The rise and fall of libertarian thought

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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62 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    With libertarianism everywhere, it’s hard to remember that as recently as the 1970s, it was nowhere to be found. Once the creed of smart set rogues, H.L. Mencken among them, libertarianism all but disappeared after the Second World War. What happened?

    I’d want to say that between the second World War and the 1970’s, we had the Iron Curtain. We were, by definition, a free country and “libertarianism” would be to gild the lily. Only extremists would believe that we needed to be even *LESS* like the Soviet Union.

    I’d also point out that the other thing that happened was Johnson’s “Great Society” was followed pretty quickly by the “War On Drugs” at which point Libertarians had something to talk about other than a silly compare/contrast with the Soviets.

    When did Libertarianism *REALLY* get on the map as more than just “Republicanism for Pot Smokers”?

    If I had to guess, I’d say with 1992’s election. Perot signaled something… interesting. Harry Browne was the most interesting Libertarian since Anderson. And, of course, The Wall was gone.

    And why is it making such a splash now even though nobody had ever heard of it in 1960?

    Go to the airport and watch them ask for your papers. Read about SWAT teams kicking down doors and shooting dogs. Look at how we have more people incarcerated than anybody except, maybe, China.

    There’s no Russia to compare us to anymore. It’s just us vs. what we used to be.Report

  2. Avatar RTod says:

    I had never heard of the Chamberlain Argument until now, and I must say as a ball fan I find it fascinating.

    It is interesting, mostlyt, because of all that it does *not* say about how basketball works. Because knowing what I know about Wilt, and the bottom tiered guys he played with most of his career, this question sticks out:

    How much would Wilt make if he were paid in direct relation to his comparative popularity, and consequently the 11 other guys on the Warriors decided they couldn’t afford to have b-ball be their career? Would all those millions of people pay that 25 cents to watch him stand on a court by himself and dunk the ball over an over for two and a half hours? Doubt it.

    I don’t know if Nozick was much of a basketball fan, or if he just used Chamberlain because he was really famous at the time – but if it was the former, the irony is shocking. Chamberlain the player could almost have been used as a poster boy for why the Chamberlain the argument was flawed: The NBA was always had it’s handful of Wilt-like players who perfectly exemplify Nozick’s picture: enormously popular players that people paid to watch, and whom coaches and GMs allowed to be the focal point of the team to that team’s detriment. Think: Larry Johnson, Vince Carter, Domonique Wilkens, McGrady, Carmelo, Iverson… LeBron?

    This model of focus on the superstar that packs the seats first, and the overall success of the team second (if at all), leads to poor ball, underachieving careers, a noticeable absence of rings, and – for a big chunk of the 70s and the 90s – a dwindling customer base that was hostile to this meme.

    Interesting, then, that this is an argument for the wisdom of the individual over the collective.Report

    • Avatar jfxgillis says:

      RTod:

      “I don’t know if Nozick was much of a basketball fan, or if he just used Chamberlain because he was really famous at the time – but if it was the former, the irony is shocking.”

      Well, he was a tenured professor in Boston when the Celtics were great. He could not have not known. In fact, if I had to guess I’d say it was deliberate bit of impishness. Maybe a shot at Rawls? He was apparently a sports fan, though I presume Red Sox more than Celtics:

      http://bostonreview.net/BR33.2/rawls.php

      Even at the time I thought the Wilt argument was silly because it rests on compensating random DNA combinations. Seriously. Why is that even theoretically “just”?Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        I thought the Wilt argument was silly because it rests on compensating random DNA combinations. Seriously. Why is that even theoretically “just”?

        You’re missing the point of the argument. This is not about whether we compensate morally praiseworthy traits.

        It says this:

        Consider an initial state of material equality, which even the most radical egalitarian would not consider unjust.

        Is it unjust for me to pay 25 cents to watch (let me modify the example) steven tyler sing? (seriously what can you get with 25 cents nowadays) (Unless you are making the claim that it is unjust because he ought to be singing for free as he didnt do anything to deserve the good genes that game him his voice)

        If yes, why?

        If not, then it shouldn’t be unjust for 399 999 others to do the same.

        Now after playing Steven tyler finds that he is $100 000 richer than everyone else.

        Since the initial starting point was not unjust, and each transfer was not unjust, then there cannot be anything unjust about the fact that steven tyler is $100 000 richer than anyone else. i.e. there is nothing intrinsically unjust about wealth inequality.Report

        • Avatar jfxgillis says:

          Murali:

          Man, I wish I had a dollar for every time some libertarian told me I missed the point. I’d be properly compensated with untolled millions for the waste of my time .

          “Anarchy, State and Utopia” is fundamentally a text of argument from moral first principles. It defines justice, then proceeds more or less syllogistically to determine whether certain human behaviors fall inside or outside the boundaries of justice.

          “Is it unjust for me to pay 25 cents to watch (let me modify the example) steven tyler sing?”

          Why, Yes indeedy, it would be. Strangely, Stephen Tyler pretty much got his start singing for free about 100 yards from Nozick’s office at exactly the time he first came to Harvard, at the Saturday afternnon free concerts/dope markets on Cambridge Common in the early 70s. I wuz there.

          The dope market, I mean, not Harvard.

          Actually, if I really felt like arguing it I’d suggest that “just” and “unjust” simply aren’t the proper framework in which to assess the paying of a quarter to hear, but I’ll go with Yes, it’s unjust predicated on the condition that actions that cannot be defended positively as “just” are by definition “unjust.”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            In a comment in which Stephen Tyler appears, JFX Gillis says, and I’m quoting here, I’ll go with Yes.

            I think we know all we need to know.Report

          • Avatar Ru fus F. says:

            If I had a time machine, I’d probably go back to mid to late 70s Boston. The Modern Lovers, Lyres, The Real Kids, The Nervous Eaters, DMZ- holy shit! Cleveland was also good at that time.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            Why, Yes indeedy, it would be [in reference to to the whether or not paying 25 cents to see steven tyler sing would be an injustice]

            Fantastic, now explain why.

            Strangely, Stephen Tyler pretty much got his start singing for free about 100 yards from Nozick’s office at exactly the time he first came to Harvard, at the Saturday afternnon free concerts/dope markets on Cambridge Common in the early 70s.

            I wonder how this is relevant

            I wuz there.

            Dude, you’re old man!

            Actually, if I really felt like arguing it I’d suggest that “just” and “unjust” simply aren’t the proper framework in which to assess the paying of a quarter to hear

            If that’s the case then neither can just or unjust be the proper framework to evaluate the resulting wealth distribution.

            but I’ll go with Yes, it’s unjust predicated on the condition that actions that cannot be defended positively as “just” are by definition “unjust.”

            Then your definition of unjust is so wide that it has no bite. My casual purchaces cannot be positively defended as just, and are therefore unjust according to your definition. Yet that cannot lead you to the conclusion that I ought not to do it let alone that the state ought to regulate or forbid me from doing so.

            Rather, a more reasonable alternative is that my casual purchases are permissible according to rules that can be defended positively as just. While Nozick in this instance fails to go deep enough to justify said rules, I could justify those rules by reference to Rawls’s 2 principles of justice. Though, of course as a Rawlsian libertarian, I am an extremely odd creature.

            The thing is this: if one were to mount a serious critique of Nozick, there are places where Nozick is weaker. One should also note that abolishing Nozick’s specific arguments does not refute libertarianismReport

            • Avatar jfxgillis says:

              Murali:

              I already did. Compensating someone for a random combination of DNA strings (or, for that matter, for some non-random combinations like Prince William’s) is unjust. That puts Wilt, Tyler and Prince William all in the same category.

              It’s relevant because you’re the one who sneered at the idea of Tyler singing free.

              “If that’s the case then neither can just or unjust be the proper framework to evaluate the resulting wealth distribution.”

              As I said, if I were being strictly formalistic, that’s probably the argument I’d make.

              “Then your definition of unjust is so wide that it has no bite. ”

              And Nozick’s is so narrow it’s all bite.

              “… my casual purchases are permissible according to rules that can be defended positively as just.”

              You see, it’s not about you and your casual purchases, it’s not about Nozick, Wilt or Tyler as individual parties to a transaction. The idea that human social behavior and organization can be reduced to a set (no matter how large) of individual transactions is simplistic and adolescent.

              The instant, the very instant, you begin to generalize from those individual transactions–from paying a quarter to Wilt or Tyler to “rules that govern the paying of media of exchange to sex-addicted basketball players and dope-addled rock singers,” it starts to get complicated and ambiguous as those rules try to govern things like externalities, imperfect information, random chance, duress, etc. Then suddenly we’re not living in a world of seven-foot thought experiments anymore.

              “One should also note that abolishing Nozick’s specific arguments does not refute libertarianism.”

              No. It’s proven inability to encompass viable institutions of social organization does that all by itself.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                already did. Compensating someone for a random combination of DNA strings (or, for that matter, for some non-random combinations like Prince William’s) is unjust. That puts Wilt, Tyler and Prince William all in the same category.

                There’s 2 ways to interpret what you said. The first way is saying that lucking out on the genetic lottery does not provide a sufficient basis for monetary compensation.

                Fair enough. While it would be wonderful debate the notion of desert bases and how we can deserve things in virtue of possessing the desert bases even though we don’t deserve the desert bases themselves, I am not claiming that libertarian policies are justified in virtue of the fact that they satisfy some notion of desert.

                Rather, I am claiming that libertarian policies are justified in virtue of said policies best conforming to Rawls’s 2 principles of justice. It just happens to be the case that it allows superstars to get outsized compensation.

                The second way to interpret what you said is to say that any distribution in which the genetically lucky are better off than their less fortunate counterparts is unjust. Now this is a simplistic and adolescent view to take. (meaning I believed it when I was an adolescent, and then I grew up)

                And Nozick’s is so narrow it’s all bite

                Hardly true. But let’s compromise anyway and go with Rawls’s notion of justice.

                The idea that human social behavior and organization can be reduced to a set (no matter how large) of individual transactions is simplistic and adolescent

                Hardly. What is right for me to do is similarly right for others to do and vice versa. That’s what it means to talk about morality of which justice is a part.

                it starts to get complicated and ambiguous as those rules try to govern things like externalities, imperfect information, random chance, duress, etc. Then suddenly we’re not living in a world of seven-foot thought experiments anymore.

                All those are taken into account when we start talking about rules.

                The fact is that progressive statism fails to grapple with both abstract justice in failing to grasp the nature of the problem as well as with empirical reality in failing to grasp the type of solution that can sustainably reduce and eliminate endemic poverty over the long term.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “It is not fair that Brad Pitt is that good looking while I am fat and bald.”

                This is a statement that makes sense to me.

                “Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to rectify this injustice.”

                This statement freaks me the hell out.Report

  3. Avatar Steve Horwitz says:

    It would take me twice as long to examine all of the strawmen, fallacies, and just plain errors of fact in this really awful article. Seriously, it’s awful. Your co-blogger Jason takes it down nicely at Cato@Liberty today.

    I’ll just point out that like so many other recent attacks on libertarians and libertarianism by the left, this guy just MAKES SHIT UP.

    For example: “But between them, Von Hayek and Von Mises never seem to have held a single academic appointment that didn’t involve a corporate sponsor.”

    Totally, utterly false. Hayek’s post at the LSE where he became famous was as the Tooke Professor, and was not sponsored by any corporate dollars at all. His appointment at Chicago was on the Committee on Social Thought (not the Economics dept), and as far as I know his specific position, if not the whole CST, had no corporate support. The same was true with his job at Freiberg after he left Chicago. The guy has a Nobel Prize for a reason.

    As for Mises, it’s a bit more complicated. He didn’t have a genuine academic appointment in Vienna in the 10s and 20s mostly because let’s just say it wasn’t a great atmosphere for a radical liberal and a Jew. There is plenty of documentation of the role of anti-Semitism in denying him an appointment, but even so, he made his money the old fashioned way: in the private sector and by writing books and other works.

    When he came to the US in the 40s, after escaping the Nazis mind you, he had a few options for regular academic appointments, but having lived in cosmopolitan, urban Vienna, he was insistent that he be someplace like New York, hence the position at NYU which was indeed partially funded by private money. Of course he was in his 60s when he took it, and, again, it’s not like he didn’t have options.

    I could go on. But really, if you think the Metcalf piece is good, you really don’t know much more about libertarianism than he does, given the errors it contains.Report

  4. Avatar Steve Horwitz says:

    And, by the way, Nozick NEVER repudiated his libertarianism. That too is just more of Metcalf making shit up.

    http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/NozickInterview.htm and

    http://www.cato.org/events/021021bf.html

    When the author can’t get the thesis that gives him his title correct, it shouldn’t surprise us that the rest of the piece is equally bad.

    (For example, his apparent claim that libertarians endorse any and all concentrations of wealth, or believe in “frictionless markets” and the like – more just making shit up.)Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Metcalf’s “critique” of the Chamberlain argument seems wrong, because the argument as Metcalf describes has a critical difference from the description on Wikipedia. The latter claims that the watchers give 25 cents directly to Chamberlain and that “no other transactions occur”, whereas Metcalf describes a situation where Chamberlain signs a contract saying that he receives 25 cents from each ticket.

    Metcalf then goes on to rail against all the other people who get money from that ticket price, but given that he gets one of the fundamental aspects of the argument wrong–money is given to Chamberlain directly by the spectators, not paid to him as a salary–it’s difficult to take the rest of his complaint seriously!

    (And then there’s Metcalf’s claim that Nozick used Wilt Chamberlain specifically to race-bait listeners into agreeing with him…)Report

    • Avatar jfxgillis says:

      Density:

      Personally, I think libertarianism is simplistic, adolescent, faux-philosophizing, but since I’m a nice guy I’ll give a genuine “natural experiment” that matches the Wilt argument pretty closely. No need to give me credit.

      For years Tiger Woods promised his caddy Stevie Williams that he’d play the New Zealand Open “someday,” (it’s ordinarily a minor stop on a minor tour).

      The year before Tiger made good on the promise tickets were $25. The year he played tickets were $200.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Incidentally, it’s not surprising to see the “consider the source, these people are PAID SHILLS” argument being used in economics. It was pretty common over in the Global Warming debate.Report

  7. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I’m going to have to echo other commenters in saying the Slate piece is just deeply flawed and full of straw men.Report

  8. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Was libertarianism ever more than an abstraction tossed around by men of letters? If not, it really couldn’t “fall.”

    I’d say that it has been absorbed as much as is practical by the culture, specifically its home Anglo-American culture. Although the “Anglo” part seems to have been subsumed by Continentalism/humanism, i.e., Eurostatism.

    America, libertarianism’s once and future and never home!

    What is true in Adam Smith is not theoretical, a priori stuff. His Wealth O’Nations isn’t prescriptive as much as descriptive of a phenomenon, “capitalism” for lack of a better term. But of course, Smith is a “liberal” in the sentimental Christian and/or humanist sense of looking out for fellow man—it took until the 20th century to come up with a post-Christian, post-humanist abomination like Ayn Rand.

    If I may drop a thought in here, looking through Hayek claiming his differences with Rawls were more cosmetic than substantive—and yr pal Will Wilkinson is all over this “Rawlsekianism”:

    http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2004/11/16/more-on-hayekrawls-fusionism/

    Mr. Kain and others are trying to find a coherent way to a “liberaltarianism.” This would have the benefit of seeming fresh and original, and rock no boats with the chattering class—the left to center-left that populates, dominates and regulates faculty lounges and the professional “mainstream” commentariat. Plus they fucking hate “conservatives” and the great unwashed who support them.

    But Hayek isn’t “Hayekism” as we know it, and as one of Will’s comments suggests, John Rawls’ son maintains he wasn’t quite a leftist. And Adam Smith was not “the apostle of capitalism,” and Edmund Burke, the “godfather of conservatives,” would have choked at being called a Tory [as Hayek notes in “Why I Am Not a Conservative”].

    And from my own studies of the literature of the American Founding, I argue strongly that the whatever the “real” John Locke is upon close reading, it was not the Founders’ John Locke, not Locke as they understood him.

    For even the hoi polloi just wants the executive summary, the bullet points, the dynamics. We respond to the dynamics, and indeed, once the great and dynamic thinkers start walking their boldest principles back—as they do and must, lest they end up like Socrates or Algernon Sidney—we are left with either wisdom or muddle, usually the latter.

    IOW, to sum up [!], Hayek with a safety net gets very close to Rawls without a leftist Leviathan.

    Philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” not the love of truth. Prudence is a component of wisdom; truth—which is to say those who believe they possess the truth—gets impatient, even disdainful of caution and prudence.

    Genuine philosophers get along pretty well, regardless of their differences and provisional views of what is true. Only ideologues fight about truth and their competing visions of it.

    Is Rawlsekianism possible? Heh. We already have it: it is both and neither but Rawls and Hayek would be better with it than Rawlsians and Hayekians are.

    Dunno about Nozick. Mebbe he got a hand in there somewhere too…Report

  9. Avatar rj says:

    What say you — little more than a gussied-up “na-na-na,” an unfair depiction of libertarian thought, the fundamental argument for “pragmatism” as the best political lodestar, or none/all of the above?

    It’s not a “na-na-na” taunt, he’s making the argument that doctrinaire libertarians are a lot like the campus communists I was surprised to find still existed when I went to college a decade ago. The massive failure of communism across half of the planet didn’t convince them that it was unworkable. Real people in the real world didn’t implement those abstractions on the page to their satisfaction. It wasn’t really communism that caused stagnation, corruption and repression, they said. Because that’s not what communism is.

    Similarly, libertarians have a tendency to dismiss any failure of the price signal specifically or free markets in general due to a “distortion” in some part of the economy that touches the failure in question.

    To an extent, this is a legitimate argument to make. After all, we don’t do chemistry experiments in dirty test tubes, so why discount theoretical arguments by what happens in existing systems and societies?

    Still, we have political philosophers and economists because we want to know why the world works and how it might work if things change. Hayek explained why planned economies fail. Nozick fails to plausibly explain how things work or how they would work if people listened to him.Report

  10. I think this should be the definitive proof that Metcalfe’s piece is unadulterated bunk:
    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/06/yes-it-is-another-slate-fail-edition.html

    I thought that Keynes quote seemed fishy. If Slate merely employed a mediocre google user as a fact checker, this piece would not have ever seen the light of day.Report

    • Christ. Well, that’s the last time I bother blogging about anything from Slate! There’s a difference between being contrarian and being straight-up sloppy/lazy/unprofessional…Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        DeLong vs. Slate? Kinda like Iran v. Iraq from this chair. Hitler vs. Stalin.

        [Oh no! Did TVD say that? The Holocaust vs. the Gulag? Oh, don’t douchebag this, you know what I mean.]

        As I’m dispositionally apologist and not polemicist, it makes me want to take up poor Mr. Metcalf’s case. Perhaps I’ll dig into his nonsense further and see if there’s anything salvageable.

        Or not. Heh heh.Report

        • I’d go with not. The stuff I tried to point out in the post is, to my mind, still worth discussing in the abstract (ymmv), but the # of errors of objective facts pointed out here and elsewhere is pretty discrediting. I honestly don’t understand how Slate could not have fact-checkers — it’s owned by the damned WaPost!Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Pls permit a laugh on this, Brother Elias. 🙂

            I honestly don’t understand how Slate could not have fact-checkers — it’s owned by the damned WaPost!Report

            • T-in-C, my man.

              Everyone knows Fred Hiatt is a merciless stickler for The Facts.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Cheers on the t-in-c, Elias. And I have missed the whole point of this “liberaltarianism.” A comment on Will Wilkinson’s blog:

                Maybe I got the wrong impression, but I thought the liberaltarianism was aimed much more at liberal opinion makers and pundits than at the rank and file. The idea being to convince someone like Matt Yglesias, that really, libertarian policy ideas can further progressive goals. Once opinion makers claim these ideas as their own, an intermural debate will ensue, but it will liberal arguing against liberal, deepening the place of the libertarian ideas within liberal thought. Kind of like the movie Inception, if you have seen it.

                D’oh! Of course! What was I thinking? It all makes sense now.Report

          • I am pondering the question about whether the question of who signs a thinker’s paychecks is relevant. I think there are some circumstances where it might, but they tend to be in the specific more than the general, and specifically when trying to understand a thinker’s deviation from the general in the specific. If that makes sense. IOW it should only ever be relevant to those who agree with the thinker in the general but have questions as to the basis for a particular deviation. But even then, I am not sure it should be terribly relevant- an argument in general should either be viewed as sound and persuasive or not sound and persuasive on it’s own merits. The one possible basis for relevance would I think be in terms of deciding how much effort to put into fact checking the claims made by the thinker versus how much is appropriate to take on trust.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Be careful, if you go too far in the other direction, you may find yourself equally dismissable. Like, if you’re a fireman and a Libertarian? You should be ashamed… taking money from people when you don’t even think you should help them!Report

              • Aye. That direction bugs me as well. Metcalfe’s argument demonstrates why: the validity of Hayek and Mises is to be questioned because their checks were (allegedly but not really) written by private interests, whereas the validity of Nozick is to be questioned because his checks were traceable to, ugh, not private interests.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Oh gosh yes. Popcorn all around.Report

      • Pretty much, though occasionally I think Dahlia Lithwick does some pretty good work and even commits journalism from time to time.

        This Metcalfe piece is uniquely bad, though. Another big error I see in his piece is the claim that Anarchy, State, and Utopia was written as a philosophical defense of capitalism. Yet the word “capitalism” does not seem to appear anywhere in the book. At the very least, it does not even appear in the index.

        Then of course comes the claim that libertarianism died after the Second World War, which is a giant WTF since the works that generally mark the foundation of the modern libertarian movement were in fact written in the midst of WWII. Oddly this costs Metcalfe an opportunity at a much more accurate swipe along these lines, since it would be more or less fair to say that libertarianism (or its precursors, to be more exact) withered because of the Great Depression and the New Deal, with Road to Serfdom and The Fountainhead roughly marking the beginning of its comeback.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Just read the DeLong reply. I’d thought the Keynes quote was strange, because it seemed so completely the opposite of what he’d publicly said of The Road to Serfdom.

      I figured either that quote was off or Keynes was being duplicitous when he praised RtS in public. (He was duplicitous, on occasion, but clearly not on this, as DeLong helpfully documents.)Report

  11. Avatar Will says:

    Leaving aside the accuracy of Keynes’ remarks, I think there are some things worth talking about (and criticizing!) in this essay.

    The thing that I found most implausible is the outsized political influence Metcalf attributes to a Harvard philosophy professor. A few superficial rhetorical similarities between “Anarchy” and a Thatcher speech don’t come close to proving the sort of causal connection Metcalf blithely draws between a relatively narrow strand of intellectual libertarianism and the conservative counter-revolution.

    The other thing that bothers me is taking on Nozick in 2011 feels like a tremendous dodge. Many libertarians – including, I think, all of the libertarians who contribute to this site – have basically internalized Rawls’ larger point and made their peace with the ideas of redistribution and social insurance. The focus of political libertarianism is not returning to some minarchist paradise, but refashioning the welfare state through libertarian means. That project may be vulnerable to corporate co-option or guilty of providing an intellectual veneer to right-wing identity politics, but these are issues Metcalf chooses to ignore.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Many libertarians – including, I think, all of the libertarians who contribute to this site – have basically internalized Rawls’ larger point and made their peace with the ideas of redistribution and social insurance.

      We’re all liberaltarians now!Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      The more I think about this comment, the more I’d like to associate myself with it.

      I don’t see Nozick as an organizational man at all. But for the work of others, his influence would have been almost nil.

      The two people I think did the most to shape the modern libertarian movement were Murray Rothbard and Baldy Harper. Nozick’s book is excellent, and I happily teach the Cato interns from it, but Nozick the man never did much to help the Rothbard-Harper movement.

      Attacking Nozick is also strange because a hit piece on Rothbard would have been trivially easy to write, would have hit closer to the mark, and I frankly dread having to defend the guy on a lot of what he wrote.

      In any event Metcalf’s definition of liberty is pretty weird too — and Burkean, even: “It’s obvious to me that some combination of civil rights, democratic institutions, educational capital, social trust, consumer choice, and economic opportunity make me free.”

      What makes you free is that I and most other people generally leave you the hell alone. Various institutions may make that easier or harder, but let’s not confuse the background with the object in view.Report

    • The focus of political libertarianism is not returning to some minarchist paradise, but refashioning the welfare state through libertarian means. That project may be vulnerable to corporate co-option or guilty of providing an intellectual veneer to right-wing identity politics, but these are issues Metcalf chooses to ignore.

      I find this utterly fascinating. When put into these terms I can’t for the life of me find much reason to see libertarians and contemporary liberals/progressives as especially distinct entities. I know we have the liberaltarian concept now, but I was under the impression that it represented a vanguard and/or fringe bloc of the broader libertarian community (insofar as we could measure such a thing). I mean — a libertarian who can accept modest levels of taxation and a — more localized, smarter, better — welfare state? Sounds good to me.Report

      • The liberaltarian argument is in no small part that libertarianism and modern liberalism share common intellectual roots. There is a reason, too, why many libertarians prefer the term “classical liberal,” and Hayek himself argued in RTS that many/most socialists were just classical liberals who had gone astray. Since that time I would argue that most Western liberals have moved far enough back from the type of central planning that Hayek was most concerned with such that the differences in practice are at least bridgeable. This is less the case today than it was three years ago, perhaps, but it is still far more the case than it was three, four, or five decades ago.Report

        • This is less the case today than it was three years ago, perhaps, but it is still far more the case than it was three, four, or five decades ago.

          Pre-Obama, you mean? If so, I’ve got my own thoughts on this (mainly that the Obama presidency hasn’t changed much other than revealing the different emphases each group is willing to place on ends/means).Report

          • Not so much pre-Obama as pre-recession. The diagnosis of the causes thereof is, to say the least, more than a little divergent. I don’t think there’s any doubt that liberals on the whole have moved in a less pro-market direction in the last few years, while the libertarianism on the whole has decidedly moved in a more anti-government direction.Report

      • Avatar Will says:

        “When put into these terms I can’t for the life of me find much reason to see libertarians and contemporary liberals/progressives as especially distinct entities.”

        Probably because empirical debates can get just as nasty as debates over first principles.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        When put into these terms I can’t for the life of me find much reason to see libertarians and contemporary liberals/progressives as especially distinct entities.

        Want me to fight with the left? It’s easy. Here: Poverty ought to hurt. That way, fewer people will be poor. Subsidizing bad life decisions is a very simple way to guarantee more bad life decisions.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      My number one problem with the Welfare State is that it is as likely to arrest development as foster it.

      There are a dozen things that I think would result more in the flourishing of persons (and grant dignity that welfare does not grant) that we could do.

      I very much think that we, as a society, have chosen a welfare state that is malignant because it is easy to implement and easy to defend and easy to compartmentalize away away from the lives of those who won’t have to live with the consequences of arrested development.

      Given that it strikes me as magnificently unsustainable, I don’t look forward to what will happen when it stops.Report

      • There are a dozen things that I think would result more in the flourishing of persons (and grant dignity that welfare does not grant) that we could do.

        Can I get the top 3?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          There is a lot of land in these here United States. I think that something akin to homesteading would benefit a great many little communities. Grow one’s own corn or wheat, tend one’s own chickens and turkeys, (maybe a little tobacco, wacky or otherwise), and be responsible for one’s own sustenance. To look at a parcel of land and to call it one’s own. To eat eggs and cornbread and to know that you are eating by the sweat of your own brow.

          Will this result in enough food for everybody? Schoolbooks for the children? Probably not… so there will probably be such things as food stamps or money assistance on top of that. The skills learned are somewhat archaic, I’ll grant. I suspect that they grant a dignity not found in much of The Wire.

          There’s a fundamental assumption on the part of a whole lot of folks that success consists of a college prep education followed by a college education followed by a job where one ensures that one uses the proper TPS Report Coversheet and the suggestion that, maybe, there are people who would be better off tending chickens is classist (or worse). I don’t share this assumption… certainly not to the point where I see our current welfare state as preferable.Report

          • This would be cool. It’s like I think welfare is awesome, though. It’s just that between the guy who wants to keep it and the guy who doesn’t and with no other real options I’m going with the guy who wants to keep it. But when the revolution comes…Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Ditto the others. Will’s comment sums it all up nicely.Report

  12. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    To my critique of the Chamberlain example, a libertarian might respond: Given frictionless markets, rational self-maximizers, and perfect information, the market price for Wilt’s services could not stay separable from the market price to see Wilt play. (Visionary entrepreneurs would create start-up leagues, competing leagues would bid up prices for the best players.) In a free-market paradise, capital will flow to talent, until rewards commensurate perfectly with utility.

    What say you — little more than a gussied-up “na-na-na,” an unfair depiction of libertarian thought, the fundamental argument for “pragmatism” as the best political lodestar, or none/all of the above?

    I’d say it’s ignorant. We do not require perfect market conditions for the free market to function. This is fortunate, because perfect market conditions never arrive. What the market can do for us in the real world is to reveal imperfections in our economic activity. Then we can correct them. That’s the real value of the market, at least to the Austrian School, to which Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard belonged.

    It is possible, even very likely, that Chamberlain and other successful, honest workers aren’t getting paid what the mind of God might allot. That’s okay. We’re not trying for the mind of God.

    What we are doing is proposing to use markets as a discovery mechanism. What works a little better here? A little better there? And change things incrementally for the better. Good new ideas succeed if they are allowed to, and these ideas are the ones that better satisfy consumer preference.

    Note also the total absence of thought given to the consumers here. This is not the case in Nozick’s original discussion, in which it is a central point that they went voluntarily to the game, paid their money willingly, and enjoyed it.Report