I. Introductory Remarks on the Work of Philosophy
There are, admittedly, just as many bad philosophers as bad anything-else. I recall the early days of the web, when every nouveau-cyperpunk had a "Philosophy" tab at the top of hisher home page, and that this invariably linked to half-page free-verse poems about how damn mysterious this cup of coffee is if you really think about it, and how nothing is true but Everything is One Great Truth, etc.
Philosophers are not good at finding more absolute truths, or truths more absolute, than other people. And they do not necessarily investigate truths more abstract (less practical) than the other sciences. What good philosophers are good at is quite simple: Showing how truths lead to other truths. When this is done deductively, it can give the impression that philosophy is very abstract/disconeected from the real world. But there is also good inductive philosophy; physics in fact was formerly called natural philosophy, and through Newton's time consisted largely of thinking. When reliable laws of mechanics were in place, the foundation existed for hard and separate experimental study of the world, and natural philosophy began to be called the philosophy of science. This is repeated over and over again with various disciplines: philosophy of mind->psychology, political philosophy->social sciences, logic->mathematics->computer science.
If many philosophers are in the habit of telling you what truths you should hold, I apologize on their behalf. They ought to be showing how truths that you do
hold lead to other truths that perhaps you don't realize you hold. Or at least lead to a discussion of other truths you hadn't entertained. A far cry from "philosophical banter which makes discourse completely useless (which seems to be the ultimate goal of all philosophical discussions)"
So when I speak about the "right" definition of property, or of coercion, or anything else, it's not to say everyone must submit to it. Mostly I'm describing what definition ought to be employed by the State, because of its power (established in a social contract) to abridge its citizens' rights under certain circumstances.
The question of public libraries came up in email. I'm in favor of them, and do not think they constitute a forced purchase of Enlightenment. I think that is what they provide, but not through forced purchase, because enlightenment is not a commodity. Enlightenment is just a normal, public, freely-duplicatable good (like software (: ). There isn't much profit to be had from such goods, except under special, unjust situations: suppose a fascist regime where reading/learning are banned in the case of enlightenment, or an IP regime with artificially high barriers to entry in the case of software. A profit-driven free market isn't the most efficient provider of public goods. That isn't an absolute truth derived from a theory of justice; it's a demonstrable fact of history, analytically explained by the free-rider problem.
Anyway, I think the ideal government is basically a firm, democratically organized, for producing such goods: defense, education, networking infrastructure (in this I include roads as well as broadband). This accords, in part, with libertarian principles, and I am more or less on a quest to see how much so. Perhaps I am a minarchist
though I'm not terribly fond of some of the names on their list.
Like libertarians, I distrust state power. I think states -- as authority -- have a mandate ONLY to secure people's rights -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the first few that come to mind. But states are not simply authorities. They enter into the economic picture as market agents, like it or not, and the difficulty is in defining their role carefully: what can/should the state purchase, and what can/should it produce? How should it do these things?
The public goods mentioned above are examples of things I feel the state should produce -- not because that's the only way to get them produced, but because evidence so far suggests that's the most efficient way, just as well-defined property rights have proven to be the most efficient way to allocate physical property (btw Allocation should be the name of that class we're trying to name).
All this can change. Information and search costs could be reduced so dramatically that barter again becomes the most efficient way to allocate physical property. Taking it further: suppose teleportation becomes feasible. This would support the libertarian-socialist theory of physical property -- i.e. what I am not presently using can by natural right be appropriated and used by someone else. Why not? I can zap whatever right over here whenever I need it, unless it's something really unusual like a fusion reactor, in which case I'll have to join a waiting list maybe.
So people should be free to enter into whatever sort of transactions they want to. I agree. When I say this or that property law -- physical or intellectual -- is "right" I don't mean that's the only mode by which people should be allowed to interact. Only that the nature of things -- which is a subject of philosophy -- determines the natural rights that accrue to them. So physical things because they are physical, imply a property right on the principle that something I'm holding onto and using cannot be taken from me without physical violence being done to me. Because I am human, physical violence cannot be done to me unless I started it.
Hence the right of the state to put you in jail if you cold-cock me and take my trophy
. But I can freely sell it to you for $1 (if I'm stupid) or $100,000,000 (if you're stupid). Libertarian principles don't care about that -- but they care very much about what the state can do.
Now if I write a song or a blog, and you copy/sell/distribute it, should the state have the power to jail you? We agree that it does not, because no physical coercion is necessary. We also agree that I can sell you a CD with that song on it for $10 (if you're stupid) or $100 (if you're really stupid). As you suggest, the definition of property is irrelevant, as long as the two agents agree. This is pluralism.
Let's see... what was this section called again... oh yeah
Lotteries are big, complex transactions entered into freely by all agents. They are also, in aggregate, a rotten deal for purchasers. Empirically, they end up being basically a voluntary tax on the poor. As voluntary, they are perfectly permissible on libertarian grounds. But from an ethical standpoint they're pretty awful.
Suppose I decide I don't want to work anymore, and instead I set myself up as a lottery, sell tickets, and take 30% off the top. People who buy my tickets are being screwed. In an individual person (me) these actions would ellicit assorted judgments: "he's a bad person," "that's not nice," "wow, he's crafty," "nice job figuring out a way to take advantage of people's wealth-fantasies for your own gain instead of doing any productive work". I'm free, everyone's free, and I might or might not care about any of these judgments about me.
The problem is that the State is the only agent with whom you are compelled
to do business as long as you reside there. A "voluntary tax" is oxymoronic if you think about it. The state has a mandate to accomplish X (disagree all you want on what X includes) and permission to impose the compulsory taxes required to accomplish that. If the state is incompetent to balance its budget, it doesn't get to tromp into the marketplace and set up a business (a lottery, a hardware store, or anything else), because it also serves as an authority over that marketplace, and its presence alongside other businesses is inherently anti-competitive.
This is an objection to state-run lotteries on libertarian principles. I'm curious about your reaction, because there are implications beyond the lottery.