What About Children and Animals in a Free Society?

A response to Julie Borowski’s interview with Tom Woods episode 711.

Over and over again the same issues come up: What about children? What about animals? In the current state, governments aim to protect both groups from abuse and neglect. And so the question is raised that if the state were abolished, or if it conformed more strictly to Liberal or libertarian principles, what would happen to these protections?

Let’s tackle animals first. It’s said that libertarianism allows awful and terrible things to take place in regards to animals (e.g., cock or dog fighting). As an Austrian economist, I’ve got to point out that subjective values are inserted into each judgment regarding humane treatment of, or cruelty, towards an animal. Personally, I have no problem with cock fighting. My logic is that chickens have a bean-sized brain, are largely kept by humans as a food source already, and their keepers’ “entertainment” may be just as valuable as a chicken’s well-being when all is said and done.  Dog fighting is with mammalian animals who, by and large, are domesticated and supposedly man’s best friend. They are different animals who have always served different purposes.

Rodeo can be a hot topic of animal “rights”. There are leftists on the West Coast who would outlaw rodeos if they had the chance. Now, I think that’s nuts, but it’s true that in a classically presented rodeo sometimes animals are unintentionally injured. Yet the goal is not to injure an animal for entertainment. If you ever observe some of the events in a Mexican rodeo, such as horse tripping, you will see there is a clear difference in how the animals are treated. I find these events to be absolutely barbaric and disgusting. It bothers me so much that I honestly look down on those rodeo people and I consider myself to be better than them in almost every way. Perhaps those on the West Coast look at me the same way for the mere fact that I castrate my calves and use spurs on my horse. Good for them. I think that a sense of class identity, not based on economic classifications but on a way of life, is beneficial in some cases. It can act as a release of sorts – an exhaust valve for frustrations with others. It makes it easier to tolerate (not accept) the actions of others if the people who live that lifestyle are thought to be of a lower class.

Socially, pressure can be applied to enact change. It may be that you’re not a member of polite society if you fight dogs, or fight chickens, or Manganas a Caballo, or American Rodeo, or whatever. Beyond this it is impossible, though it may be desirable, to put hard and fast restrictions upon the mistreatment of animals precisely because such restrictions are bound to be subjective in nature. Why should it be illegal to do horse tripping and not illegal to ride horses? Why should it be illegal to rope calves and not illegal to butcher them for food? Working the other way: If you have the right to butcher a calf, why do you not have the right to skin it alive? (If you are now wondering, I’m personally not in favor of that last one.) There cannot be a satisfactory legal answer to such questions and it is entirely inappropriate for the state to get involved in such matters. I believe societal pressures can and do curb the majority of animal cruelty to the extent that most people see cruelty. There are many cattle butchered daily, fewer cattle used in rodeos, no rampant chicken fights, and cases of reprehensible animal neglect and outright cruelty are the exception not the rule.

Turning to children we find quite a different scenario. Whereas a dog is alway just an animal and will never be anything more than a dog, a child is not just a child. He’s human, obviously, and his role of child will change into that of an adult with full rights and liberties and a role all his own to play in society.

Here it is again true that subjective value judgements could come into play and it is desirable that this be avoided as much as possible. For instance, some may cry abuse for choosing to discipline a child by spanking or for a child working outside the home. Yet this was the common lot for children in the 18th and 19th century. What matters is whether or not the chances of the child making it to adulthood are seriously impaired and how he has fared along the way.

Imagine a sea captain that takes on a passenger. The passenger has every reason in the world to believe that he will survive until he has an opportunity to step foot on dry land again or board another ship while at sea. He should also be reasonably treated without abuse or molestation. Yes these notions are subjective, but they are also obvious. There will be differences of opinions as to whether the a child should be spanked at all, if spanking in and of itself is abuse, or if one severe beating is abuse or if a series of lesser spankings constitute abuse. The basics with children and guardians is very similar to the sea captain and his passengers and these basics are obvious. The first point is that life must be preserved and maintained. The captain would be facing criminal charges were he to lock a passenger up in his quarters and not allow him out or refuse access to the ship’s doctor when needed and he died of either starvation or illness as a result.

If the analogy isn’t obvious at first, the captain is like the parents of the child. Were it not for the captain’s ship the passenger wouldn’t get on the ship and would never be in a vulnerable position in the first place. The same is true of parents and children. The parents did something to bring that child into a state of vulnerability and therefore it is their responsibility to see that that child leaves the custody whole. Yet that doesn’t even mean that they must raise the child to adulthood, just as you might change ships at sea and the captain of the first ship would no longer be liable for you. Parents might choose to send a child to live with different caretakers.

Death and bodily harm are also out. Neither a captain of a ship nor a guardian of a child may kill, or severely injure, either passenger or child. At some point there is always subjectivity in determining what constitutes bodily harm, but on another hand there is frank black and white. Certainly if the child has broken bones, that’s bodily harm. But, very basically, I would say if it would be necessary for the child to receive medical attention, a criminal act has most likely occurred. (We’re not talking about when kids get accidentally hurt here, obviously.) Of course even to say this much is still a value judgement. I am cheating just a little bit, but not much. It is like making the assertion that health is better and preferable to illness, there may be 1 out of 100,000 who enjoys a sore throat stuffy nose, and coughing, but for the rest of us it is so obvious that nothing more need be said, and so I won’t say anymore about either illness or child abuse.

Instead, to close this out, let’s consider the fact that relatively early in man’s history we started out as quite unfree. We have progressed, developed a recognized system of rights, and won those rights over the course of a thousand years. If there were ever any anarchists or minarchists in the 8th century, perhaps monks and Lindisfarne in England, they might have worried about a stateless society and what would ever become of women. Would concubines be murdered or beaten without justice if there weren’t some sort of government to deter or punish such actions? Would widows be totally at the mercy of whoever came along or would someone protect their rights and look to their well-being?  Of course these questions aren’t raised now and they seem rather silly to even bring up. I bring them up just as a reminder that liberty isn’t so much a switch that is just flipped on, but a pot of water that is slowly brought to a boil.

The questions raised concerning animals and children are worth discussing now, but if we don’t have a 100% satisfactory answer for 2 of the 20,000 issues that confront man in his interactions with the world and with other men, it is no justification to dispense with the whole system. I Also, I like to think that one way or another these things will work themselves out over the course of time as has been the case with issues concerning women and religion in the Western World.

The 4th of July, An International Holiday! (And the most exciting footnote you’ll ever read)

The Fourth ought not be strictly an American holiday, there is no reason for it to be so, It is a symbolic day that summarizes the efforts of so many people around the world and throughout history.
It is a day to celebrate the resistance to central power and tyranny wherever it arises and whatever form it comes in. Not for a certain people or only those people who were successful as the American colonists were. Because we are not celebrating our actual gaining of independence, but merely our declaration of secession. The 4th is iconic because the revolution was so successful in the face of overwhelming odds. It is an Amercian holiday, but folks around the world should reflect on the struggle for liberty, of their own people and of others around the world and down through history.
Today is a day for all people to remember those who stood up to tyranny! From Boudica’s uprising against the Romans over 2,000 years ago, to the Romanian revolution in 1989. From the Texas secession from Mexico to the fight for freedom in South Sudan.
Indeed even those who are the scions of those who merely fought to maintain their freedom, the fourth should be a day when every child is taught the Declaration of Arbroath¹ and reminded that it was never broken.
And in America we should have more of a reverence for the ideal than we do. It isn’t a celebration of “‘Merica.” It is a celebration of secession and of Rebellion.

It is for Bacon’s Rebellion, for the whisky Rebellion, Oh Yes! Even for John Brown’s Rebellion! And especially for what is officially known as the Great Rebellion!
To all those who have ever wished to sever the political ties that bind them to the central authority and who wish to be free and self governing. This is your day! From English resistance to Norman oppression, to Brexit! Self determination, secession, and home rule are the words of the day!

I hope ya’ll had a good Fourth, I’ve been absolutely swamped lately. Maybe things will settle down after rodeo season ends.

  1. The Declaration of Arbroath is perhaps the most stirring historical document I have ever read. It was written by the Nobles of Scotland in 1320. It was an appeal to the Pope for justice, that the Pope would stop the illegal war of aggression that the English had been waging against the Scottish people. But in it also was a promise that they would never yield, not merely in their own lifetime, but ever, “… as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”  It is not merely a promise to resist virtually to the last man, but to teach their children, and to command them to instruct their children, and their children’s children, that nothing is so precious as freedom, not even life itself.After reading this Pope John XXII must have been moved because he put pressure on the English to make peace but Edward II pressed on another 7 years, until political pressure at home forced him to quit the fight.Do remember that the war began in 1297. And it carried on all the way to 1327. That’s a 30 year war. Men were fighting at the end of that war who hadn’t even been born when King Alexander III had died 1286, or when his only clear heir Margret, the maid of Norway, died in 1290 which lead to the succession crises which opened to door for English invasion by Edward I. Perhaps the colonists would have kept fighting for 30 years. It doesn’t seem like that was ever a possibility. But the Scots had a long time horizon, and they were prepared to fight for generations! And lasting peace didn’t come until 1357 after the 2nd war for Scottish independence.

    Here is a link to where the Declaration of Arbroath can be read in full. Thomas Jefferson has nothing on Bernard of Kilwinning (the man believed to be the actual author of the document) Declaration of Arbroath

Dave Smith vs Gary Johnson vs Mises vs Rothbard on “No Fly, No Buy”

Ever heard of Dave Smith? He’s a libertarian comedian and host of the podcast “Part of the Problem.” He is very funny, and he has a great podcast.  His podcast has become part of my regimen along with Tom Woods and Marc Claire.

I actually have no beef with Dave but his show from June 18 brought up some very interesting ideas which build upon my most recent post that dealt with arguing means instead of ends.

Dave Smith ripped Gary Johnson to shreds and rightfully so, regarding Johnson’s recent comments concerning the “no fly, no buy proposal”. Gary Johnson is on the right side of the issue. He is in opposition to the proposal, but only because “these lists don’t work.”

And just like any good Rothbardian, Dave Smith latches onto Johnson like a dog on a bone. And the route that Johnson takes is embarrassing. Johnson argues,”Hey these lists don’t work…there are sitting members of congress on these lists.”

And Dave Smith just goes to town on Johnson from a Rothbardian framework. Dave says that the lists not working is no argument and is weak, that a real libertarian would argue about natural rights; about the immorality of using force to take guns away from people, about our natural rights to trade and to own guns, to overthrow a tyrannical  government and all of that. It really was good. (link to The relevant show, gets relevant about 46 minutes into the show.)

And while I find no flaw at all in this line of argument, and use it myself sometimes, I see a tactical flaw in using it. And this is where my last post and Jonathan Haidt come back into play.

In my last column I wrote about the differing categories of disputes. About how we can argue over ultimate ends, such as abortion and gay marriage. Or over means, such as our bitter disagreements over education, rent controls, minimum wage laws, drug prohibition, central banks, and regulations on the medical sector, where both sides are seeking the same ultimate ends, such as well educated children, an end to homelessness, help for the poor etc., and that there is only a disagreement over how to get there.

In this case I think it’s important to take note that Dave Smith is arguing along the lines of ultimate ends. He is arguing down the Rothbardian Ethical line. And I agree with it and love it.

The only problem is that our opponents are arguing along utilitarian lines. If people were never killed by murderers who used guns, they wouldn’t care about people owning “assault rifles.” but the thing is, things like Sandy Hook and Orlando do happen. And they have a point. if no guns existed, then shootings wouldn’t happen.

Think back to the broken window fallacy of Fredrick Bastiat. They can see clearly enough the seen, that people die from gun violence, but what they fail to see is what is unseen, the alternative, the opportunity costs. If no one was allowed to have guns, more people would be victimized, more homes would be invaded. If no one was allowed to have guns where would that put the police? It’s not like the police are nobodies, they are people too.

Of course those on the left aren’t complete crazies, they just want to keep the bad guys from having guns. Hence the no fly no buy policy.  Their ends are the same as ours. They don’t want people to be slaughtered by the dozens in mass shootings, and neither do we. Yes we believe in the principle of self ownership, the right to trade, and the right to property. But these are ultimate ends. And they are arguing means. So in a sense we are arguing past one another. It may feel good to pound your fist and shout defiantly “Fiat Justistia Ne Pereat Mundus,” But It isn’t going to win many arguments.

This means that Gary Johnson’s line of attack is the right one. But he does it poorly. He says that he would be in favor of the no fly-no buy IF it were ever effective. Mises would have argued that we should be against such a policy because it can never be effective! You can never prevent guns from falling into the hands of the bad guys. Because
1. They can merely obtain the gun illegally on the black market.
2. They can learn what to do to get placed on these lists and then not do those things and obtain a gun legally.
3. Good people can go bad. Hard to believe I know but it happens. If this is too hard to swallow, let me state it another way – that bad people can pass as good people for a very long time before they actually do anything bad.

That should be our argument, and that given bad people can always find a way to get guns, the best solution is to make sure that good guys can get a gun as easy as they can get a pie. No bad guy stops shooting until a good guy with a gun shows up to shoot him. So gun proliferation among good guys is the answer.

The ends is to prevent mass shootings. The way by which that happens is not by outlawing “assault rifles.” That will only make things worse. Instead we should let people carry everywhere. This will save lives. If it doesn’t deter mass shooters in the first place, it will ensure that a good guy with a gun is much closer. and fewer lives will be lost.

I like Gary Johnson’s reasoning, except that he sucks at explaining it. It isn’t that the lists are flawed, it is that the entire notion of creating a list is flawed! It can never work.

I do use the Rothbardian approach, but if that doesn’t quickly change their mind I switch over to full on Mises Mode!  Rothbard will convince the non political, and those who aren’t in the 2 party system maybe. But the Misesian line is the one that will work on the die hards, If they’ll listen, and if they are convinced we are all seeking the same ends.

In this instance I think Gary Johnson does have the more appropriate arguments, the problem is he doesn’t know how to use it. And he doesn’t do the Ron Paul Double-Down. It isn’t enough to oppose government intervention, one must roll it back. This is where a good Austrian would also go on the offensive and attack the current no fly list for being ineffective, and contrary to the ends which its advocates wish to attain.

As a closing note, I’d recommend “Liberalism” by Ludwig von Mises.  As always you can find it here for free.   And if you’re looking at a 7 hour round trip drive, you can have the book read to you for only $12 if you’re a member at audible. (That’s a link for a 30 day free trial which includes 1 free audiobook if you’re not already a member. So just use that link, and get it free!)

Technology as a Threat , And an Old Threat.

A familiar refrain has been raised a thousand times, from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution until now: more technology will throw workers out of their jobs, machines will do everything, and the common man will be left jobless with no way to provide for himself. Of course, this notion has been refuted a thousand times by economists, from Bastiat to Mises and Rothbard, even today where Tom Woods and Jason Stapleton have addressed the concern. (Their podcast episodes where they deal with this are linked here for Tom and here for Jason.)

Usually, I am critical of the economists who espouse errors, but here I have no problem with what anyone has said. I have read columns from Sowell on this, and he has it right as well.  My criticism here is for those who raise the complaint.

One of the best objections to this complaint thus far has come from the Jason Stapleton Facebook group, where a member asked about artificial intelligence rather than merely machines and technology. This is a much more challenging concept that deserves further consideration.

If for the sake of the argument we can set aside the morally repugnant nature of slavery, we might ask ourselves what was the impact of slavery on the “free” labor market in the Antebellum South?

Slaves were as close as we have gotten to artificial intelligence, and yet they had real intelligence. Importantly, slavery negatively affected the labor market for free laborers. This was the primary reason why Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into the western states, and not because he had a soft spot in his heart for the oppressed and downtrodden. Rather, Lincoln realized that where there were slaves it was much more difficult for free whites, who can vote, to find jobs.

So if I were sympathetic to argument, I would point to this as proof that it is possible for technology and AI to displace workers almost entirely. If it happened in the South, where slaves displaced free laborers, then why could it not happen again with technology? Slaves reproduced more slaves, and if AI reproduced more AI wouldn’t we be in the same position but even worse? If not what is the difference?

The key difference is costs. The slave costs less per labor hour than the free man, though the output was less. Mises famously argued in Human Action that slavery was inefficient and that the producer who used free labor would have higher profit margins than the producer who relied on slave labor. (chapter 9 of Human Action)

Really, it is all about costs. What is the cost of employing a machine versus a worker? The machine is at a disadvantage here. While it takes X dollars to purchase and maintain a machine, the human has the ability to compete and to cut his price (i.e. the cost of hiring him), barring any interference by the State. So where a fast food restaurant may consider installing kiosks to take orders from customers, men can respond to that by simply working for a little less (or in the real world just be contented with the wages they are getting for the work they are doing.)

Technology and AI are implemented to make existing labor more productive, and inadvertently make labor less intensive, and more valuable. Just consider the man digging a sewer line with a backhoe in 3o minutes compared to 2 men digging it out with shovels and spending all day at it. If there were enough men willing to work for $1.00 an hour, the backhoe would not have been bought and would not be in use. It is at least to some degree the workers who determine what new technologies come into the market. The fact that there are not enough men willing to dig with picks and shovels for $1.00 an hour suggests that no one will be long out of work with the introduction of the backhoe.

If it ever gets so easy to produce machines that can produce machines, and do everything for us, then the cost of these machines will necessarily not be very expensive at all, and perhaps each of us would have a dozen bots that we are able to employ to provide us with all our wants and needs. If not they would be restricted only to the industries with the highest return per input. In either case, it is something that really makes me think, but does not make me worry that much at all.

Even if it were a real threat, it is a real threat of the same sort as the Sun burning out and leaving us in the dark. It will happen millions of years from now, and either something else will get us in the meantime, or we will figure out a work around between now and then. I am much more concerned about government interference in our ability to provide for ourselves and their constant proclivity to make war.