Matt Yglesias outlines an intelligent version of libertarianism

by on August 9, 2009 at 1:51 am in Political Science | Permalink

Picking up my previous request, Matt responds:

I think libertarianism is best understood as a kind of esoteric
doctrine. There’s strong evidence to believe that people who
overestimate their own efficacy in life wind up doing better than those
with more accurate perceptions. It follows that it’s strongly desirable
for society to be organized so as to bolster myths of meritocracy. This
will lead to individual instances of injustice and to a lot of
apparently preventable suffering, but over the long-term the aggregate
impact of growth (which, of course, compounds) on human welfare will
swamp this as long as we can maintain the spirit of capitalism.

A separate issue is the welfare of the world’s poorest. Progressive
internationalists have this kind of dopey vision of trying to make
trade and immigration policy win-win-win for everyone by using
redistributive taxation to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits.
That sounds nice, but it means that in addition to trying to conquer
people’s racist and nationalistic instincts you’re also
engaged in a fight to pry wealth out of the hands of the wealthy and
powerful. As a political strategy, it doesn’t really make much sense.
Why not simply join forces with the wealthy and powerful so
as to create a political coalition that’s plausibly capable of
overwhelming xenophobia and creating borders that are relatively open
to the flow of goods and labor?

That is exactly the kind of response I was hoping for and both points make sense to me.  Here is a related Matt post on progressivism and America.

I would add that Matt's description is consistent with my belief that the United States should be less progressive than the polities of north and western Europe.  For better or worse, most Europeans are more skeptical of claims of capitalist meritocracy and thus it is harder for them to realize gains by internalizing such an ethic.  Furthermore the non-progressive nature of many aspects of America — by encouraging economic dynamism — helps Europe to be as progressive as it is.  That's an argument for American capitalism that both libertarians and progressives ought to feel slightly uncomfortable with, yet in my view it is compelling.

Brian G, August 9, 2009 at 2:51 am

“Furthermore the non-progressive nature of many aspects of America — by encouraging economic dynamism — helps Europe to be as progressive as it is.”

Is that a nice way of saying they sponge off our innovation?

In a related observation: Europe ought to be praying we don’t adopt a socialized health care model if they have any sense.

Preston August 9, 2009 at 3:34 am

The reader comments on Yglesias’ post are much less intelligent descriptions of libertarianism.

David Kreda August 9, 2009 at 4:43 am

I am not 100% sure libertarianism is the precise label for what is being discussed. Nonetheless, I will accept it and comment on the economic success rationale and the celebration of our (American) comparative dynamism.

I add this observation: a sustained American advantage arising from our attitudes and philosophies (which you summarize as “less progressivism”) may be overstating its explanatory power. In particular, a relatively recent structural change (whose inspiration owes less to libertarianism than to progressivism, but possibly a lot to older-fashioned liberalism) could change the economic score that has justified American smugness. I refer to the relative loss of rank of the large American national market now that disparate European national markets have more profoundly coalesced. The new European Union (“EU 2.0″) is in size (40% larger than the US) and in convergence of administrative and regulatory law, not to mention currency, a vastly more coherent place for commercial operations than its predecessor, the European Community. If the political stability of a democratic and secular “United States of Europe” is sustainable, its emergent institutional features may pose the first systemic challenge to the U.S federal system.

Is it not possible that these institutional factors, though more boring and less emotional than political philosophies, have had — and will have — a larger explanatory role in explaining past American successes and possible future American challenges relative to Europe?

Leigh Caldwell August 9, 2009 at 6:45 am

eee eff, there’s something missing from your example about South America.

Clearly not everyone has lost the ability to walk outside without an armed guard. Aside from the fact that the vast majority of poor people don’t have any guards, there’s the logical issue that the guards don’t have armed guards. Thus this comment only applies to a very small and unlucky proportion of people in those societies.

And as we know, these individual instances of injustice will be swamped by the aggregate impact of growth eventually, so it’s not a problem after all. We really don’t need to feel sorry for those guys…

Andrew August 9, 2009 at 9:06 am

Good, and now that we have it we can flame it. Just kidding, but you will be hard-pressed to convince me that meritocracy doesn’t work in a meritocracy. We can’t be responsible for the rest of the world (either for their democracy or their meritocracy). I come from parents, both of whose fathers either left them or died at a very early age, who worked hard and are now retired millionaires. I myself have always felt like a minority of one and have never had any overt advantages. I have a discussion of why it shouldn’t offend my mother that I don’t want to accept gifts of money every time I see her. Yes, meritocracy has come a long way, and progressives claim some credit for it, but saying it is a myth is going to be a hard sell. Sure, my parents gave me advantages, and try to give me more than I accept, but other than being white, they had few, other than good health. My mother was from German ancestry during WWII, but that probably doesn’t count. She was white. Maybe other people don’t know how to get what they want, but calling that determinism is odd, to be polite. Noone has ever asked me or my parents how we’ve succeeded. They do ask for money.

Many “injustices” are not “tolerated” by libertarians because a good many we don’t see as injustice. Some are tolerated, but how people cannot see that factory workers in Bangladesh are not better off than before the factory amazes me. Sure, there are occasions of injustice, as if there aren’t injustices in the rice paddy.

Eeee F, just FYI, there is an entire libertarian school of thought, the Mises Institute for example, who argues that GDP is not prosperity. And, cherry-picking data (a popular progressive tactic) from a single country in just the 20th Century, riddled by government wars and Keynesian economics as your comparison would probably put you in the “kook” category by professor McAfee in the recent post about journal editing. Also, see Alex’s post on growth about his and Tyler’s textbook. The broader picture is much clearer.

JB August 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

I don’t think Matt returned the favor. You made progressivism sound smart. He made libertarianism sound dumb.

Lord Byron August 9, 2009 at 9:41 am

I find libertarianism to tend towards bigotry in that the libertarian philosophy desires a very limited government and a belief in meritocracy. This fails to acknowledge the inherent lack of fairness or true merit that exists. Government is needed not only to provide services and collect taxes but also for things like the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments which forced an end to slavery an extended citizenship and voting rights to freed slaves. Under a libertarian system slavery could not have been outlawed by the government and could still exist (naturally under the notion that those strong enough and smart enough to not be slaves deserved it and those who were slaves were paying the price for a lack of merit). Libertarianism does not seek to level the playing field by correcting for issues of race or sex discrimination (or any other form of discrimination) and thus has always struck me as a great refuge for those who have seen their privileges eroded by a government that has attempted to rectify past bigotries or correct for the continuing bigotry in our country.

When you look at those moments in American history that have had the least government intervention and the least regulation have had the most corruption and the great disparity of wealth. This is perfectly attractive for those who believe they would be a “have” and not a “have not”. The vast majority of us, especially women, people of color, recent immigrants, and so many others would be relegated to “have not” status with such immediacy that we’d barely have time to kiss a concept of fair play good-bye.

josh August 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

It would be easier for Matty to understand what libertarianism is if he understood what progressivism is. This is true for libertarians as well.

T Man August 9, 2009 at 10:04 am

According to Yglesias’ esoteric view of libertarianism, “it’s strongly desirable for society to be organized…” No “libertarian” or “Libertarian” society can ever attempt to “organize” anything without losing its essence. Libertarianism is about spontaneous orders that respect the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Once you cross those boundaries you are in Progressive Land.

josh August 9, 2009 at 10:09 am

I keep thinking Tyler has some sort of hidden agenda in his constant linking to these kids, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it could be. It can’t be that Tyler thinks this is a good definition, Yglesias can’t even define a concept without sneering at it.

Radford Neal August 9, 2009 at 10:35 am

Under a libertarian system slavery could not have been outlawed by the government…

Libertarians (the sensible ones at least) are not so stupid as to think that just calling something “property” means that it really is property, and that the “owner” therefore has the moral right, enforced by the government, to do with it what they want. Obviously, one needs an actual definition of property that has a moral justification.

This isn’t easy, which is one deficiency of libertarianism. But I’ve never heard of a libertarian (perhaps with the horrible exception of John Locke) think that property could include slaves. Slavery is totally incompatible with libertarianism.

roland August 9, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Re Locke: The idea that he supported slavery is probably wrong. As a clerk working for six powerful lords, he had a role writing the constitution for the Carolinas but much later, on the Board of Trade, he wrestled with Virginia’s elite over the headright system (which grew slavery) and the aristocratic concentration of land, seeing it as a pillar supporting absolutism. See Brewer’s presentation at British Studies at Yale last fall.

josh August 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Seems like people need to get a better understanding of this thing called “property.” Hint: it ain’t mystical and it most certainly can include people.

liberalarts August 9, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Whoops: would NOT have permitted slavery. That was a big typo.

Andrew August 9, 2009 at 1:40 pm

eee eff,

My “kook” comment referred to McaFee’s description (not mine) of people who send him papers that correlate X to GDP and his statement that “all kooks are theorists.” I don’t call people kooks. People call me a kook. To me, it seems like correlating life span to GDP is even more tenuous than correlating life span to health care expenditures.

“increases in life expectancy and increases in GDP for each decade in the 20th century in the UK. The vary INVERSELY. No libertarian/capitalist apologist has responded to the challenge of that.”

I’d never even heard that challenge, but I’m not a pro. But you go on to discuss the hyper-powered individual and use 9/11 as an example and I agree with much of what you say and I have been repeatedly discussing that with conservatives.

And I have to say the same thing to progressives what I have told conservatives. If Jesus himself came back to take over the government I’d have to think hard before trusting him with government (or trusting the government with him) power just as I don’t trust the government to fix the externalities that liberals worry about, or at least fix them effectively. They have had riots in Europe after all. It’s not clear that giving in to envy, and that’s the way I see it, fixes it.

Brandon August 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm

As a political theorist, I weep for our future.

The stupidity of Yglesias’ post is matched only by the attention being given it here. The amazing thing is just how many resources there are available on the web that can give a *correct* answer to the question.

Brett August 9, 2009 at 2:43 pm

This will lead to individual instances of injustice and to a lot of apparently preventable suffering, but over the long-term the aggregate impact of growth (which, of course, compounds) on human welfare will swamp this as long as we can maintain the spirit of capitalism.

There’s the rub, though, isn’t it? It’s “long-term” – sure, you may live in a shithole slum with toxic waste running through the street, but the industrialization that you are a part of is creating networks and an economy that will allow your grand-children to take advantage of technology and wealth that will help them live better. Very few dispute that point – even Paul Krugman, in his Conscience of a Liberal book, admits that for all its brutality and suffering, the average worker was far better off in 1920 (after the end of the Gilded Age) than in 1880 (around when it really started hitting full stride).

The problem, of course, is that the “losers” don’t go away, and you can find yourself with a revolution on your hands. That didn’t happen in the US, but it happened in Mexico (the 1910 Revolution followed the Porfiriato in Mexico, which brought the country to greater economic heights but was brutal for the average Mexican), and happened elsewhere.

In a sense, that’s the problem I have with Libertarianism – even if you think that the re-distribution of wealth is morally unjust (and I don’t), you can still make an argument for doing so as a form of “side payment” to prevent a worse outcome (the total disruption of the capitalist system). Libertarians often have a hard time recognizing the need for that type of thing.

Philo August 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Matt Iglesias wrote: “There’s strong evidence to believe that people who overestimate their own
efficacy in life wind up doing better than those with more accurate perceptions. It follows that it’s
strongly desirable for society to be organized so as to bolster myths of meritocracy.†

Let us grant the (questionable) presupposition that social scientists have some way to measure
*efficacy* (= opportunities for producing well-being). (Perhaps this method is unknown to the
masses, many of whom are assumed to over- or under-estimate their own efficacy). Then the
claim is that the average well-being of those who overestimate their own efficacy is greater than
the average well-being of those who underestimate or accurately estimate their own efficacy.
From this alleged *correlation* between overestimating of own efficacy and actual well-being
Iglesias leaps to a *causal* hypothesis, that the overestimating *causes* the extra efficacy. (This
suggests that he intends a time-lag between estimate and outcome: the subject’s *prior* estimate
of his *efficacy during some future period* is being compared with his actual well-being during
that future period. That would help to explain ordinary people’s poor estimates of their own
efficacy–the relevant estimate concerns the *future*, not the present or past.)

A priori, we should expect more *efficacious* people to have greater *well-being* *ceteris
paribus*; the causal connection is obvious. But we expect no causal connection between *over-
estimating one’s own efficacy* and own well-being. A priori, we expect the accurate estimators
to come out best, *ceteris paribus*; the over-estimators would attempt many projects that were
from the start doomed to failure, thereby producing ill-being for themselves. Thus I want to call
Iglesias’s bluff about the alleged “strong evidence† that *prior over-estimation of own efficacy*
causes *greater own well-being*; a priori, we are confident that there is no such evidence.

On the other hand, here is a likely causal hypothesis: people who enjoy great well-being like to
think that they produced it themselves, thanks to their efficacy, which, accordingly, they rate too
high. Perhaps also people with low well-being want to believe the outcome was not their fault, so
they rate their own efficacy too low; and, after all, their very failure to achieve their aim of great
well-being is genuine evidence of their lack of efficacy, by which they may be too impressed. But
these are estimates of efficacy *ex post*, whereas I interpreted Iglesias’s hypothesis as dealing
with efficacy estimates *ex ante*.

Another thought: confident, optimistic people may well generate more well-being for themselves
than do gloomy pessimists. But then the former are accurately estimating their efficacy; it is the
latter who are mistaken, underestimating theirs.

forager August 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I can’t believe some idiot brought up the slavery thing. There is actually an extremely simple explanation: a person under the age of 21 (or 18) cannot possibly give consent to slavery. This is the same reason child pornography is not allowed by a libertarian, and the same reason I think gay marriage should be legal but marrying a goat should not. If a person is 21 years old and decides to sell themselves into slavery, I suppose that is their right (I do think this would be unlikely due to the difficulty of enforcing a lifetime contract). However, the slavery you are suggesting is a class of people born into slavery, which is patently ridiculous. Another thing, the entire justification for American slavery was that Africans were not real people, but rather they were objects. A modern thinker would never hold this view.

This relates to something I find disgusting about liberalism: their absolute arrogance and condescending view of “the masses”. I think this was amazingly argued by William Easterly in “The White Man’s Burden”. Liberals view the poor as just incompetent fools who need the handouts of the “white man” (America) to live. Liberals in America spent a small fortune giving handouts to African nations, and none of it provided long term benefits. The real way to help people is to give them the tools to succeed on their own, which China has finally started to do for Africa.

My one line explanation of libertarianism is: an individual has vastly more knowledge of their needs, desires, and potential than a bureaucrat across the country. This is founded is basic Hayekian information assymetry. If you accept this axiom, then the role of state becomes to ensure people can act without constraints, except when they infringe on another person’s actions (i.e. murder and theft are not acceptable). The inverse of this – the state, a group of technocrats, or some other “learned” people need to protect people from themselves – seems to be the basis of liberalism. I find the liberal view to have very disturbing consequences.

Liberalism can potentially be better in a very homogenous country, but I believe that everyone has different utility functions, desires, and needs. One person may want to gamble with their money, while another may be very risk averse. One person may desire the low upfront cost of an inefficient car with higher long term gas bills, while another may want to pay the larger upfront cost to reduce future gas bills. One person may desire a long life over everything and be willing to pay a large amount of money for insurance, while another person may enjoy spending their money on consumable goods and accepting their life may be shorter. The idea that the government can pass regulations and subsidize industries to make these things better seems like a fantasy, especially in a dynamic, vibrant country like the US.

eccdogg August 9, 2009 at 3:53 pm

For a much more honest attempt see Leigh’s post here

http://www.knowingandmaking.com/2009/08/what-is-libertarianism.html

epistememe August 9, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Libertarianism fails as a coherent and rational philosophy for the simple reason that two of its core axioms are fallacious i.e. meritocracy and level playing field. There is and most likely never will be an example of a level playing field for ALL participants. We are born unequal, there I said it, it is a simple fact. Some people are predisposed to have an advantage from the very beginning in life. This advantage usually grows and can become quite pronounced while still in childhood. This is ignored or completely discounted in libertarian philosophy. Second, as mentioned in other posts, meritocracy is mostly a fiction. At best we are a semi-meritocracy. Again, libertarian philosophy fails to recognize the importance of randomness and chance, let alone how the system can be easily gamed by people with above average resources. In short, libertarian philosophy is a simple minded approach that ignores the real complexity of society. It has an appeal to a certain mindset that is obvious.

lordzorgon August 9, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Yeah, I’m inclined to agree that Yglesias’s post is a pretty wimpy attempt to define libertarianism generously from a P perspective. Although, at least he tried — the commentors on Yglesias’s post were pretty awful.

I feel like there are two basic strands of libertarianism. There’s the rights-centered negative liberty approach on one hand, and there’s the economics-focused utilitarian approach on the other hand. There’s a lot of overlap in their conclusions, but often very little overlap in their values.

Ps are extremely unlikely to find much in common with the “negative liberty” Ls. This will just devolve into an argument over values.

I self-identify as C, not L, but I end up having a lot in common with many L’s, I think. So let me throw out a few basic premises that I think are key to my personal L/C hybrid:

1. Even by the narrow standard of Pareto optimality, there are a lot of sub-optimal outcomes in this world. There are even more sub-optimal outcomes if we take any less broad standard of optimality.

2. Traditionally, Cs claim that the problems are not really solvable and are just a function of human nature; Ps claim that we can solve these problems through collective action; and Ls claim that the market will solve these problems given time. All three perspectives have value.

3. When government actually tries to solve problems, we end up with new problems, and in many cases it’s not clear that we end up with a better outcome. In some cases we clearly end up with a worse outcome. In any event, the government solutions are themselves usually grossly suboptimal. Think “cash for clunkers”; ethanol policy; the tax code; and so on.

4. Government policies are stupid not because the people in government are stupid people, but because the process is fundamentally broken and probably cannot be made to work very well. Call it “human nature” (C) or “public choice” (L), doesn’t matter, but either way it isn’t going to work very well regardless of who is in office.

5. More broadly, democracy is often a very bad way of solving problems. I’m not saying that dictatorship is better, but democracy is bad, too. Democracy needs to be tempered with aristocracy; the passions of the mob must be checked.

6. As for the L claim that markets, not governments, solve problems… “markets”, “property”, and such are creations of government, too. But this doesn’t mean that Ls are wrong. The great thing about the market is that it is an example of how society can be set up as a positive-sum game, where human nature (in particular selfishness) can be harnessed to everyone’s benefit. Further, there’s a key distinction: when the government sets up a market, government does not determine the outcome of the game, it only sets the rules of the game and enforces them. If the rules of the game are set up in a way that the game is a positive-sum game, we all win.

7. This means that we have to take market failure seriously. We need to set up policies to internalize externalities; pollution taxes and/or pollution markets are a good example. Asymmetric information is a harder problem to solve. Monopoly is also a hard problem to solve.

8. As we attempt to set up society as a positive-sum game, e.g., as we attack forms of market failure, we still have to be extremely careful that we don’t fall victim to government failure, e.g., regulatory capture.

9. All of our understanding of markets also needs to be tempered with understanding of human nature and real human behavior, often irrational and frequently status-seeking rather than wealth-seeking. We’ve granted people large amounts of personal freedom in the social arena as well as the economic arena. We must take equally seriously the dysfunctional social outcomes we are seeing, such as obesity, crime, divorce, children born out of wedlock, paternity fraud, the breakdown of community, adult illiteracy and innumeracy, anti-intellectualism, extended adolescence and the rise of the “child-man”, drug addiction, Internet and video game addiction, de facto polygamy among high-status males, the rise of the PUA scene, etc. (As an Aspy male who long struggled greatly with women despite having a lot of money, I find it particularly odd that Ps have paid so little attention to *sexual* inequality as opposed to wealth/income inequality.) Again, I’m not saying that government or tradition or markets are the solution to these problems, but we need to take them just as seriously as economic problems.

lordzorgon August 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

For example, let’s suppose two people, a progressive and a libertarian, both believe that overpopulation is the biggest issue of our time. The libertarian does everything in her power to influence a society through media outlets, direct contact, protests, etc. etc.. The progressive lobbies and pressures congress to provide a government subsidy of abortions. If that doesn’t work, perhaps an additional incentive for each abortion is given. If that doesn’t work sufficiently, a law is passed to limit the number of children. If that doesn’t work, the penalty for having children increases or sterilization is implemented until the rate of population is curbed to the satisfaction of the progressive.

Funny… given this description, I might actually be a progressive. This seems like an obvious example of an externality. I’m undecided on the empirical matter or whether a child is a positive or a negative externality, but supposing we had answered that question with 100% certainty that a child was a negative externality… yes, I would definitely want to consider taxing children. (I would not subsidize abortion, though, because now you create a perverse incentive to conceive and then abort.)

Now suppose that taxing children wasn’t working, probably because people unable to pay the child tax were having children. Then what? I’d really hate to go down that direction — there are a ton of risks and dangers — but I would not absolutely rule out sterilization.

I once proposed that a parent should have to put down a ~$100K bond before being allowed to have a child, to demonstrate financial ability to support the child. The government’s welfare and education expenses would be deducted from this fund.

David August 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm

epistememe, meritocracy and level playing field are not two “core axioms” of libertarianism. I’ve never seen Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Nozick, Boaz, etc. use either term.

lordzorgon, if you take a flint, sharpen it on a stone, notch a sturdy branch and strap to, you have an axe. It’s your property. If you make a second axe and trade it for a deerskin, you have a market. No government required.

Mike August 9, 2009 at 7:02 pm

“There’s strong evidence to believe that people who overestimate their own efficacy in life wind up doing better than those with more accurate perceptions.”

If they are doing better, maybe they aren’t overestimating their own efficacy.

matthias wasser August 9, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Seems like people need to get a better understanding of this thing called “property.” Hint: it ain’t mystical and it most certainly can include people.

To be sure. And the most parsimonious form of libertarianism, I think, would have to accept slavery. But it’s unfair to demand that libertarians subscribe to the most parsimonious possible version of their own beliefs; even though there are libertarians who consider their principles a matter of logical deduction and who could be shown that they actually support slavery, if they follow those premises to the end.

Coherent libertarianism is probably more sensibly defined as an end than a means. Grand projects of social engineering like ending slavery or enclosing the commons or whatever entail massive government coercion to redefine and reallocate (rather than merely maintain!) property rights, and it’s not a logical sin for libertarians to support these sorts of grand social engineering projects.

Joshua Holmes August 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I haven’t seen a single thing out of Yglesias to make me think he

1. Understands libertarianism.
2. Understands much of anything else.

How he and Dingbat Klein get so much play is anyone’s guess. Neither one of them can think worth a damn.

David August 9, 2009 at 11:14 pm

matthias, “persons are the product of other persons” is semantic bullshit. There is no libertarian strain that says parents can sell their kids into slavery, so I don’t know what you’re on about. Kids have their own rights. Libertarians also oppose the draft; it’s equivalent to slavery. They go on and on against compulsion and coercion. If there’s some yo-yo out there you can point to who calls himself a libertarian but hasn’t read a word, I really don’t care.

However, I agree with you that fair play dictates one address his opponent’s best arguments. I think that’s what Tyler did and Matt definitely did not. You also did not. You haven’t come close to supporting your slander about libertarianism and slavery. That’s trollish behavior.

David August 10, 2009 at 12:27 am

lordzorgon, you’re just wrong. I make an axe, I plan to keep it. You want to take it, I assert a right to say no. You want to compel me with violence, I assert a right to protect myself. I assert these rights. They’re not granted to me by society or the state. Just like the Bill of Rights. That’s where I’m going here. I don’t much care if these rights have “natural” origin or not.

Libertarianism isn’t anarchy. Saying “poof, there’s a government” doesn’t refute libertarianism. Libertarians will form governments for the common good. Those governments will have more limited powers than you might desire.

I’m almost afraid to ask: what do you do with all the babies born to parents that can’t pay?

Peter Schaeffer August 10, 2009 at 2:03 am

Wow,

Nice to hear that Matt Yglesias admits that trade and immigration policy should be used to screw ordinary folks with no pretense of sharing the gains. What gains you say? Another topic. I like the quote

“Why not simply join forces with the wealthy and powerful so as to create a political coalition that’s plausibly capable of overwhelming xenophobia and creating borders that are relatively open to the flow of goods and labor?”

Hey these folks actually have an organization. It’s called the National Immigration Forum. It combines the pro-Saddam left (Jeanne Butterfield) with the sleaziest cheap labor forces on the right (the National Restaurant Association).

Any wonder that the American people are disgusted by the Open Borders crowd? Any wonder that a majority of Republicans oppose “free” trade.

This is classic example of elite collusion against the people. No wonder public trust in government has collapsed.

mulp August 10, 2009 at 4:01 am

Furthermore the non-progressive nature of many aspects of America — by encouraging economic dynamism — helps Europe to be as progressive as it is.

The attributes of Europe apply to Asia as well, yet somehow our non-progressive superiority has placed the US in the debt of those progressives, who somehow seem to possess more than enough economic dynamism to make us a beggar among nations.

And I don’t think we could be more of a beggar than when it comes to nations of the Persian Gulf and many other decidedly progressive and also non-libertarian oil rich nations. I think the optimism that libertarians endow of oil never running out has placed the nation in a state of great dependence.

Now if I am optimistic that the US can move to a sustanable energy economy quickly and address the climate crisis by collective action make me a libertarian? Or is the libertarian view that while 5-6 billion people might suffer the ill effects of the libertarian approach to such matters as climate, when they are dead their disadvantages will be taken care of as the perhaps billion retreat to the habitable parts of the planet?

jb August 10, 2009 at 9:26 am

Matt’s analysis was indeed pretty back-handed, but then if he thought libertarianism was a good idea, he’d probably advocate more for it.

It’s also interesting that Matt sees libertarianism in utilitarian terms – it’s a philosophy that attempts to maximize growth does so by perpetuating a myth (meritocracy) and establishing a coalition of wealthy people.

But, of course, maximizing growth isn’t the reason I became a libertarian – I became a libertarian because it seemed the most principled, consistent and respectful philosophy on an individual level.

But he doesn’t see that – his approach is far more of the the-ends-justify-the-means philosophy.

And it was brave and decent of Matt to attempt an honest response, so good for him.

Chris Dornan August 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Anybody tuned into Yglesias (as Tyler is) will realise that he was certainly not sneering but making perceptive and (for MY) quite complementary observations. For me Matt missed the meat though.

I think Libertarianism springs from a profound scepticism of the value of using the great power of the modern state to fix social problems. Such concentrations of power almost always end up creating bigger problems than those they set out to fix, so leading to another round of interventions to fix those, and so on.

Unlike Michael Foody I think progressivism has a simple characterisation: unlike libertarians (and conservatives), progressives believe in using state power to fix social problems. Conservatives, of course don’t see any problems. Its all very reduced, but I think it catches the basic symmetries.

I have written this up at:

http://senseorsensibility.com/blog/of-ideologies-and-bad-arguments/

Gabe August 10, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Lord Byron,

You credit progressives with ending slavery yet in America today there are prison work camps and a great majority of these prisoners are black and a large number of them are in the “civilian inmate labor program”(google it) due to non-violent crime(possession, dealing etc).

However, it seems our progressive president doesn’t have any intention of ending this slavery.

Yet libertarians want to free these slaves and we are called racists. It should not be shocking that your accusations of racism are seen as ridiculous here.

Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth August 11, 2009 at 10:35 am

seeofff and Lord Byron, Lord Griggs doth agree with y’all. Had we followed the Austrian and Chicago schools of voodoo economic, we indeed would be on the road to serfdom- monopolies,no laws to protect health and safety and consumer protection, anti-unionism big time,etc. Liberalism sees the good of capitalism, but makes it the regulated free market to ensure competition, health and safety and protecting the consumer,etc. In addition, in accordance with the General Welfare Clause [ Article II of the Constitution, we have also the safety net. Lo: our Nanny State far outshines the laissez-faire system!
The real exchange of ideas is amongst such as Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Dean Baker and Maark Zandi; those two schools hardly can a priori contribute anything to the discussion that those mainstream economists don’t contribute.

PAR August 11, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Somewhat late to the party + changing tack, can someone point me in the direction of evidence that people with over-optimistic lifeviews do better? I have always been of the opinion that the opposite was more accurate – that pessimism / realism was the way to go.

There’s an old philosophical tradition of pessimism (realism, call it whatever) being preferable. Tyler’s recent book even touches on this + makes the point that autistics suffer less from mental biases (which include over optimism etc).

A recent times article was interesting
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/mental_health/article6716622.ece

jim August 11, 2009 at 7:57 pm

David says: “lordzorgon, you’re just wrong. I make an axe, I plan to keep it. You want to take it, I assert a right to say no. You want to compel me with violence, I assert a right to protect myself. I assert these rights. They’re not granted to me by society or the state.”

Hard to find a clearer representation of a certain silly view of the nature of property. It quite clearly confuses “right† with “power,† which is ironic because (cf. Hayek) this is an error pinko leftists commit all the time (as in “workers’ rights,” “women’s rights,” and so on).

Anonymous August 12, 2009 at 2:12 am

Yglesias doesn’t understand economics, so he substitutes sociology. The result is ridiculous

jim August 12, 2009 at 8:44 am

I do call it silly. The other day I heard Steven Molyneux mocking those who would walk down a dark alley with the plan of presenting any criminals they encounter with a statute book and expecting it to save them. Fair enough. I doubly mock anyone who would try the same thing but sans statute book, waving the very thin air of “basic human nature.”

To put it another way, as easily as you can assert your “right” to the axe, I can assert my “right” to attempt to deprive you of it. Maybe that would be immoral, but saying so isn’t going to protect your axe. Whether we end up fighting, sneaking, or even coming to some kind of agreement, what’s relevant to the outcome is our respective (assessments of our respective) power. Using the word right adds exactly zero knowledge to the discussion.

jim August 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm

And quadruple-mock on you, dave, no backsies!

Seriously, though, I know it’s against the tenets of your cult, but would you mind not being a dick when you post ?

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