Political Hay

Utopia

Thanks to the great Robert Nozick, there is a way to allow left-liberals to live their dreams while sparing the rest of us.

By 12.24.08

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The most intelligent person I have ever met was the late Robert Nozick, formerly the Chairman of the Harvard Philosophy Department. When he lectured, his mind seemed to race with the energy of a champion thoroughbred.

Following the wisdom of Churchill, Nozick was committed to Marxist revolution at the age of 20. But continuing his study with the intense pursuit of truth, he became a capitalist libertarian long before the age of 40.

He wrote one of the greatest books of political philosophy of all time, Anarchy, State and Utopia. That book rivaled, refined and extended the great works of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, and those that followed. Among the features of that book is the definitive rebuttal of the modern A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls, which argued for a quasi-socialist theory of social justice and income redistribution. Nozick argued that the ownership of goods and wealth resulting from the free and voluntary exchanges of the marketplace was the fairest and freest outcome.

Reading the book as a younger man, I was most interested in the parts dealing with anarchy and state, and his moral arguments for limiting the powers of government to those necessary to stop and punish the use of force and fraud, all of which I still find true and correct. But having argued and debated the Left for almost 40 years, since I was a teenager writing for my high school newspaper, I am most interested now in what he had to say about utopia.

After demonstrating the moral and practical superiority of free-market capitalism, Nozick went on to argue later in the book that the ideal society would involve numerous local powers that would adopt a wide variety of different governing philosophies, from the freest of markets to the most thoroughly centrally controlled socialism. Each individual would then be free to choose to live in the locality that best reflected his or her preferred views.

When I was younger, I thought he had just showed why free-market capitalism is the fairest, freest and most productive, why would he allow any scope for anything else? Now I realize why.

What nearly 40 years of intellectual debate on these issues has taught me is that the Left's adherents are not interested in reason or truth. They fight instead with a religious fervor that reflects blind faith in socialism, and what they are after is nothing other than total power to implement their catechism. They are not the slightest bit interested in facts or logic or any counterarguments. They are busy implementing the Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials, and refuse to consider any new ideas, thoughts, or real world results.

As a young idealist, I didn't want people to suffer from the follies of left-liberalism. But now, after seeing that I am not in an intellectual battle with the Left, but a religious war, my view on this has changed. Now I do want liberals to suffer under the follies of liberalism. Because I see now that this the only way that they are going to recognize their foolishness. But just liberals. I want to keep the rest of us free of their insanity.

NOZICK'S VISION of utopia is the answer here. We can implement his vision by delegating as much power as possible back to state governments. They each should have maximum feasible control over economic policy, taxation, environmental policy, education, welfare, health policy, crime, even entitlements. If only we could figure out a way to give them each control over their own policies on immigration, terrorism, and foreign policy as well.

Let Vermont, which has the cheek to send an open Socialist to Washington as one of its senators, go ahead and have the state own and run the businesses, and maybe own the property too. They can't learn from the experience of other countries or history with such policies. So let them experience it first hand. That will then be a good close-up lesson for the rest of the country as well.

Or maybe it will turn out that the loudmouths in Vermont don't really want to walk the walk. Maybe they just want to talk the talk. That would also be a lesson for the rest of the country.

What the liberals really want on welfare is a system where the government would just provide free money, and goods and services such as housing and health care, to whoever needs it, and in whatever amounts needed, no questions asked. That is what the hard-core liberals in New York City actually advocate, and at least in regard to housing that is what they achieved on homeless policy through the courts and one liberal nutcase judge, at least for a while.

There is no concept in the world of left-liberalism of incentives and possible resulting adverse consequences for those in need, as well as for the rest of us. Any notion of incentives and their operation is an evil plot concocted by mean people, and as we know from the bumper sticker, mean people suck. People won't shirk work if their needs are provided for (as numerous real world studies and experiments show), and they won't trash housing provided to them for free (as they have with public housing).

On health care, let some states have full-blown socialized medicine. The liberal left refuses to recognize that with no incentives to control costs, the system will be swamped by demand. And with no incentives of high compensation and profits for doctors, surgeons, drug companies, or other health-care providers, the supply of quality health care will dry up as well. Who is going to invest in developing the human capital, or the physical capital of modern health-care technology, to be controlled by government bureaucrats, strictly limited in compensation, and vilified as profiteers if they complain?

This is exactly what has happened in every country that has adopted socialized medicine. But there is no reasoning with the members of the High Church of Socialized Medicine, the real establishment of religion in liberal precincts in America. So let them experience it first hand, and go to the free capitalist states to get their health care when they are really sick, like the Canadians do.

And let the liberal left states show us how they are going to power their economies and homes with energy from the wind and the sun, without that filthy oil and gas and dangerous nuclear power. And let the producers in the energy-producing states focus first on their own residents, selling only what they want to the non-producing states, at the best price they can get. I really want to watch that.


WHAT GOT ME THINKING about this recently was a local left-wing newspaper I picked up on a subway in suburban Washington, D.C. There I read a column saying now that the mean Republicans were getting voted out of office everywhere, we can return to enlightened crime policy focused on rehabilitation of prisoners, rather than the extended incarceration policies that have resulted in the largest prison population in the world here in the U.S.

America adopted all of the liberal rehabilitation fantasies on crime and punishment throughout the '60s and '70s. What the real world facts showed is that none of that remotely worked. Most crime is committed by hard-core repeat offenders who, when not in jail, are out brutalizing the innocent. The only way to stop them is to keep them locked up in prison where they can't commit further crimes. When liberal rehabilitation policies were in force in the '60s and '70s, crime soared. When conservative long-term incarceration policies were adopted in the '80s and '90s, crime plummeted.

But the liberals are still writing about the mean conservatives who want to keep people locked up rather than rehabilitating them so they can live happy, productive lives. So let them adopt their liberal rehabilitation policies in their localities and enjoy that crime they deserve there.

In the last two Cost of Government Day Reports, Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform have published official IRS data showing that every year millions of Americans move from the 10 highest tax states and into the 10 lowest tax states. This is what would happen under Nozick's utopia. People would move over time from the economically declining, overtaxed, crime infested, welfare giveaway, liberal-left states, to the economically booming, low taxing and spending, free-market capitalist states. The experience may also be a teaching moment for at least some of the liberal-left states, which would decide to join the real, free world.

But as we can see from current examples, maybe some would not. Several American cities that have been fully governed by the liberal-left for decades, Exhibit A being Detroit, but there are others too, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., are in dramatic long-term decline. Their populations have been dropping precipitously, in some cases by 50% or more, as people flee liberalism and its disastrous policies. Some cities are reaching the point where anybody who is left is either in government employment, or living on government assistance, with fewer and fewer net taxpayers.

Yet, they still keep voting for liberals, with no viable alternative in sight. We may see some formerly major American cities decline to virtual ghost towns, with nothing left but a liberal mayor and city council, and a local government employee labor union leader, requesting federal aid, and seeking taxing authority to chase taxpayers across city lines.

But that's utopia. That's what they voted for, and that's what they should have. I wouldn't want to deprive them of it. 

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About the Author
Peter Ferrara is Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy at the Heartland Institute, General Counsel of the American Civil Rights Union, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and Senior Policy Advisor on Entitlements and Budget Policy at the National Tax Limitation Foundation. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush.