Category Archives: Open Thread

The Libertarian Hard Cases, Part II: Mental Incapacity

About a week ago, I began a discussion of what I call the “hard cases” for libertarian ideas with some open questions about the status of children under a libertarian theory of natural rights. The comments to that post, as well as the follow-up Monday Open Thread, yielded some interesting ideas that I intend to respond to in the near future.

Before that, though, the second part of the discussion I wanted to start involves a similar subject — how would a libertarian society protect the rights of adults who are mentally or physically incapacitated and unable to provide for themselves and protect their rights ?

Judging Mental Incapacity

What determines when an individual has become mentally incapacitated to such a degree that they are incapable of making the decisions that people are usually assumed to be able to make on their own ?

In some cases, the determination would seem to be rather easy. An elderly person with full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of dementia, or suffering from severe brain damage after a stroke, would clearly seem to fall into this category. Persons in that category are clearly suffering from some form of brain damage as a result of illness or injury that has left them without the ability to think rationally.

But what about some of the other forms of mental illness that we’ve become familiar with, such as schizophrenia ?

There are those, such as Thomas Szasz, who would argue that these “lesser” forms of mental illness don’t exist at all and that forced hospitalization of people that psychiatrists and psychologists refer to as “mentally ill” is a form of state-supported imprisonment of someone who hasn’t committed any offense other than behaving strangely.

On the other hand, there is the argument that someone who is a danger to themselves or, potentially, others should not be permitted to simply roam the streets without being treated.

Leaving Szasz to the side, is there a libertarian argument in favor of forced treatment of the mentally ill, and, if so, under what circumstances should such forced treatment be permitted to occur ?

The Role Of The State

There are issues that come into play here that are similar to those that arise with children. Who is responsible for the care and safety of a mentally incompetent adult ? The first choice is always the family, obviously, but, just was with children (and perhaps even more so here) the potential for abuse and neglect exists — not to mention the fact that many families may not be able, financially or otherwise, to do everything that needs to be done to provide for a person in this condition.

At what point, if ever, should the state step into a family situation such as this and say that the family is not acting in the best interests of the incompetent adult ?

There are several other issues that could fit into this topic — most notably the issue of insanity and criminal responsibility, which is worthy of a post all it’s own — but this should be enough to get things started.


Monday Open Thread: Well, Isn’t This Interesting

Why, I’ve got to ask myself, are the left-wing bloggers starting to go after Ron Paul ? After all, he’s still barely registering in the polls, and he’s clearly not within the mainstream of the present-day Republican Party (although I consider that a positive). He probably isn’t going to win the nomination.

So why are we starting to see posts like this and this ?

And it’s not just one blogger either,the meme is being picked up by Crooks and Liars, Liberal Values, MoJoBlog, The American Street, The Impolitic, Making Light, Campaign for America’s Future and The Mahablog.

What is it about this campaign that has the left so nervous ? I have my own ideas, but speculate away.

Monday Open Thread — Hard Cases Edition

Doug recently posted a “Libertarian Hard Cases” thread about how to deal with issues related to children. Libertarianism is one of the few political systems that treats adults like adults and holds them responsible for their actions; it assumes that people are rational actors who are capable of making decisions in their own life and deserve rights commensurate with that ability. But it has difficulty answering questions regarding people who are not capable of making those decisions and cannot be trusted with the rights to do so, such as children and the mentally disabled.

Undoubtedly, there are many other libertarian hard cases. So this thread is a call to the readers here to give us ideas. What libertarian “hard cases” would you like to see addressed?

For example, I’ll be writing a post soon regarding the rights of parents to choose to vaccinate or not vaccinate children. There are two clear questions that arise:

1) As a parent, do I have the right to not vaccinate, which is a choice that some would consider tantamount to abuse or neglect of a child, if I believe that the potential harm of a vaccine is worse than the disease it is preventing against (such as chicken pox)?
2) Does society as a whole have a legitimate claim to supersede my right to choose not to vaccinate, as it creates an externality that increases the likelihood that we see an outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases?

These are difficult questions, and ones that I think may result in disagreements within the contributors here, so it could lead to some interesting fireworks. If you have any suggested topics, let us know.

The Libertarian Hard Cases, Part I: Children

It’s been awhile since we’ve done an open thread here and, even though it’s not Monday, in the course of reading Brian Doherty’s Radicals For Capitalism,, I’ve been running a few issues through my head.

They all deal with what I’ll call the “hard-cases” for libertarians, and they’re areas where libertarian ideas have not really filtered into the mainstream of public debate.

They fall into two categories, (1) children and the mentally incapacitated (which the law generally refers to as persons under a disability) and (2) private activities which have consequences beyond the private sphere in which they are conducted (also called externalities). I was going to address all of these issues in one post, but it seemed wise to break it up.

First, the subject of children.

Children — The traditional view is that, until they reach the age of 18, children are incapable of making rational decisions. Therefore, they are treated as wards of their parents or, if the parents or other family members cannot or do not care for them, the state.

With children there are two areas where libertarian ideas don’t seem to be particularly well-developed:

The Age Of Majority:   

While 18 as the age of majority is a purely arbitrary number and there’s nothing magical that happens to a person on the morning of the day they turn 18 that suddenly makes them capable of making decisions they couldn’t make the day before, there is a clear advantage to having such a bright-line test. Take the case of contracts, under current law, any contract entered into by an unemancipated minor before they turn 18 is capable of being declared void by a Court; this is meant to project the child from what may have been an unwise decision made with insufficient maturity.

Drawing the line at 18 is arbitrary, but I would submit that a line has to be drawn somewhere, and 18 is a good a point as any other. If there weren’t a bright line rule, then each contract entered into by someone we now call a minor would be subject to a defense that that the person entering into lacked the capacity to understand what they were getting into — and each case would have to be adjudicated on its on factual merits. While this might seem the “fair” thing to do, it is hardly, from the perspective of the legal system the efficient thing to do and would involve a tremendous waste of judicial resources. Unless you adopt a radical “children’s rights” philosophy — which makes no sense given the immaturity of, say, a 7 year old, even the most radical libertarian is required to admit that children are, at least for a time, not fully entitled to exercise the same rights as adults are.

Who Decides “The Best Interests Of The Child” ?

Next, a hyopthetical. Let’s say that there’s a child whose parents have just died in a car accident. There are relatives on both sides of the family who say that they’re best equipped to raise the child. Who decides where the child goes ? Under the law today, preference is given to guardians designated by the parents, if any, before they died, but even that decision is not final because the Courts have assumed the duty of considering what is in “the best interests of the child,” and it may turn out that Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally don’t have the best parenting skills. Similar tests are applied in a divorce situation when the parties’ cannot agree on custody.The question is this — if Courts (i.e., the state) aren’t going to be the one to make these decisions, then who is ? Can we necessarily trust distant family members to act in the best interests of young children who may or may not be better off living with someone else ? And, to the extent that the state exists to protect human rights, doesn’t it have a special obligation to protect the rights of a class of citizens who are developmentally unable to do it themselves ?

Child Abuse And Neglect

Finally, there’s the issue of child abuse. At one point is it legitimate for the state to step in and take children away from parents who are abusing them ? And, more importantly, what constitutes abuse ? Physical and sexual abuse are easy calls, of course, but what about psychological or mental abuse ?

      I’ve got a few ideas of my own on these issues, which will probably be the subject of follow-up posts are some point, but I’d like to hear what others have to say.

      Next, sometime next week, another class of humans who are not fully capable of protecting their rights, the mentally disabled.

      Tuesday Open Thread: Questions For Ron Paul Supporters

      I did this once before, but this open thread is meant to follow up directly on the post I wrote yesterday about non-interventionism and Ron Paul’s foreign policy ideas, which I follow-up on in another post today.

      So, here goes:

      1. What is the appropriate way for the United States to respond in the wake of a major terrorist attack committed by an organized group that is receiving shelter and support from a foreign government which refuses to turn over the leadership of said terrorist organization upon demand ? Is not the foreign government committing an act of war by conspiring with a known enemy ?

      2. Should a private American company be permitted to sell technology capable of being put to military use to nations that are either openly hostile to the United States or have come to power declaring their desire to expand their revolution to other nations ? What about nuclear technology ?

      3. Let’s say Ron Paul is elected President. All the troops have come home, and the Navy is busy patrolling the inland waterways. If the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to blockade the Straits of Hormuz and cut off the Persian Gulf oil supply for whatever reason, would the President be right if he sent the Seventh Fleet to break the blockade ? If not, why not ?

      4. Same scenario. Only this time, the Peoples Republic of China is aiming 10,000 surface to air surface missiles at Taiwan demanding it’s surrender. Would it be appropriate for the United States to send a naval flotilla to guard the island ?

      Have at it.

      Open Thread: Should There be a Statute of Limitations for Nazi War Criminals?

      LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) Federal authorities have begun deportation proceedings against an 85-year-old suburban Atlanta man who they say served as a Nazi guard and trained and handled attack dogs at the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.

      The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security allege Paul Henss, a German citizen who lives in Lawrenceville, about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, entered the U.S. in 1955 after hiding his concentration camp service.

      The Department of Justice announced the action against Henss on Monday; federal authorities filed an immigration document making the allegations Sept. 4.

      On Monday, in his driveway in a tidy, middle-class neighborhood where the streets are named after tennis stars, Henss said he had been an SS soldier and had trained German shepherds and Rottweilers during World War II, but he angrily denied being a war criminal.

      The question: Should there be a statute of limitations on Nazi war criminals (or war criminals in general) or are the actions of this man so horrible that he should be deported or worse? If the man was only dog handler for the SS should he be considered a war criminal? Should the term “war criminal” apply to anyone who served in any capacity (no matter how minor) in support of the Nazi cause?

      Monday Open Thread: Early Primary Edition

      We’re appearing to see a definitive change in American presidential elections, with a rush for states to move their primaries forward as early as possible. This throws out the “traditional order” where states like Iowa and New Hampshire play key roles. At stake is the potential chance for dark-horse candidates like Ron Paul to win the nomination. For someone like Ron Paul to have a chance, he needs a strong showing within those states, and then enough time to turn that buzz into actual support. In many ways, it is assumed that the mass change of primary dates will do nothing more than help the front-runners win and relegate the second-tier candidates to the scrap-heap of history. On the opposite side, many states feel that there is no legitimate reason why Iowa and New Hampshire should hold such a revered position in picking our president.

      These changes could dramatically impact the 2008 race. So what do you guys think? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

      Monday Open Thread: Iraq Edition

      So, time to bring up a touchy subject. I find myself straddling the two camps between “we broke it, and thus we must fix it” and “let’s get the hell out of there”. Basically it boils down to a hope that the surge works as expected and gives us the ability to make a pretty significant withdrawal, without appearing to be taking off with our tails between our legs, even if the situation we leave isn’t ideal. If I were in charge, I would make a withdrawal over maybe 2 1/2 years, province-by-province, all the while letting the Iraqi’s know that this is becoming their own responsibility.

      I know this blog, from the contributors to the readers, spans pretty much all sides of the issue. So what are your thoughts? How and when would you like to see America leave Iraq (“never” is an acceptable option here, if you believe we need to work with the new Iraqi government to keep a presence in the region). What steps or metrics, if any, do you think need to be accomplished first?

      Monday Open Thread: Questions For Ron Paul Supporters

      The posts about Ron Paul’s campaign have brought numerous visitors and comments to The Liberty Papers over the past several months. Some have accused some of is, me in particular, of being overly negative about Paul’s campaign. The truth is, I’m overly negative about the state of the GOP to the point where I doubt that it can nominate someone who thinks like Ron Paul at this point.

      Nonethless, I’d like to take today’s Open Thread as an opportunity to ask the Ron Paul  supporters out there some questions.

      1. Other than Ron Paul, is there any Republican candidate for President currently running that you could support in either the primaries or the General Election in 2008 ? If not, what would you do on Election Day 2008 if Ron Paul fails to win the Republican nomination ?

      2. If you do think he will win the nomination, how do you reconcile his current standing in the national polls, no higher than 3%, with that belief ?

      3. Are you supporting any Republican candidates for office (i.e., candidates for Congress, the Senate, Governor, or local offices) other than Ron Paul ?

      4. If Ron Paul doesn’t win the nomination, would you stay involved in the Republican Party

      I’ll be interested to hear everyone’s responses.

      Monday Open Thread: Market/Economy Edition

      Well, for those of you who follow the financial world, the market was all over the place last week. We saw the fed come in and try to inject $7B in liquidity, only to see the Dow drop 2% afterwards. We then saw a rate cut and a rally to close the week. Today has already been a rollercoaster. And everyone thinks that rate cut will be the saving grace and we’re clear sailing from here. I saw some pundits on the idiot box talking about how suddenly the financial stocks were “cheap”, and even heard someone say the Dow would be back to 14,000 within “weeks”. And all of them were laughing off the guy who said we have a lot farther to go before we hit bottom.

      So what’s your prognosis? Both from a market standpoint and a general economy standpoint. Everyone knows I’m bearish over the next 5-10 years, but I’m an engineer, not a finance whiz, so I’d love to hear everyone else’s take.

      And as an added question, what do you see our next President doing if the economy falters? You’re free to predict your own next President for that one.

      Monday Open Thread: Karl Rove Edition

      So this will be the big thing in the news, and all the talking heads will be offering their analysis. I’ll open the floor on this one.

      What will this mean for the future of the Bush presidency? Will this turn him into a complete lame duck, or offer the chance to bring in someone else and give him a bit of a fresh face to continue his search for a legacy that won’t include the phrase “worst president of the 21st century”?

      What will this mean for the Republican party?

      And what’s in the future for Rove? I know the talking heads are discussing his plans to write a book, but is he really just leaving now to find a new horse to back in ’08?

      Monday Open Thread: Healthcare Edition

      Last week, we had several posts related to healthcare. First, this post by guest poster UCrawford, then Ronald Reagan’s take on the issue, and finally yesterday I posted on efforts by private employers to cut costs.

      Often, though, we’re on the defensive. We’re asked to defend the current flawed system (something I don’t want to do) against an idealized version of socialized medicine. That’s no way to argue.

      So let’s craft a message. In as simple of terms as possible, what three steps would immediately take to fix our healthcare system, if you were President and had Congress ready to do your bidding?

      Monday Open Thread: Socialist Atrocity News Day

      Hey guys… I always manage to stir it up whenever I talk about Venezuela and the fact that Chavez is slowly destroying the underpinnings of a free society in his bid for dictatorial control.

      But with work, and a baby on the way, and dreams of opening a brewery dancing through my head, I don’t have much time for “research”.

      So what do you guys have? Any links of any stupid anti-freedom policies by socialists? What’s going on in the world that readers of this blog need to know about?

      This can be about any socialist country, Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, even Ecuador (still in early stages), France, etc. Even some American politicians may be worth including in this.

      Monday Open Thread: Getting To Liberty From Here

      Alright… So yesterday I alluded to one of my older, more optimistic posts, where I suggest that the internet will fundamentally change the world and be an enormous force for liberty. But on other days, I get very pessimistic, and worry that America has gone too far down, and that the trappings of “society” will forever crush liberty. On those days, I feel like the only way we’ll ever have liberty is to make our way to the frontier, and in the modern world, that’s going to have to be outer space.

      But I wonder what you guys think:

      Do we have a chance at restoring liberty? If so, what will be the cause?

      Or, if you think we’re pretty well doomed, explain why.

      Monday Open Thread: Best & Worst States

      As someone who recently moved cross-country, I know that there are definite advantages and disadvantages to living in certain places. Government regulation in a state rarely defines life in that state, but can definitely impact quite a lot of aspects. Now that I live in California, I know that the advantages of perfect weather and proximity to the beach are offset by a few things: high gas prices, high taxes, and poor government (i.e. bad public schools, etc). That doesn’t even include things such as the regulatory state increasing the cost of every other product.

      For the open thread, perhaps tell us a little about where you live, and why it’s a good or bad state… I’d particularly love to hear about some of the folks up in the Free State; once I can get my wife to stop voting Democrat, I might try to convince her to move cross-country to the bitter cold of freedom :-)

      Monday Open Thread: Reading List Edition

      Alright folks, I’ve got about a billion things going on, so my reading list hasn’t moved much in the last month… But I’ve got a couple things on tap to read, once I get a chance:

      Long Way Round – McGregor/Boorman
      1776 – McCulloch
      Anarchy, State, and Utopia – Nozick
      A Leap In The Dark – Ferling
      Free To Choose – Friedman

      What have you guys read lately, and what do you have on deck?

      Monday Open Thread: Stupid Law Edition

      As always, with an open thread, any topic is open… But I’ll start it off with a theme:

      One subject that is near and dear to my heart is beer. I brew it, I drink it, I hang out on the forums to discuss it. Since Prohibition, few other topics have generated as many stupid laws as alcohol.

      Two stupid laws in general:

      1) States that don’t allow Sunday sales of alcohol. I’ve lived in Illinois, California, Indiana, and Georgia, two of which don’t allow Sunday sales. It’s nothing more than pandering to the religious right, as Georgia’s recent attempts to overturn the ban have shown.

      2) Up until 1978, homebrewing beer was illegal. The one good thing Jimmy Carter ever did was legalize homebrewing. Now, it’s legal to brew up to 200 gallons a year (50 in Georgia, a law I broke last year). But really, why set a limit? If you’re going to regulate commercial enterprises, that’s one thing… But what if I’m not selling it? But what if I want to brew and drink 300 gallons amongst myself, my family, and friends. Is there any point to having a limit at all?

      What are your favorite pet peeve laws or other governmental stupidity?

      Monday Open Thread: Scary Phrases In Politics

      I’ve noticed that typically Monday mornings tend to be pretty slow around here. Which isn’t surprising, as none of us are quite able to make a career out of blogging (yet), and need to go to our real jobs. So here’s the first of (hopefully) many Monday Open Threads…

      I’ll give you the first theme. Words that raise the red flags in your mind when you hear politicians use them. My first comes from this post:

      Unfair Competition

      If you hear those two words come out of a politician’s mouth, you know that he’s not trying to create fair competition, he’s trying to put a stop to competition with regulation. They don’t want free competition, they want “managed” competition. I.e. no competition at all…

      So what are yours? What phrases, when you hear a politician say them, make the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, as you know whatever follows them is bound to be very bad?

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