Libertarianism, Current Events


Brian Leiter, who often mocks the ignorant and semiliterate invocations of philosophical ideas that bounce around the media, links approvingly [see his response in comments] to the following claim that manages to lower my already-low estimation of Elliot Spitzer’s intelligence.

The worldviews of Obama and Romney are really proxies for the theoretical debate about Keynesian economics vs. the more libertarian views of Frederick Hayek. Obama’s support for a government stimulus and expenditures to invest are traditional Keynesian; Romney’s shrink-government-at-all-costs view is akin to the hands-off approach of Hayek and the Chicago school. Keynes won, as well he should have. Likewise, John Rawls’ view of a government that is concerned about the well-being of the last well off member of society is akin to Obama’s interest in a progressive income tax where the wealthier pay more, and ensuring access to health care and food stamps for those who are needy. Romney’s statements about the 47 percent—even if one credits that he is more compassionate than those words might suggest—are more akin to the libertarian world of Nozick, where one eats what one kills, and if there are shortfalls, private charity not government should fill the void. When the choice was made, Rawls won over Nozick. As well he should have.

Wow. Where does one even begin?

Rawls’ “property-owning democracy” is not the American-style tax-and-redistribute welfare state, even if the latter were greatly expanded.

“One eats what one kills,” apart from being a singularly bizarre way to talk about someone with Nozick’s views on animal rights. is not even loosely a reasonable way to talk about Nozick’s views on cooperation in the market.

Rawls endorsed the inviolability of the basic liberties and the lexical priority of liberty; and Nozick, using different language, agreed with both thoughts. Their views on individual human liberty found not the faintest echo in a presidential election between two candidates competing to see who could expand the security state and the police powers brought to bear on the drug war the fastest.

The Chicago School does not oppose countercyclical stimulus.

A difference after ten years between government spending at 20.25% of GDP and government spending at 23.75% of GDP is not the difference between Nozick and Rawls on fundamental philosophical questions.

A projected federal government that spends 20.25% of GDP after ten years is not a “shrink-government-at-all-costs” view.

An inability to specify any actual spending cuts besides PBS is not a “shrink-government-at-all-costs” view.

Proposed expansions of defense spending above the current astronomical levels are not a “shrink-government-at-all-costs” view.

Romney’s comments on the 47% were in part a complaint that not enough people pay taxes. That is not a view one could easily associate with Nozick.

  • Sigh.

  • Brian

    The strangest part is you thought it was an “approving” link!

    • Brian: Well, “I suppose put that way, it’s true” is a lot more like approval than you normally express if you mean to *dis*approve of a general-media invocation of philosophy! But if this was just a (slightly atypically? Is that fair to say?) light-touched piece of mockery, I’m glad to hear it and will edit the above accordingly

      • Brian

        The truth is I only skimmed it, once I saw who the author was. What would one expect?

  • Aeon Skoble

    Why does Spitzer even have a career? I think less of Slate now, not because of the idiocy of this piece, but that they have him on board at all. Is the public memory that short now? I understand Bernie Madoff and David Petraeus are looking for work too,

    • Sean II

      Spitzer’s career is based on Slate’s recognition of Keynesian economic principles. They calculated the multiplier effect achieved with every dollar of his salary, and it then became a Rawlsian moral imperative to hire him for the benefit of society’s least well off.

      So just like the man said, Keynes and Rawls won…”as well they should have”.

    • good_in_theory

      Wow, Libertarians who take prostitution laws seriously.

      • Aeon Skoble

        It’s not prostitution laws I take seriously, it’s hypocrisy and abuse of power I take seriously. If Spitzer likes going with hookers, that’s his business. But as a public official, he went out of his way to send other people who like using those services to prison. That’s bad enough, but as a user himself, it makes it intolerable. Kinda like having a former pothead who becimes president and then uses the DoJ and DEA to make life miserable for other potheads.

  • Pingback: Is Obama a Rawlsian? Is Romney a Nozickean? | Alan P Reynolds()

  • Sounding a bit elitist here. Only real philosophers should be allowed to talk philosophy? But there is a real world out there and policy differences that are indeed small compared to theoretical philosophical positions end up being huge in the lives of real people and the function of the economy and of society. A 3.5% difference in spending is close to $600 billion dollars a year plus or minus any multipliers. I’d be willing to bet that if you gave voters ignorant of Nozick, Rawls, Hayek and Keynes a summary of their philosophies indeed you would see their votes well correlated with the respective philosophers positions. The disdain for Spitzer shown here tells me clearly about voting inclinations of the commenters.

    • Aeon Skoble

      It’s not elitist to note that an online columnist is caricaturing and misrepresenting philosophers. Even if the columnist weren’t a discredited hack with zero integrity.

      • Sean II

        You gotta believe Spitzer didn’t really know who Nozick and Rawls were until shortly before he wrote that.

        The funny thing to imagine is: maybe he was wasted at an Obama victory party and he got a “drunk philosophy” lesson from an otherwise legitimate progressive intellectual who was off his game that night. Spitzer then took what he heard, and ran it all through that filter politicians and journalists use to simplify things until they’re, you know, dead wrong.

      • Rawls and Nozick aren’t juxtaposed in any way? Justice and liberty don’t define two different approaches to ordering our society? Eliot Spitzer discredited? Like Wall Street abuse, fraud and rent seeking hasn’t been a problem? He was way ahead of the game trying to prevent the massive crash that wall Street delivered us and to this day they are running rampant over our economy and our democracy while giving clear real time evidence of the problems a libertarian society might foist onto civil society. Theory and philosophy can sound so neat and sophisticated until they comes into contact with the real world.

        • Aeon Skoble

          If the real world is someplace where it’s perfectly ok for the powerful to enjoy vices that they imprison others for indulging in, I’ll stay in fantasyland.

          • Absolutely….THAT is the real world and a social contract bound around a common government seems to actually be the best way to maximize utility and liberty. Social democracies with all their problems have created the best societies every…libertarian societies do not even exist…suggesting they are unstable or not consistent with the nature of our evolution. Logic and history suggest its a bit of both. Indeed for many they prefer to complain about the way the real world and impose their fantasy beliefs on others. Libertarianism seems to be more a propaganda tool used by the ruling class to maintain their positions.

  • Hume22

    Brian is not exactly even-handed in political discussion on his blog. Consider this post:

    “Apparently it pays to be a disgraced university President
    Wow. The real story, of course, is the extent to which university presidents are being paid like CEOs. Another triumph of the market.”
    Who is he referring to? Former *Penn State* president Graham Spanier. According to Leiter, anything that falls within the extension of “currently existing U.S. institutions” is a market institution. I find this misleading. (Dworkinian?).

  • Pingback: angara fahise()

  • Pingback: angara fahise()

  • Pingback: Daftar Agen Bola Terpercaya()