Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Not "Save Lives" With Single-Payer Healthcare?

To a Green who asks "why is it patently wrong for it to “initiate force,” a.k.a raise taxes a little bit, in order to save (for the sake of argument) 18,000 lives?"

You have to distinguish between 1) personal ethics in a lifeboat or Trolley Problem scenario and 2) institutional design of government.

If, by some quirk of science fiction or historical accident, I were personally faced with a lifeboat-style choice, I would make what I consider to be the utility-maximizing choice. And if that involved violating anyone’s individual rights, then I would subject myself to the judgment of a jury of my peers.
But I don’t face such a choice, and neither do you, and neither does President Obama. What we as a polity instead face is a choice about the institutional design of government.  I maintain that the design I favor actually saves more lives than yours does in the long run.  One of the ways it does that: for any level of income redistribution that you might fantasize about, my design will actually deliver that increase in living standards within two or three decades.  And then it will deliver another such increase in the subsequent decades, while your nanny state has imposed Eurosclerotic pressure against such growth in our living standards.
Another way it does that is by restoring nature’s safety net, by ensuring that everyone enjoys their inalienable right of equal access to the natural commons of the Earth. The details require understanding a technical economic concept called ground rent, but the result is what we geolibertarians call a citizen’s dividend.  It’s a handy thing, because it erases your claim that my design will leave the indigent to die on the street.  Sorry, but you’ll have to find a less melodramatic and emotional argument to support your proposed design.
Of course, you still won’t agree that my design works better, because you probably think that the outcomes we both want will only happen if centrally planned and imposed by force.  So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you’re right, and that we can in the long run prevent more deaths by means of forcible government appropriation of people’s labor, peaceful production, and voluntary exchanges.
If so, then I have some questions for how you plan to legislate your moral calculus. How much of other people’s money are you willing to spend to save one more life?  How do you decide that level?  And how do you decide how far your concern reaches?  Will you be rescuing all the cheap-to-save people in Africa before you start rescuing the expensive-to-save people here in America?  If not, then how are you not a horrible xenophobic monster?
(Note to any observant anarchist critics following along: I consider it crucial that such a calculus should not be legislated, but also unavoidablethat cops and soldiers must apply some such calculus — because they are in the lifeboat business. Their decisions are to be reviewed by jurors and voters, not pre-programmed by legislators.)
Whence individual rights?  Great question.  Not from any gods — they don’t exist. For the purposes of political discourse, I stand with Jefferson.  In this context, I hold these truths to be literally self-evident:
  • All persons are created equal, and are endowed at their creation with the inalienable right of equal access to the natural commons of the Earth — everything that is neither a person nor in any way a product of persons.
  • Each person has full rights to his body, labor, peaceful production, and voluntary exchanges, but he must compensate those whose access he impairs when he monopolizes, depletes, pollutes, or congests a natural commons.
If, for whatever reason, you think that some people don’t deserve these rights, or that nobody fully deserves all these rights, then there are inherent limits to how far we’ll be able to get along peacefully. If your vision of government becomes too destructive of these individual rights, then I agree with Jefferson that it is the right of me and my neighbors to alter or to abolish your government, and to agree to such new governance as to us shall seem most likely to protect our liberty.
But I doubt it will come to that, and to help prevent it I’m willing to share my own underlying political ethics with you. (This has nothing to do with metaphysics, which is the study of being.)  It’s too long to paste here, but my ethics are described in the Axiology section of my book.  Enjoy.
I have to say, I find your last sentence very disturbing: "Our country is wealthy enough to afford medicare-for-all, so health care should become a human right".  Are you seriously advocating as a principle of ethics that your mere proximity to wealth entitles you to a share of it?  I.e. that what rights you have changes according to how much stuff is owned by the people around you?  Can you please explain how this ethical principle is distinguishable from that of a common thief?  Has some god vouched that your utility function is more noble than the thief’s?  Would you bet that there are no thieves in the world who give a bigger fraction of their income to charity than you do?


Jambe said...

Hi; like your writing but haven't yet read your book (it may explain my question - I'll get around to it some time). It's about this phrase: "all persons have the right of equal access to everything that is neither a person nor in any way a product of persons". I'm interested in the "nor in any way a product of persons" bit. Hypothetical time:

if an individual has control of many acres of wild forest and has developed and put into practice sustainable harvest methods which preserve the biodiversity and productivity of the land, then how would one determine who has rights to the timber (or any of other flora or fauna of the managed ecosystem)?

I suppose one could make the case that allowing for total "ownership" of land & its productive capacity is antithetical to the spirit of ACTUAL stewardship, but I'm just thinking of the problem within the confines of status quo property law.

Brian Holtz said...

My book doesn't go into any details about geo-/eco-libertarianism. I recommend my portal  In my manifesto there I write:

* Production of property via extraction of natural resources from a community commons should require a fee to the community proportional to the decrease in the ability of that commons to sustainably support such extraction.
* Verifiable endangerment of a species or ecosystem that is part of the commons of a community is aggression against any non-consenting member of that community.
* Persons may exert peaceful honest first control of unowned land and thus acquire the transferable right to possess it indefinitely, as long as they leave "as much and as good" for others, or as long as the land's geo-rent is shared with those persons whose access to it is impaired.
* Geo-rent is the excess production obtained by using a site in its most productive use, compared to the production obtained by applying equivalent inputs of labor and capital at the most productive site where the application doesn't require (additional) payments for use of the site.

The world's foremost authority on geolibertarianism is Prof. Fred Foldvary.  In these papers he describes how geo-rent can be returned to the community via a land-value tax:

Geo-Rent: A Plea to Public Economists - Foldvary (2005) summarizes the economic case
The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent - Foldvary (2006) compares to other reforms

I would agree that some site improvements are harder to price separately from the site itself. Foldvary describes how to assessors use data about nearby sites to make these valuations.

So my answer to your question is: if the landholder is returning geo-rent through a land value tax, and pays a resource depletion tax as described in the first bullet above, and is not endangering an ecosystem per the second bullet, then they otherwise have the full rights to the agricultural and biological output of the site.