Bryan Caplan  

The Libertarian Target

There is no sticky wage puzzle... The wrong way to fix Social Se...
Libertarianism has a wealth of prominent, persistent opponents, starting with Paul Krugman and Salon.  Who precisely are they criticizing?  Probably not the 9-14% of Americans who are economically conservative but socially liberal.  No, the critics target self-conscious libertarians - people who are, at minimum, in the same philosophical ballpark as Milton Friedman

The self-conscious libertarian population is, to belabor the obvious, extremely small and politically unsuccessful.  Serious libertarianism is so rare that very few surveys of political identity even bother to include a libertarian response option.  There isn't a single 20th-century president or any ruling governor in the same philosophical ballpark as Milton Friedman.  Certainly no more than five current members of Congress qualify.  Probably none.

The puzzle: Why do high-profile thinkers keep energetically targeting such a marginalized viewpoint?  As a self-conscious libertarian, I'm definitely not complaining.  I welcome all the publicity, no matter how negative.  But the publicity remains peculiar.  What motivates the critics to attack libertarianism time after time?  Top possibilities the critics might embrace:

1. Despite their rarity and absence on the front lines of politics, self-conscious libertarians still strongly shape mainstream conservative politicians' economic policies. 

2. Self-conscious libertarians, though rare, have still managed to sharply shift public opinion in a libertarian direction. 

3. Self-conscious libertarians, though politically impotent, are a symbol of what's wrong with American politics.

And then there are the stories the critics won't embrace, but perhaps they're true nonetheless...

4. Libertarians, unlike mainstream conservatives, openly defend many unpopular views.  Intellectuals who want to loudly champion popular views have to engage libertarians because there's hardly anyone else to argue with.

5. Libertarian arguments, though mistaken, are consistently clever enough to get under the critics' skin.  The purpose of the criticism is not shielding the world from bad ideas but giving the critics some intellectual catharsis.

6. Libertarian arguments are good enough to weigh on the critics' intellectual consciences.  They attack libertarians to convince themselves that we're wrong.  And they keep attacking us because they keep failing to fully convince themselves.

Other stories?

P.S. My four-day Ohio tour at Bowling Green, Ohio State, Kenyon, and Oberlin starts tomorrow.  If you attend any of my talks, please say hi.

COMMENTS (56 to date)
Fabio Rojas writes:

Another hypothesis: Libertarianism is sufficiently popular among highly educated and somewhat influential groups - economists and computer professionals.

Steve Reilly writes:

What percentage of economists are libertarian? It's surely higher than the percentage of Americans that are, so people who read econ blogs encounter libertarian arguments often, and feel the need to respond.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

So my reason for a sort of fascination with libertarians is twofold:

1. I'm an economist and they're relatively more common among economists, and

2. Sort of related but they take a remarkably strong ownership of a lot of the things I care about: economics, the liberal tradition, entrepreneurialism, American constitutionalism to name a few that come up a lot. This loudly voiced, presumptive ownership of something I had always taken to be much broader is something that's always intrigued me personally.

I can't say, of course, whether this motivates everyone interested in it. It probably motivates a lot of non-libertarian economists like Krugman. But it is what motivates me.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

More broadly I think a lot of interest in libertarianism came in with the Tea Party/Glenn Beck/Ron Paul in the last couple years. The fact is libertarianism is pretty politically active and it has made a big dent in national politics, and it's an important sub-genre of conservatism. The fact that you don't like the way it's impacted politics is perfectly understandable, but be realistic - do you think ANY thoughtful liberal is entirely happy with the way liberalism has been a part of politics or ANY thoughtful conservative is entirely happy with the way conservatism has been a part of politics? That's no reason to deny the obvious.

You write this: "There isn't a single 20th-century president or any ruling governor in the same philosophical ballpark as Milton Friedman" but be serious - Reagan was as close to Friedman as Kennedy was to - I dunno, Samuelson? Of course actual politicians disappoint actual scholars. What precisely were you expecting Bryan???

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Remember your post about objective observers of internecine fights (Ds vs. Rs, Trotskyites vs. Stalinists). You expected people on the outside to be more objective, right?

People on the outside see conservatives vs. libertarians and they see some - but not a whole lot of significant difference.

Maybe they're the objective ones.

Maybe you're imagining these huge differences with libertarians in this very unique intellectual position because you're in the thick of it.

I know that sounds implausible to you and many readers, and you're in good company! Just ask Trotsky!

ThomasH writes:

While Krugman certainly disagree with many Libertarian microeconomic positions, I'm not aware that the spends a lot of time criticizing them per se as opposed to conservatives and real live Republicans. His bete nior, like those of Scott Sumner, are inflation hawks who think that monetary and fiscal stimulus during a recession will lead to inflation.

blacktrance writes:

Of these, I think 5 plays the largest part, though it's not the whole story. To generalize, there are three political subject areas that mainstream discourse focuses on - social issues, foreign policy, and economics. Social conservatism is seen as being on the decline, so progressives talk about social issues less now (except when it comes to social justice, but it seems to still be less in net). It's difficult to simultaneously be a progressive partisan and anti-war because of Obama's foreign policy, so we see less about that. Which leaves economic policy, and there the libertarians are a more prominent target.

Also, 6 is uncharitable, and while that doesn't mean it's not true, it's not a hypothesis we should go around trumpeting - they don't like being psychologized any more than we do.

Peter St Onge writes:

I think libertarians' odd prominence is actually caused neither by they nor progressives, but by conservatives. By their failure to mount a serious challenge in two specific areas: macro (Krugman) and among the young (Salon).

In the case of macro, because areas of deep disagreement between conservatives and progressives are rare -- it comes to degrees of difference, and Krugman doesn't get out of bed for arguments over degree.

In the case of the young, because progressives own mainstream cultural taste-making.

Sometimes I reduce the range of political biases to one dimension: How much do people believe in the state? Consider any problem selected at random from all the problems that any human might face: How likely is it that a subject (person) thinks this problem needs to be solved by collective coercion, by the state?

At the two ends of this dimension we have:

  • (near 100%) Some people think almost all problems need to be solved by the state. Perhaps these people are called communist.
  • (near 0%) Other people think almost all problems can be solved best by voluntary action (by definition this excludes the state). This class includes libertarians.

Along this dimension, my bias suggests Democrats huddle around 50-80%, Republicans 30-60%, true libertarians near 0%.

I have argued that mainstream media are part of a democratic state. A democratic state could not operate without such media. Mainstream media make their living in helping the state to find its next moves. So libertarians are the only consistent opponents of that process of finding the next positive act of state. Conservatives on the other hand favor many acts of state. In this view, the New York Times and its writers (including Krugman) find their only consistent opponents in libertarians.

An article of mine Anarchy, Order, and Functions Performed by Government, tells more about this problem-by-problem, department-by-department way of perceiving the state.

Greg G writes:

I think libertarians attract an amount of criticism out of proportion to their numbers for two reasons.

The first is that they ask the right questions. In my opinion they often get the wrong answers but asking the right questions is an important and useful thing to do.

The second reason libertarians attract so much criticism is that they claim an ethical superiority over non libertarians. They claim to care more about liberty than those who don't identify as libertarians. People interpret that as disrespect and disrespect gets back disrespect.

MikeP writes:

How likely is it that a subject (person) thinks this problem needs to be solved by collective coercion, by the state?

That's a good approach. Another is to look at how things are today. Take any issue: Should the state be more involved in it or less?

I cannot think of a single arena where the state is involved today that would be improved by more state involvement. I am not including, say, federal enforcement of civil rights protection against state and local governments, as the problem there is still government that should be reduced or disempowered.

From this basis, conservatives think perhaps 30% of issues where government is involved would be improved by less government. Liberals seem to think that perhaps 90% of arenas where government is involved would be improved by more government.

Again, I cannot think of a single arena where more government would be an improvement. A useful definition of libertarian?

MikeP writes:

The second reason libertarians attract so much criticism is that they claim an ethical superiority over non libertarians. They claim to care more about liberty than those who don't identify as libertarians.

Much the same way that liberals claim to care more about people than those who don't identify as liberals and conservatives claim to care more about the social fabric than those who don't identify as conservatives.

Here libertarians may have a hand up because the defense of their position is based on rationality rather than beneficence in the case of liberals or fear in the case of conservatives. That makes libertarian positions easier to attack because they are in the open and aren't rooted in emotion. But it also makes them easier to defend with confidence, something that irks their opponents.

Regardless, each individual pursues the ideology he thinks is right. That's certainly preferable to the alternative.

khodge writes:

No true Scotsman? Libertarians tend to not think as a group (almost by definition) so it is unlikely that each libertarian could leap through each of your hoops. I find, for instance, many of the answers to tragedy of the commons questions to be woefully inadequate. (Not the least of which, for example, is the question of abortion as murder.) I also vote (a rather uneconomic decision). Also, being from a liberal city, second or third choice is often the only option I have...wasting my vote on on obvious loser is not an option I accept).

john hare writes:

4. Libertarians, unlike mainstream conservatives, openly defend many unpopular views. Intellectuals who want to loudly champion popular views have to engage libertarians because there's hardly anyone else to argue with.

There you go. A defender of the realm must have someone to defend against. Preferably someone without enough actual strength to be a real threat to said defender of the realm.

Maciano writes:

I think 6 covers a lot of it.

The last five years I've come to the conclusion that many people hold political positions because they really are sincerely convinced this is the optimal position -- given all knowledge, circumstances, nuances, biases known to them.

Only sincerity can make someone really become vehemently opposed to an opposing position. They think YOU are dumb and/or mean-spirited for having that position.

Miguel Madeira writes:

Perhaps this is the hypothesis 5 in another words, but...

Libertarianism is easy to understand - while conservatism is all about paradoxes ("individualism opens the door to collectivism", "government should be small and strong", "to much freedom could be a threat to liberties", "socialism and libertarianism are intelectual brothers", etc.), the libertarian message (less governmente, more individual liberty) is relativly simple (and conservative politicians regularly use libertarian rethoric); then is much more easy for "liberals" to argue with libertarians than with conservatives (being conservatism a very complex ideology, any critic of conservatism should be also complex)

Eli writes:

Who else are they supposed to argue with since "Academic economists range from liberal to libertarian"?

Greg G writes:


Your response reminds me that libertarian's claims to be more rational than their intellectual opponents are also things that cause people to feel disrespected by libertarians and to react back to that with disrespect.

In my experience, libertarians do tend to be very rational and logical - often to the point of failing to account for the less logical but very real and predictable aspects of human psychology.

Perhaps it would be even more rational for libertarians to recognize this pattern and anticipate this reaction when making their arguments. It seems rational and logical to me to expect that you would be more effective in persuading people if you did not claim to be more ethical and rational whether or not that is really the case.

Floccina writes:

IMO they think it is easy to make conservatives look like uneducated unscientific fools (though this is very wrong IMO their is a very reasonable case to made for conservatives and democrats for that matter (France is not so bad)) but libertarians give those conservatives intellectual cover and so are attacked. I also think that the people that you listed have more in common with conservatives that with Libertarians.

sam writes:

Same reason the Sunnis hate the Shiites more than Sikhs: Proximity.

Progressives are actually a rare species in America - if you believe Pew, perhaps 15%. However, they totally dominate rich, white, coastal America.

Progressives are ideologically forbidden from opposing urban blacks (their other neighbors, and the people they are most ideologically distant from).

There are no conservatives in coastal urban America, as the school districts are so bad that any middle-class person that wants a family has left a long time ago.

Thus the only people left to attack are libertarians (which are also overrepresented in rich whitopia)

Brian writes:

I don't think any of the options are the real story. Richard O. Hammer has it basically correct. Liberals are nothing if not highly statist and see as a threat to their worldview anyone who disdains government involvement in society. This makes conservatives a target, but libertarians much more so.

Jordan writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

There seems to be little desire to simplify; but let us try:

What are the functions of government in a social order whose members seek the least adverse impacts from government on individual liberty?

How are those functions to be conducted? What instrumentalities are required?

What are the obligations of those members to one another if those least impacts on individual liberty are to be attained? How are those obligations to be performed or enforced?

That is the simplified presentation of a libertarian concern with government and the politics related to it.

Sieben writes:

[Comment removed for crude language. --Econlib Ed.]

Capt. J Parker writes:

If you ask me why progressives like Krugman attack libertarianism it is because libertarianism is a beachhead for opponents of statism in the battle for the minds of young people. Witness Ron Paul's relative popularity with college students. Look what's going on in Brazil.

Jeff writes:

I would tweak #6 a bit. I think it's probably less about convincing themselves than about convincing their readers and ideological fellow travelers. If you see there are these people from who share some of your beliefs but disagree profoundly about others and they make some pretty reasonable sounding arguments in support of their position, they threaten the power of your political coalition. They might outright steal your supporters, which would be bad, but even if they just manage to influence some of them, this may undermine your coalition's internal cohesion, fostering conflict and disagreement in its ranks, thus weakening it. Thus, it might make sense to attack libertarianism, even if it is politically impotent on its own, just to keep your own people more in line.

Jose Romeu Robazzi writes:

I think PK is anticipating a possible presidential dispute: Rand Paul x incumbent democrat

Maniel writes:

Prof. Caplan,
While you have initiated this discussion through a side door – why do our critics think the way they do? – this topic does go to the heart of the matter: i.e., “what is a libertarian?” While I really like Richard O Hammer’s viewpoint above and while I believe that Dr. Friedman was the preeminent American economist, I am most reinforced in my beliefs by M. Claude Frédéric Bastiat. Although he produced many written works, with eloquence and clarity that never cease to amaze me, he himself boils his philosophy down to a single word, “liberté.” I find this extremely helpful because liberty is the root of the word libertarian. As I see it, when “non-believers” attack me and other libertarians, they are attacking the concept of liberty.

Please permit me a small digression. M. Bastiat (1801-1850) lived after the French Revolution, during which « liberté, égalité, fraternité » were the buzzwords. However, in his writing on Harmony, he says « Entendons-nous cependant sur ce mot égalité. Il n'implique pas pour tous les hommes des rémunérations identiques, mais proportionnelles à la quantité et même à la qualité de leurs efforts. » So while he does not reject the motto of the Revolution outright, he doesn’t want any part of income equality; rather he would like to see people rewarded for the quantity and quality of their work. Back to the future!

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

The reason for concern with libertarian thought, expressions and activities is the confrontation with POWER.

Libertarian thought is concerned with whether POWER should exist in the first instance, to what degree in any instance; and to question every instance of its "natural" growth.

Those who would argue over how power should be used, to what ends, by whom (with what motivations) can be found amongst those who call themselves conservatives, liberals, progressives, post modernists, etc., etc.

Political parties, and those groups which would channel social order (in whole or part) through governments must deal with the acquisition and use of power. This keeps "libertarianism" at a low ebb politically as antithetical to core convictions about POWER.

ON POWER The Natural History of Its Growth
by Bertrand De Jouvenel (1945 Liberty Fund Press 1993)

Yancey Ward writes:

You miss the real reason- the critics are mentally deranged.

Hazel Meade writes:

1,2,4,5, and 6.

Libertarians, despite being small in number do have disproportionate influence on policy making and public opinion. That's because libertarian philosophy is rational, consistent, and also stongly in harmony with basic principles of the American identity, which makes it very persuasive to many Americans.

And secondly, because of all those things, libertainism's critics correctly identify libertarianism as the stronger intellectual enemy than conservatism. Because they themselves are able to see the persuasiveness of libertarian ideas, and thus personally feel the need to engage those arguments, and also because libertarians attack popular positions that force people to defend the conventional wisdom (again, because libertarianism is so highly persuasive).

All of these reasons apply because libertarianism is a genuine intellectual threat to established opinion and policy.

LD Bottorff writes:

If you are not with us, you are against us. Since libertarians are not with progressives (even if they vote Democratic) they must be condemned.

MikeDC writes:

Progressives managed to make it culturally and economically untenable to declare oneself a conservative in any sort of intellectual pursuit

So sensible intellectual conservatives labeled (or if older, re-labeled) themselves as libertarians in order to survive in an overwhelmingly biased academic environment.

Progressives are re-targeting.

Koen writes:

I'd add 4 possible reasons:

1. Libertarianism probably has by far the highest proportion of (well to do) white males of all political philosophies, and so its ideology must be the prime expression of privilege, and its proponents must have the power of privilege.

2. It is easy to use libertarianism as fodder for the moral outrage industry, mostly by misrepresenting libertarian positions and by finding the libertarian nuts.

3. The political views of conservatives/republicans can be uncomfortably close to those of liberals (centrism being quite broad) so if you're going to make a principled attack on opponents libertarianism is the wiser choice if you want to avoid cognitive dissonance.

4. Attacking Republicans for their behavior and day-to-day political actions is like shooting fish in a barrel and so you'd want a more challenging target by attacking libertarian ideas and proponents.

#3 and #4 are not in contradiction with each other btw: #3 is about attacking the principles/political philosophy, #4 about attacking the day-to-day political behavior

an obvious sock puppet writes:

Simplest answer: Liberals and Libertarians draw from the same pool of potential recruits, so liberals despise libertarians as dangerous heretics. This is more pronounced now that a lot of young, tech savvy people are looking more and more libertarian.

The more cynical take? Liberals use their social tolerance as proof of their moral superiority but this doesnt work against also socially tolerant libertarians.

[nick changed with permission of commenter--EconLog Ed.]

martin writes:


finding the libertarian nuts

But where are those nuts hidden, that's the question...

Tom Jackson writes:

Is it possible the left attacks libertarians because the liberty movement offers a real alternative to Democrats? If you believe civil liberties and peace are important, would you vote for the Libertarian nominee (whoever he or she turns out to be) or Hillary Clinton?

Miguel Madeira writes:

Tom Jackson,

makes sense with the Krugman's criticism (who is basically "libertarians don't exist; the only people who are truly in favor of civil liberties and peace talks are the liberals")

James writes:

I certainly agree that liberals do seem to spend a lot of time arguing against libertarians when they could be arguing against conservatives. I've got some other theories:

1. Liberals see libertarians as people who have a wrong but coherent set of ideas about politics and society and that's a more interesting target than conservatism which appears to be (and often is) an explicit rejection of any coherent set of ideas about politics and society. I could use the word ideology here but it's become a slur word.

2. Liberals rightly recognize the extent to which conservatives make opportunistic use of libertarian ideas, especially concerning the econoic consequences of taxes and regulation. They target libertarians as a way of going directly to the source.

3. Liberals prefer to argue with other influential public intellectuals. Libertarian public intellectuals have been far more influential than conservative public intellectuals.

4. Libertarianism is not a moving target in the way conservatism is. Generally a criticism of Hayek or Friedman would be relevant to modern libertarianism. A criticism of Russell Kirk or the John Birch Society would have just about no relevance to modern conservatives.

Massimo writes:

Is Caplan socially liberal?

I imagine Caplan and much of the crowd here would overwhelmingly agree with Dan Quayle's infamous quote that is viewed as a barometer of social conservatism:

"It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice."

Caplan has been a strong proponent of the benefits of a stable marriage for fiscal reasons and for child benefits. He is harshly critical of adults who have children out of wedlock or are unfaithful or don't take parenting seriously. Too many, probably Krugman, Caplan is ultra conservative on social issues.

Maximum Liberty writes:

@James 4/13/2015 7:44pm beat me to what I was going to say, so I'll just say that I agree with his point #1 as a factor. It's the reason I love talking with (a) avowed Marxists and (b) born-again Christians. They are interesting. So are we.

Bob D writes:

Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico although a Republican at the time of service was a Libertarian in practice. He then ran as the 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate. Like Dr. Ron Paul did in the opposite way from running as a Libertarian then running as a GOP hopeful. Libertarianism as a transformed GOP offers the best hope. Hopefully Rand Paul can get the GOP nomination and win the presidency in 2016.

Alex writes:

I think "libertarianism" is somewhat more popular with smart, politically active folks. It's also easier to understand as a coherent viewpoint, in terms of ideology. (More)

lowcountryjoe writes:

#5 & #6 all day long. The Left worries about this in the same manner that the Right worried about the political stuff on Comedy Central. And you know what? There may be something to #2...eventually.

lowcountryjoe writes:

I've got one more thing to add and it's only an opinion I hold. I believe that a handful of of people whom self-identify as 'libertarians' sabotage the libertarian-persuasive effort by their criticisms of anyone not pure enough for the label. I find it ridiculous that in some forums, any tolerance of a government function that I accept gets me called a statist. I don't make it a habit of accepting government functions; my preference is that private solutions should be tried and encouraged as a default position. But being called a statist for the few functions I do choose to accept would probably have turned me off and drove me away if I wasn't already tough enough to discuss and advocate my own views with confidence.

These days, I just call myself a minarchist in forums and avoid the petty BS. I think the libertarian effort (or, at the very least, the limited government and market-friendly effort) would be going so much smoother without the sanctimonious purists looking to pick fights with those whom are pretty close to them.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"Caplan has been a strong proponent of the benefits of a stable marriage for fiscal reasons and for child benefits. He is harshly critical of adults who have children out of wedlock or are unfaithful or don't take parenting seriously."

For I have read in this blog (I did not read his book), Caplan's opinions about parenting and marriage are much idiossyncratic.

It is not the traditional social liberal positions "being childless, single mother, divorced, or traditionally married with a big family are simply alternative lifestyles - some people prefer ones, other people the other"; but I think that is not also the traditional conservative position "kids and society need stable and traditional families" - it is more "parenting styles don't make much difference for children, but YOU will be more happy having many kids and parenting them" (while conservatives argue that are positive externalities in traditional parenting and marriage, Caplan's position seems more that traditional parenting and marriege are good for the parents themselves).

Like I said, I did not read Caplan's book about the issue, and I could be wrong about his position.

Jerry Heavin writes:

Our way of thinking threatens both left and right more then any current political philosophy. The left is especially threatened because if smaller government, the elimination of coercion and force in voluntary individual transactions and protection of the individual becomes the norm their prescriptions become very hard to implement. And the logical, moral and historical validity of the arguments are disconcerting to them. They usually resort to charges of hypocrisy to counter since they are left with no effective response.

Greg G writes:


>---"...they are left with no effective response."

Unless by "effective response" you mean actually achieving a lot more influence than libertarians have.

Terry Hulsey writes:

"Self-conscious libertarians" are targeted by statist intellectuals for another, more fundamental reason.
All modern democratic states must daily walk a neurotic tightrope: They must loudly proclaim the power of voters while fearing that, once awakened, those same voters can immediately sweep them out of power. The slightest whisper of dissent must be crushed at once by the legions of parasites who flourish on that access to power. The malicious beauty of the American system is that no one needs to summon these legions -- they instinctively know their self-interest and respond accordingly.

Sebastian H writes:

It is largely a confusion of terms. Libertarians as a self identified group are small. The libertarian critique however is prominent in many types of political discourse. (That being something like: government intervention can often cause perverse reactions or more problems than it is worth, so should we expand government in this area).

Krugman doesn't like to fight through that critique, and it is easier to demonize libertarians through their self-adherents than to attack the critique.

Mark Bahner writes:
The fact is libertarianism is pretty politically active and it has made a big dent in national politics, and it's an important sub-genre of conservatism.

Why is libertarianism "an important sub-genre of conservatism"? Why isn't libertarianism an "important sub-genre" of liberalism? (The sub-genre that actually cares about liberty.)

Hazel Meade writes:

I kind of LIKE the fact that we're targets.
First, because engaging us gives us the opportunity to eludicate our views to a wider audience. It would be much worst to be a tiny ignored minority.
Second because by engaging us instead of socially conservative republicans, we are able to shift the conversation away from culture-war issues like gay rights and abortion, and onto economic issues that we care about.

I think in the last six months I have seen more discussion of civil asset forfeiture abuse in the mainstream media than I have seen in 20 years of libertarians complaining about this issue. I don't think it's a coincidence that this recent attention to libertarian concerns coincides with increased attention libertarians are getting from their critics.

Michael B. writes:

Libertarians believe in little to no state. Individual libertarians can have conservative, progressive, and even socialist leanings, technically. In case you don't see how this can be, consider this example. A country with minimal military, no economic regulations, only taxed the rich and well-to-do, had minority protections, and had a strong welfare state would technically still be libertarian because there would be so little government. There are less left libertarians, but maybe there is a fear of the left coalition moving in the "wrong" direction if parts of it begin calling for less government in certain areas.

Mike Huben writes:

I'm not prominent, but I am persistent. I've been refuting libertarian arguments online for roughly 40 years, long before the internet. My web site will have its 20th anniversary this year.

Why do I, a liberal, oppose libertarianism?

Because just like creationists, pretty much every argument they make is false or part of a false story.

Because libertarianism is an astroturf movement funded by plutocrats (who happen to have funded Bryan for quite a long time, as well as almost every libertarian organization you can name to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.)

Because libertarianism is about capitalist "liberty" trumping all other liberty, which means those who have the most money have the most liberty. I think liberty should be more evenly distributed.

Because "either you think that it is more important to provide a decent life for everyone in the world, or you think it is more important to preserve the rights of people who own property": libertarians are conservative by this Daniel Davies standard.

For much more, see: The Short, Simple Dismissal Of Libertarianism.

Dain writes:

Getting off point I admit, but I like what Richard Schweitzer above says. Libertarians want to deny that any class of people - race-based, income-based - are dominating anyone else in a truly free market, which Rothbard described as a "harmonious" state of affairs. But reality has it that someone will always be dominating someone else, so for most it's about HOW this will play out, not IF.

I've been persuaded by some progressive critics of libertarianism who claim that moves toward decentralization merely obscure the reality of who is ruling who. It's better to make visible - even if it means "locking in to place" via crony capitalism (horror or horrors!) - what power relations are, so as to actually acknowledge them and possibly remedy the downsides.

RJ Miller writes:

I've thought about this for years, and I honestly think it stems from the fear that Libertarians aren't "wrong enough" on certain issues to be an obvious threat, so people try to compensate by attacking them more.

Liberals are scared because we can't be dismissed as "warmongering homophobes" who want people in prison for petty offences, and mass surveillance by unaccountable government agencies.

Conservatives are scared because they can't dismiss us as big-government types who want higher taxes or more government programs. They naturally spend less time criticizing us and more time attempting to steal our rhetoric. ;-)

All in all, they know we are *right* on many issues and feel that we might be persuasive after all. Hence the high rate of attacks despite the fact that we are supposedly a fringe view.

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