Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Money For Nothing and the Checks are Free
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Dueling libertarian economists: When one asks why any libertarian would take Universal Basic Income (UBI) seriously, another sarcastically explains why certain types of libertarians actually will.
By now virtually everyone is aware of UBI under its various names and implementations. The premise is that, unlike previous industrial revolutions, the robotic revolution will somehow destroy more jobs than it will create and massive permanent unemployment will result. The “solution” is to give all human beings, regardless of any other income, a specified amount of money for life to do with as they wish.
The true agenda is yet another justification for establishing the universal two-tier collectivist society with a majority of “marginals” at the bottom ruled by a lavishly wealthy technocratic political cadre with taxing and redistributive powers at the top. In short, yet another hierarchical ruling class living at the expense of everyone else. Their job will be to discover any marginals who successfully rise above the lower levels and immediately redistribute their “excess” incomes to themselves and to the other UBI recipients.
This is how all collectivist societies everywhere in the world and throughout history have always worked. But of course, UBI advocates won’t tell you this because they think it’s actually possible for everyone to live at the expense of everyone else. The elitists, of course, are perfectly happy to let everyone think so.
What is sad for libertarians is that some who call themselves libertarians are buying into and actually promoting this groupthink scam. One illustration of this is a tragi-comedy that played out online in the past.
UBI Isn’t Libertarian
In January 2017, Bryan Caplan, economics professor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a conservative “free market” think tank with libertarian sympathies, made his case in an article on Econlog against Universal Basic Income and concluded, “I'm baffled that anyone with libertarian sympathies takes the UBI seriously.”
Another economist, Edwin G. Dolan, posted his response article titled “Why Should a Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously?” on EconoMonitor in February. Dolan himself is described in an Amazon review for his book “TANSTAAFL” (subtitled “A Libertarian Perspective on Environmental Policy”) as “a leading Austrian school economist.”
What these dueling econs with their “libertarian sympathies” are doing is actually agreeing with one another by pitting some people’s “true” libertarians against other people’s “true” libertarians, highlighting an intramural game that has been going on from the earliest days of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is, according to the Wikipedia definition at least, “a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.”
Repeat: “In addition to any income received from elsewhere.” That means in addition to redistributing money forcibly confiscated from taxpayers to benefit people who are truly needy, it also means that thieves, robbers, gangsters, sex traffickers, murderers for hire and mafia made men will also be collecting loot from taxpayers.
Dolan, in his rebuttal article, explains how some people with “libertarian sympathies” justify the idea of government forcibly redistributing incomes from people who have earned them to people who have not earned them this way:
“By some calculations, the government already spends enough on poverty programs to raise all low-income families to the official poverty level, even though the poverty rate barely budges from year to year. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money in a way that helps poor people more effectively?”
Translation: Government’s “right” to collect taxes from its citizens under threat of punishment is a given; the only question is figuring out how to redistribute the loot in order to maximize voter support for the redistributors.
Taxes = Income for Statists
UBI Taxation Is Theft
This doesn’t exactly align with the fact that the majority of modern libertarians understand that taxation is theft. As Joshua Paladino put it in a Being Libertarian article, “When it comes to universal basic income, libertarians somehow forget their principles. Theft suddenly becomes legitimate under the cloak of efficiency, and the redistribution of wealth becomes a worthy goal because UBI could actually make it happen.”
Governments, throughout history and around the world, support its elitist rulers by forcibly extracting human capital (i.e., taxes) through coercion, intimidation and fraud.
“human capital noun The skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of their value or cost to an organization or country.” – Oxford Dictionary
But Dolan knows all of this. He explains how certain possessors of “libertarian sympathies” blithely assume that (a) theft should be acceptable to all libertarians, (b) theft will succeed if it’s done in a “better” way, (c) only government can end poverty even as it has steadfastly failed to do so, and (d) a laissez-faire free society unshackled by government theft in which all decent people voluntarily help one another in whatever ways they choose couldn’t possibly work, even though virtually all of the first nationwide social welfare programs and social safety nets were originally created in the private sector and were working exceptionally well until greedy politically-connected corporatist interests co-opted, politicized and monetized them for their own benefit.
Milking the Taxpayer
Libertarians Who Love Redistribution
Dolan sets out to show Caplan the kinds of libertarians who will come on board in favor of UBI. To do this, he has no choice but to eliminate all libertarians except three specific categories that are guaranteed to have no serious belief in the non-aggression principle (NAP) against coercion, intimidation, and fraud but do have the “libertarian sympathies” pointed out in Caplan’s article.
So who are these UBI defenders with “libertarian sympathies” anyway? Announcing in his article by saying “Here are three kinds of libertarians who might take a UBI very seriously indeed” Dolan then lifts the flap of the libertarian “big tent” and finds a trio of libertarian categories who would typically look upon UBI with favorable eyes.
While he supplies his own definitions of these categories this article, a follow-up to the first two articles, explains them in simple and straightforward terms.
Libertarian pragmatists. The Pragmatic Libertarian website states: “As a pragmatic libertarian, I believe in the libertarian ideal that the government which governs least governs best.” In short, these libertarians who are okay with a government as long as it “governs least” clearly don’t accept NAP, the non-aggression principle which rejects coercion from government as well as all other sources of physical aggression, but do embrace what could be called LAP, a “Least-Aggression Principle.”
They support the Libertarian Party whose slogan isn’t “Full Freedom, No Government” but only “More Freedom, Less Government.” They too are advocates of a “Less-Aggression Principle.” The Pragmatic Libertarian’s own catchphrase is “More freedom, fewer tinfoil hats.” To them “tinfoil hat” means “principles,” thereby ridiculing the very concepts from which they originally sprang. They should be easy pushovers for the UBI collectivists.
Classical liberals: This is likely the least known and least populated demographic living under the “big tent” of libertarianism today. Classical liberalism is what all liberals used to be before they became progressives, jettisoned individual rights in favor of coercive collectivist “group rights,” and took the “liberal” name with them. A basic definition from chegg.com states “classical liberalism is a political ideology that values the freedom of individuals — including the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets — as well as limited government.”
It’s that “limited government” part at the end that apparently attracted Dolan to this category of libertarianism. “Limited government” makes classical liberalism “minarchist” (small government) rather than free society libertarianism (“self-governance” as opposed to “coercive governments”) and therefore accepting LAP but not NAP.
Lifestyle libertarians: This appears to be a made up catchall category. A 2007 Reason magazine article, either seriously or sarcastically (it’s hard to tell sometimes) said this: “Lifestyle Libertarians want to get rid of daddy and mommy and stay up all night eating ice cream and watching after-dark cable.” Dolan notes in his own article that “These lifestyle libertarians are drawn to a UBI because of its contrast with the nanny state mentality that characterizes current policies.”
Pointedly, no mention is made in Dolan’s article of libertarians who explicitly embrace the non-aggression principle, such as voluntaryists, agorists, anarcho-capitalists, mutualists and post-statists. In fact, it’s widely accepted among libertarians that the non-aggression principle in all of its various definitions and descriptions is a core tenet of libertarianism. Even the Libertarian Party states it clearly in its platform although they violate it in practice by running candidates for service in coercive government offices.
To reiterate, the UBI is specifically based on the leftist collectivist philosophy that governments should coercively redistribute some people’s money to other people for whatever reason. For any libertarian not wanting to live under “the nanny state” UBI is about as un-libertarian as it gets.
Unreasonable Reason Mag
In his article, Dolan quotes Matthew Feeney’s 2013 Reason.com article headlined “Scrap the Welfare State and Give People Free Money.” This time it’s easy to tell: He’s serious. Dolan characterizes Feeney as urging libertarians to stop arguing principles (tinfoil hats) against the redistribution of wealth. Feeney sees a UBI as an alternative that “promotes personal responsibility, reduces the humiliations associated with the current system, and reduces administrative waste in government.”
But Feeney says even more than Dolan reports:
“Being morally comfortable with some degree of government wealth redistribution might be contrary to anarchism, but it is not contrary to libertarianism, and were libertarians to argue for replacing the current welfare system with a basic national income we would be better positioned to not only highlight the fact that libertarianism is not the heartless and selfish philosophy it is commonly portrayed as, it would allow for a more humane and effective way to deliver welfare than the current system on offer.”
So “anarchists” aren’t libertarians but welfare-loving redistributionists are libertarians. Peaceful anarchists voluntarily helping one another is a heartless and selfish idea while millionaire politicians ripping off taxpayers for up to 50 percent of their incomes or more is a humane idea.
Feeney even admits, “Although a basic or guaranteed income would have to be financed through taxation it has been proposed by a number of classical liberals and libertarians.” Sound familiar? Feeney is locked into an either/or box – either forced government welfarism or forced government UBI. Voluntaryism, which he cavalierly dismisses as “anarchism” completely eludes his “libertarian sympathies.”
The Oxymoron of Authoritarian Libertarianism
It's little wonder so many principled libertarians have come to see the once-libertarian Reason magazine as little more than an apologist for libertarian principles and a mouthpiece for “big L” Libertarian-leaning right-wing Republican Party enablers eager to kiss the assets of millionaire political collectivists so they can become part of the big ruling class government status quo.
Dolan ends his “libertarian” article this way: “So there you are,” he tells Caplan. “A UBI is a policy of authoritarian advocates of evil-intentioned and self-serving government, for mandatory collectivist liberals, and for rightwing power-seeking elitists. No wonder so many libertarians reject these ideas.”
What Dolan is saying in his own satirical way is that only minarchist LAP libertarians like pragmatists, old-school liberals and the “libertarian-leaning” would take UBI seriously; Nap libertarians do not. Philosophical schizophrenia is alive and well in Libertarianville.
Non NAP minarchists claim to be the only “true” libertarians. NAP laissez-faire voluntaryists claim to be the only “true” libertarians. But since all of these libertarians are supposed to coexist peacefully, if fitfully, under the canvas of the same big tent they’re not supposed to argue over this too much. That’s what the Libertarian Party is for.
Bread and Circuits
Still, Dolan, as few others, seems to understand all too well the difference between NAP libertarians and LAP libertarians.
(And just as an afterthought maybe some libertarians tucked away in various corners of that Big Top three ring circus tent might want to invent SAP for the Sometimes Aggression Principle, WAP for the Whatever Aggression Principle, while the politically minded “Libertarian Wing” of the Republican Party can all get the CLAP, the Conservative Libertarian Aggression Principle.)
The final truth is this: No matter how glowingly positive advocates are for the benefits of UBI, recipients are still wards of the state. UBI is a bribe to shut you up. Any government big, rich and powerful enough to give you “free money” is big, rich and powerful enough to take it away from you, or even worse, make you so dependent on it that they can manipulate you in any way they wish.
Why would any moral person support UBI?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
MariaFolsom on February 28, 2017:
Right-O again, of course! My favorite phrase: "Peaceful anarchists voluntarily helping one another is a heartless and selfish idea while millionaire politicians ripping off taxpayers for up to 50 percent of their incomes or more is a humane idea."
Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on February 27, 2017:
I’ve read both pros and cons by various libertarians on John Locke's labour theory of property and Nozick’s "Lockean proviso" that legitimizes both my self-ownership and by extension my right to own property personally by working for it.
I find the going rough reading some of this stuff. Some socialists condemn me for owning any property at all since all property somehow magically “belongs” to everyone but I have literally exchanged thousands of hours of my life in the form of work-for-money and used that money to buy a house and a plot of ground it sits on. That’s good enough for me.
I’ve read some Geolibertarianism or “left libertarianism” but have a big problem with the collectivist ownership thing. It just sounds like made up stuff, like people made up their minds about something first and then went looking for a way to justify their positions afterwards.
If I’ve legitimately acquired and own my land under Nozick’s "Lockean proviso" and discover some valuable & useful minerals on it why are those minerals --raw natural resources – suddenly considered to be common property? If it comes from my acknowledged private property it’s my private property. You can’t have it both ways.
And you’re right, you’re going to accuse me of not having read and understood it correctly. But what seems to me to be an ex post facto gimmick attempting to turn my private property into public property is what causes me to stop reading at that point, my reason being if I can’t agree with a premise I certainly can’t agree with the following conclusions based on that premise.
(I also hate the terms “left libertarian” and “right libertarian.” To me I’m just a “libertarian” based on the NAP and post-statist voluntaryism. The only legitimate collective ownership is mutually agreed upon voluntary collectivism which can be formed and un-formed with no negative repercussions on anyone.)
RaoulWo on February 27, 2017:
I can only recommend to read up a bit on the Lockean Proviso and Geolibertarianism. Food for thought!