Reverse Birth Control: A Thought Experiment

Some prominent sociologists argue that teen pregnancy, when it occurs, is functional.  Teen pregnancy is a foolish life choice for middle-class teens, because they’re sacrificing bright futures.  Lower-class teens, in contrast, don’t have bright futures to sacrifice, so why wait to become a parent?  I’m skeptical of the underlying counter-factuals, but never mind that.  Frank Furstenberg’s “Teenage Childbearing and Cultural Rationality” (Family Relations, 1992) rebuts the functionalists with a thought experiment that is as powerful as it is concise:

[I]f they had to take a pill for a month in order to become pregnant, relatively few teenagers, especially those of school age, would become parents. And, if they had to obtain permission from their parents to take that pregnancy pill, very few parents would give their consent.

In other words, the main source of teen pregnancy is just impulsiveness.  If youths act on their immediate feelings, pregnancy swiftly follows whether they want to get pregnant or not.

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Ethical Consistency, Does it Really Matter?

We see or hear it all the time. Whether we’re on social media or having a conversation with a friend or family member, you may hear or read something like this, your redneck coworker may say, “We just need to turn the middle east into a sheet of glass!” Meanwhile, your progressive, career college student cousin may say something like, “We need someone like Bernie in the white house so we can finally get universal health care!”

More often than not these examples are due to the lack of something I consider invaluable as a Voluntaryist… ethical consistently.

To the best of my understanding, the lack of ethical consistency in today’s culture has led, and continues to lead people toward further social, economic, and foreign policy disasters. For this reason, I wanted to go over the concept of ethical consistency as I see it, the definition of the term, and some examples of how it’s applied in real world scenarios.

Consistency—the absence of contradictions—has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. Ethics is supposed to provide us with a guide for moral living, and to do so it must be rational, and to be rational it must be free of contradictions. If a person said, “Open the window but don’t open the window,” we would be at a loss as to what to do; the command is contradictory and thus irrational. In the same way, if our ethical principles and practices lack consistency, we, as rational people, will find ourselves at a loss as to what we ought to do and divided about how we ought to live. Ethics require consistency in the sense that our moral standards, actions, and values should not be contradictory. Examining our lives to uncover inconsistencies and then modifying our moral standards and behaviors so that they are consistent is an important part of moral development.

Consistency and Ethics, from the center of applied ethics at Santa Clara University.

I’ve observed that, especially in the realm of political opinion, being ethically consistent seems to be a real challenge. And as I wrote earlier, this leads to a lot of confusion, controversy, and conflict.

In order to further explain, I’ve provided five scenarios along with an explanation of how ethical consistency applies.

Scenario #1
-Murder is considered illegal or unethical.
-Accidentally killing civilians with drone strikes is collateral damage and therefore justified.

In this example, it should be fairly obvious that killing is inherently unethical, whether intentionally or by accident, however some people believe there is an exception to this universally accepted rule when it comes to war…or so they’ve convinced themselves. In a way, I can’t blame them. They’ve spent a lifetime inundated with nationalism, from reciting the pledge of allegiance in public school every morning to social media and network news filling them with pride for country and military worship.

And that’s the problem. The programming has been incredibly successful, so successful some people have lost their ability to discern between murder and accidentally killing innocent people.

Scenario #2
-Robbing someone of the cash in their wallet is considered illegal or unethical.
-Taking money from someone through the act of taxation is justified.

Think back to when were a child, do you remember when one of your siblings or playmates took your favorite toy from you? I’m not sure I can remember that far back either, but if you have children, nieces or nephews, you’ve witnessed this drama firsthand.

The recognition of personal property is innate in human beings, we know what is ours.

As we mature, we begin to understand the benefits of sharing, whether it’s the desire to connect with others or more selfish reasons. For example, some may share their candy with classmates in order to be seen as likeable and some may do so in order to garner social status and the benefits involved with being popular.

Although we’ve come to find sharing as a virtuous thing to do, we choose so voluntarily. We choose to donate money, our time, or make charitable donations of items because we receive some type of psychological reward.

In the case of the mugger stealing the cash in your wallet, we know this is inherently unethical. In the case of taking someone’s money via taxes, we know that this act is also inherently unethical. Why? Because, unlike charitable donations, the money is being taken from you. Some may say that they’re happy to pay taxes and that’s great! You make your charitable donations to the state and I’ll spend my money supporting alternatives to such coercive systems.

Scenario #3
-A group of neighbors come to your house and forcefully abducted you for smoking a plant in your living room is considered illegal or unethical.
-The police come to your house and forcefully abducting you for smoking a plant in your living room is justified.

Do you own yourself? Is your body, your self considered personal property? Are you responsible for actions taken? Do you have a sense of personal agency?

I would answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions, therefore my body and my actions are mine. If I were to eat a fatty steak and wash it down with a double Old Fashioned, does that affect anyone else? Of course not, but if I were to get in my car intoxicated and hit someone else, that would be violating their person, their self.

Whether it’s eating a steak while drinking bourbon, smoking weed, or doing meth, it’s my body. As long as I do so without affecting anyone, it’s my decision alone.

The act of being abducted by your neighbors simply because they made a “No Weed” rule between them is inherently immoral. The same thing applies to being abducted by the police. In addition to your neighbors, strangers helped make the rules restricting the rights of others to do what they choose with their bodies. The police enforce these rules, although they call them laws instead. Whether rule or law, a person’s self ownership precedes both.

Scenario #4
-A group of people mandating your children attend church is considered unethical.
-The state mandating your children attend school is justified.

My explanation of scenario number three applies here as well. However, in this case it’s not your person, it’s your child’s person.

What separates adults from children is the adults sense of personal agency and responsibility. Since children lack this understanding, their parents, other immediate family members, or other types of surrogate caregivers have the responsibility of taking care of them.

Now this part is going to sound insensitive and simplistic, but hear me out. Your child is your possession. Until they also have a sense of personal agency and responsibility, you are as responsible for them as you are for yourself. Therefore, you have the final say when it comes to their person.

By mandate or law, forcing a child to attend anything without the consent of the parent is inherently unethical.

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“Serving” and “Fighting for Freedom”

How did the word “serve” become shorthand for “being an armed tool of oppressive political thugs“? I prefer people who serve those they serve, voluntarily and with unanimous consent using the economic means, rather than being a “tax” junkie who endangers me and those I love and care about. Cashiers, waiters, repairmen/women, and people like that serve. Military members, not so much. The word “serve” has become one of the most popular lies statists love to tell.

You can’t “fight for freedom” by fighting people who are not threatening your freedom.

You can’t “fight for freedom” by fighting for those who enslaved you to fight on their behalf.

Your freedom doesn’t depend on defeating some tribal thug on the other side of the planet who doesn’t pose a credible threat to anyone in America; it depends on defeating the people who are actually a credible threat to your freedom, here and now.

You are not “fighting for freedom” when you join with the greatest actual threat to your freedom and go around the world provoking others on their behalf. You’re endangering my freedom, and everyone else’s, too.

Yes, freedom means doing whatever you want to do. So, if your “want to” includes doing those things, you are free to do them. But you are hurting everyone else. You are an enemy of something much greater than freedomliberty. You are free to do that, but you have no right to do so. You are part of the problem. A big part.

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Morality is Based on Consent, Government is Not

At its core, morality is about consent. What is the difference between sex and rape, employment and slavery, or trade and theft? In each case, consent is what differentiates voluntary, peaceful interaction from coercion and violence.

Consent is also what is conspicuously absent from all forms of government throughout human history.

The great lie that is frequently embraced by conservatives, constitutionalists, and even some Libertarians is that the American “system” of government was once good and fair and legitimate, and that it only became problematic once it was corrupted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. federal government has, since the ratification of the constitution, been a criminal cabal, illegitimately claiming authority over the lives and property of individuals.

A simple review of the constitution will reveal this claim to be true.

Among other troubling claims, the constitution asserts that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…”; “To borrow Money…”; “To regulate Commerce…”; “To declare War…”

Did you consent to any of these things? Did you consent to have your property stolen, your trade regulated, money borrowed on your credit, and war declared in your name?

I certainly did not!

That the state continues to perpetrate these violative actions without your consent reveals the state to be every bit as criminal as the rapist, the slaver, and the thief.

Respect for individual consent is not only the defining component of morality, it is the key to peace and prosperity. This is equally true at every level of human existence from personal relationships to world affairs.

We understand at a fundamental and basic level that rape, slavery, and theft are wrong. These aren’t things that have to be outlawed before our consciences tell us there is a problem. Likewise, we can recognize that all violations of consent—even when they are perpetrated by the state and its enforcers—are equally problematic.

This is why a system of government can never be fixed or perfected. It is foundationally, fundamentally, and inescapably immoral for some people (even if they represent a majority or are elected by a majority) to impose their preferences on others without their consent.

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Historically Hollow: The Cries of Populism

History textbooks are full of populist complaints about business: the evils of Standard Oil, the horrors of New York tenements, the human body parts in Chicago meatpacking plants.  To be honest, I haven’t taken these complaints seriously since high school.  In the absence of abundant evidence to the contrary, I say the backstory behind these populist complaints is just neurotic activists searching for dark linings in the silver clouds of business progress.  When business offers new energy, new housing, new food, the wise are grateful to see the world improve, not outraged to see a world that falls short of perfection.

Still, I periodically wonder if my nonchalance is unjustified.  Populists rub me the wrong way, but how do I know they didn’t have a point?  After all, I have near-zero first-hand knowledge of what life was like in the heyday of Standard Oil, New York tenements, or Chicago meat-packing.  What would I have thought if I was there?

If we’re talking about the year 1900, I’m afraid we’ll never really know.  Yet what I’ve seen with my own eyes during the last fifteen years has done much to cement my out-of-sample confidence.

During this time, I’ve seen the tech industry dramatically improve human life all over the world.

Amazon is simply the best store that ever existed, by far, with incredible selection and unearthly convenience.  The price: cheap.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media let us socialize with our friends, comfortably meet new people, and explore even the most obscure interests.  The price: free.

Uber and Lyft provide high-quality, convenient transportation.  The price: really cheap.

Skype is a sci-fi quality video phone.  The price: free.

Youtube gives us endless entertainment.  The price: free.

Google gives us the totality of human knowledge!  The price: free.

That’s what I’ve seen.  What I’ve heard, however, is totally different.  The populists of our Golden Age are loud and furious.  They’re crying about “monopolies” that deliver firehoses worth of free stuff.  They’re bemoaning the “death of competition” in industries (like taxicabs) that governments forcibly monopolized for as long as any living person can remember.  They’re insisting that “only the 1% benefit” in an age when half of the high-profile new businesses literally give their services away for free.   And they’re lashing out at businesses for “taking our data” – even though five years ago hardly anyone realized that they had data.

My point: If your overall reaction to business progress over the last fifteen years is even mildly negative, no sensible person will try to please you, because you are impossible to please.  Yet our new anti-tech populists have managed to make themselves a center of pseudo-intellectual attention.

Angry lamentation about the effects of new tech on privacy has flabbergasted me the most.  For practical purposes, we have more privacy than ever before in human history.  You can now buy embarrassing products in secret.  You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret.  You can interact with over a billion people in secret.

Then what privacy have we lost?  The privacy to not be part of a Big Data Set.  The privacy to not have firms try to sell us stuff based on our previous purchases.  In short, we have lost the kinds of privacy that no prudent person loses sleep over.

The prudent will however be annoyed that – thanks to populist pressure – we now have to click “I agree” fifty times a day to access our favorite websites.  Implicit consent was working admirably, but now we all have to suffer to please people who are impossible to please.  Yes, tech firms made a business decision to ramp up privacy protections; but this business decision is tainted by a barrage of thinly-veiled threats of government persecution.  In a functional world, we would have a few start-ups catering to privacy fanatics – and the rest of us could enjoy the bounty of the tech industry without this absurd digital red tape.

How, though, do I logically leap from the unreliability of populists on tech to the unreliability of populists on business in general?  After all, anyone can make a mistake.  My reply: Being negative about the tech industry isn’t just a small, isolated mistake.  Populists are applying massive intellectual energy to major issues and ending up painfully wrong.  This is strong evidence that their whole way of thinking is deeply corrupt.  They don’t deserve our trust or attention – not today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.

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Why is Immigration a “Contentious Issue in Classical Liberalism”?

“Contentious Issues in Classical Liberalism” was the theme of this year’s Mont Pelerin Society.  This gave me a chance to explore a major puzzle: Sociologically, immigration clearly deserves to be on the agenda.  After all, many people otherwise sympathetic to human freedom and free markets support even more immigration restrictions than we already have.  Intellectually, however, it’s hard to see why.

The plot thickens when you notice that pro-freedom immigration skeptics routinely use arguments that almost never use in any other context, starting with:

1. Collective ownership.  Yes, if countries are the collective property of their citizens, then they have a right to regulate immigration.  But this also implies nations’ right to regulate everything else, too!  You can’t live on my land without my consent, but neither can you open a store on my land without my consent, or even hire someone to work on my land for less than the minimum wage without my consent.

2. Collective guilt.  Yes, if e.g. foreign Muslims are collectively guilty for whatever wrongs foreign Muslims have done in the past, then immigration restrictions against Muslims would be justified.  But this also implies that other people can legitimately hold us collectively guilty for whatever wrongs “we’ve” done in the past.  So affirmative action, reparations for slavery and colonialism, returning land to American Indians, and much more are suddenly on the agenda.

3. Shocking anecdotes.  Yes, if we ought to take shocking anecdotes seriously, then any awful immigrant action on CNN justifies a major policy response.  But this also implies that shocking anecdotes about poverty, health care, worker safety, and the environment on CNN also justify major policy responses.

4. Popular support.  Yes, if “This is what citizens want, and they’re entitled to get their way,” then immigration restrictions easily pass muster.  But so do virtually all the policies classical liberals traditionally oppose, starting with protectionism and a bunch of price controls.

Unless you’re going to abandon the whole classical liberal framework, basic intellectual hygiene requires you to excise any argument along these lines.  What remains?  Only arguments claiming that the consequences of immigration are awful enough to overcome the standard classical liberal presumption against government action.

How does that approach fare?  See my full presentation to find out.  Bonus: A bunch of Zach Weinersmith cartoons!

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