Libertarian Statism

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It is the wackiest “libertarian” non-libertarian proposal I have ever seen. Or perhaps it is the wackiest non-libertarian “libertarian” proposal I have ever seen. I’m not sure yet. Either way, it is nothing short of libertarian statism.

For many years now, some libertarians have promoted educational vouchers in the name of “school choice.” But as I have pointed out many times (see here, here, here, here, and here), since the state has no business funding any child’s education, government-issued vouchers for education are just another income redistribution scheme like food stamps, WIC, TANF, and refundable tax credits.

But support for vouchers is a mild aberration compared to the latest wacky “libertarian” scheme.

Writing in “The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income,” Matt Zwolinski argues not only that “guaranteeing a minimum income to the poor is better than our current system of welfare,” but that “it can be justified by libertarian principles.”

Zwolinski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego and the founder of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog. He is also a libertarian statist.

Here is how he defines his proposed Basic Income Guarantee:

A Basic Income Guarantee involves something like an unconditional grant of income to every citizen. So, on most proposals, everybody gets a check each month. “Unconditional” here means mostly that the check is not conditional on one’s wealth or poverty or willingness to work.

And who would guarantee this grant of income? Why, the state, of course.

This not only not libertarian; this is not even something that most Republicans and conservatives would ever propose.

Zwolinski has “three libertarian arguments in support of a Basic Income Guarantee”:

1. A Basic Income Guarantee would be much better than the current welfare state.

2. A Basic Income Guarantee might be required on libertarian grounds as reparation for past injustice.

3. A Basic Income Guarantee might be required to meet the basic needs of the poor.

The answer to all of these arguments is a simple one: there is nothing even remotely libertarian about the state taking money from some and giving it to others.

Zwolinski also mentions three objections that one might raise: disincentives, effects on migration, and effects on economic growth. A Basic Income Guarantee “would create objectionably strong disincentives to employment,” “would create pressures to restrict immigration even more than it already is” and because “even a modest slowdown of economic growth can have dramatic effects when compounded over a period of decades.”

He doesn’t even posit the most obvious and most important objection: there is nothing even remotely libertarian about the state taking money from some and giving it to others. And neither does David Friedman in his reply to Zwolinski.

Zwolinski’s first argument is for an efficient welfare state. Whether it would be “much better” than the current welfare state is simply his opinion. Whether “eliminating bloated bureaucracies” would put “more money in the hands of the poor and lower costs to the taxpayer” is pure speculation. And what are libertarians doing advising the state on how to make its income transfer programs more efficient?

Zwolinski insinuates that because the guaranteed income counts as reparations, it is not taking money that belongs to some and giving it to others since the money properly belongs to the poor. But he has given us no reason to think that the poor are entitled to reparations just because they are poor. And it is the state is the greatest perpetrator of “past injustice.” It would be a current injustice for one to be required to hand over his money to a criminal gang for it to remedy some past injustice.

For his third argument Zwolinski appeals to Friedman’s father, Milton, and to Friedrich Hayek. He points out that the elder Friedman maintained: “Some ‘governmental action to alleviate poverty’ is justified. Specifically, government is justified in setting ‘a floor under the standard of life of every person in the community.’” Hayek’s “even more powerful” argument is that “the assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.” Zwolinski went on to write an entire article on Hayek’s view.

But as anyone familiar with libertarianism knows, Murray Rothbard demolished Friedman’s decidedly unlibertarian ideas in “Milton Friedman Unraveled” and Hans-Hermann Hoppe showed Hayek to be just a moderate social democrat in “Why Mises (and not Hayek)?

In a recent article of mine—“Shall We Abandon the Non-Aggression Principle?”—I pointed out that once you reject the libertarian non-aggression principle (see Zwolinski’s rejection here and Michael Rozeff’s reply here), you open the door to justifying state aggression. The state taking money from some and giving it to others is an act of naked aggression.

The federal government’s welfare programs don’t need to be reformed, simplified, better managed, made more efficient, block granted to the states, used as a form of reparations, or made less bureaucratic, they simply need to be abolished.

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