Monday, November 21, 2005

What is a Libertarian

Libertarians hold many different views. I am going to do my best to BRIEFLY tell you what a Libertarian beleives in:

1. We believe in a small and less intrusive government.
2. We believe in personal responsibility. We think people must be held
accountable for their own actions.
3. We believe in The Constitution as it was written over two hundred years ago.
4. We believe that individuals should have the freedom to make their own choices
and that the government should not make those choices for you; however, you
should be held accountable for those decisions you make.

I think that many Americans hold these views. Please take the time to learn more about The Allen County Libertarian Party!


Doug said...

I've always been interested in the interplay between libertarian views on personal responsibility and the existence of corporations.

Do you think the corporate form is desirable, given that it shields a person from individual liability for the person's actions.

(A similar question would apply to the desirability of bankruptcy laws.)

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Wow, that is a truly great question.

I have NEVER thought about it.

I have to say that I currently think that C Corporations (NOT Subchapter S Corporations) may be a bad thing in many ways.

I hope that some other Libertarians post their views on this.

I may well make this a main post on my web log, what a GREAT question Doug!

Robert Enders said...

Sometimes it is easier to determine the exact individual who is responsible for causing injury, other times it is not.
The incident in which Firestone tires were failing at highway speeds is a classic example. Firestone insisted that the way Ford Explorers were designed contributed to the incidents. Of all the hudreds, maybe thousands, of people involved in the design and manufacturing of that particular tire, who is responsible?

What happens when a $3 million comapany does $5 million in damages? Do you stop at seizing its assets? Go after the board of directors? Go after individual investors? Pittston got sued in federal court during the 1970's when its subsidiary, the Buffalo Mining Company, caused a town to flood when its dams made from mining waste burst.
In civil liability cases, it is often considered more disirable to sue a company rather than an individual because the company has deeper pockets. Should a corporation pay off a plaintiff, then go after the engineer who thought the gas tank should be mounted in the rear of the car?

Robert Enders said...

On the other hand, what if you find a booger in your Big Mac? Usually this would lead to criminal charges against the individual who put it there if he did so intentionally. Should McDonald's be civilly liable for its employee's actions? One lesson in law school is that it is futile to sue poor people, because they will not be able to pay you if you win.

It's part of the reason why some companies prohibit employees from keeping guns on their person at work. A Pizza Hut driver was fired after shooting a mugger because he was not supposed to have the gun in the first place. Even if a guy is totally justified in wasting a crackhead who broke into the facility and assaulted him, the family can still sue the company and it would be cheaper to settle out of court. In many cases, its cheaper for the guy who signed the liability waiver to get hired to die than it is the crackhead who didn't sign anything before breaking into the place.

PHIL said...

Regarding bankruptcy, sometimes people get in a bind they can't seem to get out of. I can even sympathize with persons when it's due to large medical bills (the excuse often given by those who defend bankruptcy laws). However, I'm sure a lot of people who file have caused the problem through frivolous spending. Then again, does it matter what the cause is when someone with $30,000 annual salary and no assets has accumulated a debt of a million dollars. In such a case I would say that 1)There's no use trying to collect money that's not there, so you might as well make it official and clear the ledger. 2) The fault for this predicamant lies as much, if not more, with the idiot(s) who extended credit to such a person.

What confuses me though is people who file with assets that exceed their debt. I think in some cases you can seperate your home from the bankruptcy filing. I"ve heard that if you can show that with your current income you would be still able to afford the payments on your house, then that item is detatched from the bankruptcy filing. This works great for people when they have established a large equity in their home, but is it fair?

Imagine this scenario: I buy a house for $4 Mil. I am able to afford the large payments on it because I charge all of my other expenses to my credit card. Now let's say that after 10 years, I have established $1 Mil. equity in my home and am carrying a debt of $900,000 on my credit cards. Finally, I decide the payments on my cards are so burdensome that I must file for bankruptcy. Rather than keeping the house and wiping away the debt, wouldn't it be more reasonable for the judge to say "You have spent beyond your means and beyond what is necessary. Sell the mansion, pay off the debt, then take the remaining $100,000 and buy a reasonable sized house."

I don't know if this is exactly how it works, but if you look at the bankruptcy filings you will often see cases where assets outweigh liabilities, and I have to wonder if that is fair.

Doug said...

On the corporate responsibility front, I haven't come to any solid conclusions myself -- but then again, while I have general libertarian leanings, I'm not even close to a purist.

Corporations are useful in aggregating capital for endeavours which otherwise wouldn't be undertaken because of, in part, potential liability. This doesn't just take the form of tortious activity, by the way, it could also simply be a matter of not being able to honor the corporation's contracts to its creditors. So, instead of focusing on Firestone, what about if X,Y,Z, Inc. simply ends up being an unsuccessful business and owes John Smith for supplies he provided. Under a libertarian world view, is it right that John Smith can't go after the assets of X,Y,Z's shareholders? And, if it is right, does this represent a compromise libertarian ideals of personal responsibility?

Bankruptcy is a similar thing. Phil notes the practical problems -- often times the debt is much greater than the available assets. Many times medical bills simply prove overwhelming. Some times it's credit card debt (though it bears mentioning that, a lot of the time, the nominal amount of the credit card debt is inflated beyond recognition because the late fees, interest charges, penalties, etc. etc. go far beyond the actual amount loaned.)

As with the corporate question, there are practical reasons to compromise ideals, but what about the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism itself? Can it be reconciled with discharge of debt under the bankruptcy laws or a shield from personal liability under corporation laws?

Barry said...

Extremely interesting point. I haven't yet come to a final conclusion for myself, but I've long been troubled with corporations, and with libertarian defenses of corporations, and am inclining to conclude, along with the proprietor of Loompanics Books, that corporations should be as much of a problem--and as much of a focus for--libertarians as government is. Yet libertarians tend to ignore the issue. Corporations are, after all, at base only fictions granted personhood status by the state for the purpose of allowing real people to shield themselves from liability. That's not a very libertarian notion, as most libertarians believe that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility.

Doug said...

Another somewhat sticky problem for libertarianism, I think, is environmental policy.

On the one hand, libertarians want folks to be able to do what they want with their property. Reasonable. On the other hand, how do you make sure the property owner is held responsible for adverse consequences to neighbors as a result of the actions?

Pollution is an obvious example. Do you say a person can't burn dirty coal on their property? Do you say they can, but only if they compensate someone whose health is adversely affected by the discharge? How about dumping car batteries in your backyard? What if the battery acid seeps into the ground water?

And, by the way, I just want to make it clear, I'm not asking these questions to try to impugn the value of libertarianism. They're just questions I struggled with back when I considered myself more of a purist. Now I suppose I've compromised my principles enough that I'm no longer, strictly speaking, a libertarian. But, libertarianism is where many of my views, such as they are, evolved from.

Lewis said...

Doug, your environmentalist question intrigued me. I think that you are confusing libertarianism with anarchism. Just as libertarians support your right to carry a weapon, we also allow for criminal penalties if you fire indiscriminatley into crowds.
The main reason that I am a libertarian is the relationship between individual and government. Those rights that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution afford me, not being infringed upon.
Your question of someone dumping car batteries in their own yard seems a bit ridiculous, why would anyone want to pollute their own property? It is through ownership that people will voluntarily take care of their property. It seems like you are falling into a democratic mindset that we are all so stupid that we must have laws to protect us from harming ourselves.
Have a little more faith in your fellow Americans. We aren't as stupid as the democrats and many republicans would have you believe.

Robert Enders said...

Most people do not dump car batteries in their own backyard behind the place that they reside. I have met people who have done such a thing, they operate at a diminished capacity to reason. But they might dump those batteries in a property that they own in another state. Sometimes companies will declare, say, a factory to be abandoned, and then that site becomes a Superfund site. It is a perfectly legitimate use of government resourses to remove a public health hazard if the property owner is unable or unwilling to do so. But it is not fair for a company to simply abandon a site without the guy in the suit who made the decision or was negligent to escape civil liability or criminal proscecution.

Lewis said...

Thank you Robert, what I was trying to get at is that you should be free in your pursuit of happiness until you start to impinge upon mine. When those conflicts arise, then it is the time for government involvement.
And yes, I absolutely agree that the head of a corporation or business must be held responsible for the actions of said entity.
As far as those who are operating at a diminished capacity, I have no answer to that one. My vision of a Libertarian America depends upon people being allowed to have choices in both their personal and economic lives. If there are a lot of people out there destroying their own property without reason, then I should probably give up and join the democrats.

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