Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Four Freedoms

Via Paul Krugman (and condolences for Albert) : Free to be Hungry

He has hit the nail on the head: Conservatives in the US (and indeed, all over the world) ramble on about "Freedom" - and in fact, they turn it into freedom to starve or to die. The statistics on food stamps - the rise from 26 million six years ago to 48 million now - is appalling, coming as it is from the world's sole hyperpower. Whenever great starvation goes hand-in-hand with great prosperity, nothing good bodes for the world.

Whatever one might say about FDR, he was a very clever and very understanding person - not to say he didn't make mistakes, it's just that he did his work in a way that others didn't. I admit complete ignorance of his Four Freedoms before Krugman linked to it. So here goes - The Four Freedoms

Freedom of speech? Constantly being undermined by a panoptical system that equates dissent with disloyalty.
Freedom of worship? Take a look at the context of the war on terror and what it's doing to American minds! Sikhs are being assaulted in the US for wearing turbans, and ordinary muslims are still treated as 'terrorists' or second-rate citizens. It's inexcusable.
Freedom from want? Gee, conservatives the world over want people to be free to keep wanting things they can never have -even if those things are as fundamental as food.
Freedom from fear? No, now the present attitude is to make people afraid of everything - whether it's the government, the police, the military, or various 'enemies' - such as fanatics, terrorists, wannabe communists, or whatever else.

FDR, your Four Freedoms may have inspired your country seventy years ago, but if you were alive now, you would find not the slightest pretence of beleiving in these, either in your nation or in the rest of the world.


  1. As a voluntaryist, I agree that people should be fed, but not by taking the resources for it from other people by force, not just because it is wrong inherently, but also because it is pragmatically worse compared to the alternative of free people interacting on voluntary bases to achieve the same goals. (Insert here the usual countearguments to the expected counterarguments justifying the coercion via the invocation of the social contract, etc.)

    And even if it wasn't, I like to present the following idea to non-voluntaryists: Whatever solution you dream of for helping the poor or achieving whatever social ends for which you think the state is necessary, it can be implemented, structurally and all, in a voluntaryist society. You could even replicate the state system more or less exactly as we have it today in a voluntaryist framework -- that's the beauty of it.

    Say you would make the argument that the best way to ensure that people in a particular area get fed is by requiring that all people living in that area pay into a common pot from which is drawn the money necessary to achieve that end. In the state system, this requirement (taxation) is enforced by things like imprisonment or eviction from one's home and the ensuing tax-sale of the home. The justification used is that you tacitly consented to the rules by being in the area, but to the voluntaryist perspective, these enforcement methods are wrong because the state does not truly own the land nor the house it is seizing in these instances (to put it another way, they don't have the right in the first place to say what rules you did or did not "tacitly" consent to, they merely have the might), nor can the tax-nonpayer rightfully be imprisoned because they have committed no actual crime, i.e., no act of aggression.

    The state effectively behaves as if it owns all property in its claimed territory, when it does not. When they kick you out of your house for nonpayment of taxes, they behave as a landlord kicking someone out of a home they own -- all subjects of a state live effectively as renters, with taxation as the rent. In the voluntaryist perspective, the government does not actually own the land on which you live nor the house, so this is as much theft as if the mafia had come along and kicked you out at the point of a gun. But if you really felt that society must be run this way, then all you'd have to do to have this model exist justly is have an area of land (of whatever size comprises the sum total of their property) where people all pledge their land and property in common to the ownership of an organization they call their government, and where anyone who moves in is explicitly denoted as not *actually* owning their land or houses. The taxes (actually a rent) which the residents are then charged is then justified. Such a setup would function much as governments already do, except that the same enforcement action of eviction would be justified because the government actually would already be the owner of that property.

    Examples of how other aspects of government could be replicated follow much the same pattern: They are essentially systems of centralized ownership with what are effectively very lenient leases.

    1. And for those who prefer videos instead of long text I hope these will serve the same purpose of explaining where I'm coming from: "George Ought to Help" and its sequel, "You Can Always Leave"

    2. To me, the problem doesn't lie as much with the state as it does with ANY institution that has too much power. Even if you have an entire nation full of free people - even behemoths like China and India - you're going to have grave inequalities in the power of those people and how they're going to act. Free people are not "free" in an absolute sense of the term as freedom is not an absolute. Gerald Maccullum critiqued Isaiah Berlin's notion of negative and positive freedoms by creating his triadic model of freedom, in which every freedom has negative and positive elements. Just what you mean by "free" is relative, almost in the same sense as reference frames in Physics. Just the same way, a voluntaryist society can't exist if there is any inequality of power. And power inequalities do have a habit of intensifying.

      Dealing with the power of a state, or of state injustice, is very much a real concern, but so is the problems of dealing with injustice meted out by private citizens or corporations who are able to condition the actions of others to an alarming extent. The state itself tends to serve dominant power groups - a fact acknowledged as much by Adam Smith as it was by Karl Marx. Then again, the entire point of state taxation is to provide infrastructure and services in return, as a transfer of payments. Even if a lot of money gets spent on running a bureaucracy, the same thing happens with corporations. In any sufficiently large organization or institution, there's bound to be waste of some sort, and some sort of behavior that looks like rent has to happen. There's no such thing as a perfectly efficient system.

      That being said, paying a hundred government employees a hundred dollars would have a higher multiplier effect on the economy than paying ten managers a thousand dollars each, even if spending is the same in absolute quantities, due to the higher multiplier effect in the first case. It's classic keynesian economics.

      And since you put up videos, I'll put up the great Michael Sandel to lay out the case FOR Taxation, which is admittedly a lot more interesting than the case against Taxation.

    3. It will take me a while to work through that video so my response will likely not be very timely.

  2. From our personal correspondence you know my current situation, so I'll just ask a question to see if I can obviate the need to watch the entire video: Is this just Locke's tacit consent theory, or does Sandel add more to it?

    1. Sandel explains the tacit consent theory in his own way - but yes, it's Locke's tacit consent theory, through and through.