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A Causal Debunking of the Libertarian Platform

Note: The following is an excerpt, a single post, from my end of an ongoing discussion/debate with libertarians (full thread here).

Infrastructure doesn't scale down to the local level. Its whole-clothe scale is the entire reason for the need for infrastructure and the criteria by which it is categorized. You can't build infrastructure locally. You can't build a nation at the state level. That thing, that special sauce, that essence that determines the difference between nations is exactly that thing that can't be done at a scale below the scale of the whole nation. It doesn't matter how pissed off you are that you can't keep all of your income, that you should have to pay some of it back to the system that made it possible for your money to have value, your anger isn't going to change the causal reality of economics and infrastructure. There is a classic cartoon image in which a person is sitting on the very branch that he is furiously sawing through. The libertarian philosophy is perfectly illustrated by this cartoon. The whole libertarian position is anti-causal. It flips cause and effect to satisfy a childish tantrum of short sighted selfishness.

I had a friend in Santa Cruz who was obsessed with new age self help fads. We were walking along the ocean one day when she excitedly described a class she was taking at a local continuing education facility. The class was called "Change Your Personality By Changing Your Handwriting". After describing the class exercises, she said, "Oh my, I forgot who I was talking to… why aren't you attacking this whole idea?" I said, "I am thinking, just a second." And then I began… "OK, I've got it. Imagine you are driving your car down the highway and you reach down, tear away the plastic lens in front of the speedometer, grab the red needle, and pull it one way and then the other… what do you suppose will happen to your speed?"

And then I attempted to explain the difference between cause and effect. I tried to explain that in any system, each of the attributes of that system are part of a causal network – that some of these attributes are more cause and some more effect. I explained that, underlying any system, there is a hierarchy of influence, a linear cline on which all of the elements are arranged by their relative influence. In the system that is your car, the speedometer falls very much on the effect end of the influence hierarchy. The speedometer measures and reports the speed of the car. But the speedometer doesn't much effect the speed of the car.

All measurements require a physical linking between the measurer and the system being measured. And yes, measurement always effects the system being measured – the car will in fact change speeds when you drag the speedometer needle one way or the other. But this linking is so heavily weighted towards effect that this backwards linking causality, its effect on the car's speed, would be so slight that you would be hard pressed to build a mechanism sensitive and accurate enough to detect it. That is what makes a speedometer good at reporting. It is designed to be mostly effect and assert very little cause. If you want to cause the car to go faster or slower, the accelerator and break peddles are a far better choice as they were specifically designed to sit at the causal end of the car's cause and effect influence hierarchy.

While I am sure that it is true that statistical correlations can be found that link personality types with certain handwriting attributes, the link is certainly heavily weighted towards effect and away from cause. While handwriting might indeed loosely reflect personality, the conclusion that personality types are caused by handwriting differences fundamentally ignores all of the actual influences that add up to shape the personality of any individual human. That I would have to explain this fundamental aspect of any system to a grown adult with an IQ well above average says a lot about the causal influence hierarchy within the human brain. This basic "design" flaw results almost always in emotionality that supersedes rationality… the libertarian world view for instance.

So, yes, lets imagine a full implementation of the emotionally rich, and rationally poor libertarian platform. Without income taxes, you now have 100 dollars in your pocket where you previously had just 70. But without the infrastructure from which your dollars derive value, the infrastructure that 30 dollars in taxes plan, build, and maintain, you might as well not have any money at all. Without a nation-wide, world-leading infrastructure, the effective buying power of your 100 bucks is exactly zilch. Welcome to the Congo.

Randall Lee Reetz

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