...(this is the synthesis)
A couple days ago Ed Glaeser said the moral center of gravity of economics was human liberty. Probably a more scientific way of putting it (because I like to think of economics as a science) is that the central message of economics is that free humans make for an efficient society. Either way - a wonderful sentiment, and I said as much.
In response (to Glaeser, not me) Robert Higgs suggested that Glaeser was tying himself up in knots. The state and liberty are anti-thetical. I was not amused. I accused Higgs of philosophical elginism - robbing a rich classical liberal tradition advocating human liberty to support his own ideological ends. Samuel Wonacott was not amused. We went back and forth for a while (my obstinancy probably dragging it out longer than necessary), and I think I've come to a better way of putting my frustration with Higgs:
Perhaps I overstated my case with Higgs because I really don't know him well enough to say where he's coming from. Let me say this at least - he comes across as being an ideologue. He clearly thinks there is an inherent opposition between liberty and government. That establishes that he and I are in disagreement - but disagreement is OK. However, he states it as if its just a self-evident fact. That's a clue-in for ideology.
Then he says this, which was the real clincher for me: "To be sure, many mainstream economists do think about policy just as Glaeser says they do. But in doing so, they are mistaken. I find it difficult to believe that a man of Glaeser’s intelligence has really given much thought to what he is saying in these passages."
I don't think I could ever say such a thing to, for example, Nozick or Hayek - or to thoughtful anarchist thinkers (even though I disagree with their conclusions every bit as much as I disagree with Higgs's). The arrogance of that statement suggests to me he's coming from a more ideological than a genuinely philosophical foundation.
The claim that the state and liberty are anti-thetical may be right or it may be wrong. But if it is right it is not tautologically right. Too many libertarians treat it as if it were tautologically right.
This isn't an exclusive failing of libertarians, I hope it goes without saying. It's a failing of lots of people. But I'm not blogging about lot's of people in this case - I'm blogging about libertarians.
I hope this is clearer - I think it does better expressing my initial frustration.
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