Eating Your Cake nor Having It Neither

To think I was actually worried when Rand Paul suspended his campaign. Who would be there to make laughable, libertarian-lite remarks and to take utterly nonsensical positions in an attempt to compromise every principle with every claimant? Fortunately for me, Gary Johnson was there to take up the mantle, and, so far, he’s done a bang-up job of continuing the Rand Paulian message muddying. I’ve already reported that he declared religious freedom a "black hole" and said that he believes that the federal government should have unlimited authority to police human interaction so the dread bogeyman called "discrimination" wouldn’t force him to be a social conservative. Here’s the quotation most apropos to today:

[T]he objective here is to say that discrimination is not allowed for by business… I just see religious freedom, as a category, as just being a black hole.

So that was your Libertarian Party nominee for president last week. The reason I bring this up again is because the Clinton News Network had one of its laughable "Libertarian Party Town Hall" specials, in which Gary Johnson frustrates the network by sounding like a more feminine Hillary Clinton rather than a more feminine Donald Trump, and thus siphons voters from entirely the wrong side. Among many, many other moments of weirdness, Gary Johnson said this thing:

I have never written a curse word on this site, but I almost can’t fathom how else to respond to this. Rand, even in his Randiest moments, was never quite this bizarre. Just for clarity, your 2016 Libertarian Party presidential nominee says that:

  • The federal government should have the power to force people to bake cakes.
  • The federal government should not have the power to force people to decorate cakes.

And the Libertarian Party wonders why nobody takes it seriously. I guess at least Johnson is committed to the party’s ideal of "borrowing" bits from both sides of every issue!

Of course, if this were just another case of "Gary Johnson says a stupid thing," I’d write three hundred words about it, plunk it in Last Week in Weird, and we’d all just have a good laugh and move on. Sadly, this one apparently has legs; alleged "libertarians" are coming out of the woodwork all over the internet and leaping to Johnson’s defense. Not even in the usual "he said it wrong" sense, either; no, people are defending this odd idea just the way Johnson presented it. To this mindset, apparently it is a correct and proper usage of government power to compel someone to sell goods to absolutely anybody who wants to buy them, but it would be improper to use government power to compel that same person to provide a service he doesn’t wish to provide. The unstated prior assumptions here are probably worth examining before we board this crazy train, though, no?

Most obvious, of course, is the idea that the cake is a "good" but the icing is a "service." If there has ever been an utterly artificial distinction, this is it. In order to make this metaphor stand up, the pro-Johnson crowd is forced to envision a world in which bakeries work wholly unlike the way they work in reality: racks of baked, un-iced cakes are apparently on display with price tags explicitly stating, as one commenter put it, "cash and carry," and thus the baker has forfeited his right not to sell those cakes (which we will examine in more detail later, don’t you worry). In this curious world, it is apparently also standard practice for people to stop by these bakeries to pick up cakes on the way to their weddings, and thus it is legitimate to force the bakers to sell them the off-the-shelf wedding cakes they have just sitting around. Literally nothing about this bears the least resemblance to reality. Speaking as someone who has made wedding cakes before (surprise — I’ve owned a confectionery company in my day! Bet you goofs thought you’d get away with this because no libertarian commentators would have any professional experience, huh?), nobody buys an off-the-shelf cake. There are weeks and months of deliberations involved, because a wedding cake is very nearly the most custom thing in the world. Also worth noting is that bakeries don’t keep bare, un-iced cakes just lurking around, because they go stale if they’re not sealed by the icing. That’s part of the reason (along with, let’s face it, eye appeal) why you never see bare cakes in the bakery case at the supermarket. Kind of kills the whole phony distinction between "goods" and "services," huh?

I am also compelled to ask at what point the baker forfeited his right not to sell his property. It’s obvious, palpable nonsense to assert that, as soon as a good has been offered for sale, it is permanently committed to being sold to the first prospective buyer. Clearly one has the right to change one’s mind, yes? This is, in fact, the expected course of action when, for instance, selling a house: either party can back out of the sale at any time until the papers are actually signed. Why should it be any different for cakes? Until the papers are signed (or which is more likely in the case of a cake, the property is exchanged), either party is free to walk away from the sale. Consider that the buyers in our scenario would never consider the opposite appropriate: that as soon as you’ve decided to sell your $50 for a cake, you are obligated to accept the first cake to come along. This is clearly absurd. Yet every buyer is a seller, and every transaction a two-way street.

Consider also that asserting that anybody willing to pay the price is effectively "as good as" anyone else, and that the baker thus should not have the right to discriminate among them, denies the subjectivity of value. It is not for any third party — not the federal government, the Libertarian Party, or confused libertarianishes on the internet — to decide on the baker’s behalf that two things are equal in value. It is thus utterly irrational to state that the baker must accept the first buyer who can pay the price, since we’re assuming that the price must consist entirely of a quantity of dollars, and that that quantity of dollars must be held constant irrespective of any confounding circumstances. These assumptions are not only baseless, but those who assert them will find upon inspection that they surely themselves don’t believe them. What if the baker has reason to believe that the buyer stole the $50 he’s trying to spend on the cake? Surely we’d all agree that the baker can refuse that sale, yes? Clearly this buyer is not equivalent to any other buyer. What if the baker believes that the buyer is going to use the cake in the commission of a crime? Say there’s a bank teller across the street who’s deathly allergic to cake, and the buyer plans to use the cake to threaten the teller into giving him all the bank’s money. Must the baker still sell the cake? What if, instead of an actual crime, the baker just thinks the buyer is going to do something awful with the cake? Say the buyer is planning to go to the hospital and sit in front of a sick child who really loves cake, then eat the cake all by himself and refuse to share it. That would be pretty bad, yeah? Is the baker required to sell him the cake anyhow?

Of course, again, value is subjective, and that doesn’t just mean the value of a cake — it also means that the amount of awfulness attached to an action is subjective. So what if the baker considers homosexuality awful? Or maybe he thinks that homosexuals should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit, but he finds gay marriage to be an insult to his idea of what a marriage is. Should he be forced to participate in it? Your Libertarian Party presidential nominee says yes. A lot of other people who claim to be libertarians also say yes. Needless to say, they are all wrong.

Libertarian theory, as I’ve said before, is a theory of violence. It asks just one question: when is violence permissible? It does not ask how to achieve optimal social fairness, it does not take a position on religion or homosexuality, and above all it does not consider anybody’s feelings. There is plenty of room in a libertarian society for all of these things, but the core of libertarianism is nothing more or less than that question and the one equally terse answer: never in aggression. Using the guns of the government to compel people to serve customers they do not want runs absolutely counter to this answer. It has no place in a libertarian world.

Of course, this is not a libertarian world, and obviously nobody would be surprised to hear that a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump — no libertarians they — support coercing people into their own preferred patterns of behavior. Similarly, nobody should be surprised to hear it from Gary Johnson; anyone who hasn’t noticed that Gary Johnson is just a narcoleptic Democrat simply hasn’t been paying attention. Among proper libertarians, however, there is simply no room for this nonsense: the non-aggression principle is our touchstone. It tells us that, as usual, Gary Johnson borrowed a little bit of truth and a little bit of falsity, and blended them together into the world’s worst smoothie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments Protected by WP-SpamShield for WordPress