Holbo on Libertarianism and Propertarianism


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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22 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Nobody ever tries to explain libertarianism at this blog.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

      I almost didn’t post this, for fear it was getting tiresome. I scuttled a dialogue on what “markets” are after reading your explanation, which was better than anything I could have done.

      I swear after this I’m writing about ketchup again.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        As someone who’s closer, ideologically, to Holbo, I had to stop reading him because he is such a horrible writer. I mean, one of the worst I’ve encountered on a major blog (or even most minor ones. He’s pathologically ambiguous and often incomprehensible. So when I read, “if only I were confident I knew what the hell he was getting at,” my first thought, “is anyone ever?”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        No, seriously, Jason, libertarians never take the time to explain libertarianism. I have it on good authority from some of my fellow commenters, and you know we’re a reliable bunch.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

          Don’t let those commentors sour your mood Prof. Remember, it’s your entire audience you’re addressing; not just them. Even in the event that they remain intransigent you may be swaying others who read the conversation.

          North’s third rule of the internet: if you let commentors make you crabby for longer then fifteen minutes away from the conversation in question then you’re giving them too much power over you.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

            Too late, I’ve already done proved your rule.

            I want to emphasize, though, that every time I bitch about “those” liberals, you and Kazzy are at the top of the list of liberals that aren’t included.Report

  2. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    This is probably putting several carts before the horse, but here’s something I wonder about:

    How would one fairly transition from current Reality to a libertarian future? To your idealized future Reality? Or fairly close to it.

    Who benefits and by how much from that transition? How do you choose who benefits and by how much? Is it with our current tools of government? Does the desire for change come from the people? How do you convince those who have it better now to accept a lesser future?

    Yeah, “fairly” needs to be defined. Lots of it does. Ok. Don’t really care to put that much time into this. I just wonder about it every time there is one of these posts.

    These discussions are interesting to me, but I always end up wondering: “Ok, let’s say we do it your way. How do we get there? It doesn’t just happen one night while we’re all sleeping.”

    I always end up realizing that there is a level of coercion necessary, that libertarians would reject, in any solution.

    Feel free to return to discussing the horse and ignoring this cart.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

      Alpha Centauri seems like a good possible launch point. Mebbe Titan.Report

    • You mean like “gay marriage”?
      You mean like “legal pot”?

      There are kinds of coercion that Libertarians are quite content with: specificially, the government involving itself to protect the rights of its citizens against people who would violate those rights.

      Just because we’re opposed to SWAT teams shooting dogs, doesn’t mean that we’re opposed to the use of SWAT teams shooting someone who is firing a gun into a crowded theater.

      It’s just that when we look and see that SWAT teams keep going in and killing dogs *BUT* when someone is shooting up a theater, the idea is that SWAT says “we’ll wait for him to run out of bullets” that we start saying things like “why are we paying protection, again?”Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird says:

        Hey, gay marriage and legal pot are happening without some grand vision of a libertarian future. Seems like more people than libertarians are on board with those ideas. Myself included.

        I’m talking about all of it. These discussions of libertarianism always focus on the theories, not the actual implementation. Or, they focus on general dislikes (your “police bad!” example), without dealing with the struggle of specific implementation in a chaotic world of conflicting priorities.

        I mean, how do you get from here, to where you want the country to be? Incremental change is a fine short answer. But, it doesn’t grapple with the dirtiness of how it actually happens in each area of conflict. Is your goal to try to convince enough people that SWAT teams should attack armed gunmen and kill them more often? Does the desire for change come from the people, and, if so, how does a majority of people get action on the stated goal? I’m not really clear on the goal stated in your comment. This is what I’m talking about. I don’t even understand what you’re advocating for, because it is so general. This frustrates me about libertarians on this site (those I read, and those comments I read, anyway. Please do not assume that I have read anyone’s entire body of LOOG writing. I have much less free time than most of you seem to.).

        To complete my thought, I could elocute my vision of how we get from here to my liberal future Reality. In fact, the Democrats actually *implement* some of it. Very, very rarely, the Republicans *do* some of it, as well, though they usually screw it up by trying to make money off it.

        “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” (good old Al)

        ***Please feel free to ignore this entire comment. I’m not sure I have the time for getting into a huge discussion that just goes in circles, so I’ll stop circling if it goes that way. All the libertarians seem to spend most of their time pissed off at everyone for not understanding them on this site. Everyone else spends most of their time pissed off at everyone for not understanding them on this site. Got more important things to do.Report

        • Hey, gay marriage and legal pot are happening without some grand vision of a libertarian future.

          I’m not one of those “Libertopia” Libertarians. Never have been. The stuff I want to see happen is stuff like “gay marriage” and “legal pot”.

          I mean, how do you get from here, to where you want the country to be?

          I try to put my memes out there. If I can get you to pick up one or two and argue them to your friends, maybe some of them will argue these memes to their friends. And so on, and so on, and so on.

          Is your goal to try to convince enough people that SWAT teams should attack armed gunmen and kill them more often?

          My goal is to convince people that if SWAT does not attack armed gunmen and, presumably, kill them, I’d like to convince them to think about whether we should have them at all… and doubly so if they look at what SWAT teams actually do in practice (e.g., kill dogs).

          I’d like them to look at stuff like “this is what the government *ACTUALLY* *DOES*.”

          If they want to hold up examples of “but, in theory, shouldn’t we have SWAT teams for if a crazed gunman shoots up a crowded theater?”, I can then hold up examples of a crazed gunman shooting up a crowded theater and showing what SWAT did in response.

          Much of “Libertopia”, if you want to call it that, looks pretty much like what we have today except gay people can get married, people can smoke weed if they want, and SWAT teams don’t kick down doors and kill dogs.

          It involves giving people more freedom from meddling… and how I try to get that out there is by getting people to think thoughts like “the government shouldn’t be enabling/preventing this particular thing on my behalf.”Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird says:

            Hey, if that’s what you’re looking for Jaybird, then just wait a few years and we’ll be 2/3rds of the way there. I’m all for less stupidity all around, SWAT included. I’ll celebrate with you once we get 2 out of 3 of those things.

            From my perspective, shouting about what the government ACTUALLY DOES!!!1!!1! is only going to convince most for more control, which isn’t going to solve what (I think) you want solved. “There are mistakes made, therefor…” what? This is the specifics, the dirtiness of actual implementation, that is always missing. SWAT kill dogs, you don’t like that, because they don’t also kill gunmen. What do you want to change? Less police? More police? More bureaucracy? Less? More control? Less?

            My guess is that you want less police. How? What’s the policy that creates less police involvement? More regulations? More rules? More laws? Policework is based on a maze-like legal framework of what can and cannot be followed, investigated, charged, prosecuted, etc.

            And, this is where I get to. You yell about SWAT, and I end up realizing that the only solution to your problem is more government or more government coercion.

            End of circling.Report

            • Well, there’s also one more thing that is going to eventually happen.

              There will be a bill that will come due. I imagine that the people who are paying the bill will say “I am not getting enough value for my money.”

              At which point “extras” will be cut. An “extra” will be pretty much anything that we agree we shouldn’t have to pay for. I submit to you: if we get enough people to say “the government shouldn’t be enabling/preventing this particular thing on my behalf” (instead of “SOMEONE SHOULD DO SOMETHING!!!”), we’ll have a bigger/better/*MORE ACCURATE* list of things that, seriously, we can do without.

              And, in response to people saying “but what if? What about?”, we can point to what actually happened.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, actually, what will happen is those with power will keep the things they want and those without power will get screwed. Why do I know this? Because it’s happening over un Europe and it’s not as if there are careful decisions about what or what shouldn’t be paid for.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Perhaps another reason to point to “what actually happens”.

                Who is analogous to Germany? Who is analogous to Greece?Report

  3. Avatar Carl Milsted says:

    Outside the ivory tower I find that most libertarians define liberty in terms of property rights. Trying to explain to them the difference between personal autonomy and their particular rights based system is like explaining to a fish what water is.

    And then, if you go to a Libertarian Party convention, you will find a further conflation: a complete denial that their could be an negative utilitarian impacts to applying Rothbardian ideal strictly. Mary Ruwart epitomizes this form of delusion.Report

  4. Avatar James Peron says:

    ?”The Cold War ended when I was just a kid, and what I want now is a libertarianism that stands on its own two feet, and that says to both the left and the right that individuals are generally more competent to run their own lives, in almost every relevant way, than American politics has typically supposed.”

    I like this from Jason Kuznicki. There are two many “libertarians” who think we ought to be allied with the Right as a holdover from the Cold War. This is why so many of them were terrified Gary Johnson would take votes from their candidate, Romney. That Romney was “their” candidate tells you how incapable they are of seeing things strategically.

    Libertarian or classical liberal parties only have power when they are NOT the lap dog of another party. Once they are seen as faithful lap dogs two things happen: the party that has their support doesn’t feel it necessary to make concessions to them, while the party that they oppose feels such concessions are useless. When classical liberals became an appendage to one political party they cease to have much influence, if any.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to James Peron says:

      Personally, what really blocks me from libertarianism is, well — there’s a certain sort of people who identify as “libertarian”, vote Republican, and seem solely concerned with the freedom of their wallet.

      Maybe the ability to smoke pot too, but generally not.

      Now, Ive met the other sort of libertarians. (And then the other other sort, the kind a libertarian friend of mine called “Privatize the Sidewalks” libertarians and then mocked). You know, the sort around here for the most part.

      But deep down, when I hear Libertarian, I mentally assign three groups. Republicans voters who don’t say things like “taxation is theft” and whose libertarian rhetoric reaches as far as their pocketbook — these are the most common, and frankly the amount of daylight between them and Mitt Romney is about zero. They care about taxes, property rights, and maybe guns — that’s it.

      The second is nut-case privatize the sidewalks sort — they’re the loudest and easiest to remember, and also crazy for the most part.

      The last? The rare sort that seem to want to, you know, think about it, put it into practice, make it work. I like those the most, but electorally speaking, there aren’t enough to fill a bathtub.Report

      • Avatar Ramblin' Rod in reply to Morat20 says:

        I agree totally. I mean there are people on this site who were writing pieces that at least seemed to imply that if I were a “real” Liberal I would vote for Johnson, because… you know, he’s so awesome and stuff about these things that I (libertarian) believe that you (liberal) should prioritize.

        There were two self-professed libertarian candidates this time around. Both of them initially entered the race as Republicans vying for the Republican nomination. It was only after reality gob-smacked him in the head that Johnson switched to the LP. Paul’s too thick to even get that memo.

        Dude, I’m a liberal Democrat. Why precisely is it again, that you think I should vote for a Republican? Why do you think I ever would?

        Here’s the thing I don’t get about libertarians. In general, they tend to align themselves politically with the right under the assumption that Republicans are actually interested in economic liberty. But as Jason noted at the end of his previous post, it’s not at all clear that the Republican and libertarian definitions of economic liberty are really all that congruent. So… it’s like show up for the deregulation; stick around for the drug war.

        When you look around at what’s actually happening, where progress is being made in the areas that libertarians say are important to them, such progress is actually being driven by liberal, progressive, Democrats. Not by libertarians caucusing with the Republicans. Which isn’t to say that the mainstream Democrats are really closeted libertarians, but right now there actually exists a caucus of liberal Democrats who forthrightly espouse many of the positions that you claim to care about, while on the other side the movement along the social dimension has been even farther in the other direction, and the purported economic liberty they offer is usually just favors and subsidies for big business.

        Has it never occurred to you libbies that you might have more luck influencing Dems in the economic realm? Cuz there’s a lot of granola crunchy Liberals (like me) that actually agree with much of what you say, though admittedly not all. But at least we can have an honest discussion while working together to accomplish some peace-and-love stuff.

        Bottom line for me is that I’ll consider electorally supporting Libertarians when a) they stop caucusing with the Republicans, b) stop effectively prioritizing economic issues over social issues, and c) fer cris-sakes get your noses out of the butt-cheeks of evil, billionaire, bastards like the Koch brothers. And don’t tell me how the Koch boys “aren’t so bad.” They’ve turned my state, Kansas where they’re empire is based, into a Tea-bagger paradise where starting next year, I will actually pay more state income tax than they will. Roll that around in your head for a minute. That’s because they will pay zero state income taxes. Business-owners and investors will pay zero state taxes. The entire tax burden will rest on people like me that get W2’s in January.Report

        • You sound like you are part of the true politically homeless niche I identify on my site. Instead of the Nolan Chart’s Personal Freedom-Economic Freedom axes, consider amount of government as the vertical axis with less being up. Now make equality the horizontal axis with left being more equality. The Democratic Party occupies mainly the lower left. The Republican Party has both upper right and lower right. The LP is WAY WAY up center. The upper left is mostly unoccupied.

          That is the true opportunity for a third party.Report

  5. And as to (6), every other ideology has also become a vehicle for people who merely seek privilege and power. It should not surprise anyone that libertarianism has often done likewise. The right remedy is a healthy skepticism all around, of all of our ideological friends and enemies alike. That’s also just good mental discipline, and not terribly surprising as a conclusion. I would prescribe it for everyone if I could.

    Agreed. But I think it’s important to remember Holbo’s appears to be an insider’s critique, or at least a critique addressed to insiders (i.e., here: self-identified libertarians). While we all must guard against this tendency common to all ideologies, it’s worth some introspection as to how libertarians in particular will, just as I’m compelled to do when it comes to the type of liberalism I endorse.

    I think (2) is not really correct. Many forms of propertarianism get summary dismissal from the left, when in fact we libertarians have reason to believe that they definitely would increase autonomy, often in ways that the left is too quick to dismiss. The clearest examples in this area are zoning, professional licensing, and small business regulations.

    I think your response here potentially misconstrues what Holbo meant (although I admit that like you, after reading the linked post, I found it hard to figure out exactly what he was saying). I don’t think Holbo is saying that proprietarianism “never” plausibly optimizes autonomy, just that it, or some forms of it, sometimes doesn’t/don’t.Report