Libertarianism, Liberalism

Peron on Libertarians and the Left

Over at the terrific Moorfield Storey Blog, James Peron weighs in on a subject near-and-dear to the BHL Project: “Why Libertarians Need to Talk With the Left and How to Do It.” I haven’t much to add except my hearty endorsement!

If you missed it the first time around, James’ piece on “The Disaster of Me Libertarianism” touches on similar themes, and is also very much worth reading.

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Author: Matt Zwolinski
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  • Damien S.

    *crickets chirp*

    Well, I thought they were interesting pieces, even if I disagree about who’s naive about economics.

    • Anonymous

      Keep citing Krugman and other Keynesians and you prove yourself worse than naive.

      • Damien S.

        Evidence — worse than naivete!

        • Anonymous

          Your use of “evidence” so far, like in the public school debates, has been to fit your arbitrary foregone conclusions. The qualifier of “The evidence suggests” is mere cover. These statements can be inverted. I could use the same evidence that you present to defend the exact opposite meaning. Why would your hypothesis or causal inference trump mine? It comes down to the quality of reasoning in the methodology. Stats do not speak for themselves. It’s your insistence on applying methods that ought to be reserved for the physical sciences to the part of human beings that does not conform to that kind of determinacy– the acting thinking mind.

          Yet there are tools to help get realistic meaning from the past, like economic logic, that you either reject out-of-hand or merely bend to suit whatever you have previously decided the stats should tell you (as stated up front).

          • Damien S.

            “I could use”

            Yet you don’t, so empty words.

            Meanwhile the countries that enact austerity policies are diving into second recessions.  Anti-Keynesian and hard money policies have been tried and proven failures, over and over.

          • Anonymous

            Maybe you are describing supply-sider “Chicago School” situations. Who knows. Certainly different than an Austrian approach. How would you even know success/failure if you don’t even identify correctly what causes recessions in the first place?  Success/failure for who and in what way?

            your insistence on applying methods that ought to be reserved for the physical sciences to  the part of human beings that does not conform to that kind of determinacy– the acting thinking mind. 
            That statement is bizarre on two counts:

            1) Economics is useful precisely because human actions, given certain defined conditions, are determinant. Macroeconomics isn’t hard because of free will, it’s hard because the problem is so dynamic and hideously complex that it is literally impossible to solve by brute force.

            2) The idea that human beings lack free will is actually quite plausible, and has increasingly strong evidence. But since you’re in the habit of putting theory prior to evidence, you might as well make your own neuroscience as well.

          • Anonymous

            1) Wherever there are humans, there are individuals using scarce means to attain scarce ends. In this sense, there are logical implications that all humans conform to, like supply and demand. These constraints could be considered determinate, I guess. But the particular action an individual chooses within a particular environment at a particular time is not predictable.  Nor is the subject’s internal assessment of the situation observable. It follows that the situation is not repeatable, either. History is a one-off.

            Macro fails because aggregation does not capture the nature of individual intentional action. No wonder why Keynesians miss the boat on how money creation effects different persons at different times….

            2) Recognizing economic theory in terms of human action is necessary to even have a concept of “evidence”. Now, the bio-determinists may make discoveries– but they do not and cannot identify the particular woman to invent a certain thing at a particular time. 

            What does neuro have to do with economic reasoning? I can see it helping to understand the ‘why’ of what made somebody do something. But how solid can that be outside the study of reflex and unconscious reaction? Neuro offers nothing for the basic fact that humans act purposively in a world of scarcity.

          • Damien S.

            This feels like listening to an Objectivist.  “1. A=A. 2. ??? 3. Objectivism!”
            Here it’s “1. Supply and demand, people act purposively. 2. ??? 3. ???”

            Individuals aren’t predictable? Well, not in fine details.  I can’t predict what you’re going to eat tomorrow, especially since I don’t know you.  OTOH, I can predict that most people are going to eat tomorrow.  Insurance companies don’t know who’s going to die or what houses will burn down, but they don’t need to, averages work fine.  Climate is easier to predict than weather.  Gases are easier to predict than gas molecules.

            As for macro failing, or Keynesians missing the boat, how would you justify such claims?

  • Matt,
        Thanks for the link. I think that one of the biggest challenges with these types of arguments is the way in which aggregates of individuals based upon political ideology are created. “The left” in this sense, seems to mean anyone who is not a die-hard conservative and many people on “the left”, at least in Peron’s typology, seem to have no major ideological orientation at all. The folks he describes as “the rank and file left” could be just as easily  described as “decent people” who want a reasonable degree of social equality, some type of welfare state, and don’t harbor any intense animus towards one social group or another.
        Peron, in my mind, is suggesting a conversation between persons who do have a well-developed belief system (libertarians) with folks who don’t really have a clear ideology (“the rank and file left”) but maybe some vague notions. To me, that’s a very different conversation than a conversation between a libertarian (pick your flavor) and a self-described Marxist. In the latter situation you have two persons with an established framework.
        On some basic level it makes perfect sense to put up booths at the gun show. The gun enthusiasts have a naturally affinity for the libertarian critique(s) of state power even if they don’t really understand it on any deep level. However, it seems unlikely to me those “natural affinity” types will ever convert to full-on libertarianism (except a watered-down “paleo” variety) and I’m not sure that this type of strategy is ultimately effective in generating more libertarians.
        Also, I’m think we should be very careful when making sweeping arguments about groups of people based upon their political ideology. I am not sure that the “progressives” of 1917 are really comparable to the “progressives” of 2012. Additionally, anyone familiar with the intellectual history of “the left” knows that it is full of critiques of state power and anti-state radicals. Even within the confines of the narrow intellectual framework of Marxism we can find vast disagreement about the proper role of the state (or if there should even be a state).  The author casts “classical liberals” as political revolutionaries on the forefront of positive social change. In my view this is a gross exaggeration that vastly overstates the influence that intellectuals have on society; I suppose it fits nicely with the “illegal copies of The Road to Serfdom brought down the USSR” meme.
         Finally, there are issues of authenticity and reflexivity. Libertarianism will likely change and evolve (devolve?) as it engages with other ideologies. Both parties in the conversation might be changed, and judging by Peron’s article this is not the intention of such conversations.
        However, even if both parties remain in roughly the same ideological camps it doesn’t rule out the possibility of coalition building across ideological lines, which may have a great deal of usefulness.


    • Damien S.

      Given a candidate/party who would end the war on drugs, vs. one who would end the income tax, I wonder how libertarians would split?  I bet the Koch brothers would go for the tax cut.

      • They have so far.

        • Anonymous

          No they haven’t because there has never been that choice. Obama has done nothing to curb the War on Drugs. The only candidates running who want to do anything about drug laws are Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. Both of them want to cut taxes and spending, too. 

          • Damien S.

            While I readily grant that the Democrats are far from being be a consistently pro-drug liberty party, there’s more to them than Obama or even Congress.  There’s been lots of medical marijuana movement among the states; has that been driven more by Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives?  I don’t know, and a lot of the action was via initiative or referendum.  But certainly at least some Democratic legislatures and governors have passed and signed bills, like Maryland and Hawaii. 

            And more recently, there’s been a lot of Republican pushing to make welfare recipients have to take drug tests for benefits, with Democrats sometimes pushing back by adding amendments to make legislators take the drug tests too, leading to withdrawal of the bills.

          • At one time there was. If you go back about 30 years or so, before the Reagan “revolution” you would find a large number of liberal Democratic politicians favoring drug law liberalization. Since then, the general political climate has shifted so far to the right that it’s now considered an extreme position that no serious candidate for president can seriously endorse.

            To the extent that the 5 or 10% of the voting public that identifies as libertarian chose to side with conservative Republicans over liberal Democrats proved decisive in close elections — and I have no idea how many races that may have been the case — you really have only yourselves to blame. You chose to sacrifice civil liberties in favor of lower taxes and spending.

            How’s that working out for you?

          • Anonymous

            “and I have no idea how many races that may have been the case”

            So basically, you have nothing but your gut feeling to support that libertarians when given an actual choice will vote for economic liberty over civil liberty, but you felt like making a snarky comment anyway.  Glad we got that cleared up.

          • Damien S.

            I note that no libertarians here have answered my question, either time I’ve posed it.

      • Damien, 

           I don’t know that those are either realistic positions to hold given our current political situation. But I could see libertarians working in coalitions at the local and state level to allow medical marijuana or reduce the draconian nature of drug laws.  A few years ago some legal scholars wrote an interesting paper about the diffusion of municipal bills of rights and found that, while libertarians did have some influence, they tended to eschew grassroots activism. Indeed, Peron’s miscasting of “classical liberals” as “revolutionaries” speaks to this general libertarian orientation against grassroots activism.     However, coalition building might change the nature of libertarianism and the post-coalition libertarianism might be markedly different as it enters to political process and has contacts with other communities of interest. Right now, libertarianism is a politically marginal epistemic community that is able to claim authenticity and suggest politically unfeasible policies because libertarians 1) have no political power and 2) have created an infrastructure of blogs, think tanks etc. that serve as an echo chamber. Its much easier to maintain authenticity when you don’t have to compromise, when you can remain a critic and never a performer.
           Peron’s “conversations” between libertarians and the left may not have this effect, but I think even opening up to other camps might change libertarianism. Unless its a one-sided conversation with the libertarian telling the “rank and file” left winger “this is how it is!” I can’t imagine that that libertarian will emerge unchanged.  
            Elements of libertarianism influence public discourse but not as a systematic way of framing the social world, and therefore policy. Libertarianism has almost no power. So you end up with gun enthusiasts calling themselves libertarian because they don’t like gun laws, or people like the Kochs calling themselves libertarians because they want a regulatory structure that favors their businesses. So libertarianism as a movement is marginal, while cherry-picked and reframed libertarian ideas have some salient influence on political life. 
             IDK I could be wrong…… 

        • Anonymous

          Echo chamber, eh?  Have you been over to  or listened to  the Free Talk Live radio program? 
          Your argument is invalid, lol!

        • Anonymous

          Free Talk Live has over 100 radio stations and growing, as well as several thousand consistent podcast downloaders. Talk about libertarians engaging the public. How about the Free State Project itself?

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  • Anonymous

    The criticism in Peron’s agrument really resonated with me.  From my perspective, liberty has almost unilaterally worsened, and I’ve tended to speak that way.  However for many groups within our society, their civil liberty has dramatically increased.  Trying to ask “in sum, has the change been positive or negative” is a fools game.   But I need to admit that liberty has progressed in some very important areas.  It’s good to be positive about these developments.

  • Anonymous

    Who are the biggest free riders? Those individuals manning the state apparati. The state itself. Miron misses this point. Like so many self-identifying libertarians who have had to bow to Establishment feet for decades, or were merely self-selected to fit the non-threatening role, they mix neoliberalism (liberal-corporatism, welfarism, soft-statism) with elements of libertarianism. Miron may perceive his position as radical– and it may be relative to his environment in High Liberal Cambridge, MA.  But from the trenches Miron’s blog appears wishy-washy and anemic. Maybe not as shallow as Tom Friedman or J. Sachs, but definitely on par with The Economist writers, e.g. Will Wilkinson.