Monday, October 31, 2011

One more shitty argument I'm getting sick of hearing from people that ostensibly want me to take them seriously...

...sorry to be blunt - I'm just being honest.

Along the same lines, I often get told that my view bears the burden of crony capitalism, and that my political economy isn't robust to men who are not angels.

I'm sorry - but for one thing I take a Jeffersonian, federalist, constitutionalist view that is designed not to rely on men being angels.

But if you insist that my view be judged by any scandalous real world problems that might arise (and God knows they do arise in the real world - I'm not denying that), then you have to judge your view of the world by (1.) how libertarianism is actually going to be implemented in the real world (i.e. - likely half-heartedly and with crony interests in mind), and (2.) the negative consequences that such a course of action might lead to (perhaps crony capitalists capturing the whithered government that is left and using it and growing it to their purposes).

This is rarely how libertarians judge themselves.

I acknowledge the requirement to demonstrate robustness. My personal institutional preferences are quite similar to the post-war United States. I'd change things here and there, but I'm basically quite happy with this political economy. I don't think we're on the road to serfdom. I think we've hit on something basically good. And yes, there's some crony capitalism in the post-war United States but it seems to me that we do a fairly decent job. Perfect? No. Robust? Yes.

What's the libertarian alternative? I'm never given an example (although I'm assured it's not Somalia even before I think to think "Somalia"). And that's fine. Maybe we don't have an example yet, just like Marx never had his worker's paradise except for a few fleeting moments in the Paris Commune. But don't paint your own theoretical alternative in rose colored glasses and ignore precisely the robustness and crony capitalism questions that you expect me to justify. I'm happy to confront those questions for my worldview. I'm happy to say "yes, some things suck about the post-war United States but all in all this market democracy I like does pretty well". It seems to me libertarians aren't even aware that the rest of us worry about even worse crony capitalism under libertarianism and wish that libertarians would speak more openly about this prospect.

UPDATE: Mike Kimmel once said "I'm not a libertarian because I believe in freedom and property rights". Until libertarians understand why people think this, they're not going to get it.


  1. This is sort of related to what you are saying, but I wanted to bring it up for a while.

    An argument that many people often use is, "That is the plutocratic perspective! The masses beg to differ!"

    I wonder why they never go one step ahead and answer to, "So why is the business plutocracy and academic elite wrong and why are the masses right?" No! The discussion simply ends there and I am not to question further. If I dared assert that arguments matter, not the people who made them, then I shall be dismissed as "naiive".

    People who use the possibility of cronyism or institutional capture to defend or attack any institution are strange. They shall say: Financial institutions are bad, because heads of financial institutions have a big say on how governments are to resolve the Eurozone crisis! But wait. What does that have to do with the actual conduct of finance itself? But then they stop listening, because I am clearly defending the evil elite with what I say.

  2. The problem with Kimil's statement is his definition of liberty. If he defined liberty as "my freedoms stops where other people's freedoms begin," he wouldn't have any problems with his neighbor:

    Dennis Baker

  3. Daniel,

    This post is over-serious IMO.

    "...but I'm basically quite happy with this political economy."

    That you have a lot of buy in to this particular system doesn't mean much beyond that. Anyway, if you were compare the U.S. to what Edward Bellamy viewed as paradise, for a number of people we're already in it (think of the music on demand passages from _Looking Backward_). But that is a hard comparison for most people to make, and for vast swaths of the American populace, particularly in urban areas, they live in what a lot of people would consider a police state.

    "It seems to me libertarians aren't even aware that the rest of us worry about even worse crony capitalism under libertarianism and wish that libertarians would speak more openly about this prospect."

    Libertarians address this point all the time actually; it is common argument used against libertarians in fact. So asked and answered.

    Given that libertarianism is a heterodox viewpoint that receives a lot of flack from across the ideological spectrum I'd say that there are likely no novel arguments against it anymore. Indeed, the arguments between libertarians and non-libertarians remind me of the arguments between theists and atheists; they revolve around a basic set of talking points and are mostly about reinforcing group solidarity. The sports bar analogy works across a number of human endeavors in other words.

  4. I see we're back to the throw the drug war at an opponent of the drug war strategy. Yawn.

    I'm not sure what's overly serious about it. There are people who have a following who lay out incredibly dumb arguments as if they were brilliant. I think it's worth saying they're dumb arguments - getting more people to agree with me on that would do some good. I'm not sure what's "serious" about that. It's not like I'm staking the future of humanity on that. I was just in a mood to point out how dumb these arguments are. Perhaps you are taking it too seriously.

  5. Dennis,

    Yeah, it is a really dumb argument. It would be much better to say, "I'm not a libertarian because I believe in my definition of freedom and property rights over their definition." Why Daniel would even mention it I dunno.

  6. Daniel,

    "I see we're back to the throw the drug war at an opponent of the drug war strategy."

    No, we're not at that all, we are at the yeah, life is fucked for a lot of people still even in the paradisaical United States. You misread me in other words.

    "I'm not sure what's overly serious about it."

    Blogging often gets overserious.

  7. Gary -
    Regarding your response to Dennis, I agree completely. That's precisely my point. You try explaining that to libertarians who call non-libertarians statists. That's the trouble. Many out there don't even recognize Dennis's point as a sensible one. I'm glad you do, although sometimes I wonder.

    re: "Blogging often gets overserious."

    Possibly, but I remain confused about what you find serious here. You probably misread me. Simply calling dumb arguments dumb arguments. It's not a particularly serious issue, but it is worth spending the ten minutes it took to write on writing it.

  8. I feel for your frustration Daniel, but hang in there. ;) Most of the people you interact with probably are a waste of your time, in the sense that there want nothing more than to hurl insults, but you never know who is reading your comments and posts.

    I was once a pretty hardcore reader who believed that Keynes was an evil statist and the devil incarnate, but then I started reading your comments/posts and it really got me to question my beliefs and expand my horizons. It was uncomfortable at first, but it has helped me to continually refine my views, while also opening up a whole 'nother world of economic theory for me to study. (This isn't to say you've turned me into a mainstream Keynesian or a strict constitutionalist, but you've helped free up my intellectual curiosity. I used to think that Austrian economics and anarcho-capitalism were just the be-all and end-all of economic thought.)

    Anyway, and I'm sorry to get all mushy, but I really do thank you for being so respectful and approachable to libertarians (and internet-Austrians in particular)-- or at least most of the time, haha! ;) I don't blame you for being frustrated when you have to deal with all the ad hominems from Cafe Hayek commenters (for example), but please keep doing your thing. Keep taking the high road, or at least as much as you can. You're having a positive and mind-expanding influence, even if you can't directly see it.

  9. Daniel,

    "You try explaining that to libertarians who call non-libertarians statists."

    You try explaining to many non-libertarians that libertarians aren't cannibals. Lots of people have confused, inconsistent, etc. views about other people, other times, etc., and that's just the way it is.

  10. Rian,

    One of the main reasons not to hang out at Cafe Hayek (besides the fact that it isn't a very good blog IMO) is the excessively personal nature of the participants.

  11. Yeah... so how about that upcoming Greek referendum. Sure is anticipated to put us in a tailspin... Ah forget it. You can all just go back to splitting hairs about epistemology or Keynes or whatever form of mental masturbation do all day.

  12. If you have thoughts feel free to share - I'm not as familiar with the situation in Europe but obviously recent events are disconcerting.

    Your own insights would be much more appreciated than being an asshole under the cover of anonymity.

  13. "Your own insights would be much more appreciated than being an asshole under the cover of anonymity. "

    Is there any other kind of drunk?

  14. I typically go by my own name when I'm being a drunk asshole. What's yours?

  15. "I'm sorry - but for one thing I take a Jeffersonian, federalist, constitutionalist view that is designed not to rely on men being angels."

    I'm sorry, Daniel, but Thomas Jefferson simply did not share your view on the role of the federal government. Your view is that the "general welfare" clause allows the federal government to do whatever it wants, as long as it thinks what it's doing is in the "general welfare." A specific example is federal spending on and control of education.

    This view of the acceptability of broad federal power in virtually every aspect of life simply isn't compatible with Thomas Jefferson's view regarding the Tenth Amendment:

    "I consider the foundation of the [Federal] Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition."

    And with regard to the "general welfare" clause:

    "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."

    And in a letter to Albert Gallatin in 1817:

    "You will have learned that an act for internal improvement, after passing both houses, was negatived by the President. The act was founded, avowedly, on the principle that the phrase in the constitution, which authorizes Congress 'to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,' was an extension of the powers
    specifically enumerated to whatever would promote the general welfare; and this, you know, was the federal doctrine. Whereas, our tenet ever was, and, indeed, it is almost the only land-mark which now divides the federalists* from the republicans, that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action: consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money."

    In fact, as I pointed out previously, it's basically beyond question that the men who wrote the Constitution considered federal government involvement in education to be unconstitutional.

    So you can write all you like that you have a "Jeffersonian" view of government. But Jefferson's writings and actions do not support your assertion.

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