Libertarian Labor Exchange

We libertarians are all about markets, right? Well, only if we use a very broad definition of markets (as I am inclined to do) that includes all voluntary exchange. But lots of folks, I think–most critics of libertarianism included–distinguish between market transactions and voluntary transactions that are non-market, like two people helping each other turn and turn about. And libertarians, being all selfishly individualistic and hateful toward society, aren’t supposed to like the latter. Except, of course, lots of us do. It’s voluntary after all, so what’s a libertarian not to like about it?

That’s all just a lead-in to pictures of the house work that Lancifer and I did this past week. I posted a while back about the rotted foundation beam I found in my house. Lance and I had already agreed to exchange some work, so I asked him to come up and help me fix that and replace some siding. Then I went down to his house and helped him replace some siding. Pictures below.

Here’s that rotted beam, still in place. Note also the complete lack of insulation under my dining room window. That’s the problem with old houses with blow in insulation; nooks and crannies that are isolated from the rest of the wall don’t get filled in.photo2

Here you can see the extent of the rot in the cut out section of beam. photo5a Fortunately this was not a long section of beam, and was easily cut out and replaced. The only hard part was jacking up the house far enough to slide the new box beam into place.

You can see the new section of beam in the next picture. You can also see in that picture that we had pulled off all the old siding that needed to be replaced. photo4

Add new insulation.


And some house wrap to cut down on drafts (while avoiding the 2 by that Lance appears to be swinging at my head).

photo7 And then just add new siding.
photo8 It was a slower process than expected, because the diamond window did not have a consistent angle on its diagonals, and the walls of the house aren’t quite straight, so each piece needed an individually measured cut on each end. Above you can see Lance working around this window.

I would have had a hell of a time figuring out those cuts without his help. And finally, the finished (but not yet painted) product–new siding that hopefully will last as many years as the old siding–or at least until I move out–covering a much more well-insulated wall.photo9 Lance is a bastard, though. Noting the light cream color of our house, he pointed out that when I paint this part of the house I really will be an academic living in an ivory tower.

Then on to his house. The job at my house took longer than expected, and I had a flight to L.A. I couldn’t miss, so our time there was too limited to get as much done as we hoped, but we got as much done as we could.

Lance built this second story on his house himself, a decade or so ago. He spent a few thousands of dollars in real wood siding, but within a few years it had already started to split and warp. So off it comes.

Add some house wrap.photo12

And, hey, that looks much better already!photo11

Few things bug me more than the view of libertarians as solely self-concerned. I’ve got more work to do and I’d happily exchange labor with others who could use my help. Theu don’t even have to be libertarians. Because mutual interest is not as simple as self-concern.

About James Hanley

James Hanley is former Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and currently an independent scholar.
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14 Responses to Libertarian Labor Exchange

  1. Murali says:

    Is it common for people in America to renovate and patch up their own houses? Its more common for people to hire contractors to do this for us. Often because its more humid over here, walls tend to be plastered, whitewashed then painted. But I think that the kind of work you guys did was still fairly heavy and beyond the capabilities of Singaporeans who have not done construction. And to add to that, most construction workers in Singapore are foreign nationals from China, India and Bangladesh.

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    It is common, but what is done depends on the indivudual’s skill and comfort level. For most people, anything beyond simple redecorating, like painting the kitchen or putting up some pre-fab shelves, spurs a call to a contractor.

    I’m different, in part because I was raised by skinflint parents who often would do by themselves or even do without if they didn’t have the money, in part because until recently I had more time than money (although precious little of either, sometimes), in part because I have a devout belief in the principal-agent problem and have a hard time trusting them, and in part because I get a sense of satisfaction out of doing this kibd of work that money just can’t buy. So I have done electrical, drywall (a loathesome job that I have decided justifies hiring an expert), and light construction such as building a bike shed and replacing structural supports and kickboards on our kitchen counters, as well as residing parts of our house (with more to come).

    Lance is bolder. He is a contractor now (which is why I begged his help: I had a general sense wgat to do about the rotted beam, but didn’t know what I didn’t know but needed to–but having done it once I’d be comfortble doing ut agsin), but he wasn’t when he started cutting off the roof of his house. That is not normal American behavior. Nor is repairing a foundation beam, but I worked with a qualified contractor, saved almost $1700, got experience, helped a friend, had a great time talking, had an Ethiopian dinner prepared by his lovely wife, and got a blog post out of it. For me, at least–and I wouldn’t judge others who differ, because I’m confortable with the idea that value us subjective–it was a good deal, and well above my opportunity cost.

    But, short answer, not reallt, but perhaps more so than Singaporeans. But I wonder if it differs between owners of stand-alone dwellings and those who live in apartments/condos?

  3. Murali says:

    Yeah, since about 80% live in public housing, they have to build to code. Those who live in private dwellings have more leeway, but are often wealthy enough to afford contractors too. Also, since construction workers tend to be guest workers*, and since there is no minimum wage in Singapore, using a contractor is affordable for middle class families

    *The government for various misguided reasons has put in place moderate and increasingly onerous obstacles to hiring foreign workers and is also issuing fewer guest worker passes. This has put a downward pressure on the salaries guest workers are paid. Also, once they arrive, they are forbidden from seeking any other job other than the work they were initially contracted for. Needless to say that their salary is often lower than it would be in a freed market.

  4. lancifer666 says:

    Hey James,

    After you left (of course) the temperature has been mostly in the 70’s and low 80’s and the humidity has been low. I have finished about half of the siding, with a bit of help from Manuel (a long time friend and former employee) and Yoseph (a college student son of one of my Ethiopian friends). Manuel owes me big time for all of the help I have given him in the past, not to mention letting him live with us for about six months. I paid Yoseph to help and fed him, and drove him to and from his house!

    I have also finished installing the “fish scale” shingles on the front gable.

    We should do a “labor swap” again sometime soon. Of course we might be more productive in the mornings if we didn’t stay up ’till four drinking and talking.

    Are you now back from your trip?

  5. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Yes, I’m home now. I think I owe you a couple of days, so if you would like me to come down next week for a day or two, let me know. Shoot me a picture of the house with the half-rounds and diamonds on it. I’d like to see.

  6. Matty says:

    I thought this was going to be about an employment agency for out of work libertarians.

    Anyway nice houses and the thing that strikes me is they seem relatively large and are detached. I wonder if this is a result of there being so much more space in America that land prices are lower, I live in a terrace and the few houses I know that are freestanding like this definitely cost more.

  7. J@m3z Aitch says:

    There are no out of work libertarians, just as there are no foxhole atheists. ;)

    Being detached houses definitely is a function of land availability. America still has comparatively low population density, and even more so when these were built. The odd thing, though, is that my house is extremely close to the neighbors. On one side you literally have to squeeze to get between the houses, and on the other side our single car wide driveway is still wide enough that it actually encroaches on the neighbors property line by nearly a foot. But that’s because it was built (1870) before zoning regulations were enacted. But my lot is a couple hundred feet deep.

    But detached is mostly for housing outside the urban core. It’s rural, small town, suburban and in big cities usually farther from the city center. In many big cities closer-in housing tends to be apartment/condo blocks or row housing/town homes. But the so-called American dream is a detached house with a yard surrounded by a white picket fence. It’s probably notable that detached homes are so much the norm that the term “detached home” doesn’t have much foothold in our vocabulary.

  8. lancifer666 says:


    Thanks for the compliments on our homes. Keep checking because they are both going to get better as James and I keep working on them.

    My house actually sits on a fairly modest (by US standards) 1/4 acre lot. James’ lot is a bit more narrow but much deeper (probably 75 to 100 feet longer) than mine.

    My area is the center “down town” of Carmel Indiana, a once small town that has become the most affluent suburb of Indianapolis, the capital city of Indiana. The density of housing is increasing in this area and town houses and apartments are popping up like mushrooms.

    I have no doubt that in 50 years this area will be much more urban and my house will be (perhaps) one of the few detached homes for many square miles. Or by that time the land will be so valuable that it will have been leveled to make way for denser housing or even multi-story buildings. (A rather depressing and demotivating thought as I labor to restore it to its former glory.)

  9. AMW says:


    Where you live in the states makes a big difference. Where I used to live in northern Virginia townhouses (or “row houses”) were extremely common because of the high population density. Then I moved to Kansas, where just about everyone has a detached house and a lot of people live on plots so big they use a riding lawn mower. My current home is in Orange County, California. There are plenty of detached houses, but they tend to be packed closely together on small lots; and apartment dwelling is very, very common.

  10. AMW says:

    I wonder if this is a result of there being so much more space in America that land prices are lower

    Just for perspective, the contiguous United States has almost 7.7 million square kilometers of land and about 307 million people.* The European Union covers about 4.4 million square kilometers and has a population of almost 508 million.

    *This excludes Alaska, which is a bit of an outlier in population density.

  11. lancifer666 says:

    Hey James,

    After seeing the recent flurry of restoration on our home the Carmel/Clay Historical Society has contacted us to put our home on their Christmas home tour.

  12. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Is your town just chock full of snoopy people driving around checking out their neighbors, as well as too many bored cops?

    Seriously, though, that’s nice, and I’m proud to have a small hand in that. I should come back diwn and scribble my name somewhere unobtrusive on your second-story siding.

  13. lancifer666 says:

    Our neighbor Sherry (I think you met her) knows a lady on the board of the Historical Society. I think she mentioned it to her.

    I’ll feature your contribution prominently during the tour.

  14. lancifer666 says:

    Do you suppose they would mind if I handed out pamphlets explaining that Christians stole all of the cool stuff about Christmas from the pagans? (The tree, the solstice, Yuletide, Santa, mistletoe, elves, gift giving etc.)

    Of course the pagans believed a bunch of crap too, but at least they knew how to throw a party!

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