What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism

Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow.  One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents.  For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.  For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious.  Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.”  On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.

There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging?  The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.

Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism.  I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:

1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity).  Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets.  This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet.  (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)

3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state.  A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.

4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical.  Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.

5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.  Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality.  I favor much more immigration, nonetheless I think our government needs clear standards for who cannot get in, who will be forced to leave, and a workable court system to back all that up and today we do not have that either.

Those problems require state capacity — albeit to boost markets — in a way that classical libertarianism is poorly suited to deal with.  Furthermore, libertarianism is parasitic upon State Capacity Libertarianism to some degree.  For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better.  That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.

6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.

7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments.  It remains the case that such progress (or better) could have been made with more markets and less government.  Still, state capacity had to grow in those countries and indeed it did.  Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity — let’s just admit it.

8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia.  They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.

9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats.  Modern Democrats often claim to favor those items, and sincerely in my view, but de facto they are very willing to sacrifice them for redistribution, egalitarian and fairness concerns, mood affiliation, and serving traditional Democratic interest groups.  For instance, modern Democrats have run New York for some time now, and they’ve done a terrible job building and fixing things.  Nor are Democrats doing much to boost nuclear power as a partial solution to climate change, if anything the contrary.

10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.

11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible.  That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions.  But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.

It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism.  On most substantive issues, the liberaltarians might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians.  But emphasis and focus really matter, and I would offer this (partial) list of differences:

a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs.  The State Capacity Libertarian recognizes that demands of mercy are never ending, that economic growth can benefit people more than transfers, and, within the governmental sphere, it is willing to emphasize an analytical, “cold-hearted” comparison between government discretionary spending and transfer spending.  Discretionary spending might well win out at many margins.

b. The “polarizing Left” is explicitly opposed to a lot of capitalism, and de facto standing in opposition to state capacity, due to the polarization, which tends to thwart problem-solving.  The polarizing Left is thus a bigger villain for State Capacity Libertarianism than it is for liberaltarianism.  For the liberaltarians, temporary alliances with the polarizing Left are possible because both oppose Trump and other bad elements of the right wing.  It is easy — maybe too easy — to market liberaltarianism to the Left as a critique and revision of libertarians and conservatives.

c. Liberaltarian Will Wilkinson made the mistake of expressing enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren.  It is hard to imagine a State Capacity Libertarian making this same mistake, since so much of Warren’s energy is directed toward tearing down American business.  Ban fracking? Really?  Send money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, lose American jobs, and make climate change worse, all at the same time?  Nope.

d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done.  “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies.

You will note the influence of Peter Thiel on State Capacity Libertarianism, though I have never heard him frame the issues in this way.

Furthermore, “which ideas survive well in internet debate” has been an important filter on the evolution of the doctrine.  That point is under-discussed, for all sorts of issues, and it may get a blog post of its own.

Here is my earlier essay on the paradox of libertarianism, relevant for background.

Happy New Year everyone!


"a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs. "

Just more negotiations with your executioner.

The red terror is just around the corner? Give it up already.

I think we should fight climate change by lowering taxes, lowering the amount of welfare, ending the foreign aid, paying down our debt, putting a 5 year sunset on all federal laws, cutting federal employees by half, restoring all our constitutional rights and freedoms.

A comment about Mr. Tyler Cowen: In your extensive conversation you must speak to the 85% of the ignorant (lack of knowledge) American population, and they can understand, that can make the changes that that the comment of Anon, that I agree 100%. We, in the USA, do not have a Democracy, we have a modified communism, fascism, Hitlerism, that is a form of dictator. Since 1914 when the Federal Reserve system (bank) all the presidents of the USA are elected thy the owners of the FED ( eight (8) Trillionaire banking families three (3) American and 5 European), with the exception of the present President Donal Trump who is a business man and not a politician.

Do you still buy goods from China?

"Do you still buy goods from China?"

What does this mean? I buy zithers from a Chinese supplier who gives them to me for the lowest price. But he is not China. He does not work or act on behalf of China. He gets my money because he gives me the best instruments for the price I am willing to pay. Note that he gets my money even though I know one of his competitor and that competitor was at my wedding. I don't know about you but I buy things from producers, not nations. And where those producers happen to be is not my concern. Is it yours?

How often are we really comparing zithers to zithers? You should absolutely consider paying a bit more to the supplier you know, who pays local workers, perhaps builds up a local manufacturing plant, and thus supports your locality above and beyond the cost of zithers. You might be amazed if you could calculate all of the effects of paying a bit more for a local supplier, including designing future products with your local suppliers in mind. Perhaps you do purchase some Chinese zithers on occasion, but make your primary business as local as possible and it will serve the cause of building a better, more secure, and freer world than just buying from global corporations. Just a thought.

What if the zither supplier that happens to be based in China isn't a "global corporation", but a small mom-and-pop outfit?

I don't want to confuse proximity with smallness, or parochialism with freedom.

"I define . . ." tells me all I need to know. If he had a mouse in his pocket, he could have written, "We define . . . "

Anyhow, Happy New Year, you tepid totalitarians.

Where is the libertarian part of "state capacity libertarianism"?

I concur. This sounds largely like a rebrand of neoliberalism to me...

lob the ball.

Where is the proposition affirming the unwavering commitment of State Capacity Libertarianism to the rights and freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights? With this addition, and scaling back “much more immigration”, this seems to be a useful starting point. I agree that the overall libertarian project as codified by Rothbard etc. is falling apart, but we need somebody to step up to a full-throated support of individual rights.

I feel Cowen here is thinking first of the state, not the humans. That probably means step changes in welfare are written off as impossible, but marginal improvements are common. Which is a reasonable lesson to draw from the last two centuries, but is pretty close to the conservative meets classical liberal approach actually applied by most centre-right political parties, not much related to or descended from libertarianism.

Good catch. As I say below, this ties to the "problem" with Wilkinson and Warren.

They see "little-guy" capitalism as supporting and reinforcing those Rights.

I am not sure that Rothbard is doing as badly as the critics are implying. The Chicago School is dying as its brand of Neo-Keynesianism could not survive the passing of Friedman. The GMU approach is doing much better at this point but its success comes from paying respect to the principles that the anarchocapitalists developed and defended. Rothbard did defend individual rights. Why abandon him so that those who pull the levers from behind the throne may like you a bit more? Majority rule that does not account for the fact that all rights are negative and interferes with voluntary transactions between competent individuals is not legitimate. That leaves little room for government activity that is not directly related to protecting those negative rights.

I'm not an American, but I visit Washington a lot. With regard to:

"Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity"

My outsiders perspective is that the problem is not 'excess regulation' but 'bad regulation', and in addition, lack of a functioning repair pathway. And the right's equating that problem with 'excess government', and 'all government is bad' seems like a contribution to the problem that invites damaging excess on all sides.

From a distance, it looks like some significant crisis will be required to rest attitudes.... but if things go on as they are, eventually that will happen

Does bad regulation encompass federal and state civil service systems which are not operating to do the citizens' work but to protect the workforce? There are very large numbers of such civil servants with no work, who cannot be fired or transferred.

Imagine US government agencies and personnel located in all regions, states, cities, staffed by local residents, the normal employer's ability to hire, transfer, terminate. Use local initiative with professional managerial supervision.

Until one has contact with the workings of government agencies, bound by thousands of rules every rule subject to exceptions and breaking for those with power. I would love to see public disclosure of 1) all communications between congress and agencies (there are thousands of favors sought and granted), and 2) all government employees who are related to congress persons, their relatives and donors,

With regard to communication between congress and the executive branch, you can do this now, albeit imperfectly.

Simply foia all emails between, say the DOI and any house.gov or senate.gov email addresses. For non-email discussion, you can then ask for all congressional contact logs.

As someone who has some knowledge of these things, it's both as bad as you think and not at all. The corruption generally works in a much different way than you are positing, and often is closer to simply knowing the system and its rules, than getting hand outs.

"My outsiders perspective is that the problem is not 'excess regulation' but 'bad regulation'"

This is almost the same shit. Think about it like a "signal-noise" problem. More regulation you have, more noise you have, and so less effective is any regulation, even the good one. The most effective regulation are those which the signal is obvious and the noise is low.

In design this is called "minimalism". You really think that you need all those bottoms in you car. A Tesla show that you really don't. People 10 years ago though that they needed all the button that blackberry had. The iPhone showed that this was all BS.

Marie Kondo maybe should run a department in US just to put in trash all useless regulations. The US government right now is a compulsive hoarder of regulation.

Yes, one problem is bad regulations, but there's also a lack of compliance with existing regulations. And sometimes there's a lack of regulations altogether.

Take the opioid crisis in the US. It's hard to argue that too much regulation was what allowed drug distributors to ship tens of millions of pills to a few pharmacies in backwoods West Virginia.

Or take the steady rise of mass shootings. Again, it's hard to argue that too many regulations on gun manufacturers and gun sellers have allowed for the wide availability of firearms and, in turn, the frequency of mass shootings in the US.

Or take the increasing corporate surveillance of US consumers. It's debatable, from a normative perspective, whether the loss of personal privacy in exchange for free online services is a good or bad development. But that it has happened is hardly because of too many regulations imposed on the high-tech sector. Quite the contrary.

To claim that there are too many regulations in America is facile. Often, to understand why the country struggles with persistently undesirable policy outcomes, the factors that matter most are the quality of regulations and the enforcement of regulations, not the number.

A political system with multiple veto points, and thus designed for gridlock and slow legislative responses, is particularly poor for developing sensible regulatory regimes and for making sure that effective enforcement occurs.

Americans are often at odds with their government in ways that can be heartwarming, but also quite destructive.

We invented the bump-stock, for goodness sakes.

The opioid crisis is more regulatory capture than either "bad" or "too little" regulation.

The "rise of mass shootings" is more a "rise of reporting of mass shootings" since compared to the number of shootings or the number of guns they round to zero. Further if you have a "regulation" that would stop it, by all means put it on the table. We've already outlawed murder, we enforce that law pretty well. The only group that benefits from these events is the media because it sells news.

These shooters are glory seekers. When we focus the national spotlight on them we're giving them weeks of fame and teaching the ones that follow what needs to be done if they want glory.

"These shooters are glory seekers. When we focus the national spotlight on them we're giving them weeks of fame and teaching the ones that follow what needs to be done if they want glory."

I see. If we draw the curtains, we can pretend the train is moving, I mean, people are nit being murdered.

The number of people killed in mass shootings in 2019 was twice the number of all police officers who died in the line of duty. A definition that includes the fatalities for police officers involving various accidents, representing almost half of all officer deaths.

Do we hear more or less about the threats facing the thin blue line than we do about the victims of mass shootings?

"Do we hear more or less about the threats facing the thin blue line than we do about the victims of mass shootings?"

I get it. We don't need to worry about terrorists (unless they are from the Middle Eastern, I guess) because police officers also are killed.

I'm guessing you don't get it - the more than 200 people killed in mass shootings last year do not get anywhere the attention of around 50 murdered police officers.

The fact is, Americans simply seem to accept the deaths of innocent victims in mass shootings, though generally it is not drawing the curtains that occurs, it is mouthing meaningless platitudes.

Such as believing that police officers have a desperately dangerous job requiring unqualified public support.

They aren't glory seekers, they are mentally ill. Almost exclusively. And not just "you must be crazy if you think that", but actual, certifiably, mentally ill with an identifiable mental illness. If you want to deal with the problem of mentally ill people having access to guns, it might be better to have more widely available mental health treatment than gun control. Also possibly more involuntary commitment

"A political system with multiple veto points"

It's called the 5th amendment, a pillar in the Bill of Rights.
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

This is the regulation than has limited Trump to 3 miles of wall near Mexico on private land.

In fact for almost every complaint about construction not done as fast as Tyler, Alex, and almost all other whiners about government regulation, are due to that regulation, the number one veto of action by conservatives public and private who seem to me totally unwilling to pay others the price others set for their property or effort.

And common law extends the concept of property beyond the patch of land. Trump, and other wealthy conservatives have used the common law extension to at least delay building wind turbines miles away from their patch of land as infringing on their right to look off their property and not see a wind turbine.

"My outsiders perspective is that the problem is not 'excess regulation' but 'bad regulation', and in addition, lack of a functioning repair pathway. And the right's equating that problem with 'excess government', and 'all government is bad' seems like a contribution to the problem that invites damaging excess on all sides."

It seems clear to me that Americans have far too much regulation. Just go to any toilet and you see that they are forced to use products that are incapable of doing the job that they are supposed to do and consumers want them to do. Name most activities done by Americans and I can point to a number of regulations that impact those activities. If that is not excess regulation, what is?

As for 'bad regulation', that is a very big tent that includes all government regulations.

The American Right is as authoritative as the American Left. It certainly seems to be a wasteland that is travelled by very few who adhere to original conservative, classical liberal or libertarian principles even though many of the charlatans call themselves that. The American Right worships government power just like the American Left. Like the Left, the Right tries to gain credibility by trying to claim positive outcomes that were made possible by free transactions by free individuals as its own. Nothing can be further from the truth. Authoritarianism does not work whether we call it Republican, Democrat, or State Capacity Capitalism.

In the U.S., I actually think there too much state capacity, state being defined to include states and cities. The problem is that there is inter- and intra-state competition that gums up lots of things.

Add it citizen capacity, and that is a recipe for slow progress. Perhaps we need One-Shop State Capacity Libertarianism

A city with no state capacity is called farm or forest or desert or prairie.

It takes state capacity to first take property, then take money to pay workers to build roads, water and sewer, utilities. God may have created the earth, but not the roads, water and sewer, etc, that allows dense populations called cities.

Again for our newer members. The above is not satire.

Long live the Mulp.

Don't get too attached to a label, when the label becomes meaningless.

Rand Paul, for example, would have the state interfere with a woman's reproductive choice or body. How does a Libertarian square abortion and other privacy rights with state interference and restrictions?

Don't get too attached to a label unless you tell me specifically what is in and what is out.

What we need is individual thinking and less labelling.

Individual thinking doesn't win partisan elections, labels do.

"How does a Libertarian square abortion and other privacy rights with state interference and restrictions?"

By regarding unborn children as individuals with the same rights as born children.

Do individual rights mean a right to be physically hosted by your body? Are you willing to have the state force you to host an individual against your wishes?

Outside of rape, it is a woman's choice to get pregnant. But women are too childish to be accountable for their choices, right?

*THIS. It's a convenient part of being considered a moral being that feminists like to ignore.

"By regarding unborn children as individuals with the same rights as born children."

That you can write that means you have no clue what an individual is, leading to a law requiring ectopic pregnancy embryos be transplanted to the woman's womb.

Hundreds of thousands, millions?, of individuals are sitting in liquid nitrogen according to that absurd view. And considered property by courts in violation of the 13th amendment.

Typically the circle is squared the same way as for vaccines, the draft, or conjoined twins.

There are situations in life where interfering with the autonomy of an individual for some time results in the increased liberty for others, often far in excess of that lost by the individual.

Compulsory vaccines, for instance, force individuals to submit themselves to something that causes adverse events at a rate of around 10 per 100,000. While exceedingly rare, vaccines can even cause death (typically for kids with undiagnosed severe immune deficiencies in low resource settings). Compulsion results in far fewer children getting sick and even though 1 in a million or so die from the compulsion we preserve far more liberty by not having something polio, measles, etc. epidemics running rampant. We have tried the strict liberty preserving option of making vaccines close to optional, this has resulted in a lot more dead kids, often not the ones who were refused the vaccines.

Likewise, wars may result in the need to mobilize large amounts of manpower. After all ISIS, WWII Japan and Germany, and Italy in Ethiopia all were brutal mass killers of civilians. Impressing the population to lose their liberty with respect to travel, occupation, etc. can make for a strong deterrent that can make rapacious regimes not invade (e.g. Germany deliberated about invading Switzerland, but elected to hold off in part because the Swiss had huge numbers of men doing compulsory military service. You might try arguing people would naturally defend their own liberty, but history has not been kind to these sorts of states or regimes. The Russian civil war, for instance, saw every faction unwilling to use conscription ground under those who would.

Or take the most analogous situation. Conjoined twins routinely have to mature before separation is medically viable, often this places severe burdens on the twins. Very often, one of the twins is in better medical shape and could survive separation far before the other (e.g. it retains more functional liver). Yet the state will dictate that the stronger twin must live with the most intimate compromise of bodily autonomy for months or years. Of course, doing so, typically results in two children that regain most all liberty and autonomy.

So too we come to pregnancy. It is definitively true that fetuses are distinct organisms and members of the human species. If we afford individual humans any sort of liberty rights, then we end up right back at the same sort of liberty balancing as with vaccines, conscription, or conjoined twins. Forcing the mother to endure loss of liberty for 8 months is not different in kind than what happens to military conscripts or conjoined twins.

Frankly, the only way out is to argue that the fetus is not due liberty rights for some reason or another. But this is problematic, particularly at later stages of pregnancy. The neurocircuitry is there and is often more active than people libertarians typically give liberty rights (e.g. those in comas, severe mental retardation, etc.) and full protections.

Ultimately, any society must balance liberties. Quarantine trades off right to travel and associate against others' right not to be diseased. Yet we do not allow society to summarily execute carries of contagious diseases. The libertarian solution is typically to note that liberties can be in tension and need to be balanced. Abortion is only different in that we lack an agreement about what liberty rights a fetus should have. Should it have all the rights of similarly capable mentally retarded child? Should it have all the rights of similarly gestated child who was born prematurely? Answering any of these with a yes, which some libertarians do, makes balancing and intervention in abortion the only internally consistent position.

Surprisingly some of which you describe involve situations of externalities, which Libertarians typically either ignore or claim could be resolved with contractual negotiation. My problem is that externalities are frequently ignored, or are described not as an externality, but as "your problem, get over it" or pay me not to do it.

As for constructs involving personhood, I am not a biologist or God, and I leave it to the individual, but simply labeling something "a person" is the choice of the person making the claim to short cut the hard questions for simply choosing nomenclature. The conflict still exists for those who claim to be Libertarians notwithstanding the attempt to resolve them with a dictionary.

We now have a "tenure" definition of personhood. If you make it to becoming an air-breather, either full-term or premature, you are a human and every effort will be made to keep you alive. Severe dementia, acute paralysis, uncontrollable schizophrenia; it doesn't matter. Nothing matters except the fact that you made if out of the uterus alive.

"every effort will be made to keep you alive"


The right to life movement limits a right to life only to persons never born because that "person" is wholly dependent on a woman, never a man.

Once the right to life of a person requires a man to pay to support the life, the right to life ceases.

After all, the right to life after birth written in law is called socialism: obamacare plus medicaid plus SNAP plus TANF plus housing vouchers plus EPA....

I'm sure there are some people who believe that. They are a small minority even of the right to life movement. And the law is quite clear. Any "denial of care" is illegal. If medical care would save someone's life and you keep that person from getting care, you are in trouble with the law.

As someone how has had the displeasure of informing multiple non-custodial fathers of their obligation to provide for their children, including their medical bills, I can assure you that many men are required to support the life.

Actually no; that is a bootleggers and baptist optical fallacy brought about by misandrists and middle class soccer moms to avoid having the actual debate about what this is all really about as it gives a convenient mental rationalization just like "point of conception" or "is it legal" that has no real place in the argument once you think about it. It just lets you avoid having the conversation.

For example if it was all about "once you are an air breather" then you wouldn't for example get a double murder charge (as murder implies human) for killing a pregnant woman NOR would UNLICENSED (and sometimes involuntary, i.e. I stab my girlfriend in the womb) abortions get a single murder charge. Ditto in that case how many pro choice people will strongly vocally support "attach a industrial hamburger meat grinder to woman's vagina and have her deliver directly into it before baby takes first breath. You know it's just a late-term abortion" (lets say 9 months - 1 second). Nor for that matter would we (post-birth) allow parents to make ANY decision about life/death matters for their children (or in modern Progressivethink, their wards).

Your point really only stands for those that have reached the AGE of majority whom are still "wards" of a private party.

The problem here @Sure is you are thinking libertarianism is simply defective Progressivism, i.e. "weak collectivism" as opposed to "strong individualism". Sure, technically it's just opposite ends of the same spectrum but that is like describing socialism as weak capitalism, it makes no sense and muddies the waters. I get the pragmatic argument but that is different that calling a turtle a duck. As I often say, libertarianism is an aspirational ideology, not a real one. Nobody wants to actually live in Libertopia given our existing (maybe this will change in the future) resources hence it’s OK to simply state “Yes I acknowledge this doesn’t square with libertarianism but given current resource and implementation realities that the best path here until that changes” as opposed to attempt to square every circle. It a fault in most ideologies I find.

If really comes through for example with "this has resulted in a lot more dead kids," as if that is a meaningful metric under libertarianism and it's simply not. Utilitarianism is simply not a libertarian concern. Now I'm pro what you said about mandatory vaccines in specific cases (i.e. where a vaccine, but not cure, is the only option we have AND the pathogen is easily transmittable) but more along the lines of "you are going to be possibly harmed by somebody else unavoidably so we are coming down on mandating the least harmful method individually TO YOU to avoid YOU unintentionally harming somebody else in a manner with no recourse. No you aren’t at liberty to choose your harm comfort level because of that second party harm issue", i.e. do the math and figure out what has a higher chance at the individual broadly speaking, not collectively, level and force them to take the correct rational decision. Measles is a great example here right now as it is all the rage. The real question here is (in American Samoa for example) "How many VACCINATED PEOPLE DIED FROM THE MEASLES" and compare that against "HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED FROM THE MEASLES VACCINE". The unvaccinated harm question is irrelevant as is the vaccinated but treated successfully question.

Where this will become more interesting (future) is when an HIV vaccine finally pops up as fundamentally HIV has a low transmission rate plus can be generally successfully treated for life and if you are really worried about it (most aren't hence why it continues to be transmitted at a higher rate that it should be) and don't want to take a vaccine, they even have effect PRE AND POST exposure prophylactics for it. The question is do we treat it (HIV) like rabies at that point (i.e. effective vaccine and effective post-exposure propylitic but not curable and, unlike HIV, treatable) or do we treat it like polio and force a vaccine on everybody? Like if HIV was our “real” concern here (right now today) in absolute terms we would simply mandate pre-exposure prophylactics for it across the entire US but we don’t as financial cost is a real concern in public health and the group side effects are perceived as causing more harm than actual HIV does but on the flipside we could effectively stop HIV transmission in US on paper right now period forever. But from a Utilitarian perspective we probably should, as that seems to be your metric, as the FDA doesn’t approve prophylactics with a higher harm rate than the actual disease. I.e. harm from mandatory HIV PREP starting tomorrow for all Americans < the amount of harm HIV cause all Americans!! That is the rational conversation that nobody wants to have anymore than the rational conversation about measles and individual choice (i.e. herd immunity is irrelevant here on this) , i.e. actual harm from treated measles to a vaccinated person < actual harm from the measles vaccines hence NO it should not be mandated from a individual liberty perspective as it really is the more harmful choice.

Not going to touch conjoined twins (I haven’t thought much about it though I casually agree with you) and I think we both agree conscription is an “extra ideology” issue, i.e. the reality is conscription is necessary and will happen even if not ideologically sound so it’s not worth defending. It’s wrong, it will happen. We just admit that and drive on.

The abortion issue you bring up is challenging and I agree with your points on the framing of the issue but TBH I think you are skirting it along the lines of the cowardly point-of-viability copout. The question has nothing to do with fetuses, the question is about (from purposes of abortion) when do potentially future society members reach a level when they are no longer property and, prior to that, whose property are they. This is about property rights, nothing more, nothing less. At conception they are now a “future member of society” and there is no difference between them and a twenty-three year and three hundred sixty-four day year old since generally in the US you don’t reach age of majority in practice until twenty-four. We need to simply come up with that age and make it a hard line while acknowledging at the margins there will always be collateral damage in favor of the property owner (not the property as we do now). And while you might argue “well point-of-viability” is that line right now, it’s not as it’s always moving and isn't predicated on a moral argument but simply the state of modern technology during any one minute. If you like, the point-of-viability sans technology or collectivist intervention is generally about four years old. I don’t think our “point-of-viability” pro-choicers would be OK with a post-natal abortion in the twelfth trimester becauses "well it's legal because it was before the POV".

In all conceptions of libertarian paradise with which I am familiar, there still are mechanisms to adjudicate when members make mutually exclusive liberty claims.

E.g. If Bob claims that he owns a red bicycle and Sue claims she owns the same bicycle, then some mechanism must exist to adjudicate ownership. Does some libertarian state award ownership to Bob? Are they forced to share the red bicycle?

I have yet to read about some libertarian society that lacked a mechanism for sorting out these sorts of claims.

Certainly, any libertarian society will need to figure out how to adjudicate the liberty interests of conjoined twins. What does society do when the parents disagree about taking the separate-early-but-kill-one-twin option vs separate-late-but-risk-killing-both choice? What does society do if the childrens' guardian(s) die or otherwise lose the ability (e.g. have a psychotic break) to make these decisions?

Whatever your answer is to that question will provide a basis for libertarians adjudicating competing liberty claims between mother and liberty-due fetus. If you grant a fetus any sort of liberty rights, then you have to start weighing things. Maybe you place a high weight on bodily autonomy and a low weight on liberty-due individuals who are not cognizant of all that much. Maybe, you believe society should simply purchase the mother's time at some set rate because pregnancy is generally not reported to be horrifically unpleasant by most women.

Absent utilitarianism, libertarians still have to have mechanisms for resolving competing liberty claims. Apply those to fetus, if a given libertarian thinks they are due liberty concerns, is merely being consistent.

Point-of-viability is a dodge not merely because it is technological, but also because it is innately different for different populations. Most notably, male premies have nearly double the mortality of females at the earliest viability ranges. Likewise, development in vivo shows a noticeable racial variation (e.g. Caucasians tend to reach motor development milestones later) and we might see similar things in utero. Saying that some of us are not fully human on the basis of our sex or genetic "race" seems pretty specious.

So the question again comes back to what is going to be the (set of) trait(s) used to demarcate liberty-due humans and non-liberty-due humans?

Coming up with a consistent answer is very hard, unless you are willing to allow convenience executions of many people society generally wants to protect.

I am not a libertarian (shocking, I know), but even the hardest core ones I know assent to some form of "your right to swing your fist ends before it hits my face". Exactly close the line lies is contentious.

There are times where liberty claims are in conflict. If two people both claim to own some good, there must be a reconciliation mechanism to split the good, assign ownership, or otherwise deal with it. This will necessarily restrict one or both party's liberty to use it.

You can certainly make arguments about how exactly to balance competing liberty claims, but all pro-life libertarians I have met explicitly hold to such competing claims.

Once you grant any sort of claim to liberty rights to anyone or anything, a true libertarian cannot help but explore options for balancing competition that arises. Those who would not are drifting much closer to some odd forms of anarchism.

"Rand Paul, for example, would have the state interfere with a woman's reproductive choice or body. How does a Libertarian square abortion and other privacy rights with state interference and restrictions?"

I think that Ron Paul has been clear on this issue. He opposes spending taxpayer funds to pay for abortions. That is very different than using state power to interfere with a woman's choices. But note that Dr. Paul has noted that the killing of a viable foetus is not any more acceptable in a free society than the killing of any individual.

There is a principled libertarian argument about abortion. Look at Walther Block and his evictionism paper cowritten with Whitehead in the Appalachian Law Review.

You haven't done your research. He opposes Roe, and would send the decision to each state for it to decide.

Get better informed. Or, don't assume that the audience isn't and won't be snowed.

Or, maybe you have in mind another Rand Paul, and not this one:

"Describing himself as "100% pro life," Paul has said, "I believe life begins at conception and it is the duty of our government to protect this life.... I have stated many times that I will always vote for any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion."[44] He has been a sponsor or cosponsor of several legislative measures to effectively ban virtually all abortions by recognizing a legal right to life of human embryos from the moment of fertilization.[45][46][47][48][49]
From Wikipedia.

A small typo:

> It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism. On most substantive issues, the libertarians* might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians.

* I think should be liberaltarians?

Thanks, fixed.

That was no typo Tyler, it was wishful thinking. This blog can be summarized as Ron Paul vs blah blah blah. His plumb line libertarianism (hate on the state’s foreign & domestic intervention) did more to expand the scope of liberty than any boring hero worshipping Ayn Rand novel. Pax Americana taking credit for Asia? Please. It’s only beneficiaries are DC think tanks whose employees are 3/4 of your podcast playlist. But guess one has to keep a seat at the table to pay the vanity bills (the states true magic trick). Other than that please keep up the great work in 2020 as I will be listening reading and learning along the way to more freedom!

Why call it "State Capacity Libertarianism" and not "State Capitalism" when the overarching concern at least from this nicely detailed piece is markets rooted in capitalism while little ink was spilled on the actual topic of liberty? "State capitalism" has been used to describe Singapore and China but also the US to some extent so there is some prior art. Another question is how is this view different from neoconservatism a la 2000-2008 Bush administration? If military-industrial spending counts as infrastructure then the two views would be almost indistinguishable.

Bingo. What Tyler *appears* to "just now" realize is most talking heads whom have been masquerading as Libertarians for years (until Trump exposed them) are really just crony capitalist technocrats. I.e. embarrassed Republicans/Democrats.

Pay no attention to the secret dinner at the White House between Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, and Donald Trump.

That's just how the future is made, in State Capacity Libertarianism.

Yup. Over holidays many people are now realizing how much information our surveillance-based private sector has on them and that they are one government request away from sharing it all to the state. All determined secretly in a hidden court system like FISA. Carter Page would know. The one branch of libertarianism that is growing is civil libertarianism. Neither Dems nor Reps understand this.

But Zuckerberg understands it perfectly.

As the expression goes, It is difficult to get a person to understand something when contributions depend upon their not understanding it.

See the corruption inherent in the system. In case just looking around a place like this was not enough.

It's not growing at all, it's simply the latest talking point for then anti-corporation folk since WTO isn't anymore.

Like people will claim "see look at all these growing civil libertarians pushing to slightly deregulate marijuana" and it's amazing (not) who they all go back to their parties as soon as that is accomplished. As if they didn't care about civil liberties in the firstly place, whodathunk it?

Go ask your "I demand privacy and control over my information and companies can't spy on me!!" if that applies to pedophiles grooming small children via those same mechanisms. Or if Google should be prohibited from filtering or manipulating searches. Ask them if it should be ILLEGAL for the government, even with a warrant, to ever receive third party information on anything included active terrorist plots and their cellphone records or location. You will (not) be amazed how fast those "civil libertarians" don't actually care about privacy, it's almost like they didn't believe in it in the first place. Once again, whodathunk it?

What people like Tyler and your civil libertarians really are is simply embarrassed mainline party members whom deviate on a specific niche policy point with no real interest in liberty. They are the Democrat that vote and speak on helping the homeless while pushing at the municipal level to step police enforcement of vagrancy laws as how dare a homeless family camp on the public sidewalk in front of their house!!!


He wants the effectiveness of states like Denmark or China/Singapore, but he doesn't want the homogeneity and high IQ that is necessary to make it happen.

He also wants to wield climate change like an end of the world justification for whatever he wants. We all know such talks endgame is a regressive AOC style green new deal coupled with China building a bunch of coal power plants.

The whole piece is an intricate, carefully navigated dance around all the big ticket items people actually care about, like watching a bull delicately tiptoe through a china shop. Where he actually brushes against matters at the crux of libertarian ideology and public policy he summarily comes down safely on the Cathedral side. Tyler wants limited government, but not so limited it can't enforce intellectual property (State-enforced artificial scarcity) and immigration (a phenomenon that would not exist without the State).

"Libertarianism" seems to be in the process of refining its views to bring them into alignment with those of tech industry leadership.

Tech industry leadership = his funding.

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Great irony is that tech(nology) will eventually burn down the cathedral.

"Libertarianism" seems to be in the process of refining its views to bring them into alignment with those of tech industry leadership.

Good point, A-G.

I think the problem with the term "State Capitalism" is that it doesn't exclude illiberal capitalist states like modern China. I guess the trick is to come up with a sticky name for libertarians that believe in right-sized nation-state and municipal governments; a belief that shared resources, infrastructure, and collective action are sometimes effective.

I guess the question is how do you define a state like China. It is indeed totalitarian but what its not is hateful. Therefore, there is a sense that corruption breeds its own culture. I can't imagine in five years China will be free, like Freud said, or rich, like Marx predicted but that in a sense is the point. Free trade for instance, predicted wholly by Adam Smith has not released China from the bonds of slavery. So at the risk of sounding too libertarian, I think inherently we wear a mask when we view them. For us, they are predictable, which the solitary say congressman or writer, for them China won't be somewhere "to go."

I maintain China is authoritarian, not totalitarian, and that the distinction is important. The authoritarian is cracking heads to maintain his vision of the civil order. The totalitarian takes it a step further; he is in total thrall to his ideological vision: if the 5-Year Plan premised on the labor theory of value calls for more citrus crops, and the Siberian citrus harvest fails, then it must be the fault of wreckers! History must be expunged, thoughts must be policed, people re-educated. Mao was totalitarian; Xi Jinping is authoritarian.

I think I'd call modern China an "illiberal capitalist" nation-state.

China is a TECHNOCRACY; it is worst than the two because is totalitarian backed by AI. But Chinese people do not have in all their history any other concept that the need to comply to the power. Some of them - few - are trying thoughts outside of box but instantly society expose them as enemy of the state.

Sure, China is a Technocracy but so is modern day Estonia. The important distinction, in my opinion, is the degree of liberty. So we can have Liberal/Illiberal Technocracy as a label to help us distinguish between China and the rest of the "Western" world, but we still need a sticky adjective to distinguish "State Capacity" libertarians like Cowen from Anarchist libertarians which seems to be the default caricature of all libertarians.

I heard the same things about Singapore. While China does seem qualitatively worse on the authoritarianism scale then Singapore, I find Singapores level of authoritarianism superior to anarcho-tyranny.

@QB for the Packers - +1 for the indirect mention of patents, when you use the term "prior art". Indeed, what TC is calling for, indirectly, is a stronger patent system (solving for the equilibrium). It's a sound industrial policy.

Bonus trivia: the US Patent Office has a whole virtual shoebox of secret patents, mostly on US nuclear inventions, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

"...high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments."

East Asia has strong economies but in terms of liberty they have lots to improve. Japan has a justice system so authoritarian that even a rich elite like Ghosn can't even get a fair trial. China has a rap sheet so long it doesn't need an explanation. Hong Kong has a world class real estate and banking industry but the citizenry is still fighting for the basic right of suffrage. State Capacity Libertarians should not endorse states that genuinely lack liberty.

Lol, yeah Japan needs to advance to our level, where a rich elite like Ghosn could never be prosecuted, leaving more judicial bandwidth for poor minority undesirables

Tyler's GMU colleague Bryan Caplan may be an anarcho-capitalist whose skepticism is predictable, but I proponents of "state capacity" theory should make clear how it's not just "social capacity" or as empty as Caplan makes it out to be:

And I say this as someone who shifted away from libertarianism toward a more Hansonian consequentialism

Correct. Caplan's critique is, as one commentator noted, devastating. (A particularly good word to use, considering its etymology.)

TC also sometimes has blinders on. What he is interested in suddenly becomes what everyone else should be interested in. If he wants to focus his attention on improving state quality rather than state quantity, then fine. Why does that imply that the broader libertarian movement is dying or splintering? It's posts like this where Cowen displays his own brand of mood affiliation.

Did Tyler just expend thousands of words describing mainstream Democratic liberalism?

Hi Cyd. Answer: No. The Democratic Party has embraced identity politics and more redistribution. The redistribution
eats up the budget, leaving little money for more constructive activities of government. Though I can understand why you would want this set of ideas to be mainstream.

Did hell just freeze over?

Finally! This is exactly what libertarians should focus on: how much, and what kind of, state is useful and necessary to get markets that function well without violating the moral boundaries determined by the people.

Not: no government necessary.
Not: markets solve everything.
Not: market outcomes should dictate people’s preferences and they should adjust.

Realistic libertarianism with regard for what the people want? Sign me up! I predict better outcomes than even under the European socialist democracy regime I so enjoy.

Here, on January 1, 2020, you diss "classical liberalism" as a "question-begging" expression, ill-suited to modern times.

Yesterday, December 31, 2019, in your Modi post, you identified, without qualification, as classical liberal.

Pedagogical esotericism? Does Homer nod? Other?

What a difference a year makes!

Hayek spent much of his life explicitly trying to reconstruct [classical] liberalism. Nothing about de-regulation, non-intervention, or non-redistribution. Rather, the state can do whatever it pleases so long as no coercion is involved, save in taxation for public goods provision, and so long as the state activity does not preclude the existence of private experimentation. There, that about covers everything !

Exactly, Prof. Klein. And here he talks about the importance of a strong state while with Modi he was promoting the idea of charter cities. Will the real Tyler Cowen please stand up?

Any thoughts on libertarian socialism? It may sound like a contradiction to some but socialism means worker owned but not necessarily state owned so a worker owned co-op or a Silicon Valley startup that issues stock options are not only both socialist but capitalist as well. There is no contradiction in terms. If anything this global wave of populism should have brought to bear on the thinking of policymakers, it is that the worker cannot be ignored. Let's reward those who work. What an idea.

Your idea is already legal. Go for it, if you dare.

Lots of start ups do this but generally workers prefer to sell as soon as the company goes public because it’s better to own a diversified portfolio than have all your money in the company you work for.

India needs more State Capacity to built sewer systems. On the other hand, while it's clear California needs more housing, it's not clear if the lack of new construction is due to too much or too little State Capacity

Sewer systems is a defining responsibility of municipal government. Safe water and wastewater, wells and septic systems respectively, are easily achieved at the rural level without public institutions.

Beyond its lack of stickiness, my main issue with Cowen's "state capacity" terminology is that it makes one focus on the nation-state level rather than city-level institutions.

Not at all. From a libertarian perspective, and something that appears lost on you but not Steve, the government is "the State" as in the traditional meaning. Federal/Central/King, State/Province, or municipal is all the same thing.

It seems to me Tyler is almost describing neo-conservatives, although the point 11) obviously does not fit.

Regarding the decline of the number of traditional libertarians, I am not so sure. The explosive development of Students for Liberty is impressive, especially in poor countries. Watching the thousands of protesters against Dilma in Brasil with banners saying “Less Marx, More Mises” was stunning.

I believe that concrete openings for libertarian solutions is not to be expected in developed countries, whose citizens are lulled by the sweet poison of statism. There, for example, public healthcare is already a given, the only question is maybe how high should be the deductible.

A few years ago I was having lunch in Honduras with a famous economist, and I said how it would be better that the zede legislation (often referred to, erroneously, as “charter cities project”) be in a country with a lot of land and a stronger Rule of Law, like, say, Canada, Australia or Finland. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and said “only desperate people do desperate things”. He was right, of course, although I prefer to say “radical things”.

By the way, I am pretty sure that in time also rich countries will become desperate. Call me naive, but I can’t see how the ever expanding welfare (and for the US, warfare) state will not destroy those countries, and most of them already passed the point where they can scale it back through an organized, electorally-backed process. There are simply too many special interests that make it impossible.

"only desperate people do desperate things”. Yep, voting for the Nazis or supporting the Bolsheviks for instance. If you drive your country into the ground, people might do desperate things. They may, however, not be the desperate things you want them to do. Woe to First World countries for producing the suitably desperafe mobs ideologues wanted them to produce, right?

You are right, most of desperate things are dead-ends, usually associated with unspeakable tragedies.

Still, “radical things” can only come from politicians in pretty desperate situations. The Zede legislation, for example, was promoted because the coup that removed Zelaya made Honduras a pariah State, and the new president was desperately looking for ways to attract foreign investments.

It did not work that way, partly because it was so radical to be against the constitution, and ended up in a long legislative sausage-making process. But now a slimmed down version emerged, and the first concrete results have started to be seen. I am hopeful.

The good thing is that if only a few zedes are implemented, they are likely to provide such good institutional frameworks to force other countries to copy it. Unless, of course, politicians decide to stump on the first green shots before they have a chance to transform into a magnificent forest.

Sounds like Cowen wants Singapore (state capacity) plus a bill of rights (libertarianism), freedom of association optional.

Tyler is throwing heat lately. Love it

Yup. The Lump of Government Fallacy takes it on the chin here. Bravo Tyler.

"A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty"

My largely not terribly coherent scattered thoughts on this topic are:

Libertarianism's adherents have generally (it seems) claimed to support a non-interventionist state that allows a 'natural' and efficient distribution to play out. Their state is a minimal, neutral one which doesn't intervene on behalf of capitalists or business nor workers or consumers.

Moreover, what does "supporting Capitalism" mean? Supporting the wealth and power of a particular entrepreneurial social strata (upon conflicting interests with entrenched non-entreprenuers, workers, etc), supporting competitive markets, supporting....? "Support" means transfers of power and resources.

A strong state that supports a free national market, even when and especially when it is bad if not *absolutely* fatal for big business, and which is not blind to geopolitics. Perhaps worth giving a hearing?

The "Actively pro-business state"? That sides with business when there is conflict with the interests of the worker and consumer? More dubious. Or at least, certainly, why call it "Libertarian"?

"Support" means transfers of power and resources.

That's what the "I support our local police" signs on suburban lawns signifies.

need a different name for this. State Capacity Libertarians is just terrible. How about Neoprogressives or objectivists or even Neoliberals.

Cowen makes a mistake when he ties state capacity libertarianism to Peter Thiel. It’s a mistake if Cowen wants to influence people other than Thiel. By hitching his wagon to Trump, Thiel lost his credibility as a libertarian and as a proponent of state capacity. I admire Thiel, but he is not the public intellectual he aspires to be. OK,

State capacity is a euphemism for state capitalism. I asked yesterday if developed countries must copy China if they are to keep up. Cowen instead suggests confrontation with China, which is Trump’s approach: if you can’t beat China economically, force China to abandon its version of state capitalism, by force if necessary. That is the opposite of libertarianism. I greatly admire Cowen, but his recent turn is concerning. I appreciate the alarm over some of the Democrats, but to accept authoritarianism, incompetent authoritarianism no less, over wishful thinking Democrats is not what public intellectuals are supposed to do.

It's not really a mistake if, for Tyler, support for capitalism is support for billionaires and large monopolies. If indeed, in his system, the cycle of support flows from people like Thiel, to people like Trump, and back to people like thiel again.

Oligarchy as a feature.

This explains a couple other things as well. That early paragraph on threats would have been better as "China and Russia" rather than China alone. But in this view Russia is not a threat, it is a model. Similarly we find the real objection to Will Wilkinson and Elizabeth Warren. They support a kind of little-guy capitalism which Tyler now sees as his real foil, or intellectual competition.

Warren standing in front, or Thiel behind the scenes. Choose your future carefully.

State capacity is a euphemism for clinical science. Say you offer a praying mantis to a monkey. It's not like you've understood nature. What I mean to say is I don't want to be too dramatic, I don't want the state to represent the man. The ideal of love has no place in the state, the awareness that there are currently 1 billion people in India who do not eat meat is one corollary to a type of mirror that markets itself. It's fascinating to think though the individual is represented, he is still himself.

Even for you this is an incredibly poor reading of the post. Is it deliberate trolling or are you just incapable of reading comprehension?

State capacity in this sense would be government that can actually accomplish things effectively, like infrastructure or education.

Instead you bizarrely accuse Tyler of adhering to Putin and holding a kleptocracy petrostate with an incapable and ineffective governance as a model for the United States.

Your obsession with a nonexistent Thiel/Tyler Putin connection is just QAnon tier level batshit insanity.

Get real

To be generous then, some of you think you can stand for democracy and rule of law by never talking about it.

I think this is, at a minimum, ineffective.

If democracy mattered, it should have been centered, as it is here:


"By hitching his wagon to Trump, Thiel lost his credibility as a libertarian"
Sure, Ray.

"“It is a notable achievement that all three of the lowest-ever annual rule counts belong to Trump. This an even more significant development given that some of Trump’s ‘rules’ are rules written to get rid of or replace other rules,” he noted."


Few-rules is the literal opposite of state capacity.

Well my statement was about being a libertarian, but I don't think you are correct in yours anyways.

Why is government needed to support nuclear?

I have a much smaller wish: I wish people would- learn a little economics and stopped proposing things that are obviously wrong and be open to discuss things that are dubious.

Happy new year!

Two reasons. First the electric grid has become a quasi-government monopoly everywhere for reasons of practicality. Redundancy is noneconomic. Second, safety assurances must be made beyond the life of any company. Chapter 11 can't be the end of waste management. Or in the worst case, cleanup.

At least in EU the government monopoly is on the grid; there is quite reasonable market for electricity.
As for safety assurances, I just don't see why the government cannot just mandate safety standards; why does it have to support nuclear beyond that.

How would mandated safety standards work past bankruptcy?

Charles Dudley Warner once said "everybody talks about the weather but nobody seems to do anything about it." It seems the political weather may have evolved to be both more volatile and ruinous, especially in the US. To "do anything about" the political weather, especially from an elected position is an uncertain proposition, with high risk to personal efficacy.
The public view does seem to be hollowed out. Tyler suggests an invisible hand has been at work; I suggest that State Capacity Libertarian politicians are trying to ride out / time the storm.

The 11 points are not much different to Radical Centrism, or other Ford/Drucker/McKinsey theories of business transposed to politics, neutral efficiency taking over from ideology or policy. "Get rid of THIS unnecessary stuff that delays or hinders you." What's evil about it is the idea that at some quantifiable level, the net well-being of the organisation means things like concentration camps are at best an unnecessary detail in a praiseworthy model, at worst a price to be paid. If you're going to castigate Wilkinson, though, either endorse a candidate which I guess is Bloomberg, or admit that this is a club of notables with no political ambition.

Cowen cites Thiel, Thiel endorses Trump.

There is your State Capacity Libertarianism candidate.

Closest thing we got to it. See my link above.

Tyler - you need to clarify that 'New York' in #9 refers to the city and not the State. Democrats have take power in New York State only recently as the State Senate was in Republican hands.

Pataki was the only Rep governor since 1974.

New York State--having now lived here for a decade and a half--is Exhibit A for "northeast old corruption" as my History professor liked to call it.

Until last year, while we had a "Democratic" governor, he was also complicit in keeping a group of breakaway Dems in power who caucused with the Republicans in the Senate. That way, any legislation that actually did much would die in the Senate and never see the light of day.

Cuomo liked it--since has national aspirations, there would be no record of progressive legislation to hang him with. The Republicans liked it--without actually winning a plurality of Senate seats, they controlled the Senate (and its patronage machinery). The turncoat Dems liked it, because they were rewarded with perks. It was the perfect government machine--and as the politics writer for the Village Voice said, it suited all parties--Cuomo could pontificate and blame the Republicans, and burnish his progressive credentials when necessary. Meanwhile both he and the Republicans could do what they do best, which is to pass pro real estate industry, pro hedge fund and pro big pharma/medicare/nursing home operators, and phony "development" schemes for upstate NY--crony capitalism at its finest.

Tyler is on the money on this part--I'm still thinking about the rest....

Modern libertarianism is at least as much about civil liberties as economic ones. This would tend to limit the convergence towards State Capacity Libertarianism. State capacity is de facto the capacity to threaten civil liberties. Your preferred foreign policy for State Capacity Libertarianism reinforces this threat.

As I read this post I was thinking "I do actually agree with Thiel on a lot of issues", and sure enough he gets a mention. I see myself as mostly liberal but plan to vote for Trump over Warren if needed. As a techie I agree we need regulation because there are flagrant abuses of privacy going on that no one seems to understand or appreciate- but using antitrust law to break up big tech because it is suspiciously profitable despite giving away "free" products is completely missing the point.

"I see myself as mostly liberal but plan to vote for Trump over Warren if needed."

As a note, I said this was where this blog was heading some months ago.

It's a little nice to be right, but still mostly terrible.

Warren can say "I live capitalism" and she will *still* be used as some communist-ish foil to support the fascist-ist alternative.

Who's the fascist alternative? Biden doesn't seem to be one. Bernie's probably the closest after Warren herself. Anyways, fascists and communists are kissing cousins. Not a damn difference between them.

I'm really speaking about the classic road to ruin for democracies. Don't say it's a choice between a candidate who is a little bit left, and one who is a little bit right. Paint it a cataclysmic choice, about the end of civilization.

To be slightly harsh, Tyler has reframed that famous and terrible essay "The Flight 93 Election" with a new foil. This time it is Warren who would destroy us.

So mere crimes(*) by Trump are small by comparison.

* - violations of election law, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, self-dealing

Though too, when Apple avoids tariffs because they are friends with the Dear Leader, that might look a bit like classic fascism.


"Working relationship" eh?

* of which we've found none of. $30 million investigation, IG report and Ukrainian testimony all reveal this is just a long partisan, childish temper tantrum. Zero evidence.

Funny then, how many co-conspirators are in jail.

Even as the FBI had exculpatory evidence they didn't present. They may be switching places.

On the other hand, one thing that both fascists and communists can enthustically agree on is that social democrats deserve to be eliminated by the state.

Heaven knows what they think about democratic socialists.

When a public intellectual who you often agree with starts substituting labels, clichés and own definitions for rational thought, you know not to take him seriously today. Tomorrow might be better.

"For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change"
Have any other political parties or ideologies made any impact in this direction ?

Been talking about it and studying it since the 80s. Figured out it should be somewhere about 30th or 40th on our list of worries. I'd say progress.

If state capacity libertarianism is going to have any effect on supposed climate change It will necessarily mean a single, global state. The pseudo-crisis over climate change can only be alleviated by authoritarian means, the evolved propaganda techniques available to both government and individuals. Ergo there must be more government control over information access and less individual interpretation and dissemination. Education at every level must be guided by the global state to insure uniformity of opinion and consequently uniformity of culture. No one living today will know if the crisis was genuine or if the efforts to solve it were meaningful.

chuck: because you show yourself to be a thoughtful fellow, and while many data are inconclusive or subject to challenge, through 2020 I'd ask that you examine at least one monthly report of climate science data, viz., the NSIDC reports:


I know that a lot of data are contested, but I also know that few of us know just what these contests consist of when so many prominent stakeholders' stakes are in the balance.

For the time being I'm accepting "suggestive" data concerning the onset of Technogenic Climate Change to the exclusion of "incontrovertible" data, since mere journalistic reportage and documentation of climatological and meteorological phenomena consistent with TCC have begun to emerge over recent years.

I don't think of myself as "environmentalist" (still less an "enviromaniac"), but I begin to find the accumulating data significant.

Cheers for 2020.

Happy New Year to you as well.

The precedent for the current approach to climate change was set in the 1970s with the release of Rowland's and Molina's computer model of chloroflourocarbons in the upper atmosphere. The generally inadvertent release of these chemicals, perhaps second only to gasoline in raising the standard of living for rich and poor alike, was determined to have an adverse effect on the ozone over the polar regions, allowing increased ultraviolet light to reach the surface of the earth. This was a theory, not shown by empirical evidence.

Television newscasts daily informed the world that children in Tierra del Fluego couldn't walk to school without risking blindness and skin cancer. Flocks of sheep were staggering around blind in Argentina. This publicity resulted in the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, an international treaty that was meant to eliminate the use of certain chemicals in mostly the refrigeration industry. None of the the refrigerants were confiscated or otherwise disposed of. They continued to be used but not replaced. Exceptions were made for their production and use in developing countries.

Now, 32 years later, it has been announced that the ozone layer is returning to its normal extent, or what its extent seemed to be at some point in the 1970s. This is in spite of the fact that all the banned substances produced prior to the signing of the protocol and after are still in the atmosphere and, in fact, continue to be released. The molecules of the forbidden chemicals are much heavier than the other molecules that make up the atmosphere. One would think that the now accepted force of gravity would force these chemicals to stay near the surface of the earth. Evidently, one would be wrong because some scientists stipulate that over a short period of time atmospheric turbulence would drag these heavier molecules into the area where ozone lives and the destruction takes place. The mechanism of this migration isn't clearly explained. Nor is the fact that if gravity has such a limited effect on chloroflourcarbon molecules, why don't they, and all other gases, simply fly off into space?

Sure, chloroflourocarbon issues are apples and anthropogenic climate changes are oranges. At the same time, the approach to the Montreal Protocol was a successful effort by a small group of scientists, allied with the chemical industry, to affect international policy, probably for the first time in history.

The climate change people have taken a lesson from this. They know now that it's possible to actually affect the lives of every one on earth through the use of the media.

To date, no one has established a base line for the world's "climate". Evidently, climate is never supposed to change but it's perfectly obvious that the earth's climate has indeed varied greatly over short periods of time when man could have had no effect on it. Continental glaciation covered much of the northern US with a mile of ice less than 8000 years ago, the blink of eye in geological terms. Sedimentary rocks have moved from the bottom of oceans to the tops of mountains in the course of 60 million years. Meteorites and even asteroids have struck the earth, changing climates dramatically. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have changed things as well, even more recently. The Hawaiian Islands, for instance, continue to grow from lava released from the bottom of the sea, which also releases gases into the atmosphere.

Inane suggestions, or demands really, that the consumption of beef, automobile travel, power generation, etc. be curtailed for reasons of man-produced climate change are simply ill-informed virtue signalling. This is not to say that humans can't maintain society without analyzing the effects of their products on the earth. Air pollution is a real issue that has negativities. We need sewage treatment plants.

I cannot say just how complicit our media are or might be in fomenting specific policy decisions that fail to take the science duly into account.

E. g.--https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/11/animal-decline-living-planet-report-conservation-news/

This is a fourteen-month-old report from everyone's esteemed National Geographic. The NG scribe takes pains to show how glib and irresponsible journalists are capable of misunderstanding and of misrepresenting the science with alarmist reports: but nowhere did the NG scribe dispute the alarming data reported in the cited report (per the NG account, a follow-up study will be published later this year).

Granted, science reporting in the US is ATROCIOUS, and most science journalists merit firing for all the exaggerations and misstatements they perpetrate. US schools of journalism merit being put on notice by all: science journalists need to be able to demonstrate science competency and rigorous attention to data. It's also up to the Sci/Tech community specifically to monitor US science journalism for accuracy, exposing wild alarmism whenever and wherever it occurs. Retractions of stories filed in error perhaps merit fines and penalties for attempting to violate public trust. And it remains incumbent on us all to track down to our limited abilities the "actual science" underlying accounts presented in wild, outrageous, or outlandish fashion.

If climate and meteorology merit global attention, global citizens need to begin insisting on global responsibility among corporate media and (corporate) sci/tech.

I'm finding Feyerabend's Science in a Free Society a refreshing read.

If over the past half century our science establishment has failed to consistently warn the public of faulty and irresponsible science reporting and if our corrupt and corrupting Media Establishment is so concerned to lie to us on behalf of their corporate sponsors, then the two sectors most responsible for straightening out our limited understandings for policy purposes have failed us significantly.

The propellant in asthma inhalers was a CFC and had to be changed to a dramatically inferior product because of those laws. This caused a large decline in healthcare quality for asthmatics. People used to buy the old CFC inhalers on the black market while there was still some supply.

How about this point 0: Locking up hundreds of thousands of people in concentration camps for ethnic cleansing reasons, or indeed for trivial offences like chewing gum litter or harmless drug possession, is evil. To rig elections and harass political opposition to the governments of states, in the name of pettifogging advances in infrastructure quality, is evil. We brook no sympathy or solace to such states.

Isn’t this just a rebranding of standard libertarianism? The version I was sold on 20+ years ago sounds remarkably similar – public goods are best provided by the public sector, everything else should be provided by the private sector. The insight that there are “public goods” that are actually best produced by the government (even though the government will still produce them very, very inefficiently) always seemed like one of the defining differences between libertarians and what I would call anarchists.
Do you see any difference between what you’re advocating and the standard “public goods” model of libertarianism? Other than perhaps focusing more on doing public goods better.

A word absent from this post but running right through it is "opportunity". Infrastructure and science subsidies in a way *are* redistribution, but the kind that must be actively used. They are a redistribution of opportunities. The output of science is mostly zero marginal cost. It shouldn't have to be awkwardly patented and licensed to those who can afford it, it should be open source and therefore give every citizen the opportunity to develop on it. There's some role for state-funded markets in zero marginal cost things like software that can be worked out here.

Nice screed, Tyler. It would be interesting to see a follow up with a list of main policy proposals that result from the items you listed.
Hopefully, the Mercatus people don't hand you a pink slip for writing this...

Libertarians do not like to talk about property zoning.

This was certainly forthright. If there was one follow up I'd like to see, it would be what barrier is to lie between State Capacity Libertarianism and full blown Oligarchy.

Or if the likes of Jared Kushner, with his various mandates and interests, is just the beginning.

Beside having no stance on social issues, what's the difference between this ideology and Reagan-era conservatism?

"For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better."

Impossible from the top down. Only real answer is increasing competition through choice and vouchers.

Why oppose "massive regulation of Big Tech"?

Big Tech has shown us all amply and abundantly it is unwilling to regulate itself. (Why should anyone think Big Tech even capable of self-regulation? Why would Big Tech be motivated to self-regulate at this late date?)

MASSIVE Federal regulation of our corrupt and corrupting Tech Sector has become necessary for the sake of our tottering stultified democracy--a democracy tottering in part because of the irresponsible "self-regulation" permitted our anti-democratic Tech Sector over the entire past quarter-century.

Henceforth, let our technophiles face political regulation up front BEFORE they're permitted to roll out their dubious platforms, pernicious softwares, and crappy operating systems. (Although I would consent to every wireless telephone's being required to feature a self-diagnostic colonoscopy app.)

Big Oil could take regulation. Ma Bell could take regulation. Time for grand scale regulation of the entire Tech Sector. ALL OF IT.

Tyler is trying to think 11 impossible things before breakfast. Seems to me libertarianism has always been a mood, not an ideology. Don't get me wrong: it has value as only that.

Tyler invokes Denmark. It is a lovely example of my thesis. Per not his dreaded "alt-right" (by which he means, I guess, the right?) but wikipedia: "According to the Danish Ministry of Finance, non-Western immigration will cost the public expenses 33 billion DKK annually (about 4.4 billion euro) for the foreseeable future due to the low levels of employment. Therefore they result in higher expenses for social benefits and pay less tax. Western immigrants and their descendants contributed 14 billion DKK annually due to their high level of employment."

What could be more of an affront to liberty than that the architects of state policy should relieve you of your money in order to transform the demographics of your country beyond all recognition? I mean, honestly, even if you support this goal for Caplan-esque ideological reasons, or just want to burn the place down in a cleansing fire, fine - but what about it could possibly be described as libertarian?

And yet, and yet ... all Tyler the Libertarian sees is the proposed burka banning law.

It is "bristling at seatbelt laws" all over again. It is unserious.

This sounds like de-localized Yarvin-ism with the crazy dialed back...not necessarily a criticism...the difference between this and old-school libertarianism seems to be a recognition that governing elites are inevitable and necessary, the real question is making the elite meritocratic rather than aristocratic

I would suggest a rebranding to "Institutional Quality Libertarianism." Institutional quality includes but is not limited to state capacity, and the key insight I see you gesturing at here is that institutional quality in that broader sense is crucial to growth and to sustainable, useful liberty as well, and it doesn't map straightforwardly to traditional libertarian measures of liberty.

Also, the rebranding sounds less oxymoronic, is more timely as a call to action in our era of visibly declining institutional quality, and will be more appealing to people coming from more traditional libertarianism as well as to conservatives of the "A Time to Build" type.

Ctrl-F accountability. 0/0. State capacity can be rephrased as accumulating adequate power to accomplish something. In the US the State (all levels of government) takes something around 38% of economic output. That doesn't include imposed costs via regulation.

If anyone here ran their finances like most levels of government we would be sharing a cell with Manafort.

We know a few things. One is that systems with vigorous and hard feed back mechanisms work quite well. A free market is like that; an idea that doesn't generate a cash flow fails.

We also know that if you give power to someone they will abuse it.

We also know that if there is a cash flow the number of people who will attach themselves to that cash flow is directly proportional to it's size. Why do you rob banks? Because that is where the money is.

We also know that to accomplish something of import requires an individual or group of individuals with the wherewithal and bloodymindedness to push it to completion.

Another hard fact is that there are no consequences for saying no. I'd like to see this quanitified; if you have an arm of the state with power, let it run in the political economy for a generation, what proportion of the people who make up this institution will use their power to say no vs. say yes? I suspect something like 95-5.

State Capacity has to mean vigorous internal control of the power of the State. With personal consequences for each individual that is put into a position of using the power of the State to do something. Negative accountability only goes so far. But a system where you can profit from using the power of the State is problematic to say the least.

So let's twist things around a bit.

Create an institutional mindset where the 95/5 ratio of no to yes is applied to State actions and impositions.

A free market is really good at punishing bad ideas and handsomely rewarding good ones. Well run operations that generate a positive cash flow are a reward in themselves for the people who operate them. If you punish that you will get less of it.

The power and necessity of individuals to accomplish things of import is where solutions for knarly issues will come from, so take them away from committees and harness that power. We are watching two examples of how a dedicated and bloodyminded pursuit of a goal gets results. The resurgence of the US space program, and the exposure of the workings of the FBI, DOJ and CIA by JudicialWatch.

The problem isn't State Capacity. It is what it focuses on. How it works. The Institutions of the State are dysfunctional in profound ways, have been given or taken on tasks they are profoundly unsuited to handle, and by design have created an unproductive rent seeking class that will perpetuate the current dysfunction forever if they can get away with it. Giving them more power is ridiculous.

The single most effective to date action taken to lessen carbon emissions in the US is the availability of natural gas to replace coal for electricity generation.

This was possible because of fracking. Note that every Democrat candidate has stated that they will stop this, meaning that coal generation and greenhouse gas emissions will rise. Every Democrat stands for increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Every one of them.

If you are a Democrat you should be ashamed.

But back to this solution. What State Capacity made it happen? There are a few. I don't know the details, but the regime of surface to underground property rights is important. The validity of contract, likely some patents, and a working financial system. There was some basic research done by government. But the development and application of the technology was done by businesses looking to solve a problem, a few determined individuals. They profited well from what they did, and solved a problem that is difficult.

It is interesting isn't it that those seeking government power really really want to stop these types of things from happening.

I can understand the left not criticizing the 0% risk weight that for purposes for bank capital requirements has been assigned to the sovereign debts, but I cannot for my life understand libertarians of any sort keeping mum about that, and about the other dangerous distortions in the allocation of bank credit the risk weighted bank capital requirements cause.

Also what has State Capacity Libertarianism to say about that regulatory incapacity of considering what banker’s perceive as risky more dangerous to our bank systems than what bankers perceive or present as safe?

Happy new decade to all.

5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity. Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education ...

America's governments cannot "much improve K-12 education" because there are no $20 dollar bills lying on the sidewalk. We set as a goal getting just about everyone "college ready", feed them a diet of academics that most are not inherently interested in and many don't have the capacity to gain much from (let alone "attain mastery"). Then we are shocked by our failure. News Flash: we are doing about as well as we can with that model.

Now, if by "much improve", you mean offering learning that is useful to young people and is not just "preparation for college", well, there's a boatload of $20 dollar bills--but it's in that dark alley where there are no comforting streetlights.

Perhaps Boris Johnson's advisor, Dominic Cummings, qualifies as a State Capacity Libertarian. https://wp.me/papLzz-ip

This vague, rambling piece seems to be crafted to signal allegiance to any political economy that protects current accumulations and concentrations of capital and their ability to obtain future rents and returns. This includes the more unsavory regimes and ideologies such as crony capitalist, oligarchic ones and even authoritarianism and fascism. Moreover, the support for "strong states" "extending" the interests of domestic capital abroad and intervening on its behalf suggests more than mere passive toleration of the more militant type of regime or ideology, as long as it serves capital. Apparently all of them are more preferable to even mildly reformist, liberal, or democratic socialist regimes.

The invocation of Thiel is a tell. Thiel has espoused support for more illiberal, authoritarian views that accommodate capital. And he styles himself as a patron of these views and as an oligarchic who uses state power domestically against his enemies (eg suing journalists) and promotes the use of state power abroad against those like China whom he regards as threatening his economic status.

The only guiding principle here is an unswerving loyalty to the idea that the highest duty one can serve is ensuring that the rich get richer.

You’re trying to thread a needle or do some kind of balancing act here. I applaud the instinct, but this post just comes off as wishy-washy. Not a great start to the decade.

How is this not just crony capitalism, where the state uses its power to protect existing wealthy people?

The fundamental principle of libertarianism should be a distrust of any institution that becomes too powerful where it can crush the individual without accountability. So we should not want large dominant countries like the US to also have high state capacity as the their governments would be too powerful; such governments are highly likely to be tyrannical, especially to the government’s outgroups (and there are always outgroups). But libertarianism should also be against excessively powerful corporations and so should support removing any protectionist barriers to competition. These views are still quite relevant to today’s world, as one of the fundamental problems of today’s world is that many people feel powerless. Even though people are objectively better off economically than they have ever been, they feel that key decisions about their lives are made by faceless bureaucrats.

I consider Thiel to be anti-libertarian on this interpretation; he once wrote an Op-Ed in the WSJ saying that competition is bad and monopolies are good (as long as someone he likes controls them naturally). Libertarians should be diametrically opposed to such thinking.

Tyler forgets that words are mindful things and chooses to use libertarianism to cover a huge spectrum without dealing with the underlying meaning. He also begins very badly with the, "One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions," comment. I doubt that he has any more understanding of what the Alt-Right is than anyone out there and clearly does not describe what he considers to be a part of the libertarian movement. And I doubt that many libertarians consider Ron Paul to be unsavoury or associated with the Alt-Right. But then he commits a greater sin by continuing with, "another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents." Having establishment Republicans jump into the Tea Party movement did not change the foundational principles of the movement. It just hijacked it and allowed the political operatives to hide the underlying reality from the voters yet again.

I do not expect Tyler to be able to convey enough sound information to his readers in a short commentary. But what disappoints me is his deception and cowardice. As someone who does not believe in principles, Tyler uses his considerable intellect to weave a narrative that tries to justify his biases. He cannot be a Classical Liberal or a Libertarian because he believes that smart people like him can work within government to move the economy and society in a better direction than a true unregulated market. He has no faith that individual self-interest can be the driving force behind institutions that protect property rights and keep the richer and more powerful in line so he puts his faith in the exercise of government power.

I respect Tyler's intellect. But I do not think much of its application. He is far too statist for my liking.

Wait, so how is this different from Republican? Aside from the "religious right" part that is massively over emphasized by people on the left, Republicans were always moderate libertarians to me. Many of them talk libertarian, then cave to practicalities as needed.

Where is today's Hayek or Nozick?

For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.
Libertarians have the est idea for CO2 pollution, tort.

Prove your damages and get your check from the polluters. The best, least risky path. It allows us to mark our desired temperature to market,. We can set skiing season in Vermont just the way we like it.

"The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia."

Maybe they should emulate the Middle East?

Problem for whom?

"d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done. “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies."

Mistakes need to be made with private capital, not stolen money. Tyler is defending a system that is indefensible. Take the claim that someone like Rothbard is a lunatic for saying that the taxation of income is theft. (Which it is.) But when we look at the real world around us right now and see that American military-related spending is about equal to what comes in from personal income taxes do we hear criticism from people like Tyler?

I am sorry to see that so many of the GMU people have gone over to the dark side. I guess that the lure of personal gain will always trump adherence to sound ideas and principles.

Fascism. You've basically invented fascism.

>it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.

Sure, but the thing is, smart people can see that the "climate change problem" is fake.

So that leaves people like you turning Full-On Statist. while the rest of us giggle when you claim to be libertarian.

State Capacity Libertarians seem to assume little risk of corruption, waste, and inefficiency in the political allocation of capital.

That's a big assumption.

"State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done. 'Which mistakes they are most likely to commit' is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies."

In your Modi post, you suggest that increased state capacity may be accompanied by a problematic majoritarian political movement. If that is true, you might expect "state capacity libertarianism" to fail de facto along its libertarian axis. E.g., a state that responds effectively and at scale to climate change might also be much better at building a wall along its southern border.

Tyler Cowen is a champion of markets for everything except the universities. I cite two Cowen essays: One where Cowen passionately opposes reducing government spending on universities, and a second where he champions universities as the exclusive social elite of American society.

(1) https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/07/should-alaska-cut-state-university-funding-by-41-percent.html

That’s my biggest worry in all this: that that the diminution of the University of Alaska amounts to a kind of giving up. Alaska is supposed to be the American frontier, a place for taking chances. It is a sign of defeatism if the state has now decided that its main task should be mailing out dividends to its residents. The animating spirit should be one of science and exploration, as might be enabled by a well-functioning university system.

(2) https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-11-01/let-harvard-be-harvard-only-bigger

Returning to the larger problem of elite reproduction: Few societies have methods of assuring cultural continuity that could be revealed transparently without causing at least some outrage or scandal. It’s not that all of these methods are deliberately racist or prejudicial. Rather, it’s that — by necessity — they involve some exclusion of outsiders, if only as a byproduct of the strategy for building cultural coherence among the in-group. It is no accident that Harvard has strenuously resisted disclosing the methods of its admission processes.

Step back from the emotions of the current debate and start with the general point that social elites need to replicate themselves, one way or another. Otherwise they tend to fade away; think of the leaders and institutions of the temperance movement. Harvard, in contrast, is still one of America’s leading universities almost four centuries after being established.

Cowen is saying that the universities:
- deserve lavish government funding and support.
- deserve to form an elite social caste of society
- deserve to be the primary organization that pursues science and exploration and ideas.
- deserves exclusive admissions process that preserve their culture and identity and exclude outsiders with different culture and identity.

That doesn't sound at all libertarian to me.

As the most apparent and influential descendant of Puritan culture anywhere, Harvard University is the epi-center of evil in the western hemisphere.

Harvard isn't evil. That's too far.

The more reasonable criticism is that it's not reasonable for universities to expect large public support that primarily benefits a small group of insiders. If members of the public aren't welcome to join, why do they have to pay into the system? And it's not clear to me that the current members of Harvard have a reasonable claim to the financial endowment inheritance of the Harvard of hundreds of years ago that was centered around training Puritan Protestant Priests and was mostly a completely different institution.

David Sinclair is at Harvard and is doing amazing work to cure aging, which might be the greatest humanitarian contribution ever. However, Harvard isn't providing the funding, Sinclair's lab and work is funded from outside sources. And Sinclair was trained elsewhere. Harvard is just a middle man in that story. The same donors could have financed Sinclair to do what he's doing without Harvard at all.

Good comment. This criticism sticks.

It's just Victorian liberalism, influenced by Acemoglu, but it's a good idea.

"For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change."

Libertarians address the climate hoax perfectly, by explaining that it's not only a hoax but just the latest in 70 years of nothing but false alarms from the environmental movement (as well as the quotes from its leaders at green-agenda.com which prove it is malicious, at least at the top).

The results of Michael Mann's defamation suits bear this out.

The fact that some climate scientists have lied or exaggerated does not mean there is nothing to be concerned about. It is the same issue as the overweight doctor telling you to lose weight because you have heart disease. His problem does not negate yours.

I believe in prudence and moderation including in climate-related issues, but not ignoring potential problems and hoping they go away.

What result? Last time I checked, the Supreme Court refused National Review's request to throw out the lawsuit so the suit will move forward.

The idea that we have to do anything about climate change is utterly uninformed and nearly made me stop reading there.

Wow, that was pretty good. Happy New Year to you as well.

Not bad. I disagree with Tyler's embrace of big business and Thiel but there's much that I agree with here.

"Denmark should in fact have a smaller government"

statements like this are why no one takes libertarians seriously.

Interesting post. Probably could be expanded.

I'm more or less of the SC libertarian view these days, based on the general outline here. My own stubborn attachments to a more fundamentalist libertarianism is I can't bring myself to trust the mechanisms of government trying to distill 300M sets of preferences into 2 parties. I don't believe we will get good or reasonable government because thats not actually what will win elections.

This piece is pretty incoherent. The author seems to have taken a bunch of his personal doubts about freedom, lumped them together, and slapped an essentially meaningless label on them.

Then he goes on to try to reassure readers that, although he is arguing for a greater role for the State and against freedom, don't worry, we "state capacity libertarians" won't make the same mistakes in embracing Big Government as do those leftists who are (gasp) "polarizing".

Also worth noting, in stark juxtaposition to the author's comments (wishful thinking?) about actual libertarianism supposedly running out of steam, the movement has been spreading worldwide with dozens of libertarian parties now existing in countries from Russia to Costa Rica.

In the United States the Libertarian Party has recently been on an upswing, including its best-ever presidential vote totals in 2016, and has clearly become clearly the leading alternative party in the country.

All you would have to do to dissuade a curious person from embracing libertarianism is to have them read through the article and comments above.

I'd love to witness a debate between you and anarcho-libertarian David Friedman on this topic.

Why debate? A Conversations With Tyler episode would be far better.

Good post. Maybe call it "National Capitalism".

Did I just read a long list of government failures as an explanation of why libertarianism won't work?

I'm not even on this map. I'm more like a classical establishment libertarian, with a side of thinking the left isn't entirely wrong about all that social justice stuff. I don't want a lot of government transfer programs or interference in markets, so that doesn't really put me in line with the liberaltarian camp. And I do agree that a "strong state" is necessary to protect individual rights, with a heavy emphasis on "strong does not mean large". But I disagree with the amount of "state capacity" that you appear to be advocating here. I also do think there are many private informal mechanisms we could be pursuing that would make society more fair and just (and more unified and harmonious) across racial and ethnic lines, and I disagree with many of my libertarian friends that the soft enforcement of norms via shunning and shaming is a kind of force equivalent to state power that has to be suppressed. That's how you regulate in the absence of government - via reputational effects. If you don't like it, you don't like the free market.

Outside of the social justice stuff, you're right on the mark.

Can we agree to start being honest?
Capitalism is *great* - but in the U.S. we no longer live in a capitalist system. Does anyone remember when government broke up companies that got too big?
Our economy, with very few exceptions, is run by cartels. We have a cartelist economy, which is a very polite way to say "fascist."

There are a few capitalist niches left - e.g. home improvement. There are no regional or national corporations taking the lion's share of fixing and adding things to our domiciles. But home improvement supply is a different story - 5 companies own it. Ace, Home Depot, Lowe's, Menard's, and True Value.
And the effects of having a cartel running our banking system have not been very good, either. In 1929, Goldman Sachs trashed our economy, and a lot of bankers went to jail. In 2008, they trashed our economy, got bailed out to the tune of $60B, and awarded $2 billion of it in Christmas bonuses to the employees that caused it.

Happy New Year.

Slicing fine distinctions between State Capacity Libertarianism and Liberaltarianism... terms most people have never heard of.

Maybe the internet's main contribution here will be to undermine Duverger's law and balkanize us all into micro-parties. Or maybe it's allowing us just enough space to engage in microcosmic theoretical distinctions that are lost on most of the other politically active participants and are mainly useful for timekilling or fringe parody.

I'd really like to see some bridges between the normative theoretical efforts and the challenge Nate Silver and co had dividing up the primary into multidimensional "lanes" this last year. (They were against lanes at first, then just realized they were more complex than they realized.)

If there's a new development in political theory, would be nice to know its prospects and likelihood of applications before getting too far down the rabbit hole.

Sorry, Tyler but I believe you are making a fundamental error (that I see commonly now-a-day) when you advocate for Capitalism or markets. The basic conflict is not between Capitalism and Socialism. Socialism is a system that can be instigated by governments, as has been the case many times during the last two centuries (with its attendant catastrophic results). However, Capitalism can not be so created. Capitalism (markets) are the RESULT of freedom. It is what humans do when not prevented or restricted from acting freely by governments. I believe the conflict is between Socialism and Individual Freedom. That's the opinion of an old Polish mining engineer, anyway.

I think your fundamental point that capitalism is the result of markets and what people do when not prevented or restricted from acting freely, not something that must be (or for the most part can be) created by government, is spot-on.

Regarding the conflict between socialism and individual freedom however, I think it's important to specify that we mean State (government-imposed) Socialism.

When practiced on a small-scale, voluntary basis as is the case in many families ("from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"), I think socialism can work admirably.

It's trying to force it on large numbers of people via government that has been a recipe for disaster.

In short, it is the State (the systematic use of aggression), not socialism (the sharing or redistribution of resources to benefit those with less) that is the problematic element.

It's also worth noting that not all statism is socialism. I have sometimes made the point about various government policies and programs that calling them "socialist" is giving them too much credit, since rather than forcibly redistributing wealth downward, which at least has some moral basis even if it does more harm than good in practice, they actually serve to further concentrate wealth.

Government-run lottery programs are a good example of this. While playing the lottery is voluntary, there is still aggression involved in stolen tax dollars being used to at least set up the programs if not their ongoing marketing and promotion, and they typically result in a transfer of resources from poor people who buy tickets, to the generally wealthier people who work for the government agencies that get funding from those ticket sales, along with a tiny number of big winners.

Well this is serendipitous. Dominic Cummings (for those that don't know; he is Boris Johnson's Steve Bannon) has just published a quite jaw-dropping blog post on the type of Administration the UK can look forward to. It can be best summed up as looking to build "State Capacity" for the UK Government.

control-f "ordoliberalism" brings back nothing in the comments. what? what am i missing?

I’ve been having similar thoughts myself. One thing to consider is the evolutionary tension between maximizing production and redistribution. Too little production and your group dies. Too much inequality and your group experiences rebellion. The obvious way to finesse this is progressive taxation and automatic stabilizers. Education has shown itself to be a public good.

Ideological purity often founders on the shoals of politics, with the latter’s pragmatism. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good can be welfare-reducing. The problem is how to make the best of a bad situation. For example, classical liberalism favors free trade and reducing market frictions. As Adam Smith pointed out, people will fiercely resist income reductions. Sweden has finessed this with locally-run worker job search aid and retraining.

Americans have a terrible problem in our reluctance to look at how countries besides Canada solve similar problems. Estonia, on the other hand, has done the opposite and has made many government innovations. Are these historical accidents or is there a systematic explanation?

Chuck, your comment seems to be presuming that the way to reduce inequality is to increase government intervention.

Certainly many people believe this, but I have a different thesis – that government tends to increase inequality, because it tends to benefit the wealthy and politically well-connected (largely overlapping sets of people) while disadvantaging the poor and marginalized.

Licensing laws (including both occupational licensing and charging people for business licenses), wage control (aka "minimum wage") laws, restriction of voluntary economic activity in the commons (on public property such as sidewalks and plazas), zoning laws, laws criminalizing sex work, many drugs, gambling, small-scale banking and money-lending, etc., all serve to create barriers to entry and impediments to low-level economic activity that reduce bottom-up competition and tilt the playing field in favor of established businesses.

Add to these things intellectual property laws, limited liability laws, tax breaks extended to large business but not small ones (e.g. city governments competing to attract a new Amazon warehouse that will employ lots of people, but not a new mom-and-pop retail outlet), and other policies that favor big business over small startups, including the sheer complexity of government and the advantage this gives to enterprises of scale. If you're the sole proprietor of an independent auto repair shop, you're unlikely to be in a position to employ the lawyers, accountants, government consultants, etc., that the big auto repair chain you're competing with has on call to help them navigate the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, that bureaucracy slows the whole business process down, reducing the natural advantage of the "little guy" which is a greater ability to quickly make changes or introduce innovations.

It has been widely observed that wealth inequality has increased in the United States during recent decades, and this has occurred during a period when government has grown markedly. If we want to see less inequality, we should push for decriminalizing and deregulating areas of the economy that will allow more people on the bottom of the economic ladder to get a leg up and compete on something closer to a level playing field.

"...On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women."

On what is this observation based, I wonder? I've been in the libertarian movement quite a while, and while I haven't made any systematic study, my impression is that there are more women involved than ever, and I haven't noticed any lack of education among them.

The govt is owned by the wealthy donors and large corporations. The regulations are to protect their interests. Libertarians need to support SMEs, and for that need to demand strong anti-trust policies. But US (maybe because of donors) has lacked antitrust muscle. See promarket blog of Stigler Center of University of Chicago.

Thank you for this post! Super thought-provoking and helpful.

Sounds like you're an upwinger.


I've always felt the proof of how libertarianism has failed regular people is jaywalking. It's the stupidest "crime" there ever was. Walking is good for the environment and it's good for peoples' health. If people think it's safe, that's their call. In most countries it's totally legal. Legalizing it is a total no-brainer, it seems like an obvious place where environmentalists and libertarians can find common ground. But you never hear libertarians talk about it. Maybe that's because libertarianism has been dominated by rich assholes who love driving too fast?

keep libertarianism weird! https://cybertrophic.wordpress.com/2020/01/04/on-nick-land-the-weird-libertarian/

Libertarianism has a much more sturdy foundation on society capacity rather than state capacity. Ultimately, the vast majority are more concerned that something is done and done well rather than whether the state or the private sector is doing it.

A libertarianism more pro-business than pro-market, it seems.

I think I can see the criticism of the path the political groups who identify as liberatarians. But I have never had high expectations for political action to bring good.

I think the success of liberatarian philosophy in the past and future should be judged on its usefulness to show the world clearly and help improve an individual's life.

An interesting newly published paper on state capacity :

Sounds a lot like Eucken's model ~1950 - see also Karen Horn on the Social Market

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