What year are libertarians stuck in?

In Stuck on 1968, Arnold Kling describes a number of beliefs that liberals had in 1968 that turned out to be totally wrong:

The Conventional Wisdom among well-educated liberals in 1968 included the following:

* Anti-Communism was a greater menace than Communism.
* The planet could not possibly support the population increases that would take place by the end of the twentieth century.
* Conservatives stood in the way of progress for minorities.
* Government programs were the best way to lift people out of poverty.
* What underdeveloped countries needed were large capital investments, financed by foreign aid from the rich countries.
* Inflation was a cost-push phenomenon, requiring government intervention in wage and price setting.

And how watching that process helped convert him into a libertarian:

For me, seeing this unfold (I was a freshman economics major when President Nixon tried wage-price controls in 1971, and I was a newly-minted Ph.D in economics working at the Fed in the early 1980's) was a major life experience. Somehow, many liberal economists of my generation managed to forget they ever believed in wage-price controls and hang on to the rest of their Conventional Wisdom security blanket. But I also noticed the other ways in which the Conventional Wisdom failed to match reality.

I have mixed feelings about his argument that its a bad thing that liberals lost some of their beliefs and kept others. On the one hand, isn't it a good thing to stop believing in things that have been proven false? And isn't it rather burdensome to question all your beliefs just because some turned out wrong? On the other hand, if you were deeply certain of a disproven belief, your certainty function is probably broken. And if the disproven belief flowed naturally from other things you still believe in, like the evilness of capitalism and markets, enough downstream errors make it logical to question the source.

But that's not the interesting question. What with not being a liberal, its always gonna be good clean fun to hang around drinking Guinness and bashing the liberals. (Or the conservatives - whoever isn't us, pretty much). The interesting thing to do is to look in the mirror. What libertarian beliefs have been proven wrong? What false CLW (Conventional Libertarian Wisdom) are we still holding on to? I will present a candidate next post, but I encourage commenters to propose their own below.

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Well, most Rothbardians are

Well, most Rothbardians are stuck in 1971...



Legally speaking, many

Legally speaking, many libertarians seem to be complete oblivous of the Realist revolution in American law, and seem to think classical liberalism was just somehow misplaced rather than battled against and to some extent (rightly or wrongly) defeated.

Though I'm by no means an expert, it's my layman's impression that much of the supply-side economic policies of the Reagan era have not played out as many claimed they would.

The comparison is a bit difficult, since many liberals of 1968 saw their policies put into action. Libertarians, so far as I can tell, have never had the same experience.

Nonetheless, some libertarians still seem to believe an appropriate government design will keep large government from occurring, ignoring the history of the United States thus far.

Scott, you baffle

Scott, you baffle me:

Nonetheless, some libertarians still seem to believe an appropriate government design will keep large government from occurring, ignoring the history of the United States thus far.

Ignoring? I think that should be "with consideration for." The US system has worked pretty well over the course of 200+ years, and its failures suggest possible avenues for improvement. As grand experiments go it's been pretty successful. Besides, are you saying there isn't some kind of stable institutional arrangement which will prevent large government from occurring? Bonus points for explaining how, if this were true, it would somehow not affect all libertarians, including an-caps (remember: they're not against government, they're against coercion and in favour of making government as consensual as possible).

As for Patri's question, goldbugs get my nomination for libertarian sect most stuck in a time warp. (Or maybe an alternate dimension.)

My understanding of Rand's

My understanding of Rand's "philosophy" is that collective action based on compromise is always bad and individual action based on selfishness is always good. Yet libertarians seem to blindly support large multinationals for their market efficiency even when individual action is trampled by the economic and political weight of these corporations.

Although it has been noted before, the politics of libertarianism has a tough sell in the marketplace of democracy. Better public schools? Privatize them. Better policing? Privatize them. So on and so forth. John Q. Citizen is looking at this and thinking, feudalism, no thanks.

Some mistaken Libertarian

Some mistaken Libertarian beliefs:

1. A significant portion of the people in modern society value personal autonomy for its own sake (as opposed to valuing it merely to the extent that it allows them some other thing they desire).
2. People tend to generalize their own desire for autonomy into a desire for autonomy for others.
3. Appropriate stuctural safeguards can prevent a government from sliding into statism, even in the presence of a population actively in favor of such a slide.

an-caps (remember:

an-caps (remember: they’re not against government, they’re against coercion and in favour of making government as consensual as possible).

Sorry Matt, but I think the Anarcho part of AnarchoCapitalist disagrees with you. Anarchism is most definately a rejection of the State in all forms. Minarchists are those who want to make government as small as possible (though I don't think small absolutely means non-coersive it seems to be their take in general that they want it to be small and consensual).

I personally would discribe myself as a An-cap who firmly believes that a long period of sucessfully smaller states needs to be present, before the vast majority of people will be ready to break free and deal with an An-cap society, if such a society is indeed possible. I am therefore also a Minarchist in that I have distinct ideas about how such smaller governments might be formed, and what they would, and would not be responsible for. Of course our first issue is figuring out how to stop the current behemoth from getting any larger first.

If I'm stuck in any year, let it be 1794. That is the year I think the whole damn thing started to go from a great victory, to a tragedy. 1865, 1913, 1933, and 1945 being the other years that really sealed the demise of what could have been.

Matt, you ignorant

Matt, you ignorant slut.

That's my response.

"Anarchism is most

"Anarchism is most definately a rejection of the State in all forms."

An-caps believe that people should be able to choose their government in a market, but this is still government.

Oh yeah Scott, well your

Oh yeah Scott, well your mother is a woman of easy virtue.

Matt, I've certainly never

Matt, I've certainly never seen it defined as such, and etymologically speaking that makes no sense what-so-ever. If you can quote a source for your belief I'd like to see it.



"1) The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished."



"From this basis, anarcho-capitalism rejects the state as an unjustified monopolist and systematic aggressor against sovereign individuals"

On a practical level I see no need of ANY government, I certainly don't intend to select one in some sort of market. "Oh, yes I'd like the right to bear arms, and a side of free speech, but no gay marriage, and definitely no taxation."

Ahem: "Anarcho-capitalists

Ahem: "Anarcho-capitalists envision a society with competing courts and police firms, generically referred to as PDAs (Private Defense Agencies.) This is a form of polycentric law."

it would somehow not affect

it would somehow not affect all libertarians, including an-caps (remember: they’re not against government, they’re against coercion and in favour of making government as consensual as possible).

Asking for a "government as consensual as possible" makes about as much sense as asking that a rape be as consensual as possible. Maybe you mean an-caps oppose injustice and forced-monopoly provision of legal services?

Readers of the blog may not

Readers of the blog may not be aware, but the Catallarchs debate this issue endlessly--what exactly does anarchism entail? I've always thought it was simply a matter of definitions, not substance, but I could be wrong.

Part of it is indeed

Part of it is indeed definition - some of the disputes between anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists, for example, arise due to different definitions about what justice is. Additionally, there have been some recent attempts to reconcile the two camps.

I would speculate that the other aspect is empirical. Clearly it takes a certain kind of person to function in an ancap society - could the citizenry of 1992 Los Angeles easily function in an ancap world? Roderick Long touches on the same point in his recent conversion to Leftism by suggesting that things like racism and sexism, although not in themselves entailed by the non-aggression principle (or by Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, I wonder?) are still necessary for a free society to function in the real world.

What year are libertarians

What year are libertarians stuck in?

2112 for some.

"I’ve always thought it

"I’ve always thought it was simply a matter of definitions, not substance, but I could be wrong."

You're on the right track, Scott. I think Will Wilkinson's notion of Neutral Institutional Monism (also here) offers a way to transcend these kinds of arguments, though what we lose as a result of recognizing it is pat answers to every question. I also like to bring up the example of Singapore in these discussions, just to make smoke pour out of certain people's ears...

Anyway I'm on board with David Friedman's notion of radical capitalism -- harnessing the kind of feedback and incentive structures that make markets work and applying them everywhere it makes sense to do so. Whether someone wants to call this anarchy or not is a matter of semantics.

LOL @ Masten. A+.

LOL @ Masten. A+.

Regarding the example of

Regarding the example of Singapore, yes, of course many libertarian criticisms of government inefficiency apply to other types of situations, particularly corporate inefficiency; many corporations have a business model that is rather state-like, after all. At the same time I can only react with incredulity at these scenarios that start out with "Assume a really bad person homesteads a really large land area...". No sensible definition of 'homesteading' would allow such a possibility, and the closest current examples I can think of (Disneyworld, etc) might not even exist without the state.

David - great answer!

David - great answer! Here's hoping we live long enough to see it.

Some CLW that is wrong: 1)

Some CLW that is wrong:

1) The belief that libertarians are playing on a level field against statists in the political arena. This gives rise to the naive belief that if we put forth a better effort, get better candidates than theirs, we'll win. Just like in high school. Get the most votes, simple as that.

When this doesn't happen, libertarians fall into despair. Contrary to this bit of CLW, the dynamics of the political marketplace heavily favor statists. Elections are won with money, and money is given in return for favors of special privilege - the exact opposite of libertarian policy prescriptions. It's not a contradiction that a country with so many people who define themselves as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" has no libertarians in major political offices.

2) The belief that things only and always get worse. If that's the case, how was progress ever made? How did we get to where we are now?

3) The belief that liberty has to be respected for it's own sake (libertarian morality) for people to prefer it. Liberty merely has to be in people's self-interests.

4) The belief that collective action is the same thing as collectivism. The market itself is a collaborative endeavor. So is civil society.

5) The belief that governments never do anything good.

6) The belief that every ailment anywhere in the world is the fault of the US government, somehow, some way.

7) Epistemological Dogmatism - strange behavior for marketists

I have to disagree with a

I have to disagree with a couple of these:

1. A significant portion of the people in modern society value personal autonomy for its own sake (as opposed to valuing it merely to the extent that it allows them some other thing they desire).

A significant portion of Americans do value personal autonomy for its own sake. A larger portion of Americans value personal autonomy out of self-interest.

3. Appropriate stuctural safeguards can prevent a government from sliding into statism, even in the presence of a population actively in favor of such a slide.

But it has. Separation of powers, federalism, elections, Bill of Rights, etc may not lead to a libertarian utopia, but America has never in its 230 years suffered the type of tyranny nearly ever other nation in the world has.

I like the list from

I like the list from Jonathan Wilde. I agree with all of it, although the prevalence and important of themm varies. (also nice link to the Acree article. much food for thought there).

Here's one I'll add, commmon to many, but not all:

The belief that the benefit to citizens of a stable legal and common defense system does not accrue proportionately to one's wealth or wealth creation ability.

I have no idea what year

I have no idea what year these map to, but some complaints I have about beliefs held by some libertarians:

1) Only the state and its agents initiate force of note. Libertarians pay too little mind to common criminals and social arrangements backed by threat of private force.

2) There was more freedom in the past. It's very hard to make apples to apples comparisons here, but one thing is clear: overall, the past sucked, horribly. Hearkening back to some golden age of liberty in the past is a tragic mistake.

3) Nationalism. Libertarians are entranced by the nation state, control of the nation state, and relations between nation states, just a little less than some others.

4) Any putative problem used to justify state action is asserted to be a non-problem. Less denial and more entrepreneurial economics, please.

I'll second all of Jonathan

I'll second all of Jonathan and Mike's points as well. Good stuff.

I'll third them. Also, far

I'll third them.

Also, far too many libertarians think Dan Fogelberg is the apex of American music culture, significantly undervaluing (or even forgetting entirely!) the groundbreaking work of David Gates.

Most anarchists don’t

Most anarchists don’t understand small group dynamics, thus deluding themselves about their chances for a truly free society. Also we already have semi- anarchistic choices.

For example take the Amish. They go out and buy a large piece of land and work the land using 18th century technology. They wear the home made clothes and use draft animals to plow and for transportation. They pay no income tax or social security or insurance payments. They educate their own children. About the only thing they can’t do is sanction outsiders. For example they can’t arrest you for taking their picture, even though they consider this a graven image. If they wanted to they could forbid entrance to non –Amish and solve that problem. Like most small semi-self sufficient societies they achieve cohesion by imposing intense social pressure ton their members. They have libertarianism but no liberty.
What about young men who find this life boring? They did not consent to this life nor would the youth of any anarchistic community you invented. Many Amish boys are leaving the community.
I am afraid that history is filled with instances of small group utopias that end up failing. They are characterizes by lock step conformity as the price for group solidarity. They usually become hellish for the participants and self destruct.
I believe there were some relatively anarchic Hippie colonies, but they were unpleasant poverty stricken places, little different from hobo camps. There is a good bit of anarchy in some of the ethnic ghettos but theses communities are dominated and kept in poverty by thugs.
I don’t see how going into outer space or off shore would solve these basic problems. You could dig under the ground and live in caves. At least you could dig back out if it was too unpleasant. Better yet, why not work for increased individual rights in the context of larger society?

I don't know who either of

I don't know who either of those people are....

Dave, Amish do consent to


Amish do consent to their lifestyle- upon "coming of age" all are sent out into the world for at least a nominal period of time to live amongst "the English" to see if the Amish lifestyle is for them. If they come back, then they are admitted into the community as adults.

Still, not sure why this is matters- wouldn't the fact that they are leaving and that there are plenitude of choices a feature, rather than a bug? The point in most of the conceptions of 'anarchy' *is* plural conceptions of lifestyle and, if not ease of transfer, then at least the non-trivial possibility of social mobility between lifestyles/communities. Raising the social cost of leaving != forbidding people from leaving and locking them into a society.

As to why leave? Well, thats for individuals to decide. I may or may not like living on Mars (for instance), but thats for me to decide. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would jump at the chance to do something new and live on the edge. And living on Mars or on the open sea in a seastead are materially different from simply ilving in a cave in (say) Arkansas or New York, for more or less the same reason- there already exists an embedded social context that has a great inertia of its own, and would seek to control those in its geographic location by one way or another. Both coercive and non-coercive methods of social control are harder to implement if your geography is dynamic by virtue of being on the sea or being in another orbital plane. The social spaces generated by the geographic dynamics (as well as the necessarily smaller societies initially or ultimately allowable) reduce social inertia- for good and for ill, but the point is the reduction of that inertia so as to provide outlets for change, increase social diversity, etc.

These goals are precisely those that are much harder to implement in a large and established society which has a very high inertia, requiring a relatively higher amount of effort to get smaller results.

Brian- I was just making the

Brian- I was just making the point that the establishment of a small anarchic or non-anarchic group might have hidden costs that might not be compatible with the individualist who might be of anarchistic temperament. Sure, as you say, you get away from the inertia that inhibits change in larger society. But, being in a small group you give up some of the individuality you can practice in the anonymity of the large relatively free society we have now. To be successful in small tribal types of government you need cohesiveness, submission to authority, a workmanlike attitude, unity of purpose, etc. If you think it will work when everyone is free to do as they please, you are mistaken.

It is simply true that small groups have enforced conformity and some rather puritanical morality or else become violent dystopias most of the time. You have a far greater chance to express your individuality as a member of the anonymous masses in the modern urban environment. You still have the chance to join with likeminded people you find compatible, without forming your own separate government of bikers, or gays or butterfly collectors or what have you.