Thursday, January 08, 2009

Zed tells it like it is

My regular readers (both of you!) will have noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. This is because since we got back from our trip I've been busy working on a new startup. I don't want to say anything about it until we have something to show. But I'm pretty excited about it.

In the meantime, go read the best analysis of the current economic mess that I have yet seen (and I've seen a lot).

9 comments:

Don Geddis said...

I won't discuss the part analyzing the current financial crisis. But your linked essay is a horribly biased criticism of libertarianism.

The author claims that the "unstated goal" of libertarian doctrine has three parts. He's right, that corporations are generally more efficient than government. But the other two are crazy. "Corporations are therefore better than the government at everything"? What libertarian says that? And, "Corporations should be [...] in control of [government]". Again, what? That's (a version of) fascism, not libertarianism.

This is just a strawman he's arguing against.

As for "Law", he's right that capitalism depends on rule of law, and consistent enforcement. But then again he says that libertarianism wants to "shrink the government down to nothing", and also "have the corporations in control". What? Of course that would destroy the rule of law.

I find the essay uninteresting, because the concept it attacks is such a mockery of real libertarianism.

Ron said...

> corporations are generally more efficient than government

Generally, but not always, and sometimes not in some areas that matter a lot. For example, government has a much better track record at providing health care efficiently than corporations.

> "Corporations are therefore better than the government at everything"? What libertarian says that?

That's the basic premise of the Austrian school.

If you think that he's arguing against a straw man then your knowledge of libertarian doctrine needs some updating.

Don Geddis said...

I'll admit that I haven't heard of "the Austrian school of libertarianism", if that's what you're referring to.

If you're referring to the Austrian school of economic theory, then that's not the same as libertarianism (although it is related). But in any case Austrian economists neither want zero government, nor do they want corporations to run government.

As for libertarianism, there are lots of substyles, but only the most marginal extreme wants no government. And I didn't notice any who wanted corporations to control government.

Health care is a very special case. I agree that government-run, in practice, seems to work better than US-like semi-private. But US health care is heavily, heavily regulated. Don't get the idea that what we see is a natural capitalist outcome of the free market.

I stand by my assertion that he's arguing against a strawman of his own creation, not against libertarianism.

Ron said...

> If you're referring to the Austrian school of economic theory, then that's not the same as libertarianism (although it is related).

That's kind of like saying that Marxism is not the same as Communism (though they are related). Strictly speaking it's true, but it's splitting a pretty fine hair.

> As for libertarianism, there are lots of substyles,

That's true.

> but only the most marginal extreme wants no government.

That's not true. According to Wikipedia (in a rare example of a claim that actually carries a citation with it): "Since the late 19th century the term [Libertarianism] has often served as a synonym for anarchism.[11]

And if you hang out with self-professed Libertarians (or even self-professed libertarians) you will find a great many anarchists among them -- and a great many more advocates of lassez-faire "capitalism."

Don Geddis said...

I guess I don't know any "big-L" official members of the Libertarian party. But as for "small-l" libertarians, I've never met one who advocates anarchy.

That's such a different political structure, we need a different word. If you want the word "libertarian" to include anarchists (esp. to have that as the default meaning), then what word would you recommend for those who prefer political systems that "promote individual liberty", "robust property rights", "the only proper use of coercion is defensive or to rectify an error", etc.? And yes, lassez-faire capitalism.

These people generally call themselves "libertarians", but they don't at all mean to advocate anarchy.

Is there a label that would make that distinction more clear?

Ron said...

> That's such a different political structure, we need a different word.

You'll have to take that up with the Wikipedia editors, among others. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist and read the first sentence.

> These people generally call themselves "libertarians", but they don't at all mean to advocate anarchy.

Maybe they don't mean to, but they do. Maybe you don't know what anarchy means. It is not (at least not according to self-professed anarchists) a synonym for chaos.

Don Geddis said...

It feels like you keep changing definitions on me. Zed's essay, that you linked to, said (for example): "That is basically the first flaw of libertarianism: If you shrink the
government down to nothing and have corporations in control then you
won’t have a rule of law."


Libertarians that I know are not in favor of shrinking government to "nothing", nor of putting corporations "in control" of government. Yes, Zed is right that such action would destroy the rule of law. But that's criticism against a strawman, not criticism against libertarian philosophy.

Besides ... everybody knows that the best form of government is an anarcho-syndicalist commune...

Ron said...

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

FWIW, you're not the only one who thinks Zed is wrong, e.g. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=428785

mevins said...

Libertarians that I know are not in favor of shrinking government to "nothing"

Several that I know are. At least one is reasonably famous for it (among other things): David D. Friedman, the economist and law professor. His writings are worth a read, and he makes a stimulating correspondent.

Libertarians who identify themselves as anarchists are not particularly hard to find. I'd say they're worth finding; they're interesting thinkers.

Anarchist libertarians do not disregard the rule of law--I least none I know of do. They simply expect the rule of law to be maintained by social institutions other than the state.