Left-Libertarians?

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I got an interesting note from a self-described “Left Libertarian” and  figured I’d post it – along with my reply – in the hope that it’ll generate some worthwhile back-and-forth.

Neumann writes:

I belatedly became aware of you only after a few of the lefty writers I follow turned up on Unz Review. Unz has a link to Lew Rockwell and that’s where I encountered Eric Peters. My politics are left-libertarian, which I understand is a bit of a mind-fuck for a lot of people. Nevertheless, I’ve got a long history with fast cars and the people who love, crash, rebuild and otherwise shape their lives around them. Please take a gander at my blog and let me know what you think. It’s not always about cars and it’s not always about politics. Sometimes it’s about nothing more than where my cat shits. By the way, I’m the inventor of the disposable litter box. Those beer flats are good for something.

My reply: The left-Libertarian thing intrigues me.

Confuses me.

I am all for liberty in personal areas as well as economic areas. I figure if I’m not causing tangible harm to another person by my actions – personal or economic – then I have an absolute right to be left in peace. This puts me at odds with the left and the right, which (seem to) believe in liberty in one area but not the other.

The left values free speech (well, used to value it) and defends the right of people to have sex with other consenting adults, as they like; to do as they like with their bodies, etc. I agree with and support all of those things as I hold that I only have title to myself and do not have an ownership stake in anyone else.

This is a core Libertarian tenet. It is why Libertarians also oppose “safety” laws such as mandatory seatbelt and helmet laws; the reason for that being that my “safety”is no one else’s proper business and I – as the owner of myself – have an absolute right to decide risk-reward for myself and to enjoy the benefits as well as to be held accountable for the consequences thereof.

That it is morally affronting to hold Joe “accountable” for what John has done – or because Joe might do something (to cause harm) but hasn’t actually.

The right values economic freedom, sort of (the issue of corporate rights is where I depart from many Libertarians) but also undermine this by defending, for example, property taxes to support government schools and government wealth transfer programs such as Social(ist) Security and, of course, the “defense” (sic) industry. The right also practically worships “law enforcement,” which strikes me as cognitively dissonant when juxtaposed with the idea of “limited” or “small” government.

The right claims to value individual liberty yet often supports curb stomping it when it dislikes certain expressions thereof, such as the use of arbitrarily illegal “drugs,” “speeding” (i.e., driving faster than an arbitrary number) und so weiter.

Put another way, both the left and right seem to be to be fundamentally the same creature. They are both, at core, coercive collectivist ideologies, though not formally and often not consciously.

My Libertarianism is consciously contrary – to both. It opposes both coercion and collectivism.

It maintains the absolute sovereignty of the individual, in all things – personal and economic. Thus, in the absolute right to freely associate – or not. The absolute right to own property, free of any obligation to pay “taxes” on it to be permitted temporary possession of it, as is the case currently. That taxation, as such, is theft. That no man “owes” any other man anything beyond that which he freely agreed to be bound by except respect for his equal right to be left in peace so long as he himself is peaceful.

Whether other people like what you’re doing is immaterial.

Their feelings are irrelevant.

Their hardships or bad luck do not impose an obligation enforceable at gunpoint. Other may have a claim to sympathy. They do not have a right to use force to improve their lot or to impose their wishes on others.

The only relevant thing – insofar as justifying interfering with anyone, ever is: Has this person caused tangible harm to another person or to his property? Not to “society.” Certainly to the state (or statute).

Is there, in other words, a flesh-and-blood victim? If not, then there can be no such as a crime and the person ought to be at liberty to be left alone.

That is a quick summary of my views. I’m eager to get yours!

PS: I will check out the site and – thanks for the contribution to the betterment of the lives of cat owners everywhere. I have four… not counting the ones I feed outside!

. . .

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Meh…hyphenated “libertarians” are merely those who are unable to fully commit. They’re all in on drug decriminalization, but just can’t allow themselves to envision a world where the multitude of services “provided” by the threat of the business end of a gun or loss of property or freedom (i.e. policing, fire protection, education…etc) would be better provided by choice. They need the comfort of some portions of government to wrap themselves in.

    • Hi Vic,

      I agree; and the question I’d pose to them is: How can you argue that it’s wrong to punish people for doing as they wish with their own bodies – since doing that invokes ownership of their bodies by the punishers – yet argue that it’s acceptable to force other people to hand over the product of their bodies – i.e., their work product, a portion of the the things they created with their bodies?

      It makes no sense.

      We either own ourselves – or we don’t. If we do, then it follows that we have a right to keep ourselves and control ourselves; that no one else has a claim upon us – beyond that we respect their equal right to keep themselves and control themselves.

      • Amen, EP. For as much as I like to read your thoughts, as well as things on LRC and other libertarian thinking sites, I am afraid we’re on the losing end of this battle for minds. Acceptance of statism is just too ingrained into our culture. Most folks seem to be afraid of the dynamic duo of liberty and accountability. They’re okay expecting…no, demanding… certain rights when it suits them, and turning a blind eye at other times. Call it cognitive dissonance, lack of critical thought, shallow thinking…whatever you wish, but using logic on the illogical is very likely a losing proposition.

      • The explanation that really clicked with me is that in the phrase “life, liberty, and property,” life represents the future of your self-ownership; liberty represents your present self-ownership, and property represents the result of your self-ownership up to this time.

        https://youtu.be/Yb-wM_SAX30?t=51

        • Ideals the cards as a meditation…life represents the sentence…liberty represents the cell dimensions…property represents the cell-dweller, vis a vis whichever country club prison has bagged/tagged the sittin’ zen in question.

        • Hi Henry,

          If I’m remembering correctly, Jefferson originally wanted “property” mentioned in the Declaration’s preamble. The “Pursuit of Happiness” apparently sounded better – and besides, at that time, property rights were a given thing that almost everyone understood and accepted as essential. Stating it directly might have been considered superfluous.

          Of course, it’s now been forgotten. And thus, all too many people – even those who incline favorably toward individual liberty – do not appreciate that without respect for property, the individual has no real freedom.

    • Hi Kent,

      Good one! Richard Dawkins said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further”, while remaining completely unaware of his failure to renounce belief in his “God”.

      Cheers,
      Jeremy

  2. My conclusion on Libertarianism is that it’s a wonderful theory but fails to address the depravity of man. No Libertarian politician has demonstrated (Ventura comes to mind here) that the cherished ideas transfer to governance, nor do they result in the promised personal freedoms.

    I love the theory but after trying hard to see it’s acolytes implement any of it I come to the same conclusion: Most Libertarians are really interested in legal pot. All that esoteric stuff gets abandoned almost instantly when one gets near power.

    Sorry Eric- no offense meant here. I love the site and the commentary. I visit daily and love the exchange of ideas and information.

    • Hi Auric,

      No offense taken! And you may be right. Napoleon – though a tyrant – reportedly was a closet Libertarian. But only for what the late great Hunter Thompson called snow leopards – by which he meant the handful of people capable of living in a free society.

      Still, I think it’s a laudable idea and worth defending. It may take generations before people in general are ready to live in freedom. It may never happen. But it’s still an ideal I’ll strive for.

      And in the meanwhile, I’ll take better over worse.

      The America of 1985 say, over the America of 2020!

      A good start would be a return to the idea of crimes requiring victims. This is a simple concept, easily understood and hard to argue with – unless the person you’re arguing with is not very bright or a lot mean-spirited.

      Theft, extortion, assault, rape, murder – etc. – all obviously moral crimes and so congruent with legally defined crimes. But helmet and seatbelt laws? Mandatory MPG laws? Laws prohibiting private, voluntary interactions between consenting adults? These are crimes themselves!

      And – to significant degree – American law agreed, as recently as 50 years ago. Yes, of course, there were exceptions – but by and large, people were much more free in terms of the everyday things back then they are today.

      I think most people, if they could step into a time machine and experience 1965 for a few days would like very much for 2020 to be more like 1965.

      • No doubt! I think that an ever growing and self perpetuating government is, sadly, normal. I believe this is why Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” In context Jefferson held that once fat and cruel, government must be killed and replaced. I suppose the trick is replacement with new blood- not the same old crabs we overthrew.

      • Hi Eric,

        This is something I struggle with as a person with libertarian leanings — let’s use cars as an example, since you’re a car guy! 🙂 Driving one-gas powered car doesn’t cause specific harm to most people, however, collectively we see things like smog in major urban areas with lots of cars traveling at once (think the LA freeways) coming from auto exhaust. So what is harmless *individually* can become more harmful *collectively*; so how do we balance that from a libertarian perspective? (Although I’m responding to Eric, I’d appreciate other views as well, thanks!)

        • Pollution is a property rights issue. Air pollution harms your property (and your primary property: your body). Each car does so, and more cars do so more. If someone harms your property without a prior agreement allowing them to do so in a specific way, they owe restitution. But because government claims ownership of the air above your property, air pollution is a “tragedy of the commons”.

          Most people are willing to accept the damage to their own property in return for the convenience of driving their car. You may not like this, but how would you change it? Each individual doesn’t generally recognize their own contribution to the problem, but only the collective results of everyone else doing what they are also doing.

          It would be hard to receive restitution from every driver who harms your property with his pollution, and if you drive a car, too, you’d end up also owing everyone else, so it would probably balance out. Who pays whom?

          Until each person is willing to accept their own responsibility it’s going to be hard to solve the problem. But that’s no justification for government force.

          I would accept market solutions, not government mandates.
          My market solution is that I would never live in a big city where air pollution from cars is a problem (we have air pollution from feedlots and dairies instead). I also walk and bike a lot, and my first car was electric (which shifts the air pollution elsewhere).

          But even with cars in big cities, air pollution in prosperous areas is so much less than in impoverished areas, and it’s getting better all the time. I think it is a temporary problem on its way to being a problem of the past.

          • The problem of pollution existed because the government decided against property rights. People sued about pollution right from the get go and the government’s courts didn’t care about property rights regarding dumping in the water and stuff leaching across property lines but rather decided that harm had to be proven. It took time for science and technology to be able to do that. But by the 1970s it was in full swing so Nixon created the EPA which decides who can pollute how much.

            I could come up with say a gasoline refinery that had exactly zero pollution produced. It would never get built because I’m not a player in that game and have no political contacts. That’s the way the EPA rolls.

            And some pollution as you point out is unavoidable, but a standards body could handle that. But instead we government being used for social engineering and profit. Not that a standards body couldn’t become corrupt in the same manner. Although it may be more difficult because it would mean destroying the standards body itself in most cases.

            Had the property rights approach been used the entire flaming rivers period could have been avoided IMO.

        • Chased into the inescapable cut: humanimal is collectivist, not libertarian. Outliers & the exceptions taken by them merely prove the rule.

          For collective tragedies of the tragic commons not to collect, pile up, overflow…there’d needs be no commons, no collectivism.

          But “Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell” – Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos – ain’t happening. Can’t happen.

          Tracking molecules of gasses from your tailpipe trespassing my airspace ain’t happening.

          But collectivists tracking collective contacts via apps seems to be – the latest — happening.

          Libertarians leaning into collectivists doesn’t alchemize base to precious. It can’t.

          Sisyphus leaning into that boulder doesn’t change the gravity of its, or his, identity…or the “happiness” the two chips off the old block take from the routine changelessness.

          The tragedy of the commons is the commons…but that’s also the comedy…& for that maybe an Atlas here or there – but none of the Sisyphi – can be assumed happy.

    • Hi Auric,

      I am sympathetic to your concerns and often despair that humanity will always be shackled with government. Still, if the depravity of man precludes the viability of libertarianism, surely it precludes the viability of government. For, if man is too depraved to govern himself, he is also too depraved to govern others. Government attracts and rewards the depraved, those least capable of just rule. As Kent notes, the task of libertarianism is not to impose freedom through force, but to dismantle the myth of political authority. The vast majority of almost everyone’s daily activity is anarchic in nature, voluntary cooperation for mutual benefit. The State obscures this fact.

      Also, those in the voluntary sector (people who lack the legal power to impose their will through force) are subject to regulation by consequence. Those known to cheat, steal and defraud will be shunned by the knowledgeable. As time goes on, the number of the knowledgeable will become great enough that the knave will be forced to move, or otherwise re-invent himself. This imposes a long term cost on bad behavior. Likewise, those who seek what they want through illicit force, face enormous risks. Nobody, unlike with those wielding political authority, believes that their use of force is legitimate. They will always have to fear the arrival of a stronger man, or the revolt of the people.

      Those wielding political power face no such constraints, which makes them exponentially more dangerous than the imagined strongman who would inevitably conquer any free society. No, the path to freedom cannot be achieved through politics, which is anathema to freedom. The only hope is that enough people realize that political authority is a dangerous myth. The task of libertarianism is, as Rothbard noted, to debamboozle the public in the hopes that the “Remnant” may emerge.

      Cheers,
      Jeremy

    • It comes down to the conditioning of people.
      Today we cannot imagine the libertarian world because we are good 120-150 years of breaking down the population to go the other direction. No Jesse Ventura or Ron Paul can stop the freight train. The people must stop it. Be willing to be adult individuals instead of children. But they are conditioned to be permanent children.

      The depravity of man is best controlled in the libertarian world because in that world depravity has real and often immediate personal consequences. It’s an experiment of 18th century thought and where the world had been heading for centuries to that time. To this merit based ideal. Libertarianism does address the depravity of man by making it something each individual must control in himself or fail. But in the company town model, the welfare state model, and countless other models of central control people are taken care of. The consequences of depravity covered. The method to rid people of it is top down control of their lives. That’s why we now have laws for every little thing. There’s no control of one’s self any more. There has to be a law. It’s a matter of social conditioning.

      What we are in presently is a reversion to the human mean. Back to earlier forms where people are forever children of the ruling class. Which is being kind, the better terms are property and livestock.

      The failure of libertarianism was not being able to continue diminishing the state and not being able to deal with bad actors that came out of the free market from growing the state.

      Also being free is hard work. Most people don’t want to do it.

  3. Shortest distance connecting a mindfook & a fookedmind is a dogleg, which is sorta like a boomerang, but kinkier…more like the jawbone of an ass, maybe. I mean, talkin’ outcher ass, or an arm with a hand at the end of it up yer ass & workin’ yer lip synch – c’mon, right?

    Envy’s always been a weapon, has always cut both wielder & wielded with a contagiously infected edge.

    So maybe its penal envy: I’m caught in a trap…I can’t get out…so I’d love to have you in here with me…baby.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RitvfLDm6L4

  4. Once you hyphenate libertarianism you’ve tried to tie it to something anti-libertarian. Either you support using force to violate the life, liberty, and property of others, or you don’t. There’s no “right” or “left” to it.

    • Well-said, Kent!

      Libertarianism is the only political/moral system I am aware of that has a clearly defined foundational premise: The Non-Aggression Principle. Or, put more colloquially, if he ain’t hurting you, leave him alone. Maybe I’m simple-minded, but it seems like a really nice idea.

  5. “Left-Libertarianism” is an oxymoron.

    To be “Left” (if words DO mean things) implies a socio-political outlook that would emanate from Marxist/Socialist/Progressive ideologies. The basis for this is, “to those according to need, from those according to ability”. In other words, slavery for some and slavemastery for others. It’s a system that requires some to decide who/whom, in other words A Decider (Like W). Since the only way to assure compliance is by the use of force, deadly if need be, to achieve the ends, so be it.

    Libertarianism, on the other hand, makes the claim that it is the “initiation” of force that is the one thing that is prohibited. Leftism is nothing BUT the initiation of force.

    Additionally, leftists usually express their hatred for “slavery” yet, that is the only way to make their utopia come true, by enslaving people for the benefit of those that did not earn the fruits of the labor. They talk about how they “respect” the “working man and woman” but don’t seem to mind demanding free service from someone in healthcare, education, food, etc.

    I think you said it best, Eric, when you said Socialism is weaponized Envy.

    And, Mr. Neumann, do you think using vulgarities, when stating that your Left-Libertairianism may cause confusion on the part of others, enhances your prestige?

    • Leftists don’t believe in freedom of association. These so-called “left-libertarians” end up cracking once their egalitarian sensibilities are put to the test.

      • Hi Handler and others,

        There are some good left libertarians, Sheldon Richman, Gary Chartier and Roderick Long are definitely worth your time.

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

  6. Left, right; liberal, conservative; democrat, republican; ad naseum. They are all, actually, the same thing, statists! Using government to control people, steal, and unfortunately, more and more, to kill. Unless your “liberal libertarian” friend is using a non-standard definition of liberal, he is, in my opinion, a statist in libertarian clothing.

    • Hi Charles,

      I’m looking forward to his reply. It seems to me incoherent to defend, on the one hand, an individual’s right to do as he likes with his body but, on the other, to say that what he produces with his body (including his mind) is not entirely his own, that other people – by dint of their existence – have a claim to some portion of it.

      I’ve never understood how an individual’s rights – to anything – can have force and effect if his right to property (in himself, in what he produces) is not respected.

      • Ah, sew (yerself in a shroud) grasshopper…intellectual property ain’t the intelligent thing its usual suspects Keyser Söze Wilhelm it to be, & has a whole heluva lot to do with the macramé tying Gulliver’ kangaroo down, sport. That guy Stephan Kinsella is worth some while this subject.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keth0g3CMK4

      • Hi Eric,

        While there are many self described left libertarians who advocate the use of State power to address what they perceive to be social wrongs, there are many who do not. The same is true of self described right libertarians. Also, all minarchist libertarians endorse some exercise of State power. That does not mean that they have nothing of value to offer. Jacob Hornberger, for instance, is an ally, despite his confusion, in my mind, of the necessity and legitimacy of limited government. Left libertarians hold different cultural values from conservative or right leaning libertarians. They tend to believe that traditional hierarchical institutions pose a threat to liberty and that racism, sexism, etc… do as well. They are not entirely wrong.

        As Handler noted, many left libertarians do value “egalitarianism” above free association. But, many do not, they seek to persuade, not coerce. The issue is whether they will endorse State power to impose their cultural values on others. Some will, some won’t. The same is true of some right libertarians, extremely concerned about racial and ethnic identity. Some, if given the opportunity, will endorse State force to impose their values on others, some will not.

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

        • Left is/usta be the sinister hand…but a beautiful jab’s only sinister to the jabbed.

          Truth is tho cloven wholes is what begets sinister cloven-hoofed results. Little Dutchboy damned humanimal’s got a cloven brain, tho, so you do the fractions.

          Pointdexters point…from where they stand…to where they don’t.

          Atlas don’t stand in either/or place, shrugs, jabs beautifully.

        • Leftist cultural values are not based on nature, thus must be implemented via state coercion. Sure, the disciplined “left-libertarian” will use persuasion, but for how long?

          • Hi Handler,

            First, I do not identify as a left-libertarian. Still, I think your concern is valid, but equally applicable to right-libertarians. How long, if the opportunity arises, will right-libertarians stick to persuasion vs. State coercion? Many will, many will not. Hans Hoppe, who I respect enormously, is a “thick” right-libertarian in that he believes that culturally conservative values are necessary for a free society to flourish. I believe that he will not succumb to the allure of State coercion. I am less sanguine about others. Chris Cantwell, for instance, was once an interesting and provocative anarchist thinker (his tagline, at the top of his website, used to read, “Anarchist, Atheist, Asshole”). Now, he is a boring and predictable authoritarian apologist.

            I consider self interested voluntary cooperation to be natural. Those left-libertarians who believe the same, are not my enemy.

            Cheers,
            Jeremy

            • Morning, Jeremy!

              Many conservatives, as you know, argue that respect for individual rights derives from the Judeo-Christian idea that God created us as individuals, with free will who must be free to make choices for ourselves – etc. I don’t disagree that this predicate was among the predicates that gave rise to humanism and the Enlightenment. But is it an intellectually necessary predicate? I don’t see that it is. Why not start from the self-evident fact that we are individuals and that while it is possible God created and owns us, it is inarguable that no other man can make such a claim. If, therefore, we are each the owners of ourselves and no other man has a rightful ownership stake in any other man, it follows that no other man has the moral right to control another man, control being the thing which defines ownership.

              If that is accepted, the foundation of a society of free individuals, premised on free exchange and voluntary cooperation, is established.

              • Morning Eric,

                I agree, the existence of God is not a necessary predicate. It is self evident that we own ourselves or, if one is religious, that we are the only legitimate stewards of ourselves. There are 4 possible states to consider, unowned, other-owned, God-owned and self-owned. Unowned makes no sense, other-owned also makes no sense (why would another have a greater claim on you, than you) and leads to either direct tyranny (individual slavery) or a palpable absurdity, everyone owns everyone else. This latter absurdity leads to State tyranny, the most virulent form being Socialism.

                Interestingly, God-owned and self-owned generate the same rules governing proper treatment of others, but produce very different rules governing the allowable treatment of oneself. If God-owned, mistreatment of others, or oneself, is an affront to God. If self-owned, mistreatment of others violates their rights of self-ownership but, mistreatment of oneself violates nobodies’ rights.

                This is why religious faith is compatible with a free society, but progressivism (secular faith) is not. While some abuse their faith and use it as justification to harm others, this is not required, or even allowed. Secular faith, on the other hand, requires the violation of rights as it posits that the abstract fiction called society actually owns “us” (everyone owns everyone else equally). Of course, paraphrasing Orwell, such a system guarantees that “some owners are more equal than others”.

                Cheers,
                Jeremy

                • Well-said, Jeremy –

                  I have several friends who are Christians; they are my friends because they’re not pushy about their faith and we can have – and do have – interesting/educational (I hope) discussions about the various facets. As an agnostic, I nonetheless respect honest religion – meaning, to me, religion that accepts we must each come to our own conclusions – and value much of the beauty and civilization that has been engendered by religious faith (while also acknowledging the barbarous aspects; it’s part of the package).

                  • Hi Eric,

                    I consider myself a pro religion atheist, which baffles my liberal friends. By atheist, I mean that I am certain that I don’t believe in God, but I lack the effrontery to claim I am certain that God does not exist. The other day I was playing pool with a dear friend and devout Christian. I asked him whether his Church had revealed which God it actually reveres. He laughed and said, “unfortunately yes, my brother”. He knew, immediately, what I meant.

                    A few days later, again playing pool, in flagrant violation of the “cower in place” fatwa, he said, “today. I am 34 years sober”. Of course, I congratulated him. This is a man who had lost nearly everything and was living under a bridge. He claims that Jesus came to him and offered salvation, a promise of a better life, here and in the hereafter. Since then he has become a truly exceptional man, a loving father, a generous and tolerant soul, a man who helps others, without judgement.

                    He Knows that I am an atheist, yet we discuss religion often. He says that I know far more, and am a better Christian, than most who call themselves so. He knows that I like to drink and he always has a bottle available for me, despite my protestations that it’s unnecessary.

                    Anyway, I marvel at the moral depravity of anyone who would seek to take his faith from him. The “new atheists” seek this; they are not really atheists, they are devout Statists who wish to destroy the religious faith in others and replace it with secular faith. But, unlike the religious faithful, they lack the self awareness and humility to acknowledge their own faith.

                    Cheers,
                    Jeremy

  7. The Left believes in liberty only in the sense of; sex, drugs and rock and roll. A meaningless position against the full on statism they seek to implement their failed ideas of; free sex, free drugs and free rock and roll with free income, free healthcare and free housing.
    The Republicans are worse in that they sell themselves as some sort more efficient version of implementing government with only a small hint of accountability. All a façade.

    • Amen, Hans –

      Personally, I respect the right of another man to “do drugs” – to do anything he likes, with his body – which it seems self-evident to me he and he alone owns. Certainly, it is self-evident that no other man owns his body and thus has no rightful claim to it. Nor to the fruits of another man’s body, the product of his labor or creativity or anything freely acquired by him.

      Naturally, though, this also means he is not entitled to “free” income or health care or any other thing.

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