Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Splintered state

Bad proposal of the day: Arnold Kling wants libertarians to start engaging in civil disobedience against licensing laws, taxes and so on. Civil disobedience is justified in situations where other recourses are not available, such as when blacks were not allowed to vote in the Jim Crow South. The idea that people should be, say, lying down in front of police cars to protest hair salon regulations and the like is disproportionate, counterproductive and inane. It amounts to saying libertarian ideas aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition.

UPDATE 2/27: Arnold Kling responds.

UPDATE 2/28: Bryan Caplan says libertarian ideas actually aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition, even though they're "objectively compelling," whatever that means. My advice: try harder. Also, an inane commenter draws the segregation analogy.

UPDATE 2/28 #2: Brian Doherty posts, and more commenters weigh in, at Reason.


Anonymous said...

I think you're not correct here.

The number of persons impacted by a particular licensing law is too small for it to be a compelling political issue to a wide enough number of people to affect legislative outcomes.

How many people want to be manicurists?

The disparity between the individual and the state is greatest when large groups of persons are not simultaneously directly harmed by a law.

If there was no First Amendment, how much success do you think libertarians would have in defending flag burners legislatively?

I think the real argument against civil disobedience is that it wouldn't work because the state would simply crack skulls [figuratively] and the public wouldn't give a damn. The average American would say, "Those guys sent to jail got what they deserved" and nothing would be accomplished.

Adam Ruth said...

I think that you're correct, initially. That's why it's so hard to get such resistance movements started. The first several waves all have their "skulls" cracked and no one cares.

But that's not the point. The point is to keep getting your skull cracked to raise awareness. Eventually people will stand up and support you (or your children, depending on how many skulls need to be cracked).

Ghandi (the ever present ideal of this technique) was ignored by the people in Britain for a very long time as they said "he got what he deserved." It took a lot of repression to finally drive the average Joe to action.