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Some Guy’s Critique of Libertarianism

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Hat tip to feargach for linking to this piece. Apparently it’s a guide on how to argue using only logical fallacy.

But in all seriousness, let’s take a look at a few points the author makes against libertarianism:

The first fallacy [of libertarianism] is one I call the Fallacy of Revolution. It can be found in any movement that seeks to radically revise the underpinnings of society, whether by abolishing money, imposing a theocracy, eliminating undesirable ethnic groups, repealing all law, organizing everyone’s diet according to principles of macrobiotics, or whatever other secret of a perfect society any group comes up with… The fallacy can be expressed more or less as follows:

By making these radical changes, we are removing the root cause of all the failures and evils of society as it presently stands. This will eliminate all of the existing problems, and since we have no knowledge of what new problems might arise, we can assume there will be none. Everything will work right, because there are no foreseeable things that can go wrong.

Let’s set aside the association of libertarianism with communism, nihilism and ethnic cleansing for the moment. Does this carry any weight? Yes, and no. While a libertarian might claim that removing the root cause of many problems [government] will lead to overall betterment, it is a massive non sequitor to suggest that everything will work out right, and a perfect society will be achieved. I know of few libertarians who reason this way. A libertarian might point to a government price control as the cause of a shortage of good x, but by no means will the removal of the price control lead to a utopian society where everyone can possess good x.

The author continues:

The second fallacy is one that I personally refer to as the Libertarian Fallacy…It can be expressed as the idea that freedom is measured by absence of laws.  Another way of stating it is that only the government can restrict your rights.  (Some Libertarians strongly support this wording, saying that a law removes or restricts your rights, but a private entity can only infringe on your rights without changing them.)  To me, this is an artificial double standard, which labels a restraint on your freedom by one outfit in a completely different way than the same restraint by a different outfit, because one has the label of “government” and the other does not.  Indeed, much of the fabric of reasoning in Libertarianism is based on presuming that the government is uniquely unlike any other entity, and therefore must be judged by entirely different standards from how anything else is appraised.

Firstly, a government is a unique entity. It is at the helm of a territorial monopoly of coercion and ultimate-decision making. It unilaterally decides the price of its “services”. It is the final arbiter in all disputes, including disputes involving itself. You cannot legitimately refuse to participate in “trade” with the government. The libertarians appear to have a point. No private entity has these qualities, despite the Public Choice School’s attempts to portray the government as just another market firm.

It is also incorrect to suggest that libertarians claim that only governments can restrict your rights. After all, libertarians acknowledge the existence of private murderers, rapists, thieves and con-artists too. However these private actors don’t claim to be legitimate thieves, murderers and con-artists, whereas the government maintains the status of the sole legitimate rights violator, hence libertarians focus fervently on its removal.

Finally,

To me, the question is how much power others have over you and how constrained your choice of actions is, not whether the constraint is by public action rather than private action.  In the viewpoint of those who hold this fallacy, what matters is how free you are on paper, not how free you are in what choices are actually open to you right now in real life.  According to this view, a destitute person with no public support is more free than one who gets some kind of pension or welfare, despite the fact that the latter is the one who can do many things that are closed off to the former.

The above paragraph appears to be putting words in the mouths of all libertarians. For example, I doubt that a libertarian would claim that one person can be more free than another. Both the destitute person and the welfare recipient can be free [absent of institutionalised coercion], or they could both be unfree. There’s no way of telling with the information given.

I’ve encountered the “free to starve” argument before, so I think I’ll leave the final knockdown blow to Rothbard:

…the “freedom-to-starve” argument rests on a basic confusion of “freedom” with “abundance of exchangeable goods.” The two must be kept conceptually distinct. Freedom is meaning fully definable only as absence of interpersonal restrictions. Robinson Crusoe on the desert island is absolutely free, since there is no other person to hinder him. But he is not necessarily living an abundant life; indeed, he is likely to be constantly on the verge of starvation. Whether or not man lives at the level of poverty or abundance depends upon the success that he and his ancestors have had in grappling with nature and in transforming naturally given resources into capital goods and consumers’ goods. The two problems, therefore, are logically separate. Crusoe is absolutely free, yet starving, while it is certainly possible, though not likely, for a given person at a given instant to be a slave while being kept in riches by his master.

This goes to show that we can assume that all critiques of libertarianism are a priori strawmen.

the “freedom-to-starve” argument rests on
a basic confusion of “freedom” with “abundance of exchangeable
goods.” The two must be kept conceptually distinct. Freedom

is meaningfully definable only as absence of interpersonal

Written by 20000miles

August 12, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Posted in education

Salerno on Socialism and Calculation

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Here is Joe Salerno’s excellent summary of the Economic Calculation Debate.

The sniping remarks about the utopian socialists are pure gold. Salerno also mentions Charles Fourier, the man who argued that not only would socialism be more productive than capitalism but that under socialism:

  • the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean
  • the seas would lose their salt and become oceans of lemonade
  • the world would contain 37 million poets equal to Homer, 37 million mathematicians equal to Newton and 37 million dramatists equal to Molière, although “these are approximate estimates”

The reality turns out to be very different.

Written by 20000miles

July 29, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Posted in economics, socialism

Irish Liberty Forum Competition

with 5 comments

The first 10 people to click this link win a pdf of David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom”.

Those who missed out can find a copy here.

Written by 20000miles

July 15, 2009 at 1:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

An Article That Explains Neither Boom Nor Bust

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Anyone who’s interested in failings of empiricism should read the article “Bad Distribution of Income Led to Great Depression: History Repeats in 2008“. It refers to John Kenneth Galbraith’s claims that maldistribution of incomes led to the Great Depression, and was a contributing factor to the Great Recession.

Simply becuase the income share of the rich increases during a boom doesn’t mean that it is a trigger for the economic collapse. In fact, they are more likely to be a consequence of the manic boom than anything else. Without a sound economic theory to underpin discussion of real events, we’re simply going to be stabbing in the dark for cause and consequence.

Written by 20000miles

June 22, 2009 at 4:59 am

Posted in economics, history

Refuting The Irrifutable: A Note On mr1001nights

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I’ve been a long time follower of mr1001nights’ youtube channel, however I never considered discussing his videos at length before. However, his latest piece “Can I wash your car for $10″ warrents a decent response, as it claims to refute several capitalist defences of the market system. For me, mr1001nights’ videos often present more questions than answers and this piece is no exception.

Here, even if I fall short of a complete refutation, I will at least attempt to ask those questions.

Obviously a capitalist at the top of a corporate hierarchy – a corporate empire – with thousands of wage slaves does not compare with John paying Peter to wash his car.

As mr1001nights recognises, individual examples do serve a larger purpose. Robinson Crusoe narratives are particularly useful in stripping down economic ideas into their bare essentials. However it is important to ask: in what sense do corporate hierarchies not compare with John paying Peter to wash his car? Both John and the “wage slave” are being paid a sum of money to perform a particular function on someone elses property using only their labour. Are these both exploitative acts? Is one exploitative and the other non-exploitative? Is one more coercive than the other?

As I have said many times, the objection has to do with subordination to a boss under threat of starvation, poverty and social stigma, which arises out of a class situation.

The above quotation is the crux of most of mr1001nights’ videos. However it is fundamentally flawed as a criticism of market economics. But before I get to this, a short note on coercion.

I contend that the manner in which non-capitalists use the words “force” and “coercion” are fundamentally flawed. As such it is important to challenge them. Force simply pertains to violence against person or property. Nothing more, nothing less. Although many other definitions of “coercion” have been put forward (see F.A. Hayek’s dubious definition), it is the only one that does not devolve into absurdities. Try this on for size: “Women who are single are faced with the fear of being alone, as well as social stigma. Therefore, although entered into “voluntarily” by participants, marriage is actually a coercive institution.”

Secondly, even if we were to acknowledge that “the threat of starvation, poverty and social stigma” do indeed constitute “coercion”, this criticism still fails as a challenge of market economies. Starvation and poverty are not a threat specific to capitalist economies. Humans still have to produce to consume. And despite mr1001nights’ insistence on separating “subjugation of man by man” and “subjugation of man to nature”, he constantly insists that economic scarcity is a strike against market economies. Similarly, in a non-capitalist society – presumably one where consumer goods are available to all who want them – the threat of social stigma still remains as well. In fact, it may well be one of the driving factors in ensuring compliance with social goals.

In short, “starvation, poverty and social stigma” do not disappear in a the non-capitalist society, and mr1001nights, through slight of hand, makes it seem that they are created through class conflict to boot.

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Written by 20000miles

June 17, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Posted in economics

Happy Birthday F. A. Hayek!

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I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this picure of Hayek for weeks now. Hayek’s birthday (May 8th) will do.

The full story of how Hayek had “inflation by the balls” here.

Written by 20000miles

May 8, 2009 at 3:37 am

Posted in economics, news

The [Myth of the] Standard Oil Monopoly

with one comment

In an excellent video, Lawrence Reed debunks the case of Standard Oil as monopoly.

The monopoly concept is seriously misunderstood. Rather than sticking to the classical definition; “an exclusive grant to sell given by government”, some believe that it’s something to do with market share.

In the video, Reed cites the recent example of the US FTC, which decided to take on five evil cereal manufacturers on charges of “shared monopoly”. What the hell is a “shared monopoly”? Who knows, but anyway, it’s apparently not cool if five competitors have 80% of the market share of ready-to-eat cereal. But isn’t cereal in competition with fruit, toast, pancakes and bacon?

Also, it was apparently not cool that Standard Oil once fleetingly held 90% of market share, despite having 66 other competitors ready to pounce when Standard slipped up.

The lesson: monopoly has nothing to do with market share as the definition of “market” can be whatever the hell you want it to be.

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Written by 20000miles

April 29, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Posted in economics

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