I am going to start this article by issuing a formal, public apology. Some time ago I made the claim that the person who is the subject of this article is not a libertarian due to the fact that she cared more for being a libertarian “celebrity” as opposed to libertarian principles. It was my error to assume so.

Over the last year or so there has been an individual who has been in the spotlight and has also caused shockwaves amongst various libertarian circles and who goes by the name Cathy Reisenwitz. If you have been around in the “liberty movement,” this name results in typically one of a few reactions which are either not knowing who she is (understandable as many aren’t involved in libertarianism on a day to day basis), praises and commending, or skepticism and dislike. For those who fall under the former, one reason is that Cathy is held to have done a decent job at reaching out to non-libertarians, or “improving” libertarianism as to attract non-libertarians. Indeed, I do agree with this notion for obvious reasons since I would like to see more libertarians and see us in power, so to speak. However, I would argue that while it is a good idea to attract others, that it is counterproductive to do so with poor arguments. So, for instance, as much as I like the idea of more libertarians, I disagree with them becoming libertarians because “check your privilege” or “‘capitalism‘ is a scary word”; it just ends up being more work for individuals like me, having to correct it.

Personally, I’m not very interested in personalities. I’m interested in discovering and proving whether a given proposition is correct, not so much who offered the proposition. Fortunately for Cathy she does get some of the basics down when it comes to libertarianism. But unfortunately, if one looks past the surface, I believe there are more flawed arguments she has that counterbalance the good ones, and with a few examples, it is my aim to show that she should be dismissed.

“Shaming Others is Unjustifiable Coercion”… or something.

One article that put Cathy on the map was the article “Shaming Others is Unjustifiable Coercion”. In short, her position is that certain behaviors such as criticism, ridicule, and ostracism are coercion but end up being dismissed since they are done by private actors, yet these behaviors are on the same level as state coercion.

There are a few problems and implications that are problematic with this position, but before I do, let’s assume I agree with her stance and attempt to argue it logically:

C = Conclusion; P = Premise; D = Definition.

D1. “Shaming” is expressing or possessing a disapproving opinion of another’s behavior
D2. “Ostracism” is a form of shaming

_________

P1. Freedom of speech necessarily results in expressing disapproving opinions
P2. Freedom of thought necessarily results in cases of possessing such opinions
P3. Freedom of association necessarily results in cases of ostracism
P4. Shaming is Coercion
P5. Coercion is unlibertarian

_________

C1. Therefore, Shaming is unlibertarian (P4 & P5)
C2. Therefore, the Freedom of Speech is unlibertarian (D1, P1, & C1)
C3. Therefore, the Freedom of Thought is unlibertarian (D1, P2, & C1)
C4. Therefore, the Freedom of Association is unlibertarian (D2, P3, C1)

_________

P6. Necessary conditions of being free are the Freedoms of Speech, Thought, and Association

C5. Therefore, Freedom necessarily permits forms of coercion (P6, C2, C3, C4)

_________

C6. Therefore, freedom is unlibertarian (P5, C5)

I figure that there’s probably a lot of people who may battle my core definitions; that perhaps shaming and ostracism are different, or that shaming is a broad category that includes methods which are sometimes coercive and sometimes not. Though I think in reality, if the point is that “this is what ‘Cathy’ believes or has essentially stated,” it’s safe to say I’m not off the mark. If “shaming is coercion” then regardless of the broadness of the category, if shaming includes ostracism, ostracism must also be coercion.

If the freedoms of speech and association necessarily include the freedom to shame and ostracize people, then those freedoms cannot be absolute in a libertarian framework if libertarianism is the rejection of coercion. In other words, if shaming is coercion, and libertarianism is anti-coercion; and if shaming is necessarily a part of free speech, then absolute free speech includes coercion and can’t be allowed. It totally turns libertarian philosophy upside down. So, as you can see, it does reveal how ridiculous the claim is.

Furthermore, her position is rather broad. For instance, lets say Jones is “shaming” Cathy due to her “slutty” behavior when Smith interjects and proceeds to reprimand Jones for “shaming” Cathy, is Smith now “unjustifiably coercing” Jones? Now, one could argue that Smith’s intervention is defensive and thus justified as libertarians don’t oppose defensive force. However, defensive force isn’t continuous. Any interjection would have to be in the moment.
If you punch me, I can’t punch you back forever. Or in a retaliatory manner later in the day.

I can only use defensive force to get you to stop hitting me. Past that point it becomes aggression. So if Jones shames Cathy for being a slut, then isn’t talking about it anymore, there’s no justification to ostracize him as he’s not currently shaming anyone. What’s next? Restitution for hurt feelings?

If it is happening right in front of Smith then Smith might insult Jones right then, but after Jones has finished shaming her, Smith can’t go around trying to get Jones ostracized or anything because his “coercion” has ceased, or he would then be the one unjustified in his “coercive” shaming.

Assuming Cathy is correct, why can’t Smith punch Jones in the face? Shoot him? What line is there to be drawn here?

And how do we really differentiate “shaming” from criticism? Maybe Jones has perfectly logical reasons to be against slutty behavior. Are we then having to treat any criticism of another person’s decisions as aggression? If I am a boozehound, is someone unjustifiably coercing me by expressing their disapproval of me driving drunk? It’s tough to understand, but mainly because expressing negative opinions, even baselessly, is not coercion.

What is more disturbing is where she asks, “What right then does anyone have to coerce me by threatening to criticize, ridicule, shame or ostracize me?” Here she is almost arguing a positive right, as if she has claim to what you can or can not do (in this case, you can’t shame her or can’t disassociate with her). In other words, “If I’m having sex with lots of dudes, what right do you have to make or have ill thoughts about me?”

There’s the Orwellian door being opened by “shaming = coercion” because you’re now making it a libertarian mandate to police thought and speech. That tends to be a hallmark of totalitarianism.

Another problem with her definition is that not only is it broad and ambiguous, but it cheapens actual coercion. This is raising an individual communicating their disapproval for another’s behavior to the same degree as extortion, slavery, etc. Cathy argues, “I didn’t sign a contract with slut-shamers any more than I did with my government,” yet there is a huge difference. I have a live and let live outlook, and while there are some merits in being against acting like a jerk when criticizing, I can choose not to associate with an individual who is “shaming” me whereas if I refuse to do business with the state I am thrown in a cage. “Do what I want or I’ll harshly wag my finger” is worlds apart from “Do what I want or I’ll throw you in jail.”

In arguing against a person’s right to criticize or “shame” another person, Cathy is also arguing against her own right to criticize the shamers (or anyone else). This seems so obvious, that it’s hard to understand why she makes her argument — it’s clear that you can’t oppose “criticism” or “shaming,” per se, because to do so implies criticism. In order to oppose the expression of certain opinions, you have to take sides regarding those opinions. Whatever she or anyone else says about the evils of “shaming,” what it really boils down to is that she wants to prohibit shaming of things she wants to do (or identifies with or thinks are ok, etc.) — because it simply defies logic to oppose “shaming,” in toto.

When your standard for coercion includes things like “shaming,” there can be no clear definition for the simple reason that criticizing “shaming” can also be seen as a form of shaming, and therefore prohibited. If Cathy had thought through her position for more than three minutes, she would have realized this. She also would have realized (as I’m sure some who advocate this way of thinking have), that what she is talking about is not something that can be resolved by self-defense (as physical violence can), but requires an all-powerful authority to dictate which views are to be seen as “coercive” and which views are acceptable.

The Wage Gap

Ask a typical progressive democrat about the wage gap and they’ll usually cite the “77 cents for every dollar a man makes” talking point to argue that women are discriminated in the workplace. However, if you’ve ever studied economics (or even did a quick google search) you would know this is a misleading statistic and the reality is that the wage gap disappears essentially once the choices men and women make are factored in. Despite the countless refutations of this myth, even Cathy seems to have jumped on the discrimination bandwagon. In her piece “Occupational Regulations and the Gender Wage Gap” Cathy makes the argument that women are more likely to need permission from the State to set up a business, plus legislation makes it difficult for women to create a business (which is true) and attributes to the wage gap.

Now, obviously, Cathy and I both agree that occupational licensing is ridiculous. However, it’s a ridiculous diagnosis of it contributing to the gender wage gap. The purpose of licensing, according to the free market analysis, is to keep wages artificially high by creating barriers of entry to certain industries. And Cathy argues that women are disproportionately likely to choose careers that have these barriers of entry. But this wouldn’t widen the gender wage gap, it would narrow it. Because statistically, what she claims in her article, is that these professions are predominantly female in practice. Meaning that the 98% of dietitians who are female, are enjoying artificially higher wages than they would without occupational licensing. Thus, her prescribed solution is spot on, but her diagnosis of the problem is backwards.

Also, her reason.com article that she cites mentions the pricing of childcare keeping women from working. In this, she’s actually on the right track. That absolutely does keep women from working. But this nonsense about women having to get licensing to enter a field keeping wages lower is explicitly backwards.

Yes, licensure keeps wages artificially high for those licensed. Cathy comes off assuming that since these are female-dominated fields, and that licensure affects female-dominated fields more than male dominated ones (I’m not entirely sure that’s true, actually. She’s simply looking at the top fields, but is she taking into account that, maybe, on whole, there are more male-dominated fields affected, and therefore when you add them all up, it is close to an even split, or possible men are actually more affected?) that it means there are a lot more females shut out of these fields than men, and that’s what’s leading to her assertion that it adds to the wage gap. But in order to make that stick, you’d have to simply assume (speculate) everyone shut out of these fields either remains unemployed, gets a job at Mcdonalds, or chooses some other lousy option. It may very well be that out of the people shut out of these fields, the men go on to get lower paying work than the women. Maybe a lot of those women went on to get jobs that paid better than the ones they were shut out of, just without the licensing and associated costs.

A big issue is that, regardless of which of her points are right or wrong, she’s accepting that a wage gap is necessarily a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing if it is definitively government caused and this isn’t the case. It may be exacerbated or alleviated by government, but a disparity in general wages between sexes is an entirely benign observation by itself.

In other words, she’s making a really wild assertion without anywhere near enough information to make her theory anywhere close to sound. She has a bias. She was looking to confirm it. She confirmed it.

The central premise her article is accepting is that the wage gap is bad. She’s arguing against licensure because the licensing of women dominated industries, according to her, widens the wage gap. Thus, if we accept her belief that the wage gap is bad and licensing female industries is widening it, then the logic of greater licensing of male dominated industries is, according to her logic, an equally viable solution for the so called wage gap “problem,” even if that may be opposed on free market grounds. Her argument avoids the points that make licensing universally bad, which leaves her position open to statist exploitation.

Plus, as we already know, and part of the reason to have even picked on this article, she’s making a gender issue where none exists. Because she’s Cathy Reisenwitz.

Experimentation

Early last year, Cathy did an interview with LOLA director Nina Bartlett that covered a few topics such as what made her libertarian, bitcoin, and so on. One of Cathy’s statements was that “[E]xperiments are the only way to verify what we think we know about the world.” There are two possible problems with this statement which is a result of her not being really specific if she meant experimentation regarding economics, or if she meant the world in general, so we will look at each.

Let’s assume she meant economics, in which case her argument would be erroneous. Economics is a series of propositions based on axiomatic principles derived from logical deductions, not experimentation. For instance, inflationary policies being unsuccessful can be proven via logical deduction, where (if my assumption is correct since the topic was an economic one) Cathy would seem to actually believe it must be tested first to see if they really have bad outcomes or not. There are no tests that can be run in economics. There are no experiments that can be controlled. There are only results, and the only way to explain those results is through a combination of logically deduced causal relationships.

Let’s assume Cathy was referring to the world in general, whereupon it would also be flawed for a number of reasons. Certain things are given. We do not have to experiment to come to certain conclusions, there are certain self-evident truths that don’t need experimentation. Using, say, cognitive ability, we know certain things to be objectively true such as A=A or even 2+2=4, which is logically true. Her argument implies that tautologies don’t exist, or that she is rejecting the law of identity. Let’s also not forget observation where experimentation isn’t possible, i.e., astronomy, meteorology, etc. Not to mention history (“Was Abe Lincoln ever president? Who knows? To the lab!”).

Also, how does she verify the fact that experimentation is the only way (“the only way” is also a ridiculous statement as it’s not even agreed on by the scientific community, and only serves to stifle new possible applications of other approaches) to verify what we know? She’s claiming it as a fact that she knows about the world, which means she is claiming she can verify it experimentally. A quick heuristic for statements of this class is to apply them to themselves, e.g.:

“We can’t know anything.”

This is a knowledge claim.

“All facts are subjective.”

Then they are not facts.

“Heuristic” is basically “rule of thumb.” It’s just a quick way of looking at a statement of that kind to see if nonsense comes out. Like the classic “this statement is a lie.” If it is true, it is false, if it is false, it is true.

More generally, the validity of science, the scientific method, etc. (of which this statement is a cousin) are philosophical conclusions. Axioms are the only class of statement that are not also conclusions. They can’t be validated experimentally, because “valid” and “experiment” depend on them (the axiom of identity, law of excluded middle, among others). Axioms are essential, otherwise you have an infinite regress.

In the beginning of this article I apologized for making the claim that Cathy Reisenwitz is not libertarian and for the most part I stand by what I wrote. True, caring more about being a libertarian celebrity does not negate one being a libertarian, yet I would contend that it may illustrate how educated one is on libertarianism which leads me to my conclusion:

While writing this I was asked why I am doing so, since Cathy isn’t around as much anymore. Also, some reading this who support her might claim that many of her critics don’t have actual arguments against her positions, or that the criticisms they do have are hate-filled and vitriolic, including my own in this article. I’d argue that there are many legitimate criticisms to be levied, and some of what is written here are examples. It’s not hate, it’s an illustration of concerns that have been raised by other libertarians who have the the same types of disagreements that I do.

Milton Friedman said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” I think this applies to Cathy because although she is obviously not a program or a policy, I believe many see only her good intentions to attract others to libertarianism regardless of whether or not her positions are bad ones, just as long as she attracts people.

That being said, I don’t think Cathy knows nearly enough about really any of the subjects she preaches on to mount serious arguments or critiques. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, let’s say she is correct about all of her positions I went over above, or the numerous other controversial positions she has made elsewhere. The problem is that she rarely puts herself in the position for her arguments to be challenged or defended. Additionally, the numerous times she has made certain claims, be it on her website or elsewhere, most of the defense comes from other individuals arguing her positions for her. While this is not entirely problematic as being in the spotlight comes with less time to spend discussing every detail of everything, it is rather difficult to take her seriously or even believe that she understands her own arguments when others argue for her, she rarely defends herself (or not at all), plus on occasion engages in polylogism, kafkatrapping, or prevarication to avoid answering.

Semi-recently Cathy announced her leaving the “liberty movement,” or at least her not being as vocal as she had been. I would suggest that she use her new-found time as an opportunity to learn more about the fundamentals that she comes off as being so far above, or at least, that she not to let the door hit her while she is in the doorway making up her mind.

I regret her being brought to public attention because I think she does tremendous damage to the libertarian community at large with divisiveness and terrible, poorly argued (and reasoned) ideas.

Cathy doesn’t get criticized for being “unorthodox” or “stepping out of line.” She gets criticized because she frequently says idiotic and indefensible things, which she later has to “clarify” or apologize for saying, or rarely defends (if at all). And she’s not suffering for any of it.

Each time she makes some claim that should be publicly embarrassing (bitcoin and white privilege, sex-positivity having a better solution to Hayek’s knowledge problem than libertarianism, etc.) she gets more opportunities to write, speak, and have a bigger public forum. She’s the opposite of a martyr. People need to stop pretending like she’s bearing some weighty cross for speaking the truth. She’s doing neither.

Suggested reading:

Libertarians and Privilege” and “Cathy Reisenwitz Remains Confused“, both by Bretigne Shaffer in response to Cathy Reisenwitz

Economic Science and the Austrian Method” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Epistemological Problems of Economics” by Ludwig von Mises

“The Performative Contradiction”

On polylogism: “Omnipotent Government” Part III: German Nazism, Chapter VI: The Peculiar Characteristics of German Nationalism, Section 6: Polylogism by Ludwig von Mises

I’d like to thank those who contributed to the discussion including (but not limited to): Drew Rush, Chris Calton, Matt Tanous, Rocco Stanzione, Kyle Bennett, Cole James Gentles, Andy Katherman, Alex Franklin, Daniel Tumser.