Still More Caricatures of Libertarianism


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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123 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    > I blame the Koch brothers. Who do you blame? We
    > all need our super-villains.

    Idiocy Man and his brain-googlizing ray.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If I were hoping to discredit Libertarianism, the first thing that I would do is install Libertarian Policies.

    That’s how the Republicans and Democrats were discredited, after all.Report

  3. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Doesn’t he end the piece by retrieving the label “libertarian” from Nozick and saying that all smart people are libertarians to some degree?

    I didn’t interpret him as caricaturing libertarianism so much as tearing apart the ways in which adherents have themselves caricatured it.Report

  4. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    “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.”Report

  5. Avatar David Cheatham says:

    Look, you guys have an name that the super-rich have, for decades, used informed brainwashed dullards into unwitting pawns who think they shouldn’t have to pay taxes or have food safety, and in return ‘the government leaves them alone’. (While the super-rich rape them.)

    Meanwhile, conservatives who aren’t even the slightest bit libertarian use that label to hide behind.

    Don’t be surprised when slightly less stupid end up believing ‘libertarian’ is also this, but, being slightly less stupid, take objection at this completely insane concept.

    You’re just lucky the conservatives like to keep it as their backup label, or it would be roughly where ‘liberal’ is today.

    Frankly, at this point, if I had a single wish from a genie, I’d wish that everyone became forever unable to use or remember any previous political label (Including ‘right’ and ‘left’.). A nation-wide permanent amnesia, and aphasia if we went and looked them up from reference material.

    Then everyone had to invent new ones that actually mapped to actual policy positions, or at least didn’t map to decades of nonsense.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham says:

      “Good people.”
      “People who disagree with me because they have a false consciousness.”
      “People who disagree with me because they are evil.”

      I can’t think of a fourth.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

        “People who aren’t relevant because they don’t care and won’t vote about anything anyway”?Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, the most important change would be to stop describing things in _relation_ to other things.

        And the second most important change would be to stop trying to map everything into ‘left’ vs. ‘right’. Which, yes, I know is the pet peeve of libertarians…but you people don’t seem to noticing that saying ‘economically conservative’, ‘socially liberal’ is still doing that. There is no such thing as ‘economically conservative’. Or, at least, that’s not even slightly a useful term. If you mean ‘doesn’t like to spend money’, _say_ that.

        I know people have to use the terms other people recognize, so this is a pointless battle, but I think we’d get along a lot better if we’d stop yammer about ‘conservative’ this and ‘liberal’ that, and said things like:

        ‘I’m safety-net supporter. I think we should have single-payer health care.’

        ‘Well, I’m safety-net supporter, too, but I think that we should instead regulate insurance companies and force them to take everyone.’

        ‘I disagree, I do not think we need a safety-net for health insurance.’

        Each issue has positions, and some issues seem to be somewhat grouped together, so could perhaps have sorta ‘shorthand’ positions. Like the noxiously named ‘family values’ position.

        This makes sense, but quite a long time ago we invented ‘left’ and ‘right’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and started using those as shorthand for _everything_. When you have to add modifies and explain your shorthand, perhaps it’s time, you know, to start using most specific terms to start with.

        This is, incidentally, what has screwed up ‘libertarian’. It has become shorthand for the positions of ‘letting people do whatever they want’ on the right, and ‘letting corporations do whatever they want’ on the left.

        Likewise, I’m ‘pro-choice’, and I can’t tell you how many ‘pro-life’ people I run into that, inexplicably, don’t think abortion should be illegal per se. At which point I just stare at them, baffled. I can’t figure out what _they_ think ‘pro-life’ means.

        I’ll make a plead to everyone: Stop using vague positional terms that are over 100 years old to describe things.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham says:

          Are there any words more musical to the ear than “you people”?Report

        • I agree with this entirely. Unfortunately oversimplification is seemingly a necessary condition of democracy, since even people who are not at all politically inclined get exactly one vote. Perhaps instead of scrapping terms, we should focus our energies on clarifying the ones that already exist, even if they’re poorly suited to our modern politics/society/culture/economy kluge.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            Oversimplification will always happen.

            But what the people who are doing the debating could do is agree to, at the very least, not to use ‘positional notation’, and invent new terms to replace ‘economically liberal’ and whatnot, and use them as much as possible.

            Or, even better, figure out if there are obvious places to break ‘economically liberal’ apart, like ‘Keynesian’ or ‘protectionist’.

            Of course, if I could control what people doing the debating are saying, we’d have _very_ different political discussion to start with.Report

  6. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Oyve, so if anyone had to a one thing to gripe with Metcalf’s garbage, what would it be?

    Perhaps I’m feeling particularly closed-minded today, but a particular passage would help me tap into the general animus.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      Apparently I’m particularly incoherent today as well:

      *If you had only one bone to pick with his piece, what disturbed you the most.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Okay…I linked to like ten different pieces, all of which pick at various bones in the piece. Call me lazy, call me what you will, but there they be. Go thence and read and find all the bones you like!Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    It’s actually impossible to have a discussion between a libertarian and/or liberal and/or conservative. Those are labels, people have discussions. To many potentially interesting discussions are driven into the ground because people are acting as spokespeople for a label or aren’t’ trying to have a direct discussion with another person.Report

  8. Well this article made me feel stupid for linking to it because it was so riddled with unforgivable, immediately-discrediting factual errors. So, yeah, I’m not going to defend it.

    But I just want to share some cents:

    1. I don’t think Welch’s argument is praiseworthy at all. Just because Ann Coulter agrees with someone doesn’t make them wrong. This is the same kind of BS that libertarians often have to fend off re: Koch brothers or the like.

    2. As I said, the basic failures of journalism in the piece don’t suggest good things about Metcalf’s level of good faith in writing the piece, so I think charges of strawmanning etc are fair here. But there does come a point where this kind of response sidesteps engaging with the substance of the critique itself. I think we’re all guilty of this one time or another — I definitely have done it in the past — but there’s a line where the one person’s strawman is another’s Truth.Report

  9. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Slimed by the left, Erik? Welcome.

    “A lot of liberals who see all libertarians as less-lovable Ron Swansons nod along with Metcalf as he makes one clichéd assertion after another and the end result is a bunch of readers happily cheering a piece that makes no attempt at all to treat its subject with any sort of seriousness or grace. “

    Forgive me the schadenfreude. It’s more like a misery shared is a misery halved. In this sentiment, we are all vulnerable to leftism. 😉

    I think a lot of welfare-state policies are basically remedial efforts to make up for all the poverty created by cronyism between government and corporate rent-seekers.

    Well, we all need our super-villains. But where there are no governments and where there are no corporations, isn’t there still poverty?

    I just ran across Thomas Paine, c. 1795. as we know a supporter of the revolution in France. Paine was one of the first modern liberals—as opposed to classical liberals—so Paine had that increasingly unrare and acquired talent of being wrong on everything.

    To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe.

    Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures.

    The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.

    Now, I might be able to go with that re 1795, see the excellent old Atlantic piece, “1491”.

    Still, are the “poor” of the US or Europe in 2011 worse off than the Native American in his “state of nature,” a state that showed zero “progress” in 1000 years? I think Paine got bit by the Rousseau bug.

    Now, to your specific point, since we’re approaching a 50-50 split between Peters and Pauls, we cannot say on aggregate that government makes us poorer. And I don’t think the numbers support that corporate rent-seeking makes us substantially poorer: first, that there’s not enough of it to create a critical mass and second, that corporatism does give with one hand as it takes with the other. [The “creation of wealth” thing.]

    The libertarian argument at best then, is that gov’t and rent-seeking is more “opportunity cost,” that more wealth would be created by their minimization or elimination. This is a valid argument, but “creation of wealth” is a non-starter in the leftist mind: wealth can neither be created nor destroyed, only redistributed, in the name of justice and its mutant cousin, “fairness.”

    But no amount of “welfare-state policy” can rectify or even address the “imbalance,” for the problem is not one of asymmetry.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

      “The libertarian argument at best then, is that gov’t and rent-seeking is more “opportunity cost,” that more wealth would be created by their minimization or elimination. This is a valid argument, but “creation of wealth” is a non-starter in the leftist mind: wealth can neither be created nor destroyed, only redistributed, in the name of justice and its mutant cousin, “fairness.””

      The “opportunity cost,” issue doesn’t inform us much.

      I think the mistake is to see liberals as concerned with redistributing wealth, as oppose to securing equitable distributions of marginal wealth, i.e. who gets the dividends of a more productive society.Report

    • Wait — you think the wealth distribution in America is around 50/50? Do I misunderstand?Report

      • Mr. I: Cribbing GBS, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” I believe the UK has crossed or is about to cross the 50-50 line, and we’re getting there. Add in public employees, and…

        Mr. Gach: Perhaps “opportunity cost” doesn’t tell us much, but I do believe it’s the reality of the libertarian argument.

        I try to give “liberals” a break, since I’m a liberal. 😉 But in no why do I think the prog-left appreciates the concept of creation of wealth. It’s outside their constipated notion of justice-as-fairness.

        The mature adult, of course, is willing to put up with quite a bit of unfairness if and when enough wealth is created to support not only the hungry but the ballet, etc., as Mr. Kowal aptly notes was indeed the sentiment on the left in 1964:

        In 1964, The New Republic stated “If ballet is worth having, as we earlier decided public libraries were worth having, go ahead and provide for ballet, even though there is not sufficient ‘demand’ to make it ‘economic.’ This attitude can obviously be extended from ballet to beautifying the country-side, and in a dozen other different directions. With all this wealth we can afford to try.”

        All good things that can be done should be done. But we’re way past that theoretical discussion. Now the mathematical fit has hit the demographic shan, and the left refuses to choose even between feeding granny and the ballet.

        The conservatives want to push ballerinas down the stairs!Report

      • Wait so 50% that work for the gov’t and 50% who don’t? Because in terms of wealth distribution in America it’s far, far worse than that. The wealthy are woefully outnumbered.Report

        • Yas, Elias. There just aren’t enough wealthy for us to eat. Talk about a system failure!

          I dunno if the McArdle blog at the center-left Atlantic penetrates the epistemological open-mindedness of the denizens hereabouts, but here it is in case they missed it.

          Which, it seems, it looks like they did. 😉Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Tom, can you expand a bit on the McArdle link? From the math she cites it looks like we can close up the entire deficit within 10-15 years simply by returning to Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy. That seems consistent with other Bush-tax-cut vs. National Debt analysis I’ve seen suggesting it’s the single largest deficit reduction measure we could pass. Is that the point you and McArdle are making?

            As to the original point, while no one credible is suggesting we eat the rich, the reality is that we certainly could have quite a feast.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to trizzlor says:

              Mr. Trizzlor, you misread and misfigure. If only it were so easy. I’d go for it meself if it could magic-wand away the current $$ crisis by simply returning to Clinton era rates. I’m sorry, I’m not in the mood for remediation just now.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to trizzlor says:

              From the math she cites it looks like we can close up the entire deficit within 10-15 years simply by returning to Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy.

              Read closer (third paragraph). That would only raise $59b per year. Another bracket at 45% would make it $90b. Marginal tax rates going up to 70% would bring in another $192b. The numbers McArdle provides may be wrong, but they don’t make the case that you can close the deficit by going after the rich.

              Neither does the TNR link you provide. It includes all the Bush tax cuts, and not just ones on “the wealthy.” In fact, raising only on those making under $250k per year would raise more than raising it on those making over. If we’re serious about deficit reduction, of course, we would do both and more. Also, the TNR article it says that it would halt the rise of the deficit (in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio), not negate or even lower it.Report

              • I did my own back-of-the-envelope calc for myself when they passed the damn thing and made it about $60B. After listening to years of demogoguery on “tax cuts on the rich,” I’m glad somebody else finally noticed.

                HT, Mr. Trum, for saving me the trouble of yet another pointless remediation. Not that either of our efforts or McArdle’s will make a damn bit of difference. Tax Cuts for the Rich will be a 2012 campaign issue, we may be assured.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Will Truman says:

                My mistake, I wasn’t looking at the deficit numbers in paragraph 4 as cumulative. So Clinton-era rates on the rich would get us about 10% of a post-recession deficit, while entirely undoing the Bush tax-cuts would keep the deficit growth at the same rate as GDP.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to trizzlor says:

                Less than 5% (60,000,000/1,300,000,000) of last year’s, actually. That’s looking at income taxes, though. Revert to Clinton’s policies on the estate tax (which definitionally targets the wealthy) and capital gains (which disproportionately does so) and you get a higher number. But you’ve still barely begun to touch the problem.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

                Well, we’re also missing a couple of hundred billion dollars due to ya’ know, 9% unemployment. As long as unemployment high, we’re gonna’ have a problem with the debt, unless we truly make taxes punitive. But of course, nobody in the Beltway cares about the unemployment because the DOOM OF THE DEBT!Report

              • The problem is health care costs, which everyone knows. You can point to the ACA as a cost-control device; or you can say that it’ll never do the job or even serve as a good start. But it’s not like the idea that health care will sink the economy is one miraculously sprung fully-formed from Mr. Ryan’s head.

                It’s a bit silly to point out how raising taxes on everyone will bring in more money than raising taxes only on the money after 250k of the people who have that kind of dough, though, since, as we know, there are many, many more of the latter in the land than the former. Maybe not as silly as calling The Atlantic center-left (especially in service of linking to the right-wing Megan McArdle, wife of Peter Suderman) but silly still! 😉

                The medium-term deficit problem can be staved off by letting ALL of the Bush tax cuts expire. The long-term issue will require more serious measures.

                But I can’t help but chuckle at those who think that we need to act now lest the boogieman bond vigilante monsters come out from under the bed and eat our children (not demagoguing, of course!). Whatever “savings” we’d incur now from slashing the safety net would no doubt be diverted towards tax cuts and freedom bombs long before we hit mid-century.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Will Truman says:

                It doesn’t make sense to me to take metrics from the bottom of the recession & top of the deficit and then apply them to the hypothetical cuts as if they are permanent, which is why I’m looking at post-recession numbers (60-90b revenue / 700-900b deficit). But nitpicking aside, I still don’t see how this is “barely touching the problem”.

                Being a Donk, I don’t think it makes sense to tackle the debt during a recession at all, but if we have to then a ~10% deficit reduction from taxes increases, and an equal amount in spending cuts is “all” we need to start shrinking the debt-to-GDP, which I would consider a significant accomplishment and putting us on the path to prosperity, etc.

                What’s the end-game for you? Surpluses? When we were running those the Republicans (correctly) said government was taking in too much money and demanded debt-increasing tax cuts (here‘s a fun blast from the past). What level of spending and taxation would you feel takes us out of a “debt crisis”?Report

  10. Well, if you want to watch something fun, take a look at this youtube video. Not serious philosophy of course, but it does sort of make the point….

  11. Avatar jfxgillis says:


    “treat its subject with any sort of seriousness or grace”

    Why? Why should that subject be treated with seriousness and grace?

    A bunch of teenage boys think the world should be organized according to the sensibility of teenage boys. They may be precocious, but really, after a while you just have to tell the teenagers to sit down and shut up while the grownups, you know, get some real work done.

    “I think a lot of welfare-state policies are basically remedial efforts to make up for all the poverty created by cronyism between government and corporate rent-seekers.”

    Well. DUH. Tell me something I don’t already know. How about a force to countevail the corporate rent seekers? Oh NOOOOES. We can’t use government because government is bad, and we can’t organize the working classes because that’s class warfare, we can’t do anything about it except let the corporatists have their way because everything else would get the teenage boy libertarians all resentful about their greedy self-centeredness being challenged by institutions that don’t conform to their dorm-room bullshit-session desires.

    God am I sick of this liberaltarian crap. I finally figured it out though. Like the Republicans who won’t mention Bush, it’s a way for libertarians to avoid facing the crushing fact that their model is useless, stupid, simple-minded, dangerous and inhumaneReport

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to jfxgillis says:

      Maybe the Libertarians should vote for Democrats if they want the US to stop bailing out corporate interests for 100 cents on the dollar, get the Feds to stop busting Medicinal Marijuana dispensaries acting in accordance with State Law, and stop bombing brown people.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to jfxgillis says:

      jfxgillis – yeah, I’m more fed up with people who refuse to have a discussion because they’re minds are so made up they have nothing left to say to anyone.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to jfxgillis says:

      I mean, look, I disagree with libertarians on lots of issues. But still.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Which is to say, it’s hardly a homogenous bunch with lockstep opinions on everything from here to sundry for goodness sakes.Report

        • Avatar jfxgillis in reply to E.D. Kain says:


          I don’t think I agree with that. When every aspect of social organization is reduced to or drawn from a simple principle of transactional relations, it actually IS homogeneous. You can’t be anything except in lockstep when you’re working from such a categorical first principle.

          The only way out of it is to say what so many of your pals on the other thread said, in effect, “libertarianism is always right except when it’s wrong.”Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to jfxgillis says:

      There’s all too many people claiming “libertarian” that clearly don’t give a damn about anything other than their taxes. I wish those people suddenly forgot how to pronounce the word one day.

      About this though:

      “How about a force to countevail the corporate rent seekers? Oh NOOOOES. We can’t use government because government is bad, and we can’t organize the working classes because that’s class warfare”

      Libertarians, vulgar or not, tend to talk a lot about property rights. What the vulgar ones, who unfortunately dominate mainstream discussion, fail to connect the dots on is that being consistent on property means that rent-seeking is equivalent to robbery — and that keeping that consistency demands seizing back the gains from it. Ironically for what “libertarianism” has come to mean publicly, you start poking around that whole property thing and you end up at a rather Left-wing conclusion.

      So corporate rent seeking — hell, I would argue corporate status itself even — is theft, and all property claims arising from it are void. Conservatives don’t even think about this, as it would knock over the apple cart, and they worship apple carts. Thus far, the response on the part of liberals is to qualify and regulate corporatism, while taxing some of the proceeds to ameliorate conditions of the poor. Well…here’s my idea:

      Organize the working class, outside of the state, along the kind of lines previously introduced by the Wobblies (look it up if you have to). Don’t accept and qualify the corporatism, dismantle it and seize back the stolen property. “Class Warfare”? Yes, please.

      The mainstream Left sees the problem, but insists on using as a solution the co-conspirators in the status quo. The most this leads to is bribing people to not revolt.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to b-psycho says:

        Yes, this. Very well said.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to b-psycho says:

        Indeed. My question is when someone says we shouldn’t regulate corporations, I like to play dumb and say, “Wow, that’s a pretty huge change. It’s going to take quite some time to dismantle all corporations all like that.”

        And they start sputtering and asking what I’m talking about, and I point out that corporations _are_ regulations. You can’t ‘not regulate’ _legal fictions_. It’s like claiming that a writer should be forced to ‘set free’ characters in a novel he wrote. People, those things don’t actually exist, we’re just pretending they do. They can’t be ‘free’.

        If someone wants to make a claim that human beings have some sort of inherent right to commerce, fine. If someone takes some land, and grows some food on it, and sell it to another person, fine. Heck, I’m a fairly liberal guy, but I’ll even get behind the libertarians on that, as a moral stance. _Human beings_ should be able to conduct any sort of consensual activity with other human beings, be it business or pleasure or whatever.

        That is nothing like the system we have set up, with limited liability and joint ownership of imaginary thing. Corporations are _not_ human beings. They do _not_ have that right. They have absolutely no rights at all, no matter what has managed to get through the supreme court.

        People _choose_ to make one of those. And we as society will make and subject that created entity to *whatever* damn rules we want. Any rules, at all, period. Those things have a _gigantic_ amount of power compared to human beings, and are _voluntary_ to be in.

        It’s like walking vs. driving. One is just…you. The other is someone in control of a very dangerous thing, and we regulate it. Except, there the analogy falls apart, because we’ve got people driving battlecruisers up and down the road, and we’ve made it legal for them to run over pedestrians. (After all, the pedestrians should have paid more attention to the small print.)Report

    • Avatar Heh in reply to jfxgillis says:

      Power worshiper.Report

  12. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Conor’s post takes issue with this line, “Liberty’s current bedfellows include Paul Ryan (his staffers are assigned Atlas Shrugged), Glenn Beck (he flogged The Road to Serfdom onto the best-seller list), Slate’s Jack Shafer, South Park, the founder of Whole Foods, this nudnik, P.J. O’Rourke, now David Mamet, and to the extent she cares for anything beyond her own naked self-interest—oh, wait, that is libertarianism—Sarah Palin.”

    At no point (someone feel free to correct me) does Metcalf use that identity, libertarianism = self-interest, either in the article or his arguments.

    So Conors remarks, while valid and a good collection of all the reasons for liberals and libertarians to form the libraltarian coalition, don’t have much to do with the piece.Report

  13. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Will Wilkinson says, “This attempt to marginalise two great thinkers is as lazy as it is dishonest. A little light googling is enough to establish the basic facts, but it seems Mr Metcalf could not be bothered.”

    I’ll take Wilkinson at his word, since neither Hayek or Mises are mentioned much in the article, this point hurts Metcalf’s credibility if not his arguments. Metcalf 0, detractors 1.

    Brad Delong corrects Metcalf’s account of Keynes with regard to Hayek,

    “But Keynes did not write this on the margin of any book. He did not write it by hand. He said it in print–“Keynes at his witty bitchy best”, as Bruce Caldwell puts it. Keynes published it in 1931 in the journal Economica–13:34 (November), pp. 387-97, “The Pure Theory of Money: A Reply to Dr. Hayek”, and it was of Hayek’s Prices and Production. It was about Hayek’s business-cycle theory (where, Milton Friedman used to say, Hayek “was not a great economist”) and not about his moral philosophy (where, I would argue, he was a great albeit flawed economist).”

    Again, Metcalf take’s a hit. Delong pulls this nugget out to show what Keynes thought of Hayek,

    “In my opinion it is a grand book…. Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement…

    Again, Metcalf’s piece does not deal head on with Hayek, so I’ll move past this part and chalk it up as another win for the detractors, now winning 2-0.

    The only problem is that none of these things have to do with the bulk of what Metcalf is discussing. His critique may be rubbish, but all of these points attack him for sidestepping/dismissing, not for what he has actually put forward.Report

  14. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Kuznicki wants to say that Metcalf is compounding the possibly morally blameworthy modes of wealth accumulation (e.g. stealing), with the morally blameless ways (e.g. agreed transaction).

    “For a libertarian, it’s only Wilt Chamberlain’s particular type of wealth that is morally blameless, not all the rest. Which kind is his? The kind acquired through voluntary transactions, without coercion or fraud. The kind that comes from Nozick called capitalist acts between consenting adults.”

    Metcalf address this in two ways. The first is that we don’t live in a world where these kinds of presumably “pure” interactions can take place. That is, we don’t have perfect information, we don’t have frictionless markets, etc. If we did have those things, perhaps we might be able to glimpse the pure and blameless kinds of wealth accumulation Kuznicki suggests. Second, where Kuznicki would make it look easy, figuring out whether “consent” exists, or “coercion” occurred is far from easy. And it is exactly in these phenomena that all the arrangements of capitalism arise. Metcalf seems to be saying that in the Chamberlain example, Nozick has introduced a sterile scenario in which our moral sentiments rightly feel the athlete should get his due, but in the process seeks to legitimate all the other forms of wealth accumulation that occur in captialist society.


    ”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. Maybe; and maybe in a socialist paradise, no one will catch the common cold. The essence of any utopianism is: Conjure an ideal that makes an impossible demand on reality, then announce that, until the demand is met in full, your ideal can’t be fairly evaluated. Attribute any incidental successes to the halfway meeting of the demand, any failure to the halfway still to go.”Report

  15. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Aaron Ross Powell’s wants to claim that Metclaf misinterprets Nozick by assigning to Nozick the view that liberty is the one, true, most fundamental value. Rather,

    “I value liberty, yes, but I also value my health, my daughter’s happiness, and films staring William Powell and Myrna Loy. In fact, libertarians, progressives, and even Robert Nozick value quite a lot of things. The libertarian argument is simply that a state that attempts to directly maximize any value besides liberty—by, say, coercively taxing in order to pay for more Thin Man films—violates individual rights. What’s more, if the state does remain limited to protecting only liberty, we’ll get more health, happiness, and great movies.”

    “According to Nozick and most other libertarians, it is for the protection of liberty that we organize a state—and a state that violates its citizens’ liberty (beyond, arguably, certain “night watchman” duties) commits a moral wrong. Metcalf gets that much right. But this is not because liberty is the only value. Rather, it is because liberty is the only value the state should concern itself with. All the other values—of which there are a great many, not all shared equally by all individuals—are the exclusive concern of civil society.”

    “Liberty is not the only value. It is the only value within the scope of politics. Liberty is also the value that allows all the other actually-held values to flourish.”

    Powell seems to be saying that, no, liberty insn’t the only moral value, existing prior to all other values. Only that liberty is the value that allows all other actually held values to flourish, and that by maximizing liberty, we maximize everything people actually value (e.g. health, happiness, movies).

    This is Metcalf,

    ”Nozick is arguing that liberty is the sole value, and to put forward any other value is to submit individuals to coercion.”

    Back to Powell,

    ”The difference between Nozick’s vision and Metcalf’s is that Nozick embraces that wonderful chaos, provided it happens within a framework of respected rights. Metcalf would strike down choice and replace it with state-endorsed value. He would force all of us or none of us to watch Wilt play, placing the decision to be a spectator or an abstainer not with free individuals but with Stephen Metcalf.”

    My eyes have been really blurry, but am I the only one that can’t see a major difference here? Please, someone demonstrate to me the difference. If it’s there I don’t want to miss it and keep sounding like an ass.Report

  16. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Lastly, for now, whether or not Metcalf has Coulter or Nozick “on his side,” has nothing to do, again, with the bulk of the piece.

    I admit upfront that I am not a Nozick scholar, nor have I interacted with the text in question much outside of some secondary lit in college and articles like this. So I’m sure there are plenty of ways to critique Metcalf’s interpretation of Nozick’s writing.

    In addition, I’m sure there are many ways to defend “libertarianism” against his charges. But so far it doesn’t seem like many have put forward a good defense of where “libertarianism” “draws the line.”


    “What we need therefore, in my opinion, is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even the contrary, namely, an enlargement of them. Your greatest danger is the probable practical failure of the application of your philosophy in the United States…

    You admit here and there that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and that the logical extreme is not possible. But you give us no guidance whatever as to where to draw it…”Report

  17. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    E.C. Gach – dude, compile, organize, and submit a damn guest post.Report

  18. “In any case, this sort of thing always bodes ill for the liberaltarian project, if it is a project, mostly because I fear it represents a great deal of confirmation bias on the left.”

    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.”Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      I see you are from the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity school of thought…Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      Seriously, this.

      In a way I’m rather glad we’re mainstream enough to get shot down in Slate.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      Yeah seriously I agree Chris, and it’s not like the liberal blogosphere is rushing en masse to dittohead along with Metcalf. Have very many liberal writers tried to defend his idioticly unfactual writing? I honestly haven’t seen any myself but to be honest I graze in the centerleft fields of liberaldom so I likely wouldn’t know.Report

      • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to North says:

        I don’t know if he’s disowned it since but Jonathan Chait’s original stance was to consider it “must-read” or “essential” — I forget which.Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          Well, if Chait says it’s good . . .Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Will says:

            Interesting, Elias & Will on Chait. Andrew Sullivan’s Trig Palin obsession would have destroyed a lesser man, but he’s endorsed by even lesser men than he.

            Being in the lefty club means never having to say you’re sorry. We shall see just how much and how much shit Jonathan Chait will be obliged to eat in walking back his endorsement of this.

            On a personal level, my props to Elias and Will for the forthright Chait-rake, and to Mr. Kain for walking back his OP when it became clear that even the leftosphere wasn’t abiding such nonsense.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          From Chait,

          “As it happens, Peter Whoriskey has written an excellent report in the Washington Post nicely complementing Metcalf’s point. Woriskey, citing a detailed examination of tax records, shows that superstar athletes, media personalities, and other Chamberlin-like figures account for just a tiny share of the richest 0.1%. Overwhelmingly, the rise in inequality is a phenomenon of rising executive pay.”

          That seems like a legitimate point to raise, no matter how error riddled Metcalf’s piece is.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          And he has a follow up post:

          “Metcalf’s point was that Nozick was seizing upon an unusual and deeply atypical example of wealth, and used it draw draw up rules to presumptively apply to all wealth. It’s like using the example of a man stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving children as the basis for our laws about property and theft. To object to such an exercise is not to deny that morally justifiable theft can exist. It’s just a bad model to build an absolute moral defense of capitalism”Report

          • Avatar Brandon T. in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            E.C.–Nozick’s ASU is a big book. The Chamberlain example had a specific purpose, and it takes up a handful of pages, not close to the beginning. It is not the bedrock of some grand moral defense of capitalism. There will always be bumps in the road between ideal and non-ideal theorizing.

            Does that make a difference to you?Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to North says:

        Mr. North, the leftosphere only lets caricatures of conservatives pass without comment or objection. 😉

        Per a previous comment, yes, I do read this blog and have a passable memory. Of course I recalled you from our enjoyable conversations and would never mistake you for anything but a gentleperson of the left.

        I would be interested in what you consider “center-left blogs.” This is becoming more interesting as anthropology than actual politics. I feel Mr. Kain’s pain, really I do.Report

        • I could use a pointer to a good center-left blog.

          All the ones I seem to find are screaming left blogs.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Pat, what blogs do you consider “screaming left”?

            I’d recommend some center-left blogs, but I’d have to have an idea of what “screaming left” means to you first. For some people, everyone to the left of Lieberman is screaming left, for example.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Kevin Drum is an excellent non screaming left blog. Also Jonathon Chait, Matt Yglesias is usually interesting. Also Ezra Klein. All are thoughtful and good reads.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to greginak says:

              Those guys I know about.

              It seems like the list is these guys greg mentions, and then there’s a big gap, and then there’s Balloon Juice.

              Side note: I’m thinking not about the top posters, but the blog as a whole. I don’t really consider the League, here, to be a libertarian blog, even though a lot of the top posters are. The commentariat is… well, I dunno what we are, really, except a mixed bag.

              Most other blogs I go to, the commentariat skews decidedly one way or the other. Which makes the *blog* a pain in the ass to read. People can write good top content, but if the commentary is all the equivalent of the PZ fan club, I’m not interested in participating.

              And really, blogs ought to be about participating, not just reading.Report

              • Oh, jeez. Your standards are too high. If I had to judge every one of my daily reads by the comment threads, there’d be almost nothing left! This place is a true anomaly.Report

              • Fair enough, I suspected as much.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I’m very slightly embarrassed to say so but I consider most of The New Republic to be generally center left, particularly since Uncle Marty and his crazy hour became less front and center. I was first introduced to the concept of political blogging/websites there and dried my fledgling wings in the gouts of hot air that roared out of the Spine so there’s probably some youthful affection coloring my judgment but they get sneered at by the all of the right and the right parts of the left which places them in the center left by my metrics. There’s always the Atlantic as well. Obviously some of their bloggers are more righty and a few are more lefty but I think the overall tone is center left.

                But I do read some Baloonjuice a bit and NRO of course since it’s helpful to know what the nutbars are saying to each other. And I read Freddie and Cato to try and maintain some sane ballast and lodestones at the tips of the spectrum.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to North says:

                Well put, but the New Republic’s general hawkishness stands out.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            I could use a pointer to a good center-right blog. LOOG is libertarian, not right, and NRO, PowerLine, RedState, etc. are projectile-vomiting right.Report

          • Klein and Yglesias well-represent the wonkish, tunnel vision, focused left. Otherwise, my favorite liberal blogger is Mike Konczal (, who is also rather wonkish.Report

  19. Avatar North says:

    Personally I wouldn’t consider this event much of a blow to the cause of liberaltarianism unless a lot of liberal writers started lining up and echoing or defending Metcalf’s screed. At this point we pretty much have one Liberal writer out there making himself look like a fool on Slate.Report

  20. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Well, this is fascinating. I still don’t know what a ‘liberaltarian’ is.
    Frankly, I think the wheels came off just after the Tertium Quids and aide for the poor, crippled, lame, needy, lazy, etc should not be a function of the general gummint but the state gummint. It’s a constitutional thing.Report

  21. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Dude! We got Hit and Runned!Report