Arnold Kling  

Strands of Libertarianism

Statistical Significance, Agai... Thoughts on Administrative Cos...

Tyler Cowen lists five major strands, taking a swipe at one.

3. Mises Institute nationalism. Gold standard, a priori reasoning, monetary apocalypse, and suspicious of immigration because maybe private landowners would not have let those people into their living rooms.

My minor strand I call civil societarianism. Collective institutions that are separate from government--good. Government--bad. Activities that can be sustained through profits or philanthropic donations can be presumed beneficial, from a utilitarian-ish perspective. Activities that require taxation are sometimes beneficial in theory, but public choice issues make them much less beneficial in practice.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (16 to date)
Vichy writes:

The Mises institute is exceedingly odd sometimes. However, they do offer some of the best collections of economic works (if not philosophic). I tend to strongly lean towards Misesian methodology and epistemology in economics, though I don't consider myself a 'libertarian'.

S Andrews writes:

It is a swipe, but I don't believe that it represents truth. I have read a few articles on supporting open immigration, not one against it. It may be that I found only what I was looking for.

I found the recent spat between GMU and LvMI very distasteful. I don't know the history of the politics involved. I agree with vichy, agree or disagree with them, there is exists no other online resource of collected works like theirs. They are doing yeoman's work in bringing back to life many works in economics and philosophy. They give away most of their stuff free.

Further more, is one of the most trafficked economic website according to alexa, behind only to a handful government-agency/econ stats related websites.

Zxcv writes:

I found one anti-immigrant piece at
and one rambling opinion piece on :

There are several more recent pro-immigration articles on

I'm not a libertarian and I don't have a dog in the GMU/vMI fight, but I like the infighting.

JPIrving writes:

Agreed, libertarians are almost hopelessly outnumbered. It is a shame to see any energy spent on infighting when there are thousands of foolish and dangerous things being done by collectivists.

However, LvMI and many writers associated with Lew Rockwell and Rothbard are most guilty of this. I don't understand it, but I have read some truly absurd attacks on Cato and Milton Friedman from those types.

S Andrews writes:


Like I said, I don't know all the politics involved. However, I know that Rothbard died in 1995 or 1996. If that man is still the cause of all the distasteful exchanges, then all these so called libertarians need to start growing up.

MC Hubbard 101 writes:

I'm not inclined to think it is necessarily at root about political feuds... perhaps "they" just try to be so consistent and strict to the point of almost coming off as harsh... or something.

For example, Stephan Kinsella:

Q: What's your position on who is libertarian?

A: Well, I was mentioning who my influences were. From a vacuum Friedman does appear to be a libertarian, and offers quite refreshing ideas. I suppose I would be tolerant enough to draw libertarianism's boundaries fuzzily enough to include, at the edge, soft minarchists like Friedman. Personally I'm an anarcho-capitalist, but willing to consider even some minarchists to be intellectual brethren.

Niccolo writes:

I'm kind of like Caplan in that I'm a recovered Austrian, but I didn't even realize there was a recent fight between them. Links?

Patrick writes:

Hoppe comments on the anti-immigration stance in his book "Democracy: The God That Failed."

I believe Walter Block holds the opposite view, pro-open immigration, but I can't provide any links to confirm.

This is hardly a "swipe." However, I would say that its an oversimplification and misrepresentation of a compelling argument.

Bob writes:

I think a better label would be just to use institutional libertarianism.

Where would people who support an internationalist foreign policy stand? I would presume number 5 as it is a big tent. My Utopian view is that if I woke up in a world of Rothbardian anarchism I would be happy. Reality is closer to 5 with Cato being just as mushy but with problematic foreign policy ideas.

johnleemk writes:

Ditto Niccolo and Bob. I view the anarcho-libertarians as our hardline Marxists. Both groups promise a fantastic utopia I wouldn't mind living in, but so far none of these promises have panned out, and for well-identifiable reasons.

Having said that, of course government generally does more bad than good. The question is how to reduce the bad and increase the good, because:

1. It is not feasible to abolish government any time soon;
2. Even if it were, the very real public goods like national defence still present a difficult, if not impossible problem for civil society to overcome.

My view is that economists and social scientists need to look into how government can regulate itself. Often we know good, better policies for government to pursue, but we are stymied by civil servants and politicians whose incentives do not align with society's (the principal-agent problem). This is a difficult problem, but I think one that is easier to solve than the free rider problem. Checks and balances are one obvious example of institutional incentives which reduce the bad governments do and increase the good.

Mark Seecof writes:

With which strand is libertarian "assume a can opener" insouciance most associated?

It's all very well for Caplan to snark about immigration, but really, shouldn't we abolish tax-funded welfare before we invite in the world's poor? (Not to mention universal suffrage.)

(I do like your minor strand, Prof. Kling: I agree that voluntary institutions are much more likely to be net-beneficial than those supported by coercion.)

fundamentalist writes:

He got the Mises Institute wrong. It is Rothbardian all the way.

Publius writes:

National defense and the justice system are two areas that should be supported via taxation. I cannot envision private defense or justice that does provides for *common* defense or promotes *general* welfare.

But that's all in Locke.

My minor strand I call civil societarianism. Collective institutions that are separate from government--good. Government--bad.

You might as well call this "midwesternism." But isn't the fact that it is not the set of values adopted by people in more populous and culturally and ethnically diverse places like NY and Hong Kong and San Diego/TJ evidence that it is not a set of values that can scale well to large populations?

Barkley Rossser writes:

The proliferation of libertarianisms is most amusing. Let a thousand libertarian flowers bloom. But then, what should one expect of a movement that trumpets individualism? So, to each his/her very own libertarianism!

Patri Friedman writes:

Don't forget competitive government, which is my favorite strand, and you have done some work on as well. It has so many advantages over the others that I don't get why it isn't more popular. I guess it's just much less intuitive than natural rights "Rah, rah, these are rights and we should enforce them and then everything would be great! Fractional reserve banking is evil! Coercion is evil!"

Sigh. Most people are not libertarians. Democracies don't produce efficient policies.

more on this here.

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