Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Libertarianism 101: a remedial course

Republicans are not necessarily Libertarians.

In particular, Bush was not a Libertarian.

He spent recklessly, engaged in chicanery to promote useless and costly wars, trampled all over civil liberties, cut protectionist deals with the steel industry and others, and screwed up big time on immigration.

As far as I know, Libertarianism is not primarily defined as a dogmatic belief in total deregulation (at least I hope it is not).

Libertarians tend to believe that victimless crimes are not actually crimes, that national borders should be much more open than they currently are, that foreign military operations are rarely justified, and that people have a right to privacy.

The idea that government screws things up is more an idea from Public Choice than from Libertarianism. Even if the government was awesome at fighting wars, Libertarians would oppose it. I think most Libertarians are *happy* that the government is not particularly good at what it does.

To me, Libertarianism is a philosophical argument against a lot of government interventions, and Public Choice is an instrumental argument against a lot of government interventions.

In case you are wondering what set me off, check here.

9 comments:

Steve said...

My takeaway from the last 10 years is that with few exceptions (like Balko) Libertarians are happy to compromise on civil liberties in favor of "economic liberty".

If given the choice between two presidential candidates: one that advocates tax cuts, virtually unrestricted gun rights, and torturing certain US citizens without due process, vs a tax-raising, carbon-taxer who would prosecute past administrations for war crimes - is there any doubt who wins about big-L Libertarians?

No, Reason magazine and the libertarian crowd are much more Glenn Reynolds than Glenn Greenwald. Much more Fox News than Mother Jones/Nation.

LoneSnark said...

A libertarian might argue that there are no "civil liberties" without "economic liberty".

Anonymous said...

Steve,
I consider my self to be pretty libertarian. But I argued that the Republicans had to be punished for Bush. And now the Democrats have to be punished for Pelosi, Reid, and the O man. Yeah, gridlock.

John Thacker said...

No, Reason magazine and the libertarian crowd are much more Glenn Reynolds than Glenn Greenwald. Much more Fox News than Mother Jones/Nation.

So what you're saying is that you don't actually read Reason or its blog, and just rely on your own impressions? Also, I wouldn't put Mother Jones and the Nation in the same category as Greenwald, who is remarkably honest in holding his "own side" to account.

screwed up big time on immigration.

Immigration was arguably the most libertarian part of his Presidency. I don't think that "screwing up" and suffering an internal party revolt (and an opposition party wanting to defeat a president more than get something passed) is in the same category as the other offenses. On immigration, Bush was too libertarian for the average voter, if anything.

Unknown said...

@Steve
There's no way you could say that if you actually read Reason.
Bush and Obama are both bad. If forced to choose at gunpoint, I'd have to say "shoot". I think Obama is at least both genuine in his convictions and intelligent, however the damage he does to our liberty (while less despicable in intent) will be harder to repair.

Tom said...

I will agree with LoneSnark, but add "and vice-versa".

Referring back to the linked article, there is only one "bedrock belief" in my libertarianism: Violence is a lousy tool for organizing a co-operative society. When I say "violence", I include the threat of, as well as, the actual implementation of. Yes, libertarians have both empirical and philosophical bases for this belief. All the laws we have, including "pay taxes" and "don't watch porn on Sunday" are based on an escalation formula where (lesser enforcement having been rebuffed)some uniformed men show up with guns; guns are not "just for show."

Laws against murder and assault, by contrast, are preventative of use of violence -- when well administered. Those laws didn't deter a federal prosecutor from murdering Peter McWilliams, 10 years ago.

I'll defer discussion of theft, since there are left libertarians and right libertarians, who disagree about the definition of Property.

It's not just oil leaks, but a general condition of society that a person (or company), anybody, can do far more damage that he can repair. When to consider preemptive action for the threat of such? It's a deep question, to which my short answer is "err on the side of peace." It's really quite ironic that a massive failure of government regulation in the Gulf causes people to question libertarian ideas.

Dirty Davey said...

There a lot of "libertarians" who believe that freedom is most accurately measured as the inverse of the top marginal income tax rate.

Steve said...

Gillespie is all over Fox, Reynolds is one of the gang as far as Reason is concerned, and there's either radio silence or lots of equivocation on torture.

And I understand the thought process, I was a Reason subscriber for many years, and know libertarians, I've read the literature and used to consider myself one.

LoneSnark says it:

"A libertarian might argue that there are no "civil liberties" without "economic liberty"."

Which is a fair summation of the typical libertarian outlook. It means you get to vote for the guys who wants to minimize government revenue but bomb brown people and sleep well at night thinking you made the right compromise.

"There's no way you could say that if you actually read Reason.
Bush and Obama are both bad. If forced to choose at gunpoint, I'd have to say "shoot". "

I still read Reason from time to time. I actually do.

This attitude is why I'm no longer a libertarian. The cynical disengagement trope is pure crap. You are meant to engage and get interested in your government, compromises warts and all. There are issues that matter. Coalitions that form and dissipate, and all the rest. Put down the Mises and *especially* the Rand and jump in.

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