And finally, the biggest series of 7 questions from a representative of the Russian BHL Movement, Konstantin:
First I would like to express my deepest gratitude to David for his work and contributions to libertarian theory. The Machinery of Freedom, along with Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia and Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, was one of the first books on libertarianism and classical liberalism that I read. Both then and now I admire the book's thoroughness and original argumentation.
Although I do not share the anarcho-capitalist views expressed in the book, it is likely that on most applied issues there is no disagreement between my own position and that of The Machinery of Freedom. But in the questions below I have tried to focus more on those aspects of libertarianism on which the positions of BHL and anarcho-capitalism diverge.
This is not to say that I or any other Russian BHL does not appreciate or downplay The Machinery of Freedom's contribution to libertarianism. There are good reasons to respect alternative viewpoints on libertarianism. Especially since Russia is a largely less free country than the United States. And so the aspirations of both moderate and radical libertarians in our country today are focused primarily on defeating an authoritarian regime.
Konstantin: What is your meta-ethical position?
The Machinery of Freedom stands out from other anarcho-libertarian books, such as Gary Chartier's Anarchy and Legal Order, Michael Humer's The Problem of Political Authority, or Murray Rothbard's already classic The Ethics of Liberty. Primarily because The Machinery of Freedom relies on moral consequentialism rather than deontological ethics such as natural law or ethical intuitionism.
I wonder which meta-ethical position you hold: moral realism or some form of anti-realism? If, indeed, you have ever taken the time to address this question.
David Friedman: I think Chapter 61 of the third edition of Machinery answers that question. I am, like Michael Huemer, an intuitionist, hence a moral realist. But I am less sure than Michael that our position is correct, since I don’t think I have, and he apparently thinks he has, an adequate rebuttal to moral nihilism.
Konstantin: What do you think of the experiments with universal basic income?
Many libertarians, as you know, support the introduction of UBI as a replacement for existing Social Security. You also support an approach to libertarianism based on practical arguments for libertarian policies.
Recent experiments with the introduction of UBI, such as Finnish, Dutch, Indian, Nambian, and others, show generally satisfying results. In particular, they show no relationship between the payment of UBI and an increase in unemployment. They also show a decrease in stress levels among UBI recipients and an increase in life satisfaction. What do you think of these results?
David Friedman: I haven’t looked at the evidence of those experiments, but I would be concerned about the possible longer term effects, for reasons I discussed on my blog.
An NIT would be better than our present welfare system, but in practice it will be, to some extent has been, added to that system rather than replacing.
If you work out the numbers for a UBI, either it is too high to be viable or too low to be regarded by its supporters as a satisfactory replacement for other transfer programs.
Konstantin: What is one way to argue against the Georgeist argument for UBI?
Many libertarians, in supporting UBI, speak solely of its advantages over existing welfare. Such arguments are obviously heavily influenced by empirical data. We can compare the effect of UBI with traditional social welfare, and draw conclusions from this. And if it turns out that UBI is worse than existing welfare (or even just not better), then many libertarians will have to give up the idea of UBI.
But this is not the case for those libertarians who support UBI based on Georgism or similar ideas. Since, for Georgians, UBI is a resource dividend, the right to UBI is meaningful no matter what the economic effects of the policy may be.
For libertarian Georgians, UBI is justified on the basis that all people have equal moral status. According to this, no one can demand the appropriation of more natural resources than other people. This argument does not even necessarily presuppose that people have, by default, equal property rights over natural resources. It is enough that there is no good moral reason for some people to have more natural resources than others.
David Friedman: The problem with the moral version of the Georgist argument is that it doesn’t solve the problem of justifying property in unproduced resources. I didn’t produce the land, but we didn’t either, so how do we have the right to sell a landowner the right to exclude others from his land?
I offer my best solution to these problems in Chapter 57 of the Third Edition, now available in Russian as well as English, but it isn’t very satisfactory and doesn’t justify the pattern of redistribution that BHLs, or other people in favor of redistribution, want.
Konstantin: Will private charity suffice?
Many anarcho-capitalists say that private charity alone will suffice to provide for the poor in a stateless society. But no historical example of even the most successful private charity has ever shown that it can defeat poverty.
Charitable campaigns may help poor people and reduce their suffering, but unlike public welfare programs, private charity does not pretend to give needy people a springboard into a life of wealth.
David Friedman: I don’t know what “defeat poverty” means. Currently, per capita real income in the U.S. is about thirty times what the global average was through most of the past according to the estimates of economic historians. That means that the average in the past was equivalent to a current income of two or three thousand dollars a year. There are very few people at present with less than that in the U.S., and I doubt there would be even without government redistribution. Does that mean that we have defeated poverty?
If not, you are implicitly using “poverty” to mean “substantially below average” or “poorer than I would be happy imagining someone being,” in which sense I doubt any society will defeat it.
You might also consider how much current poverty is due to government action.
So far as government programs giving a springboard to a life of wealth, the original claim of the War on Poverty was that it would end poverty. That claim was abandoned after a few years as it became clear that it was a total failure — see Losing Ground by Charles Murray, who was involved in it, for the details — in favor of making poverty less unpleasant. Since then, the fraction of the U.S. population that is poor hasn’t changed much.
What gives people a springboard into a life of wealth is opportunity in a market society. The son of the immigrant family that we hire to clean our house once a week is currently attending a good university, one I once taught at. The descendants of the people who came to America as penniless immigrants in the early 20th century, such as my grandparents, mostly are doing pretty well for themselves now.
Konstantin: Isn't a society in which all people have a chance to get out of need more attractive than a society in which all people can simply count on private benefactors to keep them from starving to death?
David Friedman: A market society is one in which people have a chance to get out of need, not by government charity or, mostly, private charity, but their own efforts.
Konstantin: Wouldn't private charity be as paternalistic and demeaning as existing welfare?
David Friedman: Might be. That depends on the particular source of the charity.
Konstantin: Many libertarians criticize social welfare because it demeans, dehumanizes, and infringes on the freedom of the people it is meant to help. But it is most likely that private charity in a stateless society would treat those in need in the same way.
In fact, this is how current charities treat people in need. For example, religious organizations in Russia that assist the poor impose as many demeaning and dehumanizing restrictions on the poor as do state social services. As far as I know, the situation of religious (and many secular) charities in the United States is not much different.
One could argue that having conditions for receiving aid from charitable organizations is not a bad thing. But this objection is irrelevant if our goal is really to help the poor. And this goal is equally important to proponents of "social justice" and to consistent moral consequentialists.
But conditional aid will inevitably, as Charles Murray and Matt Zwolinski have pointed out, exclude some people who need help. The obvious example that comes to my mind is people with mental disorders. Many of them are unable to meet the job requirements even in situations where their disorder is "not serious enough" to declare them "mentally disabled." This is a particularly acute problem in Russia, where psychiatric diagnosis is very poor.
David Friedman: One practical advantage of private charity is that the people doing it are much closer to the recipients than with state charity, making them better able to distinguish those we are in need from those who merely want to get money without working for it. Another is that it cannot as easily as government redistribution be used as an excuse for giving money to people who you want to vote for you or contribute to your campaign. A lot of what the U.S. government does is justified as helping poor people, including making food more expensive in the process of making farmers better off.
Konstantin: Do you believe that financial aid has to be earned at all?
Some anarcho-capitalists (Brian Kaplan, as far as I can tell) seem to oppose UBI on the grounds that financial aid has to be earned. Do you agree with such an objection? If so, what concept of desertism are we talking about? On what grounds are "deserving" and "undeserving" defined? Doesn't this contradict the principle of neutrality inherent in libertarianism? As we know, many supporters of FDS lean toward this policy precisely because it is the most morally neutral form of financial support for the needy.
David Friedman: I try not to rely on moral arguments, since I have no way of showing that my moral arguments are correct. I will leave Bryan to defend his own position instead of trying to guess it from your description.
Konstantin: What do you think about the argument for UBI from robotization?
What do you think of the argument for UBI that relies on predictions about labor automation? Even leaving aside the most alarmist projections, wouldn't UBI be the least interventionist way to make the labor market more mobile and give people who are losing jobs more freedom and prospects for new employment?
David Friedman: No. The least interventionist way would be to abolish government restrictions on the labor market, most obviously the minimum wage.
I think it unlikely that labor automation will create a world where the marginal product of most people’s labor is too low to support them. It may make us much richer, and some people more than others, but that isn’t the same thing. It is, after all, a prediction that has been made repeatedly over the past century or more, and so far has turned out to be wrong every time.