General Comments

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15 Responses to General Comments

  1. John says:

    Mark, following up on the BHL union discussion I’m really only commenting on two points.

    1) If we take both right to work laws and union shop laws as intervention into voluntary contract, are they both consistent with above free market wages? Or was that a bit of a misread in the comments?

    2) I get the point that if a law ties the employer’s hand regarding ability to negotiate with other workers one different terms than those agreed to with the union does interfere with the natural right of association on agreed terms. That said, it’s not clear to me that an employer agreeing to a closed shop is violating any natural right. So if you claim is that some federal law violates a natural right, I agree in general.


    • Mark Friedman says:

      I’m not 100% sure that I completely understand your first comment, but I will respond to the best of my ability. I don’t accept the idea that right to work laws interfere with the right to contract, other than in a purely theoretical sense (discussed immediately below). Right to work laws simply prevent unions from making workers join or pay dues as a condition of employment, and precludes unions from acting as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers. I agree that (as I understand them) they also prevent an employer from voluntarily agreeing to a closed shop arrangement, but I question whether any sane employer would actually desire to so.

      A closed shop agreement means that in the event of a strike the employer is going to suffer major economic loss compared to an open shop situation. The former arrangement means that months will go by while the legally mandated process of bargaining with the union plays out, while in a right to work state the employer could immediately make offers to individual employees who don’t want to strike and to outside workers who would like a job even at wages less than the union demands. That said, I agree that from a natural rights perspective an employer should have the right to agree to ANY deal it wishes, although for the reasons discussed above I think this is a little like saying that someone should have the right to agree to be the victim of an armed robbery.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Mike Mooney says:

    Recently you wrote at ON THE WING that cigarette and cigar smoking should be deregulated in privately owned buildings, I noted.

    Over 35 states have legislated against this kind of smoking in areas where the public is served.

    And 105 municipalities in the U.S. have legislated against smoking at public parks and beaches.

    New York City began its regulation of smoking in parks and beaches just today, Monday, May 23rd.

    Thirty-five states and one-hundred-five cities and towns say you’re on the wrong side of progress.

    You are not persuaded by all this support for a ban on toxins in the air we breathe?

    ~ Mike M.

    • Mark Friedman says:

      Well…no. Democracies often do stupid things, or worse, things that violate people’s rights. Witness what happened to our Japanese-American citizens during WWII. Private owners have the right to control what happens on their property, unless they wish to do something that violates the rights of others, e.g. experiment with the Anthrax microbe. When private business owners set the rules for their space they violate no person’s rights, because those who do not wish to abide by those rules can stay out of that building–problem solved. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Mike Mooney says:


    Slate, in the internet magazine, has just published, on June 19, an article about Robert Nozick, in which the author Stephen Metcalf, claims that Nozick eventually found Libertarianism less defensible after the mid-1970’s (when his book was first out in print.) By the the 1980’s he was more interested in democratic institutions and less interested in unregulated capitalist markets. I’d be interested in seeing you write a comment at Slate’s site.

    ~ Mike M.

    • Mark Friedman says:

      Hi Mike,
      This is an old issue, one that I briefly mention in my book (n.10, pp.161-2). Those who say Nozick renounced his libertarianism in any meaningful way are either badly misinformed or spreading propaganda. He did later question some of the more extreme elements of his earlier views, but never offered any arguments against his earlier positions. Near to his death he gave an interview where he noted that his so-called recantation was greatly exaggerated. This story has been told a number of times, and I feel no need to respond to the guy writing in Slate. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Mike Mooney says:

    Did Robert Nozick even view himself as a “libertarian?” He had met Murray Rothbard of the Von Mises Institute, and he was aware, in his discussions with Rothbard, of Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, and many others — but he was more a scholar of fundamental issues from the 1700’s Enlightenment Era, the era of John Locke thru Immanuel Kant, one wasn’t likely to see someone like him at a third-party convention of practical politics wearing a Ron Paul pin, I’d assume. Did Nozick use the word Libertarian to refer to his convictions?

    • Mark Friedman says:

      Yes he did. See p. ix of ASU: “With reluctance, I found myself becoming convinced of (as they are now called) libertarian views, due to various considerations and arguments.” I also recall reading that he attended one of the Libertarian Party conventions, but I can’t swear to this.

  5. Mike Mooney says:

    Mark, Any news from you about your next book. I heard there’s a book by you due out in August? True? Mike M.

    • Mark Friedman says:

      Hi Mike,
      Its true that I am working on a new book that will present a streamlined, more accessible version of the moral perspective argued for in Nozick’s Libertarian Project, and will then apply the natural rights perspective to current policy debates. But, it is not yet finished and I have no publication date. I will let you know. Thanks for your interest.

  6. Larry Feldman says:

    Did you see 60 minutes on Sunday about the Opioid scandal? I get that libertarians would be bothered by the rent seeking of the distributors and the pay off by the politicians, but, assuming this follows, how would eliminating the DEA have prevented the scandal? There is no sarcasm in my question. I am open to libertarian views. I am just unconvinced that abuse can always be countered if left unregulated.

    • Mark Friedman says:

      Hi Larry:
      Thanks for these provocative questions. I am appending part of your email to me, which further clarifies your thinking:

      I think your book answered some of those concerns but I watched 60 minutes tonight and it raised an issue I can’t figure out from a libertarian perspective. DEA was charged with overseeing distributors of opioids, which they tried to do, until congress passed laws making it impossible. My initial reaction was to think one of the problems was that government was too big, too powerful and had too many valuable favors to hand out and without that power, the distributors would not have come calling with money in hand or in other words, would not have come rent seeking.

      Then I thought none of that is really relevant in this case. Congress has the power to pass laws. That in itself is what the distributors came seeking. I don’t see any way to diminish that. You could eliminate DEA, but then who would have controlled the illicit activities carried out to the detriment of society by the distributors of the drugs? You have said that in many cases, the ability to file a lawsuit is a suitable deterrent, but that means congress has to pass a law and as long as they are passing laws, there will always be rent seekers, money in hand, seeking favorable laws. Isn’t DEA a law enforcement agency that fulfills the basic requirements of a libertarian government?

      I am not sure this answer will satisfy you, but I (and I suspect most libertarians) would do away with the DEA altogether. While it is certainly, as you say, a law-enforcement agency, its mission is to enforce what I regard as unjust laws. Unjust because no state or other entity has the moral authority to mandate what competent adults do solely to themselves, including the use of painkillers. So, a willing buyer should be able to purchase Opioids from a willing seller without governmental interference from the FDA or DEA. It is perhaps worth noting that government regulation/enforcement almost certainly greatly increases the price of Opioids, tempting addicts to steal or do other harmful things to finance their habits.

      On the other hand, no person has the right to harm another innocent person, either deliberately or by negligence, so libertarians would surely not wish to terminate the right of victims of medical malpractice to sue for compensation for negligence or fraud. People are inherently flawed, and thus do nasty and harmful things to themselves and others. No libertarian believes that a free society will be anything close to perfect; then again neither is the status quo. Accordingly, unless you can convince me that doing away with the DEA and FDA would be catastrophic, I will support our freedom to choose what is best for us.

      If you still have questions, or wish to discuss this further, please follow up.

  7. Larry Feldman says:


    In your comments about zoning you start by saying, “One reason why libertarianism is such a hard sell is that we have no political experience with any set of institutional arrangements other than the nanny/regulatory/welfare state. Accordingly, it is difficult for voters to imagine how a polity built on laissez faire principles would address the various social problems that may arise in a modern society.” I couldn’t agree more, which, of course, is what makes it so hard to sort through some of the situations that arrive and determine whether or not libertarian thought is or isn’t appropriate.

    For instance, I’m sometime bothered by the libertarian idea that there shouldn’t be any regulation of environmental activities. On NPR this morning there was a report about Kentucky rolling back environmental regulations regarding the construction of disposal sites for waste generated by coal fired power plants. What is left, if we can believe NPR (which we can’t but…) is the option of suing the power plant after the fact if environmental damage occurs due to their negligence. You suggest this remedy in your book but it seems insufficient for two reason, one, it’s too late and two, those damaged by the negligence of the power plant owners end up paying for the lawsuit through increased rates. So, how do libertarians justify such an unregulated environment? It seems like most safety regulations emerged as a response to one disaster or another. I can imagine that industry would create practices in response to those disasters and that the state wouldn’t have to step in. For instance, the airline industry doesn’t want it’s planes to crash. However, help me to imagine what protections would have emerged had our society developed without environmental regulations, given polluters seemingly insatiable desire to pollute and to roll back any laws designed to prevent them from doing so. It just seems like some of our burdensome regulations really do create a safer environment – or is that not even a consideration?



  8. Larry Feldman says:


    Here’s another example:

    So in Oregon, we have a Department of Energy which sold energy credits to organizations that did not meet the requirements and the state ended up losing millions. The above story details an actual bribery case. My evolving understanding of libertarian thought is that there is a contradiction between society’s desire to grow government in order to solve problems and the growing difficult of solving problems as government grows. Rent seeking occurs. Government attains too much power. Favors are dispensed. Special treatment is parceled out. Winners and losers are determined not by the market place, but by elected officials, and more and more (these days) by deep state bureaucrats. The end result is Oregon’s Department of Energy scandal. Surely, we would be better without the department. Which leads me to the conundrum. The Department of Energy as well as Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality are supposed to fight global warming. Assuming global warming, if left unattended, will have the catastrophic results we hear about, how would society, in a libertarian environment, deal with the problem?

    Again, I am so indoctrinated to think that government must get involved in these larger societal problems, I cannot envision a non governmental solution. I can envision different solutions than the ones we hear about, but they all involve government.

    What is the libertarian response to Oregon’s Department of Energy and the most recent crisis?



    • Mark Friedman says:

      Hi Larry:
      Thanks for the additional comments. You say, “You suggest this [tort] remedy in your book but it seems insufficient for two reason, one, it’s too late and two, those damaged by the negligence of the power plant owners end up paying for the lawsuit through increased rates. So, how do libertarians justify such an unregulated environment?”

      First, by way of clarification, as discussed at pp.90-2 of my book, I am agnostic on the question of whether negative externalities such as pollution should be managed by way of bureaucratic regulations or through the tort system. This is essentially an empirical question, and we have little actual experience with an exclusive tort-based strategy. However, if we go with the regulatory approach it should be reformed in the ways I suggest in that section.

      Having said this, there is no reason that litigation must be after-the-fact. Injunctive relief–stopping the harm before it starts–is commonly available when it can be shown that plaintiffs are likely to win when the merits of the case are finally litigated. Moreover, I believe that the often massive costs of complying with poorly-drafted regulations are also passed on to the consumer, so I’m not sure which is worse.

      If–and I regard it as a real question–global warming is a major threat, then it will be a vexing problem under either a libertarian or conventional approach, due to its international scope. Under this scenario, domestic regulations (or torts) would certainly be justified, but the US alone cannot solve the problem as we are a shrinking portion of the total emissions, and our share will continue to shrink. Thus, international agreements would be required, and these would have to be fair to all countries or they will never be signed or honored. They would also have to represent an economically rational solution, as you don’t cut off your hand to deal with an ingrown fingernail. So, no easy answers here.

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