NEWSFLASH: Paul Krugman Doesn’t Understand Libertarianism

A few days ago, Paul Krugman displayed his masterful knowledge of the sociology of the libertarian movement by complaining about all the Ayn Randians running around advocating for a Basic Income Guarantee.

Now he’s at it again, demonstrating that he knows absolutely nothing about libertarian positions on environmental issues.

According to Krugman, libertarians believe that “anyone who worries about…environmental issues is engaged in scare tactics to further a big-government agenda.”

Right. Because it’s not like libertarians have ever written anything on this. And it’s not like there’s any theoretical resources in the libertarian toolkit like, I don’t know, a concern for property rights, that might be brought to bear on various environmental problems like phosphate pollution.

For some actual insight on this issue, see Ed Dolan’s response to Krugman here. And see my paper on “Libertarianism and Pollution,” forthcoming in the Routledge Companion to Environmental Ethics.

  • Libertymike

    Libertarian is not a word one should employ to describe basic income guarantees.

  • Dave Cannon

    Your problem is that the Libertarian dialogue has been co-opted by corporate interests who don’t want a free-market per se, but a free market for their own ventures and a highly regulated market for upstart competitors.

    I disagree with Krugman on a lot of things, but the average rank-and-file “libertarian” of today is probably on Medicare, thinks we should nuke Iran, and gives a blind eye to the excess and disregard for environmental externalities among corporate robber barons.

    Ayn Rand preached one thing but look at her close corporate friends and the religion she spawned. It’s the same old elitist club scheming to extract what they can out of the general populace.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      and you base those specious assumptions on what exactly? Oh BTW Ayn Rand is not the end all be all of libertarianism.

      • Dave Cannon

        You’re right. Von Mises was the beginning; Ed Koch is apparently the end all be all. Notice the disconnect?

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          Uhm, no, not really, don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Ed Koch, the former Mayor of NY? Was he a libertarian? I don’t think so. Von Mises would have called himself a Liberal, in the classic sense.

    • Sean II

      A key part of Rand’s message is that the general populace doesn’t have much worth extracting.

      Your comment, even lazier than it is ignorant, tends to support her on that point.

      • Dave Cannon

        You sure of that? Rand said that the Native Americans deserved to be stripped of their lands.

        Read a list of her New York penthouse elite friends and look at the extractive economic institutions they created. Yes, they denounce the general populace for not rising to their heroic stature, while simultaneously living off what they can beg, borrow, and steal from them.

        • Sean II

          You’re an idiot, or at least you’re doing a very convincing impression of one.

          Why do that here? The internet is a huge place with many spacious homelands for idiots. If you’re interested in having a freshman dorm level exchange where one side harps about Koch brothers and Ayn Rand’s medicare bills, while the other retaliates with crap about George Soros and sharia law…why don’t you just go someplace where they do that? Why come to a place like this and drag it down?

          Because Dave, here’s the nicest way I can put this: you’re not up for this level of discussion. You come off like a guy who showed up late for class but who yet shamelessly insists on discussing points everyone else left behind 30 minutes ago.

          The people you’re haranguing are the least corporate, least cliched libertarians around. In this room, YOU are the asshole spouting off lamely predictable talking points to no one in particular. YOU are the sucker at the poker game. The best thing you could do is shut up and listen.

    • oldoddjobs

      You’re right Dave, libertarianism should be consistent. Next!

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Krugman understands a lot. He makes the idiotic arguments he does because he is no longer an economist or even a commentator. He is a shill for a specific world view and the party which represents it. Truth is no longer of much concern to him.

  • Sergio Méndez

    With all due respect, the average libertarian(including some of my fellow left libertarian camarades!) think global warming is a hoax and that scientists that support the idea are just on it to get money from the government (and even believe in conspiracy theories of rigged data etc…). In this one Krugman is not far away from the truth.

    • Sean II

      Of course we know that’s ridiculous because scientists do not respond to incentives. They have an immunity which makes them exceptional to that otherwise reliable truth of human behavior. It starts to take effect shortly after they propose their thesis in grad school. By the time of the hooding ceremony, the process is complete. They become impervious.

      Scientists would never, for example, trump up a case against marijuana for decades just because there happened to be a river of funds flowing in that direction. No way.

      Only a total nutcase would imagine that the massive social, political, and economic pressure bearing down on climate scientists has any effect on their work.

      Great comment Serg’.

      • Sergio Méndez

        Of course…the large mayority of scientists on earth are part of the evil conspiracy ti make us believe in global warming. They are all in for the money…the only incentive they care is the money….how was I so blind not to see it!

        • Sean II

          All the elements of a classic Serg’ comment:

          Dropped in days late onto a dead thread? Check. Snarkastic without being funny? Check. Exclamation point? Check. Comment so emotional and un-libertarian it could be posted on Daily Kos without triggering an intruder alert? Check. Unable to distinguish between the fine art of reductio ad absurdum and the crude practice of straw-manning? Check.

          Expressions of clownishly feigned shock (e.g. “Whaaaa?) Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m sure you’ll nail that one next time, buddy.

    • I came here to say just that. Libertarian often find it difficult to come up with a satisfactory answer to the questions climate change poses, so they instead default to a ‘the scientists are paid to lie by government’ mindset. It’s disappointing and has nearly driven me from the movement.

  • Ted

    To assess Krugman’s accuracy I think we need to define libertarian, or at least poll them. Most of the recent news about prominent libertarians has concerned those running for office as republicans,

    Chances are, if you want a smaller government, you probably also want a smaller EPA. Yes, libertarians at this blog may favor a universal basic income, and, maybe?, some kind of guarantied health care, but I don’t know if you represent the most common libertarian ideology.

    Another point, if libertarians actually concede the need to account for negative externalities of corporate conduct, then I think they had better dramatically reassess the size of the government that they will be comfortable with.

    As a response to libertarians that Krugman has met, or has read about in the news recently, I would say his point is entirely justified. If you ever meet a libertarian actually advocating for increased environmental regulation, then you have witnessed something that I have not,

    • Theresa Klein

      Re pollution and negative externalities:
      Krugman gets so far as tort law, but misses the corallary, liability insurance.
      You have the business carry some sort of liability insurance to protect against the risk of incurring future damages. The insurance company will naturally strive to price the risk as accurately as possible (since their profits depend on it), and the rates will go down when the business operates more safely. Essentially, the insurance companies take over the job of regulating, but in place of an explicit set of rules, the business just gets charged more or less depending on the riskiness of their activities. They are then able to mke tradeoffs of price vs. safety, and the cost of the insurance (future risk) gets priced into the product. This effectively assigns the costs of externalities back to the originator… i.e. it internalizes them.

      Not only is this vastly simpler than our current bureucratic system of explicit detailed rules specific to every industry, but it is effectively paid for entirely by the businesses themselves. it costs the public nothing, except to the extent that people who buy their products pay slightly more, which is fine.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        The other thing Krugman either ignores, or worse, is entirely ignorant about is the huge industry which has developed in promoting Industry Standards. I belong to ASQ the American Society of Quality. nearly every business of any size, if they wish to do business internationally or even with larger corporations must submit themselves to outside scrutiny from industry standard organizations. These often promote health and environment standards which are even more stringent than those of government, (but not the silly redundant ones government is often fond of).

    • Your comment reads as though the only possible way to acknowledge externalities as a problem, and to deal with them, is to regulate them. See Munger’s most recent post.

  • Debbie Dresner

    Krugman knows some Math- you don’t. Precisely because he does know Math he knows what the true Libertarian position is – which you don’t you lazy, stupid, stripe o’ shite.
    Newsflash- you are a fuckwit.
    Why do you think Krugman got a Nobel? Fuck is wrong with you you ignorant cunt? If it was writing this, I’d go ‘Graciella Chichilnisky proved everything Krugman did but better and..fucked up her face with bad plastic surgery.’
    Who are you- worthless little cunt to understand Libertarianism? Librarianism maybe, but no Conan the Librarian still terrifies you don’t he? so fuck you good for boy?
    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again- Libertarianism arises from the folk theorem of co-operative games.
    A Basic Income Guarantee- are you fucking mental?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Wow that was enlightening.