Misguided Attack on Libertarians (Prompts Some Reasonable Discussion)

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Elias Isquith
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    Where does he call von Mises a fascist? I’ve looked through the piece a few times and don’t see such a claim.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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      He writes: “[I]t is curious that American conservatives and libertarians have not seen fit to discuss the view of fascism held by one of the heroes of modern American libertarianism, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.” He follows it with a remarkably dishonest selective quote that, taken in isolation, would indeed indicate that Mises was a fascist.Report

      • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        So he doesn’t call him a fascist. I wouldn’t consider his quote “remarkably dishonest”—no more dishonest than saying he calls vM a fascists when he doesn’t*—considering the focus in the article is not on foreign policy but fascism’s domestic policy, where von Mises opinion seems to have been “good, not great.”

        *I don’t consider either to be dishonest.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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          Elsewhere in the same chapter, von Mises refers to fascist economic policy as “evil.” A lesser evil than communism, but still distinctly an evil:

          [O]ne must not fail to recognize that the conversion of the Rightist parties to the tactics of Fascism shows that the battle against liberalism has resulted in successes that, only a short time ago, would have been considered completely unthinkable. Many people approve of the methods of Fascism, even though its economic program is altogether antiliberal and its policy completely interventionist, because it is far from practicing the senseless and unrestrained destructionism that has stamped the Communists as the archenemies of civilization. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.

          Democracy might not always be two wolves and a sheep choosing what to have for dinner. But when the major factions are fascism, communism, and liberalism, it certainly is.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        In other words, he claims at most that von Mieses was soft on fascism.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        Whether the quotes are dishonest or not, they’re basically the substance of his charge. And they are eye-popping (so much so that I concluded they must be essentially throat-clearing to a much stronger denunciation). Nevertheless, it’s some pretty arresting throat-clearing. I went to the piece and found that, on the face of your two pieces, Lind got the better of it, because he seems (seems!) to have to goods in terms of quotations. That wouldn’t have been the case had you dealt with them in your rebuttal. Again, these quotations are basically the entirely of his evidence for his claims, and again, they are indeed eye-popping and numerous. So why didn’t you deal with them in your initial rebuttal?Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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          Pls disregard. I see how you deal with the quote now. Since you didn’t restate it, i wasn’t really prepared to see what Lind quotes, so it had the desired effect on me. I would think you would go ahead and quote the quotation so that we can see what it is you are seeking to put in context, all in this piece that purports to do so. So you understand: it’s unlikely that I’ll take the time to click through to your employer’s website for an appropriate treatment of the point you want to make, just for future reference. Some of have day jobs that limit the amount of time we can spend on this stuff.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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            But wait, i see you don’t reproduce the apparently misleading passage there either. Perhaps this is language that is more threatening to you than you are letting on, Jason? Why won’t you reproduce a passage that is in fact text created by von Mises, which is the subject of what you are presently writing about?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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              I most certainly did reproduce the offending passage at Cato, and I linked to it here. Please withdraw the above, because it is factually incorrect.

              What von Mises did was to extend a single rhetorical olive branch to people who sympathized with fascism. He also called fascism “evil” and said it would lead to constant war. This was in 1927, before many people even knew of Hitler, and when most reports of Mussolini were still very favorable, at least in non-communist sources. Saying what he did, when he did, was both brave and prescient.

              What Lind did was to quote that single concession from von Mises as if it were the whole of von Mises’ opinion about fascism. That’s dishonest and craven.

              Now, I could do the same about Keynes, of course, because he had much praise not just for fascism, but for “totalitarianism,” in his own words.

              But you’d dismiss that immediately. Why does it stick for Mises, when Keynes was overwhelmingly more favorable? I quote:

              “Nevertheless the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of production and distribution of a given output produced under conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire.”

              Behold the hero of the modern liberal!Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                So you did. You’re the one with editing privileges, not I – go for it. I think my difficulty locating speaks for the basic criticism I am making here. It remains the case that you did not reproduce it here, which is where I read you.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                (For the reader: the passage Lind uses is included at the end of a much longer passage that Jason reproduces. Nowhere does Jason separate it out in his response to Lind so as to orient the reader to what is the piece of text that is at issue. i wasn’t expecting it to appear unindicated at the end of a long passage. My mistake. I would submit that the conventions of discourse are that if you want to say that something is quoted out of context, it is normal to to show how it was initially quoted so as to give the reader some orientation to the act alleged misquotation. Writerly consideration of the reader, call it.)Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                And I thought that if the complaint was “quoting out of context,” then the remedy was surely to supply the context.

                I’m surprised you found that context so confusing. All I asked you to do was read four medium-sized paragraphs. Was that really too much for you? Wow.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Yes, it was all just too much. I had to lie down.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                The point is, you *didn’t* ask it. There is nowhere where you point out what the supposed infraction consisted of. Which led to all this. None of which amounts to much, as I’ve conceded – you did in some way produce the text somewhere. But I’d be surprised if I haven’t illustrated that your treatment was confusing. Again. Or maybe I’m just dim.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                A few other points which I hesitate to make, because ai certainly didn’t mean to make as big a deal of this matter of the quotation as I have, but on the other hand Jason hasput a number of things on the table, not the least of which is an implication that I think something I don’t, despite my having implied that I don’t think it.

                So:

                – It’s not as if Lind denies these kinds of quotes can be thrown at various figures on the Left from this time; indeed he explicitly places his piece in this context. The piece is basically an exercize in, “You want to take the low-road okay I can take the low road.” Because this kind of low-road approach has been a standard tactic of those attacking the Left for generations now. I don’t claim that Lind means this as only an illustration of the backwardness of this kind of game; I do think he means to retaliate in earnest, which i don’t support or think he is successful at. But it’s not as if he doesn’t understand these things go both ways.

                – Which leads me to the question of my position on all this, since Jason imputed one to me. I clearly don’t believe that Lind’s use of this quotation “sticks” to von Mises. Jason’s post is completely convincing on that. Because jason didn’t explicitly point to the misquotation in his post here, when i clicked to read the piece I was unprepared and quite stunned by the quote. But it is clearly not representative of the man’s thought, as Jason shows.

                For that matter, this entire genre of gotcha quotation wars has almost no value as a general matter in my view. I don’t really know what John Maynard Keynes thought of totalitarianism, whatever small passages someone can produce, and I don’t think it matters all that much. His value to us lies in intellectual contributions he made that don’t really relate all that much to those views. The same is true, for the most part, in the cases of the Austrian greats.

                – But, that being said, I don’t particularly see what would be so damaging to Keyenesenes’ (sp?) reputation even if the particular quotation Jason produces above *did* “stick” to him. I may not be reading it right, but it doesn’t seem to me to add up to much more than the banal Friedmanesque observation that, for example, China could field a stimulus program in a timely, robust way that we just could never manage here because of the differences in our political systems. I don’t see where Keyenes is saying that totalitarianism has earned some amount of credit that will always be attached to its legacy, and perhaps earns his admiration. And neither was Friedman embracing the Chinese model, only lamenting that ours can’t be a bit more expedient and decisive when the situation calls for it. Some might find that mildly objectionable, but it’s hardly damning. Maybe I’m reading it wrong and maybe there are other, more damaging quotes of Keynes Jason could have elected to use here, but I’m not sure I see the damage to Mr. K in this one, even if I did embrace the dueling-quotations model of evaluating the moral weight of rival Twentieth-Century economic philosophers. And I don’t.

                So that’s where I stand.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                These are fair points.

                Now I’ll tell you, from where I sat, what looked to be happening with you.

                You seemed to have come to the issue predisposed — even eager — to see libertarians portrayed as deep-down autocrats. You smelled blood in the water, and you pounced.

                Then I asked you to read a bunch of boring stuff in kind of stilted prose about the long-term power of ideas and the extension of economic development. You skimmed, but didn’t read.

                That was apparently enough — Jason’s dissembling! It’s the kind of error that political bias produces, if I may say so.

                But Lind in that Salon piece also claims John Stuart Mill for an autocrat. Of all people. Which means we should have been suspicious from the getgo.

                This brings me around to your point that Lind might not have been writing it “straight,” and that it was more an exercise in see-I-can-do-it-too. Take that, Jonah Goldberg!

                Still, if Goldberg was his target, why not quote mine the conservatives? Why classical liberals, of which Goldberg isn’t a fan either? Man, the quotes Lind could have gotten on William F. Buckley, or Carlyle, or Churchill.

                And the piece fails in the other direction too, because it’s not as if libertarians were enamored of Liberal Fascism either. There have definitely been the occasional cheap shots at Keynes, for that toadying German introduction to his book. And we may definitely question the wisdom of an economic system that does best in a totalitarian state, if such is really the case. But that’s been about it.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                You seemed to have come to the issue predisposed — even eager — to see libertarians portrayed as deep-down autocrats. You smelled blood in the water, and you pounced.

                You have no reason to conclude this. I say I clicked over and was surprised to find that the quotes said what they did – so I assumed they were taken out of context. All by myself because,yes I skimmed you, and found your treatment confusing. I then wrote a comment saying all that, and saying that I didn’t understand why you didn’t deal with the quotes directly. Then I saw that you kind of did (here), and that you claimed to deal with the quotes textually in your other piece, so decided to take a quick look at that, expecting to see the quote as done by Lind, followed by the full contextual quote. I didn’t see that because I again skimmed (I’m just not that into you, Jason). I didn’t need to read all of the Mises to be confirmed in my pre-existing assumption that you were right, and Lind was playing games, and playing them poorly here.

                But yeah, it’s true. I skim a lot. Guess that makes me biased. Show me where I’m disposed here to seeing things from Lind’s perspective. My point is not that he’s right, but that the way your piece here is laid out and the way his was, he gets the initial better of it as a, because he leads his reader through his point in a more clear way, and you don’t clearly present what you say is a mispractice in quoting. If you’re not interested in that constructive criticism or think it’s daft, so be it. But don’t turn to turn it into saying I’m inclined to see libertarians as autocrats (however suspicious of democracy y’all straight-up admit to being – hey, I’m suspicious at times, too!).

                As for why Lind goes after proto-libertarians rather than conservatives, well presumably that because y’all are the target of high value to him at this time. Why shouldn’t he go after whomever he wants to go after, if he’s already taken the low road? It’s not just conservatives who have used this tactic against progressives, after all. (Do you want to claim no libertarian has ever gone there?)

                And, no I don’t think he’s not writing it straight. He is in earnest taking the low road, as far as I can tell. But it simply can’t be claimed that he was the one to go there first.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                I accept the constructive criticism.

                Let’s talk about this:

                As for why Lind goes after proto-libertarians rather than conservatives, well presumably that because y’all are the target of high value to him at this time. Why shouldn’t he go after whomever he wants to go after, if he’s already taken the low road?

                I’ll tell you why I still see a problem. If you are right, and his real target is people like Jonah Goldberg and other American conservatives who casually fling around the term “fascism,” then he misses the mark when he goes after classical liberals like Macaulay, Mill, Constant, or von Mises.

                The classical liberals aren’t American conservatism’s intellectual ancestors. If Lind had wanted, he could have written a very effective piece attacking Carlyle’s or Calhoun’s defense of slavery, or Buckley’s of segregation, or Churchill’s of colonialism…

                The result is that his piece doesn’t amount to an attack on conservatism. He’s mad at Bob, so he hits Alice instead. Awkward.

                Now of course it’s his perfect right to publish an article ill-conceived on many different levels, including this one. But it’s also my right to point out the nature of the error.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Michael Drew
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                For the record, “Liberal Fascism” was Goldberg’s publisher’s idea.

                And on the whole, he mops the floor with his critics, despite the drivebys. There is a statism that fascists and liberals [I prefer “the left”] have in common. The only difference is anti-nationalism vs. one-worldism. But in the end, they tend toward the same totalitarian place, where every duck is put in its proper row.

                The libertarian, where he truly exists, will not abide that.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                Jason: It’s the Low. Road.

                I’m not defending this; I’m not saying it’s a laudable endeavor in the first instance, and I am not saying that he is even shooting straight. You brought up Jonah Goldberg as if he’s the only person who’s ever done this kind of thing. I certainly don’t think that’s accurate, but I really don’t know. Maybe Lind differs; maybe he’s just going after J.S. Mill because he’s crazy. I don’t freakin’ know, dude. Innocent people get hurt when people hurt crazy people and they lash out uncontrollably in response. What can I say? I’m not defending him.

                Which makes me sad, because Lind has written some things which I admire.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                He’s mad at Bob, so he hits Alice instead.

                Right. Shit happens.

                On the other hand, we know these tactics have been used before. I don’t think he claiming he’s retaliating proportionally against the people who took us there. He’s just taking his cue from the discourse having been brought there, and he felt like going after libertarians that day. I mean, no one’s actually getting hurt here. He can do this, just as, as you say, you can call him out for it.Report

  2. Avatar dhex
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    someone should really find the guy in the rush t-shirt that banged lind’s girlfriend and give him a stern talking to. (mostly about liking rush, though)Report

  3. Avatar Francis
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    In this magic world, everyone has agreed for all time on the allocation of tax burdens? Manufacturers voluntarily discharge zero pollutants? A robust but entirely voluntary charity system pays for health care and living expenses of impoverished seniors and disabled people? Corporations never engage in monopolistic behavior? When banks fail or publicly traded corporations lie, people just accept it? Put simply, people don’t look to their government for redress of their grievances?

    It’s a wonderful idea, Peter Pan, but even Neverland has Captain Hook.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Francis
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      I hadn’t imagined the spot I was talking about to be one that enacted so specific a set of policy preferences, most of which aren’t even my own.

      Even allowing the government full democratic control — absolute, tyranny-of-the-majority control — over everything you ask for, you’d still be leaving the large majority of decisions up to individuals.

      Which is not to say that that’s what I’d do, either. Almost all of these issues cry out for an independent judiciary, not for a democratic vote. I mean — wouldn’t you agree?Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Francis
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      “Corporations never engage in monopolistic behavior? When banks fail or publicly traded corporations lie, people just accept it?”

      You assume the structure of the current financial system and the legal (government derived) perks of corporate status would remain untouched by the removal of their creator & enforcer?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to b-psycho
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        It’s interesting that you chose that claim from a lengthy list to respond to. Are you conceding the others? And even then, the claim that corporations are monopolistic only due to state collusion is without merit: presumably, if corporations are powerful enough to get government to act on their bidding, they’re powerful enough to get their way in any event.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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          presumably, if corporations are powerful enough to get government to act on their bidding, they’re powerful enough to get their way in any event.

          Not wanting to lay on the conditionals too thickly, but if corporations already are this powerful, why do they even bother with the government?Report

        • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Stillwater
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          My claim isn’t that it’s the state that makes corporations monopolistic, it’s that corporations only exist at all due to state intervention, in the form of creating that legal status.

          Maybe an analogy will clear up my view on this: you know those circus performers that walk tightropes? Think of one of them as “the corporation”. Government is the line they’re walking on. Now, send someone up the ladder with a pair of scissors…Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to b-psycho
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            Under what libertarian doctrine would corporations have fewer rights than they do now? They would have fewer opportunities for rent-seeking (perhaps) but fewer rights?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to trizzlor
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              The biggest one I can think of offhand is probably the abolition of intellectual property, or at least its radical reduction in scope.

              Few things would do more to improve the lives of ordinary people, and few would do more to break down corporate power. It’s also a solidly libertarian idea.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Libertarians are against patents and trademarks? That’s pretty neat as I was under the impression that even anarcho-capitalists were for some kind of IP law (just privately regulated … somehow). I’ll have to pay more attention to this.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor
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                Some libertarians are convinced that contract law is the only thing anyone needs to protect their ability to derive income from labor.

                Others are just insisting on the childish interpretation of “property” as “nonduplicatable physical things”.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to trizzlor
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                There is strong, strong skepticism about IP law in general among libertarians. Some would repeal it all; others would cut it back drastically. All basically agree that it’s gone way, way too far. Intellectual feudalism is feudalism just the same.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to b-psycho
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            … if all libertarians thought this way, i’d like the movement a lot more.Report

  4. Avatar JosephFM
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    To the extent your point is correct, though, the reason why a democracy where too many things are up for a vote could be tyrannical isn’t the reason you imply. Quite the opposite in fact; it’s that people don’t like making choices. Choice is stressful, choice requires responsibility. Thus, you have things like county administrative elections where nobody but people with an obvious personal (as opposed to broadly socioeconomic) interest in the outcome even bothers to vote.

    But this isn’t a problem that can be solved by increasing individual choice, because the problem is the necessity of choice itself.Report

  5. Avatar Murali
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    Don’t dismiss too easily the bottom left segment of your quadrant. There is no reason why we can’t limit the franchise of voting to citizens while at the same time allowing massive amounts of non citizen residents: Either permanent residents (who would enjoy all the rights except the right to vote) or guest workers who are non-permanent residents. The key mistake very often is to conceive the problem of justice as between citizens. Rather, it is between residents (which is a class that includes citizens as well), and there is no reason why everyone needs to be a citizen.

    Or for that matter, let me go further and ask why people keep thinking that there is something intrinsically wrong with autocracies. Whether or not an autocracy would be effective at adhering to principles of justice depends (at least in part) on the particular situation of a particular country. There is therefore no reason why libertarians (qua libertarians)should care one way or another about democracy.

    Since properly incentivised and intelligent technocrats would arrive at libertarian solutions to governance problems, the best thing to do is to set up the incentives and let the libertarian technocrats roll.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali
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      Given that I’d also allow very easy immigration, I guess I’d basically agree with the first paragraph, as long as we kept birthright citizenship. I have to insist that too large a group of noncitizens is bad for the political community.

      why people keep thinking that there is something intrinsically wrong with autocracies.

      It is very unlikely that an autocracy would keep to its boundaries. It is also a matter of historical fact that transitions of power in an autocracy tend to be violent. In a democracy, these transitions have the best chance of being peaceful. Because I am in general against war, I’m also in favor of democracy, at the very least in the choice of elected officials.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        While individual dictatorships seem unstable (I’m sceptical about this supposed instability as a lot of this is due to either direct or indirect american policy. i.e. either economic sanctions destabilise the counutry and or a CIA (or state department) engineered coup takes place.) how about one party parliamentary systems. It has the benefit of having the stability of parliamentary democracies without the political infighting.

        Eventually, more and more dictatorships are going to arrive at the Dubai solution: sound (i.e. libertarian) economic policies and liberalisation of civil rights make a place attractive to stay in. This increases the amount of taxes they can get.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali
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          I do not consider Dubai a good model. Indeed, the Emirates seem almost the perfect model of everything that goes wrong when the citizen class is small and the noncitizen class is numerous.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            Now, Dubai does have problems with the civil rights vis a vis police powers. But pace Radley Balko, so do democracies like the US. The fact that there is abuse of police powers in dictatorships is not eveidence aainst dictatorships when democracies share the same flaw.

            Other than that, the biggest problem they seem to be having is a difficulty in organising politically. But that seems to be the whole point of an autocracy. Its not clear that the right to politcal participatioin and organisation is a fundamental right!

            PS. That there isnt a minimum wage should be a plus from the viewpoint of libertarianism.

            Other than that, there are some teething problems which I’m sure will go away soon.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Murali
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      If the problem with government in general is the concentration of power & subsequent use of force to fulfill the interests of those holding it, then further concentration is doubling down on that problem.

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=autocracyReport

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to b-psycho
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        Exactly. The problem with autocracy is the problem that results from any concentration of political power.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck
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          What about the concentration of economic power?Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor
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            According to free-market dogma, concentration of economic power is impossible because someone will always come up with a better way, a cheaper way, or when all else fails a merely different way to achieve a particular goal.

            Another key tenet of that dogma is the notion that when such a way doesn’t exist it’s the result of undue intereference with the function of the market.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to DensityDuck
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              … so a freemarket is impossible in any place with people? interesting. these people should read more smith.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck
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              That’s as fine a distillation of free-market thinking as I’ve ever seen. It does seem to ignore the fact that a bribe is good enough at keeping competition out; that natural resources haven’t been equally parceled out to all citizens by a higher power and so are inherently susceptible to monopoly; or that the world is rapidly converging to economies of scale. These too are autocratic problems, but being dependent on income they are of little concern.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor
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                The assumption is that bribing people won’t work because they’ll just cheat.

                And that while natural resources may not be distributed evenly, the market will develop alternatives for resources which are truly monopolized. For example, instead of crude oil we use tar sands (or electric cars.)Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck
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                Oh I’m sure the market could bring about some pretty effective bribery: buying a competitor out entirely, paying them to sign a no-compete contract, undercutting them until they go broke – all are tools a larger corporation could use to coerce a smaller one.

                The fault I see with this kind of free-marketism is that it assumes people are automata in some game-theory simulation rather than mortal beings with complex emotional dependencies. If I were a *business* then of course it would make sense for me to stick it out with my novel idea until the market finally converges in my favor; but if I’m a *businessman* who’s got limited time to live, a family to support, and no guarantee I’ll survive the next cycle, then eventually I’m going to take that bribe. Likewise, it makes sense for a *business* not to pollute, strip-out natural resources entirely, or falsely inflate prices – what goes around comes around, after all; but it makes sense for a *businessman* who wants to get what’s his and skip out to a private island. Markets are likely to converge, but there’s no telling how long or how widely they’ll swing before they do; so ascribing benevolence to market forces while completely demonizing the state just seems short-sighted.

                Anyway, I’m actually just grateful that you’ve providing answers for what are surely some pretty basic “Ask a Libertarian!” questions.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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      Since properly incentivised and intelligent technocrats would arrive at libertarian solutions to governance problems, the best thing to do is to set up the incentives and let the libertarian technocrats roll.

      This sounds vaguely familiar. Like history has something to say here. I can’t quite put my finger on it…Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Murali
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      “There is no reason why we can’t limit the franchise of voting to citizens while at the same time allowing massive amounts of non citizen residents…”

      Congratulations, you’ve invented Starship Troopers.Report

  6. Avatar Katherine
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    For the last couple paragraphs, a chart would have been helpful.

    More to the point – can you name any society larger than a village where the lack of government has actually resulted in life getting better? You can’t prevent some people from having power over others. In the absence of government, it will be determined by wealth and connections. In the absence of property, it will be determined by physical power.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Katherine
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      More to the point – can you name any society larger than a village where the lack of government has actually resulted in life getting better?

      Western Europe during the Enlightenment. The relative lack of government intervention in religion, the press, and the market was strongly correlated with economic expansion and the well-being of ordinary people in countries like England and the Dutch Republic.

      Still is today, worldwide.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Sorry for being unclear – I was asking about a situation where not having a government made things better.

        I’m curious as to what period of the Enlightenment you’re referring to – the 1700s was the heyday of mercantilism, which was based on major government control of trade. In England it was the time of enclosure.

        I disagree that smaller government is correlated with people’s well-being, though. Our major area of disagreement is economics and similar issues.

        The well-being of people in the industrialized world increased when government took charge of things like providing clean water and sewage treatment, bringing in work safety regulations, and limiting the hours people could be made to work. If your priority is economic progress rather than an improvement in living conditions, government intervention built the canals and railways that were the foundation of 19th century America’s prosperity.

        Life (in peacetime) for the average person improved substantially between, say, 1880 and 1970. For the last thirty years, though, in North America politicians have been focused on reducing government action in the economic realm. And over the last 30 years, income for the lower 80% of the population has flatlined, while that of the richest people has skyrocketed. I don’t think that’s improved things. The same is true of the push for economic liberalization in the third world (Latin America in particular) – its primary effect has been to further impoverish the majority and further enrich the wealthy.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Katherine
          Ignored
          says:

          The Enlightenment was definitely the era of mercantilism, and no European power was immune from it. Still, taxes and other barriers to commerce were notably lower in England and the Dutch Republic at the time. No state back then was anything close to perfect, but the Enlightenment remains the era when the contrast first became clear — sometimes, large areas of public policy can really be let alone, and people will prosper if they are.

          The same remains true today, including in Latin America. Liberalization has been a boon to the world’s poor, one that the current recession has only managed to dent a little bit. But I’d like to expand on present-day economic development in another top-level post. It’s a big topic.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Not sure what “the relative lack” is relative to, but moreover, this completely elides the question of the nature of the intervention you are comparing ot to (whether today’s or what came before), as if “government intervention” is really nothing more than a honogeneous quantity that can be expanded or contracted, rather than a huge category of qualitatively disparate actiosn, with accordingly disparate results. This is a common view articulated by practically everyone rhetorically committed to small or shrinking government, and for the life of me I can’t understand how it tracks with what anyone actually experiences if they think in any remotely rigorous way about the variety of things that government might or might not do – to say nothing of all the kinds of backward perfidies that it undertook under the sway of defective ideas about the world in the Middle Ages and Antiquity.

        How this reality of vastly differing results from vastly differing actions translates into evidence for the simple view that “less government is good; almost none is best” remains a fundamental mystery of the libertarian/modern conservative mind to me.Report

  7. Avatar Francis
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    says:

    “And they vote on very little altogether, because far more things are set aside as matters of individual choice”

    This is the bit I don’t understand. It presumes that individual choice can be satisfied without conflict. Now maybe you can excavate an enormous gold mine in Montana without anyone caring (actually, you can’t — Montanans have discovered that resource extraction tends to create huge adverse externalities) but here in Southern California we’ve chosen to live quite close to each other. So really basic issues — like where the roads go and how wide should they be — are hotly disputed. As are tougher issues — size of police force, regulation of nuisances, provision of water to new development, just to pick a few at random.

    How is it that people aren’t going to care about the outcome of elections? This is how we resolve serious conflict. What’s the alternative, whacking at each other with axes?Report

  8. Avatar Shane
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    says:

    This is all moot since Libertarians actually are fascists.Report

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