Liberty and the Environment

There is no point to assuring social stability, political security, and optimal ‘liberty’ for future generations if they are to inherit an environmental wasteland that forces their hand into cleaning up our mess.

There must be restraints on the liberties which people and institutions take with our earth, just as there are laws against theft.  In general, if a resource is both renewable and clean – with steps in place to renew it when important to do so (e.g. trees) – then there should not be restraint on industries which produce goods from these resources (e.g. paper).  But should demand outstretch renewability (e.g. paper), then alternatives to these products must be sought (e.g. go paperless), and not ones which are wasteful or promote further pollution in other directions (e.g. plastics).

On the other hand, if a resource is rare or not clean or not renewable – like many rare metals that fall into all three classes – then there ought to be restrictions on their use even if they come from land which is not public.  This reflects the importance of the issue to future liberty.  We should not pretend, for instance, that wasting rare metals and polluting with them does not constrain future capacity for free action – liberty.  It minimizes the future use of those metals and forces future action to focus on problems that were avoidable.

So much may seem acceptable for such things as Plutonium, but there remains the concern that government intervention into business practice would only hinder progress. If strong constraints were in place, after all, it would seem doubtful that such things as the iPhone would ever had seen production. The question is how to balance. This question is difficult. It is clear, however, that such products should not go to production without a plan for reuse and recycling, and for such plans to be valid, they must incorporate plans for reuse and recycling into the design of the products themselves. [1].

If it should seem that environmental concerns are directly contrary to business and therefore not libertarian concerns, consider that I am not, as a libertarian, concerned with the liberty of companies.  I am concerned with the liberties of individuals – and the accountability that comes with it.  Companies should be allowed to take risks, but those risks should not jeopardize the liberties of individuals, present and future. Again, forcing future generations into action is a reduction of liberty for society.

At the forefront of the conversation must be energy. Many issues would be solved by a viable renewable energy infrastructure. A renewable energy grid viable in fifty years time seems like so little to ask until you consider the scope of the project and the necessary war against inertia. As compromise libertarians we must tackle these problems head on, lest our future generations have constrained liberties due to our laziness.

Just Liberty

“Just Liberty” was written in 2010 and placed under lock and key.

Just Liberty

There is no better time than now for some common sense.  The fact is that we are a nation in some disarray.  On the one hand, we are concerned that we may be subject to terrorist threats should we let our guard down.  On the other hand, we are concerned that our liberties are eroding for the sake of safety, and that there is no end in sight but the police state.  This balance between liberty and safety is the matter when it comes to politics.  The Republicans are known as the military party, but the democratic spending is all defense spending of a social sort.  In the end, it is the balance between this spending as a whole, together with our residual liberties, which makes our nation what it is.

The recent ‘Libertarian’ uprising is a reaction, first and foremost, to the fact that our liberties seem to have become just that: residual.  That what matters in government is the control they have over our lives and not the protection of liberties at all.  In this light, it is not surprising that the people are rallying behind the “Tea Party” movement.  The promises that liberty can be restored, the promises that America can return to a golden age post-revolution.

But one cannot turn back the clock without also destroying the blueprints on all modern weaponry, including something as ordinary as the PC.  Realizing this, a restoration to the days of the constitution is not feasible, since for one, it is not really what anyone wants.  And should we like the comforts of technology, then we must also appreciate that the Constitution does not provide enough guidance on the matter of balancing liberties with security.  What we can say is this: the fig leaf is on the ground.  We have bitten from the apple for better or worse and we cannot go back.  So we must consider the amendment of some of those liberties, to some degree.  The romance of utter liberty has long been dead – for it was anarchy – but going back to the days of yore is not an option.  If we are to be Libertarians, we must make compromises.

Our foremost compromise must be in the area of privacy.  This sounds terrifying to some, but effectively, it is not as scary as one may think.  First, one cannot cause much trouble these days unless one is using a digital device.  As a result, we must make certain concessions.  Namely, that our communications will be monitored.  Second, one cannot have much influence unless one establishes a network; and this network is a subsequent threat to security.  The result is that one must admit to surveillance in public.  That is, public moments and discussions are public information.

People generally have a fear of being watched.  It is innate.  Should they realize that in their home they are being watched, or in public that they are being followed, this fear comes out regardless of their guilt as to a given matter.  To some extent this fear is rational; on the one hand you may be watched or followed for malicious reasons – the questions regard who is doing the watching or following.  We should all be quite a lot more comfortable should we know that the person doing the watching or following is also being watched or followed by a higher authority.  But then the issue becomes abuses of that authority.

The potential for abuse is obvious.  If the surveillance reveals strategic information then that strategy can be easily defeated or hedged, in most cases, in advance; leaving it less effective or not effective at all.  And if this means that Libertarians are defeated by Republicans or Democrats as a result, then obviously this is an abuse of power.  The same goes for business.  The same for personal battles.  As a result, to defend against such abuse, one has to amend the conditions of surveillance, such that it does not fall into the lap of interested parties – i.e. parties with an interest outside of keeping the peace.  The best method for this is automated surveillance, i.e. surveillance which starts, and in almost all cases, ends with a computer.

The fundamental issue has always been the balance of liberty with protection, or better, safety.  The protection need not always be in the form of military protection, it can at times be in the form of social welfare protection, which allows one the safety of income when they do not have work or the funds to deal with difficult disease, but how the balance is struck is always the issue.  For the Republican, the balance is thus: enforce conservative values so that social welfare costs are minimal and strengthen our military to prevent outside disruptions.  For the Democrats the balance is thus: strengthen our social welfare so that folks can live their civil liberties to the fullest and make friends with our world, so that they like us enough not to attack.

If you take either of these positions on their own, you will notice that they are frankly implausible.  On the one hand, you can’t force people to live risk free lives and this is by-n-large what you would need for no welfare.  On the other side, you cannot simply be friends with your neighbors, for you cannot simply allow yourself to be trampled on – as occasionally and unfortunately happens in this world.  Of course, no one would ever take only positions on the right or the left, since they would get killed in a political forum by someone more towards the middle.  Who is this person in the middle?  They go by “Democrat” or “Republican” or “Independent”, but they are sometimes at heart the Libertarian.

The Libertarian does not play only on the left or only on the right.  The Libertarian sees that the compromises of liberty can be addressed head on and not through the polar political dynamic.  They do this by realizing that effectively the political space is not appropriately filled.  What is missing is one who attaches foremost importance to liberty, but realizes that protection of all sorts are necessary and compromises need to be made in the sphere of taxation as well as civil liberty, and that they can be made and addressed directly, and at the same time.

What goes by “Libertarian” these days is puzzling.  It is true that a rollback to the days of the constitution is appealing, but the issue is that you cannot have your cake and eat it too.  If you want security, you must tax.  This is true whether you are Republican or Democrat.  Whether those taxes go to a social variety or whether they go to a military variety, you still need money to fund the projects.  The Republican façade has always been that taxes should be minimized.  But these tax breaks amount to kickbacks to the rich for favors of various sorts which amount to a means to a perceived social safety ends.  The democrats deal with social matters in a more direct way, but they fail to appreciate the social costs involved in not enforcing conservative lifestyles, and that there are other protections that need to be addressed.