Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Freedom and Ladders

by Pat GunnModification and distribution are unlimited, provided notice of modificationis made and attribution is accurate

One aspect of Libertarian philosophy (note that I mean Libertarian asdefined in the United States, not Socialist Libertarianism a la Bakunin)is the focus on a particular conception of freedom. One of the justificationsfor the free market is that it promotes that idea of liberty. However, thatconception of liberty is more of a liberty-as-process than liberty-as-condition.The right to private contract is a foundation for American Libertarian thought,but only benefits a narrow conception of liberty.

P: The contract as understood by libertariansThe right to private contract is seen by libertarian philosophy as foundational,based on ideas such as privacy and liberty. It is a powerful concept, distinguishing Libertarian implementations of capitalism from others, as wellas other economic systems. Private contract is understood in this context tomean that people have the right to, without oversight or interference fromoutside parties (such as the government), trade obligations (rights, goods, etc)with each other in a legally binding way. Thus, if person A desires, she maycontract with person B, exchanging money for an obligation to paint A's house.This transaction would not be open to person C's objection, unless somehowperson C's property or person is involved. Neither person has an obligation togive Person D a cut of the transaction funds without prior arrangement withD (and that obligation, unless otherwise specified in the contract, falls solelyon the person who made the arrangement with D). This conception of legalityis efficient in several ways -- it limits the deliberation process of contracts,limits the ability of third parties to extract funds from arbitrarytransactions, and poses contracts as being largely a private matter betweentwo individuals, with state enforcementLINK.

The right to private contract bears little contact with reality. Within thephilosophy, it gives a third party (the state) an obligation to becomeinvolved with disputes to which it is not (at least visibly) a party shouldthe contract go awry. Without a special exception, it eliminates the conceptof tax, as the need to tax again introduces the state into all contracts. Oneis tempted to make these exceptions to the rule of third parties, but to makethe state party to these contracts is against one of the explicit roles of theright -- to limit government involvement in private contract (as shown by useof this right to suggest that government persecution of prostitution or drugsis a limit on liberty and capitalism). The right also suggests several usefulgovernmental practices, such as government antitrust oversight andenvironmental lawLINK, should be stopped. Contracts to do illegal things remainan unclear part of the premise -- should the state mandate people, for thesake of a contract, commit crimes? Many countries make it illegal to makecontracts of this sort, and do not enforce them. Theorists which suggestotherwise run into the difficulty of having Person A and Person B being ableto contract, without person C's consent, designs on C's property or obligation.A perspective given weight in a few countries mandates that for certain typesof legal relationships, such as stockowner-company, the interests of communitiesaffected, such as the people of towns where companies have a factory, must alsobe consideredLINK. One possible outgrowth of this is to suggest that somecontracts be negotiated not only by the interested parties, but also by councilsto represent local and global interests, which may alter the contract as neededfor the public interest.

Power relations are a large part of society. People control resources, and,in present times, often a small group of people control essentials for life(such as landlords, supermarkets, etc) and essentials for democracy (such asnews venues, but thankfully not private school consortiums, to the regret ofsome free-market advocates). The concept of free contract, in this context,advocates a stress on liberty as a process rather than a condition. The actualcondition of people, by other perspectives on liberty, is less free in alassiez-faire system, as while the state withdraws its interference, it makesroom for a much stronger worsening of the human condition due to marketcollaboration and power without input. A landlord cabal, for example, mayeasily coordinate to fix prices, or independently converge on actions thatlimit competition, and with sufficient control over the market, can dictateterms to the customer with little chance of negotiation. A possible responseis that if they do, they've won their right to do so in a fair game. However,this stresses process over form, and is damaging to everyone because it ensuresthat business dominions have all the power, compared to consumers. Fortunately,landlord-tenant law has been written to intervene in the free market on thistopic, because the stakes are so visible and high. Unfortunately, in other areaswhere the public has an interest, because of less visibility, this is nothappening.

There are several questions opened by this line of analysis on the nature ofliberty. Is it the nature of liberty that it must be seen as a process? Is itsfundamental nature something which is captured by the day-to-day choicesavailable to one, or the ability to act within predefined realms ofperogatives we call rights? Does the lack of opportunity caused by certainsocial arrangements constitute a threat to liberty? Unfortunately, it seems thatliberty is naturally a contentious term, with radically different notions between philosophies, but such a universally good association that peoplerarely would say they are anti-liberty, instead finding ways to define libertyso they need not oppose it. This makes the term, in the general case, almostuselessLINK.

LINK Anarcho-capitalists, as opposed to American Libertarians, would object tothe state enforcement, instead having private enforcement agencies and privatecourts/arbiters handling issues of this typeLINK Libertarians argue that increased property rights will lead to sufficientenvironmental protections, as presumably neighbours of a polluting plant couldthen sue because of damage to their property. However, this is unconvincingbecause much of the damage goes into the air or a landfill and thus, invisibly,hurts everyone, and the neighbours could easily be bought off, so the ecodamagewould still occur.LINK In addition to normal stockowner votesLINK Unlike, for example, patriotism, which has a less varied concept-word tie,and where the nearly universal positive connotation is for the concept, not theword. I can, for example, say that I am anti-patriotic and have it still bemeaningful.

Tags: philosophy
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