Monday, August 29, 2011

Libertarianism vs. conservatism in peace and in war


I think it's quite interesting that current Texas governor and also the presidential candidate, Rick Perry, is a good example of why I am not a conservative right now, why I used to be a conservative, but defined myself as a "moderate conservative", why I realized that that's really not the proper way to describe myself and why I eventually became a libertarian.

Perry's views, without going into too many details, exemplify the solid right-wing conservative philosophy (if they don't, let's assume for the purpose of the discussion that they do, because I don't really care about the specific candidates; I care about the concepts). Let's give a few examples and see what a libertarian may think of those issues.

1. Economy

Perry boasts that de-regulation and low taxation attracted businesses and increased employment in Texas. There isn't really much to talk about here. Obviously libertarians agree with this. One could say that Perry didn't actually do anything constructive here; he merely "did no harm". True. And that's what is different between him and the liberals in this issue.

On the Nolan chart (see above), the views of conservatives and libertarians about economics coincide. At least in theory. In practice, most conservatives engage in as much regulation as the liberals and do things like banning trade with Cuba. This is the reason why I originally said that it might be a good thing that Obama was elected; McCain would continue the "compassionate conservatism" policy of Bush, mess up the economy just as badly as the liberals — but in the end, the free market (which is erroneously associated with compassionate conservatives) would be blamed.

2. Defense

I actually have no idea what his stance is, but let's imagine he is like most Conservatives: believes in aggressive defense — i.e., bringing the war to foreign shores (not that once a liberal president was elected, he did anything different; he continued all the wars that Bush started and even contributed to another war... except in a somewhat shlemazletik way). Let's give in to the liberal propaganda and say that this also includes defending American economic interests throughout the world and "trying to run the world". And the latter includes trying to topple foreign dictators — but only when it suits our interests. Sure.

Well, what are the problems with this view? I definitely agree with the concept of defending oneself. I also don't really have the problem with the concept of bringing a war to foreign shores, except that in practice, the public that pays for this war has little control over what is going on and has to rely on the eternal wisdom of the Supreme Commander to make the right decisions.

For instance, instead of spending billions of dollars on building machinery capable of transporting troops across the ocean and then spending millions of dollars on actually doing that and supporting the troops overseas and carrying out the military operations with major (or minor) loss of life and money — how about, instead of that, invest enough into defending one's shores and then invest into foreign intelligence and in training snipers that will take down the leaders of foreign regimes that cause troubles? This may also result in less collateral damage. One could say that I don't know what I am talking about because I am not a military specialist or a diplomat or a historian or have a Ph.D. in international relations. Well, the point is that nobody knows, because without the market and competition of different companies doing different things, one cannot be sure that the strategy we are using is the best possible in terms of money, lives, and the result.

So, this is why, seemingly, anarcho-capitalism has advantage over statism in terms of the defense (the same actually goes for defense of our own shores, not just bringing war to their shores). Now, one could say that dissolving the government into anarcho-capitalism is not feasible today. That's true. But privatizing defense is not completely impossible. The government can give contracts to various defense (or attack) agencies, both competing and co-operating with each other, whose job will be to topple a foreign aggressive regime. The agency that does this in a most efficient way (money- and lives-wise) and the most humane way (the least collateral damage to the civilians) gets more contracts.

After all, we have privatized the production of arms. We don't have state-run facilities that make tanks, like those in the Soviet Union. We have private companies that compete for government contracts. So, why not do the same with the defense?

The argument that private companies will do whatever they want is ridiculous, because the same can be said about the government. The same forces that presumably constrict the government from doing whatever it wants (journalists, public opinion, etc.) will constrict the government from giving contracts to the companies that will do whatever they want. In fact, quite the opposite: when we have a government carrying out a missile strike against a terrorist, and on average ten civilians get killed as a collateral damage, we say: this is the best we could do. We can allow this guy to blow up a bus with fifty of our civilians or kill him and ten of the civilians surrounding him. But we don't know really if this is the best we could do, because, again, we have no competition. If we had three companies, one carrying out air strikes with a smaller average collateral damage than the others, we would know what is the "best we can do" under the circumstances.

What about running the world? Isn't it a good thing that Gaddafi was toppled (or so it seems)? But then, answers a liberal, isn't it the case that we topple only those dictators that we don't like? Isn't that hypocritical? Well, it may or may not be so, but that is not a good reason to stop toppling dictators. That's a good reason to topple more of them. Imagine a doctor who cures only white kids. Someone comes to him and says that he should stop doing business because it's not fair to the kids of other races and what he does is evil. Well, that's absurd. The fact that he doesn't cure other kids just because of their race is arguably evil (although one could also argue that it's his business, and he is free to do business with whomever he wants), but that he does cure white kids is good, and closing his business would be itself a bad thing!

The same goes for toppling dictators and getting involved in the conflicts. Just because we only get involved and do good when it suits us doesn't mean we should stop getting involved. It would seem that a bleeding-heart liberal should agree with this point. Unless he is a pacifist who thinks that we should have allowed Saddam Hussein to continue gassing whole villages or should have allowed Hitler to take over all of Europe and not get involved, because "war is evil". That's like saying that cutting a person with a knife is evil, and therefore, one should not cut out a tumor, r"l, because one "does not commit evil to eradicate evil".

One could make an argument, however, that even if toppling dictatorships is a noble thing to do, it's not our job to do that. Furthermore, one could argue that American government gets involved in certain conflicts only when pressured by the gas companies' lobby. I don't really know if the latter argument is true, but a conservative person could say to both arguments: we live in a democracy. People vote (indirectly, by electing representatives who they think will vote a certain way) for things they want this country to do. Sometimes you're in majority; sometimes you're in minority. I am willing my taxes to pay for toppling a dictator, and I am happy to support a war that will make gas prices cheaper. You're not? Tough. You are free to try to convince the rest of American public not to support this war.

Well, there is a problem with that argument and an easy solution. The problem is that a majority is forcing a minority to pay for the majority's interests. Exactly what Thomas Jefferson was afraid of: "the tyranny of the majority over minority".

What's the solution? How about we privatize all the industries which do not directly cover everyone's interests? For instance, forget about privatizing roads (for the moment). Everyone uses roads. So, we pay taxes that support the roads (that doesn't explain why someone in New Orleans should pay for the Big Dig in Boston, but that's another issue). Fine. But, not everyone uses public education. Not everyone wants to contribute to public education. I think it's a good thing for poor kids to go to school for free, but I have poor relatives who have bad health and need help with that. Out of my meager salary, I'd like to help them first. Those who think that sending kids to college to get a B.A. in French Literature for free is a good thing (after all, the more people we have analyzing Victor Hugo, the more prosperous our society will be, so in the end, we are investing in ourselves) and are willing to pay for it, let them give money to private charities or private scholarships.

So, let the government use our taxes to defend the realm. Let it never get involved in toppling other dictators or defending one African tribe from being butchered by another African tribe. But then, in addition to the government, let us have private companies running armies, whose business is to do "peacekeeping". Where will these private armies get funding? Private donations from that same majority that was in favor of toppling Saddam. And the minority that does not want to give money to that will send their charity to scholarships. Or food stamps.

The same goes for "the interests of gas companies". Instead of lobbying the US government to get involved in the wars in oil-rich regions (just like New England merchants lobbied Thomas Jefferson's administration [I know, ironic] to build a fleet and wage a war against Barbary pirates), let the gas companies support the private peacekeeping companies that will insure stability in the region.

And by the way, if you're thinking right now about the East India Trade Company (and Captain Jack Sparrow), remember that it was a monopoly. The British government gave it exclusive rights to trade with India and then, eventually, to run it. What a shocker that this resulted in a mess on all accounts...

So, we see how one can accommodate the liberal opinion with the conservative opinion, but instead of being a "moderate" (i.e., someone who either does half-measures or does some things this way and some things that way), one can create solutions that use the best points of the two approaches.

3. Gay marriage: to be continued... (I borrowed this view from my rabbi who expressed it even before I heard about libertarianism.)

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