31 January 2004

A response to libertarians and anarchists

Today Brad DeLong has a provocative post in which he repeats the ''tale of the slave'' in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Then he finds he cannot resist following up with another post offering a counter-argument in the form of the ''tale of the serf:''
Here are two situations:

In the first, you are a free and independent peasant living in a village. Your field is your own. Your crops are you own. After working, you huddle before the fire in your peasant hut until you fall asleep. A smallpox epidemic comes. You, your spouse and your children all die.

In the second, you are a peasant living in a village. Once a year a thug with a spear -- Sir Pierre de Bois-Guilbert, say -- comes and takes 10% of your crop. He uses his takings to live well in the castle up on the hill. He also employs a troubadour who comes and entertains the peasants nightly in the village square, singing, juggling, and telling stories. He also employs chirurgeons who undertake research into the balance of the four humours. One day, the chirurgeons come with their knives: they cut the arms of you and your family, and insert some cowpox-infested tissue. When the smallpox epidemic comes, you and your family (and the other families in the village) survive.

In which situation are you ''freer''? Do you really care whether you are ''freer''?


Anonymous said...

So, are peasants prevented from buying or trading for smallpox vaccines? Would the farmer also go without a plow if the government (or landlord) didn't provide it for him?

What if the smallpox epidemic never came, but your children died from the vaccine that you were forced to get? Would you feel freer then?

Anonymous said...

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”
― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law