27th February 2011
Bryan Caplan dispels some smoke and smudges some mirrors.
What are you morally forbidden to do to a stranger? You may not murder him. You may not attack him. You may not enslave him. Neither may you rob him.
What are you morally required to do for a stranger? Not much. Even if he seems hungry and asks you for food, you’re probably within your rights to refuse. If you’ve ever been in a large city, you’ve refused to help the homeless on more than one occasion. And even if you think you broke your moral obligation to give, your moral obligation wasn’t strong enough to let the beggar justifiably mug you.
Notice: These common-sense ethics regarding strangers, ethics that almost everyone admits, are unequivocally libertarian. Yes, you have an obligation to leave strangers alone, but charity is optional.
One last question: What fraction of your “fellow citizens” have you actually met? Virtually zero. The vast majority of your countrymen are, in fact, utter strangers to you. When you tell your kid “Don’t take rides from strangers,” you don’t make an exception for anyone who happens to share your citizenship. Modern government – and most of political philosophy – is just a massive effort to pretend otherwise.