Addendum: I’m sure Marvin is sick of Marvin the Martian references by this point in his life but I’m keeping the picture because Marvin the Martian my favorite WB character, and is apropos enough…
Other than that, please understand that this post is made with respect to Marvin, and made public in order to offer an organized presentation of some recent exchanges here on Notes On Liberty.
Man, things are really heating up on NoL!
I suspect the totally free society is where all civilizations started. Then someone stole something from someone else, and the people got together to deal with the problem of theft. The consensus decided that there should be a right to property, and they reached an agreement with each other to respect that right for each other and to come to each other’s aid when necessary to defend that right.
… with Marvin contemplating Buchanan’s constitutional moment. He continues with an amusing story of a quasi-voluntary provision of police, and an ad hoc ideological opposition from the first hold-out. He continued with a near analogous argument by a would be thief.
But I’m not going to follow that argument. For me, the interesting thing here, the pivotal term that tells us something meaningful about Marvin is “totally free”.
For Marvin, freedom means a lack of punishment for a given action. Therefore total freedom means no socially sanctioned punishment for any action. That state of affairs is one lacking in governance. The only person who remotely approaches that is Kim Jong-Un, but even he is ultimately constrained by (the apparently unlikely) possibility of revolution, and his near-total freedom is only within his borders. This contrasts with Brandon’s idea of mutually consistent freedom which depends on individuals having the right to not be subject to coercion.
Following Marvin’s commentary has been confusion over the terms liberty, freedom, and rights. What we all think of when we hear the term “free society” would not have what Marvin calls total freedom. This in turn has lead to dispute over the term law. Let me offer my own clarifications, focusing on the issue of law and rules.
When Dr. Foldvary used the term “truly free” he had in mind a situation with governance, but without top-down intervention. Marvin, I suspect, has confused this for a situation entirely lacking governance, or at least effective governance. I think this has roots in his belief that competition for scarce resources, as directed through the profit and loss system, will lead to unchecked cheating (e.g. pollution) in the absence of some disinterested third-party to enforce rules that reasonable people, if they’re being honest, would agree to. There are two problems with this:
First, the unmentioned one, is that the government isn’t a disinterested third-party and rules aren’t set behind a veil of ignorance (ensuring honest agreement among reasonable people). Marvin starts with the Hobbesian Jungle and arrives at the position that there is something like a social contract whereby we all (implicitly) agree to rules (restrictions on our choice set) for our mutual betterment. I don’t disagree that rules restrict our choice set and can (can!) be for our mutual betterment. What’s missing is the appreciation for the distinction between constitutional and post-constitutional rules (but that a can of worms unto itself). Beyond issues of incompatible incentives, there are also significant information problems.
Second, the government isn’t the only source of governance. Brandon and Marvin both use the term “law” in an all-encompassing way. I prefer Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation. Law, is the set of informal institutions that underlie (we hope) formal legislation. Law is emergent, but legislation is static (although it does change, just in punctuated equilibria). When government is responsive legislation will simply codify law, but when the two diverge it sets the stage for upheaval.
With that in mind, let me briefly respond to Marvin’s question:
In response to the loss of lives in the mining and manufacturing industries, government regulation requires safety precautions and inspections, like under OSHA. Should this type of regulation be eliminated to make the market “truly free”?
First off, nobody here is advocating for an unbound choice set. “Truly free” should be understood to mean “free from external [i.e. government] coercion, rule-setting, and back-room politics that are enforced at gun point.” With that in mind, the basic regulatory framework will be based on property rights and voluntary choice. Mines that acquire a reputation for being unsafe will soon be unable to find workers, unless they increase their wages. If we see poor working conditions at low pay, it doesn’t mean an injustice is being done, it means that the people working there see it as their best available option.
I think Brandon and Marvin have been largely talking past each other, but despite that the conversation has been interesting. I would like to see them engage in a debate on some particular topic. I propose that we find a topic agreeable to both, they both respond to that topic, open comments ensue for a few days, then each writes their final thoughts in a second blog post. I will summarize their points here.