In which countries is crude libertarianism most and least true?

by on January 4, 2013 at 6:52 am in Games, History | Permalink

For least true, I nominate South Korea.  Other than comparing it to North Korea, how much do you hear libertarians claiming South Korean policies as their own?  It seems the government there did a lot and mostly it paid off.  The best the libertarian can manage is something like “their economy would have grown rapidly in any case,” and that may not even be true.

For “most true” you might say North Korea, but that is too easy a pick.  How about India?  Government there has done lots but most of it has worked out quite badly, whereas their deregulations generally have gone well (see our India unit on MRUniversity.com).  Further deregulation of the economy would likely be a good idea.

Singapore can be claimed for either category.

In which country is Marxism most true (“least untrue?”)?  Least true?  How about other ideologies?

Ray Lopez January 4, 2013 at 6:59 am

“Marxism most true” –> I nominate the Byzantine empire, which lasted about 1000 years until 1453 AD. They had rigid wage and price controls and pretty much everybody was equal. Not that I would want to live there, but perhaps it was better than being a peasant in “Libertarian-ism most true” which would correspond to Dark Age Germany, around after the fall of the Roman empire in the 4th – 5th C AD, when from what I understand the German peasants were more or less equal and there was no real government (oversimplifying).

Ray Lopez January 4, 2013 at 7:06 am

I would add that today, with mixed economies being the rule everywhere in the world except Somalia (the only libertarian nation, which btw is not so bad in the north, the Puntland, ask any DC taxi driver), that you cannot really use present countries for TC’s question–it’s all 50 shades of grey, with the taxpayer being brutalized. Sweden is 60% communist (‘gov’t'), while the USA is about 40% (fed., state, local, including the deficit), and the UK about 50%. Not much choice there?

Ricardo January 4, 2013 at 7:46 am

In what sense is Puntland “libertarian”? It has a functioning government with a military, a public education system and a tax collection bureau. I don’t know much else about it but in what sense is Puntland more “libertarian” than other African countries? It has a de facto government that appears to operate the same way other governments do except it is not recognized internationally.

Ray Lopez January 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I defer to your Puntland expertise. But I recall an article in the Washington Post that claimed it was a liberal haven, and Somalia does get mentioned by Libertarians…let me Google this… nope, I was wrong–it all fell apart in 2009 in Puntland, largely due to crime (piracy etc), see this link: http://tinyurl.com/bjsxreg Thanks for the correction.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Absence of government is not libertarianism, and I’ve never actually heard any libertarian describe Somalia as libertarian. The country is not exactly a shining beacon of respect for individual rights.

Minarchy =/= anarchy. Crudely, libertarians want just enough government to protect us from harm by others, and maybe provide a few public goods like roads.

careless January 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Somalia get mentioned by libertarians? wTF? Really never seen anything to suggest that. Somalia does get mentioned a lot around libertarians, by people who dislike them.

Jason Malloy January 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm

“Somalia get mentioned by libertarians? wTF? Really never seen anything to suggest that”

Lopez is perhaps alluding to the infamous paper by London School acolyte and GMU prof Peter Leeson.

ad nauseum January 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

If we’re going all the way back to the Dark Ages, what about Iceland and the other Scandinavian nations?

jtf January 4, 2013 at 10:23 am

Iceland had a 200 years of intermittent civil war until the war chiefs appealed for the Norwegians to take over, who proceeded to do so. Imposition of an illiberal governmental overlord didn’t do much; a few hundred years later during the reformation the Norwegians eventually got so fed up with the Icelanders that they sent an army to search for and take away literally all of their weapons, and nearly succeeded, which left the island vulnerable to pirates because they had no iron deposits to speak of.

ad nauseum January 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

The Icelandic Commonwealth of 874-1262. The Althing was not a strong centralized government and didn’t really own anything, private ownership and private agreements were the norm. The civil wars followed after this era.

careless January 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I’m simultaneously realizing how much I don’t know about the history of Iceland, and how little that matters.

Adrian Ratnapala January 5, 2013 at 9:36 am

Strange, my reponse to the last to post was that i really need to read about this History of Iceland.

cthorm January 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

Germany post-Roman Empire has no resemblance to libertarian ideals. There were in fact numerous overlapping forms of government in a constant state of flux. It was Feudalism, with the peasantry subjects of local lords, and local lords vassals to the regional lords and other powers depending on the year.

Iceland before Danish rule is a better example. The Hanseatic League it reasonable as well.

Jeff J January 4, 2013 at 10:22 am

Perhaps the point of Ray’s comment is that Feudalism is emergent from libertarian ideals.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Only if someone badly misunderstands libertarian ideals.

Jeff J January 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

True, one should be steeped in the literature before drawing conclusions.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm

A sentence should suffice: crudely, libertarians want just enough government to protect us from harm by others, and maybe provide a few public goods like roads.

Feudalism doesn’t emerge from that in any way, shape, or form.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Or perhaps most crudely: minimize coercion.

Devin Martin January 4, 2013 at 2:24 pm

“libertarians want just enough government to protect us from harm by others”

Sounds pretty paternalistic. You could use that to justify an EPA (protecting us from harm from the pollution of others), the Patriot Act (protecting us from harm from terrorists), unemployment insurance (protecting us from economic harm), and countless other government initiatives that most libertarians starkly oppose.

That’s the problem with libertarianism as I see it…it means exactly whatever the particular believer thinks it does, and any divergence from that particular believer’s pure definition is considered tyranny and negates the whole proposition. No examples of it can ever exist in reality, because there will always be something that the true believer can point to and say, “see, that’s not really libertarianism!”

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I don’t think libertarians generally oppose the existence of the EPA, just its tendency to do crazy things like mandate arsenic levels below useful limits, spend $200K transplanting a common landscaping bush, call a few square feet of damp grass a “protected wetland,” etc. At most libertarians might argue the function should be left to the states.

It’s true there are a lot of different libertarian visions of an ideal republic, but there are some broad points of agreement.

Urso January 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

“want just enough government to protect us from harm by others, and maybe provide a few public goods like roads.”

That’s a great description of early feudalism, actually. The governments were extremely minimalist and were mostly interested in defensive protection; if your lord didn’t provide knights & castles, and the next lord did, your village was in big trouble. And they built a few (very few) roads and bridges. Instead of taxes you had to provide a certain number of days of service, and generally kiss the lord’s ass. G as a percentage of GDP was probably an order of magnitude lower, albeit in large part because so much of GDP was devoted to just keeping yourself alive.

Benny Lava January 4, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Or, you know, they read the pamphlets and understand them too well: http://www.libertarianfaq.org/index.php?title=What_are_competing_governments%3F

But why consult libertarianfaqu.org when TallDave, the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t libertarianism, is here to set us straight!

Wait, this isn’t the same TallDave that is a perennial liar is it?

TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm

That’s a great description of early feudalism, actually.

Perhaps in a few cases, but the feudal state generally had a LOT of coercion as well, either by gov’t or non-gov’t actors. That’s why virtually all libertarians agree a libertarian state would be a democratic republic, it’s the best way to minimize overall coercion.

Benny — that’s a nice find, very reminiscent of what Patri Friedman has been talking about. And thanks for the ironic compliment on my honesty!

Urso January 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

Maybe if you lived in Constantinople. But I doubt the life of “generic Anatolian peasant” was really that much better – or that much different – than the life of “generic Frankish peasant” at the same time.

Todd Fletcher January 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

Except less likely to die under a Norman sword

Roy January 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

And more likely to die under a Muslim. One thing to learn from history is you never want to be an Anatolian peasant.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

The wiki is funny: “Anatolia has had many civilizations throughout history, such as the Hattians, Hurrians, Luwians, Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Assyrians, Urartians, Cimmerians, Carians, Scythians, Corduene, Armenians, Romans, Georgians, Circassians, Kurds, Seljuk Turks and Ottomans.”

Ouch.

Alexei Sadeski January 4, 2013 at 12:58 pm

It’s a bit tough to say that Constantinople was true Communist given that there were many slaves.

Constantinople was 80% true Mercantilist, 80% true Fascist, and maybe 5% true Communist.

Emil January 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm

The very point of communism is slavery (to the state / party). It’s not as if the “citizens” of east germany / soviet were allowed to own anything or any other freedom

Adrian Ratnapala January 5, 2013 at 9:34 am

“…pretty much everybody was equal.” Ok, I am no historian, but my reading say Byzantine empire was full of petty distinctions between people and aristocratic titles / government jobs. I am sure that most of these people were far better off than your average peasant.

Fallibilist January 4, 2013 at 8:06 am

The story of the rise of Hong Kong was literally part of Milton Friedman’s standard speech on economics for decades. Because the story of the rise of Hong Kong thanks to policies of a laissez-faire British colonial governor is over and frozen in time, it will continue to be the great story for “most true libertarian.”

Tyler, your pick of N. Korea is curious and, I would argue, not defensible. Yes, DPRK has chosen a mix of distinctly unlibertarian policy options. Many states have been unlibertarian, yet N. Korea’s outcomes are sui generis.

SOMALIA is a nation that should be prospering if crude libertarianism were true…

The Anti-Gnostic January 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

Somalia is what it is because it’s run by Somalians. If, say, the people of Idaho woke up one morning to find government had disappeared, the results would be different.

Bill Champ January 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

If the people of Idaho (or most anywhere else) woke up one day to find government had disappeared, they would immediately reinvent it, because it’s impossible for most people to image a world without it. As a fantasy exercise though, this is a fun one.

Dave January 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

When was libertarianism a complete absence of government? Isn’t that called anarchy?

Colin January 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

Yes, thank you, exactly. So tired of libertarianism — the belief in limited government — being conflated with support for zero government. I can’t tell if people are deliberately confusing the issue in order to drag libertarianism through the mud or really are that misinformed.

IVV January 4, 2013 at 11:33 am

I’ve met anarchists who called themselves libertarians, though. So the conflation is sometimes used by people who think they are pro-libertarian.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm

+1

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm

IVV seems to be right, apparently that is something commonly done outside the U.S.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertartian

I’m going to assume Tyler meant the U.S. version for purposes of the discussion, but that does explain some of the comments above that equate libertarianism with anarchy.

The Anti-Gnostic January 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

If libertarianism is minarchy (I lose track), then like I said, things are going to turn out different in Somalia than it would in Idaho. For that matter, things like common law jurisprudence, limited government and property rights are fairly idiosyncratic to a particular people and culture. Outside of England and France, who ever talked much about them?

I think libertarianism is more about exit rights than anything else. If I own 50,000 acres and subdivide it into fees held by subjects who pledge obedience to me and my onerous set of covenants, then so long as people are free to exit, libertarianism really has no beef with me. In this sense, places like the Arab emirates could be considered libertarian. The emirs and their families really do OWN the whole place. It’s their house, their rules, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. (Not sure how the emirs treat emigration of their subjects, however.)

oldmtnbkr January 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm
ConnGator January 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

Fallibilist, I think you meant to say:

SOMALIA is a nation that should be prospering if crude anarchism were true…

My definition of libertarianism includes a so-called night-watchman state that includes police and courts to enforce safety and property rights. Somalia lacks that.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Yes, I’ve never heard a libertarian argue that states are unnecessary to preserve individual rights.

Saying “the state should not do X,Y, and Z” is not tantamount to saying “the state should not exist.”

gsmmy January 5, 2013 at 12:08 am

TallDave, the problem is that in order to have a state at all imply some force or coercion so in order to be “consistent” libertarians are forced, by logic, to adopt anarchy.

Once you accept any taxation or state monopoly you’ve already placed some restrictions on individual liberty.

For an alternative take on libertarianism I’d recommend John Holbo’s on Bleeding Heart Libertarians: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/11/black-hearted-or-bleeding-hearted-it-would-be-irresponsible-not-to-speculate/

TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I don’t think “minimize overall coercion” is inconsistent. Obviously it’s basically impossible to eliminate coercion completely, but disbanding gov’t doesn’t get one there either.

There’s really not a major philosophical issue with accepting some coercion to reduce overall coercion. Of course, there’s a lot of disagreement over where exactly the peak of the curve lies…

Benny Lava January 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Oh I see, it is ConnGator that writes the official definition of what a libertarian state entails. Sorry, I was so confused by so many other people writing different and contradictory things. Where can I subscribe to your newsletter?

Ritwik January 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

Which means that to Tyler’s question of in which country is crude libertarianism least true, you should replace the answer South Korea with Somalia. Nothing more.

Rancour 2 January 4, 2013 at 8:28 am

I suppose the moral of the story is that libertarianism (whatever brand you pick) is not nearly as important as cultural factors (ie. high asian propensity to save). Lets not ignore the uniqueness of South Korea in other angles: it fought a war which resulted in a fracturing of the country into north and south, and had to deal with the constant angst over the presence of the northern neighbour, it had to punch above its weight class to hold its own against the other asian economies.

China is now desparate to emulate South Koreas “economic acceleration” (not speed), with mixed success thus far.

Ray Lopez January 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm

But prior to the Korean War, the north was more prosperous than the south (the north had industry). So the “high propensity of Asians to save” is not the reason the two Koreas had different growth paths. It has more to do with the inability of centrally planned economies to compete in the modern age with mixed economies that allow free-ish market prices.

Benny Lava January 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

For feudalism I nominate Afghanistan

For mercantilism I nominate Japan

I can’t think of counter examples for either of those. Most of Africa seems to be dominated by kleptocracy or tin pot dictators. There are some green shoots of democracy in places like Ghana and Senegal. And of course South Africa. But war torn areas are harder to evaluate than peaceful.

And of course the perennial Rorschach test: China. Is it capitalism? Socialism? Communism? No one can seem to agree on what it is.

JWatts January 4, 2013 at 10:31 am

“China. Is it capitalism? Socialism? Communism? No one can seem to agree on what it is.”

Indeed. China is it’s own category at this point and no one has made a name for it. It’s a tightly run oligarchy with a small public safety net and government run capitalism dominant.

Would China be considered Fascist at this point?

Fascism – a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Stephen January 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

I’ve been leaning towards China as fascist lately. Makes sense to me.

Vanya January 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

China was probably more fascist under Mao than it is today. The exaltation of “the nation” and “the Chinese people” strikes Westerners as extreme, but the nationalism is actually pretty toned down compared to thirty years ago. China also lacks a dynamic leader figure.

You could argue that Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew was a great example of “crude fascism” – in the sense that most supporters of fascist (not Nazi) ideology in the 1920s would have been quite happy to claim Singapore’s development policies as their own. It just goes to show that success has many fathers.

Stephen January 4, 2013 at 11:42 am

Yeah I suppose it’s not so nationalistic now and there really isn’t one dictatorial leader. Maybe it can’t be classified?

JWatts January 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Perhaps China could be called a oligarchical fascist state?

Thiago January 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm

” in the sense that most supporters of fascist (not Nazi) ideology in the 1920s would have been quite happy to claim Singapore’s development policies as their own. It just goes to show that success has many fathers.”
Including the free-market bits?
Politically, whatever one may think of Singapore’s democracy, it is highly doubtful that Hitler, Franco and Mussolini coud have survived under the (limited) political freedom Singaporeans have.

Peter Schaeffer January 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

It is completely legitimate to criticize China one any number of grounds… Just as it is legitimate to criticize the United States. However, calling China “fascist” is seriously wrong and an insult to millions (including millions of Chinese) who died at the hands of real fascism.

Alexei Sadeski January 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Huh?

Fascism doesn’t always involve mass slaughter – see Spain and Italy for two recent examples.

Roy January 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Ok, how about National Socialist?

No I think fascism describes the China I know better than any other term.

I guess you never heard the term: “Red Fascism”. It goes at least back to the thirties in Chinese political theory. I personally own a book published in Shanghai in 1935 that uses the term and also “Red Imperialism” to describe Soviet behavior in Central & Northeast Asia.

The Anti-Gnostic January 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Isn’t fascism just the State uber alles? Whether membership in good standing in the State is dependent upon race, creed or other factors depends on the particular State.

Sbard January 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I’ve always thought of fascism as right-wing collectivism.

Susan January 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

For modern-day, I’d nominate Switzerland. They especially use immigration controls as a protectionist measure. Saudia Arabia could reasonably join the list in the “pros” column, especially if you are willing to put gender issues on the table. They could get significant economic benefit from further deregulating the behavior of women, and state control of resources has done a lot to cause the problems they now have.

I think it always boils down to “government is good when the marginal benefit of the services provided exceeds the marginal cost of the restrictions imposed and taxes levied.” Those benefits include stability and redistribution and those costs include corruption and regulatory capture. It is a tautology that there will be places where government is better than others. Any philosophy, as does crude libertarianism, that lumps all governments together will be able to find examples to support it, but it will also be fundamentally wrong.

Brian Donohue January 6, 2013 at 11:24 pm

fundamentally wrong? Just because the marginal cost curve eclipses the marginal benefit curve to the left of where you prefer?

Cliff January 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

This post is worded in an extremely confusing manner. Based on your examples, I guess you mean that in those countries where crude libertarianism is “least true”, libertarianism as a policy prescription looks the least good, and vice-versa.

But I hope you can see that people will think you mean North Korea and India are libertarian countries.

Michael January 4, 2013 at 9:37 am

I’ve noticed a lot of commentators are using “crude libertarianism” as pure anarchy. I’m tempted to say that’s unfair but the actual definition is unknown to me. “Straw man” libertarianism seems more accurate.

Adam January 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

I’d say crude libertarianism is more minarchy than anarchy. Although that definition probably undercuts Tyler’s claim for India — the country may be exhibit A for the benefits of a smaller state, but that’s not the same thing as showing the benefits of the smallest state.

For Marxism being most true, what about countries like Laos or Bhutan? They don’t seem particularly successful, but my impression is that they’re not miserable in the way that other Communist dictatorships were. (An impression, I hasten to add, that is based largely in ignorance.) Or how about a resource-rich state like Norway that has actually manages its resources well?

Stephen January 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

“but my impression is that they’re not miserable in the way that other Communist dictatorships were. (An impression, I hasten to add, that is based largely in ignorance.)”

Are you saying that communist dictatorships didn’t produce miserable societies?

Adam January 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm

No, I’m saying the opposite.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Laos is pretty awful, it’s about as poor as North Korea, though like Vietnam it’s starting to get better as they abandon Communism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos

That’s a country where in the 1970s, teenage kids with AK-47s marched people at gunpoint out of the cities to become farmers, whether they liked it or not, shooting anyone who was a teacher, doctor, laywer, or just not able to walk 40 miles. The horror in Laos was a big reason why Thailand never went Communist, popular opinion swung pretty hard.

Urso January 4, 2013 at 10:56 am

Which is convenient for self-identified liberterians, because they can immediately disclaim any failure by saying “well that wasn’t REAL liberterianism.” Just like the true believer communists responding to the implosion of the USSR.

JWatts January 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

The above arguments aren’t of the ‘No True Scotsman’ type. Libertarianism is loosely defined, but it’s clearly not anarchy. Almost all Libertarian’s assume a working police, court system and strong property/personal rights protections. None of which exist in anarchy/warlordism etc.

Conflating Libertarianism and Anarchy is either ignorance, laziness or a deliberate ad hominem attack.

Benny Lava January 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm

So you are saying that libertarians have never argued for private companies to enforce contracts as the governing force of the ideal libertarian state? Because this took me all of 3 seconds to google to prove you a liar: http://www.libertarianfaq.org/index.php?title=What_are_competing_governments%3F

JWatts January 5, 2013 at 12:11 am

LOL

1) Libertarian’s aren’t monolithic, hence my phrase “Libertarianism is loosely defined, but it’s clearly not anarchy”
2) There is nothing that says police, courts and strong property rights can’t all be private companies governed by contract law.
3) So I think you failed to prove I was a liar ;)

Alan K. January 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

For theocracy, I nominate Israel and the Taliban.

North Korea is only good as an example of Simulism.

Rahul January 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Israel’s hardly a theocracy. For one, their courts have always ruled with a very secular bent.

Aretino January 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

A better example of a theocracy would be the Jesuit Republic of Paraguay, which existed during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Paul January 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

For most theocratic, I nominate Vatican City and Iran.
For least theocratic, I nominate Antarctica and the ISS (religion may be present, but it’s science, engineering, and pragmatism which calls the shots)

Jeff J January 4, 2013 at 9:44 am

For Marxism, is Cuba too obvious? It’s quite successful when compared to neighbouring states despite the embargo.

maguro January 4, 2013 at 11:15 am

Wasn’t pre-Castro Cuba also rather prosperous compared to other Carribean islands? A better test would be whether the gap between Cuba and its neighbors narrowed or widened since Castro came to power.

Jeff J January 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Prosperous for some, hence the revolution. The question posed is “In which country is Marxism most true?” Any measure of Marxian success would have to be on its own terms, based significantly on economic equality, wouldn’t it? Historical evidence of that is probably harder to come by than, say, GDP:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GDP-Caribbean.png

Bear in mind the effect of Soviet subsidies until the 90s as well as the US embargo. Cuba punches well above its weight (GDP) on the HDI.

Stephen January 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

What do you mean by successful?

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 1:02 pm

You’re being a little hard on Florida there, aren’t you?

Cambias January 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

What about Shanghai? For nearly a century it was effectively a libertarian paradise — and during that period became the richest city in China, organized armies to defend itself during the Taiping Rebellion, and was a destination for refugees (suggesting that it was at least an adequate place to live).

Roy January 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Well libertarian as long as it served British and French interests and if it didn’t they tended to land marines to make sure it did.

Sean Brown January 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

Tyler, there are many examples where South Koreans give good arguments that economic growth – and especially justice and social fairness/stability – would have been better with at least INCREMENTALLY more libertarian policies. Just to cherry-pick one example that’s come up in my reading recently: the forced consolidation of several heavy industries by the Chun administration in the 1980s. This certainly diminished the amount of innovation/competition and competitiveness on the international stage, thus overall long-term size of many industries (e.g. power-plant industry).

Also, as the dictator Park became more and more incoherent in the late 1970s, there was definitely excess torture/interrogrations that happened (by KCIA and other state security). I think it’s clear that it was more than “needed” to make sure economic growth/social stability continued.

Finally the foreign-travel and foreign-currency restrictions – not to mention foreign-investment restrictions within Korea itself – through the 1980s kept many Korean businessmen from understanding + appreciating good American/European business models; this is especially true for consumer brands, retail, and the services sector as a whole.

Finally the state’s very high levels of food tariffs and non-tariff import barriers mean the ag industry is sorely, sorely outdated + unproductive. My wife is a vet and has seen many of these dirty, low-quality yet also low-productivity operations first hand. A friend’s family runs a smallish factory farm as well and compared with family members in the farming industry in the U.S., both animal conditions (poor) and scale (small) are worse.

Richard January 4, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Removing food tariffs and import barriers wouldn’t necessary result in a better ag industry in South Korea. It could just result in cheaper imports causing the domestic ag industry to shut down and disappear, and South Korea becoming completely dependent on international trade networks for food. Whether this is “good” or not is subjective and will depend on how you feel about such dependence vs independence, etc.

Sean Brown January 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm

It would certainly decrease food prices a lot. From the POV of the vast majority of the population, this is a good thing and allows them to increase either investment or other forms of consumption, allowing for increased utility.

I doubt the ag industry would disappear entirely. There would be a lot of consolidation, as well as more concentration on branding (such as hanwoo, organic, luxury dairy labels, “special” pork, etc. – it is happening to an extent today).

Richard January 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm

It also makes them more dependent on international trade networks for basic sustenance. Koreans strike me as quite nationalistic and seem to value relative independence and sovereignty. I’m not sure they’d regard it as an unqualified “good thing” at such a cost.

A luxury ag industry for specialized products is quite different from an ag industry that produces staples.

Sbard January 4, 2013 at 5:44 pm

In Japan, they’re pretty much the same thing. Have you seen what Japanese rice costs in Japan? (Hint: it’s basically all “luxury” priced, and most Japanese wouldn’t consider eating foreign grown stuff.)

Adam January 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

Even after Cliff’s comment above, I am still terribly confused as to what you mean by applying degrees of truth to libertarianism. If you could give some sort of parameters for how libertarianism could be more or less true in a certain country, I think that would help elucidate your meaning. As far as I know, libertarianism can be boiled down to the idea that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens it governs. It is a moral proposition about the purpose of government. I fail to see how the examples of North or South Korea, India, or Singapore prove this proposition more or less true.

collin January 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

Why is Singapore the answer to both? Is it because being a city/state? So the local community can more easily control behavoir? Everybody has to cooperate because the various islands? Is that it has absurdly low birth rate and high immigration policy that ensures both the naive born can not fail while the country has access to cheap labor?

Brandon Berg January 4, 2013 at 10:46 am

See my comment just below. Singapore has many illiberal interventions, but they’re mostly not the sort of anti-growth interventions you get in most other countries. If I had to guess, I’d attribute this to the technocratic and antipopulist nature of the government. How a democratic country has managed to retain this type of government for so long is not entirely clear to me.

Peter the Shark January 4, 2013 at 11:32 am

The elites in Singapore recognize that democracy in a multi-ethnic culturally heterogenous state is a recipe for long term disaster, so a general consensus not to rock the boat. Might be another interesting experiment – for what countries is “multiculturalism = good” most/least true?

Brandon Berg January 4, 2013 at 10:41 am

I suppose that this is moving beyond crude libertarianism, but it’s worth noting that some interventions are much more growth-impeding than others. Singapore’s housing policy, for example, is anything but libertarian, and probably lowers standards of living, but I can’t see any particular reason to expect it to have a significant detrimental effect on economic growth. Forced saving, similarly, is antilibertarian, but pro-growth (and arguably more libertarian than substitutes like Social Security).

Ricardo January 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

There is the question of GDP per capita (which is likely not impacted much by housing policy) and then there is the question of equality, lack of poverty, social cohesion and stability, etc. Singapore’s housing policy may result in lots of ugly high-rises and taxes that are higher than they otherwise would be but they also arguably eliminated slums within a few years and are a core part of the country’s social safety net. American libertarians and conservatives blame public housing for all sorts of social ills and yet Singapore has made it work — that ought to be enough to convince people to develop a more nuanced understanding of how government can operate efficiently.

Stephen January 4, 2013 at 11:46 am

American libertarians and conservatives probably blame public housing for social ills because public housing in America hasn’t been very successful. Any what works in a small city state may not be a great example for a country as large as the US.

JWatts January 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm

In how many countries would the inhabitants of public housing consider it a success?

Ricardo January 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

“Any what works in a small city state may not be a great example for a country as large as the US.”

The same consideration might apply to any number of Singapore’s free-market friendly economic policies as well. Hence Tyler’s comment. Singapore is an interesting case precisely because it is likely to challenge preconceived notions on both sides of the political spectrum.

Craig January 4, 2013 at 11:13 am

It’s hard to evaluate the word “marxism” in your post, as Marx in himself was mainly an economic historian and theorist of industrial capitalism. What he had to say about the actual practice of socialism or communism can just about fit on a postcard.

I suppose Tsarist Russia was the “least true” country for Marxist theory in some important sense, because Marx never thought the immanent communist revolution would begin in a backwater like that.

ChacoKevy January 4, 2013 at 11:25 am

An intellectually dishonest submission for neo-liberal failure: Bolivia
Bolivian GDP has nearly tripled under the rule of Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism party.

The Snake January 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

If, by “libertarianism is most true” we mean reductions in state intervention in the economy have been followed by economic prosperity:

Why not the Baltics? And other former USSR eastern european countries with low taxes and/or flat taxes?

Merijn Knibbe January 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Hmmm. There has been quite some growth in these countries – after about 1996. Before 1996 there was a terrible slump. about as bad as the 2008-2010 one. Per capita income is at the moment about as high as during the last years of communism and probably a better mix of things people really want – but for one. Jobs.

JWatts January 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm

“Per capita income is at the moment about as high as during the last years of communism”

This doesn’t seem to be true.

GDP per capita (adjusted to year 2000)

Estonia – 1992 $3,800; 2012 $6,400

Latvia – 1992 $3,900; 2012 $5,300

Lithuania -1992 $4,300; 2012 $5,800

Poland -1992 $3,100; 2012 $6,900

Romania – 1992 $1,900; 2012 $2,600

Hungary – 1990 $4,300 2012 $5,700

Larry Siegel January 7, 2013 at 4:17 am

All of these numbers are way too low, since for the purpose of comparing standards of living, PPP GDP (“real” GDP) per capita should be used. Here they are (from the CIA World Factbook, in 2011 dollars):
Estonia 20,400
Poland 20,200
Hungary 19,600
Lithuania 19,100
Latvia 16,800
Russia 16,700
Romania 12,500 (Romania is by all accounts an economic disaster and it still has a PPP GDP about 50% higher than China)
US in 1950 16,455
US in 1975 28,025

(I added the much maligned Russian Federation just for fun. U.S. historical figures from Angus Maddison, stated by him in 1990 dollars and inflated by me using the U.S. CPI to 2011.)

So much for neoliberal policies, or whatever you want to call the social and political structures in post-Communist Eastern Europe, being useless.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I have to question the premise, South Korean government spending doesn’t seem to be all that high. IIRC they reduced gov’t intervention considerably in the early 1980s.

http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2008/03/government-spending-as-percentage-of.html

As for the more distant past, heavy government intervention up until the early 1980s certainly helped things along, but remember South Korea started out very, very poor. I think most libertarians would agree that kind of catch-up growth scenario is one where government intervention can be effective under the right circumstances (e.g. the Marshall Plan) but it probably doesn’t have a lot of relevance to rich modern economies.

Perhaps notably the first thing the U.S. Army did when they took over S Korea was establish freedom of speech and press. That helped ensure a high-trust culture could develop. The North meanwhile became the very archetype of a statist low-trust culture.

Merijn Knibbe January 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Considering all the above Adam Smith’s choice might not have been the worst: parts of the Netherlands in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. But live was short and inequality increased, over time.

Yog Sothoth January 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Sometimes the classic examples are the best.

For libertarianism, Hong Kong of Milton Friedman fame, as has been noted above, but also the USA during its development phase pre-civil war we’ll say. Yes, there was slavery (although I don’t think this matters much for the strictly economic argument) and there were some limited public infrastructure projects and some protectionism, but government spending as a share of national income was miniscule and there was no domestic welfare state. If you don’t want slavery in your sample, the period from Grant up to but not including Wilson is also a tremendous testament to laissez faire capitalism, albeit with a stronger form of central government.

For fascism, certainly Hitler’s Germany through 1936 qualifies, leading the way out of the depression with labor repression and Schacht’s stimulus measures.

Someone mentioned Japan as making a strong case for industrial policy and mercantilism, albeit combined with domestic laissez faire.

All of the Scandinavian countries qualify as making the case for democratic socialism, particularly as it can be practiced when certain cultural and industrial preconditions of governability are satisfied.

For communism, you might have to rely on war planning economies during WWII. All showed the upside of central planning, but I don’t know of any examples where this model has shown success outside or war, where the state has easily definable goals and victory provides a clear motivation for success.

Alexei Sadeski January 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm

“For communism, you might have to rely on war planning economies during WWII. All showed the upside of central planning, but I don’t know of any examples where this model has shown success outside or war, where the state has easily definable goals and victory provides a clear motivation for success.”

You’re describing fascism or imperialism or mercantilism, no communism.

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm

“If you don’t want slavery in your sample, the period from Grant up to but not including Wilson is also a tremendous testament to laissez faire capitalism, albeit with a stronger form of central government.”

I agree, that’s the “classical liberal” pre-Progressive model. One might even extend it as far as Coolidge, though it gets murkier.

Hunter Pritchett January 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Can’t believe no one has mentioned Chile yet for most true. Incredibly libertarian policies (toll roads, school vouchers, largely private healthcare, open to international trade, as well as just generally less government intrusion, though with the glaring exception that its largest company is the state-owned copper company) coupled with high economic growth (in 1980 (data on PPP isn’t available before then) only 2 years after the Pinochet government instituted a lot of these policies Chile was the 4 poorest country in GNI per capita PPP terms, only beating out Paraguay, Bolivia, and Guyana, to now, when it is in second place, barely behind Argentina) certain make it a good candidate. Poverty is harder to measure given the lack of data pre 1987, but it does have the second or third lowest poverty rates in South America now. Life expectancy is also a very strong indicator in Chile, where is moved from being about 3 years below then first place Uruguay in 1977 (and in 4th place), when the libertarian policies started, to in front of now second place Uruguay by almost 3 years. It’s biggest mistake, and possibly why the good indicators aren’t even better, is that it pegged its currency to the dollar starting in 1979 which led to an economic catastrophe in 1982. However, pegging currencies don’t seem to be part of the libertarian agenda.
The other glaring exception to the libertarian ideal is of course the military junta between 1975-1989. However, as opposed to many other military Juntas, the economic side of the libertarian doctorine was very much in place even during this time period, therefore I still think its a good success story for libertarianism, even if I’m not so sure that every libertarian policy (even economic policy) in Chile has been good for its economy or its people.

TommyVee January 4, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Maybe I am misunderstanding this whole concept of “libertarianism”, but I cannot see what overthrowing a democratically elected government and imprisoning and killing thousands of people has to do with any concept of “liberty”. Liberty has meaning outside of the purely economic sphere.
And of course, Chile was governed by elected members of the Socialist party from 2000 to 2010, making any claim that modern Chile represents libertarian ideals quite ridiculous.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chile

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_coup_of_1973
“In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their “disappearance”. The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile; among the tortured and killed desaparecidos (disappeared) were the U.S. citizens Charles Horman, and Frank Teruggi. [34] In October 1973, the Chilean song-writer Víctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte).

The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period;[35][36] the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government. Those include the British physician Sheila Cassidy, who survived to publicize to the UK the human rights violations in Chile.[37] Among those detained was Alberto Bachelet (father of future Chilean President Michelle Bachelet), an air force official; he was tortured and died on 12 March 1974,.[38][39][40][41][42] The right-wing newspaper, El Mercurio (The Mercury),[43] reported that Mr Bachelet died after a basketball game, citing his poor cardiac health. Michelle Bachelet and her mother were imprisoned and tortured in the Villa Grimaldi detention and torture centre on 10 January 1975.[38][39][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51]

After Gen. Pinochet lost the election in the 1988 plebiscite, the Rettig Commission, a multi-partisan truth commission, in 1991 reported the location of torture and detention centers: Colonia Dignidad, Esmeralda ship and Víctor Jara Stadium. It said that some 2,700 people were killed or disappeared by the military régime for seventeen years, from 1973 to 1990. Later, in November 2004, the Valech Report confirmed the number as less than 3,000 killed, and reduced the number of cases of forced disappearance; but some 28,000 people were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.”

Benny Lava January 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Don’t forget that Chile has socialized medicine!

Hunter Pritchett January 4, 2013 at 11:20 pm

As I mentioned in my post the military junta is obviously not in the libertarian ideal, however, Cowen’s post seems more concerned with economic libertarianism. There is an argument to be made that political libertarianism is good for an economy, but in that case if Chile had been even more libertarian I would be even more right about Chile being an example of libertarianism. Also, in response to the socialist party being in control, that is true, but only to an extent. A lot of the libertarian policies are built into the constitution, and socialist here in Chile means center-left. Go look at current policy in Chile. You’ll find it is much closer to the libertarian ideal then South Korea.
Also, in response to the socialized medicine, most health care is through private insurance. Public medicine is available though not very good. This is less socialized then any developed country in the world, with the possible exception of the US, but that would require a closer look at the numbers to decide.

Alan January 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The whole point of people describing themself as a libertarian is to declare that they are a two-fisted, sturdy, independent, sonofabitch while knowing that they will never run the risk of attempting to demonstrate it by living in an actually existing libertarian polity.

How many posters here live in, or are in the proces off migrating to, Hong Kong, Somalia, Chile or Papua New Guinea?

TallDave January 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Yes, I remember when Papua New Guinea elected their first Libertarian president. That was a great day, only eclipsed when the Somalis passed a referendum accepting a constitution devised by the writers at Reason magazine.

Hong Kong already has some of the highest living standards in the world, not sure why anyone would avoid it.

The U.S. is about as good as it gets for libertarians today, overall — you can own a gun, in some places you can now even ingest certain herbs, taxes aren’t too ridiculous.

TommyVee January 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

When libertarians cite Hong Kong as an example of “libertarianism” that is sure sign that they have lost touch with reality.
Hong Kong is a special administrative unit of the People’s Republic of China, with all the implications for “liberty” that rule by the Communist Party implies.
Although Hong Kong does have a free-wheeling capitalist economy Hong Kong also has massive government intervention in the economy, as anyone who visits can see. 90% of trips are on Hong Kong’s government-funded mass transit system, and private car purchases are taxed between 35% and 100% of book value. Gasoline costs about $8 per gallon (over half taxes).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_in_Hong_Kong
Hong Kong also makes large investments in public health and education, not included in most definitions of libertarianism. Hong Kong also spends lots of public money on cultural institutions.
The reality is that libertarianism is a peurile adolescent fantasy and real-world examples just don’t exist.

Simon C January 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

“Lost touch with reality”? So the subway is funded by the government. Big deal.
The bottom line is, if you are a high earner, you can get to keep a good 35% extra of every dollar you earn if you move from a big state country to Hong Kong or Singapore. Corporate activities are likewise less restricted. What matters more, enough extra money to rent a penthouse and buy a Lambo or the quality of the subway system? I know a very large number of people that have moved to these relatively low tax states for this reason. I don’t think most of them would have heard of libertarianism but they are all Atlas’s shrugging in their own way.
I don’t think it’s all there is to libertarianism by any means but if you want one important metric of how libertarian a place is it’s how much of your money you get to keep. In this respect, and I would claim it is the most important one, Hong Kong and Singapore are stand outs as libertarian regimes.

TommyVee January 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong is at the low end of the list of countries as far as percentage of GDP devoted to taxes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_revenue_as_percentage_of_GDP

Using your chosen metric, the actual “most libertarian” countries in the world are as follows (PS. none of them are high on the most desirable place to live list, what a surprise, but I do expect to see self-professed “libertarians” moving to the UAE and the Congo very soon).
Timor-Leste[7] see reference
United Arab Emirates 01.4
Kuwait 01.5
Equatorial Guinea 01.7
Oman 02.0
Qatar 02.2
Libya 02.7
Chad 04.2
Bahrain 04.8
Burma 04.9
Saudi Arabia 05.3
Angola 05.7
Congo, Republic of 05.9
Iran 06.1
Nigeria 06.1
Sudan 06.3
Afghanistan 06.4
Yemen 07.1

TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm

“Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong is at the low end of the list of countries as far as percentage of GDP devoted to taxes.”

Among rich economically developed countries, they certainly are. That’s why Hong Kong is consistently ranked number one in the index of economic freedom.

http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

You may be surprised to learn libertarians also care about rule of law, respect for property rights, and social liberties, which is why we haven’t all moved to Equatorial Guinea, or the Congo.

Bob January 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

There’s a difference between contemporary neo- or pseudo-libertarianism and genuine libertarianism.

Neo- or pseudo-libertarianism (basically spin-control on the paleolibertarian likes of Lysander Spooner) boils down to a contract between individuals that states:

“Regardless of how much wealth an individual accumulates, and of how much natural inheritance an individual is deprived, each party to this contract will defend the wealthy against the deprived.”

“Natural inheritance”, as in the sense of an individual male’s animal territory taken and held against other individual males, is never admitted in the thinking of neo-libertarians. But it is a natural law as can be observed in virtually all sexual species.

So, if Ted Turner acquires a million acres that he some how manages to urinate on over the course of his life, and a young couple builds a cottage, plants a garden and starts a family on a few acres of Ted Turner’s “property rights”, we are all obligated to at least approve of Ted Turner when he comes and bulldozes the young couple’s garden and house, if we aren’t obligated to pay for a gang to go do that dirty work for Ted Turner. If the young man challenges Ted Turner to the kind of combat that befits human males — using tools/weapons as well as strategic planning in a wilderness area — and kills Ted Turner, the young man is a “murderer”.

Never does it occur to the neo-libertarians that someone might not sign their contract and prefer, instead, a contract that guarantees them a rent stream from the positive-sum game called political economy. It is this failure to understand proper contractual terms that dooms neo-libertarians to a marginal political force.

TommyVee January 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Your point is well taken and is the reason that income inequality and murder rates correlate so well world-wide.
At a certain point in societies designed to protect and benefit only the “haves”, the “have-nots” cease to participate in and endorse the social contract. In simple terms, the “have-nots” have nothing left to lose in societies with massive inequality, so the deterrents of potential jail time or even death do not have their usual deterrent effect. See Jean Valjean and his crust of bread in Les Miserables, or any gang member in Brazil’s favelas. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DEC/Resources/Crime%26Inequality.pdf
Since the libertarians have grown up inside moderate social welfare states, they are ignorant of how brutal the human side=effects of un-modified markets really are. So in their ignorance they propose policies that will recreate Dicken’s England while imagining that they can avoid all the social pathologies that plagued Dicken’s England. Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.
And enacting libertarian policies would rapidly result in repeating the history that created modern social welfare states, as people got tired of having to walk around sick and dying poor people on the streets.

TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Except that never actually happens in free markets, because people don’t voluntarily engage in transactions that leave them worse off. Dickens wrote fiction, not history.

The poorest people always just happen to live in places that don’t respect property rights. Too many people don’t figure out the cause and effect there.

TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm

That’s an interesting argument, but it ignores the fact “natural inheritance” is basically irrelevant: e.g. we are much, much wealthier than people were in the year 1900 despite the fact we have fewer resources on an absolute basis and far fewer resources on a per capita basis. Clearly the vast majority of that wealth was created since then, not inherited.

Thus the libertarian contract is more like this: “You may choose to create value for our society or not, but if you do we will not punish you by seizing large portions of your income to subsidize those who do not, and furthermore everyone (rich or poor) will be free from coercion to the greatest extent possible.”

IMHO January 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Whats a liberial? whts a conservative? if libertarians are anarchists, why have separate labels? start with the assumption that Iibertarians are not anarchists, liberials, or conservatives

Ricardo January 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I would add Brazil as one of the least true. While inflation was controlled partially by opening up the country and privatizing (or at least taking public) government owned companies, currently you have government influenced pension funds controlling most corporations, government sponsored development bank picking industry winners by proving access to attractive financing, creation of government companies in many new areas (insurance, high speed rail). Finally, there is a huge desire for a beneficial government job full of priveleges in 99% of the population.

Dave January 6, 2013 at 1:45 am

The fact that writers here seem to think that Marxism is a description of set of economic policies and not a critique of political economy shows they know little about Marxism…..

Tibet Travels January 6, 2013 at 11:31 am

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TallDave January 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I’ll just add, while I’m honored that some here think I should be the sole arbiter of what constitutes the ideal libertarian state, I don’t feel my opinion is quite that important, but I will give a simple outline based on real-world examples:

– the gun rights and freedom of speech of the United States
– the tax structure of Hong Kong
– the social rights of the Netherlands

Put those together and while it might not quite be libertarian paradise, you’d have gotten closer than anyone has yet!

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