make these changes. But the only purpose here is to encourage you to think about wealth in real terms, instead of dollars and cents.

Income and wealth inequality are only truly a problem when they cause others to do without, or when they prevent people from improving their personal situation. Someone may be able to make the claim that this is already happening. But if it is, increased inequality is a symptom, not the cause. It may be an important indicator for the state of the economy, but attacking it directly is missing the point.

In fact, as we will see in Part Two, their profit may be increasing your wealth, too.

 

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The Thanos Problem

Thanos

Kris Morgan 5/3/2018

In my opinion, Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie to come out so far this year. It has action, adventure, plot twists on top of depth, offering insights into family dynamics, war, philosophy, psychology, and lives up to the hype surrounding it. That being said, if you haven’t seen the movie, please stop reading now and go see it, as there are a few spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

While the movie reflected many aspects of our culture, and made use of interesting symbols such as the twin-tower formation found at the location of the soul stone, nothing topped the persona of the main villain, Thanos. Not only did he see his monstrous actions as benevolent, in several scenes he showed a very humane side towards his adoptive daughter, Gamora.

The plot of the movie was very simple. Thanos perceived overpopulation as being the cause of suffering throughout the universe. Resources were too scarce to sustain a comfortable life for all, so the answer was simple: collect all six infinity stones and, at the snap of a finger, eliminate half the population.

His thought process sheds light on a very serious topic. Even the best of people cannot be trusted with power. Thanos’ belief that much suffering would be alleviated if he accomplished his objective gave him all the justification he needed to commit genocide on an unimaginable scale. This seems irrelevant with respect to real life, since there are no known sources of power so great, other than in the movies. However, virtually all government provided services mirror this attitude: that it is just to use aggressive force against a population as long as the goal is humanitarian.

The war on drugs is a prime example. Most people agree that addiction is destructive and leads to crime. Users often steal to fuel their habits and the market is by definition ran by criminals. There is no shortage of information available on how to help addicts, what to do if they steal from family or friends, etc. In a sense, it is only natural for some to conclude that since drugs lead to addiction, which leads to crime, drugs should be prohibited.

Though the outcome does not lead to genocide, it does lead to plenty peaceful people being arrested. In Thanos fashion, many ignore this, in light of the chain of logic presented above. In fact, in a document titled Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization, the DEA noted in ‘fact’ 7: “Drug use, crime, and violence go hand in hand. In 2004, 17 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs.”

The problem with making all drugs and use thereof illegal is it puts government in the position of being the aggressor. Using force against people because they may one day use it themselves defeats the purpose and harms those who otherwise would have not reached that point.

This ability to ignore the amount of harm one causes simply because they have good intentions reeks of narcissism. In Thanos’ case, due to the damage caused, it is obvious. He has an extreme sense of self-importance, fueled with arrogance, and was exploitative with Gamora as he sacrificed her life for the soul stone; all traits PsychologyToday defines as narcissistic. Might it also be just a little self-serving to support drug laws, in order to ‘help others’, while ignoring the damage they cause?

Since the intellectual case against Thanos’ plan was never made on screen, I do feel compelled to make it here. Like all Hollywood stories, the plot of Avengers is based loosely on reality. Specifically, the work of an economist named Thomas Malthus. In the Malthusian world, the amount of wealth society has depends on whether the population grows or shrinks. If finite resources are divided amongst fewer people, everyone can have more. Conversely, if they are divided by more, everyone gets less. Seems logical enough, right?

Of course not. Malthus completely ignored the role of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs find more efficient ways to use things. While supplies may be limited, there is no reason to assume they are being used in the most efficient way possible. Making production more efficient alone has helped the west to grow in population as well as wealth. Let’s also not forget technology is almost at a point where we can begin mining asteroids in space.

In addition to the role of the entrepreneur, we have that of price. Even if the world’s assets were being used at their fullest capacity, there would be no natural need for a leader to exterminate half the population. Prices rise and fall as goods become more abundant or more scarce. During times of scarcity, prices rise and consumption falls. This discourages more people from having children. On the other hand, if prices fall due to improved productivity, the population has the opportunity to expand.

This is part of the reason price controls are such a dangerous tool. If resources are low and prices are also held low by power, then a society may wake up one day and find they have abruptly consumed all there is. If prices are artificially high, the people would be outraged to find out they could have had much better and easier lives if not for their ‘benevolent leaders.’ While not always perfect, prices are much more reliable than ignorant politicians who truly believe they know what size the population ought to be. Beware anyone who thinks it is truly their choice to make.

If Thanos was benevolent, he would have simply advocated for free markets. Even if his perception on resource consumption was correct, his solution was clearly wrong. The same holds true for our drug warriors. Truly benevolent leaders accept that people must be free to direct their own destinies. The job of governments, and anyone wanting to help, is to do so without causing harm to peaceful people. Any other means is a contradiction and doomed to fail.

 

 

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Four Dead In Ohio

Kent State Shooting

By Jennifer Flower  4/23/2018

Imagine being a college student and seeing your sibling, high school classmates, or even acquaintances drafted into military service without any say in the matter. Imagine being worried you could be drafted into a war overseas you didn’t understand the reasons for fighting. Imagine then 1,000 National Guard Troops descending on your campus. It seems far-fetched today, but in reality, we are still debating, discussing and protesting many of the same issues that came to a head 48 years ago today.

A group of students were protesting the Vietnam War spreading into Cambodia. The students and police had increasing confrontations, with the police accusing some students of throwing things at them. The Ohio National Guard was called in on May 2nd. The confrontations escalated over the next two days, culminating in the tragic death of several students.

In the days leading up to the Kent State Massacre, there was vandalism in downtown Kent, Ohio. Police officers claimed to have been hit by bottles thrown by protesters. Bars had to close early and a curfew was imposed on the residents. The Kent State ROTC Building was also burned down. No one to this day knows with certainty who started the fire, but it is now believed to have been a group of radical protesters who were not students.

Governor Rhodes further inflamed tensions by calling the protesting students “the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” A group of fully equipped National Guard members using tear gas and bayonets eventually opened fire on a crowd of students. Four students were killed and nine were injured. Two of the murdered students, not even involved in the protests, were simply walking to class.

The father of one of the victims on the day after the shooting said “Is dissent a crime? Have we come to such a state in the country that a young girl has to be shot because she disagrees deeply with the actions of her government?”

No accounts indicate that the students committed violence against any person. However, It does appear that the student protesters initiated force through vandalism, violating the Non-Aggression Principle. The perpetrators should have been held responsible for the damaged property.

This option of obtaining restitution from the protesters, however, was taken off the table the moment the National Guard began firing on unarmed students. During the protests, there were up to 3,000 protesters and approximately 1,000 Guardsmen on and around Kent State University. But it’s unclear how many active protesters there were at the time of the incident, as there were students and onlookers walking around campus and simply walking to classes. There were 77 Guardsmen. 28 fired upon the crowd, shooting 70 rounds over a 13 second period.

Freedom of assembly and speech are what Libertarian theory consider Natural Rights and they are protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The students absolutely had a right to protest the Vietnam War and to peacefully assemble to demand their voices be heard. They did not have the right to commit vandalism.

The National Guard escalated the confrontations all the way up to shooting indiscriminately into a crowd of students. There is no justification for that and indeed the shooting did not make students at other universities around the country think twice about protesting the war. It only served to escalate and inflame the already heightened tensions of protests around the country.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We still have tensions on college campuses as to the direction of free speech on campus. Should students be required to stay within “free speech” zones on campuses? If they’re on the grounds of a public university, should students be free to openly exercise their first amendment rights of assembly and speech without interference since it should be considered public land?

President Trump announced that the US military was bombing Syria in retaliation to an alleged chemical weapons attack on Syrian Civilians and the US Military recently killed “a couple hundred” Russians in Syria in February of 2018; which could have spiraled out of control almost instantly. Increased outcry against escalating military intervention has been seen from all ends of the political spectrum.

Those who don’t gain the wisdom of the past will repeat its mistakes. It’s ok if we, as a society, are still figuring out how to handle freedom of speech on college campuses. It’s ok to discuss exactly what that “red line” is that would require US intervention overseas. Any time we have the opportunity to learn from our past, we should strive to. It is how we will progress as a society. It should be clear that the Libertarian standard is to wage peace and speak freely, even the most unpopular opinions.

Tin Soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio
– Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

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Life’s Great Balancing Act: Why True Privatization Is The Only Realistic Solution To Society’s Complexity

balancing

Kris Morgan 4/7/2018

Libertarian icon and author of The Privatization of Roads and Highways Walter Block has said “If it moves: privatize it. If it doesn’t move: privatize it. Since everything either moves or doesn’t move: privatize everything.” Many, though not all, libertarians echo this sentiment. The concept of privatizing everything from road construction to police and military service might sound far-fetched or even outlandish to many, however, before analyzing the benefits, it is prudent to present the libertarian meaning of privatization.

When liberals and conservatives use the term privatize, they are usually referring to a situation in which government outsources a service to private contractors. Funding still comes from taxation. Since the rules are different for private parties, the management style can be altered.

For example, according to the Heritage Foundation (a conservative source), states have saved money by ‘privatizing’ prisons. “By putting prisoners to work and paying them competitive wages, many private companies are reducing prison costs for the government by withholding earnings for taxes, room and board, family support, and victim’s compensation.” Beneficial as this may sound, this is not how libertarians define privatization.

For a service to be privatized there can be no government contracts, special favors, subsidies, or even stringent regulations. Monetary resources cannot be provided through taxes. Anything other than a strict enforcement of property rights places politicians in the position of either managing an entire economic sector, deciding who succeeds and who fails, or both. Under such conditions businesses appeal to the powerful rather than the people. This form of organization makes privatization a technicality rather than a truly competitive market directed at consumer preferences.

Privatizing services in the libertarian sense would mean entrepreneurs make their own capital investments and aim at satisfying consumer demand. They would not only produce the product, but they’d also have to persuade the public to purchase it freely. Failure to economize efficiently would result in bankruptcy and the reallocation of resources into the hands of more competent competitors. Since economic growth is rooted in pleasing consumers, the marketplace is not only the best strategy, it is the only realistic one. Anyone can make a profit when the public has no choice but to hand over their money.

On the other hand, politics encourages black and white thinking. Pondering economic questions in simple terms of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is overly simplistic. Consider all the economic questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis. Even going to work often involves internal debate. “Do I feel like going to work? Can I spare taking today off? What repairs need done to my house? My car? Is there overtime available?” 

Likewise, consider the basic questions we ask when we shop: “Do I really want that? What do I miss out on if I get it? Is there another way to satisfy this need without making this purchase?”

Notice the subjective nature of most questions. No politician can answer such a query for people they have never had contact with, and even if they could, solidifying decisions into law eliminates the ability of people to change their minds. This is the basis of what F.A. Hayek called the pretense of knowledge.

To believe that a handful of bureaucrats can direct economic activity on behalf of everyone efficiently is to assume knowledge no group of people can possibly have, no matter the size or intelligence. Knowing needs and wants in terms of yes or no is not good enough. One must not only know the cost everyone is willing to pay to achieve their ends, but also foresee all future events which could cause them to rethink their choices. There is simply no way to account for all of life’s variables.  

In addition to being economically impractical, the framing of debate in such simple terms is divisive. This is most apparent when it comes to the topic of abortion. The pro-life side of the debate believes their opponents are complicit in murder. The pro-choice side portrays their antagonists as tyrants who want to force their own moral standards on everyone, since it disregards a woman’s right to her own body. What if both sides are merely being hyperbolic, and the issue is more complex than we are willing to admit?

Life is a constant balancing act. Our mortality and physical limitations make everything we do an economic decision, as everything has opportunity costs. Even leisure time is purchased with forgone productive activity. Privatizing everything empowers us all with the opportunity to balance the costs and benefits of every good or service in existence. It also has the advantage of creating an atmosphere of competition, putting pressure on producers to be efficient in their endeavors.

When people are forced to buy a product (security for example) they are robbed of their right to choose. We all want security, but what are the chances that we all want the same amount of security, from the same people, and at the same price? Everyone has their own set of genes and their own life experiences and values to reflect on, not to mention their own circumstances. Do we honestly think it’s wise to keep our most important services one-size-fits-all?

 

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Why Blame The Police For Doing Their Job?

420

Jared Miller, 4/20/18

“Sin, regardless of how someone may define it, it is not a crime. Creating a victim, regardless if it is a sin, is a crime”.    – Larry Sharpe

For many, today is an excuse to smoke weed and pretend to be edgy. For others, it is an act of civil disobedience intended to highlight the absurdity of cannabis prohibition. Others like me, who don’t personally smoke, still share a sense of excitement about eventually winning back some measure of self determination in this area. But we still have a long way to go before we can say we’ve overcome the mentality that enables prohibition in the first place.

I recently made a snarky comment on a post from a police department criticizing the bust of a huge marijuana grow operation in Cleveland, Ohio. I was poking fun at the idea that these officers were keeping our children safe.

Someone I respect very deeply took issue with it, taking the all too common stance that one should fight the law and leave the police alone. “They are just good men doing their jobs. They don’t get to decide which laws to enforce.” I understand where he’s coming from, because I used to share that sentiment. On the surface it seems like the only respectable position. But it is wrong.

First, they do decide which laws to enforce. Police departments decide how to spend their resources. They decide what leads to follow and where officers patrol. Officers decide in the field, for example at a traffic stop, whether to let it slide or find every possible violation. They choose every day and in every situation which laws are important and which laws are not — which laws are worth enforcing and which laws are garbage.

Either they can “just do their job” as stalwart defenders of the law no matter what, or they can admit that they are intentional about which cases are worth pursuing. They shouldn’t get to hide behind their job to justify their actions in one situation, and opt to let someone off the hook in another. They always choose. And that can be a good thing. But when it comes to drug law, they generally choose poorly.

Often, the law was drafted with a specific moral goal in mind. So sometimes the officer is forced to make his choice either based on his moral code, or contradictory to it. In the latter case, he can compartmentalize his guilt by “just following orders.” At that moment, justice is no longer the goal, and the officer shows that he can be made capable, as we all can, of almost any action the ruling body sees fit to carry out. The inescapable conclusion is that morality is not just a poor basis for the formation of law. As a legal standard, it lays the foundation for all manner of injustice. When morality is the goal, anything can be justified.

What else is there? That’s a longer answer… but I’ll try to keep it short. Law exists to reduce or eliminate the ability of one person or group to do direct, intentional harm to another person or group. That’s all.

A law that causes more harm than it prevents stands in direct opposition to its proper role, and should be fought. If the person enforcing it is the one who causes the harm, then law enforcement should also be held accountable.

If an officer’s actions cause direct harm because he’s “just following orders,” he’s not more virtuous than a mafia thug that whacks a guy because it’s “just business.” In that case he just works for a more socially acceptable gang.

So what harm can an officer do in the course of “just doing his job?” The immediate effect is the most obvious. Individuals who have harmed literally no one by cultivating what should be an agricultural product are now felons. For the rest of their lives, they can’t vote, can’t own a gun, can’t find the meaningful employment that might help them live a life outside of “crime,” and will likely be imprisoned at the cost of the taxpayer for something that has not harmed anyone.

You might say the growers knew the risks when they started, and fair enough. But every one of those risks has nothing to do with the product itself, or the manufacture, sale, and use of the product. Every ounce of harm done by growing marijuana is done by enforcing a bad law.

And what about the extended effects? Instead of having legitimate, legal businesses, it has to be done on the black market. The number one cash crop of every drug cartel and street gang is marijuana. If you are concerned with fighting organized crime, the very first step is to cut off their income. In this case, that means fighting this terrible, destructive law.

That is to say nothing of the people actually using marijuana who are now criminals also. Before you say, “it’s not the same thing,“ prohibition requires that the user be punished at the same time as the producer. It’s all just different pieces of the same pie.

This is not meant to be anti-cop. I’m certain these cops aren’t bad men. They don’t have to be. History is littered with good men doing terrible things to others because “it’s the law.“  That is the real crime. Remaining complicit in that is what allows it to continue. It is absolutely right to say that the problem begins with the law forcing the cop into a false dichotomy between causing harm and potentially losing his livelihood.

Which is why sometimes both fighting a bad law and drawing attention to its enforcement are necessary. If you don’t believe that, I’ll assume you never go above 55 on the highway, or that you’d never oppose a cop enforcing any law, no matter how tyrannical. Where would you draw the line? If we have determined that a law is wrong, is the enforcement thereof not also wrong? With so many states taking a stand against federal marijuana law, and a majority of US citizens believing the law to be unjust, there has never been a better time for police officers and local departments to choose to devote their resources elsewhere.

 

 

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