For the purposes of this exercise, I will use the following definition of left-libertarianism:
Left-libertarianism, as defended by contemporary theorists such as Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka, is a doctrine that has a strong commitment to personal liberty and has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is illegitimate for anyone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others. Some left-libertarians of this type support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources.
In other words, like right-libertarians, they believe that a person’s body is theirs to do with as they will, and a person can presumably entirely own the proceeds of their labour minus some redistribution of the contribution of natural resources.
So, the first part of my take on this concept is pretty simple: “Why bother?”
Why would you bother to expend any effort if, in the UK, you would only get 1/61,000,000 of the reward you make from any given set of resources? (Excluding what you get from your direct labour.)
How would you calculate the value of the resources you need to distribute? What happens if there’s a dispute over the valuation of the resources? Perhaps refer it to some impartial body, like, oh, say, a quango? In what way is that different from the state?
And my second objection to this idea is a very personal one: I’m not a miner and I never will be. I’m not a farmer and I never will be. I can’t for the life of me see why someone who works a piece of land to give me potatoes needs to give me a share of his profits because “we all own the land”. Similarly, for the miner: I want the ring or pendant, I’d like to pay less, but I really can’t see why I deserve a “dividend” because Rio Tinto isn’t actually allowed to own land. I have no interest in the land (and I know I’m not alone in this.) The perfectly sound and libertarian-compatible ideas of specialisation and division of labour mean that as far as I’m concerned, if Rio Tinto wants to own that land for its mineral rights, they can quite happily do so.
I realise I’m probably alone in the UK in believing this, because every bugger seems to have some sort of grievance about it, but to my mind it’s much more internally consistent to me that people who own resources should benefit from them, and those who have nothing to do with them should receive nothing from them.
Aha! I hear you say. But the land is the result of theft from people, either hundreds or thousands of years ago. Without those thefts, it would be perfectly feasible to implement this form of libertarianism.
Yes, that’s perfectly true, but we are where we are. And if it was wrong to have those thefts happen hundreds or thousands of years ago, why is it right to steal from those people who own those rights now? The 13th Duke of Wimpole was not the bloke who did the thieving, the 1st Duke or the King is dead many centuries.
The people who were stolen from may have died out or may have proliferated into such a mess that reallocating the resources back to the rightful owners might be to all intents, practically impossible. And how you would untie the value derived from those thefts would be even more impossible.
If you just take the resources at gunpoint and distribute them equally to society (where a large part of society will have no interest in those resources anyway!) how does that differ from the state taxing you today?
In the article above was the following addendum:
some anarchists who support private ownership of resources and a free market call themselves left libertarian and also use a different definition for right libertarianism
I think that this is probably a source of some confusion. I am an anarchist who supports private ownership of resources and a FREE market (not the current corporatist abomination.) So, by the above paragraph, I would be considered a left libertarian, although inevitably:
Others, such as scholar David DeLeon, do not consider free-market private property anarchism to be on the left.
Like everything, it all depends on your frame of reference. If you look at my “moral compass”, about two-thirds down the page on the right, you will see that I am very socially libertarian — so I could be left- or right-libertarian as far as that is concerned. But on the same graph my economic standpoint is very far to the right: I believe in free and unregulated* markets and in private property. Yet by the definition above, some people would consider me a left-libertarian.
Using the moral compass as a more intuitive and less arcane definition of the whole left / right divide gives a completely different argument:
A large section of the social democrat parties like the LibDems, the Labour Party and even the Hannan / Carswell fringe of the Tory party would consider themselves libertarian in various ways. The LibDems and Labour have significant numbers of social libertarians, i.e., people who believe in things like legalising drugs and allowing people to do whatever they like to their own bodies.
Even Tory “libertarians” are edging towards this the long way round, by encouraging local police forces to agree with local communities what crimes they want to see prioritised. So if the community is cool with drugs, then the policing thereof would fall away.
And of course, Tory libertarians are much more amenable to allowing people to keep the fruits of their labours (ha! ha!) are therefore much more inclined to economic libertarianism.
My take on the left / right divide in this case is simple: you cannot be a left-libertarian in this definition. You endorse social liberty, but deny economic liberty. You are saying that I may have any freedom I like, as long as it’s a freedom that you approve of. And since you don’t approve of economic freedom, you are denying me the fruit of my labour. The fact that you’re cool with me taking drugs or having an abortion merely marks you out as a hypocrite, because you’re “giving” me the liberties you value, and not giving me complete liberty.
*Market regulations exist only to create a barrier to entry for new competitors. This is why businesses always support new regulation – they already have the resources in place to cope with it, but a new competitor would find it that much harder to fund the startup process. The true way to “regulate” business is to allow unfettered competition.
This post was the result of a Twitter challenge and was originally posted here.