Brennan's Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know
As expected, Jason Brennan’s latest book, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012) is excellent. The format works well for the blog age: thoughtful libertarian answers to a hundred and five frequently asked questions.
My admittedly somewhat random favorite passages:
A study by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz found that Americans use guns in perceived self-defense nearly 2.5 million times per year. This same study found that nearly 400,000 Americans believe gun ownership saved their lives. Of course, these Americans might be exaggerating the danger they faced, and they might be mistaken in believing that a gun was necessary to save their lives. However, suppose just 1 out of 10 of these Americans were correct. Under that assumption, the number of lives saved by private gun ownership each year exceeds the number of lives lost.
Brennan’s wording admittedly made me nervous. The second sentence sounds like 400,000 total, while the last sentence gives an annual figure. When I dug up the original study, though, Brennan’s summary was exactly correct. (Also check out this calm discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Kleck and Gertz and competing estimates).
Another surprising passage:
If Wal-Mart started to pay high wages, Wal-Mart jobs would become attractive to skilled workers. People who currently work as medical assistants or car mechanics would want Wal-Mart jobs. Since they are more productive and have more skills – since their labor is worth more – they will outcompete the kind of people who currently work at Wal-Mart. So, raising wages above market levels is unlikely to help unskilled workers. Instead, it causes job gentrification. (Imagine if Wal-Mart offered to pay its workers $100/hr. Then many of my colleagues would consider becoming Wal-Mart cashiers).
As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.