*Realizing Freedom*

by on July 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

That's the title of the new Tom Palmer book and the subtitle is apt: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice.  It delivers what it promises plus the very short essays (Iraq, gay pride in Moscow) are quite interesting.  I view this book as defining one of the main threads in modern libertarian thought:

1. Cato-influenced (for lack of a better word).  There is an orthodox reading of what "being libertarian" means, defined by the troika of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties.  It is based on individual rights but does not insist on anarchism.  A ruling principle is that libertarians should not endorse state interventions.  I read Palmer's book as belonging to this tradition, broadly speaking.

2. Rothbardian anarchism.  Free-market protection agencies will replace government-as-we-know-it.  War is evil and the problems of anarchy pale in comparison.  David Friedman offered a more utilitarian-sounding version of this approach, shorn of Misesian influence.

3. Mises Institute nationalism.  Gold standard, a priori reasoning, monetary apocalypse, and suspicious of immigration because maybe private landowners would not have let those people into their living rooms.

4. Jeff Friedman and Critical Review: Everything is up for grabs, let's be consequentialists and focus on the welfare state because that's where the action is.  Marx is dead.  The case for some version of libertarianism ultimately rests upon voter ignorance and, dare I say it, voter irrationality.

5. "Hayek libertarianism."  All or most of the great libertarian thinkers are ultimately compatible with each other and we have a big tent of all sorts of classical liberal ideas.  Hayek and Friedman are the chosen "public faces" of this approach.  "There's a classical liberal tradition and classical liberal values and we can be fuzzy on a lot of other things."

What am I leaving out?  And which will win out as the dominant strand?

Sean July 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I think we need to mention Jeffersonian Agrarianism as well as Ron Paul Constitutionalism. True, these may be melded into the various other threads, but they are important enough to stand alone. Especially the latter, as a popular face of minimal government today.

Melvin July 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I’d personally like to know which one you identify as closest to your own views.

Andrew July 7, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Principled pragmatism and personal liberty, of which you are carving a nice niche, which I admire, while at the same time hoping it fails on theoretical and pragmatic terms. But I’m enjoying the ride. It is reminiscent of early Harry Browne.

Cato advocates while you primarily advocate understanding including cultural political tolerance: I really don’t give a $#!+ what California does, as long as they don’t get my money when they go bankrupt. I can tolerate the rich and I can tolerate the poor. Cato seeks to work within the establishment, while public choice is essentially subversive and critical, at least and until there is no more need for such a movement. People from both sides have little appreciation for the similarities between civil society and government. It’s the similarities that draw the differences into stark contrast. It may not sound that novel that “my movement advocates understanding” but every day it sounds more novel to me.

The risk with 5 is providing intellectual cover for the opposition. I’d like to see you keep 5 alive whenever anyone on the statist side says “Tyler Cowen says so-and-so” by correcting them with extreme prejudice. At the end of the day, all of the arguments are good. Even liberals can be convinced to choose inaction to disaster.

ya July 7, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Thoughts on left-libertarianism?

mulp July 7, 2009 at 3:47 pm

How about the view that “theory” trumps reality.

I see a lot of hypothesis that is contradicted as fact, taken as proven theory.

For example, cutting taxes is claimed to stimulate the economy and create jobs. The theory is that people will spend their money more wisely than government, that government building such things as roads and bridges and health care systems and schools and providing education is all wasted spending. If taxes are cut, then the people will do all those things better and cheaper.

So, we have had,
06/07/2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001
03/09/2002 Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002
05/28/2003 Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003
05/17/2006 Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005
02/13/2008 Economic Stimulus Act of 2008
10/03/2008 Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008
02/17/2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
and with job creation that beats only the Hoover years, and the most unproductive and wasteful investment in US history.

OneEyedMan July 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm

The troika discussed in case one really seems like 2 groups, those who are libertarian because they think it is right and those that are libertarian because they want to be left alone. One might contrast the libertarianism of the technology elites that once dominated discourse on the Internet (or as a persistent strain in law, economics, and philosophy programs) in as the former while the casual libertarianism of the rural American West is the latter.

J. Kelly July 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

“Mises Institute nationalism”

What in the…? The Mises Institute is very heavily Rothbardian. In fact, the politics of the LvMI and Rothbard are basically indistinguishable.

And what’s this about immigration? If there’s a position at all (and I don’t believe there is), the anti-immigrationists are surely in the minority.

Don the libertarian Democrat July 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I identify with 5, but I always enjoy reading David Friedman’s “The Machinery Of Freedom”. I can only fit in with 5 because I’m also a big fan of Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, both of whom were very pragmatic, as I tend to be.

Only 5 can really work. I could try and convince everyone of that, but, truly, it’s simply where I fit in.

Corey July 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm

The dominant strand will be Cato’s approach because too many people are unwilling to take a legitimate stance on ‘Rothbardian anarchism.’ Any minarchist approach will fail over time. Government is inherently evil. The contradiction where one admits this yet believes government will succeed in ‘only’ providing protection from aggression has always been beyond me. A ‘revolution at the margin’ is doomed to fail.

Eric July 7, 2009 at 4:47 pm

It is my impression that Libertarians believe that there is never any reason for government to intervene in the market. Is that true? The idea that government intervention is never Pareto improving is absurd to me.

kevin nowell July 7, 2009 at 4:55 pm

What about Moldbug’s Neocameralism?

Andrew July 7, 2009 at 4:58 pm

All you need to argue for libertarianism is a photo of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty.

Related to Tyler’s brand would be Claire Wolff libertarians. Ignore the hell out of government until you have to shoot them. The shooting part is what separates them from Tyler. And Tyler doesn’t ignore them because he gets paid to pay attention.

S Andrews July 7, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Can somebody update me on the history politics between Mises Institute and GMU?

AADL July 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Rothbard, without his 100% gold reserves and banks-as-money-ware houses weirdness, and his constructivist, ahistorical copyright stamp.

And Q for Eric:
How can government be Pareto improving, when it’s a criminal gang, as MNR pointed out?

razib July 7, 2009 at 5:20 pm

nerds! :-)

Zxcv July 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Barring a catastrophe, the Anarchist subset of libertarians certainly don’t want the government to ever intervene in the market. David Friedman has said that a temporary draft would be better than a takeover by a totalitarian country, but that’s a special case.

The other kinds create some sort of wall between what they want government to do and “the bad stuff.” (Social security! The horrors!)

Mike July 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Where do the Objectivists fit in?

S Andrews July 7, 2009 at 6:18 pm

a temporary draft would be better than a takeover by a totalitarian country

Better for whom?

George Herbert July 7, 2009 at 6:26 pm

BTW, my sympathies lie with Hayek’s brand.

liberty July 7, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I ditto to J. Kelly that you have the Mises Institute wrongly characterized. Perhaps you mean a subset of the Mises Institute who are nationalists–but you don’t make this clear. I think you should correct that one.

I also ditto some of the other comments about what you have missed.

Dain July 7, 2009 at 8:32 pm

It doesn’t seem as if CR focues on the welfare state per se, and I think I’d replace “Marx is dead” with “central planning is dead,” but the rest seems spot on.

I thought your taxonomy was a tad forced. I’d collapse 2 into 5 actually, especially since you smuggle D. Friedman into the “Rothbardian Anarchism” category. In my experience the Friedman anarchists are far less righteously self-confident and prescriptive as to what the perfect libertarian society will look like, complete with an answer to noise pollution and the ownership of howitzers.

For me it would look like:

1. Cato

2. Rothbard Anarchism

3. D. Friedman Anarchism (Seasteading, competitive ‘voluntary’ governments)

4. Paleo-Libertarianism (Ron Paul)

I think the Critical Review style libertarianism is better placed within #1 myself, but according to Jeff Cato is really home to a bunch of Rothbardians too!

Vijay July 7, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Every time you write one of these weird posts, with complimentary snide commentary on Austrian economics, I remember why I don’t take you seriously as either an economist or public intellectual. No offense of course, I’m sure you do important work outside the field of economics.

Chris July 7, 2009 at 9:35 pm

I’m with John above. Public Choice issues are my main motivation at this point (that’s where I started, then tinkered with Randism & Rothbardism and landed back at PC).

However well intentioned government policy is it distorts individual actions and is twisted to serve the powerful.

Trevor July 7, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Geo-libertarians (Libertarian Georgists), mutualists (Tucker), and some breeds of distributists, to name a few.

Cosmotarian Overlord July 7, 2009 at 10:58 pm

which brand of libertarians thought the “Paulson plan was better than nothing?”

BoscoH July 8, 2009 at 12:31 am

Strangely, pointing out that Lew Rockwell ghost-wrote the disgusting stuff in the Ron Paul newsletters will get you banned from EconLog (with your IP address blocked). David Henderson has no problem acknowledging using Lew Rockwell as a source.

We’re all judged by the company we keep.

johnleemk July 8, 2009 at 1:01 am

At this point nobody’s likely to read what I’m saying, but I’m wondering if #5 is supposed to include liberaltarians/Rawlsekians/pragmatic libertarians. Will Wilkinson, Scott Sumner and probably Megan McArdle belong to this strand of thought. Sumner has argued before that Friedman was a pragmatic libertarian as well, and I have also heard a similar case put forth for Hayek from someone else.

I read #5 as an uber-big tent libertarian philosophy, which I think is the most politically and policy-wise viable form of libertarianism, but this big tent could easily encompass the more fringe elements of libertarianism like the Rothbardian anarchists. I’m not sure how comfortable I (and many other liberaltarians) would be with this.

While I am sympathetic to the arguments that government is nothing more than a criminal organisation with a monopoly on force, I think Mancur Olson had it right when he took this for granted and asked how we can use this criminal organisation to our ultimate benefit. After all, it’s not like government is an unredeemable evil. The question really is, how do we structure government so it does more good and less evil? Institutional incentives are important, and it’s clear that they can make a difference, since most governments of today are indisputably less corrupt and dictatorial than their counterparts a millennium or even a century ago.

Doc Merlin July 8, 2009 at 1:29 am

‘which brand of libertarians thought the “Paulson plan was better than nothing?”‘

The fake ones who liked calling themselves libertarian because center-right conservative is so uncool. The Paulson plan is hella far from libertarian.

Lord July 8, 2009 at 1:58 am

Rothbard/Mises will ‘win out’ because they are the most fanatic fundamentalists. They will drown everyone else out. Not that they will have any political success, but that isn’t what success means to them.

Leif July 8, 2009 at 2:40 am

techno-tarians

Zephyrus July 8, 2009 at 3:37 am

Doc Merlin, I by and large consider myself a “left libertarian,” so here’s my attempt at an answer.

The great fissure in libertarianism comes via the institution of property. At least some brands of right-libertarianism take Property as a moral commandment, while the rest of them dance around the subject and try to come up with alternative pragmatic justifications for treating it as a moral commandment.

In contrast, left libertarians tend to view property as an institution rooted in our particular political economy, an institution amounting to the use of force by the state writ large. The society envisioned by them is one in which there is no government (or, for the more realistic of us, a society with diffuse power structures that create spaces between them for genuine human liberty and autonomy).

Interesting to think about how the law and economics folk fit into this.

bbb July 8, 2009 at 5:04 am

I also would like to add the J.M. Buchanan variety of “constitutional-libertarianism”: it doesn’t only focus on the freedom to realize “gains from exchange”, it also includes the freedom of the people to choose the rules under they want to live together (“gains from joint commitment” to rules).

The question of whether some rule is in fact in the interest of the people who are considering to implement it is then a question about the factual working properties of the rule.

Also, people can voluntarily agree to a government with collective decision making (and some kind of limits to the governments legitimate scope of actions) because they realise that only in this manner they can get some advantages which they wouldn’t be able to enjoy in the absence of a government.

josh July 8, 2009 at 9:26 am

Moldbuggery

Eric July 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Does anyone have a serious answer to my question?

Barkley Rosser July 8, 2009 at 6:13 pm

eric,

Nobody is going to answer your question because it is trivial.

Vijay,

How does Tyler’s listing of “Hayekian libertarianism” as one of the five branches
constitute some sliming of Austrianism?

Regarding “left-libertarianism,” for those who think this is some sort of awful
nonsense, the history of the use of the term is that for nearly a century, after
its origination in France, it was strictly applied to leftists, starting with
the Mutualism of Proudhon. Yes, the issue of property is a central matter here,
with left-anarchists like Bakunin also relevant. In the 1920s, the term
“libertarian communism” was actually used briefly, and today, Noam Chomsky
calls himself a “libertarian socialist,” whatever one may think of him or that
appellation. It was only in the 1950s that the term began to be applied to
anybody who could be identified as being on the “political right,” although it
is certainly true that today that is generally how the term is viewed.

chrismealy July 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm

I always associated libertarians with nostalgic American racists. I guess that’s #3.

Rafi July 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm

“If one can be convinced at all, which itself seems hopeless, it is likely a process. Once everyone is some type of libertarian, who knows which type it will be, and who cares?”

While I agree with this, it’s also pretty clear to me that libertarians will continue to bicker with one another over details even if they have the popular vote. Why would human nature change? :)

As for me, I am open to the possibility of anarchy but have further questions. I don’t see any role for government outside of contract enforcement, protecting life/liberty/property, and defense.

Gabe July 9, 2009 at 10:03 am

I’m a open borders Rothbardian. My friends who are the same are all open borders as well. It seems a substantial part of what is percieved as nationalist or anti-immigrant has to do with two irreconcilable ideas used by our government to justify larger government.

Democrat/Republican/statist statement 1. Radical islamo fascist are trying to attack our coutnry because of our freedom. They are constantly tryign to blow us up so we need to pay huge taxes so that the Pentagon/Homeland security/military industiral complex can protect us. We also must have patriot acts passed to destroy the 1st, 4th and 2nd amendments as this sacrifice of freedom is neccasry for our own safety. Without trillions of dollars spent domesticalyl and abroad we would be decimated by terrorist attacks.

Democrat/Republican/statist statement 2. It is not a danger to this country to let millions of undocumented foreigners cross the borders as they wish. In fact it is good for us.

I actually agree with statement #2(as do many fans of Rothbard and Mises)….but you cannot possibly take statement # 1 seriously if you believe statement #2. Given the level of propaganda spewed out by the MSM/Democrat/Republican/CFR/statist it is understandable that some of those who are less educated and are losing their jobs due to cheaper labor might be susceptible to believing statement #1. Even these people can see that statement #1 and statement # 2 are mutually exclusive.

People that believe both #1 and #2 are suffering from some bad bad logic skills.

It seems some highly educated people who suffer from some serious issues surrounding insecurity, lack of principles and a huge desire for acceptance by the popular kids are willing to suffer through the cognitive dissonance associated with believing #1 and #2.

Common methods of coping for these poor souls revolve around fooling themselves into believing 1)Obama is very different than Bush. 2) torture is good if Obama is doing it because he is so level headed he would never abuse the privelege. 3) the paulson plan is better than nothing. 4) islamo fascist really are trying to murder us for our freedom so we have to bomb and torture goat herders in afghanistan. 5). Obama never would have started these wars but all seriosu people knwo we must keep fighting. 6) habeus corpus isn’t really important. 7)Nafta = free trade. 8). the Fed doesn’t need to be audited, it is better not to have democracy. 9) printing money can create wealth in some situations, we do need to save capitalism from itself with a centrally planned monetary system, you would be crazy to suggest otherwise.

Anyone who disagrees with statements 1- 9 must be some sort of racist…ya you guys keep telling yourselves this.

I am not saying I am more educated than Hoppe, it seems some people like him are anti-open borders because of the logical idea that open borders and a huge welfare state can lead to some big problems in a democracy…That idea makes pretty good sense. The internal libertarian debate on this issues is not about which side is morae racist. To frame the debate in such terms should be intellectually embarassing.

Troy Camplin July 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I guess I am somewhere between 5 and 1, since my libertarianism comes out of self-organizing systems theory. I htink Hayek is less fuzzy than people think, since much of Hayek’s work merely showed the arguments for a liberal society based on rule of law, ignoring many purely economic arguments. Certainly, combined with Milton Friedman’s arguments, much of Hayek’s fuzziness is corrected. We at the Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture take this approach, anyway.

Brian Macker July 11, 2009 at 10:42 am

Objectivism? Are you serious? Ayn Rand wrote a polemetic article denouncing libertarianism and since she held that objectivism was immutable then that’s how things go.

thomas paine August 12, 2009 at 9:42 am

georgism is the only valid libertarian school and is often ignored, probably deliberately, because it recognizes the importance of land slavery.

fake libertarians believe in land slavery. fake libertarians believe people are born to work for the man so that he can have a share of land and water.

land and water is not a product of man. every man has the inalienable natural born right to land.

georgism when using the lvt and citizen dividend also prevents and stops the demand for the rise of the welfare state.

i also favor trade tariffs on products coming from land slavery nations and a sales tax on natural resources. and of course any excise taxes (user fees) such as a corporate tax to pay for the burdens corporations place on the courts.

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