Arnold Kling  

We All Wanna Change the World

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Bryan discusses policy libertarianism and structural libertarianism. If they were 60's leftists, the policy libertarians would be willing to work within the system and the structural libertarians would want to change the system. In this case, I feel ambivalence, of the sort expressed by John Lennon in the Beatles song "Revolution."

The policy libertarian can complain that while the structural libertarian dreams of revolution, day-to-day reality is that there are opportunities to block bad policy and occasionally promote better policy. On the other hand Jacob Lyles can complain that the policy libertarian serves to legitimate the democratic process, which tends to be anti-libertarian by nature.

My goal is simple. I want people to stop rooting for bigger government. Get them to lose what Daniel Klein calls The People's Romance. A long as people root for bigger government, neither policy libertarianism nor structural libertarianism can get much traction.

Lyles thinks that my approach, too, is futiile. He writes,

Quoting Jefferson at housewives isn't going to sway them when Obama Claus is on the television offering free college educations and health insurance.

I would say that if the people in your community do not find libertarian ideas convincing, then your community is unlikely to be very libertarian.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Mr. Econotarian writes:

I want to know "what is the evidence?"

This morning on NPR I heard an economist from Moody's say "if we don't have this stimulus, we will have double-digit unemployment"

I wanted to ask "where do you get you data from? When has fiscal stimulus ever lowered unemployment significantly (short of the draft for WWII)?

I am amazed that people who laugh at creationists asking them "where is the evidence" and "why are you ignorant of all this science" seem to not care about that question when it comes to the politics of economics.

Then I want to know "What is the cost/benefit ratio?" Any stimulus now will be a tax later, what will be the effect on future growth?

And "What are the downside risks?" What if investors decide the US is no longer credit-worthy because of the size of the Federal debt?

Adam writes:

I think that's not the best dichotomy. really there's just a difference of ambition. In order to affect any change both would have to work with what is available right now (so they'd have to work within the system). The only difference between them is the extent of the changes they seek to make.

Blackadder writes:

I find the idea that policy libertarians serve to legitimate the democratic process rather odd. I doubt there are very many people who were about to abandon all faith in democracy, but then didn't because of Milton Friedman.

Zac writes:

@Mr Econotarian, I often think about the creationism point when I get down on the prospects for human society. Until recently, very few people publicly questioned creationism. There was a time you could be killed for it. Now, rationalism rules in the hard sciences. My hope is that eventually the same thing can happen for economics.

@Blackadder, that's not really the idea. What is meant by saying they serve to legitimate the democratic process is they are saying the best way to increase liberty is to work within the system, which implicitly means they think the system works. If the democratic process can't deliver sustained, increased liberty, what is the point in working within it?

@Adam, I agree that its a terrible dichotomy, in fact it makes very little sense. Rothbard was a "policy libertarian" in action - working closely with the Libertarian Party within the democratic process to make incremental change - but he certainly envisioned this would ultimately lead to major structural change down the line.

johnleemk writes:

I agree that the policy vs structural dichotomy is not necessarily a good one. The distinction I prefer is one between the mainstream thinkers who accept some level of government as necessary, focusing on constraining it where possible, and the optimistic idealists who often seem to believe any government establishment by definition is welfare- and liberty-reducing. Rothbard is obviously one of the latter, while Milton Friedman is probably one of the former.

Blackadder writes:

What is meant by saying they serve to legitimate the democratic process is they are saying the best way to increase liberty is to work within the system, which implicitly means they think the system works.

From the fact that one thinks achieving marginal improvements through the democratic process is preferable to achieving nothing (not even the elimination of the democratic process), it hardly follows one thinks the system works.

El Presidente writes:


"My goal is simple. I want people to stop rooting for bigger government."

My goal is equally simple. I want people to start rooting for effective government, the minimum efficient scale of which gets smaller to the extent people stop abusing each other.

You may say that I'm a dreamer . . .

. . . so I'll ask again: What size government is the right size government, and how can we tell?

patri friedman writes:

I think you are missing the importance of frontiers and new societies at providing vivid living examples to end the Peoples Romance. You can preach and write all you want, and you will change few minds compared to actually creating a free society that people can visit and read about. Think about what the USA did for democracy.

Seeing is believing, and there are very few people who can come to libertarianism on empirical or moral grounds.

And we don't need to talk any new people into not rooting for bigger govt. 95% of ppl can root for bigger govt - that leaves us plenty to demonstrate a new society.

Any strategy that depends on convincing people of libertarianism with words is hopeless.

Jacob Oost writes:

Bryan showed how in Hong Kong and Singapore, people were generally in favor of specific market interventions by the government, yet their economies are the freest in the world.

I think that any economy tends to become more statist and less free, until it reaches some point at which it reverses itself and becomes more free (even it it takes years or centuries to happen). I do not believe that even a perfectly structured libertarian-style government, can remain that way for long, it will invariably become more statist.

The best we can hope for is that the slide towards statism won't go very far, and that it will take a long time to get to its most statist point. To that end I advocate mandatory econ classes for everybody. :-)

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