Privatization and the Ought/State Gap

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This chapter argues that institutions have only instrumental value, and must be evaluated – empirically – by reference to their outcomes. Moreover, Jaworski suggests, the values of equality and fairness (for instance) that critics allege are intrinsic to state ownership are often realized as well, if not better, by privately owned enterprises; theoretical inquiries cannot prove that state-owned enterprises outperform their privately owned rivals on these dimensions.

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Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia made libertarianism a major theory in political philosophy. However, the book is often misread as making impractical, question‐begging arguments on the basis of a libertarian self‐ownership principle. This essay explains how academic philosophical libertarianism since Robert Nozick has returned to its humanistic, classical liberal roots. Contemporary libertarians largely work within the PPE (politics, philosophy, and economics) tradition and do what Michael Huemer calls “non‐ideal, non‐theory.” They more or less embrace rather than reject ideals of social justice, and they accept that positive liberty is important. The difference between them and Left‐liberals is not so much a dispute over fundamental values, but empirical disagreements about the extent of market versus government failure. In contemporary political philosophy, libertarianism remains a significant but influential minority position.1 Nevertheless, many philosophers have little sense of how libertarian and classical liberal thought has developed and changed after Robert Nozick's seminal Anarchy, State, and Utopia, published in 1974. This essay provides a short guide. The terms “libertarianism” and “classical liberalism” refer to a body of related views about politics, philosophy, and economics. As a body of related ideas, classical liberalism has the unity of a neighborhood more than a house. That said, libertarians and classical liberals generally tend to argue for following two sets of claims: • As a matter of justice, each individual has an extensive set of negative civil and economic rights, which cannot easily be overridden in the name of utility, stability, or desirable cultural goals. • Granting everyone a wide scope of personal and economic liberty tends to generate good consequences, while restrictions on liberty tend to produce bad consequences. Classical liberals accept that markets and civil society can fail, but they argue government agents generally lack both the competence and the motivation to intervene in ways that fix rather than exacerbate the problems (Mueller, 2003). The first set of arguments is deontological; the second is consequentialist. Early classical liberal thinkers, such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and David Hume, did not quite recognize this distinction. They made both arguments without any apparent worry that these were different kinds of argument. But Robert Nozick, the most famous libertarian philosopher of the Twentieth Century, seemed to focus almost entirely on rebutting deontological arguments against libertarianism with providing deontological arguments of his own. This tendency, along with the radical contrarianism of certain other mid‐Twentieth Century libertarians, seems to cause the perception that libertarians are impractical and inhumane (Barry, 1975; Sachs, 2012). In contrast to Nozick, contemporary classical liberal thought is largely pre‐occupied with social justice issues and with assessing the expected consequences of adopting various institutions and policies. In a sense, this a return to Adam Smith and origins of classical liberal thought: Contemporary classical liberals are not so much synthesizing left‐liberalism and classical liberalism as they are instead clarifying the basic concerns that have driven mainline classical liberal thought all along.2
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