Monday, January 20, 2014

A Libertarian Martin Luther King Jr. Day post

In which we travel into interesting waters . . . (for a fairly long trip, so be prepared)

Dr. King's 1968 book, Where do we go from here:  chaos or community?, is profound in that it criticizes anti-poverty programs for their piecemeal approach, as John Schlosberg of the Center for a Stateless Society [C4SS] observes:

King noted that the antipoverty programs of the time “proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils,” with separate programs each dedicated to individual issues such as education and housing. Though in his view “none of these remedies in itself is unsound,” they “all have a fatal disadvantage” of being “piecemeal,” with their implementation having “fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies” or been “entangled in bureaucratic stalling.” 
The result is that “fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.” Such single-issue approaches also have “another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.” In contrast, King noted that “[w]e are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished” and concluded that he is “now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a … guaranteed income.”
The guaranteed annual income, or Negative Income Tax, has a long history in American politics, having been first seriously proposed by Richard Nixon, and also championed by his 1972 opponent George McGovern.

Among economists, Libertarians especially might be surprised to learn, you can include in the tally of those who support a guaranteed income Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, and Michael Munger.

Why would Libertarians support such an idea?

First Schlosberg:

Market anarchists can fully agree with King that “[t]he dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain.” An antipoverty program that empowers ordinary people to run their own lives would be both more respectful and more effective than the top-down approach whose often-lauded, less-often-read bible “The Other America”referred unabashedly to the “Negro who must be patronized and taken care of like a child.” King approvingly quotes laissez-faire populist Henry George’s view that creative activity “is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities” and thus would be “enormously increased” in a post-poverty society. 
A society-wide economic floor could, and should, be sustained by means consistent with free markets. 
And Munger:
I go so far as to argue that basic income is a LIBERTARIAN solution, because it would be (a) cheaper and (b) more consistent with individual autonomy and freedom than the current dog-vomit-after-eating-a-crayon-box mish-mash of programs, transfers, and subsidies. The core of my argument is that such a "guaranteed income" program is NOT consistent with the "destination libertarians" who want zero government. But it is quite consistent with the "directional libertarians" who will accept Pareto improvements, provided those moves ALSO improve liberty. 
It is also important to observe, as  C4SS's Natasha Petrova does, that liberty and equality (even better distributed income equality) are deeply intertwined.  In a response to a piece by John Stoessel, she writes:
Control of wealth and property allows a person to dictate the terms of existence to another. A person with little money is more likely to have to work for a boss, because they don’t have the resources to survive otherwise. Inequality is by definition a phenomena involving subordination. When people aren’t relatively equal – command and control ensues. Individual liberty and equality are thus intertwined.  
State intervention in the “market” props up established wealthy economic players. A genuinely freed market would not involve people getting wealthy at the expense of others, but we don’t live in such a society. A genuinely freed market would likely have a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. Not a perfect equality, but a substantially better one. This is what we left-wing market anarchists aim for.
Likewise, Left-libertarian/market capitalist Kevin Carson argues,
So any agenda of gradually scaling down government should take this context into account. The first things to go should be welfare for the rich and big business, and the last should be welfare for ordinary people. If we start by eliminating all the forms of artificial property, artificial scarcity, subsidies and entry barriers that concentrate wealth in a few hands, and let free competition destroy enormous concentrations of wealth and redistribute it downward, we might not even notice whether welfare, minimum wages or food stamps still exist because they would be used by so few people as to be a moot point. 
In other words, as a pragmatic libertarian, my approach to improving equality in the state is to start tearing down the bulwarks that defend the privilege of large corporations.  I have said it before and I will say it continuously:  we have a lot of money in the State budget, but not enough to waste it on welfare for the privileged.

So how does that play out in real life?  Think about this:  the very GOP-dominated State of Utah has reduced homelessness by 78% in the last eight years . . . by giving homes to homeless people:

Could something like this ever occur in Delaware?  Given the current pro-corporatist state of our government, probably not.  Remember how threatened a lot of people were by the camping out of the very small Occupy movement.

Yet one of the problems of poverty in Wilmington involves abandoned properties, as the city itself goes to great pains to tell you:

The Vacant Property Registration Fee Program seeks to do something about an issue than no one can dispute...vacant properties are a detriment to people who live in proximity to the properties, to entire neighborhoods, and to the city's overall image as an attractive and inviting City in which to live, own property, work and be entertained.
The program holds the owners of vacant properties accountable for the physical condition of their properties and to the overall well being of the communities and neighborhoods in which the vacant properties are located.
It is intended to encourage owners of vacant properties to immediately rehabilitate the property or to sell the property to an individual or an agency that will make the property attractive for sale or rental.
The irony, of course, is that the list of vacant properties that is (on at least one level) intended to shame slumlords and absentee landlords reveals that (in its multiple guises) that the largest single owner of vacant and abandoned properties in Wilmington (over 110 of them) . . . is the City of Wilmington.
There are a lot of innovative, interesting things that could be done with all these properties, as Libertarians, anarchists, and Greens would tell you.  Look here for some examples, but that's only the barest start.  And take to heart what Libertarians would agree with Dr. King on, as Jonathan Carp argues:
Mutual aid isn’t just about helping one another, although helping one another is of course an important and fundamental aspect. Mutual aid is about showing our masters and each other that we don’t need them anymore, that we can get by just fine without begging for scraps from master’s table. When cities try to hamper efforts to feed the homeless, when the United States government steps in to keep health care costs high, when local governments act against locally grown food, when the American FDA steps in to stop people from buying and drinking raw, local milk, and when the Mexican Army and federal police strive to crush citizens’ self-defense forces, they aren’t merely mindlessly enforcing dumb, often antiquated laws. They are acting to keep us atomized and dependent. Mutual aid doesn’t just help our brothers and sisters. Mutual aid terrifies our masters.


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