Arnold Kling  

Libertarians and Jonah Goldberg

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Jonah argues that we have become belated converts to the Liberal Fascism thesis.


And Arnold Kling who said my book was in fact written by three people -- "Goldberg the revisionist historian, Goldberg the outraged conservative child, and Goldberg the troll" [I can't get a direct link but it's findable over at TCS] -- is now, as noted below, flirting with the idea that fascism lurks in what we're seeing.

My review is here, and I stand by it. The review says,

Goldberg has written an important book, although there are a number of ways I would have liked to see it written differently.

I think the key issue in the contest between Progressive Corporatism and The Resistance might be summarized as this:

If you believe that politicians are about solving problems and need more power in order to do so, then you are going to side with Progressive Corporatism.

If you believe that politicians are about power and need problems as an excuse to get it, then you are going to side with The Resistance.

My skeptical view of political motives can be seen in another old essay of mine, Government and the Fear Factor. Jonah's book certainly is on the side of The Resistance. I am pleased by the book's success. His revisionist history fits the Resistance narrative, and that continues to appeal to me, but I also continue to have quibbles about style, tone, and--occasionally--substance.

Sometimes, we confuse an intellectual victory with a historical event. For example, people will say that the fall of the Soviet Union settled the socialist calculation debate. On closer examination, I do not think that is true. The Soviet Union did not rot because the leaders could not figure out the right shadow price of steel. It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot.

Similarly, Goldberg seems to want to say that the aggressively statist agenda of the Obama Administration vindicates his book. However, in my view, we started on this road under President Bush, and especially under Treasury Secretary Paulson. Recall that the Republican Presidential nominee suspended his campaign in order to come to Washington in support of the $700 billion down payment on progressive corporatism.

Yes, as of now there are more Republicans and conservatives claiming to be ready to stand with us in the barricades. But when we really needed them last September, they instead helped to pass the TARP. That makes me reluctant to stamp "vindicated" on my copy of LF.


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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Steve Waldman writes:

"If you believe that politicians are about solving problems and need more power in order to do so, then you are going to side with Progressive Corporatism.

If you believe that politicians are about power and need problems as an excuse to get it, then you are going to side with The Resistance."

What if you believe politicians are about power and need problems as an excuse to get it, but that there are private parties which are also about power and succeed at getting it unless stopped by government? (This is only coherent if you think there are conflicts inherent the sources of private and government power, so that power-seeking politicians will frequently clip and constrain power-seeking mafia dons, and vice versa.)

If you think the best achievable scenario is a kind of King Kong vs Godzilla balance of power, are you a progressive corporatist or the resistance?

Troy Camplin writes:

Although I was wrong to call what was going on communism, and realize now that it was indeed the first leap down the road to fascism, I was horrified by Bush here:

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/10/bushs-slow-creep-communism.html

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/10/paulson-must-resign-before-more-damage.html

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/09/bushs-decisive-action-could-ruin-us-all.html

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/10/barak-obama-and-fdr.html

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/09/beware-of-feds-owning-your-mortgage.html

I am proud to note that on April 16, 2008 that I called it right in suggesting Obama had fascist leanings:

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/04/obama-for-creeping-infringement-of.html

You might also find this posting interesting:

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/01/its-time-for-change.html

My suggesting Bush was moving us toward something akin to communism was admittedly a little sloppy thinking on my part -- but I did get the Obama-fascism connection pretty early on. Not that there's a lot of difference in reality between national and international socialism.

Craig writes:

But did Jonah support TARP? I'd be surprised if he did.

Maniel writes:

Arnold wrote: "Yes, as of now there are more Republicans and conservatives claiming to be ready to stand with us in the barricades. But when we really needed them last September, they instead helped to pass the TARP."

Not that it matters now, but there was one Republican at "the barricades" during the Bush administration: Ron Paul.

Bryan Caplan writes:
Sometimes, we confuse an intellectual victory with a historical event. For example, people will say that the fall of the Soviet Union settled the socialist calculation debate. On closer examination, I do not think that is true. The Soviet Union did not rot because the leaders could not figure out the right shadow price of steel. It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot.
I agree completely, Arnold. This is precise my thesis in "Is Socialism Really 'Impossible'?"
Sean O. writes:

Mr. Waldman,

Of course there are private parties that lust after power. However, government rarely stops private pursuit of power. Rather it delegates power and privilege to its friends while taking it away from its enemies. He who controls government decides who is friend and who is foe.

JB writes:

I don't think you are entirely fair with the argument in Jonah's post. The afterword to his book, after all, is entitled "The Tempting of Conservatism." In it, he takes conservatives generally - and Republicans specifically - to task for their embrace of statism.

As to whether he "seems to want to say that the aggressively statist agenda of the Obama Administration vindicates his book," by my lights he is allowing your comments to speak for themselves and is merely pointing out that present conditions might be causing some to reconsider their earlier skepticism of his claims. You're really reaching by implying that his post is somehow intended as a defense of Republican actions during Bush's presidency.

While I disagree with you in this case, I am always edified by your site. Thank you.

hutch writes:

steve,

in your opinion, what is an example of a private party that will succeed without the government stepping in and stopping it?

Les writes:

Arnold said: "Sometimes, we confuse an intellectual victory with a historical event. For example, people will say that the fall of the Soviet Union settled the socialist calculation debate. On closer examination, I do not think that is true. The Soviet Union did not rot because the leaders could not figure out the right shadow price of steel. It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot."

I agree, but a more specific version would be:

"It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot. Even if the Communist government wanted to maximize economic efficiency (which was clearly not the case), it would be impossible to figure out the right shadow price of steel."

Adam writes:

There's been a strong Progressive/Statist faction in the Republican party since Teddy Roosevelt. One might tie it back to Lincoln and the very roots of the party. The Progressive/Statist faction was preeminent with Hoover, Nixon, and the two Bushes.

The last Bush strengthened the Federal government's control of government schools, broadened socialized health care, morphed self-defense into colonial wars, and brought an end to meaningful private enterprise and private responsibility (e.g., bankruptcy). Obama's just the next step in this tragic assault on liberty.

Of course, there are conservative and libertarian elements in the Republican party, but they are out of power. McCain-Feingold, the primary system with cross-overs, and a new Census controlled by the White House make a conservative or libertarian resurgence unlikely. Such a resurgence could only occur with a great awakening of liberty and its consequences among the general public.

fundamentalist writes:

“The Soviet Union did not rot because the leaders could not figure out the right shadow price of steel. It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride…”

The Soviet system didn’t lack any incentives to work; the gulags could always expand. Arnold’s preference for incentives as an explanation belies his mainstream econ roots: capital is not important; it magically restores itself. From another perspective, capital requires savings to replenish worn out equipment and plants. The savings must increase in order to add additional equipment to meet the needs of a growing population. If the people are going to grow wealthier, savings must increase to supply equipment and plants to increase production. Finally, savings must increase even further in order to make up for the mistakes in planning that managers make.

Soviets needed all of the savings mentioned above plus additional savings because the planners made even worse mistakes because they couldn’t determine the shadow price of steel. For the Soviet system to work, savings had to be much higher than in a comparable capitalist society, but savings were much lower. In the 1980’s, the USSR spent 50% of gdp on the military. The system was near collapse economically when WWII broke out. The US gave the Soviets billions in military equipment and food to fight the war; in other words, they lived off our savings. After the war, they stole vast amounts of capital from Eastern Europe to keep the system going. It came close to collapse again in the 1970’s, but the explosion in oil prices rescued them for a while. After the collapse of oil prices in 1986, the US had to give the USSR billion of tons of food to keep the people from starving to death. Again they lived off our savings.

Soviet communism and socialism in general is nothing but the belief that people can consume more than they produce forever. The US fell under this illusion in the 1960’s and has been living off the savings of foreigners, particularly China, for decades. If foreigners ever get tired of financing our excessive consumption, our standard of living will plummet.

Floccina writes:

The problem that I see with this discussion is that the world fascism is tied up in people’s minds with rabid nationalism and persecution of ethnic minorities. We need to use and other word or better yet speak of specific policies rather than systems like fascism, communism, and capitalism.

On a slightly related note:
I do not like to even use the word “markets” but rather like to ask should people be allowed to buy and sell as they please.

floccina writes:

Maybe the role of democrats is make healthcare available to all free of cost and the role of the republicans may one day be to force people to live more healthy lives and to put some real muscle behind that effort.
Today the role of caring democrat types is to point out the smoking hurts people and so to ramp up the tax on cigarettes the role of the republicans will one day be clamp down on black market cigarettes.
In the 1930s the role of caring democrat types joined with pious republicans to point out the destructiveness of drugs and alcohol to women and children the role of the tough republican types was to attempt to successfully enforce prohibition of drugs and alcohol.

josh writes:

I think the problem with the liberal fascism thesis is that is is comparing homologous features and assuming they are analogous. Do progressivism and fascism share common routes. I don't think Goldberg made the case. I think they are more like a fish and a dolphin.

Tom writes:

"It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot."

What is the "incentive to produce" that you talk about? You mean the incentive to receive profits and avoid losses. The incentive to receive a higher price or wage than a lower price or wage. The incentive to pay a lower price or pay a lower wage. Oh, you are talking about those incentives related to economic calculation!

Tom writes:

“Can the great failures of socialism be largely attributed to economic calculation problems? The facts say otherwise… Once collectivization begins, the resistance is vigorous but unorganized: the peasants slaughter their livestock, even while they hide food and otherwise try to salvage as much of their property as possible…Nothing in this sad story involves economic calculation.”


Really? Wikiepedia on collectivization says “Not interested in acquiring money to purchase overpriced goods, the peasants chose to eat their produce rather than sell it, so city dwellers only saw half the grain that had been available before the war.”

It looks to me like farmers where making economic calculations regarding price and profits and losses when they decided not to purchase overpriced goods and instead deciding to eat their livestock. Economic calculation was the mechanism that provided them the incentives to act as they did.

Tom writes:

I forgot to mention that the quote in my previous post (quoted again below) was Bryan Caplan.

“Can the great failures of socialism be largely attributed to economic calculation problems? The facts say otherwise… Once collectivization begins, the resistance is vigorous but unorganized: the peasants slaughter their livestock, even while they hide food and otherwise try to salvage as much of their property as possible…Nothing in this sad story involves economic calculation.”

J Cortez writes:

I disagree with the comment Soviet calculation, but still a great post.

Matthew C. writes:

More Republicans voted against TARP, Democrats voted for it.

Troy Camplin writes:

The modern day GOP is the party of Nixon, not of Reagan. It was with Nixon that we all became Keynesians. The occasional Barry Goldwater, Reagan, or Gingrich didn't really change the party much. Too bad. Let the Democrats have the first and second worse things (Marx and Keynes) to ever happen to economics. The GOP should rather be the party of Smith, Hayek, DeSoto, and Mises.

If you want more on how the postmodern Left, of which Obama is a member, is deeply influenced by facism, I recommend Wolin's "The Seduction of Unreason." I talk about it here:

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2005/04/review-of-richard-wolins-seduction-of.html

and here:

http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2008/02/nietzsche-heidegger-and-liberalism.html

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Floccina writes: "The problem that I see with this discussion is that the word fascism is tied up in people’s minds with rabid nationalism and persecution of ethnic minorities."

I think Floccina has a great point here. But neither can we abandon important vocabulary to be redefined by the left. I supposed the whole thrust of "Liberal Fascists" is that the left throws this term around to smear the right, while being far more enthusiastic about fascist methods.


josh writes: I think the problem with the liberal fascism thesis is that it is comparing homologous features and assuming they are analogous. Do progressivism and fascism share common routes. I don't think Goldberg made the case."

Goldberg didn't have to. IMO "Road To Serfdom" is absolutely the definitive guide to how the highest liberal ideals result in tyranny.

Mike writes:

Can't we all just get along? I read anything written by both of these two guys religiously and they have way more in common than they disagree on. Let the liberals/statists/busybodies attack, and you two should be back-to-back fighting together!

Kurbla writes:


    Arnold wrote: On closer examination, I do not think that is true. The Soviet Union did not rot because the leaders could not figure out the right shadow price of steel. It rotted because Communism replaces the incentive to produce with an incentive to free ride and an incentive to join the Party and get your share of the loot.

I agree. The problem is - why leaders of the socialist states didn't behave like CEO's of the companies.

Realist writes:

So either you believe we need a nanny government for our leaders to get something done, or you suspect them all to be closet Fascists out to dominate you. In the first case you become a gullible slave for the sysem, and in the second case you turn into a soft anarchist. Neither option sounds very appealing to me.

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