Volokh Conspirator Jonathan Adler makes fun of me for imagining that libertarian principles might not allow the government to spend tax money to protect the planet from an incoming asteroid. Apparently we need an affirmative action program to hire conservative academics in order to cure my gross ignorance of right-wing thought.
Volokh Conspirator Sasha Volokh admits that his principles would not allow the government to spend tax money to protect the planet from an incoming asteroid. After all, taxation is a violation of rights, and can only be justified if it avoids still graver rights violations. And the asteroid, not being sentient or directed by a sentient being, can do damage but can’t violate rights. Ergo, it would be illegitimate to use the coercive power of the state to raise money for asteroid defense.
I’m glad that Adler agrees with me – and disagrees with many Tea Party lunatics, including some recently elected to the Senate and the House – that there’s no actual Constitutional question about funding the Department of Education or National Public Radio. That, of course, was my point.
I’m also glad that Sasha is standing by his guns, thus demonstrating that my argument was not directed at a mere straw man, though his objection to spending is philosophical rather than Constitutional.
Sasha worries that his honest and forthright response might confirm me in my belief that “libertarians are loopy.” That’s certainly a reasonable concern. But I would have thought that a bigger concern would be that the conclusion is, in fact, obviously loopy, and – like any good reductio ad absurdum argument, ought to lead to a re-examination of the premises that would lead to such a loopy conclusion.
Ilya Somin is right to point out that any theory that puts an absolute constraint on action runs into problems when inaction has catastrophic consequences. But if he really can’t see the difference between torture and income taxation – can’t understand why absolute opposition to torture is not analogous to absolute opposition to public spending on public goods – then “loopy” is entirely too weak a word.