Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Am I a Utilitarian?

by Carl Milsted, Jr.

Attorney Stephan Kinsella has written a response on to my article "The Need to be Anarchists." In it, I am accused of many bad things, mostly false. I will address only some of the accusations here.

Mr. Kinsella has claimed that I have let concerns of strategy and tactics cloud my judgement on the matter of principle. The opposite is true: my activism has led me to actually listen to the counter-arguments against Rothbard's utopian dreams. Turns out some of the counter-arguments are true.

However, I am by no means a utilitarian. I do not believe in initiating force whenever there is an opportunity to increase overall utility by doing so. I did not advocate such in my essay. I am advocating a position that is in between the natural rights school of libertarianism and the utilitarian view. My thesis is much closer to the former than the latter.

Mr. Kinsella writes:

Rather, as I have pointed out elsewhere, to be an anarcho-capitalist is simply to recognize (a) aggression is unjustified; and (b) even the minarchist state necessarily commits aggression (and is therefore unjustified). It does not mean one predicts such a situation will occur, or "is workable," etc. It only means that the anarchist libertarian opposes all forms of aggression

My position is subtly different. I posit that aggression is evil. Therefore, it should be minimized. This proposition does lead to different conclusions. For example:

If I was near Adolf Hitler and had a bomb that could destroy him and his cronies, I would happily use it, even if some innocent bystanders got killed. Better to kill a few than to allow millions to be murdered.

Mr. Kinsella's statement of libertarianism would allow the gas chambers to continue their operation in order to avoid the much smaller aggression of collateral damage. Taking his position to the extreme, blowing up Hitler and cronies would not be justifiable even if the collateral damage was limited to property damage.

Given the truly vile theorems that follow from Mr. Kinsellas moral axiom, I do proudly reject it. I am a libertarian, not a nit-picker. I value liberty highly, enough to actually do something about it that could possibly work.

If anarchy was indeed workable, then I would favor it. Zero aggression is better than some aggression. However, I am a scientist, not a philosopher. I demand evidence. I know of very few successful anarchistic civilized societies throughout history, and know of a great many instances where anarchy led to civil war, conquest, dictatorship, looting, pillaging, slave trading and/or feudalism. To extinguish the U.S. govenment without a practical replacement available is to put hundreds of millions of people at risk of far greater aggression.

I am a libertarian. I dislike aggression. Apparently, Mr. Kinsella doesn't care, as long as he is not the technical aggressor.

Now it is true that I do make some concession to utilitarianism in the sense that I also believe in government built roads and certain similar services. But the argument I used to justify such was not the utilitarian argument!!!!!!!!!!

The utilitarian argument would justify any amount of aggression as long as the benefit to people in general outweighed the cost to those aggressed upon. I did not make that argument at all.

I argued that the government could forcibly provide a service to taxpayers if the value of that service is at least twice that of the open market. This is a far narrower standard. First, it has to be a benefit to the specific taxpayer. Second, the government has to do much more than match what the market can do; it must exceed by at least double. My argument does not justify transfer programs.

Without government, you would have to pay far more for protection services. History has proven this time and time again. When Rome fell, the rich could no longer afford fancy villas. They were spending their wealth on castles and henchmen instead. The Celts in Britain learned just how valuable Roman protection was when the Saxons invaded. Later, the Anglo-Saxons did have a competitive protection system; however, they later learned that they would have been better off had they been forced to pay more for protection. William the Conqueror taught this harsh lesson.

Some tribal societies of old are considered to be anarchic by some libertarian thinkers. Notably, they have all been conquered. But even before conquest, they paid quite a bit for their inefficient defense system. Tribal societies were seen as warrior societies by surrounding civilizations, since nearly all men prepared extensively for war.

So, the data indicates great economies of scale for military defense. It also indicates that all will pay one way or another. It is a sunk cost. If the majority bands together to form a government, and taxes all to pay for defense, they are greatly reducing the cost even to those who object. Thus, the adequate compensation argument.

This is a very narrow "social contract." It is not a moral license for government to do whatever the majority wants it to do.

It is a practical look at how to maximize liberty.

Unlike Mr. Kinsella. I am a real libertarian.

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R-dog, as I replied in email: I don't think the question is meaningful. You are leaving too many means out. You are assuming too many magical things. Clarify it and I can answer it.

For example, what do you mean, end gov't w/ a push of the button? how does the button do this? Turn poeple into robots? change their mind? blow up go'vt buildings? the only way to get rid of the state really is for most poeple not to believe in it. Are you saying woudl I PREFER most poeple not believe in the state's legitimacy? Or would I push a button that would make them change their minds? If so, how?

As I wrote elsewhere ,
"I will tell you I have no idea what this means. Magic makes no sense to me. I could only answer such a question if the means by which the end occurs is described. For example, if the magic button destroys all life on earth with a billion hydrogen bombs, that would be one way of achieving your proposed end result. I would not be in favor of that. Presumably you have some other meachanism in mind that achieves some defined result--could you explain the mechanism, and the result? That would allow other libertarians to evaluate whether they believe this action would be consistent with liberty or not."

# posted at by kinsella

the url was here:

# posted at by kinsella

sorry the above comments were meant for the other post:

# posted at by kinsella

Milsted says: "I am a libertarian, not a nit-picker. I value liberty highly, enough to actually do something about it that could possibly work."

It is fine to be an activist. But Milsted persists in the activist myopia which does not permit him to even see that not everyone views everything from the activist lens.

"If anarchy was indeed workable, then I would favor it."

Here we go again. Talk about what is "workable." An anarchist is someone who believes aggression is unjust and the state commits it. Period. It does not mean they think anarchy is "workable" (whatever that means).

"However, I am a scientist, not a philosopher. I demand evidence."

This talk further demonstrates my contention that empiricists tend to shun theory, rationalism, apriorism, and deduction and to adopt the positivist view of science that is in conflict with Austrian praxeology, which is an essential economic underpinning of genuinely "scientific" economic understanding.

"To extinguish the U.S. govenment without a practical replacement available is to put hundreds of millions of people at risk of far greater aggression."

Milsted here seems to presuppose that to be a libertarian is to "call for" or perhaps even work for the "extinguishment of the state".

"This is a very narrow "social contract." It is not a moral license for government to do whatever the majority wants it to do."

Well, great--you finally found *just the right* formalu for truly, once and for all, limiting the state.

"Unlike Mr. Kinsella. I am a real libertarian."

Such an assertion requires a coherent and reasonable definition of what it means to be a libertarian. And it seems to imply that one must be a compromiser and activist to be a "real libertarian". These are just assertions.

# posted at by kinsella

BTW I have more comments on my article here:

# posted at by kinsella

Re Milsted's comments on being "scientific," it does remind me of what I wrote before about Galambos here: :

"This reinforces what I've come to think about Galambos: he adopts the monist, scientistic mentality which Mises showed to be flawed. He is like many engineers I've known: most are bright, but nowadays uneducated beyond calculus and applied engineering courses; yet they believe that, because they are the "best and brightest" they can solve social problems by some kind of brute force empirical-practical engineering type solution. The result is almost always embarrassing, totally devoid of any familiarity with philosphy or the relevant literature; it is just a step above the long-winded "I've-got-the-world-figured-out" diatribes by frustrated truck drivers who also think they have a system to win the lottery. Galambos was brighter and better read than most engineers, but he could not escape the pseudo-science of scientism into which engineers are immersed; he adopted the idea that we should find a "science" of liberty, with "science" used in the conventional, natural-sciences sense. Kind of a weird combination of California surfer-dude "hey-man" mentality combined with Carl Sagan wide-eyed love for (natrual)-science combined with the engineer's misplaced confidence in his ability to solve all human problems using engineering techniques.

# posted at by kinsella

one of many:

"As a recovering activist/do-gooder I whole-heartedly thank you for writing this fine article. The brevity and clarity of it will provide me with a far better tool than my normal rambling to explain to others why I now detest all activists, and the harm their unprincipled actions cause.

Thank you for your efforts to share the light of a principled existence."

# posted at by kinsella

Carl Milsted wrote:
>I argued that the government could forcibly provide a service to taxpayers if the value of that service is at least twice that of the open market. This is a far narrower standard.

As one of those pragmatic, practical engineers Kinsella has been criticizing (I hold several patents on hard-disk drive controllers), may I make a modest prediction as to how Milsted's proposal will work in practice?

For two hundred years, economists have been trying to figure out some way to make quantitative "interpersonal comparisons of utility" as would be required to see whether Carl's twice-the-free-market-value rule is being satisfied. Despite a couple centuries of effort, no one has figured out how to do this quantitatively. This is not a subject of dispute among economists -- whether Keynesians, Chicagoans, Austrians, etc.

Therefore, it is my pragmatic engineering prediction -- as a practical engineer -- that if we try to put Carl's proposal into practice, every single special interest will claim that their pet project actually produces more than twice the total value of the open market. This will be claimed not only for national defense, roadbuilding, and public libraries, but also for dairy subsidies, public education ,etc.

There will be no way to prove these claims are wrong, since there is not actually any way to measure these things.

The result is that whoever has the best megaphone, the best propagandists, and the best organized pressure groups will be able to "win" the argument and get taxpayer funding under Carl's plan.

In actual engineering practice, Carl Milsted's plan would make Hillary Clinton look like a skinflint!

For purely pragmatic reasons, given a choice between Hillary Clinton and Carl Milsted for President, I'll vote, as a pragmatic libertarian, for Hillary.


# posted at by DrDave

First, on Dave's comment. In the policy sciences and economics, the standard net benefit ratio to do a project is 200% of cost, so Dr. Milsted's number is neither radical or without precident.

Second, on Kinsella's comments, theory with no basis in evidence or reality is simply that, not based on reality. I hardly find that a mark of intellectual rigor. It is rather a form of mental masturbation. Any theory must at some point be checked against reality, especially when one is intent on actually convincing people of its validity. One must be truly out of touch to expect the vast majority of people to throw off their government based on pure theory, especially when the key proposition of the theory is that they are somehow thieves for receiving government benefits of any kind when they have paid taxes for those benefits.

The "taxes is theft" crowd fails to see that there is a great deal of overlap between those who pay taxes, those who receive taxes and those who vote. Of course, they have know way of knowing this because they do not believe in empirical reality as a critereon for public policy.

The sad fact is that they have likely paralyzed the LP into irrelevancy so that people like me and Carl will not become or are no longer members. Pity that.