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Bryan Caplan has a terrific post on common ridicules against classically-liberally-ish type people. Do read it in full. Before I excerpt some of it, a couple of points.

  1. Arguments by “opponents of freedom” (that’s not a good characterization) often look like this, “You only think that because you are in the libertarian tribe.” This, by the way, may be true. But that’s not a logically consistent argument. If I argue that minimum wage regulations are harmful, you can’t say that “You only think that because you are a libertarian and you are supposed to think that” and expect to be accorded with a dignified exchange as if we were actually having a conversation. Either you should object to the consequences of the belief – such as, “they are not harmful, here is why ….” or you can be open and honest and say that you have some other value system that is higher in importance than freedom of contract.
  2. In reading Caplan’s post and in thinking about common objections to libertarian-ishy ideas, can you tell me why freedom isn’t a shared value? Do people know what freedom is? Do they have a common understanding of what it means to be free? If freedom is not a widely shared value, and one that is high up on the list, then what is, and why? In other words, even taking seriously the nearly ad hominem attach of “Because Freedom”, why isn’t it embarrassing for critics to use it? I’d use an analogy here but that would get me uninvited from polite company.
  3. The second and third comments to his post are excellent. I love the second one and was waiting for Caplan to invoke it in his post. “Because diversity.” “Because social justice.” “Because equality.” “Because the children.” And so on.

Here is some of the post:

Lately I’ve heard libertarians ridiculed because their argument against some law boils down to, “Because freedom.”  Why shouldn’t we have inheritance taxes?  Because freedom.  Why shouldn’t we ban handguns?  Because freedom.  Why shouldn’t we have an affirmative consent standard for rape?  Because freedom.

The ridicule is often unfair on its own terms.  There are consequentialist arguments for these libertarian positions, if you care to listen.  Still, critics correctly sense that even self-styled consequentialist libertarians have a strong pro-freedom, anti-government presumption.  If the consequences of government action are anywhere in the vicinity of “bad overall,” libertarians frequently do say, “Because freedom” to get over the hump.

What few critics care to admit, though, is that they too routinely makes the same intellectual move.  Almost everyone does.  Whenever an honest assessment of consequences of government action fails to yield ideologically palatable answers, non-libertarians retreat to “Because freedom” too.

Why not ban Satanism?  Because freedom.

Why shouldn’t societies where homophobes vastly outnumber gays legally persecute gays?  Because freedom.

Why not punish strangers who have unprotected sex without being tested for STDs?  Because freedom.

Sure, you can offer consequentialist justifications of these policies.  But if you’re convinced all of these consequentialist cases are clear-cut against government intervention, you’re guilty of wishful thinking.  Honestly, can you point to anyonewho knows enough to do passable cost-benefit analysis of all of these issues?  Doubtful.

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