Against the Basic Income Guarantee

Bleeding Heart Libertarian, Matt Zwolinski, has caused a small stir in libertarian circles with his recent “libertarian argument” for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) in the United States. His proposal involves abolishing every existing welfare program run by the U.S. Government, and replacing them with a universal guarantee of income for every adult citizen, regardless of their employment or economic standing. Switzerland is facing an impending vote on just such a policy, although the Swiss proposal differs in that it would be implemented on top of their already gigantic welfare state. Realistically, if such a policy were to be on the table in the United States, no welfare program big or small, would be cut or abolished. The entrenched interest groups affected by such a policy shift would almost certainly prevent it from happening. Zwolinski acknowledges that there may not be a practical way to implement this program, but insists that it does no harm to merely propose it, if the idea itself does have merit. Unfortunately, it does not. From top to bottom, the proposal is entirely brainless.

Zwolinski’s justification for a BIG has several components, the first of which is based on cost and efficiency. He argues that if a BIG could be implemented in place of the byzantine bureaucracies managing existing welfare programs, the tax payer would ultimately be saved an enormous amount of money. Taken at face value, this seems highly plausible, and it would probably reduce (but not eliminate) the public choice problems associated with these organizations. Taken on its own, this argument might be forgivable if Zwolinski were simply an honest left-liberal trying to reduce waste and corruption, but since he tries to further justify this on libertarian principles and appeals to justice, it quickly crumbles both morally and economically.

Matt argues that the current distribution of property rights in the world is not entirely just. With regards to the property of many organizations and individuals, we cannot establish a clear chain of title back to the state of nature. In many cases, the state engaged in clear breaches of property rights and perpetrated injustices against innocent people, injustices which have never been rectified. Often times, the descendants of these victims are still suffering negative consequences as a result of these past injuries.

The BIG serves as a rough “rule of thumb” for rectifying these violations, as the epistemic challenges involved in identifying victims/calculating ratios of proportionate restitution are insurmountable, and prevent precise corrections from being made. So relying on the “capability approach” we can determine a payment that would ensure that no one were to become so harmed by past or present injustices, that they are prevented from living a minimally decent life. While this may be an imperfect solution, doing nothing to right past wrongs would be worse.

There are numerous problems with this, but I want to grant Zwolinski his argument for a moment, because I don’t think he has fully thought it through. If we accept that the state is obligated to rectify rights violations, and that a BIG is a good rule of thumb for accomplishing this end, why would guaranteeing income and capability standards be limited only to United States citizens? It can be argued that the U.S. government has violated the rights of large groups of people in virtually every society on the face of the planet.

Whether it be through the most visible and destructive acts of U.S. military conflicts over the course of the twentieth and twenty first centuries, political manipulations in Central and South America, installation and support of dictators across Africa and the Middle East, embargoes and trade restrictions the world over, manipulation and disruption of world markets through the actions of the Federal Reserve System, credible threats of nuclear annihilation, systematic undermining of electronic security and the ongoing collection of private information by the NSA, or even the abominable threat and execution of violence against those who simply try to immigrate to the United States (something which would increase their capability standards more than any check would), virtually no human being has been left untouched by the tentacles of the United States government.

Zwolinski’s theory of justice already leads us into economic and ethical absurdity, especially if we accept that property/human rights apply to everyone, and not only to American citizens. In order to make restitution for the past and continued crimes of the U.S. government, the state ought to provide a basic income to all of the estimated 5.8 billion adults on planet earth. By his reasoning, doing nothing to rectify these injustices would be worse than the state simply ceasing its activities.

If we start somewhere in the range of $25,000 per adult per year (less than the Swiss are proposing), the government would be obligated to pay out roughly $145 trillion in basic income payments every single year. Let that number sink in for a minute. Now I am willing to be generous in realizing that capability standards are recognized to be different across cultures and economies, but even if I were to be extremely conservative and reduce this estimate by an order of magnitude, the government would still be obligated to pay out $14.5 trillion per year. That sum does not include any funding necessary to actually run the program, this is simply the amount needed to pay the reparations themselves. The fact that this number approaches the entire GDP of the U.S., should be a ready indication that the program’s realization is impossible. But even if we were to assume that it was possible, the public choice nightmare that would accompany an international welfare program of this type, would dwarf and obliterate any concerns that we might have about actual welfare programs currently in place in America. The entire idea is absurd on its own terms.

But we shouldn’t accept it on its own terms. The idea of what constitutes justice in a Zwolinskian world is totally perverse. During the government shutdown, BHL writer Andrew Cohen argued that the government is obligated to fulfill contractual promises to pay its own employees, even if the ability to fulfill these contractual agreements rests on the violent transfer of property from one set of individuals to another through taxation. He even embarrassingly uses an incorrect analogy to the mafia, which thankfully Monty Python expertly satirized decades ago. This is a view that Zwolinski has defended in many places, but it can be seen explicitly in the comments section of his latest post on the BIG.

In the context of this argument, they are quite literally claiming that if the state violates someones rights, the state must make restitution to the victim, even if “making restitution” was predicated on the state violating someone else’s rights in order to do so. Zwolinski’s pitiful attempt to appeal to the standard libertarian idea of what constitutes justice is a complete perversion of the principle in question. If Person A violates the rights of Person B, Rothbardians argue that A owes B restitution in proportion to the offense committed. However, the means by which the restitution is paid is of the utmost importance. Person A does not then have license to steal property from Person C to pay Person B. This would simply be an additional crime committed by A. The Basic Income Guarantee would necessarily have to be paid out of funds obtained through taxation (i.e. theft) and would be an illegitimate act, piling injustice upon injustice upon injustice. No matter what violations have been perpetrated by the state in the past, there can be no justification for continuous and perpetual invasions of the rights of third parties to make restitution for those crimes. True restitution would mean an end to the crimes of the state, and the most egregious perpetrators being compelled to work off their debts as determined by a free competing court system.

But even worse than this, Zwolinski isn’t simply wrong when it comes to the natural rights component of this argument; it seems rather, he is being deliberately dishonest about it.  When making his appeals to the natural rights tradition, he sneaks in a competing theory of justice and uses it interchangeably with the first.  By using the social justice concept of the “capability approach”, he is jettisoning any reference he may have had to rights violations, and substituting it with a theory of well being.  These are two completely incompatible sets of ideas, and it destroys any semblance of consistency in his argument.  This wouldn’t be so repugnant if he had not framed this as a “libertarian” or “natural rights” argument, and admitted that he was pursuing an entirely different theory of justice from the outset.

In short, the proposal is totally self-defeating. It rests on the premise that the state is a legitimate institution (absurd on its own), and that rights violations can be repaid and made whole by further rights violations. Acknowledging there are times when “second-best” policies are the only possible options, it seems prudent to ask: what would be the purpose of proposing a policy that is neither practical nor ideal?  Why would we trade an economically disastrous, ethically miserable state of affairs for one that is even worse on both accounts? If we are going to propose radical changes in government policy, why not stick to the truly radical idea that the state itself ought to be abolished in toto? Zwolinski has claimed many times that he is sympathetic to the anarchist program, and that he is very compelled by Michael Huemer’s arguments against political authority, so why hesitate to advocate the only way of ending systematic injustice? Why continue to rely on an institution that has committed more murders, more theft, and more injustice than private individuals could have ever hoped to commit? How could you possibly trust that institution with one iota of power? For someone as clearly well read as Matt Zwolinski, it is an abominably stupid and evil position to maintain.

As a final note, Matt also argued that both F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman advocated for something like a BIG, and that Rothbardians who claim “real libertarians don’t support welfare” are incorrect, as these highly influential figures are clearly a part of the libertarian tradition. I agree that these men are influential figures in the libertarian tradition (just like the classical liberals before them) but they also made egregious errors along the way. The hardcore propertarianism of the anarcho-capitalists excludes and ridicules these errors not because of some sort of backward dogmatism, but because private property theory is a distillation and refinement of the libertarian idea. Appealing to the worst parts of Friedman and Hayek is no way to demonstrate that an idea is sound. One must defend ideas on their own merits, not the presumed authority of other intellectuals.

  • Thomas L. Knapp

    Nicely done! But not “vulgar libertarian” in any respect that I can see. This piece wouldn’t strike me as at all out of place at the Center for a Stateless Society.

    • Raoul

      My only gripe with this is, that stateless society (that means no corporate state either) does not need a basic income to begin with! As there is no state currency. Alleviating the need for any such state basic income. Currency competition would lead to a similar effect.

      Only downside, it’s more out of reach. And potentially less stable than the state construct.

  • Kevin Craig

    On the other hand, if we expand BIG to truly global standards, then America’s “poor” are going to find themselves writing big checks to compensate for their relative wealth.

  • François-René Rideau

    Of course, since those who are forced to pay are not those to victimized the victims, they are themselves victims, who must be paid back, by victimizing more victims, etc., in a self-feeding endless cycle of theft by the State. This guy invented the perpertual motion machine of justification of theft by theft.

    • Raoul

      It helps to understand how the state runs more deeply than that, unless you’re completely convinced that you will not be governed (be it social state or corporate state) by one in the near future.

  • Ted_Levy

    Matt, when you move to grant BIG to all people in the world, not just Americans, why do you not also at the same time move to spread the costs to all governments, not just the US government?

    • wrothbard

      Global BIG as a form of justice for the actions of the US government specifically implies that the US government as the guilty party must be the one to pay. (There are of course other governments out there that are guilty of similar crimes, but if you tried to force them to change their laws to account for a BIG then you’d be committing another injustice.)

      • t3hsauce

        Precisely. Each individual state would also be responsible for its own BIG as restitution for their own crimes. I stuck to the US for the sake of simplicity, though the argument implies a global orgy of redistributive cannibalism under the Zwolinskian program.

  • Antony Davies

    $145 trillion isn’t correct. Circa 150 million adults in the US x $25,000 per adult = $3.75 trillion.

    • JesseForgione

      The $145 trillion was in the hypothetical of paying every adult on earth.

      • Antony Davies

        That’s a weird hypothetical. Per-capita income on Earth is circa $10,000. The
        hypothetical has us doubling average income.

        • t3hsauce

          Omfg read the article. I address that.

          • genecallahan

            Well, you “address” it by shoving in a new plank to Matt’s proposal he never suggested… or through basic dishonesty, I’d say.

          • t3hsauce

            I took his idea to its logical conclusion. If you accept that human rights apply to everyone and not simply to American citizens, a global BIG is the next logical step.

          • genecallahan

            Right, and an intergalactic BIG right after that.

            But the fact is, we have national, not world government, and you took that “logical step” in order to make the idea look as stupid and impracticable as possible, so don’t be cute.

          • JesseForgione

            The idea is plenty stupid and impracticable on its own, even if you don’t agree that it implies going any further in scope.

          • genecallahan

            Them there would have been no need for the gross exaggeration, would there?

          • JesseForgione

            It’s not an exaggeration, it’s an argument that the logic of the premise implies more than was intended. If you think it doesn’t follow, then say that.

            Pritchard also made a lot of other crushing arguments against this proposal, all of which stand without that one, so I really don’t know what point you think you’re making right now.

          • t3hsauce

            The silliness was contained in the premise. Thank you for denying that foreigners have rights.

          • genecallahan

            “Thank you for denying that foreigners have rights.”

            Intellectual dishonesty and Matt / Are pretty good company / Dishonesty / Man he really needs ya / Cause he ain’t got no decent arguments

    • t3hsauce

      $145 trillion is the payout for a global BIG. 5.8 billion adults multiplied by $25,000 is a BIG payout of $145 trillion.

  • Matt Zwolinski

    I appreciate your taking the time to engage thoughtfully with my argument, though really, if you could just stick to the arguments and refrain from speculating about my alleged “dishonesty” or how “pitiful” you feel my approach is, we might have a better chance at a productive conversation. Let’s let the arguments stand or fall on their own merits, and leave the emotive name-calling for Facebook, eh?

    You raise a number of distinct issues here, so let me try to address them one at a time.

    First, you’re absolutely right that the US government has violated, and continues to violate, the rights of people throughout the world, not just in the United States. So, what follows from that? First, that it should stop. But second, it should do something to compensate for the harm that it has done. If you agree so far, and I would be curious to know if you do, then the next question is precisely what it ought to do to compensate. I don’t think we can simply assume that the BIG is the correct approach to take in an international context, even if we grant that it is in a domestic context. For one thing, the costs of a global BIG might be prohibitively high. Trying to make compensation in an economically unsustainable way might very well thus be self-defeating, and thus not a policy that anybody who advocated compensation would actually endorse. Second, we lack an effective mechanism for administering such a program on a global level. Third, the problem of over-inclusiveness (paying compensation to those who have no valid claim to it) is much more worrisome on a global level than it is domestically. This is just a start. But it’s enough to show that there are good reasons for refusing to extend my argument, as you attempt to do, from a domestic level to an international one.

    Second, I think the issue of collective obligations is more complicated than your very brief discussion of it suggests. Suppose the US government wrongfully imprisons X for twenty years. Then, realizing its mistake, it lets him go. Let’s further suppose that all of the individuals directly responsible for his wrongful imprisonment (the arresting officer, the prosecuting attorney, etc.) are dead. Should the government pay compensation to the wrongly imprisoned individual? Do you think it is “unlibertarian” to say that it should? It is true that whatever funds are used to pay compensation will be drawn from tax revenue, collected from mostly innocent persons. But spread out over the entire tax base, the cost would be a fairly small imposition on most persons, compared with the very great cost the state has imposed on the wrongly imprisoned individual. In this case, paying compensation seems morally required as the (much) lesser of two evils.

    Third, I think you have misunderstood the nature of the capabilities approach. It is not, as you claim a “competing theory of justice” to the libertarian one. It is a theory of human welfare. I invoke it not to challenge the libertarian theory of justice, but as way of providing some content to the idea that the government should ensure that nobody is so harmed by its acts of injustice that they are unable to live a minimally decent life. There’s no dishonesty here on my part. Just an apparent confusion on yours.

    Finally, I will note that I agree with your last point. We need to evaluate arguments on their merits, and not simply on the basis of who makes them. I do think it’s worth pointing out that an opposition to welfare has not been universal in the libertarian/classical liberal intellectual tradition. But the main reason for pointing this out is to draw attention to the reasons that these individuals gave, so that they can be evaluated and assessed. That’s why I devoted an entire essay to explaining what I took to be Hayek’s argument (or, at least, the argument suggested by what he wrote). I notice you didn’t address that argument here. Perhaps you will do so in a future post.

    • JesseForgione

      There is no “issue of collective obligations” here. A criminal never gains the right to rob others to pay his debts. That would only create more victims who must then be compensated. Calling such further theft “morally required” is just amazing.

      It is misleading to say “[the U.S. Government] should do something to compensate for the harm that it has done.” The USG is not comprised of any specific individuals accountable for “its” debts, and as a corporation it does not produce anything with which it could repay its victims. It can only steal from third parties, creating more victims, and use (part of) the loot to pay its earlier victims.

      The real bearers of those debts are those who actually committed specific crimes, for which they are liable in specific quantities.

      And of course it’s not a small cost dispersed over so many people that they won’t notice. On the contrary, a basic income guarantee would be a very efficient way of bankrupting everyone.

      As the marginal workers quit their low-paying jobs to rely on the minimum income, taxes would have to be raised on those remaining at work to cover the additional cost, bringing real incomes down toward the margin where it’s better to quit and join those receiving net payments. This is not “one man who unjustly went to prison” (not that that would justify theft). It’s an orgy of everyone plundering everyone else.

      You say that your approach is only “a theory of human welfare,” and not a competing theory of justice, but you admit that it prescribes “that the government should ensure that nobody is so harmed by its [previous] acts of injustice that they are unable to live a minimally decent life” even when it means violating the persons and property of third parties. That is a competing theory of justice, whether you call it one or not. It makes normative prescriptions which contradict those implied by non-aggression.

      I also noticed you didn’t address the question of what the motive might be for someone to propose something that he admits is neither ideal, nor practically possible. Sometimes a second best solution is all that’s possible, so we accept it as a step toward a more ideal goal. It would make sense to propose either one of those things, but not something which is admittedly neither.

      Finally, this page is called Vulgar Libertarians. People here prefer to speak candidly, and when someone appears to be dishonest, or prone to using a weaselly form of argumentation, we’ll just say it. If the accuser is wrong, just tell him he’s being stupid (or whatever). But don’t whine about name-calling, leave that shit on BHL.

      • Matt Zwolinski

        So is your position then that the USG, because it is not an individual and because it (allegedly) does not produce anything, can never acquire any debts by any means? I mean, it’s one thing to say that you don’t think that the USG doesn’t owe compensation in the particular case of slavery, or that you don’t think the BIG is an appropriate means of providing that compensation. I disagree, but those are reasonable positions to hold. But your position seems to commit you to something far more radical and far less plausible. It commits you to the idea that is never permissible for the government to pay a debt of any form simply because all such debts must be paid by taxation. So the origin of the debt doesn’t matter – whether it’s a debt of reparation due to wrongful imprisonment, a financial debt owed to the holder of a government bond, a contractual debt owed to someone who has done work for the government, etc. To all of these, you simply say “taxation is theft.” And theft it might very well be. But that doesn’t settle the question of what to do about the debt, unless you assume (quite implausibly in my view) that the wrong involved in taxation is always and necessarily worse than the wrong in leaving a debt unpaid. I have yet to see any argument for such a seemingly implausible assertion. Would you care to offer one?

        As for speaking bluntly, well, let me be blunt: when it comes to the capabilities approach, you simply don’t know what the hell you are talking about. The capabilities approach is not, as Matt claimed, a theory of justice. It is, as I pointed out, a theory of welfare. Now, it is possible to incorporate a theory of welfare into a claim about what obligations people have, and that is what I was doing when I said that the USG has an obligation to ensure that nobody is placed below the level of capability by its own acts of injustice. But that doesn’t turn the theory of welfare into a theory of justice. It is a simple matter against which you are quite unnecessarily beating your head. They are two different things. RTFM before you try to talk about it next time.

        Oh, this vulgar thing is fun.

        • Drew Rush

          “But that doesn’t settle the question of what to do about the debt, unless you assume (quite implausibly in my view) that the wrong involved in taxation is always and necessarily worse than the wrong in leaving a debt unpaid.”

          A problem with this is that you’re incurring new debt to pay off the old. If you’re violating the rights of individuals via taxation, then you owe them for what you’ve taken. What do you do? More taxation. You’re trying to either justify violating people’s rights with impunity or theft to pay off your previous thievery.

          • Matt Zwolinski

            A fair point, Drew. But it seems to me to be a reasonable principle, and not one incompatible with libertarianism, that when one has no alternative but to select between one of two evils, one morally ought to select whichever evil is lesser. So let’s grant that taxation is evil, and grant that the USG cannot compensate those it taxes to compensate those it has wronged. The USG must then choose between the alternatives of 1) failing to provide compensation for one that it has seriously wronged, and 2) taxing (and thereby wronging, without compensation) others in order to pay compensation to one it has seriously wronged.

            I still have yet to see any argument for the claim that 2 is necessarily worse than 1.

          • François-René Rideau

            The USG “must” not choose anything. All it must do is die.

            The survivors may do however they please, with their respective property — which may include titles to some share of the assets of the dissolved USG (including assets to be confiscated from all its formal and informal officers — which would include “philosophers” who prop it up).

          • GrandTurion

            A debt is not some abstraction floating in the air that can or should be fulfilled by anyone. It’s something involving specific parties. Libertarians reason in terms of individual action, and whether that action is legitimate or not, aggressive violence or not. A debt itself can involve an action that is, or isn’t legitimate, and another action to repay it, which is, or isn’t, aggressive violence.

            For instance, by your logic, I could get hired as a hitman to kill you, and get paid in advance, then finally renounce to do it. There is now an “unpaid debt” “left unpaid”, floating around. Then gets asked “the question of what to do”? Force me to kill you? Or does anyone now have a moral obligation to kill you himself?

            Again, only individual actions, taken on their own, can be either right or wrong, whether it’s part of the debt itself, or a way to repay the debt, or a way to get money to feed the hungry (“left unfed”), or whatever, is irrelevant. Actions, aggressive or non aggressive.

            Thus, to answer your question , whether “the wrong involved in taxation is always and necessarily worse than the wrong in leaving a debt unpaid.” ?

            Quite simple, really: taxation is an action, an act of aggression. It is always, necessarily wrong. “leaving a debt unpaid” in itself is never wrong.

            Not paying your own debt can be wrong, depending on the debt, but it’s wrong for the person not paying that debt, if the debt is legitimate.

            It doesn’t create any other rights, or duties, for any other people. I have no obligation to help anyone fulfill, or get fulfilled, their contracts. And I have no right to commit any aggression, for any reason whatsoever. I don’t see how “helping person A fulfill the agreement he had with person B” would somehow generate rights to commit aggression by me, person C, against person D.

          • JesseForgione

            Well, we immediately know that (2) is necessarily a greater loss in absolute terms, at least by the amount of the cost of engineering the violent transfer from one innocent party to another and the damage done by the act of robbing them.

            It is also worse for the economic chaos and loss of efficiency brought about by the dislocation of resources from the price system.

            It is also worse in terms of peaceful interaction, by introducing more theft and violence into the way society operates (or fails to operate).

            It is also worse in terms of justice, rather than charging a debt to the thieves, it provides them with an income and a steady employment in the business of theft in the name of restitution.

            As to being better or worse in some other way, e.g., if the receivers were for some reason, so much more important than the new victims of theft, that giving them a smaller amount justified stealing a larger amount, no one could ever answer, since the higher value you place on them is your own.

            But even if we grant that favored class of persons a much higher priority, this sort of plan would harm them as well, as more and more private property was taken out of the productive sector, and all of society continued to be made ever poorer, including ultimately these special persons.

        • François-René Rideau

          Would it be worse? But why is it this murky “USG” who has the right to decide what better action to take? It doesn’t own the means to do the reparations. Let those who have the means decide.

          You remind me of those wretched mahometans who call for the rapist to “repair” his rape by marrying his victim. DISGUSTING.

          Nope. The rapist ought to be put to death. After his estate falls short to repair his wrongdoings, voluntary charity may relieve the victim. But the urgent thing is to put the criminal to death — dissolve the USG, execute its managers, confiscate their belongings. (Plea deal available if they step down peacefully.)

          And put the evil “philosophers” who prop it up in tar and feathers. Looking at you, Zwolinski.

          • Matt Zwolinski

            Clearly, my critics are right. I am a “fake” libertarian. The real libertarians are the ones who advocate the initiation of actual physical violence against people who express opinions with which they disagree.

          • François-René Rideau

            No such initiation of violence advocated, you vile snake.

            But the day the (counter)revolution comes, if you find yourself singing the praises of the State and its monopoly of force while people die fighting for freedom, be happy to only be tarred and feathered and not killed by one of the fighters you vow to mass graves.

          • Matt Zwolinski

            Jesus, dude. If someone like me who probably agrees with you on about 90% of the issues, in contrast to the other 95% of the population who think you’re a complete nut, is a “class enemy,” then, come the revolution, you are going to have a lot of tarring and feathering to do.

          • JesseForgione

            He’s just French.

          • t3hsauce


          • Thomas L. Knapp

            It’s quite possible that the average southern plantation owner agreed with the average southern plantation slave on 90% of things.

            There was just that ONE LITTLE THING separating them — the former’s claim that he owned the latter and was entitled to dispose of him and his labor.

            Heck, I bet the slave owner even offered detailed arguments as to how that system was just downright best for everyone!

            Were the slave owner and the slave NOT class enemies?

          • François-René Rideau

            The vast majority doesn’t think, so it doesn’t matter what utterances they emit: its performative value is not on in terms of meaningful statements, but of purely in terms of tribal affiliation. That’s bad enough of them, and whether they will not, cannot or dare not, reason (see Byron quote), their opinions sadly don’t count — they are not fully human. For the same reason, though, I can’t fault them what any incidental meaning that their utterances may have.

            You, on the other hand, have no such excuse. You know, or should know, what you’re talking about. And when you’re calling for a novel scheme of self-perpetuating massive plunder at unprecedented scale, you can’t hide behind the mindless adherence to the slogans of some leader. You are yourself, or purport to be, a thought leader, and have amply demonstrated your intellectual ability to think. Do you otherwise advocate for peaceful behavior between citizens, beside this massive war on citizenry by a megagovernment? Good for you! But, as Paul Graham put it:

            “If you’re a quiet, law-abiding citizen most of the time but occasionally cut someone up and bury them in your backyard, you’re a bad guy.”

            Only a human can be evil. I fully acknowledge your humanity.

            Put it another way: contra the practice by which USG’s monopoly enforces “justice”, we libertarians contend that cops, what more well-trained cops, what more active duty cops, are to be held to a higher, not lower, standard than casual citizens in the use of force. Similarly, I hold that an intellectual, what more an intellectual well versed in libertarian theory, what more a professional intellectual, is to be held to a higher standard than a random citizen in his use of reason. I would deride a random citizen spewing the kind of absurdities that you write, but the case is so much more egregious from someone who ought to know better. You’re a disgrace.

        • François-René Rideau

          Your evil ilk also reminds me of what Bastiat writes, in “The Law”, about all these “philosophers” who see Government as the motor of society, and themselves as the guides to Government. What fatal conceit! Unhappily, it’s millions of innocents for which the conceit is fatal, and all to seldom these evil “philosophers”.

        • JesseForgione

          The state, or rather the individuals who make it up, can certainly incur debts, but they do not acquire a claim on new victims by virtue of their previous crimes. If there is a way to make the actual thieves pay their debts, then of course I’m all for it.

          I understand your distinction between a theory of welfare and a theory of justice which refers to it, but if the latter judges actions (whether based on the former or not) to be just, and those actions are in contradiction to, let’s call it theory-of-justice “L,” then you are certainly using a different theory of justice.

          “Oh, this vulgar thing is fun.” See? I like you better already.

        • GrandTurion

          “the question of what to do”?

          “leaving a debt unpaid”?

          Seriously? How about thinking in terms of individual action?

          The question of state debt is really quite straight-forward from a libertarian point of view. Settled long ago by Lysander Spooner in No Treason, and by Faré 😉

        • t3hsauce

          I did RTFM. I actually found it quite interesting, and while I may have mangled my words when calling the capability approach a “theory of justice,” the content of the critique stands. You substituted rights violations for a theory of well being, which was the substance of the criticism. When you jettison the standard of knowledge by which we make determinations of just restitution, you throw out the entire system itself. What you put in its place (or tried to incorporate into it) is something entirely different and incompatible.

          In many cases it may not be possible to correct past injustices. When we lack the knowledge of the crimes committed, and the aggressor and victim are both dead, there is simply nothing that can be done. In the real world these circumstances prevent justice from being carried out. It’s unfortunate, but often we are left with imperfect situations. When faced with such circumstances, however, we should not conclude that further aggression toward third parties will somehow fix things.

          “But your position seems to commit you to something far more radical and far less plausible. It commits you to the idea that is never permissible for the government to pay a debt of any form simply because all such debts must be paid by taxation. So the origin of the debt doesn’t matter – whether it’s a debt of reparation due to wrongful imprisonment, a financial debt owed to the holder of a government bond, a contractual debt owed to someone who has done work for the government, etc. To all of these, you simply say “taxation is theft.””

          As I stated in the original post, and others will probably point out as well, the first and most important action for the state to take, is to cease its activities. Ending systematic aggression is the first step toward *any* justice whatsoever. Once that has been accomplished, those who can be identified as perpetrators of such crimes would be subject to a free competing court system which would determine the next course of action. What that is, we cannot know beforehand, but I can’t imagine it ending well for the criminals in question.

          It is likely that we would run into a situation where the crimes of the state were so pervasive and widely distributed, that the perpetrators could not possibly pay back the debt incurred. It is a terrible situation, but again, this *does not* warrant incurring further debts, or committing further aggression, in search of a solution. Doing so is just creating a perpetual aggression machine. We have to recognize that sometimes there are limits to our ability to recoup losses. Financial institutions often have to settle for pennies on the dollar when pursuing debtors, and the same thing happens when we pursue justice. There are no perfect solutions, but we must never deliberately make a situation worse.

      • Raoul

        ‘to rob others to pay his debts.’

        ‘And of course it’s not a small cost dispersed over so many people that they won’t notice. On the contrary, a basic income guarantee would be a very efficient way of bankrupting everyone.’

        You misunderstand the state here. A state never has a need to pay debts, by virtue of lending value to its currency, to begin with. It can spread the value any way it wants, as well. Sometimes it revokes tokens of value from the people it deems not worthy to hold as many. It’s a more abstract concept than theft, which is important in this conversation. You can equate the 2, for polemic effect, but you can not equate the 2 for a large scale economic analysis.

        No problem with vulgar choice of words, but using words that are ‘similar’ but not ‘equal’ will lead us to talk about barriers that exist in people’s brains, but not economic opportunity.

        This is best highlighted by taking into account QE as an example of how to finance anything, even lending money to people with money, to buy state bonds so they get more money and return a fraction, while getting a bigger percentage profit from the state bond interest. It works indefinitely, but only the people with money benefit.

        If you were to finance a basic income the same way, or maybe just with the same funds the state benefits run off of right now, you’d still see the big players benefit, like wall mart benefits of food stamps, but you’d also see local stores and middle size companies allowed in the competition around that state allowance money.

        The state has the option to finance the scheme out of nothing, and avoid an inflation shock by simply taxing every earned income a 40%, not to recoup the cost as first priority, but to maintain value stability of its currency. (a 40% flat tax would also finance the whole scheme without printing, were it to replace existing benefits, and be applied to corporate profits. it’s not hard to tax off-shored profits. But then again, if they are offshored, we might as well ignore em and just print what’s missing. The important part is to not massively increase spending power of the people through the scheme.)

  • Faré

    Since Zwolinski seems to think that it is possible to enact reparations by massive redistribution, without having identified who were either the victims or the culprits, let me complete the reasoning: whichever amount you give blindly to everyone has to be taken somewhere in the form of tax; since you’re equally blind regarding culprits, you’ll take the exact same amount from everyone, for a zero sum total. Then, there’s the massive waste that is the action of the government bureaucracies enacting the redistribution — but since the sum is zero for everyone, it can be optimized away. Lo and behold, no redistribution is necessary!

    Blindness goes both ways. But it’s true that Zwolinski and his ilk are not at all interested in justice or fairness, only in justifications for massive theft.

  • kharaa

    Milton Friedman, and historically Thomas Paine have both advocated this very thing.

    • JesseForgione

      Excellent point! …is what that would be if appeals to authority (especially such dubious authorities) meant anything.

      • kharaa

        Which would be important if we were debating facts, but we’re not. 🙂

  • Curt Doolittle


    [QUOTE]It is not, as you claim a “competing theory of justice” to the libertarian one. It is a theory of human welfare. I invoke it not to challenge the libertarian theory of justice, but as way of providing some content to the idea that the government should ensure that nobody is so harmed by its acts of injustice that they are unable to live a minimally decent life. There’s no dishonesty here on my part. Just an apparent confusion on yours. – Matt Zwolinski [/QUOTE]

    1. Yes it is Matt. Your Rawlsian restatement is precisely a competing theory of justice. The libertarian theory of justice expressly PROHIBITS statements on ends, stating that the ONLY justice is voluntary exchange.

    2. There is only one POSSIBLE universal moral statement : voluntary cooperation for mutual gain in that which can be acquired – from the most concrete to the most experiential. And its corollary: the prohibition on parasitism in all it’s forms (criminal, unethical, immoral, conspiratorial action) the most common of which is free riding.

    3. Therefore the ONLY POSSIBLE moral institutions that we can create are those that extend the opportunities for voluntary exchange – constantly expanding our cooperation on means, and letting catallaxy determine SCIENTIFICALLY through EXPERIMENTAL TRIAL AND ERROR, the most desirable ends.

    [QUOTE]There is no “issue of collective obligations” here. A criminal never gains the right to rob others to pay his debts. That would only create more victims who must then be compensated. Calling such further theft “morally required” is just amazing.– JesseForgoine[/QUOTE]

    1. No. A corporation that we shall call ‘the government’ can never incur debts on the actions of individuals in its employ – especially if there are no individuals in its employ.
    2. Yes. A corporation that we shall call ‘the government’ can incur debts on the actions of the polity as collectively exercised by vote.
    3. Even if exercised by vote (of shareholder/citizens), the fees should be paid exclusively by those who mandated it (voted in favor of or against, the action). This eliminates moral hazard.
    4. The libertarian solution to this problem is to require prosecutors to carry malfeasance insurance. This insurance would be very high. And the insurance companies would do a far better job of policing justice than does justice itself – (spoken as a one-time justice department employee.)

    So, no, MATT IS CONFUSED as we can see from his initial proposition that some arbitrary statement of welfare determined by some arbitrary person or group, rather than scientifically determined by the market, under the assumption that liberty and voluntary cooperation – cooperation on means – is the optimum human welfare, versus the involuntary, forcible extraction of rents to achieve a messianic, unscientific (foolhardy) ‘end’ defined spuriously as ‘welfare’.

    I’ve argued elsewhere that the (rothbardian) libertarian assumption that individuals should pay the high cost of respecting property rights, forgoing free riding, and forgoing demand for state intervention, and forgoing rents, is a violation of property rights.

    When our aristocratic egalitarian ethic (liberty) evolved in prehistory, it was because we have almost all been private property owners, and heads of families. We were marginally indifferent in our production. Heroism (raiding and trading) were the only ways of dramatically increasing one’s wealth relative to the productivity of the land that bound all others.

    But under industrial consumer capitalism, our labors are no longer of much value to the organization of production. In fact, increasingly, smaller numbers of people will be required to organize production. The current trend will continue, and we can’t think of a logical reason why it wouldn’t.

    Therefore at present, more than a third of people are either present in the work force, or available to the work force, but unskilled and incapable of using the tools necessary to participate in the art of the production of goods and services.

    So Keynesian models that attempt to reach full employment are little more than a logical error.

    However, we are still equally capable of performing the work of constructing the normative commons that makes organizing, executing and distributing production, possible at low transaction cost.

    As such, it is only right and just that we compensate people for respect of property rights, and policing the prohibition on parasitism i all its forms that creates the high trust necessary for us to conduct highly productive efforts in every niche possible.

    So my argument, in Propertarianism, is that among the logical errors of the enlightenment were (a) that we were equally capable of participation in production (b) that labor was the primary problem of production when in fact, voluntarily organizing production through natural incentives was the primary problem (c) that because of these errors we assumed that there was no cost to respecting prohibitions on parasitism – when logically it is a very high cost for the unproductive to respect prohibitions on parasitism (free riding, criminal, unethical, immoral and conspiratorial behavior.).

    So it is a violation of property rights NOT to pay people to police the normative commons (and physical commons for that matter) and yet expect them to refrain from engaging in parasitism – the most dangerous parasitism being their natural demand for the state as a vehicle for extracting rents.

    The question is whether participation in the market itself is sufficient compensation for that respect. Whereas that’s non logical since those without a way to obtain money cannot participate in the market.

    Pay people to respect property rights. Dont’ pay people who don’t. If you are ‘hired’ to respect property rights you get paid to do it, and you lose your job if you don’t. If you’re hired for this job you can get an employment contract. Pay unproductive people to share the interests of the productive people in eliminating immoral conspiratorial activity (the state), in favor of moral cooperative activity (property rights).

    It is better to fight for the attention of consumers than it is to fight the state.

    Matt is, unfortunately, a product of his environment. And he is confused about the cause of moral sentiments. Actually he’s confused about a lot of things. But that is why we have the BHL’s – because they have no rational arguments, only moral sentiments defended by weak attempts at amateurish emotional, non rational, unscientific

    The source of liberty is the organized application of violence by a diligent minority to suppress parasitic free riding so that only voluntary cooperation remains.

    If we want our liberty we must not only provide institutional solutions, but we must continue the long term fight against unscientific nonsense in various pseudo-moral, pseudo-rational and pseudo-scientific forms.

    And the BHL’s are yet another form of emotional mysticism, distracting us from discovering and obtaining the liberty that our ancestors created, and that we have incrementally lost.

    Nice people are a nice thing to share space with. However, nice people who are merely nice, but also WRONG, are just damaging to mankind. Rawls was damaging. And the BHL’s are just adding artificial flavoring to the mix.

  • Stephen Stretton

    It’s a bit of a straw man to pay out the basic income at $25,000 to everyone on earth! What about just paying it to US citizens, at a lower rate of around $150 per week?

  • Ben

    Crap. Same old “all for myself” propaganda.

    Alaska already have a universal dividend based on oil ahah, Alaska the most socialist state of the world ? lol

    The truth is another.

    The history of mankind is a history of technology. Technology has the ability to transform goods from scarce to abundant. With today technology we have enough abundance to guarantee a rightful dividend for all. Life is a right, the right to live must not be “earned”. It’s an aberration.

    A universal dividend would also help decrease crime rate. When you have something to lose and something that helps you survive when you are weak or lack intelligence, or have an handicap, depressed or just incapable of surviving, no despair occur. It’s not a secret that US have one of the most high crime rate in the world.

    But let’s get back on the citizenship dividend.

    Who own the sun ? I’d say it’s mine, and you guys from now on you have to pay me for using it.

    It’s just a provocation, I don’t own the sun, I don’t own the air. Instead we all own it. We all own the earth, and its ressources.

    We are all part of a sort of a big corporation. We are all stakeholders of planet earth.

    Time to pay back the dividend to all stakeholders.

    Technological unemployment and the increasing obsolescence of human work will only increase the demand for the citizenship divided.

    It will happen in this century.

    And sooner or later US citizens will ask for it too. No matter how much money the US media propaganda spends to leave the inequalities untouched.

    TV propaganda won’t work when people have no money to pay electricity bills or food.

    Good luck !