Arnold Kling  

A Libertarian One-Liner

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from Kevin D. Williamson:


If you're not willing to have somebody hauled off at gunpoint over the project, then it's probably not a legitimate concern of the state.

Implicit in this point of view is the presumption that voluntary cooperation through charities and business arrangements can solve many problems that are intended to be solved by government. The contrary point of view would be that there are many "market failures" that will not be solved by voluntary action alone. However, those who enumerate many market failures tend to sweep the coercive aspects of government under the rug. They prefer to think of government as if it were a producer of Schelling points--providing us with solutions that all of us would agree to if we had the time and insight to coordinate on them.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (15 to date)
Chris writes:

That quote makes the libertarian project sound as if it is determined to replace the soft rule of custom, inherited norms, and situational decency with ideological certainties and dogmatic rules through an iron fist.

What's worse, I'm not sure that it isn't a complete mischaracterization of the libertarian position.

Hyena writes:

So when is the government small enough that it can be seen as a non-profit which happens to hold a lot of claims on land within its jurisdiction?

I mean, isn't that what all these governments are? The vestiges of the private holdings of rentiers steadily transformed rhetorically to avoid revolt?

John H.Penfold writes:

Markets fail, sometimes badly, but with time they self correct and some folks learn. From this process we get growth and advancement. Government fails as well and for many but not all of the same reasons. But government doesn't self correct because interests attach themselves to those failures. The process we get is accumuated failure and decline.

Schooner writes:

This is the kind of argument that drives me nuts about some libertarians.

We, THE PEOPLE, get to choose our government. We are the government. If we vote in clueless morons that enact bad policies we can vote them out.

If the voters succumb to dumb propaganda we can always choose to leave. There is no gun to our head.

steve writes:

"But government doesn't self correct because interests attach themselves to those failures"

We do have elections.

Prakhar Goel writes:

@steve

Elections don't help. The key to power in a country is always coordination. Elections don't help with coordination. Rather, as an easy and false alternative to real exertion of power, they retard group formation. There is a reason that trade unions, powerful as they are, are nothing compared to the guilds of old. The only reason that trade unions continue to win out is that there is no king to oppose them.

In theory, elections give power to the voters. In practice, elections serve to lull the voters into a sense of complacency allowing the most amoral, demagogic, and populist persona to win out. One of the many unfortunate results is the widespread wealth transfer that the aforementioned amoral, demagogic, populist people find so useful to keep themselves in power. See Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy for more details.

Schooner writes:

@Prakhar

The only reason that trade unions continue to win out is that there is no king to oppose them.

You can't really mean unions in the sense of those around today. They are a vastly diminished power and are nothing compared to the corporate oligarchy.

Ryan Singer writes:

@Schooner:

"If the voters succumb to dumb propaganda we can always choose to leave. There is no gun to our head."

That's not true for Americans. If you wish to earn money overseas, you have to pay the IRS. If you renounce your US citizenship, they tax you with a capital gains tax as if you sold everything you own. If you don't pay, they hunt you.

StrangeLoop writes:

Wait a second... are people on an economics blog, a blog that hosts Bryan Caplan in fact, claiming that VOTING MATTERS?

Your vote doesn't matter, mathematically. Plus, you'd all do yourselves a favor by learning about "Concept 2 democracy" from Posner's "Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy."

Schooner writes:

@Ryan

If you renounce your US citizenship, they tax you with a capital gains tax as if you sold everything you own. If you don't pay, they hunt you.

Not entirely true. I believe you need a net worth of over $2,000M. Look at it as buying your freedom to live in the Caribbean, if you have enough to pay for what citizenship costs.

There's always Liberia too, I don't think they're so choosy.

Sierra writes:

Williamson is lifting a point made by P.J. O'Rourke in _Parliament of Whores_ -- the chapter about the federal budget. As I recall, the way he put is was that for every budget item, you have to ask if it's worth putting a gun to your grandmother's head.

Brian writes:

The author is simply trying to sumarize the beautifully simple and fundamental libertarian position-- that the state should have no power, except to protect us. What's sad, is to see where we are today. At this rate, of a million new laws every year, we can end up in only one place. Servitude.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

Schooner,
You said, We ARE our government. And indeed, we are supposed to be. But right now, our skills, aspirations and all that we want to do in this world are frozen in place, while our government fumbles along trying to figure out how how to run things without our help. This is no way for government to work, where an individual sends letters to their elected which for the most part never even get read or considered. If we are truly our government, we are going to have to make it a lot more real than this. Think about it.

[name fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

I need more coffee. Who knows how the name got messed up on that last post.

[I fixed it for you. But more coffee is always appealing!--Econlib Ed.]

jb writes:

That's an insightful position to take - although, as the comments demonstrate, most people horribly misunderstand it.

Another way to put it would be:

Everything that the government does will eventually be backed by force. So choose what the government does carefully.


For example: Obamacare mandates that all children up to 26 must be covered by their parent's insurance if they can't get it on their own. GrinchCare refuses to cover Joe Sicko, a 21year old. The government sues, and GrinchCare loses. But GrinchCare still refuses to accept Joe. The government requests (and receives) an injunction - GrinchCare is not allowed to bring on new patients or accept payments from their existing customers until they accept Joe. However, GrinchCare ignores this ruling, and continues to sell and service insurance. Eventually, you'll have federal agents physically come to the GrinchCare buildings, disconnect power, cut the phone lines, arrest the executives and force everyone out.

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