Machan: Sovereign Individuals

In Libertarianism: For and Against, Tibor Machan who defends libertarianism squares off against Craig Duncan who objects to it. Machan and Duncan’s essays alternate for six chapters.

Of note is Machan’s definition of government regulations as “prior restraint” or “imposing burdens or restrictions on the conduct of someone who has not been convicted of having violated or threatening the violation of someone’s rights. It is only right-violating conduct… that justifies restraining a person.” (19) By this clear deontological standard, almost all regulation stands easily condemned.

Machan’s second useful point is that “positive rights” are simply privileges. They can never be universal; they one way or another constitute legal plunder. “Fealty to positive rights requires that we be provided with goods and services at the expense of other persons, which can only be accomplished by systematic coercion.” (22) “The alleged positive rights of the citizenry must clash constantly,” both with negative natural rights to life, liberty, and property and even with each other. (25)

The political arena then is a battleground among the connected pressure groups for the booty the government steals each years through taxes and borrowing:

Government [becomes] arbitrary and incoherent. As long as some people are getting resources that were earned by somebody else, that’s all that counts.

One day it’s aiding AIDS research that tops the to-do list; the next it’s fostering the arts by splurging on PBS; the next it’s curing everyone of smoking and plundering the tobacco companies.

No principles, no logic, no standards of restraint tell us from day to day what one will be free to do and what one will be prohibited from doing; there is no surefire way to know.

As under fascism, whatever the leaders say, goes, so long as they continue to genuflect mechanically before the altar of democracy. (29)

Now a privilege can be granted either to a minority or to a majority. In the first case, we have, to quote Will Durant, the elites exploiting the masses through “ability or subtlety”; in the second case, it’s the masses who exploit the elites through “violence or votes.” (Who loots who how gets complicated quickly, but the gist is correct.) As a result, positive rights should be anathema to Duncan who exalts rights to “fair treatment.”

Machan also points out that affirmation action (such as for blacks) strengthens racism by making anti-racism seem unjust when government coerces entrepreneurs into not “discriminating.” The book was published in 2005, and it is obvious by now that racial strife has increased, and anti-racism has been discredited beyond hope.

Duncan: Errors of Libertarianism

Duncan begins by making a distinction between positive law and natural law:

There is no illegal crime of stealing involved with taxation. Instead, Machan must argue that taxation is the moral equivalent of stealing.

Hence he must argue that people have a moral right to keep and control all their earnings — that is to say, a right that exists independently of any government-created laws or other conventions, much like the human rights not to be murdered, tortured, enslaved, and so on. (46)

I fully agree that taxation is illegal, if by “legal” we understand not an arbitrary and feeble mental spasm of a corrupt legislature but eternal and immutable natural law.

He counters by saying that the owner of a mall can charge the individual mall store owners rent, and “something similar is true of government taxes.” (46-7) But the analogy is spurious. First, libertarianism does not prohibit charging rent by a private property owner from a tenant. It’s a perfectly legitimate business arrangement. Unlike the mall owner, however, the government does not implicitly own all the land in the country as if some sort of feudal super-overlord with the concomitant ability to tax people while calling the taxes “rent.” For example, if the state were such an overlord, then no moral objection could be advanced to letting it own even the air close to the ground. It could then legitimately tax breathing. We might all have meters forcibly installed in our throats to measure the amount of oxygen we consume, and pay taxes proportionate to their output. How could Duncan argue from a deontological point of view against even a tax that monstrous?

Governments can claim to own both the land on which my house stands and vast untouched tracts of virgin land, but such an ambition is both vain and false according to libertarian theory. This point is relevant, because Duncan raises the question of initial appropriation: “How did the whole process [of voluntary exchange] get going? There must have once been a point where some unowned resource — a parcel of land, say — came to be owned by someone, in an act of initial acquisition. But how should this acquisition have happened ideally?” (49-50) Well, there is a canonical libertarian answer to this question: it happens through the act of mixing one’s labor with the land or natural resource. It will be sufficient to mention Rothbard’s exposition:

Crusoe, landing upon a large island, may grandiosely trumpet to the winds his “ownership” of the entire island. But, in natural fact, he owns only the part that he settles and transforms into use.

Or… Crusoe might be a solitary Columbus landing upon a newly-discovered continent. But so long as no other person appears on the scene, Crusoe’s claim is so much empty verbiage and fantasy, with no foundation in natural fact.

But should a newcomer — a Friday — appear on the scene, and begin to transform unused land, then any enforcement of Crusoe’s invalid claim would constitute criminal aggression against the newcomer and invasion of the latter’s property rights. (EoL, 64)

The government, in claiming allodial ownership over the entire realm in its dominion, as though an ultimate landlord, is acting illegitimately from the libertarian point of view.

Duncan’s argument is then distinct from this obviously unhappy analogy. The government can tax, he says, because “the existence of our economic opportunity is highly dependent on the government’s activities of enforcing contracts, protecting legal property rights, keeping the peace, maintaining the national defense, printing currency, insuring bank deposits, preventing monopolies, fighting inflation, negotiating trade agreements, maintaining transportation infrastructure, and so on.” (47)

Duncan has bought into the interventionist fraud that is modern statism. How, for example, can the government both print currency and fight inflation at the same time, when printing currency (through fiat money and credit expansion) is what generates inflation?!

Government on the local level may have a few legitimate functions — libertarianism is not synonymous with anarcho-capitalism — but they are far smaller in number and ambition than Duncan imagines. For example, they hardly involve insuring bank deposits — a pathetic and dishonest attempt to instill into the populace confidence in the state’s vicious money and banking regime; negotiating trade agreements, when economic theory recommends that each country adopts unilateral free trade, regardless of the trade policies of other nations; or for that matter maintaining national defense, when the correct policy of each state is unconditional pacifism in foreign affairs and absence of any standing military forces, again regardless of what other states do.

Further, he argues that “to insist that one has a moral right to all of one’s income earnings is to ignore the efforts of one’s fellow citizens who work in government or who as taxpayers contribute to the support of the government. … The exploitative nature of this is obvious…” (47) But asserting that I’m obligated to other people who are paying taxes begs the question of whether they, too, are obligated to pay taxes. And even if they have via an explicit contract agreed to contribute to a common treasury, it ought still to be my choice whether similarly to agree or not. Finally, that other people are held in serf-like bondage to the state does not entail that I, too, ought by duty to join them.

However, I like Duncan’s point that even if the kinds and amounts of taxes are arbitrary decisions of the legislators, once taxes have been extracted, it is possible for the after-tax income to be spent freely by the sovereign consumers. “How many of us, after all, currently have our lives blighted by uncertainty as to whether the actions we take with our possessions are legal or illegal?” (48) Legal uncertainty and taxation can merge to the extent that future changes in tax policies are hard to predict which can affect the entrepreneurs’ longer-term business plans. Nevertheless, these are separate issues.

Compared to the owner of a field, says Duncan, “other people lack the negative liberty to use the field except by her permission.” In a fully privatized society, “a poor person who could not afford road tolls, admission charges, and the like, might have no negative liberty to go anywhere whatsoever.” (49) But the meaning of “negative right” is freedom from violent interference by other people with one’s use of his body or justly acquired property. Since “other people” do not own the field, this freedom is simply inapplicable to them. Smith has negative rights to his, Smith’s property; Jones has similar rights to Jones’ property. It is true, further, that a bum would have to find some charitable relief or become a drifter who would move from one private property to another until in each case he’s chased out when he’s outstayed his welcome. But why is that a bad thing?

Duncan has an answer. “There is after all such a thing as economic power over others. The power to hire a person (or not) is obviously a significant form of power. Additionally, being fired from one’s job can be a serious disruption to one’s life. A failure to be promoted as expected can also seriously disrupt one’s plans.” Etc. This economic power “can be abused.” (51) No, it cannot be abused, because there is no such thing as economic power. The situations of every member of the economy are 100% symmetrical. Everyone, be he a worker, an entrepreneur, or consumer, simply exchanges goods and services for money.

There is no right, not just under libertarianism but in any sane system, to be hired or to receive a wage for services not wanted or to be promoted. I mean, is Duncan serious? Has he never worked in the private sector? Does he imagine that “promotions” like, I guess, from assistant professor to associate professor in the academia, are guaranteed?

Our author fears that employees will be “threatened with job loss or lack of promotion unless they dispense sexual favors, perform unreasonably dangerous tasks, work an insane number of hours, or do other humiliating things they would never do but for their employer’s power over them.” (51) Suppose a consumer demanded that a businessman perform a sexual favor in exchange for the consumer’s buying her product. (The consumer with money stands in the same relation to the entrepreneur with a product as the entrepreneur with money to the worker with his labor.) Would that be objectionable, too? Even if it is, why must the businessman obey the demand and agree to “humiliate” herself?

The source of Duncan’s confusion is revealed in the section entitled “Insufficiency of Charity.” He posits a “race to the bottom” within the unhampered market, apparently some sort of Marxian-style immiseration of the workers:

Suppose you are a charitably disposed factory owner who wants to make his or her factory safe.

The problem is that safety devices often cost a significant amount of money, and safe procedures may be slower at producing goods. Hence your goods will be more expensive to produce, and you will be unable to sell them as cheaply as your competitor, Joe Sleazo, who cares nothing for the safety of his workers except insofar as this affects his profits margins. Thus you will likely lose sales to Joe Sleazo, forcing you eventually to choose between cutting your factory’s safety standards or going out of business. …

As a factory owner you may wish to pay your workers a decent wage, give them decent working hours, avoid polluting the environment, and so on, but if Joe Sleazo pays his workers subsistence wages, works them ragged, and pollutes, then decent behavior on your part may make your enterprise uncompetitive and put you out of business.

His remedy?

What a society needs to avoid this pernicious downward spiral is a change of the rules of the game, in the form of workplace safety regulations, minimum wages laws, overtime regulations, anti-pollution laws, and so on. (59)

Now first of all, no appeal to “charity” whatsoever is made by the libertarian in regard to employment. Therefore, Duncan has erected a straw man which he then proceeds to knock down that charity is “insufficient” to raise wages or improve working conditions.

Charity is not even part of the libertarian argument. We fully admit that no businessman wishes to pay his workers a decent wage or give them decent working hours. He wishes to keep his costs as low as possible. No charitable intentions need to be assumed.

However, it is precisely through the competition between entrepreneurs in the free market, including Joe Sleazo, however selfish he may be, that incomes to workers are bid up. The workers are free and mobile; they are not attached to any business firm as slaves or even permanent serfs. If they were slaves, then competition would indeed bring about immiseration. For free workers, competition between wage-offering entrepreneurs for labor raises wages and equilibrates the economy while diminishing profits. Workers are always on the lookout for better offers elsewhere in the economy.

Further, higher wages can be offered in multiple ways. A businessman who has an opening for a risky job has a choice: he can either try to attract workers by offering higher monetary compensation while keeping the job dangerous, or invest directly into safety to decrease the risks to the future employee. By doing the latter he loses some money directly but gains indirectly because the supply of labor for the now safer job increases and the wage he needs to offer declines. In different situations his calculations will support different courses of action, but his self-interested profit seeking, if correctly estimated, will conduce to the greatest good for the greatest number.

In short, entrepreneurs compete for workers including by advertising better working conditions, such as safety and shorter workday. No government interventions are needed to encourage such improvements; economic progress takes care of that adequately.

Pollution is a separate issue, but libertarians have generally interpreted it as a violation of one’s neighbors’ property rights. It is simply unjust to dump one’s factory’s industrial waste onto another man’s property. Complications arise for water and air pollution, but I think that very little really can or should be done about such externalities.

In the market, Duncan proposes, many exchanges “are not appropriately reciprocal; in them, one party is treated more as an instrument for another’s private gain, rather than as a person in his own right.” (51) I reject both parts of this statement. First, all voluntary exchanges are fair and properly reciprocal. Second, the free market is the preeminent institution in which we all use each other for our “private gains.” I use society; society uses me; under laissez-faire, such use reaches the peak of its possible efficiency:

Everybody acts on his own behalf; but everybody’s actions aim at the satisfaction of other people’s needs as well as at the satisfaction of his own. Everybody in acting serves his fellow citizens. Everybody, on the other hand, is served by his fellow citizens. Everybody is both a means and an end in himself, an ultimate end for himself and a means to other people in their endeavors to attain their own ends. (Mises, HA, 257)

Let me end on a positive note. Duncan is correct in denying that taxation is like forced labor. “Under a scheme of taxation, and unlike a scheme of forced labor, you get to choose what sort of career you will pursue and where you will live. You can choose whether you value material goods more than leisure time, or vice versa, and choose between more demanding and less demanding jobs accordingly.” Yes, a tax state does not keep slaves but paying taxes is still like feudal serfdom, as long as the costs of moving out of the state’s jurisdiction are high. Duncan concludes: “It surely shows a serious lack of proportion to think of some multimillionaire — who may well at this moment be sipping scotch on the deck of his yacht in the ocean waters near his second home — as anything like an indentured servant.” (57) I see. Well, our author really despises the rich. He caricatures and dehumanizes them. Fine. But even he should realize that if a poor person robs a rich one, our sympathy should still be with the latter. An unjust act like robbery or taxation does not become Ok if the person who suffers the injustice is rich.

Machan: Fairness — or Equality — Is No Imperative

There is little of value in this essay, although a few useful points can be distilled from it.

First, some communitarians hold that “people are by their very nature parts of a larger whole — society, tribe, humanity, the ethnic group or the community — and so belong to a group the members of which are owed loyalty and solidarity from them.” (68) But as adults, we choose our associates. We are not perpetually beholden to any particular community. The nature of man as a social creature manifests itself in his decisions which specific relationships and friendships to cultivate and which to neglect.

Second, there is the familiar argument that “that one does not deserve one’s assets does not mean that others may take them away. One does not deserve a lot of things that others have no authority to take from one — say, an extra kidney, a good second eye, one’s labor and talents, etc.” (70) However, Machan does not discuss merit or desert in any detail.

Third, under laissez-faire capitalism, rich people earn their fortunes mostly by faithfully serving the consumers and improving the living standards of the masses. “Unlike… many… who have earned and kept earning their wealth through innovation, wheeling and dealing, or other honest means, the bulk of the rich in the past gained it mainly by way of conquest and subjugation. … Getting wealthy honestly is, then, relatively new. It may take a while before we will all consider it as clean and treat poverty as filthy — since very few of the poor will have any excuse for being poor any longer.” (71-2)

Fourth, Robert Nozick had a theory of why intellectuals opposed capitalism:

Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus. …

Schools became the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better. …

To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them?

Machan proposes a slightly different explanation: general demands for equality are a childhood atavism: “children grow up being treated rather fairly by parents, who owe all of them (in the family) decent treatment. … parents have basically promised their kids to treat them equally well, provided they have the wealth to do so. … Yet having grown up with the justified expectation, based on the promise, of equally good treatment or fairness from parents and teachers, it makes some psychological sense that this expectation be extended to governments… Yet… the government is not a parent…” (69)

I think we need to grow up.

Duncan: Democratic Liberalism: Politics of Dignity

In this chapter Duncan propounds a tedious, meandering, and economically naive interventionist fantasy. There is no rhyme or reason to it; for example, he writes that “lesser constraints, such as reasonable taxes, red lights at intersections, anti-pollution laws, and so on, will leave citizens largely free to choose the shape of lives.” (90) By “reasonable” our author means what he, Duncan, personally finds reasonable according to his own peculiar fancies. Yet though his notions are many, rational defenses of them are scarce. I will therefore focus on some of his clearer arguments.

Duncan calls his system “democratic liberalism.” He exalts democracy, saying that it blurs the distinction between the rulers and the ruled. Democracy “recognizes in a significant way [the citizens’] equal status as beings capable of responsible choice.” (90) But democracy is neither necessary nor sufficient for liberty. There can be sharp conflicts between the two. After all, democracy is not each individual ruling himself; it’s the majority ruling the individuals, including those who are in the minority. What happens when a democratically elected government takes away individual liberties? What’s to guarantee that the voters in a democracy will prefer a free society? In addition, in my personal life, I internalize the costs of my mistakes; in a democracy, a single vote never matters in an election. This dramatically weakens the incentive to each citizen to vote correctly. Finally, democracy is entirely useless at limiting large states.

Duncan lists the right “against discrimination (as a job-seeker, employee, or consumer)” as one of his “basic economic rights.” The problem here is twofold. First, why is it that only the employer is burdened with punishments for choosing his employees as he sees fit? If worker Smith does not want to work for an Asian boss, he is perfectly free to reject a job offer from him for any reason or indeed none at all. But manager Jones who dislikes Asians cannot legally refuse to hire Smith. Similarly, why is Smith allowed to discriminate between the buyers of his labor, while Jones is not allowed to discriminate between the buyers of his wedding cakes? Why the asymmetry, given that, as I mention in a post below, every economic actor makes the same general moves of exchanging goods and services for money? Duncan must be guided by some version of the (false) Marxian exploitation theory. Second, this alleged right conflicts with Duncan’s own “personal right” prohibiting “interfering with a person’s choices regarding friends, sexual relations, and children.” (92) What is the reason both for forbidding the state from telling me who I should befriend and for giving it the authority to micromanage who I should hire?

Duncan makes several exceptions to freedom of speech. “Incitement to riot,” libel, slander, censorship of TV sex and violence, and others can be banned. (94) Regarding the first of these, Rothbard disposed of it in Ch. 12, “Self-Defense” of Ethics of Liberty:

Should it be illegal, we may next inquire, to “incite to riot”? Suppose that Green exhorts a crowd: “Go! Burn! Loot! Kill!” and the mob proceeds to do just that, with Green having nothing further to do with these criminal activities.

Since every man is free to adopt or not adopt any course of action he wishes, we cannot say that in some way Green determined the members of the mob to their criminal activities; we cannot make him, because of his exhortation, at all responsible for their crimes.

“Inciting to riot,” therefore, is a pure exercise of a man’s right to speak without being thereby implicated in crime. (81)

Libel and slander are dissected competently in Ch. 16, “Knowledge, True and False”:

Smith has a property right to the ideas or opinions in his own head; he also has a property right to print anything he wants and disseminate it. He has a property right to say that Jones is a “thief” even if he knows it to be false, and to print and sell that statement. The counter-view, and the current basis for holding libel and slander (especially of false statements) to be illegal is that every man has a “property right” in his own reputation, that Smith’s falsehoods damage that reputation, and that therefore Smith’s libels are invasions of Jones’s property right in his reputation and should be illegal.

Yet, again, on closer analysis this is a fallacious view. For everyone, as we have stated, owns his own body; he has a property right in his own head and person. But since every man owns his own mind, he cannot therefore own the minds of anyone else. And yet Jones’s “reputation” is neither a physical entity nor is it something contained within or on his own person. Jones’s “reputation” is purely a function of the subjective attitudes and beliefs about him contained in the minds of other people. But since these are beliefs in the minds of others, Jones can in no way legitimately own or control them. Jones can have no property right in the beliefs and minds of other people. (126)

Regarding the alleged right to privacy, Rothbard argues:

But is there really such a right to privacy? How can there be? How can there be a right to prevent Smith by force from disseminating knowledge which he possesses?

Surely there can be no such right. Smith owns his own body and therefore has the property right to own the knowledge he has inside his head, including his knowledge about Jones. And therefore he has the corollary right to print and disseminate that knowledge.

In short, as in the case of the “human right” to free speech, there is no such thing as a right to privacy except the right to protect one’s property from invasion. The only right “to privacy” is the right to protect one’s property from being invaded by someone else. (121-2)

Why won’t Duncan read the requisite introductions to libertarian thought? If he had bothered to engage Rothbard’s arguments, this might have been a far more interesting book.

Following Rawls, our author distinguishes between “formal equality of opportunity” defined as the demand “that jobs be granted to people on the basis of their qualifications, regardless of how they came by these qualifications,” and “fair equality of opportunity” which “requires that job seekers have equal opportunity to obtain qualifications in the first place.” (101-2)

Regarding the former, we’ve already dealt with freedom of association-destroying “anti-discrimination” laws.

Regarding the latter, in my book I write that economist Paul Davidson

has a faulty view of competition. His reasoning is that competition, if it is to be legitimate, must be somehow fair. Everyone must start out in the same conditions.

Davidson does not grasp that the purpose of market competition is to improve consumer welfare, and this purpose is served even if entrepreneurs have varying amounts of starting capital, and even if the prices of the nearby factors of production differ for them.

Second, real-world competition is marked by the rivals’ attempts not only to win under “fair” conditions but precisely to position themselves better relative to others even at the onset of any productive endeavor. That, too, serves consumers.

Moreover, American entrepreneurs have no duty to pay high wages to American workers. Escaping overseas into China and collecting the benefits of cheap labor are not a violation of any plausible moral law. The notion of fairness of catallactic competition is nonsensical. (SAtK, II, 26)

Duncan agrees that because of numerous accidents in a person’s life, including the quality of the family he is born into, “economic opportunity… will never be equal.” (103) But why strive for it at all? I share the sentiment that we as a society want to squeeze the most productivity out of each individual in order for all of us to grow in wealth at the fastest possible speed. The question, however, is not of ends but of means. How can each person best realize his potential and in so doing enrich the rest of us? For example, we know full well that government schooling reliably destroys both the minds and morals of the kids. Based on this result, fully privatized and unsubsidized education is recommended.

Duncan fares better at describing the argument that market producers “deserve” what they earn:

The better one is able to produce goods that consumers desire, the more money one will typically earn; the producing of goods that consumers desire is a type of social contribution; hence, one’s financial rewards in the free market match one’s social contributions. …

An individual’s contribution to the firm should be measured by whatever price his skills can command on an open labor market. (106-7)

His own objections to these points are lacking. For example, after presenting some irrelevant statistics, such as that the ratio of the average wages of top 100 CEOs and all workers has undergone “a tremendous increase in less than a generation,” Duncan concludes: “America’s increased prosperity in the last thirty years has not been shared with average workers.” (109-10) But insofar as his complaint is justified, it is merely an inevitable consequence of his own anti-market interventionist policies.

Duncan predictably blames what remains of the free market in our economy for the faults of government interventions into the free market. So typical is this behavior among statists that we must agree with Mises that interventionism is intellectually an internally inconsistent and futile system: it tends to slouch toward full-blown socialism.

I don’t, as a matter of fact, think that basing a defense of the free market on “desert” is fruitful. Desert works for contracts — if you’ve done your part of the bargain, you deserve it that the other party does his, too; for torts — when wrongfully injured, say, you deserve restitution; and for crimes — if you’ve committed a crime, you deserve punishment. But to say that I deserve my life or fortune or income in general, as if God owed me something or life could not turn from pleasant to awful on a dime, seems unhelpful.

At the same time, as Machan pointed out in Part 3 of this book, one has a right to his kidneys or his wages despite perhaps not deserving them in some general sense. The argument making use of the idea that people do not “deserve” their incomes is like replying to the exhortation “But he’s innocent!” with “Who’s innocent?! I’m sure he’s a sinner in something!” Fine, I admit that many of our blessings are not 100% the work of our own hands. Does that mean it’s suddenly Ok to plunder and pillage one’s fellow man?

Machan & Duncan: Concluding Chapters

Machan points out that “natural law” can be deduced logically from considerations of human nature, and I agree with that. He accuses Duncan of failing to prove the apparently arbitrary notions he is putting forward in this book.

Duncan replies as follows:

There is at least as much diversity of opinion within the natural rights / natural law tradition as there is in the tradition of egalitarian liberalism in which I work. Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Locke, and all the rest of the thinkers associated with this tradition hardly speak with one voice.

Indeed, Machan himself recognizes the diversity of practices that were once thought “natural” but no longer are. I do not know why he thinks this diversity is a problem for my theory but not his… (145-6)

The reason why it’s not a problem for natural law libertarianism is that the diversity of views is due to the many thinkers’ objective failure to get it right. If we are smarter than they and study hard, then perhaps we might be able to expose their errors and substitute more correct opinions logically. On the other hand, I have seen no attempt at a proof by Duncan of his own philosophy. Why should we heed his intuitions?

Machan clearly grasps that the free market is not to blame for failures of interventionism: “Some of the concerns about free markets have to do with the historical fact that the system has always been in force as a mere shadow of its theoretical self, incorporating various elements of feudalism, mercantilism, the welfare state, and other systems that arguably generated the problems — for example, the Great Depression, which can be traced to monetary policies of the federal government.” (138)

He addresses the slander that, as the respondents’ emails to Steven Landsburg also allege, “economists [and libertarians] are nothing but shills for special interests” (Big Questions, 54): “By no means, then, is the libertarian lobbying for any special privileges for business, any more than for art, science, education, athletics, entertainment, or any other group of citizens with specific goals they wish to pursue.” (139)

Finally, there is Machan’s understanding of the role of democracy and positive law in a libertarian society. Regarding the executive branch of the government, “political and legal administrators who carry out the task of rights protection” may well be elected. Regarding the legislature, the main task of the lawmakers is to “extend the principles of a free society to new areas of concern, such as how property rights or rights to free expression apply to, say, radio, television, computer programs, space, and the Internet.” (133)

My own view is that the judiciary in a free society ought to be entirely private, and the “part-time” legislature ought to concern itself with empirical matters, such as continuums (what is to be the exact customary age of consent for sex?), local externalities like nuisance laws, and empirical issues like exact punishments for crimes.