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Archive for September 27th, 2007

I. 

Any one who has tried to change another person’s position on a political issue (and I use the word political in the broadest possible sense) will attest to the immense difficulty of the task. Human beings are rational creatures, or at least we like to think we are, and it is expected that two rational beings with the same set of data and the same fundamental axioms will come to the same conclusions. But we don’t, and the primary reason of course is that we don’t live by the same axioms.

That may seem strange, in view of the fact that most people value a few core ideals like freedom, happiness and social and economic well-being, but the fact is that even two people who profess the same ideology tend to put put slightly different weightages on the core components of their axioms. (Note however that I make a subtle distinction between the words axioms and ideology. Broadly speaking, the former is the set of basic assumptions that every person has within himself. They are his reasons to live, the fundamental goals that all his actions drive at. The latter is his intellectual blueprint for achieving these goals. )

Difference of axioms are often difficult to spot. Indeed all debates exist on the presumption that the participants have essentially the same axioms. So Mr. Libertarian rails on about the foolishness of socialism and the merits of free-market while Mr. Left-liberal counters him and praises eloquently the virtues of job-security and protectionism. Each thinks that his methods will make the world a better place and the other’s argument is flawed or naive. And sometimes that is indeed the case. After all, the majority of people are, to put it unkindly, not particularly smart, or have pre-existing biases which clouds their reasoning, or judge policies by their intent rather than results.

Yet there are times when two extremely intelligent and reasonable people, having the same data and having had years to chew on them, nevertheless disagree on ideology and are frustrated by the other’s failure to see the light.

Perhaps they should stand back and ask if they mean the same thing by a better place?

II.

Let me now include a simplistic summary of my own political axioms. I intend this to serve the additional purpose of being a useful reference for future posts.

The basic value I consider most important is individual freedom (using the term in a libertarian or classical liberal sense, thus it refers to negative freedom, as opposed to the so-called positive freedom). Broadly speaking, I view the rights to life, property and liberty (=to do as one pleases with life and property as long as one doesn’t initiate force that infringes upon another’s similar liberty) as natural rights, by which I mean the following : I associate a large cost factor to any law that curtails freedom, and I support such an undertaking only if it can be reasonably demonstrated that there are ample gains (enough to balance out this large cost-factor) in doing so with regards to other values (such as security, social justice, convenience or opportunity). Thus my hypothetical support for any law restricting freedom of contract will always be on pragmatic grounds – as a necessary evil. Needless to say, this account is highly simplistic, as it does not specify the size of the cost factor and more crucially, how I generally compare gains and costs with regard to different values. The reader who wishes to deduce approximately my weightages for these quantities is advised to go through all my posts ;)

There is a fine distinction between my position and more standard flavours of libertarianism. Right theorists tend to take a more moral/fundamentalist view of natural rights and are less flexible with allowances. On the other hand, consequential libertarians (like Milton Friedman, who I revere) believe that actions which maximise freedom of contract also tend to maximise other values, such as economic equality and overall happiness. Consequentialism (when well-researched and well-reasoned) is a powerful tool because it can be used to justify libertarian positions on purely utilitarian grounds. Thus consequentialist arguments are more likely to sway those who do not believe in freedom as the fundamental value. Nevertheless, I feel that an inclusion of consequentialist principles in my axioms would be a limiting force and afford me less flexibility on complex issues. If I have to label myself, I’d call myself a pragmatist libertarian.

III.

Just for the record, here are my positions on some issues.

I support:

a) Complete freedom of expression

b) (A certain level of) mandatory taxation

c) Legalization of drugs, prostitution and other victimless crimes, including the right to die.

d) Some gun-control

e) Most free-market initiatives

In the above list, a), c) and e) increase freedom, and they can also be defended on other, purely utilitiarian grounds. On the other hand, b) and d) decrease individual freedom but I support them as necessary evils. I should mention here that my support of gun control, being purely pragmatic, applies only to the present-day scenario and is based on my belief that the current costs of unlimited freedom of gun possession are sadly, too high (incidentally I differ on this point with most traditional libertarians, who oppose gun-control).

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