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Children, Parents, and Obligations

in Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 24 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Question: In his book The Ethics of Liberty, libertarian economist Murray Rothbard says: “A parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also … should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” This sounds barbaric. How do you respond?

My Short Answer: Children’s rights are perhaps the most contentious part of the libertarian philosophy; not everyone agrees how to apply the non-aggression principle to issues involving children. Feel free to join the debate!

Some libertarians believe that bringing a helpless child into the world obligates the parents to support it. Libertarians who hold this position don’t always agree on what this means, although generally they expect that the child will be responsible for itself when it becomes an adult. Libertarians who believe that parents have an obligation don’t always agree on specifically where it starts and ends.

Some libertarians, like Rothbard, do believe that giving the gift of life does not obligate the parents to maintain that life. However, in my opinion, in a libertarian society, that would not mean that the child would be allowed to starve; in fact, it would probably have a better chance at survival than it does today. Although the parents might not want to feed the child, other adults almost certainly would, especially since so many parents want to adopt, even if the infant is impaired in some way.

Since the child is not parental property, but a separate person, if there is someone who will feed and protect it, the parents have no right to prevent its champions from nurturing it. Since an infant is helpless, concerned care-givers could certainly claim to represent the child and gain custody. This is likely to be much easier than in today’s society, which often acts as if children are “property” of their parents.

Indeed, the non-aggression principle, in allowing us to defend our rights, does not allow us to harm others, even aggressors, beyond what is necessary. In other words, if you threaten me with a weapon and I disarm you, I have protected my rights. If I then go beyond that, to maim or kill you simply to satisfy my thirst for vengeance, I am now an aggressor too.

Similarly, if parents stop others from feeding a child that they don’t wish to care for, they would be considered aggressors, as there is no need to starve the child to protect the parents’ right not to provide support.

Just as today many women choose to give up their baby for adoption, so too would parents be able to give up their baby in a libertarian society if they didn’t want to nurture it. A baby with parents who don’t care enough to feed it is going to be much better off being adopted than staying with parents forced by law to support it.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further reading on this topic from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “Defending the Non-Aggression Principle: A Reply to Matt Zwolinski Part 4” by George H. Smith. The distinguished libertarian philosopher looks at Murray Rothbard’s controversial argument, while also explaining why he thinks Rothbard is wrong on some key points; most importantly, Smith argues that parents have an obligation not to harm children and, if they do not wish to care for them, to find someone who will.

Excerpt: “No guardian can legitimately claim, ‘This infant is mine, and I will do with it as I please.’ All persons have the enforceable duty not to aggress against an infant by harming it physically, etc., but a guardian voluntarily takes on the additional positive duty of sustaining the life of her ward — first, because it is only the helpless nature of an infant — its need for a guardian to survive — that generates guardianship rights in the first place; and, second, because a guardian cannot claim the right to exclude third parties unless she accepts the positive duty of sustaining the life of an infant.”

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Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

Won’t Big Businesses Abuse Their Power in a Free Market?

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 21 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Big BusinessQUESTION: If you free big businesses from government regulations, how do you keep these same businesses from becoming an aristocracy and turning America into a feudal state?

MY SHORT ANSWER: In a libertarian society, you, the consumer, control businesses by voting to buy or not buy their products. You vote to keep them in business or shut them down. You eliminate the “bad guys” by purchasing only from the “good guys.”

In today’s society, government regulates some companies out of business, leaving a monopoly (like most local utility companies) or a cartel (like the banking industry). Limiting your choices limits your control.

Government doesn’t keep big business in check; government keeps big business big.

Business only has two ways to get big: by serving customers better than the competition or by getting Big Brother to regulate their competition out of business. Keeping government out of the marketplace keeps business in its true service role.

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LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for further reading on this topic:

* “Big Business and Big Government“ by Tim Carney, Cato Institute Policy Report, July/August 2006.

EXCERPT: “The history of big business is the history of big government. As the federal government has progressively become larger over the decades, every significant introduction of government regulation, taxation, and spending has been to the benefit of some big business. …big business and big government prosper from the perception that they are rivals instead of partners (in plunder). The history of big business is one of cooperation with big government. Most noteworthy expansions of government power are to the liking of, and at the request of, big business.”

* “The Only Way to Get Money Out of Politics“ by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom Foundation.

EXCERPT: “It’s a great myth that businesses, especially big prominent corporations, want less government intervention in the economy. On the contrary, they love government power because it provides things they can’t achieve in a freely competitive marketplace where force and fraud are barred. Corporations support and lobby for interventions that benefit themselves by hampering their competitors, both foreign and domestic. You often find companies asking for tariffs and other restrictions on imports that compete too effectively with their products. Agribusinesses welcome government (taxpayer) help in selling their products abroad; they also love subsidies, price supports, and acreage allotments. … In American history big companies were behind virtually ever advancement of the regulatory state.”


Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

What is the non-aggression principle?

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 19 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: What is the libertarian non-aggression principle?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Libertarianism is based on a single ideal, the non-aggression Keep Calm And Be Non-Aggressiveprinciple.

Libertarians oppose the initiation of force to achieve social or political goals. They reject “first-strike” force, fraud or theft against others; they only use force in self-defense. Those who violate this “non-aggression principle” are expected to make their victims whole as much as possible, via restitution.

This “Good Neighbor Policy” is what most of us were taught as children. We were told not to lie, cheat, steal, or strike our playmates, except if they hit us first. If we broke a friend’s toy, we were expected to replace it.

Most of us still practice what we learned as children with other individuals, but we have grown accustomed to letting government aggress against others when we think we benefit. Consequently, our world is full of poverty and strife, instead of the harmony and abundance that freedom (i.e., freedom from aggression) brings.

Simply put, libertarians take the non-aggression principle that most people implicitly follow in their interactions with other individuals, and apply it to group actions, including government actions, as well.

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Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

Would Blackmail be Legal in a Libertarian Society?

in Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 16 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

blackmailQuestion: How would a libertarian society deal with blackmail? Thinking of the blackmailer as a gossip offering the service of his silence for a fee, I cannot find any reason why it should be illegal in a libertarian society. Both parties receive something of value and the agreement is consensual.

My short answer: The criteria for illegality in a libertarian society would be: “Does it threaten first-strike force, fraud, or theft?” For example, if I pay blackmail to someone who would otherwise beat me, they are using the threat of first-strike force to take my money, very much like a thief does. This would clearly be against libertarian law.

If I pay blackmail to someone so that they won’t tell a true but embarrassing tale about me, I am not being threatened with first-strike force, fraud, or theft. Quite possibly, such “blackmail” might (depending upon the circumstances) be considered a private contract under libertarian law. If the blackmailer told his or her story anyway, I might be able to sue for contract violation!

If I pay blackmail to someone so that they won’t lie about me, the situation is not as clear. Many libertarians consider slander of a person’s reputation to be a violation of the non-aggression principle; others don’t.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further reading on this topic from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “Defending the Blackmailer“ by Walter Block. Walter Block has been writing about libertarianism and blackmail for decades. His collected writings on this topic are in his 2013 book Legalize Blackmail.

This provocative selection is a chapter from his classic 1976 book Defending the Undefendable, which you can download as a free ebook from the Mises Institute.

Excerpt: “What exactly is blackmail? Blackmail is the offer of trade. It is the offer to trade something, usually silence, for some other good, usually money. If the offer of the trade is accepted, the blackmailer then maintains his silence and the blackmailed pays the agreed-upon price.

“If the blackmail offer is rejected, the blackmailer may exercise his rights of free speech and publicize the secret. There is nothing amiss here. All that is happening is that an offer to maintain silence is being made. If the offer is rejected, the blackmailer does no more than exercise his right of free speech.”

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Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

What’s Stopping the Private Sector from Offering Better and Cheaper Education than the Government?

in Communicating Liberty, Education, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

Dr. Mary Ruwart is a leading expert in libertarian communication. In this column she offers short answers to real questions about libertarianism. To submit questions to Dr. Ruwart, see end of column.

The Old SchoolhouseQUESTION: If the private sector can provide education better and cheaper than the government, why aren’t they doing it? Nothing is stopping private industry from providing better service than government schools to poor children. They can do this right now and it is 100% legal. So why don’t they?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Actually, providing education to poor or even middle-class children is NOT 100% legal. Parents who send their children to school are required by law to utilize schools that meet specific requirements, such as certified teachers, accreditation, and specific types of curricula.

Even home-schoolers must abide by regulations, which differ from state to state. If parents don’t follow these regulations, their children can be taken from them by Social Services, even if the children can ace every standardized test.

In spite of these hurdles, the private sector already does provides better education for many poor and disadvantaged. The typical Catholic inner-city school takes 88% of all applicants, many of whom are not even Catholic. About 20% of Catholic schools accept students expelled from public schools. Even after adjusting for race, family background, and social class, the average Catholic high school student gained three years of learning above that of the average public school student. The educational gap between minorities and whites narrows for minorities in Catholic schools.

Ombudsman Educational Services, specializing in drop-outs, boasts an 85% graduation rate. Students advance one grade level for each 20 hours in this program, while spending half as much as the public schools. A quarter of the students at the renowned Marva Collins Preparatory School in Chicago (recently closed) had learning disabilities, yet almost all students read one level above their grade. Tuition was less than a third of what public schools in the area received per pupil.

Of course, pre-schoolers are unaffected by educational regulations. Consequently, the private sector can provide advertiser-sponsored Sesame Street and other educational programs that are essentially free for the user. Likewise, the Internet provides educational resources for just about anyone, for low or no cost, including virtually everything taught in K-12. However, even if a child had the equivalent of a college degree from such a learning experience, they still would be required by law to attend a government-regulated school or regulated home school.

There is hope. The innovative private sector may eventually overcome all of these government-created obstacles. Today many experts say we are on the verge of a revolution in cheap or free online education. One explosive new example of this is Khan Academy, which describes itself as “a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”

References:
Catholic Schools and the Common Good by A.S. Bryk, V.E. Lee, and P.B. Holland (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 246-247; 262-263; 286.

Educational Choice for Michigan by L. Reed and H. Hutchinson, (Midland, MI: Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1991), p. 49.

J.G. Cibulka, T.J. O’Brien, and D. Zewe, Inner-City Private Elementary Schools: A Study (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1982), p. 137.

Do Private Schools Serve Difficult-to-Educate Students?” by J.R. Beales and T.F. Bertonneau, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, October 1997.

C. Lochhead, “A Lesson from Private Practitioners,” Insight, December 24, 1990, pp. 34-36;

Choice, Charters, and Privatizations” by D.W. Kirkpatrick, schoolreport.com, September 1996.

“A Canadian’s Perspective on Milwaukee’s Choice Program,” School Reform News, June 1999, p. 7.

T. Hetland, “Learning Thrives at Westside Prep,” Heartland Perspective, January 15, 1993, p. 2.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for further reading and viewing on this topic:

* “The Education Visionary: Khan Academy founder Salman Khan on the future of learning,” interview by Nick Gillespie, Reason magazine, February 2013 issue

Excerpt: “[T]he nonprofit Khan Academy [offers] free online lectures and tutorials that are now used by more than 6 million students each month. More than 3,000 individual videos, covering mathematics, physics, history, economics, and other subjects, have drawn more than 200 million views, generating significant funding from both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. Khan Academy is one of the best-known names in online education and has grown to include not just tutorials but complete course syllabi and a platform to track student progress.”

VIDEO: “Khan Academy Founder Talks Radical Education Reform and The One World Schoolhouse,” interview by Nick Gillespie & Joshua Swain, Reason TV, November 9, 2012. Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie talks with Khan about how to radically transform American education, why technology is never the solution reformers expect, and how massive amounts of money go missing every day in conventional public schools. About 14 minutes.

The Alliance for the Separation of School & State: This website offers a wealth of information and arguments concerning private alternatives to government education, and how this will especially benefit the poor and disadvantaged. The organization was formed by Marshall Fritz, a pioneer in the field of freedom in education (and also founder of the Advocates for Self-Government).

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Got questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR “tough questions” on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s brand new book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.