Sunday, November 24, 2013

Libertarian Challenge Thought Experiment

Imagine a tyrannical oligarchy conquered the world, transferred ownership of all property to themselves, then declared a libertarian utopia. That is, repeal all laws, and (depending on what flavor of libertarianism you favor) establish either minimal states or competing defense associations, but everyone has to pay rent to the former oligarchs. Would the liberated tax slaves be justified in redistributing property, or what? If the LTS seize property, does that count as theft or justice? If it counts as justice, how do we ever condemn any kind of theft? Is this an example where we can justify coercion? If we can justify it in this case, what prevents us from justifying arbitrary asset seizure? What principle applies?

We could make this even more extreme by changing the oligarchy to a dictatorship. So one person owns everything except for the other persons. This is not at all realistic, but does it help illustrate the principle? Is there anyone who would want to defend the property rights of the former dictator? Yet if we seize his assets, can we criticize any arbitrary seizure? What principle applies when we confiscate the FD that would not apply to a random person? Perhaps we must accuse him of possessing ill-gotten gains, that his ownership resulted from theft and coercion.
How could the FD hope to hang on to what he's got? Maybe he would try to divide his enemies into rival factions, promising all of them something they want if they gain control of the others. Perhaps he would encourage them to form a conventional government, so that he could bribe the officials to help him maintain his position.
If the economy grows, the FD's relative share of wealth will shrink. Growth requires entrepreneurship, FD would not be able to supply all entrepreneurship himself, he would need to share some upside risk with entrepreneurs. 
Is it better to be free but have nothing but your labor, or to be a tax slave with some assets? 
If we must rectify all existing misdeeds before establishing a just society, we have a lot of work cut out for us. But if we ignore them, we face different problems, perhaps as large?
I am not at all happy with this post, but I am too impatient to work on it any longer. I hope that interested readers will contribute in the comments, because I feel like I am missing something obvious.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Jacob Zolt found a similar passage in The Ethics of Liberty by Rothbard. Search page for Ruritania. I am not completely satisfied by Rothbard's answer. Does he imply that indeed we must redistribute property on a vast scale before we can enter the promised land? How's that going to work?