Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is A Procreation License Consistent With Libertarianism?

In case you missed it, here's the basic argument of my previous blog entry (What Do Coywolves, Mr. Nobody, Plants And Fungi All Have In Common?)...

  1. Every living organism has the inherent biological imperative to choose the most valuable option (MVO)
  2. Humans have far more processing power (cognitive abilities) than any other animals
  3. Allowing people to choose where their taxes go would have extremely logical and beneficial consequences.

Towards the end of the blog entry I shared this picture...

This picture inspired me to address the topic of a procreation license.  It's an interesting enough topic to warrant its own blog entry.  Plus, it has plenty of positive externalities.  So here we are.

A procreation license isn't a new topic for me.  A few years ago I included it in my 10 topic self-ownership survey.  If you get a chance you should really take and share that survey.

In order to effectively answer the question of whether a procreation license is consistent with libertarianism... it's necessary to define libertarianism.  Well...unless you're already a libertarian.  Are you?  *sitting here staring at the monitor*  Perhaps I'm waiting for the phone lines to light up.  Oh wait, this isn't live blogging.  So I'll have to try some other technique to ascertain your political ideology.

If you agree with the following then chances are pretty good that you're a libertarian...
Indeed, we might consider the dollars people earn as certificates of performance. Think of it in the following way. You hire me to mow your lawn. After I have completed the task, you give me $20. I go to the grocer and demand a pound of steak and a six-pack of beer that my fellow man produced. The grocer says, “You’re demanding something that your fellow man has produced. What have you done to serve him?” I reply, “I have served my fellow man by mowing his lawn.” The grocer says, “Prove it!” That’s when I hand him my $20, my certificate of performance. - Walter Williams, Capitalism and the Common Man
Did you agree?  If not, then maybe you'll agree with this...
Hierarchies have been inverted and whoever can claim membership of the most marginalized group automatically wins every debate. “I’m a queer Latino. I win the internet.” “Not so fast! I’m a black trans woman. Hahahah look upon my works ye mighty and despair! I have so much actual power right now, compared to some chump straight white guy who pens 2500 word hymns to objectivity in New York magazine! It is literally impossible to overstate how many physical resources I control now, and to what degree society is being molded by black trans women like myself!” - Belle Waring, Jonathan Chait: Political Correctness Gone Mad
What a beautiful juxtapose!  It's so beautiful that it reminds me of this poem...
H.R. Hays
The air is
Sucked clear of dross.
Space is enlarged.
A hundred miles away
Birds are whistling
And I know
That time is pale blue.
If I throw a stone
It will disappear,
Snatched by a yellow hand
With burnished nails.
Sunlight and stillness,
Creeping along the branches,
Nest in the pine needles.
Ponds stare at the sky
Through opaque, glittering spectacles
And do not reflect
The skeletons of angels,
Picnicking in
Refracted light.
The cold has
Bathed my eyeballs with tears
As I stare into the crevices
Of an ancient Paradise.
Breathe in,
Breathe out.
Did my January Juxtapose bathe your eyeballs with tears?  It really should have.  If it didn't, then it might help to read it again...and again...and again.  

From the libertarian perspective...if Williams mowed one lawn while Waring mowed two lawns then, all other things being equal, it's perfectly logical, reasonable, just and beneficial for Waring to have twice as much "power" and "control" to "mold" society than Williams has.  Their influence is made manifest via their consumption choices.  Williams spends his $20 on steak and beer and Waring spends her $40 on tofu and wine.  Less resources are allocated to the production of steak/beer and more resources are allocated to the production of tofu/wine.  If Williams wants to have more influence, then he's going to have to mow more lawns.  

What's the alternative perspective?  For people's influence not to depend on their productivity's relevance to others?  

This is an extremely important let's dig around some more.

John Holbo is my very favorite Crooked Timber Liberal (CTL).  Why?  Easy!  He's the only CTL who ever engaged me in public discussion/debate... Crooked Timber Liberals Do Not Advocate Selling Votes.  Not only did Chris Bertram never once engage me in discussion/debate...but he banished me from the site. So Holbo had absolutely no competition for my affection...until another CTL, John Quiggin, shared a link to this blog entry of mine... The Inadequacy Of The Opportunity Cost Concept.  He shared the link with all his twitter followers.  Don't believe me?  Here's the proof...

This certainly earned him some of my affection, but Holbo has nothing to fear because Quiggin and I never made intellectual love together in public or private.  Quiggin flirted with me a bit in private by briefly replying to my initial e-mail but when I replied to his intellectual flirt with an intellectual kiss...I never heard back from him.  Maybe I need the intellectual equivalent of breath mints?

This romantic theme is really cracking me up...but it's not like I can take any credit for it...
You could have been much more concise, Euthyphro, if you wanted to, by answering the main part of my question.  You're not exactly dying to teach me - that much is clear.  You were just on the point of doing so, but you turned aside.  If you had given the answer, I would already be well versed in holiness, thanks to you.  But as it is, the lover of inquiry must chase after his beloved, wherever he may lead him.  Once more then: what do you say that the holy is, or holiness?  Don't you say it's a kind of science of sacrifice and prayer?
That's how Socrates said it in John Holbo's book... Reason and Persuasion.  I purchased it for two main reasons.

The first reason was because he was willing to give me his time.  Not just in private...but in public.  And not just a little time...but a lot of time.  He put a lot of his valuable time on a public alter and sacrificed it in my name.  This put me in his debt.  It created in me a sense of obligation.  Holbo gave me a great gift... so how could I not reciprocate?  How could I ignore his significant sacrifice?  Some people argue that gift economies are somehow superior to market economies... but in both cases people are free to exit from relationships as soon they perceive the existence of more profitable relationships.  The freedom to exit is what makes both types of economies far superior to the alternatives.

The second reason that I purchased Holbo's book is because doing so presented a perfect opportunity to encourage him to address Williams' argument.  When I purchased Holbo's intention most surely was not to increase income inequality...but that's exactly what I did.  I gave Holbo, a white straight male, more influence over how society's limited resources are used.  And Holbo, by accepting my money, was just as complicit in this "crime" as I was.  But either he missed my question or was unable to answer it because this is what I got...
So your counter-argument is really a counter-premise, like so: wealthy people are, in virtue of their wealth, inherently more deserving of wielding political power. Period. End of story. That’s fine, insofar as that makes clear where the rest of us get off the bus: namely, with this first step.
I literally gave him my money by buying his book and still he missed, or was unable to address, the correlation between wealth and productivity.  And it's not just any productivity.  If his book had been just another teen vampire novel then I probably wouldn't have bought it.  Probably.  No, that's not true...I still would have bought it.  Because...just like Socrates, I really want to be well versed in holiness.  If this requires the purchase of a teen vampire novel then so be it.  But even though I would have bought it...I probably wouldn't have read it.  Probably.  Anyways, the point that I'm trying to make here is that his productivity...his book on Socrates...was relevant to my preferences.  And I really enjoyed reading Holbo's book and I highly recommend it to everybody and anybody with an intellectual bone in their body.

Let's review...

First Holbo engages in the productive economic activity of writing a book that matches other people's preferences...and then those other people give him their money.  If these other people are happy with his book...then will they recommend his book to other people.

An individual's ability to mold society... aka wealth/control/power/responsibility/influence... should be conditional.  What's the condition?  It's the individual's productive relevance to the preferences of other individuals.  This is consistent with libertarianism.  If you agree with it then chances are really good that you're a libertarian.

With libertarianism under our belt, now let's turn to a procreation license.  In my previous blog entry I somewhat mistakenly linked to this post by the libertarian Andrew Cohen... Libertarianism and Parental Licensing.  The mistake, which is now obvious to me, is that a procreation license isn't the same thing as a parental license.  The main difference is when the license is required.  Even though the difference isn't minor...we can set it aside for now because, if you scroll down and sort the comments by "best" (most popular), you'll find this comment has received the most upvotes...
Please just stop calling yourself a Libertarian. For the love of god, Please Stop. - Morgan Warstler 
Clearly, most libertarians do not believe that a parental license is consistent with libertarianism.  In fact, it's so inconsistent that it seems to be a deal breaker.  Which begs the question of the scope of libertarianism.

All other things being equal...could somebody be considered a libertarian if they only want to reduce the scope of government by 1%?   If not, then it kinda seems strange to say that a liberal wants to reduce the scope of government.  Sure, perhaps they'd like to reduce defense by 1%...but it's extremely unlikely that they'd want to reduce all government activity by 1%.  What about somebody who only wanted to reduce the scope of government by 2%?  Still not a libertarian?

In any case, I kinda agree with Morgan Warstler.  In fact... a while back I made a comment on the topic and, somewhat to my surprise, I managed to find it.  To put my comment in context... I should probably first share the comment that I was replying to.  Before I do that I should probably share the webpage where the comments can be found... New Libertarians: New Promoters of a Welfare State

Here's the comment that I replied to...
This is not libertarianism, they can call it the social justice league for all I care, but if you ignore libertarianism main tennet of non aggression you aren't a libertarian. You're more likely apolitical hack or a liberal capitalist. - Dave
And here was my reply...
I definitely agree that they should call it something else. Given that your comment has received the most votes, it's painfully obvious that the word "libertarian" is now synonymous with "vulgar libertarian". So there should really be a new word for a thoughtful libertarian.
A thoughtful libertarian is somebody who endeavors to understand and articulate the socially beneficial consequences of individual liberty. You clearly are not a thoughtful libertarian. You're a vulgar libertarian. You've embraced the NAP which makes it entirely unnecessary for you to make a case for liberty. This is because the second you try and justify your rule you've abandoned it.
For a vulgar libertarian...slavery is wrong because it violates the NAP. For a thoughtful libertarian...slavery is wrong because the consequences to society are extremely detrimental. Why are the consequences so detrimental? You don't know and you can't care...because if you do...then you're acknowledging that the consequences are relevant...which would of course negate your rule.
If liberty is at all protected, then it will be despite, rather because of, libertarians such as yourself.
Hah, I tricked you.  I'm going to blame Holbo.  Turns out that we don't entirely have libertarianism under our belt yet.

There are two main types of libertarians...thoughtful and thoughtless.  Thoughtful libertarians are interested in exploring/understanding/explaining the beneficial consequences of freedom while thoughtless libertarians cling to their Non Aggression Principle (NAP).  A thoughtless libertarian can't explain anything so he'll just hit you over the head with morality.  As if the problem with you is that you're an evil evil evil sinner.  Thoughtless libertarians bring nothing to the table other than their moral superiority.

All thoughtless libertarians are anarcho-capitalists...but not all anarcho-capitalists are thoughtless.  The most notable exception is David Friedman.  David Friedman won't throw holy water at you, instead, he'll engage you in thoughtful discussion.

Unfortunately, thoughtful anarcho-capitalists like David Friedman are by far the exception.  If somebody says that they are an anarcho-capitalist then chances are way too good that they are going to want you to repent.

In a slightly better world...every thoughtless libertarian would identify themselves as a "vulgartarian".  But, unfortunately, we're not in a slightly better world.  This means that vulgartarians are going to continue referring to themselves as anarcho-capitalists and libertarians.  Therefore, it's up to thoughtful anarcho-capitalists and thoughtful libertarians to abandon their labels and come up with new ones.

So now there are two goalposts...

1. Is a procreation license consistent with, for lack of a better word, thinktarianism?
2. Is a procreation license consistent with vulgartarianism?

The first part of this entry was written with thinktarians in mind...but let's see if I can manage to say anything thoughtful about the second goal post.

For a vulgartarian, it would be a violation of an individual's property rights to prevent them from killing themselves.  It's not full self-ownership if you can't sell or end yourself.  So a vulgartarian would agree that it's wrong to force an individual to live who doesn't want to.  Yet, by procreating, they force an individual to live without knowing whether the individual really wants to.  I'll grant that it's not easy to know an individual's preferences before they exist... but perhaps a reasonable vulgartarian (oxymoron?) would reasonably argue that it's not unreasonable to assume that most organisms want to live.  But would they also reasonably argue that it's not unreasonable to assume that most organisms want to live better?

It can't be the case where the offspring is the parent's property.  Or else we'd have a situation in which it was never too late to have an abortion.  Therefore it must be the case where the offspring is a sovereign individual who's temporarily unable to communicate their preferences...aka a Really Young Individual (RYI).

It should be pretty clear that you can't invite somebody onto your property and then use the fact that they are on your property to justify initiating violence against them.  And should some accident befall your guest that incapacitates them... then it wouldn't be unreasonable to guess that their preference is for you to take them to the hospital.  Because, that's probably what you would want if your roles were reversed.  Personally, I sure wouldn't want to be a guest of somebody who didn't grasp this.  Would anybody?

So if somebody wants me to be their guest, and I'm temporarily unable to communicate my preferences, then it's not unreasonable that these potential hosts agree to and understand some pretty basic concepts.  If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then they shouldn't be allowed to have me over as a guest.

With all of this in mind...a procreation license is entirely consistent with vulgartarianism.  Let's test it out to be sure.

Most reasonable people would agree that RYIs don't want to be raised by wolves.  So, before anybody is given the thumbs up to procreate, they would have to take a very simple test that consisted of one question...

1. Are you a wolf?  Yes/No

Anybody who failed this test would not be allowed to procreate.  Why not?  Because of a reasonable preference that reasonable people have assigned to RYIs.

Of course there are plenty of other reasonable preferences that could, and should, be assigned to RYIs.  A procreation license would be the embodiment of these preferences.  If a vulgartarian failed to support a procreation license then this would be entirely inconsistent with their belief in the sanctify of self-ownership.

Now let's get back to the thinktarian goal post.

The second most highly voted comment on Cohen's blog entry was produced by Theresa Klein.  In a reply to a reply she wrote this comment (that I can't directly reply to)...
We don't lock people up just because we think they are LIKELY to commit crimes. Or because it is cheaper to lock people up preemptively than deal with ameliorating the effects of crime after the fact.
Likewise we shouldn't take people's kids away just because we think they are LIKELY to abuse them. Or even if it is cheaper to preemptively take them away than to deal with ameliorating abuse. 
I am willing to pay a premium for a just system. Parent licensing is unjust.
Here we get into the difference between a parenting license and a procreation license.  With a parenting license the dialogue would look something like this...

System: Here's your child
Parent: Thanks
System: Are you a wolf?
Parent:  Yes
System: Please return your child
Parent: I already ate it

Here's the dialogue for the procreation license...

System: Are you a wolf?
Parent: Yes
System: No child for you
Parent: Darn, I knew I should have studied harder

Which is more consistent with thinktarianism?  Consider Klein's willingness to pay...

Klein: Are you just?
System: Yes
Klein: Prove it
System: *proof*
Klein: Here's my money

With our justice system, people are innocent until proven otherwise.  With a sound economic system, people are irresponsible until proven otherwise.

When Williams mowed a lawn, he proved himself responsible enough to wield $20 dollars worth of influence.  When Holbo wrote a book about Socrates, and sacrificed his time to me, he proved himself responsible enough to earn some portion of my $30 dollars worth of influence.  Both Williams and Holbo proved their responsibility to others.  Their bump in influence/responsibility/power/control followed from their proof.  This is why markets are a 3V network.  Inclusive valuation provides a fail safe mechanism that prevents too many resources from falling into the wrong hands.

If an individual wants to have another individual's life entirely in their hands...then shouldn't we, as a society, engage in some due diligence before granting this major influence/responsibility/power/control?

If Williams has to earn the responsibility to have 20 more dollars in his hands...then what does it say about the value of children when parents do not have to earn the responsibility to have a child's life in their hands?

Perhaps it might be argued that "labor" is exactly how a mother earns the responsibility to have a child's life in her hands.  But this would be as consistent with thinktarianism as Keynesian economics is...
This means that the terraces of the Champ-de-Mars are ordered first to be built up and then to be torn down. The great Napoleon, it is said, thought he was doing philanthropic work when he had ditches dug and then filled in. He also said: "What difference does the result make? All we need is to see wealth spread among the laboring classes. - Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen 
For sure it's arduous and back breaking work to carry around and then push out a child...but the degree of effort involved isn't the only consideration.  At least not for thinktarians.

From Holbo...
Consider three ways of allocating votes. 
You get more votes the longer you are willing to sit in a chair in a room for hours on end with nothing but nothing to do. 
You get more votes the longer you are willing to do the downward-facing dog. 
You get more votes the more you pay. 
These are all potential methods of measuring intensity of preference.
I'll admit that these would all measure intensity of preference...but a thinktarian would know exactly why one of these measures is far superior.

Paying more doesn't just reflect the intensity of your preference... it also reflects how relevant your productivity has been to others.  This additional information really isn't a minor detail.  If it was...then socialism would be a viable economic system.

So giving birth reflects the intensity of a mother's preference...but it certainly does not reflect how relevant her productivity is for others.  Addressing this deficiency with a procreation license would be entirely consistent with thinktarianism.

In other would certainly require productivity for wolves to raise a human child.  But this productivity is less valuable to me than the productivity required for humans to raise a human child.  Along these same lines...the child raising productivity of unlicensed procreators is less valuable to me than the child raising productivity of licensed procreators.

This passage by J.S. Mill helps to illustrate this...
As well might it be said, that of two trees, sprung from the same stock one cannot be taller than another but from greater vigor in the original seedling.  Is nothing to be attributed to soil, nothing to climate, nothing to difference of exposure - has no storm swept over the one and not the other, no lightning scathed it, no beast browsed on it, no insects preyed on it, no passing stranger stripped off its leaves or its bark?  If the trees grew near together, may not the one which, by whatever accident, grew up first, have retarded the other's development by its shade?  Human beings are subject to an infinitely greater variety of accidents and external influences than trees, and have infinitely more operation in impairing the growth of one another; since those who begin by being strongest, have almost always hitherto used their strength to keep the others weak. - J.S. Mill, The Negro Question
There's a reason why farmers cultivate the soil before planting seeds.  Doing so results in a far more bountiful yield than if the soil was not cultivated.  A procreation license would help cultivate the soil and we'd all benefit as a result.

Mill's passage is a double edged sword though because we also get the concern that perhaps the powerful would use a procreation license to prevent the weak from having children.  In other words, perhaps we'd run into the same problems with a procreation license as we do with occupational licenses.  Those with power would strongly support high licensing costs in order to make the barrier to entry so high that it dissuades potential competitors.  It's clear how higher costs of occupational licencing translates into greater profits for those with the licenses...but it's not so clear for a procreation license.  Unless we stretch and imagine that there's an agenda to try and swing in the complete opposite extreme of the situation depicted in the movie Idiocracy.

With a procreation license situation we would be dealing with a benefit maximization problem.  If we don't require any proof of cultivation then we end up with the logical and costly consequences of too many seeds ending up on uncultivated soil.  But if we require too much proof of cultivation then we'd greatly hinder progress.  This is because progress depends on difference...and far less humans means far less difference.

If there's one thing that should be clear to a thinktarian, it's that the government completely fails at benefit maximization problems.  This is because our current model of government has the same exact deficiency that socialism has... exclusive valuation.

So I really don't support a procreation license with the thought of having another DMV whose productivity is so perfect that no earner valuation (vetting/validation/vouching) is required.  I support a procreation license with the thought of highlighting the deficiency that our current model of government suffers from.  If you can understand the problem with an individual receiving control of a child regardless of their productivity's relevance to others... then you should be able to understand the problem with a government organization receiving control of resources regardless of its productivity's relevance to others.

In a pragmatarian system, it's guaranteed that a procreation licensing agency would maximize benefit.  How could it not?  Who doesn't want more benefit?   If the agency failed to provide more benefit then nothing would prevent people from spending their taxes elsewhere.

Bueller's Basement

For a while there was a vulgartarian named Black Flag who regularly commented on my blog entries.  We went back and forth quite a few times but didn't make much progress.  I eventually suggested that he join the Ron Paul forums.  Figured I'd attach a few epiphytes to the same branch.  He took me up on my suggestion and then, much to my surprise, in a few threads he started defending me against other vulgartarians.  Shortly afterwards he flew a brand new butterfly.

Valuation variation:  When you talk with your significant other on the often is it that you both want to hang up at exactly the same time?   It can't be the same for every couple.


  1. if wealth is a metric of productivity, would a 100% inheritance tax be consistent with libertarianism?

    "what have you done for your fellow man?"
    "my parents mowed thousands of lawns, then died and left me their money."

    1. Might want to read Rights vs Results.

      Let's say that the apple didn't fall far from the productive tree. In this case, a 100% inheritance tax would decrease abundance. Chances are good that the money will be placed in less productive hands.

      Let's say that the apple did fall far from the productive tree. In this case, a 100% inheritance tax would be 100% unnecessary. Chances are good that the money will be placed in more productive hands.

    2. Did Bud and Sam Walton's kids fall far from the productive tree? I have no idea... do you? Which would you consider to be a bigger problem... the kids saving the wealth or the kids squandering the wealth?

      In other words... when you read the Bible story about the prodigal son... does it make you happy or sad when the son squanders his inheritance?

      Does it make you happy or sad that Esau sold his inheritance to Jacob for a bowl of soup?

      Does it make you happy or sad when lottery winners quickly spend all their new found wealth?

      Does it make you happy or sad when natural disasters force people to spend their savings in order to help rebuild their lives?

      Does it make you happy or sad when you forget to back-up your work and a disaster forces you to start all over again?