David R. Henderson  

Jonathan Lipow on the Role of Government

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As such, those on the left or the right of America's political spectrum may regard the proposals I offered in this book as an incoherent hodgepodge. Following my son's advice, I totally deny that and instead make a counteraccusation: many on the right and left have made a fetish of what is nothing more than a problem of engineering: sometimes government is the right tool for the job, and sometimes it isn't.

My own thinking on this issue was strongly influenced by occasional debates I have had with two of my colleagues at the Naval Postgraduate School--Francois Melese and David Henderson. Francois and David are what you could loosely characterize as "libertarian" in their world view, and we often argue about the role of government in society. One particular "clash" stands out in my mind, because it helped me crystalize my thinking on this matter. So we were talking while eating lunch at the Taco Bell in downtown Monterey of all places. Suddenly David, a man in his sixties, excused himself, got up, and ran outside. What had happened was that he had seen several young men bullying and roughing up another young man, and David had gone to intervene.

In thinking about what David had done, I finally understood how he and other libertarians could see their vision of limited government as a viable means of running a society. Such a society would be entirely workable if most people behaved like David! And I realized then that no answer would ever emerge from ideological debates over the size of government because it was the wrong question to ask in the first place.

This is from the recently published book by my Naval Postgraduate School colleague Jonathan Lipow. The book is titled Survival: The Economic Foundations of American National Security. It was recently published by Lexington Press.

Whenever Jonathan and I talk about economic policy or defense policy, we find ourselves disagreeing. But the conversation is always pleasant. You can see why from the above quote.

I don't think, though, that most people would have to behave like me for a limited government to work. I think the number is well below half. And the main bullies we would have to focus on restraining are the ones in government.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Alex Tabarrok writes:

Bravo to David who is indeed awesome.

Also an interesting rhetorical strategy from Lipow as the more we praise David the less likely (according to Lipow) that his ideology will work.

David R. Henderson writes:

Wow! Thanks, Alex. That means a lot, especially coming from you.
Just so I understand your comment, I think you’re saying that the more we praise David, the more we point out that there’s a huge gap between people like him and the substantial majority. Is that right?
By the way, much as I loved Jonathan’s and your comments about me, I really do think that there are a lot of people like me. What % of the population? I have no idea. But a lot.

Pajser writes:

Bravo from me too, Henderson. In whole life I met only four people for whom I know that they are willing to stand up for strangers in risky situations. My psychology prof. said there are no good researches, but he believed 5%. Well, it was 30 years ago. Less than half people pass Milgram's test even if it is much easier.

I agree that "size of state" is technical issue. That is the reason that anarcho-socialists often collaborate with Marxists and rarely if ever with anarcho-capitalists.

David R. Henderson writes:


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