Bryan Caplan  

The Politics and Economics of Julian Assange

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From Forbes' interview with Wikileaks editor Julian Assange:

Would you call yourself a free market proponent?

Absolutely. I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets. Having lived and worked in many countries, I can see the tremendous vibrancy in, say, the Malaysian telecom sector compared to U.S. sector...

How do your leaks fit into that?

To put it simply, in order for there to be a market, there has to be information. A perfect market requires perfect information.

There's the famous lemon example in the used car market. It's hard for buyers to tell lemons from good cars, and sellers can't get a good price, even when they have a good car.

By making it easier to see where the problems are inside of companies, we identify the lemons. That means there's a better market for good companies. For a market to be free, people have to know who they're dealing with.

You've developed a reputation as anti-establishment and anti-institution.

Not at all. Creating a well-run establishment is a difficult thing to do, and I've been in countries where institutions are in a state of collapse, so I understand the difficulty of running a company. Institutions don't come from nowhere.

It's not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I've learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I'm a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free.

WikiLeaks is designed to make capitalism more free and ethical.

But in the meantime, there could be a lot of pain from these scandals, obviously.

Pain for the guilty.

Nice, except for the claim that his "expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free."  How would expertise in politics even be relevant, unless the lesson is that government creates monopolies on purpose?


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Tracy W writes:

I thought the behavioural experimental evidence was that a market could work very well at discovering true prices, even with only partial knowledge. Though I can't find the paper now.

And he makes the idiot's mistake of confusing markets and perfect markets. That perfect markets may require perfect information to be perfect doesn't mean that real-world markets require perfect information to function, or even that they require perfect information to function efficiently.

Grant Gould writes:

Bryan -- I think the key to your caveat is in Assange's focus on the telecoms sector and his distinction between capitalism and markets.

I worked in telecoms for a decade and if there is one lesson that telecoms teaches it is that every company wants nothing more than to harness government to create monopolies. That lesson is false in some other sectors (thank goodness!), in telecoms the big "capitalists" are the ones who want to be monopolies and get rid of markets. From that sector and that point of view, capitalism and corporations appear to be the opposite of markets just as much as government is.

I think it is no surprise that left libertarians often come from sectors like telecoms (Assange) or health care (Carson) where the "market" is a lot of firms trying to leverage government license rules to create monopolies.

infopractical writes:

That's a fair assessment of his views. But he may be defining capitalism in a way that, while you may not like it, fits his views well. He may view capitalism as the interplay between government and markets -- many people seem to take that definition, for better or for worse. Given that he doesn't seem to have an axe to grind with free markets, I think it's best to read him within his definitions.

While I don't buy that free markets lead to monopolies necessarily, I do buy that we live in a world with many corrupt institutions -- governments most of all because of their concentrated power -- and market winners often become [unfair] monopolies only after the wrong people get ahold of power and mingle politically...with governments.

If that's what he's saying, then I have little (some, but little) gripe with his viewpoints. And if he's philosophically bent on making "capitalism" more ethical, then his motives are good.

Hyena writes:

Actually, Assange wrote a pair of essays, on Nov. 4 and Dec. 3 of 2006, in which he laid out some of his view on government and institutions generally.

They are located here:

http://cryptome.org/0002/ja-conspiracies.pdf

Alex J. writes:

The ontology of Julian Assange.

Charlie writes:

How does government do anything on purpose? You are anthropomorphizing it. The original speaker has a better perspective.

Jacob Oost writes:

Julian Assange is a good example of a libertarian or quasi-libertarian being myopic about a particular issue to the point of being dangerous to society.

I believe in peace, I believe in free trade to promote cooperation among nations and to maximize economic growth and to minimize armed aggression. Would I say that American foreign policy had a part in creating the incentive for the 9/11 hijackers to do their evil deeds? Yes. Can I change past American foreign policy? No. Do I live in a world where choices have to be made, where terrorists and nations are at each other's throats, and sometimes wars have to be fought (wars which may have been political impossibilities in the first place if my first policy choice of absolute free trade and free markets had been followed worldwide), and secrets must be kept so that lives can be saved? Yes.

There's a right way and a wrong way to be anti-war. A pragmatic and mature way and a reckless and irresponsible way.

Assange and his leakers are on a political crusade and have no care for how their actions affect flesh-and-blood human beings who may be put in mortal danger as a result of their indiscriminate leaking of secrets. Most people like open and transparent government within reason, but until utopia is invented and national security isn't a concern, there are certain things most people would like their governments to do behind closed doors where the terrorists and unfriendly powers of the world can't see them, and take it as a personal affront and a threat to their security when somebody like Assange does what they do.

A writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

8 writes:

Just the indiscriminate leaking of secrets is a devastating blow. I think the focus on the war effort is fair, but misplaced. The target is not the war effort, it is the State itself, if there is any target at all. How likely are foreign diplomats and foreign nationals to help the U.S. now?

What happens to a state when no one wants to cooperate with it? Assuming USA is not North Korea.

Floccina writes:

I wonder why Julian Assange, of all people, would say he likes markets rather than saying that he likes freedom.

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