No such thing as bad publicity

Christopher Carr makes an interesting counter-point to my assertion that the Metcalf piece “bodes ill for the liberaltarian project” because:

I disagree. For years, libertarians were ignored, like that kid at the high school dance standing in the corner by himself. Now, we’re being bullied which means we’re seen as a threat. These kinds of pieces are great. As Oscar Wilde once said:

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

This is a very good point. The fact that there have been so many anti-libertarian hit pieces means, if nothing else, that libertarians represent a threat to both conservatives and liberals (though I would say the potential liberal/libertarian alliance is more of a promise than a threat, but still…). The Koch brothers have become avatars much more for the enemies of libertarians than for libertarianism itself. So maybe the publicity is, all in all, a good thing. With Ron Paul and Gary Johnson running for the GOP ticket, at the very least we have a new mix of ideas being represented. That’s bound to draw ire.

E.C. Gach also draws out one of the better (and yet most disappointing) quotations from the Metcalf piece:

Calling yourself a libertarian is another way of saying you believe power should be held continuously answerable to the individual’s capacity for creativity and free choice. By that standard, Thomas Jefferson, John Ruskin, George Orwell, Isaiah Berlin, Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, and even John Maynard Keynes are libertarians. (Orwell: “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.” Keynes: “But above all, individualism … is the best safeguard of personal liberty in the sense that, compared with any other system, it greatly widens the field for the exercise of personal choice.”) Every thinking person is to some degree a libertarian, and it is this part of all of us that is bullied or manipulated when liberty is invoked to silence our doubts about the free market. The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.

See how nicely he was swimming along there until that last line?

Ah well. It was a shabby piece with a few redeeming passages. Christopher’s point stands for sure.

Also, this song is fantastic:

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39 thoughts on “No such thing as bad publicity

  1. Erik:

    “The fact that there have been so many anti-libertarian hit pieces means, if nothing else, that libertarians represent a threat to both conservatives and liberals”

    Not really. It’s just that sometimes when the teenage boys are having a kegger things get so out of hand you gotta call the cops.

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  2. Erik:

    “See how nicely he was swimming along there until that last line?”

    Actually, that last line is perfect. Do you know why? Because in the current polity of the USA, not only is justifying predation the primary activity of “libertarianism,” at the electoral/legislative/policy implementation level AND at the academic/think tank/policy development level, it’s the only activity.

    I will concede that at the grass roots level there may be some random anonymous libertarian blogger or LoOG commenter who isn’t primarily devoted to justifying predation, but, truth to tell, they don’t matter. They aren’t bankrolling net neutrality opposition, blocking climate change legislation, or driving support for libertarian social policy like marijuana decriminalization, online poker or gay rights.

    “Libertarianism” IN PRACTICE is nothing but an apology for the dominance of concentrated capital and the shredding of the social contract, and no amount of pretty little blogposts about medical marijuna is going to change that. What is in PHILOSOPHY is irrelevant.

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    • I don’t know, Jack. I’m probably a heretical sort of libertarian. Maybe my most cogent post on my politics lately is this one.

      I think libertarianism is a good starting off point for a lot of political philosophy. I just happen to prefer a more left-wing version of libertarianism. I think it’s silly to simply dismiss all libertarianism out of hand, however. I don’t think your generalizations hold.

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      • Erik:

        “I think libertarianism is a good starting off point for a lot of political philosophy. ”

        I don’t, but I’ll concede both that it could be and/or that that’s a strictly normative judgment unamenable to rational falsification. In fact, I’ll go a llittle further, and I mean this sincerely and without satiric intent: It’s a good starting point for teenage boys. And your teen years are a good time to start thinking about politics.

        I tried to be a little more equivocal and lower the tone a little, so let me clarify. I don’t think I made generalizations about “all libertarians” (at least, not in the comment heading this thread). I limited my point to institutional libertarianism and it’s influence on policy.

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        • Well I might agree with you if all libertarianism was was a reading of Atlas Shrugged. As far as I can tell, most of the libertarians I read – whether here or at C4SS or the various other libertarian/anarchist haunts I frequent – are hardly the sort of thinkers that would appeal to teenagers.

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    • Also, I’m not sure libertarianism in practice is at all what you say it is. I think you’re mistaking corporatism for libertarianism, which is fine because a lot of people *use* libertarian language to somehow justify corporatism.

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      • Corporatism is modern libertarianism, at least in the form that actually gets any traction. After all, of course Reason hate SWAT raids and the drug laws and the PATRIOT Act and even support gay marriage. All of that doesn’t hurt the bottom line.

        Of course, I’d also make the argument that at least in the US, conservatism and liberalism is corporatism as well. But, that’s the cynical asshole in me talking.

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        • Truly free markets, untangled from all the favoritism, protectionism, rent-seeking, cronyism, etc. etc. etc. would *hurt* big business, not help it. The system is so massively screwed up right now – such a farce of a free market – that it’s easy to see why anti-libertarians think of libertarians as corporatists. Carson’s “vulgar libertarian” label too often rings true. But libertarianism, to me, represents the least corporatist path, the most progressive way forward for human society. It’s just that all politics are compromised because that’s the nature of politics. Inputs and outputs don’t always match.

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          • A truly free market has never existed and will never exist. Rent-seeking, favoritism, and cronyism will always exist because that’s how human being works.

            Yes, a truly libertarian society would be good. For the five minutes until an energy plant did the cost-benefit analysis and realized that the costs of litigation would be lower than _not_ polluting the river.

            Just like a Communist society would be good. Until one guy saw the other guy got a shinier apple or managed to get a doctor’s appointment a week earlier because the receptionist is his cousin’s wife.

            But, I don’t care about utopias. I care about reality. And in reality, a well-regulated free market with a hefty welfare state has been the most successful way of running a society. That’s why I support it. Well that and because I hate freedom. [/snark]

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            • Sure, in reality none of our political positions work out the way we intended. No perfectly free market has existed, nor any wholly centrally planned economy. We don’t argue about political philosophy solely based on what has been. Once upon a time no democracy had ever existed either.

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        • Jesse:

          “After all, of course Reason hate SWAT raids and the drug laws and the PATRIOT Act”

          Yeah. I was SO IMPRESSED by the swarms of principled libertarians who swooped into Wisconsin last November to save the Senate seat of the single U.S. Senator who voted against the PATRIOT Act.

          All the resources principled libertarian Daivd Koch brought to bear to save Russ Feingold.

          Made me proud be a Murican.

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          • Were you as proud of all the democrats who stayed home instead of going to the polls to pull the lever for him? Funny to blame libertarians for the poor turn out. Pretty sure I read a few pieces by libertarians who were unhappy with his loss.

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            • I think Gillis larger point is that last November, libertarians actually had a moment to show what they cared about more. The actual growing power of the state when it came to actual personal liberty (PATRIOT Act, etc.) or in their mind, economic liberty.

              At the end of the day, libertarians chose economic liberty. That’s their choice. But, every time somebody points at some pithy amount of money the Koch Brothers throw to a gay marriage group or a Reason article attacking the security state, I know at the end of the day, the vast majority of libertarians will choose low taxes and the modern security state over higher taxes and the dismantling of that security state.

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            • Oh and yes, butt hurt Democrats caused this loss. But I didn’t see any large-scale libertarian movement to save a Senator who actually stood by principles of liberty when it came to things such as the PATRIOT Act.

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      • Erik:

        “I think you’re mistaking corporatism for libertarianism,”

        I most assuredly am NOT. What I’m telling you is that IN PRACTICE, libertarianism is simply one of the tools of corporatism. Climate change. Wall Street Regulation. Corporate, Capital Gains, estate and top marginal tax rates. Health Care Reform. Every single aspect of policy where libertarians hold significant sway in the public arena, they act as agents of corporatism.

        Every aspect where they don’t hold sway–either because their position is too idiotic to be held by more than a tiny minority or because they’re simply a drop in the bucket of a movement driven by others–they don’t matter.

        So, when libertarians matter, they suck, and they don’t suck when they don’t matter.

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        • > Every single aspect of policy where libertarians
          > hold significant sway in the public arena, they
          > act as agents of corporatism.

          Er. What?

          Libertarians hold significant sway in *any* aspect of public policy? Since when?

          You realize that “The Tea Party” != “Libertarians”, right?

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          • Pat:

            “Libertarians hold significant sway in *any* aspect of public policy? Since when?”

            Yes. They do. For example, they got the Commodities Futures Trading Act passed through Congress and signed by the President in 2000.

            The fact that the President who signed it was a Democrat has nothing to do with the libertarian philosophical underpinning of the Act.

            When corporatist interests line up with libertarian principles (except for a few times, like net neutrality, when libertarians invent some bogus rationale to sell their souls), libertarian principles hold sway.

            When corporate interests are indifferent, libertarian principles are a laughable sideshow.

            When corporate interests are hostile to libertarian principles (The Prison Industrial Complex, say) any rare and minor resistance to corporatism is driven by the progressive-populist left anyway. That is why the Climate Change movement is a project of the left, despite a very clear argument based on libertarian principle that is not only feasible, it could be controlling.

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            • Iisn’t that better explained that, sometimes, the corporatists that run everything sometimes get legislation passed that libertarians agree with rather than a rare exception of libertarians passing something?

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              • Jay:

                “Isn’t that better explained that, sometimes, the corporatists that run everything sometimes get legislation passed that libertarians agree with rather than a rare exception of libertarians passing something?”

                Could be. It doesn’t really matter, though. Either way, libertarians enable and encourage corporatism when they agree with corporatists, and are laughably useless sideshows (again, with the exception of worst-faith hypocrisy as with Net Neutrality) when they claim to resist corporatism.

                From my perspective as a Social Democrat, libertarians are either toxic parasites or inert substances. If there were a situation where we could be symbiotic, I’d be all for it. But it turns out, there isn’t.

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                • It doesn’t really matter, though.

                  Well, *NOTHING* really matters.

                  That’s beside the point which was, I think, whether the Libertarians are wielding influence or if, on occasion, the corporations that run things happen to have their interests align with the poor bastards.

                  If the Libertarians weren’t wielding influence, I daresay that the original questions of “Libertarians hold significant sway in *any* aspect of public policy? Since when?” remain unanswered.

                  From my perspective as a Social Democrat, libertarians are either toxic parasites or inert substances.

                  Yeah, you should hear what my Uncle has to say about Muslims.

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                  • Jay:

                    “Well, *NOTHING* really matters.”

                    Not so.

                    Let me try this another way. Imagine the actual practice of politics in the USA system, i.e., the advancing and eventual implementation of a policy agenda, was something like a fluid array of ideological, partisan and focused-interest coalition building.

                    You have a few core blocs derivied from national-partisan and/or sectional interests, none of which by itself is capable of navigating all the veto points to advance a policy, and then a variety of subsidiary blocs representing specific business-sector interests, certain ideological beliefs, or limited cross-sectional but localized interests.

                    Things like Democrats, Republicans, the South and The West are core blocs; subsidiary blocs are things like Airplane manufacturing, air travel businesses, obedient Catholics, libertarians, dock workers, mass transit users, financial firm managers and teachers’ unions (list obviously not exhaustive).

                    Subsidiary blocs DO matter, in fact, they ALWAYS matter because they are always essential to constructing a winning coalition capable of advancing policy.

                    Now. When the libertarians join a coalition of mostly Republicans, a few Blue Dog Democrats and corporatists, the policy is very likely to get advanced. So libertarians matter. You can, if fact, be the tipping point. Corporatist preferences get implemented as public policy. Libertarian principles get vindicated in public policy. You win. You matter.

                    But on most other areas of public policy, the kinds of things to which you pay lip service to delude yourself into believing you act on “principle,” your influence as a subsidiary bloc is either incapable of constructing a winning coalition, or is superfluous to it. You usually lose, and therefore don’t matter, and on the rare occasion where you win those policy conflicts, the winning coalition would’ve won without you anyway, so you still don’t matter.

                    When you assist the corporatists, you’re toxic parasites. When you don’t, you’re inert substances. Give me an example where you advance a policy to resist corporatism, and I’ll concede you could be a symbiotic influence.

                    I just can’t think of an example.

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                    • Ethanol subsidies come quickly to mind. And, well, there is the fact that the very instance you cited as the epitome of libertarian support for corporatism was an instance where the most libertarian members of Congress . . .voted against the purportedly corporatist position. And libertarians aren’t exactly supportive of the military industrial complex.

                      I could go on quite a bit, but eventually that would mean I would have to start going off about CPSIA and liberal support for corporatism. And that would be bad for my blood pressure.

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                    • Well, there’s the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that pretty much made it so that only major toy companies could sell toys in the US and the little local ones had to stop because the guy who carved wooden ducks couldn’t prove that his carved wooden ducks had an acceptable level of phthalates. (Quick! Here’s your opportunity to ask if I care about children getting poisoned!)

                      There’s also the whole “barriers to entry” thing that Libertarians whine about all the time but constantly have stuff thrown in their face about testing and standards and so on.

                      I’m pretty sure you couldn’t think of that because you see your collusion with the corporatists in this case as “caring” and, as such, I’m guessing that you had it categorized as an example of Libertarians “not caring”.

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                    • > When you assist the corporatists, you’re
                      > toxic parasites. When you don’t, you’re
                      > inert substances. Give me an example
                      > where you advance a policy to resist
                      > corporatism, and I’ll concede you
                      > could be a symbiotic influence.

                      Er, I’m not a libertarian, but look downthread.

                      In your own example (the Commodities Futures Trading Act), the two most readily identifiably libertarian members of Congress voted “no”, not “yes”.

                      So in your own set-forth-example, you’ve got libertarians voting against the corporatist law that you claim was supported by libertarian principles.

                      Please to now be providing an illuminating argument that aligns this disparity in reality with your argument in theory.

                      Because what I’ve got it, “Uh, dude? You’re, like, totally all wrong.”

                      (laffin) How is it that I’m defending libertarianism when I’m the self-avowed non-politically aligned dude who is typically tagged as a liberal in these parts?

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  3. Don’t confuse the Internet or cable TV with real life. Yes, places like Kos, Slate, or even MSNBC will attack the right-wing libertarianism that gets pushed by certain sectors of the GOP.

    But, remember, 70% of American’s, including 55% of Tea Partiers (numbers close to actual polling) don’t want to cut Medicare, let alone eliminate it. The welfare state is here and anybody who seriously a forward march on it instead of an end around that the current-day GOP is trying will end up like Barry Goldwater electorally.

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  4. > For example, they got the Commodities
    > Futures Trading Act passed through Congress
    > and signed by the President in 2000.

    Oh, c’mon, man, get fucking serious.

    The 106th congress was made up of 45 Democrats and 55 Republicans in the Senate, and 211 Democrats in the House, and 223 Republicans.

    There was one “Other” in the House in 2000.

    Unless you can show me some sort of substantive analysis to back up this idea that there are a substantive number of people who voted for this act that did so based upon “libertarian principles” rather than “Republican pro-business” principles or “Democratic principles”, I reject this as complete and utter handwaving.

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2000-273
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=s2000-171

    This looks to me like a pretty straightforward party-line vote, with actually more Republicans crossing the aisle to vote “No” than Democrats crossing the aisle to vote “Yes”.

    In fact, who is one of those Republicans that crossed the aisle to vote “No”?

    Nay TX-14 Paul, Ronald [R]

    Hey, the most libertarian Republican!

    I’m neither a Republican nor a Libertarian but your thesis seems weak at best.

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