Bryan Caplan  

Two Sentences that Make Strange Bedfellows

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Arnold quotes two sentences by Ken Silber. I can't recall the last time that one sentence was so sensible, and the next so wrong-headed.

The sensible:

The idea that people should be, say, lying down in front of police cars to protest hair salon regulations and the like is disproportionate, counterproductive and inane.
If I'd be laughing - and I would be - I can only imagine how bemused a normal person would be.

OK, now the wrong-headed:

It amounts to saying libertarian ideas aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition.
Libertarian ideas have been ably defended by an army of smart, thoughtful people for decades. And yet only a tiny minority remains convinced. Clearly these ideas are not "compelling enough" to win out in political and legal competition - though perhaps it would be better to say that politics, like religion, is a subject where objectively compelling ideas usually lose.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
th writes:

Let's change the context:

"The idea that people would laydown in front of police cars (or in schools or businesses) to protest segregation is counterproductive and inane. It amounts to saying ideas of equality aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition."

Does it make any more sense now?

Randy writes:

Re; "...politics, like religion, is a subject where objectively compelling ideas usually lose."

Precisely. Because the function of the human brain is to find an advantage, not the truth.

Patri Friedman writes:

And if they aren't compelling enough to win in public discourse, you aren't going to get a social movement together to promote them via civil disobedience. (And even if you did, the movement wouldn't work, as Silber points out. So Arnold's strategy is doubly absurd).

Libertarians need to suck it up and accept that their case is hopeless in existing large countries. They can either accept that statism is inevitable, or get involved in a frontier (seasteading / spacesteading / cryptoanarchy...)

Scott Scheule writes:

Other frontiers include magic, both black and white varieties, and the ritualistic sacrifice of (more) oxen to our Goddess Liberty.

greg newburn writes:

when future citizens read about that long-dead philosophy, "libertarianism," they will be taught that the end began with patri friedman's comment, above.

Seasteading? Really?

Jeff writes:

One wonders how Silber would have characterized the Boston Tea Party ex ante.

Randy writes:

Patri,

"Libertarians need to suck it up and accept that their case is hopeless in existing large countries."

Hopeless? Perhaps. But we are all that stands in the way of the facist state. Many find it convenient or gratifying to believe that there is no such thing as liberty - they will deserve their fate.

Dr. T writes:
Libertarians need to suck it up and accept that their case is hopeless in existing large countries. They can either accept that statism is inevitable, or get involved in a frontier (seasteading / spacesteading / cryptoanarchy...)
There are other choices for libertarians. Libertarians can fight against the continued erosions of our remaining liberties and try to convince others that we should restore some of the liberties we lost.
Patri Friedman writes:

Yeah, yeah, I understand it feels good to think you are fighting a great and noble battle against mighty odds. Just understand that it's self-deluding activism - the main outcome is the feeling good, feeling like you are doing something, not any actual change.

If that's what tickles your fancy, great. The problem is when such hopeless methods suck time and energy that can be put into methods that might work. Or just improving your own life. If you actually want to make a difference in the world, you have to be brutally honest about what does and doesn't work, so you can focus your efforts in ways that matter.

Randy writes:

Patri,

I have no illusions. That's why I work for a living. My work is the one thing the facists will never take from me if only because its not in their best interest to do so. No work from me means no revenue for them. Expressing my belief that liberty does exist and that it is important is just a hobby. I seldom persuade anyone and I don't really expect to. The people who believe in liberty already know what I mean and the people who don't have already gone for the idea that individualism is tyranny, hook, line, and sinker.

Greg Newburn writes:

Does anyone else think it's funny that Patri Friedman thinks activism is hopeless, but "spacesteading" is perfectly reasonable?

Because I think it's hilarious.

Jaap Weel writes:

Patri,

I think it might be useful to take a bit of a change of perspective. Read what some Central European liberals (in the broad sense) wrote in the interbellum period. Schumpeter, Popper, Hayek, even Mises—they were all pessimistic. The world was careening toward a situation where all countries that mattered at all were either communist or fascist, with the major counterweight being the social democrats (who were actually quite radical in those days). Pessimism abounded even in the English-speaking world. American New Dealers praised Mussolini. We came very, very close to Switzerland being the only remotely liberal regime left on the planet, and the intellectual consensus among liberals was that liberalism had been fun while it lasted, but that it was apparently and unfortunately unsustainable after the fatal blows of WW1 and the Great Depression.

When I read those older texts, it is still surprising to me how inevitable the rise of totalitarianism was considered in those days. We've come a long way, and that is sometimes all too easy to lose sight of if you love to dream of Utopias.

Nothing wrong with dreaming of Utopias. Well, at least as long as those Utopias are essentially liberal and the dreamers peaceful. But you can't ignore the defeat of the fascists, the implosion of communism, the volume of international trade once more exceeding pre-1914 levels, the money supplies of the industrialized countries being more or less predictable, the demise of apartheid, the ever-waning power of trade unions in the English-speaking countries (even if the European continent is lagging), or the viral spread of flat taxes from Estonia outward. If your goal is to privatize the county court, any progress is bound to look disappointingly marginal of course, but I just wanted to add a little sense of perspective.

Caliban Darklock writes:

My problem with libertarianism is that the conversation usually goes something like this.

Libertarian: This system doesn't do what it's supposed to do! Let's get rid of it!

Me: Well, it's doing something. Shouldn't we figure out what it IS doing, consider the impact of removing that, and do a solid risk assessment?

Libertarian: You're stupid! You're a stupid jerk! You go to hell!

I don't generally have a problem with the first line, it's the second one that worries me.

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