Libertarians: Easier to Wedge than Lefties.

Jason Soon is called a “Singapore Libertarian” by another person. He in turn refers to others as “gun nuts”. And so on it goes.

The central problem of libertarianism is that it is a doctrinaire movement. Funnily enough this was diagnosed by the archdeacon of archdoctrine, Murray Rothbard, in a review of Marxist theories of left wing and right wing diversions from the cause. Left wing diversion was refusing to accept any compromise at all, sacrificing any potential gains on the altar of purity. Right wing diversion was being eager to be seen to fit into the establishment, to give too much up, to deny the heritage and ultimate goals of the movement.

Australian Libertarianism as it stands today seems to have kicked off a left-right bunfight of truly trot proportions, all to do with gun control in Australia.

The ideology of gun control and the right or otherwise to bear arms is American. We cannot fool ourselves otherwise: it is of an American origin. In Australia we ape the gun control debates of the USA. Those Australian libertarians who are pro-gun believe that their possession is a natural right, that they reduce crime through deterrence and that they form the core foundation of a resistance should tyranny arrive in this country from abroad or at home. They do not import what is to my mind the simplest and most potent argument in the USA: the fairly clear text of the Second Amendment.

Those Australian libertarians who favour gun control argue that possession of arms is not a natural right, that the research linking weapon ownership and lower crime is discredited or faulty and that the possession of guns do not prevent tyrannical behaviour, if Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are anything to go by. I’d have to add to the last argument that the ownership of small arms doesn’t matter any more, so much as access to explosives for IEDs.

All of this argumentation is destructive to the libertarian cause. Australians at large do not care about this debate. People are concerned about their jobs, their families, their friends, the organisations they take part in, the entertainment they receive. They tend not to care about guns when massacres are rare and possession uncommon. They care quite rightly about their daily lives. Libertarians should care about that too.

I have in the past argued that Australian libertarians, including and in particular the Liberal Democratic Party, should focus on “low hanging fruit”. These are policies which are simple, effective and which would have wide and immediate impact in the life of most Australians. I consider the LDP’s 30/30 income tax plan to be an outstanding example of such an effort, and I think it’s exactly the sort of policy they should focus on come election time.

The other reason that I argue for the low hanging fruit approach is that I have lost my taste for grand sweeping changes. I have gone through Mises and Rothbard, Hayek and Friedman and others of their like and been presented with various encompassing visions of greater and lesser detail. Several of them are very compelling, and for each there are acolytes eager to push the line that they should be transitioned too as fast as possible, lest special interests seen them slain. For a time I agreed.

But going back to computer science has helped me to rediscover modesty — at least I hope so — in particular the idea that the world has long since passed beyond the wit of any man or woman, no matter how brilliant. The low hanging fruit idea comes from the lessons of software optimisation: that you should do it piece by piece, making sure that each step moves from proven software to proven software, rather than trying to make several leaps at once. That way lies uncertainty, confusion, madness and probably failure.

That is why I see libertarianism not as a project of revolution within the form, not as a sudden transition from imperfection to perfection. It is the project of lifetimes. It is a project of not allowing the perfect to prevent the good, but rather of letting the good illuminate the perfect.

Most of all, libertarians must remain patient with their own. As a movement it is filled with the determined, the righteous and the intelligent. But it needs goodwill: goodwill and the understanding that if we create moral absolutes about matters in which people of good faith can disagree, soon there will be no good faith and the only moral absolute will be to destroy the other people.

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115 Responses to Libertarians: Easier to Wedge than Lefties.

  1. Sacha says:

    Skimming over the fight at Catallaxy, part of the argument seemed to be about whether people were truly libertarian or not, which is moreso an argument about labels and people’s conceptions of them than anything else. As well as being an argument of trot proportions, it’s the kind of argument that those on the far-left sometimes engage in.

  2. Rafe Champion says:

    I am not certain whether I am a proper libertarian but I like the idea of joining a movement that is filled with righteous, determined and intelligent people. And goodwill too! I wonder if they all barrack for the Eels as well? But seriously, the idea of going for the low hanging fruit is good, likewise the suggestion to go easy on matters where people of good faith can disagree.

    It is desperatly difficult to sort out the relationship between gun ownership and crime, cross-nation comparisons (Australia vs the US and Iraq) studies prove little because there are confounded by profound differences in culture and local circumstances (there is a war going on there).

    Legalisation of drugs is another bugbear, whatever the purists say, the short-term effect of legalisation will be increased use and that is going to be bad news for a lot of people. That does not justify the heavy handed war on drugs, US style, but it means that legalisation is going to have zero appeal to the average Joe in the street for some time to come.

  3. John Drennan says:

    Hey Guys,

    Congratulations on your inclusion in the ‘Ultimate Aussie Blogroll Top 100’.

    Club Troppo is ranked #86.

    You’ll never guess who’s at #1.

    I found it in the right sidebar here.

    John

  4. Spot on Jacques.

    I am going to have to Missing Link all this stuff because if nothing else it is fascinating… in the same way a trainwreck is fascinating :(

  5. I’m all for appealing to moderate reform as well, but I don’t think that should stop people who support the LDP from discussing more radical ideas. Catalaxy is not an official blog for the LDP either and no one claims to speak for it. It would be a shame if Jason did follow through on his intention to abandon the party though.

    I guess the problem for a party like the LDP which advocates freedom, free speech and individualism is the difficulty in party members towing the party line. A unified front may be required to gain parliamentary representation, but enforcing a party line may undermine support amongst its most intelligent and intellectual proponents. Herding cats is the typical analogy.

  6. Hey, that’s my line Brendan! (Herding cats I mean). I really don’t like these libertarian purity debates, though. As I said over at Catallaxy, I joined the LDP for its 30/30 policy – which Jacques rightly focusses on.

    My sympathy for the gun-owners position is not so much rights based as cultural. I dislike it when a group of people are pathologised, which is undoubtedly what happened to Australian shooters after Port Arthur. To me, that’s a separate issue from whether the laws were actually necessary or not.

  7. I really liked your post Jacques. And for modesty one could also substitute ‘conservatism’.

    And if you expand the sentiment in your post (or perhaps wait a decade or two) you end up as a conservative liberal social democrat!

  8. Jacques Chester says:

    Nicholas;

    I was reminded as I wrote the ditty above about Oakeshott’s analogy of changing the planks of a wooden ship once at a time rather than in great big swathes, to avoid sinking. Since he made the argument in support of conservatism I can see your point.

    For my own understanding I still prefer to think in terms of optimisation and understanding complex programs. In particular the variously-attributed rule that “premature optimisation is the root of all evil”, which speaks to the fact that sometimes what seems like a good optimisation simply make things harder to understand and therefore prevents future optimisation. It also speaks to the fact that you should build a system before tuning it: the Lispers like to say “make it work, make it right, make it fast – in that order”.

  9. It looks to me as if the LDP 30/30 policy is read by some as the .303 policy.

    I didn’t realise that “Singapore Libertarian” could be an insult. I’ll file it away.

  10. Jacques Chester says:

    Brendan;

    I have previously flirted with the notion of joining the LDP and I was told that uniquely amongst most political parties it had very little grip on its members. That said my point is not really about who speaks for whom, but rather about who calls whom a traitor to the cause. That sort of bickering serves nobody’s ends.

    At the risk of sounding like a wishy washy consultant or primary school teacher in the staffroom, what is needed is consensus-building. Libertarianism is served best by working out what is agreed on and what isn’t. I have objections to the 30/30 plan, but I am prepared to speak about it favourably because it has qualities which recommend it over a “purer” plan, such as its comprehensibility and chances of appealing to ordinary Australians.

    I wrote a paper about this which I planned to present to the CLP up here in the NT, but which I never got around to doing (in the event it proved unnecessary). In it I spoke a little about consensus forming through approval voting, which might work for the LDP.

  11. Patrick says:

    Indeed N Gruen – as I scanned through the comments I had in mind something very similar – Jacques’s path to conservativism looks shorter than it does long.

    It is a good place to be, Jacques, so you needn’t worry :)

    I used to think I was libertarian, too, until I realised that I believed in ‘low-hanging fruit’ and, more importantly, the inherent limits of our knowledge, more than I actually believed in greater freedom right here and right now.

    And I didn’t even need to study computers to get to that effect – just thinking about them was sufficient for me ;)

  12. conrad says:

    I agree too. Its a dull old issue that should be a tiny spot in a much wider and much more interesting and important agenda. Alternatively, its an interesting social phenomena that organizations get swamped by people focused more on minor issues. The same lack of representativeness appears true of the major parties in many ways — its interesting, for instance, how religious so many of the politicians seem to be (Rudd, Howard, Beazly, Abott…), despite the low level overall level of practising people in the population who vote for them.

  13. Ken Lovell says:

    … in particular the idea that the world has long since passed beyond the wit of any man or woman, no matter how brilliant.

    Amen. My thoughts exactly when I read the depressingly repetitious ‘debates’ abut global warming.

  14. As the source of the “Singapore libertarian” term, I think I am entitled to correct the misrepresentations here and comment on the other points.

    My actual words were:

    Because you are the Singapore libertarian here Jason – economic freedom is fine but you

  15. Ben S says:

    Jacques,

    I actually did bring up the whole Violent overthrow of the Government thing in said bunfight. I think it’s something we got away without needing to have thanks in large part to the sacrifices of our American homies. They did the hard yards so we could essentially declare ourselves a federation without too much hassle from Mother England.

    Having said that I couldn’t agree more about the low hanging fruit and I’m not about to start name calling even though I do find it rather frustrating that there are people who identify as Libertarians who want gun control.

  16. Jason Soon says:

    Because you are the Singapore libertarian here Jason – economic freedom is fine but you

  17. Great article, Jacques. However, while little rifts like this will happen I think the libertarian movement in this country will continue to progress based on the strength and rationality of the classical liberalist position, coupled with a sincere desire to improve the human condition. Vigorous (and even aggressive) debate like the gun debate is good from time to time.

  18. Jason Soon says:

    A problem only arises when a member tries to impose his or her particular selectivity on the rest of the party

    How did I impose my selectivity on the rest of the party, David? By disagreeing with you? By disagreeing with your attempt to impugn me as an authoritarian because I disagree with you?

    Do keep talking more, you’re winning more members like this.

    I have no intention of revising my resignation when it is full of obnoxious prats like David. I’ve already said I’m perfectly happy for David and his merry brand of shooters to hijack the party, that’s why I left it. How is that ‘imposing my selectivity on the rest of the party’.

  19. David Rubie says:

    Jason Soon wrote:

    Gun control cannot at all be compared to paternalistic laws or laws about imposing one

  20. How many Libertarians does it take to change a lightbulb?

  21. Jason Soon says:

    2 – one to shoot it off and one to install a new one.

  22. And twenty more. Ten to argue that turning it back on is interfering with the rights of those who don’t want it on. (And ten to argue that leaving it off is an interference with those who want it on).

  23. conrad says:

    I agree with your irony Jason. Actually, thinking about it, it reminds me of a parallel situation with green parties all over the world. They get swamped by the socialist left — Then when a situation turns up where there is a good trade-off between environmental action and some socialist cause, the second of these wins, despite the part obstensibly being a green party. I seem to remember this happened with Bob Brown and the Telstra sale.

    On a simialr note, it would be interesting to know to what extent LDP members would trade off things like gun restrictions for economic liberalism, or whether you have a party full of people unwilling to compromise on minor issues for major ones.

  24. James Farrell says:

    Jacques

    So where do you in fact stand on the right to own guns? You’ve explained that you wouldn’t want to antagonise the Australian public by campaigning against accepted wisdom on a second order issue. And I gather that you don’t believe there’s a natural right to carry a gun. But if the public was open minded and open to persuasion, would you be keen to move toward deregulation, at least in cautious steps?

  25. Ben S says:

    Jason Wrote:

    by comparing guns to drugs, seem to think that ownership of a gun has no consequences outside the boundaries of one

  26. Mr Denmore says:

    Jacques hit the nail on the head. The problem with liberatarianism is its doctrinaire nature. The interiminable debates between libertarians of different schools is reminscient of the arguments among the Marxist left a few decades ago -full of accusations of false consciousness. The Marxists all grew up, got married, had kids and got real. I expect the libertarians will do the same. We’re all liberal social democrats now.

  27. Jason Soon says:

    Have you ever seen someone who has been smoking crystal meth for three days straight? Ask a doctor or nurse who has had to admit someone for Crystal Overdose what it

  28. Jason Soon says:

    The interiminable debates between libertarians of different schools is reminscient of the arguments among the Marxist left a few decades ago -full of accusations of false consciousness. The Marxists all grew up, got married, had kids and got real. I expect the libertarians will do the same.

    So homos, singles and childless couples aren’t grown up, I take it, Mr Denmore?

  29. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link

  30. David McAlary says:

    Jason

    Let me assure you that as the president of the LDP, I am not a gun owner, don’t like guns and am not a gun freak.

    As a constituency however, gun owners are a large and disaffected group which no other party seems to be reaching out to (except for the Shooters Party in NSW).

    The LDP policy on gun ownership is libertarian, and plays well to this important target group (look how well the shooters party did in NSW).

    The LDP is however aware that the issue of gun ownership is either a non issue or a turn off for the wider electorate.

  31. Mark Hill says:

    “The problem with liberatarianism is its doctrinaire nature.”

    Funny this gets said:

    I am very strongly libertarian. I would consider myself utilitarian and pragmatic – the “doctrines” fit what I know.

    Libertarians never engage in the bizzare ritual that communists do, “growing up” and then joining whichever party will accpet them. We simply want people to have choices, and to let property rights be a central determinant of this – as a non property owner, you still have a choice – you own your own body. Somehow this makes us bohemians who are totally inflexible, unitl, of course we grow up. There really are some superstituous communists, fascists, social democrats and conservatives out there.

    The degree of course which libertarianism is “doctrinaire” is probably proportional to how doctrinaire one holds the idea of centralised idea making.

    Remember if you are too flexible you stand for nothing and your political career will have nothing to do with representation but merely power. You may well be quite successful. We want success, but that kind of success isn’t what we aim for nor why libertarians join parties and engage in debate.

  32. Jason Soon says:

    I accept what you’re saying, David. My gripe isn’t with you or the moderate members of the party or even the immoderate but reasonable gunsters like Mark Hill, but those who have made it very clear that the right to bear arms is actually “fundamental” to libertarianism and can’t accept that there is a difference between being ‘selective’ about one’s libertarianism vs being consequentualist from the very start and therefore regarding laissez faire as a presumption rather than a verse in a hymnbook.

  33. Jason Soon says:

    PS my last comment was directed at David McAlary.

  34. Mr Denmore says:

    Libertarians never engage in the bizzare ritual that communists do,

  35. being consequentualist from the very start

    That essentially means we have no inherent liberties doesn’t it? All our rights are given to us by the government, and therefore can be taken away?

    No wonder you are becoming a social democrat if that’s where you’re coming from.

  36. Jason Soon says:

    So you’re not a consequentualist, David? And all consequentialists are social democrats? That would lead to the purging of everyone except maybe Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard from the libertarian canon.

    And I presume you stand by all your previous statements including this one?

    http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2007/04/08/australias-us-insurance-policy/#comment-7112

    There is a case for military intervention where it will prevent profound coercion of fellow human beings. Yes, they are foreigners, but I don

  37. Jason Soon says:

    Also I think it’s rather inconsistent to claim that governments can’t design and implement gun control regulations which produce a net social benefit of less armed homicide but can somehow reconstruct fractious societies from the ground up and turn them into liberal democracies.

  38. How does this square with a non-consequentialist natural rights position on libertarianism?

    We each have our exceptions Jason. That’s mine. I’m willing to look the other way, within certain limits, if my taxes are used to promote liberty, democracy and the rule of law in other countries (eg East Timor, Sudan and Iraq). I could argue that it’s good for Australia in the long run, but I concede it’s coercive on those who disagree and whose taxes are used along with mine. I also acknowledge it would preferable if such things were undertaken in a private capacity.

    I don’t call those who disagee with my view obnoxious pricks, dicks, or other rude names though. I don’t have huge childish dummy spits either. I agree to just disagree and get along.

    I also don’t see how this view is consequentialist. Iraqis et al have inherent rights although they may need a functioning government to enforce them. Otherwise the Somalis, who haven’t had a government for years, wouldn’t have any rights at all.

  39. Jason Soon says:

    No, you certainly don’t call people names, you just constantly goad them and refer to them as authoritarians if they have exceptions, but apparently yours are fine. Your were only called an ‘obnoxious prat’ here is because you claimed that:

    A problem only arises when a member tries to impose his or her particular selectivity on the rest of the party. That was the nub of the disagreement over gun control.

    This was a complete misrepresentation of the debate at Catallaxy when, for not the first time, you accused everyone who does not toe your ‘gun rights are fundamental’ line of being authoritarians.

  40. There is a very big difference between the government spending our taxes on foreign charity of which we disapprove and preventing people from effectively protecting themselves from robbery and violence.

    Both are coercive, but gun control is unquestionably authoritarian. It is a significant element in achieving the monopoly of the state over the use of coercive force. I believe that’s self evident, but I’ll explain if you like.

    You might think I am goading you, but you choose how to respond Jason.

    I won’t discuss the background to the quoted sentence here as it involves others as well.

  41. It would be really terrific if you two buried the hatchet and appreciated the extent to which you agree with each other. Both of you are assets to the LDP and – speaking as a fully paid up member – I think you’re both needed. And that’s not just in the LDP but in Australian society generally. You are both genuine individuals with something to contribute.

    Yes you’ve both got your weaknesses – Jason’s got a short fuse and David needles people. I’ve got mine, too (well enough known for me not to have to enumerate them here). If we can’t see past those weaknesses to the real person behind the keyboard, we really are screwed to the max.

    I’m sincerely asking Jason to reconsider cancelling his membership, and calling on both of you to agree to disagree. That may mean some compromise (like editing the Jeffersonian waffle at the start of the LDP’s firearms policy).

    Just a few thoughts.

  42. That may mean some compromise (like editing the Jeffersonian waffle at the start of the LDP

  43. Ben S says:

    Jason Says:

    My liberalism is solely consequentualist

    Ah and so we are at an impasse. The utilitarian benefits of Liberty for me are merely a happy coincidence and make it fun to argue certain points. I’m a Libertarian because I believe it’s morally right and accept it, warts n all.

    For mine Utilitarians are Idealists in that they wish to make the world a better place. I like Liberty because it allows people to become whatever they think they want to be, no matter the consequences to themselves. Total personal Freedom with total personal Responsibility.

    I believe in the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” because I think everyone should have the right to choose what makes them happy with no restrictions imposed except those that allow everyone access to the same freedoms. So I think people should be allowed to walk around with as many Guns as they can carry if they think it makes them happy. If they shoot someone then they have denied them their rights and should be punished for it.

    I don’t think we should really ever change the laws to pre-emptively minimize risk that people might hurt other people. I may be extreme but I think that this analogous to Socialism.

  44. Distantobserver says:

    Ben S says: “So I think people should be allowed to walk around with as many Guns as they can carry if they think it makes them happy. If they shoot someone then they have denied them their rights and should be punished for it.”

    So why shouldn’t businesses be allowed to put whatever they want into sausages and mince, or be allowed to add antifreeze to wine or olive oil? Why should people preparing food be forced to wear gloves and follow hygiene requirements? Why do we have so many regulations requiring testing of new medicines before they can be sold, and why do only license some people to prescribe medicines and sell some of them? We could do away with all these laws and regulations, and if businesses or individuals poison someone they could be punished for it.

    A lot of people (apparently a majority) believe that the reason why we have laws regulating individual behaviours is that it is better to try and prevent some things rather than deal with the mess later.

    None of these public health laws and regulations reduce the likelihood of poisoning to zero, of course, and there are well known examples of people selling things with dangerous additives, or drugs turning out to be dangerous, or people choosing to use home remedies that are either ineffective or dangerous. People continue to die because the laws don’t reduce the occurrence of poisoning of this sort to zero. But the laws exist because lawmakers for some reason believe that these regulations have reduced the risk of poisoning to below what it would otherwise be.

    To me the crucial questions are (1) whether laws do actually reduce these risks, and (2) whether the benefit of these reduced risks outweigh the costs of reduced freedom.

    Now the interesting thing about question (1) is that quite a number of the anti-gun law people appear to believe that gun control laws reduce these risks by exactly zero percent, but that allowing anyone to walk around with as many guns as they can carry would reduce the risks by close to 100%. This seems to me to be more like an article of faith than a reasonable discussion of complex issues with multi-causal factors.

    Very few of the comments over at Catallaxy or on past blogs discussing these issues actually discuss question (2). Perhaps this is because people whose relatives have been killed by guns or who have committed suicide (not me personally) tend to get emotional about this sort of dispassionate cost-benefit analysis, so it is easier to argue (1).

    I think it is true that you could change the gun laws in some countries and nothing might happen – for a while at least. The Swiss would remain the Swiss and the Americans would remain the Americans, and if you had no gun laws in Australia, the Australians would remain the Australians and not necessarily behave like either the Swiss or the Americans.

    But perhaps laws and culture interact over time. Over time would Australians behave more like the Swiss or more like the Americans?

  45. the crucial questions are (1) whether laws do actually reduce these risks, and (2) whether the benefit of these reduced risks outweigh the costs of reduced freedom.

    That’s a good place to start.

    Now the interesting thing about question (1) is that quite a number of the anti-gun law people appear to believe that gun control laws reduce these risks by exactly zero percent, but that allowing anyone to walk around with as many guns as they can carry would reduce the risks by close to 100%.

    No, nobody argues either proposition. Certain gun control laws (eg preventing violent criminals from having access to guns) reduce the risk of gun crime. That’s the reason the NRA supports the background check system in the US. Second, nobody argues that liberal gun laws eliminate gun crime. At most, certain types of crime are reduced.

    Very few of the comments over at Catallaxy or on past blogs discussing these issues actually discuss question (2).

    I agree. In fact, there is a presumption in favour of control. Those who argue for liberty are expected to provide all the justification.

    if you had no gun laws in Australia, the Australians would remain the Australians and not necessarily behave like either the Swiss or the Americans.

    Undoubtedly true. We would be less well behaved than the Swiss but not as lawless as the Americans, just as we are now. Guns would make little difference except that individuals would be able to defend themselves if they wish.

  46. Distantobserver says:

    David – you say: “No, nobody argues either proposition”

    Well over at Catallaxy, they say:

    Comment 31: All anti-gun laws do is to bureaucratise gun ownership among law-abiding people. Criminals and maddies will get them any way.

    Comment 51:

  47. Jason Soon says:

    Exactly, we never even got to point (2) because the pro-gun side weren’t even willing to concede point (1).

  48. Ben S says:

    Distantobserver spake thus:

    So why shouldn

  49. Distantobserver, I think we are talking about different things. I was responding to your statement:

    quite a number of the anti-gun law people appear to believe that gun control laws reduce these risks by exactly zero percent, but that allowing anyone to walk around with as many guns as they can carry would reduce the risks by close to 100%.

    I said, nobody argues either of these propositions. What I meant was, nobody says gun control laws reduce the risk by zero percent. Nor does anyone say that absence of gun laws reduces the risk by 100%.

    It goes without saying that some gun control laws will reduce the risk to some extent. And of course unlimited concealed carry will not reduce the risk by 100%. It might not reduce the risk very much at all.

    The only issue, as you rightly put it in your first post, is:

    whether the benefit of these reduced risks outweigh the costs of reduced freedom

    My consistent argument has been that the presumption must be in favour of liberty. That is, those who would reduce freedom must have a compelling case. No such case exists in respect of most gun control laws. They are about control, nothing more.

  50. Distantobserver says:

    David

    You again say that nobody says that gun laws reduce the risk by zero per cent, but then could you give me an interpretation of what most of those quotes from the Catallaxy thread are supposed to mean – for example “the exact same violent crime rate” . I asked the same question over there – do laws reduce the risk of murders of this sort – and two people (191 and 195) directly say they believe laws have no effect.

    I agree that the final quote doesn’t say that violent crime would go down by 100% if everyone was allowed to carry guns – but it does express 100% certainty (“irrefutable fact”) that deaths in this sort of case would be lower if more people carried guns. Indeed. the starting point of the Catallaxy thread was this proposition.

    Now I think that both arguments – that gun control laws reduce risks and that risks can also be reduced by more people carrying guns – are logical. Both of course could also be tautological. Personally, however, I find it difficult to see how a hypothetical situation can ever be an irrefutable fact.

    Now if you have two logical arguments with opposing policy implications, my view is that you need to look for evidence about which would be the more effective policy at the lower social costs.

    You say that you start from the presumption of liberty so that proponents of gun laws have to prove their case to you rather than you prove your case to them. With respect, I think this is a cop-out (but then I never studied moral libertarianism 101). It’ s a cop-out because it starts with the assumption that the right to bear guns enhances liberty, but that by definition democratic laws that reduce some liberties in order to increase others can’t produce higher overall liberty.

    In this context just to refer to BenS’ s comment, death is the ultimate infringement of liberty and for the individual who is killed no compensation is possible (under current technology at least). This is why laws are written to try to prevent things before they happen, rather than simply punish or compensate after the event.

  51. do laws reduce the risk of murders of this sort – and two people (191 and 195) directly say they believe laws have no effect.

    It is fairly well accepted that laws preventing violent criminals and the mentally ill from having access to firearms prevents some violent crime. The NRA agrees, which is why it supports the National Instant Check System. This is a system that links to the FBI computer and enables gun dealers to verify that a purchaser is not a prohibited person.

    If you are referring to laws that severely restrict the availabilty of firearms in addition to that kind of screening, then there is no evidence they influence firearms crime. Those who go to the trouble of buying their guns legally are by definition law-abiding. Criminals, quite obviously, are not.

    deaths in this sort of case would be lower if more people carried guns

    There is evidence for that. In the US, those states that issue concealed carry permits observe a reduction in certain types of crime including public massacres. The explanation is that potential perpetrators are unable to determine whether they are likely to receive return fire. Even those who dispute this evidence generally agree there is no increase in crime as a result of more people carrying guns.

    it starts with the assumption that the right to bear guns enhances liberty

    Not so. The presumption is that the government has no right to infringe liberty without compelling reasons. Such reasons do not exist here. Liberty is not created, it exists by itself. Governments can only limit it.

    death is the ultimate infringement of liberty and for the individual who is killed no compensation is possible

    The risk of death from legally owned guns is small by any measure. There are many every day items that cause more deaths. If the risk of death of the same proportions is to be used as justification for the government to infringe liberty, many things would be prohibited or severely restricted.

  52. Sigh. First, debates about “libertarian purity” are misunderstood. It is of course possible to be more “pure”, but that doesn’t make somebody more “correct”. The goal of public policy should be to be more “correct”.

    For example, I don’t think anybody would debate my libertarian “purity”, but that proves nothing. In each debate we have to address the issues on their merits. That is (as Jason says) use freedom as a starting assumption but reach our conclusions based on consequentialist reasoning. Using “purity” as a guide to “correctness” is to assume the truth of libertarianism and argue backwards. That is not the correct approach.

    I’m loathe to enter the actual gun debate as it seems like it’s got quite angry. My position is that people should be free unless there is a reason for their freedom to be reduced. Without wanting to go into too many details of what should and shouldn’t be legal I think it’s fairly easy to say that the 1996 tightening of the gun laws were not justified on consequentialist grounds and so should be repealed. As this doesn’t involve conceal & carry (and is mostly about restrictions on sporting shooters) that is perhaps a position Jason could consider as at least semi-reasonable.

    I don’t know how debates about “authoritarianism” help as I don’t think there is a clear meaning behind that word. However, there is a clear meaning behind the word “coercion” and both the Iraq war and stricter gun laws meet that definition. I opposed both on consequentialist grounds.

    The LDP is a small party and as such it is not difficult for a dedicated member to have significant input into the policy process. We welcome good contributions and suggestions and are always keen to improve either the substance or rhetoric of our policies. The best path forward in that case is to offer an actual alternative and clearly highlight the suggested differences. That can then be debated by party members and the executive to try and find a solution that best represents the interest of the Australian libertarian & classical liberal community.

    Finally — it is worth stressing that the party is not one person and could already be understood as having three mini-factions. DavidL and his “conservative” (ie pro-war, pro-gun) faction is one important element and also incorporates important libertarians such as Tex & Mick Sutcliffe. But we also have a “moderate” faction, including our President David McAlary (and many Catallaxy readers) and a “radical” faction with myself, Mark Hill & Terje (and generally the ALS crowd). The small-government constituency in Australia is sufficiently small so that we need to work together on our issues of agreement — tax, spending, privatisation, civil liberties, free speech.

    I’m not asking Jason to like DavidL. I know his approach can sometimes be less than agreeable. But the story of the LDP and the federal election is not the story of two people, but of ideas. Those ideas will do better if Jason is inside the tent.

  53. Nicely put John H – the bit about ideologies being starting presumptions and orientations, not finishing points.

    Sadly on both the left and right there are very strong tendencies to judging what is ‘politically correct’ on initial impressions and ideologies. Drives me nuts.

    Andrew’s Leigh’s recent foray seems to suggest that the 1996 gun laws were warranted on consequentialist grounds – what say you?

  54. David Rubie says:

    Look at it this way: what would you call a political system that
    regulates its subjects activities on a minute-by-minute basis; that
    often requires of its citizens prior restraint on freedom of speech;
    that controls where its subjects go, what they wear, and who they talk
    to; that restricts online reading material in a Beijing-style manner;
    that has a rigid hierarchy to enforce edicts from the upper echelons
    and do routine surveillance of the rank and file; that denies its
    subjects privacy even to the point of demanding the right to examine
    their urine; and that punishes infractions by permanent banishment?

    Some people would call it a dictatorship. But many of us call it “the
    workplace.”

    From here

    (It’s at least funny).

  55. Jacques Chester says:

    I found this comment appropriate to my original post:

    If you are ganged up on by Libertarians, the best thing to do is just remain silent. They

  56. What’s your view of the respective merits of the two pieces of work David?

    I hope for the sake of their shooting colleagues that their aim is better with guns than it is with econometrics.

  57. David Rubie says:

    While semi-automatics are certainly capable of firing rapidly, it is possible to load and fire almost as rapidly with the other kinds of firearms. Certainly quickly enough to shoot a lot of people if you were so inclined.

    The rapid (pardon the pun) take up of semi-automatic and automatic fire arms by the armed forces in WWII would indicate that they are vastly more efficient. If the laws only save a few people, they are still justified on that simple basis – there are no logical counter arguments that carry anywhere near the same weight. Arguing that a nutter will kill people anyway is absurd – they will most definitely kill less if access to that kind of weapon is restricted – the gun companies don’t just make them for show, they make them because they are more effective (something we definitely don’t need in this context).

  58. If the laws only save a few people, they are still justified on that simple basis – there are no logical counter arguments that carry anywhere near the same weight.

    That’s a simple assertion of your personal values.

    If saving just “a few people” is sufficient justification for laws, speed limits should be set at 40km everywhere. It would save almost 2,000 lives a year plus thousands more in injuries.

  59. David Rubie says:

    DavidLeyonhjelm said:

    If saving just

  60. but is done properly with guns

    I doubt if you would say gun licensing is done properly if you were familiar with the process. It’s farcical.

    There is also no licensing of firearm owners (or their guns) according to “potential lethality”.

    A big difference between car and firearm licences is that you don’t need a car licence unless you use the public roads. There are no restrictions on driving a car on your own property. You cannot even touch a firearm on your own property unless you have a firearms licence.

  61. Jason Soon says:

    Here we go again around the merry circle. Either
    1) claim gun laws can’t be perfectly enforced and therefore we shouldn’t have them (is that true of other laws)
    2) claim one gun is no more lethal than another and guns are no more lethal than other tools like butter knives that actually have other uses besides hurting people or shooting at beer cans
    3) if that doesn’t work roll out the X is more dangerous than guns furphy. In this case, David chooses to run with cars, otherwise it could be coffee or beer. Cars are a poor choice. Efficient transport is crucial to our economy, consumer welfare and our way of life. Getting things from A to B before they spoil, getting people to the hospital, getting the kids to school. Guns don’t have any other use in an urban environment aside from defending yourself against other people with guns. I grant that farmers may need them and I don’t think there’s any need to ban all guns and I don’t have a problem with gun clubs. But to compare guns to cars is just ridiculous.

  62. David Rubie says:

    You cannot even touch a firearm on your own property unless you have a firearms licence.

    You claim that gun licensing isn’t done based on potential lethality, yet complain that you can’t use a gun on private property unless properly licensed? Why would we have these rules unless it has been decided that guns are in a special category compared to other crafted metal objects?

    Unlike Jason, I think the analogy between cars and guns might have some legs. Both are potentially lethal objects that require training to use and in the hands of nutters can cause a lot of problems. The analogy does break down when we consider the far greater usefulness of cars compared to guns (as Jason rightly points out), but to argue that we don’t restrict guns (and to some extent, cars) based on potential lethality is farcical.

    However, I do think it’s useful for the LDP to keep re-iterating these kinds of policies so reasonable people know to stay the hell away from this organisation.

  63. Jason Soon says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest cars can’t be lethal David. But cars are not manufactured and bought primarily for their lethality.

  64. David Rubie says:

    …and that, back when I was a kiddie, was called taking your bat and ball and going home in a huff. Now I want some cordial.

  65. Jason Soon says:

    David L, why the anger against David R?

    Didn’t you say on the Catallaxy gun thread that all you were doing was defending LDP policy?

  66. Jason — what anger? In life it’s generally not a good idea to debate somebody who has no interest in a debate. By intentionally confusing DavidL for the LDP just for the sake of insult, it’s fair for DavidL to think that Rubie wasn’t honestly interested in debate.

    I believe Jason has seriously misunderstood the libertarian argument on guns. The argument is not (as he claims) that if a law can’t be perfectly enforced it shouldn’t exist. That’s a strawman. The argument is that the overly strict gun laws do not provide a net benefit. One reason is that they generally do not disarm criminals.

    The argument is not (as he claims) that all guns & objects are equally lethal. Of course they’re not. But if somebody claims “bad guns because they can kill” that obviously doesn’t make sense because lots of things can kill and we don’t ban them. Instead, the argument should come back to whether overly strict gun laws create a net benefit.

    Jason stresses that other objects have uses other than killing people. So do guns. They are generally used for (1) sport; (2) killing animals on a farm; or (3) self-defence, where they are primarily a threat to disuade killing/rape/robbery. Further, I can’t see how the intent of an object should matter. If one gun was created for sport and another for killing but they are identical, they should be treated equally. What matters is (once again) the net benefit and/or cost of the laws.

    Jason then says if the above strawman arguments don’t work, then we resort to saying other things are more dangerous. Of course the previous strawman arguments aren’t true — that’s why we don’t use them. But we don’t “resort” to other strawmen. Indeed, the consistent theme of the libertarian gun position is that overly strict laws do not create a net benefit. Everything else is a distraction.

    As for “cars are more dangerous than guns”, it’s not really relevant except in response to the anti-gun argument that we should ban anything that’s dangerous or that “even if it saves one life, it’s worth it”. To repeat, the cars v guns argument is a response to an anti-gun argument. To repeat, the actual libertarian gun position rests on consequentialist reasoning built on a presumption of freedom.

    And the cars v guns is an appropriate response to the “every life is sacred” argument because cars offer a clear example of where we trade off other benefits for lives. We do this all the time and that is why it is possible to put an economic value on a statistical life. Working in a dangerous mine trades probability of death with income. Dangerous sports trade probability of death with enjoyment. Fatty foods, smoking, drug use all trade probabilty of death with enjoyment.

    Jason correctly points out that there are benefits to driving — both financial and through personal enjoyment. There are also benefits to pursuing sports & hobbies — such as skiing, scuba diving, flying or shooting.

    Jason concludes that it is “ridiculous” to compare guns with cars. But we are not arguing that cars and guns are the same. Instead, we’re using cars as one simple example of the general rule that people trade off different values all the time. It is an analogy. It would be ridiculous to try and intepret an analogy perfectly literally… but that doesn’t mean the analogy isn’t valid.

  67. I’m curious to explore this “intent of production” argument. Following that argument to it’s logical conclusion, it should be OK to own and use a firearm with few (if any) restrictions, so long as the firearm was created with another use in mind other than harming people.

    This doen’t seem like an intellectually honest and useful position to hold. Surely the more important issue is what laws lead to the best outcome and the intent of manufacture is irrelevant.

  68. Jason Soon says:

    The intent of production

  69. Jason Soon says:

    “Fatty foods, smoking, drug use ”

    The risk of my being gunned down is not increase by a proliferation of people eating fatty food or smoking or whatever. The comparisons people like to bring up when guns come into play are not only imperfect, they are completely ripped out of context. I was at a party once where half the people were on ecstasy and cocaine – I didn’t feel at risk there at all. I would have at a party where half the people were carrying guns. People who say the two are the same are talking rubbish.

  70. David Rubie says:

    John Humphreys wrote:

    By intentionally confusing DavidL for the LDP just for the sake of insult, it

  71. I’m glad the intent of production argument isn’t real.

    I agree that transport offers more monetary value than guns. However, that doesn’t seem like a relevant point. The purpose of economics is to maximise utility, not money. Further, it is not necessary for guns to offer more value than transport… it is only necessary for guns to offer more benefits than costs.

    Once again it is worth repeating that the point about guns v cars is a response to an anti-gun argument. In and of itself it is not an argument for gun law liberalisation. That argument rests on the benefits and costs of the legislation.

    As for “whatever ridiculous example” we can come up with… it is also worth noting that skiing & scuba diving also offer no financial benefit of note. Like shooting, they provide a utility benefit to the sportsman and they come with a risk. I don’t think that is “ridiculous”.

    I agree that the costs of restricting cars to 40km/h would be more costly than restricting gun ownership. But I also think that the costs in both cases exceed the benefits in both cases. I also agree that the benefit-cost analysis would be more clear in the case of transport.

    I also agree that you are not going to be gunned down by fast food or cigarettes, but that wasn’t my point. My point was in response to the argument that “every life is sacred” and I was pointing out that people make a risk-reward trade-off in many situations. I was very clear about the context of my argument and actually went to the trouble of repeating it several times. I’ll repeat it again:

    The point about comparing the risks of other everyday activities is to show that humans regularly make risk-reward trade-offs and that this is a normal, acceptable and indeed necessary part of life. This point is not central to the key arguments about benefits and costs of gun control and only becomes relevant when somebody tries to argue that “no cost is too high to save even one life” or something similar.

    Once again (and I believe I said this before) I am not claiming that guns and cars and cigarettes and drugs are the same. With all of these things the key point is whether the benefits of legislation exceed the costs of legislation. In my opinion and from my reading of the evidence, there is no reason to believe that strict regulations have provided a net benefit. And given my presumption for freedom I don’t accept the idea that we should have regulation that cannot be justified on consequentialist grounds.

  72. David, you appear to have overlooked an important ethical point in your last comment – unless all a country’s citizens have free and equal access to the means of all forms of criminality, you can’t truly describe them as law-abiding. At best, they’re compliant, kept that way because the State deprives them of the means to gain the dishonest livelihood they actually aspire to.

  73. Dear Sir Rubie,

    When I lived in a house (several years ago now) I did indeed have a lock on my door… and I did use it when I left the house. I used it as a deterence against theft as it (slightly) increases the expected cost that a potential thief will face if they want to rob me. I also put up stickers on my windows saying the house was protected with some fandangled super-special space-aged security system. Not true… but once again it was to marginally increase the EXPECTED cost to any potential home invader.

    The possibility that a law-abiding citizen may have a gun likewise marginally increases the cost to people who want to commit violent crime.

    Of course, this needs to be offset against other potential costs of more liberal gun laws. I’m not blind to the simple truth that there are costs and benefits to most action and I’m not trying to claim that guns are somehow created by angels to be used by saints.

    Finally, regarding the proliferation of guns in a peaceful society — I honestly doubt that would be the case in Australia. I met many gun owners in America while I was there for a few months… but never anybody who was actually carrying a gun. Australia has much less of a gun culture and I don’t think that would change if we liberalised our laws.

    If schooling wasn’t compulsory I think most people would still go to school. If drugs were legal I think most non-users would remain non-users. If we abolish unfair dismissal laws I think most people will keep their jobs. If we relax gun laws I think most people will continue to not own a gun and probably most people won’t even know anybody who carries a gun. The deterent effect from guns doesn’t come from the owning of a gun… but from the possibility that anybody you try to rob could own a gun. Win-win.

  74. If we relax gun laws I think most people will continue to not own a gun and probably most people won

  75. David Rubie says:

    John Humphreys wrote:

    The deterent effect from guns doesn

  76. Arthur says:

    Looks like Leigh and Neill got it wrong on a lot of things, even some really basic stuff like their understanding of confidence intervals.

    http://www.ic-wish.org/WiSH%20Flawed%20Analysis%20or%20Flawed%20Understandings.pdf

  77. Arthur,

    Those people on WISH are clever aren’t they? Poor Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill doing their best and all they’ve got is a first class understanding of modern econometrics and a desire to try to be as objective as they can.

  78. Arthur says:

    Hard to say ‘first class understanding’ when they make such basic mistakes, Nicholas.

  79. Hard to take the criticisms of Leigh and Neill seriously, when the critics make fatuous assertions such as this, Arthur:

    It is not unusual for a confidence interval to fall below zero, and this event does not negate the validity of the predictive methods used… (link -PDF)

    But there is something of a problem when your nicely symmetrical confidence interval starts predicting negative deaths old son, or in a study on, say average age of males at loss of virginity, you find some males losing their virginity before birth – “Oh yes, we put young Fortescue’s name down for Eton, the MCC and his first shag about two years before he was born …” It’s a pretty strong indication that you’re using the wrong statistical methods for the data and no amount of sophistry is going to change that.

    Baker and McPhedran’s defences of their study are as laughably absurd as the original study itself.

  80. So what’s your view of my comment at #60 above GT? You might not like Baker and McPhedran’s statistical analysis (and I’m not expert enough to enter that debate), but I think the conclusions of their original study have to be right based on first principles.

  81. Well, since you ask, Mr Leyonhjelm, you’re at least as big an idiot as arthur. He’s impressed by confidence intervals that include impossible values ( a sure sign, on the strength of a basic knowledge of statistics that the wrong statistical methods have been applied – it’s not that difficult).

    You don’t understand the stats, by your own admission you’re not up to reading either paper with any comprehension so you retire to the safety of an a priori deductive proof that Baker and McPhedran must be right based on “first principles”.

    Neat trick that: resolving a dispute over research methods, to your own satisfaction at least, with no more than the bits of knowledge and preconceptions you have in your own head already, plus a bit of “logic”. It’s 100% guaranteed that your conclusions will be completely wrong, but if you’re happy with it, who am I to judge?

  82. DavidLeyonhjelm says:

    GT, I didn’t say I “didn’t understand” the statistics. Nor did I fail to note your unwarranted air of superiority. (I say unwarranted because your own credentials are not exactly established.) I was merely inviting you to address the points I made in my post, which led me to conclude the statistical debate was essentially irrelevant.

    But since you have chosen to level insults rather than enter the discussion, on first principles I have to conclude you are a bigger idiot than either Arthur or myself. I expect the statistics would support that conclusion too.

  83. On first principles the gun laws could not have made any difference to either the suicide with firearm or murder with firearm rates because there was no reduction in the number of fireams in the community. There was merely a reduction in the proportion of semi-automatics lawfully owned.

    What is this? Leyonhjelm’s Law of the Conservation of Guns? “The total number of firearms in the community remains constant over time, all that varies is the distribution of ownership”? Where’s your evidence that this is true? Without it, you’re simply arguing on a priori grounds. If you manage to be strictly logical in the process, then your conclusions will have whatever truth is in your basic axiom.

    As for the assumed air of superiority – well, that’s just me when I’m cranky and bored on a Sunday night and some equally patronising fool challenges me to answer his so much more intelligent opinion 26 comments earlier.

  84. Rubie: “That liberalisation of gun laws can do no harm, and must do good on the basis that it adds to freedom begs the question: is personal freedom the only ultimate good?”

    It’s a good question, but I don’t believe it has been begged in this instance. I’ll allow myself the diversion anyway because I enjoy it… the answer is “no”. There are two elements of morality: means & ends. Regarding means (ie holding ends constant) the choice is between freedom and non-freedom. With that choice I think the preference is obvious. Regarding ends (ie holding means constant) the choice is between utility and non-utility. With that choice I think the preference is obvious.

    In case they aren’t obvious — I choose “freedom” and “utility”. That is why my philosophy is a presumption of freedom unless you can provide a utilitarian argument why freedom should be sacrificed (in this instance) for the utility benefits.

    The argument about guns that I have promoted is a purely utilitarian (ie ends-morality) argument… not a deontelogical (ie means-morality) argument. I have argued that there is no utility benefit from strict gun laws.

    Going back to the start… as my argument was entirely utilitarian in the first place, my original position does not “beg the question” about freedom being the only moral good.

    Jason — I agree that scuba diving is only about self-harm and guns can harm others. However, I was arguing a purely utilitarian argument and so whether the death was caused by yourself or another person isn’t relevant. What matters is the total consequence.

    The reason I was arguing that was in response to the general argument that “if a law can save even only one life… it’s a good law”. I know that isn’t your position, but that was the reason for the counter-argument. To repeat, the comparison of guns to cars or matches or scuba diving is not to say they are equal, but to show that the emotive “every life must be saved” argument isn’t robust.

    And an apology to Nick Gruen… I haven’t had the chance to read the competing papers yet. Will do so when time allows.

  85. David Rubie says:

    John Humphreys said:

    my original position does not

  86. The argument about guns that I have promoted is a purely utilitarian (ie ends-morality) argument

  87. Jason Soon says:

    I was arguing a purely utilitarian argument and so whether the death was caused by yourself or another person isnt relevant

    Well then you’re completely confused John, because a purely utilitarian argument doesn’t have to endorse paternalism since paternalism is costly to enforce as well as being dismissive of the preferences of the individual. A purely utilitarian argument *has* to take account of third-party effects. Therefore whether a death is caused by myself as opposed to being caused by someone else *is* relevant to utilitarianism since the latter comes under third party effects which is the only thing that, as a liberal, I am concerned with.

    Utilitarianism doesn’t have to endorse paternalism. Go back and read JS Mill whose defence of liberty was essentially utilitarian and he talks about allowing a ‘cooling off’ period at the most, and otherwise says that the preferences of the person to take a risk or commit suicide or whatever are his own to make. If he weighs his death or his engaging in a risky activity highly enough then utility is increased by allowing him to satisfy his revealed preference. But if his conduct has implications for third parties going about their business elsewhere then further calculation is needed. I don’t concede btw in this argument that the utility of the family should enter into the calculation since I think a pragmatic workable utilitarianism would have to rule out preferences about other people’s preferences. But general third party effects do matter and are all that matter.

    I am essentially a pure utilitarian who has no time at all for natural rights, which I regard as mumbo-jumbo and I have never seen a good utilitarian case for paternalism.

    Therefore when certain pro-gun proponents take it upon themselves to label as anti-liberal anyone who supports gun control, they are showing their misunderstanding of libertarianism/classical liberalism. Gun control is more like toxic waste regulation than it is, say, a prohibition of bungee jumping.

  88. David Rubie says:

    John Humphreys wrote:

    There are two elements of morality: means & ends. Regarding means (ie holding ends constant) the choice is between freedom and non-freedom. With that choice I think the preference is obvious. Regarding ends (ie holding means constant) the choice is between utility and non-utility. With that choice I think the preference is obvious.

    Utter rubbish. Redefining morality as simplistic notions of means/ends/freedom/non-freedom and then arguing your case on that basis is the worst of the ego-centric logical fallacies.

  89. Mark Hill says:

    Okay David, what is morality then?

    “No answer on why pricing guns out of the range of criminals is good policy.
    No answer on why we need to conflate civilian mass shootings and criminality.
    No answer on why the LDP are the great authority on criminality anyway.”

    1. It is not a good policy because it creates a black market, i.e. even more violent crime.

    2. Mass shootings by defenition are criminal, but they are indeed different to virtually all other homocide. Whatever your position on guns is, gun laws would not have stopped someone like Cho. You might design a law that can do that, but it is going to be unfeasible.

    3. I’ll put it this way – I’ll quote Gummo – “Baker and McPhedrans defences of their study are as laughably absurd as the original study itself.” Yet Leigh and Neill did not account for self selection bias or other explanatory variables, nor did they test for strucutral breaks even though they believed a longer dataset would be better. If you want to facetiously paint us like that David, we’re in the picture by default.

    Jason is right about assessing policy. Until you get shafted in some way by a Govenrment department. Then you’ll “just know” it is wrong…

  90. Man, I love the sound of a libertarian with the contents of the “comfort pouch” on his Y-fronts dragged back into his crina. Sounds like …

  91. David Rubie says:

    1. It is not a good policy because it creates a black market, i.e. even more violent crime.

    No. The black market is already there. If it isn’t guns, it’s drugs (or alcohol).
    There is no possible way to determine whether that market will necessarily become more violent. Either way,price goes up and availability drops which is the desired outcome. We know it works – unlike the unproven assertions of the gun liberationists, who have only some rather sad examples of what an over-armed society looks like (hint, starts with I, ends with q).

    Gun laws won’t stop people like Cho? The incidence of these events is much lower in places like Australia and the UK compared to the US. Yes there are other cultural differences, but discounting our stronger gun laws is counter productive.

    Okay David, what is morality then?

    Unlike Mr Humphreys, I’m not glad you asked, as I have no blustering, self deceiving but comforting definition I would coerce onto everybody else. Morality is personal, not universal. True, many people share a common set of behaviours they regard as ethical (and therefore moral), but absurd, reductionist arguments to attempt to prove personal prejudices are not helpful. Where I find morality, you might not. Those things that I find to be evil and abhorrent, you might find to be virtuous (think circumcision for example). We likely will never agree.

  92. David Rubie — are you suggesting that I have offered a “blustering, self deceiving but comforting definition [that] I would coerce onto everybody else”?

    If so, I’m not sure where that came from. I’m happy to debate moral philosophy with you, but I’m not sure exactly what point you are disagreeing with. Regarding deontelogical morality are you suggesting a better alternative than liberty? Regarding consequentialist morality are you suggesting a better alternative than utility? Or are you disagreeing with the general distinction between deontelogical (means) and consequentialist (ends) in moral philosophy? If so — why?

    And what does it mean to suggest that somebody wants to coerce their definition on everybody else? I’m not threatening violence. You sentence simply doesn’t make sense.

    I disagree with your suggestion that morality is purely personal. There is one very important part of morality that extends past the personal and that is the issue of the appropriate use of violence. This area of philosophy is generally known as “political philosophy” (as the “legitimate” use of violence* is generally done by government), but it is rooted in moral philosophy more broadly. For example, the choice about whether to kill or rape or rob your neighbour is not a purely personal decision.

    On the issues of personal decisions regarding the use of things you own (ie excluding the unauthorised use of your neighbour or their property) I agree that this is a very personal issue. As a libertarian it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I believe a person should have a very high degree of individual freedom. I’m not sure whether there really is one better way to live life (eg religion, circumcision, work-life balance, how many children, etc) but even if there is I doubt people’s ability to perfectly find it and agree on it.

    Also, you say that I answer your question “is freedom the only ultimate good” in the affirmative. Actually, I answered it in the negative. I can’t see how you got this wrong. Specifically, I wrote “the answer is no” and then I went on to show how utilitarian considerations can override deontelogical (ie freedom) based morality.

    You ask a series of additional questions. First, I agree that increasing the price of guns and having them illegal will reduce access to guns for some people, including some criminals (but I note that this is only one part of the story). Second, I have never conflated civilian mass shootings and criminality. Third, nobody has ever claimed that the LDP are the great authority on criminality. I’m not sure where this questions come from but they don’t seem to be related to the central issue of debate, which is whether strict gun laws create a utilitarian benefit.

    You then dismiss the libertarian position as “an abstract thought experiment”. Are you suggesting there is no evidence on the effects of gun laws? If so, I am pleased to tell you there is a huge amount of evidence.

    In conclusion, besides insults I can’t actually find out exactly what your argument is. To summerise my argument, people should be free unless there is evidence that restrictions on their freedom will create a utilitarian benefit. There is no evidence that strict gun laws provide a utilitarian benefit. Therefore we should not have strict gun laws.

    * Here used to mean the initiation of violence or coercion

  93. Gummo — what you wrote did not contradict what I wrote about moral philosophy. I agree that consequentialism is about the consequences (which are often used to justify the means). And I agree that deontelogical philosophy is about action judged by the inherent value of the action (whether that comes from the nature of humans or nature or the world is not relevant here — though of course an interesting discussion).

  94. Jason — there is nothing in your process that contradicts mine.

    You say that “purely utilitarian argument doesn’t have to endorse paternalism”, but where have I ever suggested that? Of course utilitarian arguments don’t necessarily endorse patneralism. I believe (as per J.S. Mill) that utilitarian arguments generally don’t support paternalism. Further, you know I believe this.

    I agree that utilitarian arguments have to take account of third-party effects. They also have to take into account of first and second person effects. Utilitarianism is about maximising total utility.

    I agree that the liberal position is generally preferable, but one reason it is generally preferable is that the liberal position maximises utility (as argued by J.S. Mill among many others). You have argued this position yourself previously.

    But none of this impacts too much on the central element of the debate, which is whether strict gun laws do create a utility benefit. I think we both agree that this is the key question.

    I’m truely perplexed by your implication that I believe utilitarianism endorses paternalism. You know I don’t believe that and have never said anything that could be interpretted that way. Is this an arguing tactic or just a friendly jibe?

    I agree that a workable utilitarianism should not consider preferences about other people’s preferences.

    I haven’t tried to label anybody as “anti-liberal” or anything else. I note that I have been labelled quite a few unfriendly things. I have simply argued, repeatedly and consistently, that the government should only interfere in private decisions if there is a good utilitarian argument. I don’t believe there is good evidence to suggest that strict gun laws increase utility, therefore we should not have those laws.

  95. I think I understand why Gummo was so disturbed by my use of “deontelogical”.

    In the context of the issue at hand I was talking about political philosophy which is obviously just one sub-set of moral philosophy. Of course, deontelogical considerations in the moral sphere extend far beyond the simple question of “freedom” and “non-freedom” and so my dichotomy would look simplistic.

    However, in the “political philosophy” subset, where we are only interested in the questions of government (ergo violent/ceorcive) action, the only deontelogical question of relevance is the “freedom” v “non-freedom” question.

    As Rubie rightly notes, there are many other areas of life other than political philosophy, and he gives the example of circumcision. He might also have mentioned religion and lifestyle choice. I am not suggesting that “freedom” v “non-freedom” is a sufficient moral guide to making these inevitably personal and complex life decisions.

    Finally, despite the risk that I will be further abused for saying this, I only have limited time and would prefer not to be involved in debates that are based on personal insults.

  96. I think I understand why Gummo was so disturbed by my use of deontelogical.

    “Disturbed” in that sentence is completely inapt. I’d be disturbed if I discovered that my tax agent or accountant deeply and sincerely believed that 2 + 2 = 5 and no amount of persuasion could convince him to accept the standard view of the matter – because my own immediate interests might be adversely affected by his eccentric notions.

    As you go on, in four paragraphs, to demonstrate that you didn’t understand my (trifling) objection to your use of the word deontological, by producing even more plausible looking nonsense, your belief that you “understand etc” is patently false.

    To paraphrase an apocryphum of G K Chesterton – look, you can use the word “chair” to mean anything you like. But if you insist on using it where I would use the word “camel” we have little to talk about.

  97. David Rubie says:

    Just a few key points:

    John Humphries wrote:

    I dont believe there is good evidence to suggest that strict gun laws increase utility, therefore we should not have those laws.

    Key word: Believe. I believe there is plenty of good evidence. See how that works? Societies built on beliefs are doomed to failure.

    And what does it mean to suggest that somebody wants to coerce their definition on everybody else? Im not threatening violence. You sentence simply doesnt make sense.

    Coercion does not have to use violence, merely unethical behaviour. In this case you deliberately changed the definition of a word in an argument. Gummo had a nice quote that sums up the situation and I like it so much I’m going to repeat it.

    Gummo Trotsky said:

    To paraphrase an apocryphum of G K Chesterton – look, you can use the word chair to mean anything you like. But if you insist on using it where I would use the word camel we have little to talk about.

    John Humphreys further wrote:

    To summerise (sic) my argument, people should be free unless there is evidence that restrictions on their freedom will create a utilitarian benefit. There is no evidence that strict gun laws provide a utilitarian benefit. Therefore we should not have strict gun laws.

    So, your personal libertarian philosophy is essentially reactionary. Tell us, exactly how many people do you require to die before deciding that the utility no longer outweighs the freedom? Whose evidence do you require and why ignore what we already have (there is definitely evidence over the efficacy of gun laws, that you choose to ignore it doesn’t make it disappear).

  98. Terje (tay-a) says:

    Gummo – I would think that when you are trying to communicate with somebody that seems to be using a different language or definition set to yourself then there is generally more to talk about. Words are essentially just labels for concepts and John seems to have made a special effort to go beyond the sound of the words and reveal the intended concepts behind his choise of words. Of course I am presuming that communicating with others is your actual goal and this may not be the case.

    My main objection in this debate is toward the notion that a shift from semi-automatic firearms to alternative firearms should have any causal effect on suicide. A semi-automatic firearm allows you to rapidly discharge a second bullet, however with the first bullet lodged somewhere inside your skull you would not be in a position to take advantage of the easy discharge of a second bullet. The argument that a shift from semi-automatic to non-automatic firearms could or should reduce suicide seems to be very deeply flawed and indifferent to certain mechanical realities.

    There is a danger in using statistical correlation to impute real world causation. For instance the following argument could be derived from the statistics if statistics were all that mattered:-

    1. Gun ownership increased after 1996.
    2. Suicide declined after 1996.
    3. Gun ownership reduces suicide.

    Obvious this notion does not stack up. Neither does the following:-

    1. Gun ownership shifted from semi to non-automatic after 1996.
    2. Suicide declined after 1996.
    3. Banning semi-automatic weapons reduces suicide.

  99. Well said Terje.

    Gummo why is the thing you cite an ‘apocryphum’.

  100. Gummo why is the thing you cite an apocryphum

    First, because I’m told that Chesterton said something like it, but I’ve never been able to track the original quote down. Ergo, it should be treated as an apocryphal remark.

    Second because I was a bit slack about checking the etymology of the word and erroneously treated “apocrypha” as a Latin plural.

    Words are essentially just labels for concepts and John seems to have made a special effort to go beyond the sound of the words and reveal the intended concepts behind his choise of words.

    As I’ve remarked before (long ago), when one of these stoushes took the linguistic turn, language is the social institution par excellence – so any attempt to go beyond “the sound of the words” – as if meaning were merely a matter of onomatopoeia – is going to be constrained by custom and conventional usage. If it isn’t, you end up with Jabberwocky – a damn fine sounding poem, but little else.

    And that atomistic view of what words are is well and truly D-E-A-D, dead. The nails in its coffin were hammered in by Saussure and Wittgenstein. One of the reasons we can’t simply redefine, extend or improve words ad libidem to suit our own argumentative requirements, is the extent to which each word depends on the existence of a whole language for its current meaning.

    I reckon that’s enough from me. On the subject of morality and political theory, I don’t have any argument with John anyway, in the same way that I have no arguments with that hypothetical accountant who was convinced that 2 + 2 = 5.

  101. David Rubie — if you believe there is plenty of good evidence to show the benefits of strict gun laws, perhaps you could show that evidence? As I have explained previously, as there is a presumption of freedom the burden of proof for showing a utilitarian argument rests with the proponent of government intervention. I have looked at the evidence quite a bit (and there is a lot of evidence) and I haven’t found the link you claim. If you claim there is evidence of benefits from strict gun laws — please cite it.

    It is wrong to imply this is just a game of “he believes, she believes”. We need evidence before we can justify government action.

    You claim that coercion doesn’t have to use violence. I never said it did. But it does require the threat of violence (or at least the threat of some sort of deprevation). Coercion certainly doesn’t mean “unethical behaviour”. It is not coercive to cheat on your wife.

    Quoting Gummo won’t help you here. Despite his antics, consequentialism is about consequences, deontelogical arguments are about the inherent virtues of action, coercion is about threat of violence, and political philosophy is not the same as moral philosophy. He provides no reason to object to these basic facts, but relies on insults.

    You go on to claim that my philosophy is “reactionary” because I believe in a presumption of freedom. I assume you mean this as a meaningless insult as your claim makes no sense.

    You seem convinced that strict gun laws create a utilitarian benefit, but you provide no evidence. If you don’t like the studies of Lott then perhaps the summary by Levitt would be more convincing for you. Check his popular book “Freakonomics” for a layman summary of the extensive gun-law literature.

    The question about “how many people need to die” misunderstands the issue at hand. First, deaths aren’t the only issue… there are many elements of existence that impact on utility. This has been explained in depth previously and ironically when libertarians explain this point we have been accused of talking about irrelevant side-tracks… but we are only responding to the implication that “every death must be prevented”!

    More importantly, given the overwhelming evidence of history that most government intervention does not increase utility, the requirement for evidence must be more than a hunch or a vibe. Proponents of government action need to show why we should believe their intervention is likely to provide a real net benefit.

  102. David Rubie says:

    John Humphreys wrote:

    As I have explained previously, as there is a presumption of freedom the burden of proof for showing a utilitarian argument rests with the proponent of government intervention.

    I have no presumption of freedom – that is the libertarian perspective. For others in society there may be a presumption of safety (or of sunlight, or free chocolates from the easter bunny). This line of argument is dead from it’s very start.

    I depicted your arguments as reactionary in the proper meaning of the word – the libertarian positon as you stated it is that utility is not proven until something bad happens. It’s the very definition of a reactionary policy – somebody must be hurt before changes are made to the law. There is obviously little point in getting into a citations match on gun laws, as you’ve already made your choice and are not willing to listen to alternatives anyway.

    Citing Freakonomics as your basis for economic argument has as much weight as citing Michael Crichton for scientific ones.

    Where is the overwhelming evidence that government intervention doesn’t increase utility? Another fatuous supposition on which to create a baseless argument. Nobody needs to prove to you anything about the efficacy of government intervention. We have the system we like, libertarians would prefer it overthrown, yet would like the rest of us to prove why that should be so. Do it yourself!

  103. Terje (say tay-a) says:

    There is obviously little point in getting into a citations match on gun laws, as youve already made your choice and are not willing to listen to alternatives anyway.

    When somebody takes the time to respond to your every point it is a bit shallow to then accuse them of not listening. John appears to be listening to you, he just dosn’t appear to be agreeing with you. There is a big difference.

    I have not read “Freakonomics”. However according to the website the first of the two authors seems well credentialled:-

    Steven D. Levitt is the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, where he is also director of The Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory. In 2004, he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, which recognizes the most influential economist in America under the age of 40. More recently, he was named one of Time magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World.” Levitt received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1989, his Ph.D. from M.I.T. in 1994, and has taught at Chicago since 1997.

  104. Brendan Halfweeg says:

    DR,

    If freedom doesn’t form part of the utility question, then what does? If you only consider safety as part of your utility equation, then any number of activities would be eliminated. John is simply stating that he considers that people’s ability to enjoy the ownership and (safe) use of fire arms does form part of the equation.

  105. Phil says:

    I note Jason believes firearms to be ‘a public health issue’

    Of all the issues which could be so-labelled (AIDS, smoking, drug use, bird flu – and many other things) – health issues related to firearms – and particularly those firearms legitimately owned by good citizens – have to be at the bottom, if not completely missing from any such list.

    What should be at the top? Probably the health practitioner’s problems with themselves as a cause of ‘bad health’;

    “Safety breaches in Australian healthcare are killing more people than
    breast cancer or road accidents,” Associate Professor Bolsin said.

    “But it doesn’t get anything like the attention … there’s no evidence
    things have changed over the past 10 years.”

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,22053839-23289,00.html

    and have a look at the litany of death caused by the medical establishment
    here;

    http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/political%20archive/doctorshealth/doctorshealth.htm

    Medical incompetence – the REAL public health issue!

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