Saturday, October 09, 2010

What Is Libertarianism?

I'm working on a new page for my site. Here's a preliminary version, for comment, criticism and suggestions.

What Is Libertarianism?
It's obvious that definitions of libertarianism by opponents are prone to bias. By the same standard, self-serving definitions by proponents are also prone to bias. The simple solution is to present multiple viewpoints, each true to some degree, to construct a picture of the whole. The story of The Blind Men and the Elephant illustrates how ridiculous clinging to a single viewpoint can be, and how building a more realistic picture would require critical acceptance of multiple viewpoints. Viewpoints of proponents of libertarianism are well known; here are some viewpoints of opponents.

* A Rhetoric Of Liberty

Libertarianism is united only by a rhetoric of liberty. "Liberty" is the central glittering generality of libertarian propaganda.

Who can reject "liberty"? That makes it a powerful rhetorical tool; as long as you don't start getting specific. Different people have different ideas of liberty, and can divide over those issues. The defense against attempts to get specific is "equal liberty", but that rhetoric also begs important questions. We all might have equal liberty to kill each other, but do we want such liberty?

"Liberty" unspecified is vague enough to justify any atrocity. We routinely see libertarians promoting Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." In the name of liberty, John Galt plans genocides dwarfing those of Communist states in "Atlas Shrugged". In actual history, liberty to own slaves was a frequent claim. Liberty to head your own family and religious liberty excused beating wives and disobedient children, sometimes fatally.

"Liberty" is the rhetorical tool of choice that unites libertarians: it can back any claim they make, no matter how bizarre. Libertarians have no single claim in common except this rhetoric, and they can gloss over their conflicting beliefs through the persuasion of their own rhetoric of liberty.

* A Rightwing Populist Movement In Miniature

While libertarians may profess socially left ideas such as freedom of choice, their right-conservatism becomes obvious if you ask them what parts of the right-wing economic agenda they'd be willing to sacrifice to realize their left social goals. They just won't give up their opposition to government and taxation, nor will they give up their allegiance to absolute property. No matter what social goals you propose in exchange.

* A Childish Selfishness

Libertarianism is a tiny movement of people who primarily want (a) to freeload on society by not contributing their share (b) to avoid social prohibitions and (c) want to lock in their good fortune. It's really that simple: all the supposed philosophy is really just after-the-fact (post hoc) rationalization. Everything springs from the childish "I don't wanna pay", "I wanna do that anyhow" and "no, it's mine!"

* A Catspaw For Corporations

A great deal of libertarian literature is written by corporate hirelings. Sure they can throw in the occasional socially liberal complaint about warmongering to genuflect towards the purported ideology, but they do NOT bite the corporate hand that feeds them. Otherwise they'd be pointing out that corporations are government creations of special privilege, and asking that they be abolished the way they ask that public schools be abolished. And those authors would be looking for new jobs, as we've seen so often from think-tanks. Professional libertarians tend to be reliant on the corporate right-wing welfare employment of think-tanks, lobbying and astroturf organizations.

The liberty these corporate hirelings write of is generally the liberty desired by corporations, not the liberty desired by ordinary people. Hence we see propaganda such as the "Index of Economic Freedoms".

* A Long-Running Public Relations Campaign

The extent of libertarianism today is largely the result of decades-long public relations campaigns that have been working on insinuating libertarian ideas throughout our society. The time, the ambition and the resources applied over the past 60 years are extraordinary. Generations of propagandists, scholars, lobbyists, think-tanks, astroturf organizations and political parties have been financed by large corporations and billionaires.

They have attempted (quite successfully) to subvert the language, to pack propaganda into textbooks and academic publications, to subvert science (smoking, pollution and global warming), to create intellectual shock troops to disperse their propaganda, to stack the legal system with specially trained judges, to direct politicians with think-tank plans and offers of revolving-door employment, and a host of other activities.

Because "he who pays the piper calls the tunes", the result is that libertarianism has benefitted major corporations and billionaires far more than it has benefitted the middle-class pot smoker (now approaching lower class.)

* Philosophical Fairytales

There are three dominant libertarian fairytales. They are natural rights, the Nozickian night-watchman state, and Objectivism. All three are non-positivist: they are not founded on observable facts and just plain make stuff up that contradicts what's known of reality. Each has produced large, complicated apologetics that attempt to explain away their myriad failings. Like science, they create models, but unlike science their models cannot be validated because they presume the unobservable.

Most libertarian authors rely on natural rights.[1] Natural rights were originally invented to oppose stories such as rights of kings. They are "nonsense on stilts" that is as popular, insubstantial and unprovable as souls.

The supposedly just and non-coercive Nozickian minimal state of Anarchy, State and Utopia is notorious for its failure to justify initial acquisition of property, the basis of the entire scheme. The whole thing appeals to gut feelings as fallaciously as Steven Colbert does, starting with the first sentence: "Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights.)"

Objectivism starts with the fairytale of a priori knowledge. "A is A", for example. But that doesn't work for the real world, because the real world has time: A at time 1 is not necessarily the same as A at time 2. It's never the same water in the river, and even protons can spontaneously decay. There is no supposed a priori knowledge that doesn't have this basic sort of problem.

* A Justification of Personal Righteousness

Which emphasizes the notion of virtue in selfishness and has as its historical genesis the exceptional American experience. As such, it appeals mostly to white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded, and prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions. It validates their own affluence/privilege not by group affiliation, but by inherent individual merit; and it likewise superficially validates the poverty and lack of privilege of others not on the basis of group affiliation, but inherent fault. In this it mimics a meritocratic view, which allows the libertarian to congratulate himself on his lack of bigotry; but, in fact, it is a facade behind which his true bigotry hides. Keith M Ellis

* A Simplistic Ideology

Kevin Carson calls this "vulgar libertarianism": "Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get." Simple rules for identifying friends and enemies, righteous and unrighteous. Private or public? Statist or freedom loving? Individualist or collectivist? Market or coercive? Ignorant or enlightened? Libertarians portray themselves as elite because of their ideological righteousness: but they are really just the bosses favorites, the house slaves. Read some Atlas Shrugged to learn that mentality.

* A Blinkered Ideology

Libertarianism is often easy to recognize by the things it will not consider. For example: market failures, public goods, benefits from government, benefits from spending tax money, deadweight costs from private sources, threats to liberty from private sources, rights other than property rights, values other than economic values, social harms from private actions (such as drug usage), anything but methodological individualism, Keynesianism, etc.

Shunning these ideas is essential for "consistency" in the beliefs of many libertarians. If you don't admit contrary data, your theory is unfalsifiable.

* A Cargo Cult

Many libertarians expect gifts from the sky if they perform the right philosophical rituals: surrender of political rights, surrender of all government property claims, etc.

They wish us to hand over political sovereignty of the richest, most powerful nation in the world. They wish us to hand over the lands, roads, and other property held in common by the government. They wish us to hand over the biggest pot of money in the world: social security funds for the retirement of essentially the entire US population.

What do they offer the rest of us for these enormous gifts? Nothing. They do not expect us to do it as an exchange, but as a magical summoning. They summon these gifts magically by re-interpreting liberal philosophy and Constitutions.

* A Millennialist Cult

Many libertarians think they can promise pie-in-the-sky in libertarian heaven. In the libertarian future we would all be amply repaid for having had the faith to bring about the fabulously free and wealthy libertopia where the privately owned streets are paved with gold, a gun in every pot field, etc. They have the unrealistic assumption that if they succeed, they will have an advantage because they learned libertarian principles first. But in reality, a class of oligarchs would quickly form as they did in Russia, leaving the majority in much worse condition. The large middle classes we enjoy are a result of government programs promoting equality. They do not occur otherwise.

* Technological Utopianism

Much libertarian literature relies on technology to create their fantasy world, usually by creating a new frontier. Heinlein and others relied on space travel to open a new frontier. Transhumanists look forward to recreating humans to develop new frontiers. Many libertarian authors write of a forthcoming singularity in technological development. Seasteaders look forwards to marine frontiers in international waters. Rand relied on fictional technology to conceal Galt's community.

What they all miss is that creation of a new frontier doesn't change those left behind into a libertarian society. And as the frontier matures, density and competition will bring about the same problems that led to the governance that libertarians object to, the same as happened in other frontiers in the past. Libertarianism might "work" on the edges of expansion, but creates problems that grow until a government solution is needed.

* Conclusion

No one libertarian exemplifies all of these viewpoints, nor do any of these viewpoints match all libertarians. There might be a libertarian who doesn't match any of these viewpoints.

But it is easy to find libertarians who are well-described by any these characterizations. A large, diverse ideology such as libertarianism requires large, diverse description the same way blind men describing an elephant used a lot of analogies.

Some of these characterizations are repulsive: hurrah for the libertarian who avoids matching the repulsive ones. There aren't too many of them in print because the vast majority of libertarian authors are sponsored by corporate funding (especially the Koch brothers) or rely on philosophical fairytales. A great many libertarians are repulsed by each other for one or more of these problems.

* References

1 David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer pp.82-87


Lord Keynes said...

Enjoyable post.

It would be better to divide libertarians into categories based on their economics/ philosophy too.
(1)Austrian school

(i) followers of Mises
(ii) Rothbard and Hoppe's anarcho-capitalism
(iii) Hayek's Austrian economics
(iv) Gerald P. O’Driscoll and Mario J. Rizzo's Austrian economics

(2) Randians

(3) Robert Nozick

For criticisms of Mises and Rothbard, see my posts:

Lord Keynes said...


I assume that this is also your website:

This is an excellent resource for critiques of libertarianism.

You might consider adding some of my critiques:

Debunking the Austrian theory of inflation:

Debunking the Quantity theory of money:

Against their theory of commodity money:

Against the idea that fractional reserve banking is an evil (curiously, using the work of other libertarians against Rothbard and Hoppe):

Debunking Mises' praxeology:

Why Mises' pretty much refutes himself on government intervention, and how Rothbard dug himself into the hole by adopting a natural rights/natural law defence of anarcho-capitalism:

Hope this might be interesting.


Lord Keynes said...

Sorry to overload your comments. I have checked out some of the other posts, and you have a really excellent, intelligent blog here.
Some miscellaneous comments:

Regarding Hans-Hermann Hoppe:
I really enjoyed this post:

Do you have any other info on him?
I haven’t yet got to my own critique of Hoppe, but it strikes me that most of his economics is just derived from Mises’ Human Action and Rothbard’s work, which as I show on my blog quickly falls apart once you see Mises needs synthetic propositions (whether stated or hidden) to justify most of his arguments. Human Action is a long, tedious book filled with personal opinions that don’t appear to be derived from the action axiom anyway, and it’s often difficult to tell whether Mises’ inferences are supposed to “praxeological theorems” or just his own ideas. Years ago G. J. Schuller wrote a critique of Mises that, in my opinion, is devastating (see “Mises’ ‘Human Action’: Rejoinder,” American Economic Review 41.1: 185–190). This was a reply to Rothbard and Schuller pretty much shot Rothbard’s defence of Mises down in flames. A number of serious academic Austrians have basically abandoned praxeology as a methodology too.

Regarding the financial crisis:

Regarding the US in the Great Depression
The crucial point here is that Roosevelt was a timid Keynesian, but even his deficits allowed US GDP to recover rapidly and unemployment to come down from 24.9% to 14.3% before Roosevelt balanced the budget in 1937 with disastrous effects. The “Roosevelt recession” that followed was the result of budget balancing, not Keynesianism. Also, the contractionary effects of state and local government cuts reduced the stimulus effect of discretionary deficit spending:

Brown, E. Cary. “Fiscal Policy in the Thirties: A Reappraisal.” American Economic Review 46 (December 1956): 857-879.

Obama is having the same problem: timidity, state/local austerity and a financial system that is broken. Once you realise this, it is not surprising in the least that unemployment has not been much affected. Contrast America with the aggressive and effective Keynesianism in Australia, China, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Sweden etc.

Glen said...

The "Blinkered Ideology" section seems to imply that Milton Friedman, David Friedman, and anyone influenced by them or by other libertarian economists isn't really a libertarian. Many libertarians have deeply considered some or all those notions you say libertarians don't consider, avoid, or "shun" - and nonetheless reached the conclusion that libertarian policies were still, on net, a good idea. I'm sure you could find libertarians who aren't interested in economic arguments at all, but the ones who are interested in economics are likely to have often been exposed to every one of those, especially the ideas of "market failure" and "social costs of the market".

Your side doesn't clearly *win* the arguments when those ideas come up, so it's not clear why libertarians would need to avoid them. For instance, consequentialist libertarians who argue for drug legalization don't need to deny that drugs harm some users and generally don't do so - they instead compare the harm drugs do/would do to users *with* versus *without* legality and notice that things tend to get better without the laws.

Mike Huben said...

Glen: I don't think you get the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant. They are all right to some degree, understanding significant aspects of the elephant. If some libertarians doesn't fit some of these, they may fit others.

Never the less, I agree with you that in large part the Friedmans don't fit many of these observations. (Except for the Catspaw and PR categories, which fit pretty much any libertarian economist. And the Rhetoric category.) So here are two more observations:

An Unusual Preference for Certain Liberties

Some libertarians simply value some forms of personal liberty more than other people consider reasonable. Essentially all the rest of their argument is post hoc excuses that conceal the simple difference in prefrences. Their post hoc arguments tend to be based on (a) natural rights, (b) ridiculous formulas like "coercion is bad", (c) assertions about qualitative benefits that overlook other obvious factors or (d) denialism.

A Denial of Traditional Values and Institutions

Many libertarians reject patriotism, democracy, politics, religion, charity and other traditional values and institutions in their attempt to view the whole world through economics. While many traditional values and institutions may deserve a good kicking, preferring "greed is good" economic views and ignoring the harms of dismantling major institutions is repulsive. Examples include the Friedman and Hayek attitudes towards Pinochet's Chile.

David Friedman seems to be very big on denialist strategies at his blog. I look forward to your suggestions for improvement, Glen.

Mike Huben said...

LK: those are excellent! I'll be adding most of them to my site.

I have planned a "Types Of Libertarians" document, and may use your divisions of the Austrians. Could you email me so that I can ask you some questions?

Lord Keynes said...

Not sure if this works:

But I have used that.

Glen said...

The phrasing of your new additions is just as tendentious and ambiguous.

Do economist libertarians really reject patriotism, democracy, politics and the rest? What does it even mean to "reject" these things? It's the same problem as saying they "deny" or "refuse to consider" other factors. What you actually mean, I think, is that libertarians either don't weight these factors the way *you* would have weighted them or they don't reach the same conclusions upon due consideration of those factors that *you* would have reached. So why not just say that?

To say they "reject" or "deny" these factors is silly - the wording implies far too much.

Let's just pick one: you say they "reject charity" in favor of viewing the world through an economic lens. By that claim, which of these do you mean, if any:

(a) they don't personally *give* charity. (b) they don't personally *accept* charity. (c) they don't think charity *can* help address social ills, even in theory. (d) they don't think charity *does* address social ills, in practice. (e) they don't think charity *should* address social ills. (f) they think charity should be illegal. (g) they think charity should be discouraged. (h) they think charity should be relied on less than it is. (i) they think charity should be relied on less than *you* think it should. (j) something else entirely?

If you perhaps had said that they "choose to use the tools of economics to analyze the effects of charity" (and patriotism, democracy, etc) you might have a defensible statement. But that's not really "rejecting" anything per se. It sounds like you want to say something stronger, but it's really not clear what.

Raven Daegmorgan said...

To me, "choose to use the tools of economics to analyze the effects of charity" doesn't seem any more a correct way of putting the issue.

That is, I recognize the problem you (Glen) are pointing out in Mr. Huben's wording, but I don't think your suggestion is workable either, as it suggests some kind of standard "economic toolset".

Perhaps "use the tools of a particular economic ideology". But that doesn't seem quite right, either. Missing something.

Add "without taking into account other or more appropriate methods of analysis", or something akin to that?

"Choose to view issues through a purely economic lens without consideration of social and other elements of issues." Hrm.

Joanna said...

A Rhetoric Of Liberty - your liberty ends where my liberty starts. Why all this nonsense that
libertanians want liberty to kill? How convenient, libertanianism refuted! Wonderful straw man builder you are.

A Rightwing Populist Movement In Miniature - makes no sense to give up right wing economic agenda when libertarians believe it serves best to realize left social goals. Which countries legalized homosexual marriagies, capitalist or socialist?

A Childish Selfishness - sure libertarians wanna pay, otherwise you woudn't post Debra Satz article Why Some Things Should Not
Be for Sale. As usual, you accuse libertarians of want to pay, don't want to pay, whatever, bad, bad libertarians... We just don't want to be _forced_ to pay.

A Catspaw For Corporations - ending corporate welfare has always been the core plank of LP platform. Quite contrary, even
Bolsheviks were sponsored by american banks. Capitalists have always been the gravest danger to capitalism. Capitalists usually want some sort of mercantilist deal with the state, limit competition, set minimal prices, get some subsidies etc.
Yes, there are those which like free markets, the most efficient ones. They may sponsor libertarians. So the money goes both ways, but I bet you have always been getting most of it. The most effective companies do not need any government or propaganda help to thrive, while ineffective ones always need Big Government to bail them out, so they are used to spending a lot of
money on bribes and leftist propaganda to keep Big Government getting bigger. And that's all apart from all the government
money that sponsors mostly leftist intellectuals in government institutions all over America.

A Long-Running Public Relations Campaign - cannot really compare to socialist one though. That one has been running 150 years now.

Philosophical Fairytales - you want positivist, here you are, one photo says it all:

A Justification of Personal Righteousness / A Simplistic Ideology - "white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded" - one only wonders, why aren't you a libertarian? Ahhh, because you
do not "prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions", hence you are not one of the
"house slaves". As usual, objective statements at your best.

A Blinkered Ideology - Socialism is often easy to recognize by the things it will not consider. For example: state failures, private goods, benefits from free market, benefits from spending your own money, costs of government aggression, threats to liberty from state, rights other than state-granted rights, values other than social values, private harms from state actions (such as drug penalization) etc.

A Cargo Cult - I happen to believe in a very strong (though minimal) state, public roads, courts, police, army. Social security funds just go back to their owners. Libertarians want your social security fund? How convenient! Libertarianism refuted!

A Millennialist Cult - well, a libertarian should know that economics knowledge can never help with entrepreneurial talents. Or more specifically, a Misesian.

Technological Utopianism - Marx also thought that electricity would be the next big thing that would facilitate communism. I happen to believe that it goes the other way around, masses start using new technologies only in free markets (competing entrepreneurs keep getting new high quality products cheaper and cheaper), so libertarianism would speed up technological advancement, same as Industrial Revolution was facilitated by XVIIIth century liberalism.

brian said...

Since you mention Kevin Carson, I was wondering if you had any further opinion of the left-wing, pro-labor strain of libertarianism he articulates.

Mike Huben said...

What we have in Joanna is a perfect example of the blinkered ideology. In the past two days she has answered a dozen posts, and in all of them she serves up facile (and stupid) excuses for ignoring their points.

Brian: I don't follow Carson very much: I simply recognize that he has some cogent criticisms of right libertarianism. Left libertarianism doesn't strike me as particularly threatening: but I don't see it as terribly competitive. In the real world, it might not offer important economies of scale, including territorial defense.

Chris said...

I think this entry looks great.

I wonder if it's worth expanding on the idea of libertarianism as an expression of American nationalism. There's a lot of constitution-waving that goes on in the movement and, as you mention, a lot of claims of American exceptionalism in various forms of libertarianism. Since 9/11, some Objectivists have really outed themselves as hawkish ultra-nationalists.

Mike Huben said...

"I wonder if it's worth expanding on the idea of libertarianism as an expression of American nationalism."

That's a good point. Can you folks expand on it in a way that fits alongside the other views, and provide an example or two for documentation?

Since I have posted this, I've added 8 other significant views, bringing the total to 20. You can see them all at my very incomplete new version of my Critiques site.

Joanna said...

Real funny coincidence. Note A Blinkered Ideology, my answer is a perfect mirror of your original paragraph. So, what exactly is your definition of a blinkered ideology, other than being different than your own?

Mike Huben said...

You make the typical, stupid libertarian mistake of assuming your opponents are your opposites, and that the opposite of capitalism is socialism.

I'm not a socialist. I prefer mixed economies, part socialist and part capitalist. The closest I have to an ideology is liberal progressivism.

You other big mistake is that finding fault with anybody else does not excuse your faults. You are still a blinkered libertarian ideologue even if there are blinkered socialist ideologues out there.

Joanna said...

I also prefer mixed economies, part socialist and part capitalist, what with my statist admiration for public law, courts, police, army and roads ;)

Mark Plus said...

A rational person would approve of the useful or pleasant things capitalism produces, and disapprove of the harmful or ugly things it also produces. A rational society would regulate capitalism to get more of the former things and fewer of the latter things.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mark Plus, let me comment on your two sentences:

1. There is no such thing as rational society, because societies don't think. Well, at least humans don't add up to any hive mind of some sort. On planet Earth, there are only rational individuals. Explore alternatives on sci-fi channels.
2. Reread 1, society cannot think, so much less regulate anything, unless you speak of cultural norms, ie the most popular opinions among individuals. Regulations proper come from states, ie individuals in position of power to initiate violence at their whim.
3. There is no agreement on what ugly things capitalism produces. Not even if capitalism actually produces any ugly things. I for one believe that people usually misinterpret state failures in mostly capitalist countries for capitalism failures. For example, some people believe that business cycles are capitalist failures, while in reality are only natural result of fractional reserve banking. Then there are ugly things that occur naturally (like say, ugly and stupid people) and any state regulation will only hurt the very same people it is supposed to help. For example, if you, as a state representative, introduced a regulation that obliged every employer to pay same salary to ugly and stupid people as to beautiful and wise ones, no employer would ever hire ugly and stupid people, because for exactly same salary they could hire beautiful and wise one, which would lead to extremely high unemployment among ugly and wise ones.

FXJ said...

Joanna, you are proving to everyone with your comments that indeed libertarians aren't very intelligent...

You argue with Mark Plus's point by playing on the words he used. If he had said it in a different way, it would have meant the same thing but your first two arguments would have been voided: "A society made mostly of rational individuals would choose/elect leaders/representatives to regulate capitalism to get more of the former things and fewer of the latter things."

Now I know you're going to reply that regulations put in place for the sake of the society as a whole might "harm" certain (particularly rich) minorities, so why should rational rich people get on board with those regulations? That's where a balance needs to be found between socialism and capitalism. You can't reject all of socialism because in some cases it doesn't work well and you can't reject capitalism because some times it doesn't work well. You have to work to get the right balance between the two so that you get the best of both systems. That's always going to be a work in progress. Those who want the simple solution of one of the extremes push for a system that might be simpler to implement, but that will never serve society as well as a good balance between the two.

Finally, the example in your third argument confirms that libertarians use simplistic thinking. You assume that without wage laws the so-called "ugly and stupid people" (you really sound like Ayn Rand by the way...) would all get hired. Employers hire only as many people as they need, they are not going to hire everyone just to be nice. They would pick all the "wise and beautiful people" first, and since there are not enough "wise beautiful" people to hire some "ugly and stupid people" would get hired, and as you correctly implied they would get exploited. Wage laws would ensure that while some people might still be discriminated in employment, they would not be discriminated in salary too... If an employer has to pay more per employee, you are correct in saying that this employer would think of hiring fewer, but there's only so much efficiency gain an employer can make to reduce the number of people it needs to hire. The effect on unemployment would not be strong, and this small rise in unemployment would drive salaries down for those whose salary is above minimum wage, resulting in savings for the employer, which he can then use in hiring more minimum wage people. So in the end, minimum wage laws serve to reduce the discrimination in pay that result from subjective bias in the minds of employers...

FXJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xerographica said...

Mike, the only relevant difference between you and Joanna is that you believe that more, not less, goods should be provided by the state.

You believe that the state is better at providing "your" public goods than the market. Joanna believes otherwise. Why not put it to the test?

If you're willing to put your money where your mouth is then you're a pragmatarian. Pragmatarianism would allow tax payers to directly decide which public goods their taxes are used to support.

Chances are pretty good that if a private organization is better at providing a good then most tax payers would not allocate their taxes to a public organization that provides the exact same good. The opposite is true as well.

Do you accept the challenge? Or do you think that tax payers would want to allocate their taxes to inefficient organizations?

Mike Huben said...

I love when somebody thinks that all problems can be reduced to one dimension, and then demands that you place yourself on that dimension. It's so easy to expose their foolishness.

X, the obvious difference is that libertarians have no method of deciding what we would like the state to do. Libertarians can't even agree that the state should provide defense: liberals have a method for deciding, called democracy. Libertarians cannot decide on democracy either: the anarchocapitalists reject it.

Allocation of production to state and private sectors is only the tip of the iceberg of what political philosophy is about. Why don't you read a little and come back when you have gotten up to the fundamentals. I have a section of my site that directs people to some good resources of this sort: So You Want To Discuss Libertarianism.... Then maybe you'll understand that Pragmatarianism is a made-up word, and that you meant pragmatist.

Xerographica said...

Mike, heh...yeah, I understand that pragmatarianism is a made up word...given that I'm the one that selected it to describe libertarianism that takes the free-rider problem into account.

I took the best of liberalism (coercion) and the best of libertarianism (choice) and put them together to create pragmatarianism. People would still be coerced into paying taxes but they would be able to directly choose how their taxes were spent.

Deng Xiaoping said he didn't care if a cat was black or white as long as it caught mice. I'm saying it doesn't matter if an organization is public or private as long as it efficiently produces public goods.

If the state gives people more bang for their buck then there would be absolutely no reason to think that the free-market would come out on top.

You say it's easy to "expose my foolishness" but your response was so far off target that it was a funny non-sequitur.

Mike Huben said...

Xerographica, if you had any knowledge of the history of liberalism, you'd know it was always about choice balanced with responsibility (which you term coercion.)

You are essentially proposing a one-dollar, one-vote system. But that makes no sense for several obvious reasons. First, there would be separate funds for opposed, conflicting policies, which would be a waste. Second, that way lies even more open plutocracy. Third, you would be completely disenfranchising the poor who pay no taxes. And fourth, you still have no way of deciding public policies such as whether or not to permit abortion or drug use.

You've got a glib rhetorical stance that collapses in the face of the most obvious realities.

Xerographica said...

It's fun watching you attack stuff that's not there. Pragmatarianism is all about ceteris paribus.

Drugs would still be illegal the only difference would be that people who are pro-legalization probably wouldn't fund the DEA.

Abortion would still be legal the only difference would be that conservatives probably wouldn't fund abortion clinics.

The national healthcare debate would be a moot point...those who wanted to allocate their taxes to a national healthcare system could easily do so. The funding that it received would determine what percentage of the population would qualify for coverage.

The poor, and everybody else, would still be able to vote...but it would be up to tax-payers to decide which public organizations received their tax dollars.

If any taxes payers didn't want to decide then they would still be able to give their taxes to congress for them to decide how to allocate it.

Joanna Liberation said...

FXJ, youth unemployment is a good objective measure to validate our claims. After all, employers discriminate against those who lack job experience, same as they discriminate against those who lack pretty face or wits. In some european countries, it is up to 3 times higher than overall unemployment. Interesting exception being Germany, which just so happens to have no statutory minimum wage. Sounds like a quite strong effect to me.

Mike Bast said...

Joanna, are you seriously trying to say that there's a correlation between two things (unemployment among the young and minimum wages) with no regard to anything else? No wonder I'm glad I'm no longer in your over-simplifying camp.

Joanna Liberation said...

Well, Austrian "simplistic" theories call "with no regard to anything else" = ceteris paribus, which admittedly is hard to come by in the real world. However, we do see the lowest youth unemployment in EU is in Germany and Denmark where there are no national minimum wages. Also Netherlands where minimum wage for young employees is between between 30-85% of regular amount. Can't really help you if you only accept complex and/or obscure answers though.

Mike Bast said...

Interesting that you try to make it sound as though I'm being rude for pointing out that you're oversimplifying.
You're trying to make a case for lower/no minimum wage and you're doing it in an outright silly way. If you're not going to bother with the real world details, why bother at all? Except, of course that maybe you don't know any better, or you're trying to fool others who don't know.
And, please, don't bother mentioning Austrian economics to me. You may as well be trying to argue about phlogiston or the ether. It's nonsense.

Mike Huben said...

Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands also have enormous social safety nets, which are anathema to Austrian economics and quite different than the US. If the US had social safety nets like those nations, I'd be happy to let the minimum wage go away, because its function is as a safety net.

Lord Keynes said...

Joanna Liberation,
You say:

After all, employers discriminate against those who lack job experience, same as they discriminate against those who lack pretty face or wits.

That is the difference between discrimination that is justifiable on some utilitarian grounds, and discrimination that is morally unjustifiable.
Employing a highly experienced worker over an inexperienced one can be defended.

Refusing to employ someone on the basis of skin colour (i.e., racism) is not.

In some european countries, it is up to 3 times higher than overall unemployment.

What? Today? Europe has just been through a devastating recession, so what do you expect?

Furthermore the present neoliberal/neoclassical macroeconomic system is fundamentally flawed. In the past Keynesian/social democratic system (1945-1980s), governments were committed to full employment, while today they are not: the results (higher unemployment, poverty, wasted opportunities for growth, social problems that come with long term unemployment etc) are morally disgraceful.
If government reverted to full employment macroeconomic policies, even youth unemployment would be low.

Interesting exception being Germany, which just so happens to have no statutory minimum wage.

You should have mentioned the exceptions and the fundamental fact that unions help to set minimum wages in Germany:

Minimum wage:
none, except for construction workers, electrical workers, janitors, roofers, painters, and letter carriers; [and] set by collective bargaining agreements in other sectors of the economy and enforceable by law

So in practice, Germany does have minimum wages. It’s just a slightly different system from universal legal minimum wage laws.

And you totally ignore the fact that trade unions are comparatively stronger in Germany than the US. When unions protect their members against exploitative employers they are effectively defending a minimum wage:

higher rates of union membership, wages, more lucrative benefit packages [than in the US] and more onerous government labor requirements have not hurt Germany... In Germany, unions are in constant contact with politicians, including the German chancellor. Policymakers listen to the concerns of workers and their suggestions," says Franz ....
Twenty percent of German employees are members of labor unions, compared to 12.4 percent in the United States. Sixty percent of all German workers are impacted by labor initiatives and collective bargaining agreements upon which the wages for most Germans are based, notes Franz. .... There are regulations that provide unlimited sick leave; 12 weeks of paid maternity leave; at least four weeks of legally mandated vacation and strict regulations against dismissing workers. All of Germany's workers benefit from these regulations, which are the result of union initiatives.

Joanna Liberation said...

No you're not rude at all, you just say I'm "outright silly", "trying to fool others" and believe in "nonsense". After all, these are all objective facts. Apologies.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, so what, social safety nets can only increase unemployment in general, youth unemployment included.

Joanna Liberation said...

Lord Keynes,

That is the difference between discrimination that is justifiable on some utilitarian grounds, and discrimination that is morally unjustifiable.

So what's that got to do with with the price of eggs?

What? Today? Europe has just been through a devastating recession, so what do you expect?

Tell me what to expect, please. Why would there be higher youth unemployment than overall in a recession if not for minimum wage laws?

In the past Keynesian/social democratic system (1945-1980s), governments were committed to full employment, while today they are not.

So which keynesian recommendations have NOT been applied by governments to "fight" today's crisis?

So in practice, Germany does have minimum wages.

Yes, for a minority of occupations, so it is easy for young people to escape that social paradise of unemployment.

Lord Keynes said...

Why would there be higher youth unemployment than overall in a recession if not for minimum wage laws?

You presuppose that minimum wages cause unemployment. They do not:

So which keynesian recommendations have NOT been applied by governments to "fight" today's crisis?

In some countries, fundamental requirements: if you want full employment and the economy to reach its growth potential,
you calculate:

(1) potential GDP,
(2) the output gap (potential GDP - actual GDP), and
(3) estimate the Keynesian
multiplier for the types of spending you plan to do

and then you need to spend an appropriate amount to stimulate the economy back into growth.

Keynesian economists have warned again and again that Obama's stimulus is too small. While it was enough to stop the slide into depression, it was not enough to bring down the high unemployment.

Also, crony capitalism, in which banks are given billions without severe obligations has nothing to with Keynesian economics.

Most banks that were insolvent and that took bailout money should be nationalized, then audited, their management fired, their bad assets and non-performing loans cleared - either by write-offs or restructuring.

They can be privatized again to make a profit for the public, after a new system of financial regulation is introduced to stop them from creating asset bubbles and engaging in reckless lending.

Yes, for a minority of occupations,

And in practice (though not in law) for other sectors as well because of stronger trade unions in Germany.

Joanna Liberation said...

You presuppose that minimum wages cause unemployment.

Please read again and answer my question. IF not minimum wages, what causes youth unemployment to often be several times higher than overall one?

Keynesian economists have warned again and again that Obama's stimulus is too small.

Yes, "stimulus too small" is your eternal answer. And in the history of mankind, has there ever been a case where it actually managed "to stimulate the economy back into growth" for good, rather than just create mediocre temporary growth, followed by another depression?

then you need to spend an appropriate amount

Sounds so easy when you say it, and you have presented such a nice 3 step calculation method. Could you perform the actual calculation for our current crisis? Yes I know it's easy, please bear with my inferior mind.

crony capitalism, in which banks are given billions without severe obligations has nothing to with Keynesian economics

"Crony" you say, hmmm. Are you saying that keynesian multiplier has a sense of morality?

stop them from [...] engaging in reckless lending

"Recless" you say, hmmm. Are you saying that keynesian multiplier has a sense of morality?

And in practice (though not in law) for other sectors as well because of stronger trade unions in Germany

There are quite a few "sectors" with trade unions, strong as they may be, then there are thousands upon thousands of other occupations w/o trade unions, so their "strongness" is irrelevant. I see you have just come up with a keynes multiplier for trade union "strongness" ;)

Mike Bast said...

"No you're not rude at all"

Ah, the retreat to faked offense... Never seen that before.

"Mike, so what, social safety nets can only increase unemployment in general, youth unemployment included

So, when you make a claim, and are called on oversimplifying to create a correlation, and show you can't come up with real-world evidence, you not only try to make it seem that I'm being rude for asking for it, you're now going to try to change the subject so that you don't EVER have to show evidence. And, you also provide NO evidence for your new statement. I KNOW it's an article of belief among your ideological brethren (was one for a long time, and still speak to others) but you need PROOF, not just assertion and ideological dogma. Otherwise, you ARE being (to be it mildly) silly. And a typical libertarian. (And if you knew how much I loathe those people now, THAT you would find insulting)

Lord Keynes said...

And in the history of mankind, has there ever been a case where it actually managed "to stimulate the economy back into growth" for good

No Keynesian economists have EVER claimed that the aim of Keynesian stimulus is to "to stimulate the economy back into growth for good".

This is a bizarre straw man argument you have just invented.

Free market economies have endogenous factors that cause the business cycle (e.g., unstable financial markets, the tendency to asset bubbles, subjective business expectations). Keynesian economics and modern macroeconomic management smooth out the cycle.

followed by another depression?

Keynesian economics eliminated depressions after 1945 - a depression is a downturn in the cycle where output falls by 10% or over).

What we had after 1945 in most countries was mild recessions.

When Keynesian economics is not used, depressions have in fact happened: witness the recent insanity of austerity in Ireland, where GNP has contracted by 14% since 2008 - a real depression.

But that just reinforces the failure of non-Keynesian economics.

yours truly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blogger said...

I'm not a "libertarian" but I can recognize silly, hyper-intellectual, rhetorical, semantics. Is libertarianism such a threat to you?

Diego said...

Im just glad Mr Huben does truly enjoy and use his liberty to speak his mind in his blog, without having someone else shutting it down.

By his actions then, Mr. Huben believes that the best way to go about promoting his views of life, the world and how it should be is to speak, discuss, debate and try to convince someone else, and not using force. At least in this respect he is a libertarian.

If Mr Huben is not a libertarian at least in this sense, then what political or philosophical view does he defend. But I certainly have not seen any opinion of his saying "this guys should not be allowed to speak. They are corrupting our youth!"

Most people are libertarians deep down, and as he contends, that is why "liberty" is such a powerful notion. Although I believe in most countries it has been taken by leftwing parties, and not rightwing parties. This completely skews his arguments. Most libertarians are in favor of gay unions, for instance, although most rightwingers are not... Most libertarians are also opossed the invasion of Irak, as did most left wingers, but not right wingers...

I must agree with Mr. Huben however, in that some libertarians do seem to propose that if their creed is followed everything will be materially better. I think however that their proposition in general or at its basis is much more ethical, in the sense that for them, economic, technological, or material well being is secondary. Individual dignity is a much more valuable. What they are against is people in governments making experiments, making decisions on how people should run their lives, because they know they will be better some way or the other.

I disgree however with the position that they reject charity or religion, what they reject is the notion that you should be "forced" to do charity, or "forced" to practice a certain religion. Charity and helping others should always be voluntary, otherwise it loses all meaning. Faith also loses its meaning if you are forced to do it, and if people just oblige not to be punished.

What I still do not understand is why Mr. Huben despises libertarians (it is quite clear about other commenters in this blog). Most people I have met who despise them is because they are in favor of bigger governments, larger state action, more economic intervention, more state education and such... Mr. Huben does not seem to fit this picture since he appears to hold a sceptical positivis position which would mean that he would have to wait until there is proof that government intervention is better, but pure empirical mathematical economics goes both ways. But most statists are also aware of the fickleness of these and prefer to go about otherways in supporting their views.

His main criticism of austrian economics appears to be on the fact that it cannot predict in the sense the M. Friedman defends it in his On the methodology of positive economics. But then austrian economics is not the only school that defends the notion of unpredicatability (Note that austrian economics does consider it is possible to make pattern or tendency predictions), and that is chaos theory.

On the apriori concepts of austrian economics, they do seem kind of out there, but then again, if it were not for the scientist who is interpreting the information and proposing the hypothesis, then there is also no "science". Even the most positivist empiricist must accept the notion that his science depends on his ability to interpret causual relantionships in nature as an apriori concept.

Mike Huben said...


Preferring free speech is not libertarian: it is originally liberal.

Few people are libertarians "deep down", unless you make the term so vague that it is meaningless. The vast majority cherish liberty for themselves, yet would be happy to enslave others to some degree.

Opposition to government experiments is conservatism: experimentation with government has always been at the heart of liberalism. That's how the US came about.

Individual dignity for more than just yourself is a liberal concept, not a libertarian concept.

Quite a number of libertarians reject charity: start with Atlas Shrugged, which has been accurately paraphrased as "to the gas chambers go!" And of course Objectivism is explicitly atheist.

"sceptical positivis position which would mean that he would have to wait until there is proof that government intervention is better"
What twaddle! Liberalism is EMPIRACIST: you perform experiments. And the modern first world shows pretty clearly that strong government intervention is essential to modernization and economic growth, no matter which nation you look at.

Chaos theory makes mathematical models of unpredictability. Real world data can be compared to these models to see if they fit. Austrian economics is still unable to add two plus two with its crayon, because it is innumerate.

"Even the most positivist empiricist must accept the notion that his science depends on his ability to interpret causual relantionships in nature as an apriori concept."
No, it is an inductive hypothesis. You have no clue about the philosophy of science.

It looks to me as if you don't have much background in this subject, but just know what you like. I recommend that you study outside of libertarianism a bit so that you have a meaningful background with which to understand it. I have a section at my web site for just that purpose: So You Want To Discuss Libertarianism....

Diego said...

Mr. Huben,

the question is whether you value free speech for its sake or not? There can be four answers. 1) You do not think free speech is important, it is in fact secondary or should be in a subsidiary position to another more important goal; 2) You do not answer yes or no, because you are skeptical and can imagine situations where it is of lesser value and even harmful to society; 3)
Or you do because you think it is an important value, be it because of its aparent and empirical benefits, 4) or you do defent it because you consider it a right of every individual.

Please exclude the term "conservatism" which includes too many diverse meanings.

Hmmm, not sure what you mean by liberal if you think libertarians are not liberals. Libertarians tend just to be much more liberal, so liberals are not libertarians, but all libertarians would tend to prefer liberals than socialists or statists. (Again, we are speaking of liberals in the old american sense, or current european sense).

Not sure what you mean by empiricism then? In the aristotelian sense I completely agree with you, liberalism is empiricist. You did not understand my question however, there are both successes and failures in government. Ignoring this is being truly biased, even Stiglitz has recognized this. What is the kind of succesful government intervention? Or how much? Is it in fact less government intervention than other countries that brought about that growth? There has been government intervention with respect to what? the 19th century had much less government intervention than the previous century. Colbertism in france is a great mercantilistic and interventionist example of the state trying to determine even what the thread count of a cloth should be. Is this also the interventionism you are talking about?

Is modernization and economic growth an important value for you? It would seem that it is, since you are adamant about how government intervention has created the first world. Is only material well being important? or the most important value? For libertarians this is clearly not an important value, it is subsidiary to other principles (such as free speech). As far as I know, they see it as a generally good consequence.

So you prefer induction to the popperian hipothetical-deduction? Most scientists in both natural and social sciences have recognized that they need a theory to interpret their data, and that as such, all data is theory-laden. It cannot just be inductive, you need previous definitions. This is a process of seeing reality, coming back to reasoning, then going back to reality, then coming back to reasoning.

Finally, in an inductive hypothesis WHO makes the inductive hypothesis? somebody, or a group of people, has to do it.

Thanks for taking your time to reply!

Anita said...

Mr Huben,

Firstly on libertarians rejecting Christianity. Boy you could not be more wrong. In fact in recent years a lot of libertarians have TURNED to christianity to prove their point. One of the most admired Libertarians of all times was Bastiat a devout Catholic who was ridiculed by conventional economists such as Keynes for his religious beliefs. Secondly if you have read ANY contemporary Austrian literature or libertarian literature you will see the concept of religion comes in to SUPPORT libertarian views. Witness great libertarian writers such as Tom Woods, Guido Hulsmann (though he is primarily an Austrian economist and not a libertarian writer) and Jesus Huerta de Soto (again primarily an economist). Also witness the origin of libertarian thought among the Spanish scholastics who were primarily MONKS! Surely you cannot argue they were atheists? Also one of the biggest libertarian sites going right now is a site for Libertarian Christians. And if you still disregard all this Mises and Rothbard despite being atheists personally devote a great deal of attention to the role Christianity can play in determining morality and how at no point it should be undermined.

Finally, on Libertarianism which I feel you have grossly misunderstood. One of the primary doctrines of libertarianism is the belief that all individuals make judgments of value. These are personal and are not to be critiqued by anyone as they are determined by individuals value scales. Therefore the primary doctrine of libertarianism is that people should be allowed to do as they please provided they violate nobodys private property or his right of self ownership. The doctrine you are advocating is one whereby individuals are allowed to violate those things to make an arbitrarily defined group better off, how is this freedom? Libertarians do firmly believe in charity. Witness for example the challenge the have offered Paul Krugman that will give all the pledge money ($56.000 at the moment) to starving New York families if Krugman agrees to debate? It is Krugman and his refusal to debate that is denying these families this money. Also most libertarian organisations ARE charities. Charity is defined by your willingness to give your money and make a personal sacrifice to help others not by your willingness to take other peoples money through taxes and give it to others. Am I a charitable kind person if I rob you and give your money to the poor? I am definitely a less bad person than if I kept it for myself but I have incurred no personal sacrifice therefore in what way am I being charitable?

Anita said...

Also on libertarians having foul proof decision making mechanisms. It is not a religion. People discuss things freely whereas in a democracy any people disagreeing are not allowed to do so and have to conform with what others have decided for them. Argument in any ideology and people willing to put their views to the test of debate is what ultimately makes these ideologies great. You say democracy, I say dictatorship of the majority. You cannot possibly advocate democracy as an IDEAL in any way given what many democracies have done in the past. Is there ANY safety mechanism to ensure these or any other democracies won't do the same in the future?

mikeyaustudent said...

"The vast majority cherish liberty for themselves, yet would be happy to enslave others to some degree."

Mike you have described youself perfectly

Lord Keynes said...

You cannot possibly advocate democracy as an IDEAL in any way given what many democracies have done in the past.

A very poor argument.

You might as well argue that:

(1) You cannot possibly advocate parenthood as an IDEAL in any way given what many (bad) parents have done in the past.

(1) You cannot possibly advocate police forces as an IDEAL in any way given what many (bad) police man and women have done in the past.

Starting to see why your argument is ridiculous?

Just because some democratic states in the past have had governments that committed crimes or made other bad policy choices does not discredit democracy as a political system, any more than the institution of parenthood would be discredited, just because of bad parents.

Also, if you have a sound objective ethical system that you can defend (e.g., rule utilitarianism, Kantian ethics), against which democratic policies can be judged as right or wrong, then immoral policies can be rejected.

Anita said...

Parenthood is not a universally accepted ideal. This is why children who live with families that abuse them are removed from these families. How can you suggest parenthood is held up to the same standards as democracy when society reserves the right to remove mistreated children from their homes? In the same way bad police officers are punished and sent to prison but how can you make a system accountable for being bad? Who is responsible when a democracy does something bad? It is not just the president because he was supported by the party. It is not just the rulling party because it is partly the fault of the opposition for not stopping them. And it is not just the fault of those in office it is also the fault of those who elected them. You can put a bad parent or a bad police man in prison but who do you put in prison or punish when a democracy messes up in order for you to say that the wrong has been righted? Parenthood and the police forces are IN NO WAY held up to the same level of idealism as democracy so no I do not see why my argument is ridiculous at all.

classicliberal said...

Quite an exchange--hard to know where to begin.

I suppose I'll start with a relatively mild gripe. Mike, you badly misuse the word "socialism":

"I'm not a socialist. I prefer mixed economies, part socialist and part capitalist."

"Libertarians" offer up an idealized version of "capitalism." Their fanciful concept--a "capitalism" free of things like child-labor laws and welfare--has no connection to the real thing as it developed in the real world or has ever existed in the real world. You're implicitly endorsing that concept as correct, though, in comments like that. The sort of state activities and interventions liberals support are, in spite of "Libertarian" claims, NOT contrary to modern capitalism--they are an inherent, indivisible feature of it, found in every advanced capitalist economy in the world.

More importantly, here, though, they are NOT "socialist." That kind of use of the word is quite common (and pretty much universal among "Libertarians"), but quite wrong. Liberal state activities within capitalism have no connection to socialism at all. You don't favor a "mixed economy" that includes "socialist" elements--you favor capitalism. Liberals and conservatives argue over the degree of such activities, but that's an argument within the system, not an argument with people (like socialists) who want to replace it.

--j. of j. & Jenn

Michael said...

You throw your net so wide to include so many that your definition of libertarian is simply useless. In the end, then, it's just a straw man. The traditions I'm familiar with are completely misrepresented by your "arguments" -- which are really more ad hominem than anything. There might be more interest and rigor in what you do if you tried to honestly take on specific schools in detail. At least then there'd be something to discuss.

Lord Keynes said...


The types of libertarian described above are useful divisions, in my view.

If you want a division of the Austrian school libertarians, see my blog: