Neither do I.

I can’t exactly say why, but I’m following samizdata. I don’t really agree with them, because they are slightly too fundamentalist libertarian for my taste. On the other hand, they are not outrageous enough to provide the entertainment I used to get from, for example, before they kicked me out. Still, one of the main reasons might be the hope that I might one day find the occasion to write a post like this one, demonstrating that my criticism is not limited to people whom I fundamentally disagree with.

Rob Fisher writes

The state does not care about you

Doing the rounds on Facebook is a story about a cancer patient told by the Department of Work and Pensions that she contributed to her illness and therefore does not qualify for some amount of welfare payment. One commenter points out that she probably broke some rule, such as drinking too much or not going to some medical appointment or other. Debate ensues about whether such rules are fair.


A government department can not know exactly how ill a certain individual feels today, and it will not visit you to find out why you did not attend an appointment. […] so it must make rules, write letters and feed forms into computers.


It is much better to look not to the state for help, but to one’s friends and neighbours. […]  If you want to look after the poor and the chronically ill, be a libertarian: take the money and the power away from the heartless state and leave it in the hands of people who care.

And this is, I’m sorry to say, almost exactly the kind of position I’m routinely criticised for and to which I sadly will no longer be able to respond to with something along the lines of „Who wants this? Show me an example! I don’t know anyone who remotely seriously would claim this kind of“ Well, to be quite honest, I couldn’t have said that, anyway, because this is not the first time I’ve read this, but whatever, this is the occasion I choose to make my stand. Here goes:

No. I call bullshit. We don’t get this easy way out. It doesn’t work. As a society, we can’t just rely on this unfounded conviction that every person has a friend of a neighbour or a relative who cares enough about him to personally take on the responsibility to provide the help this person might need one day when he or she gets into trouble. Just typing this out makes me grimace in frustration that anyone would seriously propose this as a solution.

To be fair: I’m not sure Rob means it quite so simply. He might not really think that everyone should look to individual other persons for help and trust he’ll find someone to provide it. He might think, like I do, that we don’t need the threat of violence to force people to help each other, but that we can establish reliable voluntary systems based on the realisation that we all need help from time to time and that it makes sense for a society to provide ways of getting its members back on their feet whenever they stumble, and not just leave the lying on the ground and march over them.

But if he does, I think his argument doesn’t work any more, because any such system, to be reliable and not just a matter of luck and knowing the right people who care enough about me to sacrifice significant parts of their own time and money in my interest, needs rules. And it needs exactly the same kind of rules that a government-based non-voluntary system needs. And it will not work better just by virtue of being voluntary. The only advantage it will have by virtue of being voluntary is no longer being based on force and the threat of violence, which, in my book, is more than sufficient to make it desirable. But the rest will not come automatically. There would need to be rules, just as there are rules now, and all we can hope for is that we will be able to make better rules, on a more rational basis, than our system does now, so we will truly enable those members of our society in need of help (which are ALL OF US) instead of degrading them and making them feel dependent and useless.

So, yes, the state does not care about you. It can’t, because it’s an abstract principle. But no, I don’t care about you, either, but I still understand that it is necessary for a functional society to provide help to you if you need it, and that we have to find a way of offering it (mostly) to those who do and not making it too easy to abuse for those who don’t. This challenge is easy to state but very very difficult to overcome, and we will not be able to shirk it by just claiming that everyone has parents or a brother or a friend who will certainly know what to do, and of course be willing to do it.

Bullshit. Just try asking your brothers and friends and neighbours for help when moving, and see how readily they make sacrifices for you. Furthermore, you might notice that poor people, as a rule, have poor friends and neighbors who can’t even afford to make great sacrifices for them. The system we have now is stupid and unethical, and it doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean no system at all would work better. What we need is a better system. A system that does not depend upon anyone caring for me personally, but upon rationally crafted rules.

There is a difference between a society without rulers, and a society without rules. As libertarians, we strive for the former, but not for the latter, and since no one else seems to understand this important disctinction, we should make sure that at least we ourselves do.

28 Responses to Neither do I.

  1. DasSan sagt:

    I don’t get it. So you don’t want rulers who force people to do things the don’t want to do. BUT you want a system of rules with which people comply so that they help one another.
    How would these rules be enforced? Wouldn’t you need to make sure that people comply with the rules by applying some kind of pressure (i.e. sanctions)? Or am I just being too pessimistic?

    [Also, there might be an ‚it‘ missing in ‚Here (it) goes‘ and a ‚be‘ in ‚There would need to (be) rules…‘]

  2. Thomas R. sagt:

    Everytime you talk about how taxes are such a bad thing I think „He’s such a smart guy otherwise, what is it with him and that topic“?

    Yeah, it would be great if firefighters and teachers and streets where paid for with love and free candies, but as of now, we need money for that. If one does not want to pay his share of that money, there’s always the Schuhmacher-way of moving abroad. But living here means paying taxes according to ones wealth.

  3. Muriel sagt:

    @DasSan: It’s very easy to say and very hard to put into practice: I’d like a society based on voluntary agreements, where people are not forced to comply with rules they never agreed to.
    Thank you for your corrections. „Here goes“ is intentional, the other one wasn’t.
    @Thomas R.: I’ll be happy to explain whenever you feel like playing 20 questions with me, instead of 20 assumptions.

  4. Thomas R. sagt:

    Ok, I can see how my lines sound like „Do it or get out of my country“, so I should clarify:

    A system that depends on all of the people generally called „taxpayers“ to pay their share to finance goods and services that are essential to keeping us safe and comfy in our daily lives has to have some means of enforcing the rules by which those taxes are calculated.

    We can of course start the whole discussion from the viewpoint that taxes are bad because the state uses violence to enforce them and that we only accept this injustice because its the smaller evil compared to not being able to pay for -anything-.

    But thats the same argument you can make against the necessity to eat and breath.

    You propose a voluntary system of neighbourly help. So, there is this old woman. Never paid into any voluntary system, knows nobody. Now she needs help and care. So what happens? Does the voluntary system take the case despite her not participating before? (I bet that will be great for the projects sustainability in the long run!) Or do we just let her die? Or is it maybe, just maybe, an ok idea to force her to pay her taxes and in return giving her a little immediaty payout in the form of… lets say… being able to use roads and being protected by police.

  5. Muriel sagt:

    @Thomas R.: You know the answer. Of course a sensible voluntary system wouldn’t just let her die. So why do you ask?
    Let’s try another starting point for this conversation, one that might actually get us somewhere. I’ll try tomorrow if you don’t beat me to it.

  6. Thomas R. sagt:

    I should propably end the day by stating that I certainly don’t mean any offense. I apologize if my previous comments were kind of harsh.

  7. @Muriel: Reading Thomas R.’s answer, i just have to ask again: A voluntary system from which people not participating also profit – doesn’t that just beg to be abused? Why would people voluntarily pay for it if they know they get help anyway? Except in world where everyone realizes that things can’t properly work that way, but that’s not the world we live in …

  8. Muriel sagt:

    @Thomas R.: No need for an apology, everything’s fine. I just tend towards a certain kind of impatience in arguments I know by heart, but that’s not your fault, so don’t worry if I sound a little harrassed sometimes.
    I promised another approach, and I’ll try one:
    I think that it is, as a general rule, preferrable to build a system in which people participate and contribute voluntarily because they see its advantages, and I think that threats and actual violence should, as a general rule, be the two last measures we try after all others have failed or have been determined to be hopeless.
    Would you agree with this basic position?

    @Hardcore Tristesse:

    doesn’t that just beg to be abused?

    Of course it would beg to be abused, just as our current system does.

    Why would people voluntarily pay for it if they know they get help anyway?

    I can imagine several possibilities, but I think I prefer a short twofold answer to a long multi-pronged one.
    First off, I don’t need to explain in detail how the cotton will be picked by voluntary labour if I want to oppose slavery.
    Secondly, there already are organisations to which people pay just because they want to help, and because they understand the positive impact of providing for those in need. We should not need to argue about whether such a thing would be possible.

    but that’s not the world we live in …

    Absolutely. In the world we live in right now, we need governments. I never doubted that.

  9. Rob Fisher sagt:

    I think people should look first to people they know and who care about them. I think it’s a person’s responsibility to cultivate such friends. I don’t think you can go around being such an asshole that no-one will give you the time of day without being somewhat to blame when you need help and no-one will give it.

    But of course there will still be people in need of help, and I do agree with you. I want non-violent means of helping people, like private charities or friendly societies or whatever.

    And yes, these will need rules, but they other advantages the state does not have (not just that they are non-violent):

    1) They can act locally and they can specialise, thereby having better information than the state so they can have rules that make sense and know when to bend or change their rules.

    2) They can compete. A private charity that does not help people very well, or helps the wrong people, will not receive many donations and will fail, making room for better private charities.

  10. Muriel sagt:

    @Rob Fisher: Thank you for explaining, but I’m afraid I still don’t see your argument.
    Yes, private charities can act locally, and yes, they compete. One might argue that this could mean they are better equipped for tackling the problem than a centralized government, although I’m not sure, because a government can also act locally and make rules that make sense, and furthermore, competition, yes, but how? Private charities would probably mostly compete for donations, and I tend to doubt that the relationship between helping very well and getting more donations is a rather tenuous one…
    So basically, what I’m saying: I can agree more with this comment than your original post, because it seems to make sense to me. Still, I wonder if we have a real foundation for this.
    Are there any reliable data showing that local/private charities are more effective/effictient or otherwise better at providing help than governments, or is this all just libertarian more or less wishful conjecture?

  11. @Muriel

    Secondly, there already are organisations to which people pay just because they want to help, and because they understand the positive impact of providing for those in need. We should not need to argue about whether such a thing would be possible.

    Two things come to mind for me: insurance and charity. Charity is not reliable, and insurance doesn’t help those who don’t want to participate. The latter sounds reasonable to me, with the only problem being that insurance is partly enforced by the government. Make it entirely voluntary, where’s the problem if someone doesn’t want insurance?

  12. Muriel sagt:

    @Hardcore Tristesse: I’m actually not sure if there’s no reliable charity (in the sense that they have clear rules and don’t arbitrarily refuse people), but this is another question again. My point is that people already give money to organisations although they don’t have to do that in order to receive help.
    The obligatory insurance makes sense in government logic, I think. It’s what Thomas R. wrote above: If people don’t voluntarily pay for a service we consider essential, we have to make them pay for it, whether they actually want the service or not.

  13. @Muriel: That sounds a little strange to me coming from you, to be honest. At least if it’s about insurance. Taxes would be a different thing.

  14. Muriel sagt:

    @Hardcore Tristesse: I don’t see the distinction. Would you mind elaborating for me?

  15. @Muriel: If someone doesn’t want insurance, that means they don’t pay, and in return don’t receive help from the insurance.
    If someone doesn’t want to pay taxes, we’d have to stop them from using the streets, we’d have to let the police and firefighters check if someone is a taxpayer etc.
    That’s not very effective, whereas with the insurance it doesn’t matter. So if we consider a service essential, we should still make it voluntary if there is a way to exclude those who do not participate.

  16. Muriel sagt:

    @Hardcore Tristesse: The powers that be have determined that we should not exclude people from health insurance, for ethical reasons (We don’t want people to die because they can’t afford treatment.) or from car insurance, for kind-of-ethical-as-well-as-practical reasons (We don’t want people being able to conduct a vehicle that could cause a lot of damage, without the means to pay the people who’d suffer from the damage.).
    I don’t agree with this stance, of course, but I see no fundamental difference, and I don’t even think the arguments are completely withut merit. Of course you could exclude people who don’t pay from using streets, the police, public broadcasting, or the firefighters. But we don’t want to, for several reasons.
    The people in power have just decided against it. It’s the same thing under a different name.

  17. Co sagt:

    Hi Muriel,
    (is it already too late to comment on this?). I’ve been reading your blog for a while and some of your posts have made me think about a lot of things and shown me different POV – and it’s funny too! On some things I agree with you and on some I don’t, but I never understood this vision of yours of a taxfree world. I think it goes together with your qualms with democracy.

    I’m trying to imagine how this world would work: Are prisoners paying for their stay in prison? Would children get the education their parents can (and want) to aford? Could you only go home, if you still have the money for using the road? Who’s collecting the money? Who makes the rules and who enforces them? How can people with low income participate? How can we make sure the voluntarily given money is evenly spread and that there aren’t two libraries in a town and no hospital? Would the freely financed schools, hospitals and so on all be subjected to the same standards? Are those standards still committed by the state? How is it that people are willing to give enough voluntarily, when now a lot of charities are struggling to get enough money for their projects and people decide to cheat on taxes even though there are (maybe too) harsh consequences for that (if found out)

    Maybe all of this is asking for to much. It’s like asking you to have all the answers, and I know that’s not really fair. But I would love to see how you imagine this world working to make an judgment if I can agree with you or not 🙂 (Auf Deutsch gehts auch, aber alle schreiben hier auf englisch, da hab ich mich auch dazu bemüßigt gefühlt.)

    Sweet Greetings!

  18. Muriel sagt:

    @Co: It’s never too late here on überschaubare Relevanz, but still I won’t answer your questions.
    There are two reasons.
    One is I don’t know. I could hazard sine weeks guesses, which works almost certainly be wrong and thus pointless.
    The other is I don’t think this is the conversation we need to have. My point is not that we need to have a specific form of society. My point is that whoever wants to force people to do something they don’t want has to demonstrate the necessity for that. Do you not agree with that principle?

  19. co sagt:

    Dear Muriel,
    thank you for your answer.
    I think the necessity of taxes and therefore tax payers is evident in the system we have. This system has developed over time and could have just as easily developed differently. But it didn’t. Therefore I think it has to be proven that another system (may it be voluntary payments or another form of decision who pays for what or whatever) is just as valid. Overthrowing/Abandoning a system that has developed historically (even if it isn’t good or the best or even logical) is only fruitful if the new system is better – I would think, but I might be wrong. That’s what made me ask that question: For example I can imagine several ways how to improve the democratic system we have right now in Germany or Idk the school system. I can understand different POV on what or who gets taxed how much. But „paying taxes“ in general is in my opinion a pretty genius system and I cannot imagine another one that would work this well and fair (fully well knowing that the specificities of the tax system are debatable). I think one cannot rally a lot of people in favor of changing the way things are without a vision of how things should be and how that would be better (even if that vision – at first – still has wholes in it).
    I do hope that answers your question. Right now I do not agree that who is already in power has the burden of proof on if it would be best they are in power unless they are challenged.

    Until soon – sweet greetings!

  20. Muriel sagt:


    I think the necessity of taxes and therefore tax payers is evident in the system we have.

    I think it’s not.
    The existence of a particular system cannot demonstrate its necessity.
    For example, our current society is sexist, as you probably agree. It has developed over time and could have developed differently, Is that a justification for sexism? Does that prove that a sexist society is necessary?

    Right now I do not agree that who is already in power has the burden of proof on if it would be best they are in power unless they are challenged.

    That was not my question.
    But no matter.
    I’ll ask a different one, if I may: In your opinion, how can a human being justify the use of force against another?

  21. Muriel sagt:

    @co: Oh, and by the way, we could switch to German, if you prefer. I wrote the original post in English so Rob Fisher would be able to read my comment on his post, but that doesn’t mean everyone who wishes to join the conversation needs to jump through hoops in order to do so.

  22. Co sagt:

    Hi Muriel,

    ich glaube Deutsch wäre vermutlich einfacher 🙂

    Im Moment braucht Deutschland Steuern/Steuerzahlen, um seine Zahlungen zu machen und damit Schulen offen zu halten, Straßen zu erneuern, Forschungsaufträge zu vergeben und so weiter. (So ist die Gesellschaft, in der wir leben durchaus sexisistisch, aber es braucht tatsächliche SexistInnen um diese diskriminierenden Strukturen aufrecht zu erhalten – keine sexistischen Handlungen/Verhaltensweisen, keine sexistische Gesellschaft; keine Steuern, keine öffentlichen Schulen). Nichts anderes wollte ich sagen.

    Ich stimme zu, dass es andere Systeme geben könnte, in denen das irgendwie anders geregelt werden könnte. Aber ich frage mich, wie diese Systeme gerecht ausgestaltet werden können.

    Um auf deine andere Frage zu kommen: Ich glaube das in bestimmten Situationen eine Person einer anderen mit Gewalt begegenen kann. Notwehr kommt mir als erstes in den Sinn. Es lässt sich darüber famos streiten, ob Freiheitsentzug durch den Staat bei bloßem finanziellen Schaden angemessen und rechtfertigbar ist, aber stellt das gleich das ganze System von Steuerzahlung in Frage?

    Grüßlis, Co

  23. Muriel sagt:


    Im Moment braucht Deutschland Steuern/Steuerzahlen,

    so wie der Pate seine Schutzgelder braucht. Unbestritten.

    Ich glaube das in bestimmten Situationen eine Person einer anderen mit Gewalt begegenen kann. Notwehr kommt mir als erstes in den Sinn. Es lässt sich darüber famos streiten, ob Freiheitsentzug durch den Staat bei bloßem finanziellen Schaden angemessen und rechtfertigbar ist, aber stellt das gleich das ganze System von Steuerzahlung in Frage?

    Weiß ich nicht.
    Sag du’s mir. Was rechtfertigt in deinen Augen den Einsatz von Zwang gegen andere Menschen? Notwehr hast du genannt, aber offenbar gibt es ja in deinen Augen noch andere Rechtfertigungen. Wärst du willens, zu sagen, welche?
    Ich frage, weil ich die Sache gerne von einer prinzipiellen Seite angehen möchte.
    Wenn ich etwas haben möchte, und jemand anders nicht, dann ist es in meinen Augen grundsätzlich nicht legitim, ihn dazu zu zwingen, es trotzdem mitzufinanzieren, weil ich glaube, dass Zwang nur dann legitim ist, wenn er dem Schutz vor Übergriffen gegen mich oder andere dient.
    Du siehst das offenbar anders, und mich interessiert, wie genau.

  24. Co sagt:

    puh, kinda mean. Ich dachte ich komm hierher und löcher dir den Bauch, jetzt muss ich plötzlich selber nachdenken…und das während du mir die Antwort auf die Alternative zum jetzigen System schuldig bleibst (no offense).

    Ich möchte auf gar keinen Fall den Eindruck erwecken ich hätte alle Antworten (weder für mich noch universal). Aber (basierend auf unserem Gespräch) musste ich heute nachdenken: Wenn jemand jede Nacht in mein Haus einbricht und mein Zeug stiehlt, während ich schlafe, habe ich dann auch recht mich (mit Gewalt) zu wehren, auch wenn ich körperlich unversehrt bleibe? Bzw. habe ich nicht das Recht andere (die Polizei) zu beauftragen, mein Zeug zurückbekommen und es der Diebin zur Not mit Gewalt wegzunehmen? Oder um es auf eine andere Ebene zu heben: Hat ein Staat/eine Kommune das Recht eine Firma daran zu hindern Gift in der Umwelt abzuladen, auch wenn es nicht (direkt) tödlich für Menschen ist? Ich glaube, es gibt Situationen in denen Gewalt (körperliche Gewalt und auch (temporäre) Einschränkung körperlicher Freiheit) auch korrekt ist, wenn die körperliche Unversehrtheit von Menschen nicht (direkt) in Gefahr ist. Aber, das Maß an Gewalt muss angemessen und zielführend sein (was natürlich gleich ein neues Fass aufmacht, dass ich grade mal nicht öffnen möchte).

    hmm, soweit so gut, aber was ist mit Steuern?

    Wenn also jemand nachts in mein Haus einbricht, möchte ich gerne die Polizei rufen können (hier könnte ja tatsächlich gar meine körperliche Unversehrtheit auf dem Spiel stehen). Dass alle (auch Milionärinnen oder Firmen, die sich eigene Security leisten könn(t)en) Steuern zahlen mussten, macht es doch sehr viel wahrscheinlicher, dass ich – egal wo ich bin – eine Streife möglichst schnell vorbeigeschickt bekomme. Ist der Zwang Steuern zu zahlen in diesem Fall nicht auch – wie du sagtest – Schutz vor Übergriffen gegen mich? Wäre es in einem freiwilligen System nicht abhängig davon, wie viel die Menschen in der Gegend in der ich wohne bereit sind auszugeben für Polizistinnen?
    Du siehst das Steuersystem unter dem Aspekt, dass du gegen deinen Willen gezwungen bist einzuzahlen, ich glaube das schafft aber auch eine Freiheit, nämlich dass die (eingetriebenen) Mittel gleichmäßig verteilt werden und ich nicht selbst die Verantwortung trage dort hin zu ziehen, wo es genügend Polizeistationen gibt oder mich zu entscheiden, ob ich mein (freiwillig gegebenes) Geld für Polizeischutz oder Krankenhäuser ausgeben soll. Und nicht zuletzt stellt es doch auch sicher, dass diejenigen, die es sich nicht leisten können, Geld für (Polizei)schutz auszugeben von denen mitversorgt werden, die das Geld haben (auch wenn die ein oder andere gut verdienende Person findet, der Pöbel könne sich von ihr aus gegenseitig zerfleischen).

    (Sorry, das war jetzt nicht sehr prinzipiell, sondern beispielhaft und ich weiß es ist deshalb angreifbar. Ist staatliche Bildung oder Kirchensteuer oder 6spurige Autobahnen ein Schutz vor Übergriffen? meh – aber um die Steuern im eigenen Sinne zu verteilen, wählt eins (oder engagiert sich gar) in politischen Parteien (ich weiß das ist naiv – try not to laugh so hard! – aber ich glaub gerade ganz fest daran))

    Wenn ich dich richtig verstehe, wünschst du dir ein System, dass all diese Vorteile hat, aber freiwillig ist? Ich weiß nicht, ob das nicht genauso naiv ist (s.o.). Allerdings habe ich grade ein Buch gelesen, in dem französische Nonnen in den 1880er Pariser Gefangene mit Obst und Decken versorgt haben (es ist ein Roman, ich kann für historische Akurität nicht bürgen) vielleicht ist ja doch alles so einfach.

    Grüßlis, Co

  25. Muriel sagt:

    @Co: Ich fürchte, so geht das nicht.
    Das Thema ist zu komplex, als dass wir eine Chance hätten, voranzukommen, wenn wir so viel durcheinanderwerfen.
    Ich verstehe ja ungefähr, wie du das Steuersystem siehst, und sehe auch so grob, warum es dir gefällt.
    Aber deine prinzipielle Position ist mir völlig unklar.
    Ein Mensch möchte auf eine Weise leben.
    Ein anderer auf eine andere.
    Und ich habe noch nicht verstanden, wie du entscheidest, ob du dem einen das Recht zugestehst, seine Wünsche gegen den anderen zwangsweise durchzusetzen.

  26. Muriel sagt:

    @Co: Ach so, pardon, ich habe deine Frage nicht beantwortet:

    Wenn ich dich richtig verstehe, wünschst du dir ein System, dass all diese Vorteile hat, aber freiwillig ist?

    Du verstehst mich falsch.
    Ich propagiere derzeit gar kein bestimmtes System.

  27. Co sagt:

    Hi Muriel,
    ich fürchte du hast recht. Keine Sorge, es liegt nicht an dir, ich kenne meine prinzipielle Position auch nicht… Deshalb auch meine Frage am Anfang welche, hm, alternative Vision du für die Welt hast. Ich bin selbst noch auf der Suche auf die Antwort nach der Frage wie die Welt beschaffen sein sollte (wie ich mir die Welt wünsche und wie ich dazu beitragen kann, dass diese Wünsche wahr werden). Ich hoffe, du hast nicht den Eindruck, ich hätte deine Zeit verschwendet (das war nicht meine Absicht), ich wollte nur ein wenig von deiner Weisheit abstauben 😉

    Vielleicht ist unsere nächste Diskussion fruchtvoller… bis dahin! Co

  28. Muriel sagt:

    @Co: Keine Sorge. Mir tut leid, dass es nicht viel abzustauben gab.
    Auf ein ander Mal!

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