So, I’ve been thinking about rights recently, and I’ve been interested to hear some other perspectives. I’d like to put my view on rights out there by answering a few fundamental questions about rights. Other people don’t seem to think about rights the same way I do, especially my libertarian leaning friends. Libertarians tend to frame rights as either negative or positive. Negative rights are rights of non-interference, such as the right to not to be killed or the right to express yourself freely. The right to bodily autonomy is also a negative right. Positive rights are claim rights on others, such as the right to an ambulance after a car crash, the right to a public education, or the right to law enforcement (e.g., my favorite example, the enforcement of your rights!).

First, what do rights have to do with morality? I’ve talked to a few people recently who argued that they are necessarily distinct. Huh? Apparently, many people think of morality as only associated with religion. That’s simply false, and indeed, rights, too, are tied up in moral reasoning. Murder and thievery are both evil, and simultaneously violations of our “rights” to life and property. Morality is merely a question of what ought to be, not what is. If you’re arguing whether things should be this or that way, you’re making a moral argument. Rights are claims we make about what other people ought to do; they’re necessarily moral. If you violate rights, you have done someone an injustice.

Second, how rights are justified? Some think rights are intrinsically valuable. I think that’s false. Freedom, for example, is valuable only insofar as it advances human welfare or flourishing. A freedom that allows people to make evil choices that harm others has no intrinsic value. Or, as Isaiah Berlin so astutely put it,

“Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep.”

Now, one could reasonably argue that the freedom to make poor choices leads to wisdom that prevents further poor choices in the long run. But, even in that case, granting freedom is justified by long run aggregate welfare, not freedom itself. If rights exist, they are justified only by an appeal to welfare, and this appeal works most of the time (in my view).

Third, how are rights created? This is where I think people have incredibly confused views. Supposedly, either rights are “natural” (i.e., they’re handed down by God or someone), or they exist in a state of nature, or they’re intrinsically justified by an appeal to freedom or liberty. Again, huh? How can one simultaneously argue for freedom of religion and suggest that rights are “natural” or handed down by God? Let me first say something about the state of nature scenario. In a state of nature, you don’t have a right to anything. Your right to life or liberty is as good as a right to a piece of fruit you picked this afternoon. That is, you have it until someone takes it from you. Rights come into existence when a group of people agree to a social contract: they form a society and stipulate the conditions you must agree to in order to have access to the benefits. What must necessarily accompany the stipulated rights is the (positive) right to have all your rights legally enforced. This is why, among other reasons, I don’t think it makes sense to defend negative or non-interference rights only. The main point here is that it never makes sense to talk about rights in terms of whether they exist or don’t exist, e.g., “Health care is right, not a privilege” or “No one has a right to health care.” WE DECIDE WHAT RIGHTS EXIST AND DON’T EXIST. And hopefully, if we’re a just society, we judge whether we’re going to create rights by weighing the costs and benefits to society.

Fourth, what sorts of implications does this have for viewing issues commonly based in the “rights” dialogue? A few points here, and then I’ll open it up. Whether or not we grant a right to life, liberty, a public education, an ambulance ride, etc. ultimately depends on whether we’ve determined that affording such a right to citizens would be worth the costs of enforcement. As we become a richer society, we can afford to grant more rights: negative and positive. The cost-benefit analysis we conduct will necessarily depend on the circumstances and resources we have as a society. The best argument against affording a right to health insurance is that the opportunity cost is greater than the benefit, not that “No one has a right to health care.” But, it should be clear that, as health care becomes less expensive, it will become more and more likely to become a right, because the opportunity cost will, too, decrease.


Perhaps no discipline is as in crisis mode as macroeconomic business cycle theory. I am a layman with regard to the competing theories. I have largely been educated via economists’ blogs, podcasts, and several scholarly articles. But I do know a thing or two about theory choice, and the foundations behind it.

How do we decide whether a theory is correct? The short answer is we don’t. Theory choice operates a bit differently in say, physics or biology, so I’ll stick to theory choice in economics, which is still largely based in a philosophy of science framework. The most influential economic methodologists were Karl Popper and Milton Friedman despite the fact that neither of their proposed theories are worth jack squat.

Even though it has been rejected over and over again for half a century, Karl Popper’s framework is still the basic way that people think about scientific theories being “correct” or “incorrect” (those are the words I’ve seen thrown around; I usually take them to mean “true” or false, though there is even disagreement about that in philosophy of science!). Here’s how it works: a scientist freely proposes a theory. He or she checks the theory against the evidence. If the theory corresponds to the evidence, the theorist says “Yippee!” and goes on her merry way. If it doesn’t fit the evidence, that counts against the theory—the scientist must makes revisions to the theory or at least some of its auxiliary assumptions.

To be frank, everyone agrees that economics doesn’t operate this way. Economists get to “play tennis with the net down.” They get to say “Yippee!” when their theories are correct, but when they aren’t (which is often the case), they can say, “It’s a complex world” and chalk their theories failure up to the ridiculous amount of causal factors involved in economic phenomena.

What I mentioned above is empirical adequacy, namely, how well a theory fits the data. To be sure, achieving a high degree empirical adequacy is a relatively easy task. Economists who construct models are able to match them to historical data sets without much pain. However, for every data set, there are infinitely many theoretical models that can sufficiently explain the data. Prediction, in this sense, while easy, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Indeed, there’s no good reason by true predictions about the future should be privileged over predictions about the past (except perhaps that future predictions cannot possibly be so-called “fudged fit”), e.g., historical data sets.

But, no worries. It turns out there are other criteria we can use for theory choice. Simplicity and predictive power are two such criteria. (For reasons I shall not delve into here, these two go hand-in-hand). Simplicity is Ockham’s razor: don’t multiply entities beyond necessity. The reason is that complex models more easily accommodate data because there are more adjustable parameters, which makes the potential for “fudged fit” more likely. The classic example is Ptolemy’s theory of planetary motion, a model that could accommodate any alignment of the planets and stars, but only because it had many adjustable parameters (so-called epicycles). Predictive power refers to a theory’s ability to make “observable” predictions by which one could test a theory. Again, I won’t go into the reasons, but simple theories turn out to have more predictive power, and they are also more testable (they make more predictions!)

Woopdeedoo! What does it all mean Basil? Well, Austrian business cycle theory postulates that booms and busts are created by artificially low interest rates, and whatever economic downturn we experience is deserved, because, well, we didn’t really deserve all that economic growth during the boom. The theory has been criticized by Keynes (naturally), Kaldor, Friedman, Krugman, and yes, even Bryan Caplan! But, it still has many defenders after the recent downturn, and a lot of what is suggested by ABCT is agreed upon by economists (e.g., the assertion that low interests created a housing bubble). Usually, where economists disagree is that monetary policy in particular (Keynesians include fiscal policy) can play a substantial role in softening the blow of an economic downturn. This logarithmic graph (via Yglesias) is good evidence of this (in my view, anyway).

The main problem with Austrian economics in general, as I’ve said previously, is not that it’s not empirical adequate (it fits basically anything that could possibly happen), but that it doesn’t have ANY PREDICTIVE POWER. Indeed, it throws the mere thought of using quantitative models out the window, and resultantly, makes empirical adequacy a proverbial piece of cake. But who cares? Empirical adequacy is not our only concern in theory choice, and Austrian theory is pretty weak sauce in other measures of theoretical adequacy.

I’m going to start a series of blogposts on justice. My discussion will largely be based on a few books I’ve been reading by Harry Brighouse. It helps me, in developing my own views, to summarize my thoughts and analyze them critically. Also, I think Brighouse brings up so many thought-provoking questions, it is worth writing a bit about them. Whether or not you have developed a conscious view on the topics he discusses, it is often necessary to comment on his questions, even if you haven’t thought about them.

The two books I read were Justice and School Choice and Social Justice. Both were published within the last decade, and consequently contain commentary that reflects current knowledge and perspectives on justice and school choice. Brighouse does not offer a complete theory in either book, but in my experience, complete theories tend to be the most arduous to get through (I’m thinking Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or Schopenhauer’s The Will as World and Representation). This is not to say that reading those books isn’t rewarding, only that getting through them requires a great deal of scholarship. Alternatively, I’ve read these two books over the past two weeks for fun!

Stay tuned.

I’ve enjoyed much of the last ten days getting a chance to visit the Twin Cities and Las Vegas. I’ve never done much traveling (to some extent, I’ve done more in the last ten days than the rest of my life). I am anxious to do more. I prefer to visit metropolitan areas and cultures than experience nature. No doubt, the feeling of sublimity is really cool, but I’ve always found looking up at the night’s sky to be more powerful than other, as it were, natural experiences. Some cities I want to visit in the U.S. before traveling abroad are New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Seattle.

I should note that I enjoyed seeing many friends over the last ten days. Chrissy and I flew to the Twin Cities last weekend and witnessed her younger sister Lauren graduate from the University of Minnesota. She will soon have her degree in aerospace engineering conferred (though the ceremonial process has already taken place). I also enjoyed sending Chrissy’s dad, Dan Harbin, off on a seven-week cross-country cycling trip from Los Angeles to Boston. What an incredible experience that should be. Together with Chrissy’s mom Marsha and her sister Nickie, we had an awesome time in Minneapolis. We attended went to an art museum, attended a house party which featured a delicious assortment of cakes, and saw Iron Man 2 for free! Thanks to Lauren for hosting us for part of our stay.

I have never been to a place like Las Vegas. I really enjoyed hanging out with Chrissy, Eric, Justin, and John Payne. For me, Vegas was a mixed bag. Attending The Beatles: Love was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had and I enjoyed seeing Penn & Teller’s act immensely. However, Vegas had tremendously steep diminishing marginal returns for me. As Justin said during our stay, “This city has no soul.” The flashing lights, noise pollution, smoke-filled rooms were stress inducing. I experienced sensory overload. Overall, Vegas was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I went.

I was talking recently with a friend about spending a great deal of time commenting around the Internet when I really should be writing blogposts. Now, I have no idea where those comments are, though I put a lot of thought into them.

Anyhow, I recently read a blogpost by Dave Roland, an astute policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute (where Chrissy works). Dave argues that private discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, etc. is legally permissible though public discrimination is not. I wrote a long comment in response:

Hey, Dave. I had a few comments I was hoping you could respond to. I disagree vehemently with you and Dr. Paul about the legality of discrimination based on race, simply because it has caused, and continues to cause a significant harm to a great number of people. I am not sure on what grounds you’re justifying your libertarian analysis of this subject, but I don’t think it falls in line with traditional arguments against paternalism, such as J.S. Mill’s so-called “harm principle.”

“[T]he very idea of freedom requires us to tolerate certain decisions that we might find distasteful, to ensure that we have the liberty to make decisions that others might find distasteful…if one believes in personal liberty then one must necessarily be prepared to tolerate the fact that some individuals will use that liberty in ways that others might find offensive.”

It’s not just that we find segregation or discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, etc. “distasteful”, but that we actually believe it causes individuals significant harm for unjustifiable reasons. You did not invoke the so-called “harm principle” in your analysis, so I’m not sure which version of libertarianism you’re advocating here, but from that perspective, a great deal of harm is being caused to others. We are not suggesting that individuals should not be able to speak or move about freely, or that they should not be able to live a particular lifestyle or consume a product, but rather that they should not be allowed to engage in behavior that significantly harms a specific group of people. Indeed, the harms caused by discrimination and other wrongs done to the black community throughout the history of the United States are still significantly present today, and place the individuals within it at a significant disadvantage that is difficult to overcome and completely unjust.

“The effect might not be immediate, but eventually it will become plain that discrimination is both foolish and costly.”

This is completely ahistorical.

“A power that can be used in ways of which you approve can also be used in ways that you find repugnant.”

You see that this applies to political power, but why not economic power as well? Historical injustices against the black community led to an extreme concentration of wealth in the white community, which gave them extraordinary power to discriminate against blacks. Whether or not discrimination based on race is on the books matters not; it is equally unjust in either case. It’s irrelevant whether it was caused by economic or political power, though whites had a monopoly on both.

“The government’s sole responsibility would be to ensure that those who sought actively to harm others would be brought to justice and, if necessary, their victims compensated for any demonstrable, quantifiable injuries suffered.”

Do you believe that discrimination based on race does not harm others? Or that those who practice it do not do so intentionally?

“…those who believe that the world ought to be ordered in some particular way. But not only does it represent a denial of individual liberty, a government vested with the power to dictate decisions made by its citizens can very easily turn against those who had hoped to use it to pursue their vision of a “good” society.”

This is unfair. You believe that the world should be ordered in a particular way. Namely, you believe that no one should be denied your concept of “individual liberty.” You believe in a vision of a “good” society, something to the effect of: “A good society is one that does not violate rights X, Y, and Z (as I have construed them). A society that violates those rights is unjust. A society should not violate individual rights or liberties.”

Some people like to present themselves as skeptics. In a jousting tournament, the skeptic likes to present all other views as knights competing against each other, while she sits high above, judging and criticizing the competitors. But that’s not reality. The skeptic is a jouster just like everyone else.

You have a view of the good. You are offering prescriptive claims on how to construct social policies and what kinds of acts are morally permissible or impermissible against others.


A Facebook user posted this comment in reply:

Andrew I think that you were correct in many of the things you wrote in your response to the legal discrimination blog. Discrimination is wrong and harmful no doubt. However the blogger is correct in saying that private discrimination is still legal. If someone chooses to avoid people of different color, religion, creed, or any other difference on a personal level they are being a bit stupid but are still with in their legal rights.

I replied:

Thanks for your comment. I think the author’s comment was stronger than suggesting that we cannot completely prevent private discrimination by making it illegal. That is obviously true, in my opinion. He was suggesting that, even in cases where we could prevent it, we should not. In the case you bring up, preventing discrimination would involve violating one’s right to move about freely and her freedom to associate with people she chooses. This would be a serious violation of the right to a “pursuit of happiness”, and it’s a tradeoff that must be weighed. The anti-discrimination legislation in the Civil Rights Act is much different from the case you bring up. It deals much more with discrimination in public venues such as restaurants, bars, or schools as well as employment-based discrimination. It does not mandate that individuals associate with each other in the private realm.

Let’s get started. I read Justice first, but I’m going to begin by outlining School Choice and Social Justice. It’s simply a bit more concrete.

Let me offer a point about justice before I begin. I’ve heard on popular radio the outrage at—mostly liberal perspectives—use of the phrase “social justice.” I’m thinking Glenn Beck in particular here, but certainly other conservative commentators have made similar criticisms. The phrase is allegedly used to warrant significant redistribution in income, and we are supposed to be wary of anyone who uses the phrase “social justice.” After all, the Nazis used it! To me, this is absurd. Glenn Beck has a view about what social justice is. He may not use that word; he may instead say that redistribution is “theft”, “a violation of property rights”, “unconstitutional”, or “not what the founders intended.” But, these are all different ways of suggesting that redistribution of income is unjust. If you are offering a meaningful political philosophy that has prescriptive content, i.e., it tells you that the world would be better if it were this way, or that way, then that system will be based on your account on what you think is the most just set of social arrangements.

On to School Choice and Social Justice. I’ll begin with an overview of the book: what Brighouse’s project is and his philosophical background. Then, I’ll tackle each section of the book, discussing points I found philosophically interesting on the way. This book is about whether school choice mechanisms match up with our beliefs about the purpose of education as it relates to social justice. Brighouse believes that the purpose of education is to give children the opportunity to become autonomous citizens, the meaning of which I’ll discuss extensively. Call that view his theory of educational justice. Brighouse argues that school choice is, in fact, consistent with his theory and offers a specific program at the end of the text. Brighouse advocates egalitarian liberalism—a political philosophy that is based both with reference to J.S. Mill’s construction of liberalism and egalitarian notions of equality of opportunity. Brighouse frequently appeals to both Mill and John Rawls.

A quick comment here about Mill’s construction of liberalism, which is the one that I most identify with. While I identify as a classical liberal, I do not identify as a libertarian. I also think there are limitations on my liberalism (for instance, I support seat belt laws), but, in general, my thoughts start from a liberal perspective. [Note that I am using liberalism in the classical sense, not the modern sense]. One can divide liberals or libertarians into two groups, “thin” and “thick.” The main can be understood through a simple ethical question:

Should persons be able to sell themselves into slavery?

“Thin” libertarians or liberals believe that they should. In fact, anyone ought to be able to enter into any contract so long as both parties enter voluntarily. “Thick” libertarians or liberals believe that slavery is a violation of the individual rights and should not be permitted. Mill was the latter kind of liberal, and so am I. I believe there should be limitations on the types of contracts people are allowed to enter legally. Specifically, I do not believe that any contract that violates inalienable rights (as we have construed them) should be legally enforceable. I am unclear whether this is Brighouse’s view as well.

Brighouse begins with an overview of liberalism, beginning with ethical individualism. Ethical individualism is the view that the only thing that matters morally are individuals. When liberals talk about the good of society or whatever, they are really just talking about the aggregate good of persons. Social groups then, have no special moral consideration independent of the individuals that make them up.

We should contrast this with a few other kinds of “individualism.” Austrian economists and thinkers advocate methodological individualism. This is the view that the only thing that actually exists, metaphysically speaking, are individuals. That is, all explanations of social phenomena are reducible to individual motivations and behaviors.

Then, there’s an individualism that says that we shouldn’t consider an individual’s group identity at all. Take a particular argument against affirmative action. It says that affirmative action is wrong because it considers group identities and not individual identities. For example, how should colleges determine admissions? Those who advocate this view typically suggest that which group a person belongs to shouldn’t matter. It should be only their individual achievements and traits that should be considered.

Lastly, there’s an “individualism” that’s roughly equal to selfishness or self-interest. This view, though sometimes included in liberal theories, has nothing to do with liberalism itself, but is sometimes an extension of it. Liberals often posit, on the contrary, not only that individuals are not exclusively self-interested, but that other motivations (perhaps ethical ) significantly affect their actions.

Ethical individualism, then, is the only kind of individualism that is a necessary feature of liberalism.

Vroman argues at the Unpopular Ideas Club that animal welfare practices are futile because animals are property and should be treated like inanimate objects such as cars, and the only thing that should be considered is how food production benefits humans. He also suggests that children are the property of their parents. I’ll discuss that question extensively in my posts on justice.

I find that view scary and indefensible. We posted the following exchange in the comments section (will update as discussion is ongoing):

Andrew R. Hanson said…

How do you decide whether something has a right to life?

Robert Vroman said…

I don’t. An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself.
Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

Your conception of rights is nonsensical. Your view seems to imply that you don’t actually believe that anything has a right to life. That’s a view you can certainly attempt to defend, but your commentary here seems to make a distinction between humans and animals without a defense.

Rights can be construed morally or legally, but in either case, they require obligations from agents. The right to life, for example, requires a strong obligation of non-interference. Namely, it requires that they not kill another agent unless they have a justifiable reason for doing so.

Your view implies that nothing has a right to life. You seem to think that persons only have a “right to life” if they can fend for themselves, i.e., if they can defend themselves against other people who try to kill them. But that view doesn’t require a right to life, because it doesn’t require an obligation from anyone. There is no prescription for how agents should act. It is logically equivalent to holding no view of what agents should or shouldn’t do whatsoever.

If you want to try to defend that view, that’s fine, but your distinction between humans and animals doesn’t make any sense. Your view logically entails that humans are property to the extent that they can’t defend themselves. Slavery, genocide, and torturing babies for fun are all morally equivalent. I guess that makes your view interesting and unorthodox, but it’s not rationally persuasive.

Robert Vroman said…

“There is no prescription for how agents should act”

I have made a very clear prescription for moral behavior numerous times. Agents should act efficiently. Slavery is inefficient, because you are taking an individual capable of productive work and committing fulltime force against them, which incurs huge deadweight loss.

Genocide is obviously terrible, because its destroying huge amounts of human capital for some pointless goal of ethnic purity.

Torturing babies is bad because even within the view that infants are property, one should take care of their property. And in this case in particular, I trust parents to care for their children far more than a socialized endowment of rights protection. The few cases of psychotic parental abuse will be less suffering than the overall drain of a collective child protection agency, esp due to the tendency of bureacracies to grow and exceed their mission, and start generating false positives.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

In calculating efficiency, inanimate objects like cars, or, in your view, pets and children, are not considered. Only the preferences of agents are considered. If slaves are property, they are not agents. Their preferences are not calculated in determining efficient outcomes.

Similarly, who are you to decide whether the goal of ethnic purity is “pointless”, some central planning authority? Economic theory doesn’t give us any tools for deciding that. What if a powerful group of people decide that they would derive a lot of pleasure from ethnic purity? How can we differentiate between the two outcomes without making interpersonal utility comparisons?

One can do whatever she likes with her property. If I want to take a sledgehammer to my car, it is my right to do so. Maybe I get a lot of pleasure from destroying expensive things or torturing babies. Why does one have an obligation to “take care of” her property?

As far as parents are concerned, I generally trust them too, and we give parents a lot of leeway on how they raise their kids. But, don’t confuse the issue. Parents don’t own their kids. Children have welfare rights that require an obligation from society. It is usually most efficient for parents to provide those rights. However, in the case that they don’t, not only do we have the right to terminate their rights, we have an obligation. State-sponsored adoption agencies benefit kids; they take them out of homes where they are neglected and abused and often put them in homes where they are provided with good parents. Most adoptions are success stories, especially considering the relative hell the kids are coming from.

By the way, there are more than a few cases of parental abuse. It’s a significant problem.

Andrew R. Hanson said…

It’s very frustrating to argue with you because you keep going back and forth.

(1) Me: How do you decide whether something has a right to life?
You: An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself. Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.

Later you: Slaves are not property, they are victims of an ongoing crime.

First, which is it? You first said things that become the property of others can’t fend for themselves and don’t have a right to life. You don’t seem to realize that the inconsistency between your view about animals and your view regarding slaves. Animals were capable of fending for themselves before we domesticated them and eventually put them in a factory farming system. I still don’t understand your view on the relevant difference between the two.

Second, you have no reason to call anything a crime, let alone describe slaves as “victims of an ongoing crime” because you don’t have a theory of what the law should be.

(2) You: Torturing babies is bad because…one should take care of their property.

Later you: Yes, if you want to smash your TV or beat your kid, its none of my business.

(3) You: The reason slavedrivers want to enslave them is because they see they are productive and want to capture that revenue stream without paying the cost.

You (next sentence): its clearly more efficient to liberate the slaves and thus avoid the deadweight loss of enforcement personel

If slave owners didn’t have an incentive to enslave, they wouldn’t. The problem with slavery is not that it’s inefficient.

“Why should I be expected to pay in to a communal fund to go save someone else’s kid from them?”
Because society will be better off if you do. Again, children are not the property of their parents. We owe them obligations because they are potential autonomous persons, but require goods in order to flourish and participate in society productively.

Whether or not parents, including abusive and neglectful parents, want to relinquish their children is an empirical question, and it’s an easy one to answer. All one has to do is look through millions of Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) and court cases, see the awful things that are done to children, and simultaneously witness the fight parents put up when their kids are about to be taken away. Please watch or read the book “Precious” if you have the chance. When I worked at a state Adoption Search Program, I read through thousands of cases that were similar in nature.

It does not make a difference whether a private organization is “voluntary”, but nearly all adoption services are privately run, but state-sponsored (i.e., allocated some funding/tax benefits). The only children who are taken to state orphanages are the ones who haven’t been adopted. This makes sense: if the private sector doesn’t provide the service, we still have an obligation to provide children with welfare rights.

Adults are autonomous. They are capable of fending for themselves and deciding the life they want to lead and pursuing that end. The state has had an adult’s entire childhood to foster autonomy and productivity; it need not intervene longer after that (especially with the risks that come with intervention). Additional support is ordinarily not required except perhaps for our most vulnerable citizens. The obligation we owe them is far less than that of children. J.S. Mill speaks extensively about the difference in On Liberty .

Robert Vroman said…

“Me: How do you decide whether something has a right to life?
You: An entity makes that decision independently by demonstrating the capacity to fend for itself. Those that do not, become the property of those that do. Or die.
Later you: Slaves are not property, they are victims of an ongoing crime.”

Slaves are obviously capable of fending for themselves: they are producing value, otherwise why would anyone try to enslave them? The fact that they are able to produce value, but are prevented from trading that for protection services, indicates the society is operating inefficiently, hence immorally. The system which allows slavery is bad. Its corporatism, where slaveowners get the benefit of slaves productivity, while society pays the cost of police enforcement for slavery, and furthermore less wealth is being produced by the slaves themselves than they would have as free labor, due to the skewed incentives.

As for animals, they are fundamentally unable to produce tradable wealth outside themselves.

So one is a wealth-creator that is trapped in an inefficient system, the other can never be more than a commodity. I see no inconsistency.

“Second, you have no reason to call anything a crime, let alone describe slaves as victims of an ongoing crime’ because you don’t have a theory of what the law should be.”

Theft is a crime. I dont see where I could have made that ambiguous.

“You: Torturing babies is bad because…one should take care of their property.
Later you: Yes, if you want to smash your TV or beat your kid, its none of my business.”

Yes, people tend to be better off if they take care of their things. I strongly advise people not to destroy their own property, but I am not going to exert the effort to protect them from themselves by force. Why is this controversial?

“You: The reason slavedrivers want to enslave them is because they see they are productive and want to capture that revenue stream without paying the cost.

You (next sentence): its clearly more efficient to liberate the slaves and thus avoid the deadweight loss of enforcement personel

If slave owners didn’t have an incentive to enslave, they wouldn’t. The problem with slavery is not that it’s inefficient. ”

The problem IS that its inefficient. Costs and rewards are not alligned, overall productivity is much lower. By “liberate”, I didn’t mean that slaveowners would necessarily voluntarily release their hold. I’m saying someone else would offer to trade with the slaves, and find a rate at which it was profitable for both parties for the former-slaves to work for the new boss voluntarily, and the new boss would protect them from the taskmasters. If no one comes forward with this offer, then an opportunity is being missed. The market is not perfect, there are all manner of transaction costs and signalling problems that prevent useful economic arrangements from coming to fruition, but the trend is to ever better coordination and efficient distribution of resources.

“We owe children obligations because they are potential autonomous persons, but require goods in order to flourish and participate in society productively.”

Lets say a factory makes a tractor, which has potential to plow say 10 fields in a year which would grow 1000 bushels of corn. Except everyone interested n entering the farming market who can get capital, already has their plowing needs met. The tractor is unsold at any price, and is eventually trashed for scrap metal. The tractor should not have been made, and thus ceases to exist.

If I did not bring a child into the world, that child is not my problem, regardless of their potential to be economically useful down the road. Hopefully their parents will raise them well. If not, maybe I or others will donate to fill the gap, for whatever personal compunction. If not, then a child who should not have been created ceases to exist, or struggles through an abusive experience and eventually becomes independent on their own force of will or not. If a woman goes through the inconvenience of pregnancy, and ends up negelcting her child, and no one else is willing to step in and take over, then that baby should not have been made. There are plenty of other babies being made that parents do care about. They will become (on net) productive people. Responsible society is already doing its part for the future productivity of the next generation through their own children.

I don’t owe other people’s kids my support, anymore than I would feel obligated to buy that tractor I don’t need, just to save it from the compactor. The tractor is useful in theory, but not useful to me. Other people’s kids are not useful to me. If I think its important to have well cared for kids around to replace me someday, then I will probably have my own kids and care for them well, rather than pay to take care of someone else kids indirectly.

“society will be better off if you do pay in to a communal fund to save someone else’s kid”

Disagree. I assert as a default that any compulsory tax scheme will create more deadweight loss than it can possibly create in value, regardless of the fund’s intended purpose.
The administrative work in assessing a tax, paying enforcement personel to punish tax evaders, the tendency for mission creep, and other corruption opportunities, altogether mean its impossible for a state CPS to generate more value in the form of productive citizens who otherwise would die or become criminals, than the bureaucracy costs in terms of ongoing economic drain.
I find private charities rather dubious also, but as long as they are voluntary, Im unable to make a nonarbitrary judgment on individuals choice of disposable income sink.

“Additional support is ordinarily not required except perhaps for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Ok, so you actually do prefer a full welfare state.

“Please read the book “Precious”

Not going to do that.

I yield.