Sunday, March 13, 2005

How libertarian are you?

Daniel Drezner linked to Bryan Caplan's Libertarian Purity Test. Mr. Drezner scored a 58, and I scored merely a 52. A few questions where I answered no:

10. Should we privatize the Post Office?

No, because there is a Constitutional provision for "Post Offices and post Roads."

However, the USPS should receive no subsidies or government monies of any kind; it should have a business model like anyone else, and operate strictly on its revenue from postage and selling supplies. Furthermore, the USPS should be stripped of its monopoly status. Any other company should be able to run a first-class mail service. Such a company would necessarily be gigantic, certainly, but I think most people wouldn't mind paying a little more (say, 50 or 75 cents) for greater reliability.

12. Should we relax immigration laws?

I sigh here, because 9/11 changed everything. I used to be very "open border" and believed anyone should be allowed to enter the U.S., without restriction.

22. Should all sex between consenting adults be legal -- even for money?

In a 1975 interview with Reason, Ronald Reagan explained why he believes prostitution should not be legalized: it's not as simple as "two consenting adults," and it creates a host of other problems. I had previously thought prostitution was something strictly consensual -- until the Gipper pointed out all the unseen effects.

27. Does the U.S. intervene too much in other countries?

I think too much in some countries, but in others it has been necessary to promote our own security.

30. If it has to fight a war, should the U.S. try harder to avoid civilian targets?

I answered no because I already think we do our damndest to avoid civilian casualties. We could have simply incinerated Baghdad had we wanted, and someone like Saddam would have had no compunction about using acquired nuclear weapons on civilians. The fact that we sacrificed hundreds of our own in the initial invasion, and hundreds more to help Iraq recover and achieve self-determination, speaks volumes about the character of our nation, about the nature of our alleged "imperialism." We must never forget that some of our fine troops died because they didn't want to risk shooting someone that might have been just another civilian.

In an interview with Playboy in 1970, Bill Buckley said,
Imperialism suggests the domination of a country for the commercial or glorious benefit of oneself. The Soviet Union began its experience in imperialism not merely by jailing and executing people who disagreed with it but by systematic despoliation. In Czechoslovakia, for instance, they took one, two, three billion dollars' worth of capital goods and removed them physically to the Soviet Union. Far from doing anything of the sort, we did exactly the contrary; we sent our own capital goods to places like France and England and Spain and Latin America. I can't think of any country that we've "dominated" or "imperialized" -- in the sense in which you use those words -- that is worse off as a result of its experience with America than it would have been had we not entered into a temporary relationship with it.
49. Should the U.S. withdraw completely from Europe, Asia, and other foreign bases?

Truman said at Potsdam, "Though the United States wants no profit or selfish advantage out of this war, we are going to maintain the military bases necessary for the complete protection of our interests and of world peace. Bases which our military experts deem to be essential for our protection we will acquire. We will acquire them by arrangements consistent with the United Nations Charter."

I answered no, though ideally I'd welcome a phased pull-out in Europe. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the EU and prospective members (including Turkey) have about 3 million armed forces personnel; that greatly dwarfs the 100,000 U.S. military personnel stationed around the continent. Even in a worst-case scenario, like Putin's conquest-minded successor wants to overrun Europe, I don't know that our present presence would make much of a difference. Our response, i.e. mobilization of forces to send to Europe for a new world war, would matter more. Or would it really become war? American anti-war sentiment has continued to grow over the years, and I don't dismiss the possibility that a President, Congress and the American people would resort to diplomacy, appeasement and finally acceptance.

Our bases in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia are necessary for obvious reasons. Our presence in Okinawa may become crucial sooner than we think, perhaps sooner than we fear. Someone best described as a neo-con once told me that China is merely a paper tiger and nothing to worry about. Perhaps so. Vietnam, however, taught our enemies that we can be beaten if they make it too costly for us to win. I worry that China will become a serious threat in a couple of decades, as it continues to strengthen its military and modernize its society. At some point, China may be able to capture Taiwan because they'll make the blood price too high, and if anti-war sentiment sufficiently ferments over the years.

North Korea, at this rate, will become very big trouble before China. We will need Okinawa.

50. Is bombing civilians in an enemy country morally equivalent to murder?

Not in and of itself. That, sadly, is the nature of war. Once upon a time, war was truly a horrific thing. Dresden is perhaps the most familiar example of a place bombed nearly to complete obliteration, supposedly to break the civilians' spirit and help force surrender. It should be noted, though, that Dresden had been largely untouched during WWII, and by the war's end it had become a significant part of the German war machine. Similarly, Sherman's "march to the sea" was indeed terrible in its destruction of civilian property, but it also helped force the South's surrender, not just by destroying civilian morale, but by destroying a large portion of the South's economy.

Now, however, warfare is supposed to be restricted as much as possible to non-civilian targets. This has taught certain political actors that unless their aggression is particularly extreme, they no longer risk the widespread destruction of their country; they can continue waging war because their people and civilian infrastructure will largely be untouched. That the people live isn't as important as the economy continuing, for dictators need prosperity too. Saddam was one who knew well of the West's new "enlightened" attitude about avoiding civilian targetting. He also knew Iraq's basic infrastructure would never be specifically targetted to force Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. It would have "killed too many civilians." I doubt we'd have bombed Iraqi cities even had Saddam invaded Saudi Arabia.

Yet even in these days of surgical strikes and minimal civilian casualties, it is regrettable and unavoidable that destroying your military and other strategic targets must sometimes kill civilians. It is a big distinction that we do not specifically target civilians. Besides, if we go to such an extreme that we refuse to harm any civilians, that we refuse to bomb anywhere where we might kill civilians, our enemies need only force their people into "human shield" camps.

51 through 64

I answered "no" to these, with the exception of question 61. I think that "civilian justice" can be necessary when the state is evil, corrupt and completely in control of the law and courts. I think "civilian justice" can be necessary when the state is incompetent; believe me, there are many murderers who shouldn't have been allowed to live. I think that once police determined his location, they should have simply shot that bastard who shot the Georgia judge, the court reporter and two officers of the law. Weren't there enough witnesses? I suppose he was so innocent that the deputy shot the judge and reporter, and the other two shot themselves while that piece of scum just happened to escape?

Now regarding the other 13 questions to which I answered negatively, I'm not completely against the idea of government. Andrew Jackson said it best when vetoing the renewal of the Bank of the United States' charter: "There is no necessarily evil in government. Its evil exists only in its abuses." I think laws, courts and militaries too need some sort of government behind them, and again, so long as the people control the government, not the other way around.

While I have a few problems with the Fed, I won't go to the other extreme and support fully privatized banking and money. A national treasury is by no means inherently perfect, but it is less costly than the financial chaos of determining whether someone's tender of payment is valid. One need only look at the United States' banking history through 1863, until bank notes were made uniform by the Treasury. States and individual banks issued their own paper notes, which greatly inhibited commerce. As Billy Joel sang, "It's a matter of trust." Someone in New Jersey couldn't just accept notes issued by the Bank of Delaware, unless he knew what the Bank of Delaware's notes looked like. But what if he's confronted with notes issued by New York, Maine, Georgia, or John Smith's Bank of Hartford? What if it's a forgery, or the bank has failed? What if the bank wasn't doing too well, making its notes less valuable than another bank's?

Well, there were publications through 1863 that had drawings, and photographs later on, of all the different currencies one might encounter; they also had news on how particular banks were doing. But acquiring and maintaining this knowledge is too costly and can be imperfect, compared to the smaller knowledge of what a single national currency looks like. Everyone knows the general appearance of Federal Reserve Notes, as opposed to having to know the appearance of federal currency, all 50 states' currency, and John Smith's notes.

Even in a system of gold and silver coin, if states and individual banks do their own unique mintings, merchants would need to have scales to ensure the true value of the coinage. Again, while nationalized currency isn't perfect, it is less costly than dealing with hundreds or thousands of different types of payment.

2 Comments:

Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

I scored a 72... Although, if I spend too much more time reading the anarcho-capitalist blogs I've been reading, that score might rise :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2005 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger TKC said...

Geez, I scored a 78 and I didn't think I was that much of a libertarian.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 10:01:00 PM  

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