Optimality, Liberty, and the Golden Rule

I ended a recent post by saying that

the only rights that can be claimed universally are negative rights (the right not be attacked, robbed, etc.). Positive rights (the right to welfare benefits, a job based on one’s color or gender, etc.) are not rights, properly understood, because they benefit some persons at the expense of others. Positive rights are not rights, they are privileges.

Liberty, in other words, can be understood as Pareto-optimality, in which a right should be recognized only when doing so makes “at least one individual better off without making any other individual worse off.”

This is not an argument for preserving the status quo. It is, rather, an argument against having gone as far down the road to serfdom as we have gone in the United States. The regulatory-welfare state, to which we have evolved, is rife with privileges: the harming of some persons for the benefit of others. Those privileges have been bestowed in two essential ways: (a) the redistribution income, and (b) the regulation of economic and social affairs to the economic and social benefit of narrow interests (“bootleggers and Baptists“).

Liberty — rightly understood as a Pareto-optimal endowment of rights — is possible only when the Golden Rule is, in fact, the rule. As I say here,

the Golden Rule… encapsulates a lesson learned over the eons of human coexistence. That lesson? If I desist from harming others, they (for the most part) will desist from harming me…. The exceptions usually are dealt with by codifying the myriad instances of the Golden Rule (e.g., do not steal, do not kill) and then enforcing those instances through communal action (i.e., justice and defense).

Why communal (state) action and not purely private, contractual arrangements for justice and defense, as anarcho-capitalists propose? Because there is, now, no alternative to state action. The state has been commandeered by Leftist ideals. It feeds parasites, coddles criminals, and verges on acquiescence to our enemies. The restoration of liberty (or something more like it) is, therefore, impossible unless and until

social and fiscal conservatives… recapture the levers of power and undo the damage that the state has done to liberty over the past century.

There will always be a state. The real issues are these: Who will control the state, and to what ends?

Related posts:
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?” (24 Jul 2005)
Liberty As a Social Compact” (28 Feb 2006)
The Source of Rights” (06 Sep 2006)
The Golden Rule, for Libertarians” (02 Aug 2007)
Anarchistic Balderdash” (17 Aug 2007)
The Fear of Consequentialism” (26 Nov 2007)
‘Family Values,’ Liberty, and the State (07 Dec 2007)
Rights and Liberty” (12 Dec 2007)