Friday, March 16, 2007

The Road to Voluntary Government

I'd like to talk a little bit about how I came to support voluntary government. This process started because I was thinking about intellectual property (IP). Like many libertarians I came to the conclusion that it is not an innate right to be able to own ideas. Even though the institution of intellectual property has gained huge acceptance in the real world, many people struggle to justify it ethically. Ideas are not scarce resources, you can distribute ideas without reducing your ability to consume them. It makes no moral sense to establish property rights over non-scarce resources and, it is immoral to prohibit someone from using their property in a way which does not violate your property. So I decided that I did not believe that ideas could be property, but IP still seemed vital to continuing prosperity, because ideas are public goods and if people did not reap the benefits from their investment into researching ideas, then they would have little incentive to do so. For example, the only reason software companies sink resources into writing code, is because they know they will have the exclusive right to sell the product of that code. So I was stumped for some time. It didn't seem right that something could be necessary and unethical at the same time.
Then I realized that people would be willing to come to a collective agreement to pay an inventor if they benefit from using their idea, because it is both ethical and beneficial to agree to pay for the use of public goods. From there I started thinking about other public goods like roads and defense, and how similar agreements can exist to fund those as well. My second realization was that these agreements are very much like government. It would be very possible to form government around a voluntary social contract.
Realizing that an agreement to form a government could exist made me realize something else, which should have bothered me before, but didn't. Strict classic libertarian government, who's only role is to protect private property rights, but which is not voluntary, must still collect taxes (can't fund police without taxes), and is still unethical because forced payment is no less ethical because it goes to the protection of property, the protection of property is a good like everything else.
This chain of reasoning is what set me along the road to realizing how fully ethical government could be established. This was particularly satisfying to me because traditionally as libertarians get more moderate (less anarchist), they become less rigorous about their reasoning, and it becomes easier for them to support non-libertarian ideas, but here I had become much more moderate and much more rigorous at the same time. I later told one of my friends that I was both moderate and rigorous about my libertarianism, and I got a very strange look from him; very satisfying.

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