Allow me to address a typical canard given sympathetic treatment by Arnold Kling. Namely, the conservative clap trap that utopianism is the “ideological and doctrinal foundation” for statism. This is a popular nonsense perpetuated by knucklehead conservative shock jocks who enrich themselves by selling “conservatism” as an antidote to secular, godless “liberalism” supposedly predicated on perfecting human nature. It’s bullshit.
The foundation of modern statism, in the historical liberal context, is monopoly enforcement of moral ends. This is why even the hypothetical “Lockean State” inevitably becomes totalitarian. In the enlightenment context, liberalism is an ends of property with liberty as means. But it is entirely rational to bypass “the means of liberty” to secure property as ends. This is the classic liberal flaw. The libertarian condition of class conflict is when you have the protective state(the constitutional agency) protecting property acquired via political means.
Statism, in the liberal political philosophic context, means the State becomes the total source of government. Unfortunately, it is rational for this to occur. It has nothing to do with “utopianism.” Conservatism, which is utterly predicated on the need to enforce moral ends, is nothing more than a transcendent legitimization of such political means.
Frankly, I find little practical philosophic difference between conservatism and progressivism. Both view the human impulse as a thing requiring Statist correction. They only differ, in the modern context, in terms of communitarian recognition. This is the basis of the American cultural war.
Libertarianism is often portrayed as “ideological” and “utopian.” I would readily concede that the libertarian critique of the State is ideological. This is the “class critique.” But the ideological critique is hardly utopian. Indeed, I can root it entirely in a positivist model of political competition. Libertarianism, however, as an alternative social theory, is not ideological. Socially, I only define a libertarian constraint, the “lockean proviso,” on a social order. This does mean that I place some degree of faith in the human impulse, or more formally, civil society. You could call this “utopian,” but I would respond that it’s probably a necessary hope conditioned by a current reality that demonstrates that people like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin get rich preaching a moral legitimacy of a total state–as means to prevent a total state.
So my social theory may be utopian, but, rest assured, it it not the foundation of the totalitarian state. That the totalitarian state is not predicated on a utopian foundation is the reason for my pessimism. To paraphrase a Robert Frost poem, for destruction, any ole ideological framework that legitimizes it is “also great, and will suffice.”
E.D. Kain’s “Case for Democracy” suffers from an apparent flaw: namely, there is no case made. Instead, the piece reflects a “presumption of democracy” and then proceeds with a case against libertarianism as undermining democracy. In the interest of accuracy, then, the piece should be re-titled, “The Presumption of Democracy.” Cast in those terms, I would have no quibble with a criticism of libertarianism as undermining such a presumption. But that line of attack is not sufficient to demonstrate that “Theoretically, the ideal libertarian society would have no democracy at all,” or that “in order for it to exist as a model for society, democracy must be snuffed out through coercion.”
Kain attempts to justify his claims regarding the “ideal model of libertarianism” with an appeal to Michael Lind’s article. But this absolutely misses the boat. Why? Because libertarianism is not the only political philosophy that scoffs at a presumption of Democracy. There are plenty others. For example, liberalism.
To clearly see this, we should understand that a “presumption of democracy” holds that voting is the only means of legitimate collective action, and this legitimacy is sanctioned by a 50.01% majority and above. I seriously doubt that Kain, or anyone else–other than rabid communitarians–actually holds to such a presumption. So, what we end up, in terms of an actual presumption, is democracy decorated with an adjective; for example, “liberal democracy.” And what we really mean by “democracy with adjectives” is a preference regarding constraints on simple majority rule.
Now we should begin to see, once the terms of the argument are properly defined, how Kain’s presumption claim begins to unravel. The accusation vis a vis democracy against the likes of Mises and Hayek can be levied against anyone. H&M are simply guilty of preferring liberal outcomes and liberal constraints over a non-liberal outcome sanctioned by voting, or a “presumption of democracy(that is, they rejected democracy sans liberalism).” It’s a simple as that. Liberalism, whether enlightenment(classical) or modern, does not subjugate principles of liberty or equality to a “presumption of democracy.” That is to say, they aren’t up for a vote. This admission, which should be admitted by anyone who claims the label of liberal(and really, it’s an admission that can be generalized to anyone who ascribes to a “democracy with adjectives” constraint on the presumption of democracy), is not equivalent, however, to the necessity of eliminating voting as an instrument of collective action. Indeed, I could argue that any insistence of banishing democratic collective action would almost certainly violate the libertarian principle and that it cannot be shown that such a ban is either a sufficient or necessary condition for a libertarian outcome.
So, to summarize: libertarianism is hardly unique in it’s opposition to a “presumption of democracy.” And it’s a non sequitur to imply that a “presumption against democracy” follows from opposition to a “presumption of democracy.”
Kain is guilty of a logical fallacy but attempts to correct himself with this follow-up post, Liberty & Democracy, that drops the simple presumption of democracy for one decorated by an adjective, in particular, “liberal.” So the discussion properly shifts to one of liberal preferential constraints on simple majority rule.
It is at this point that the libertarian political critique becomes germane. A libertarian argument against a “presumption of democracy” is a trivial one. The meat of the libertarian political critique is it’s attack on the “presumption of liberal democracy.” It’s essential summary: much of the State’s actions are not rooted in consent. Liberal constraints fail to constrain the State’s actions. Democracy is not a means to constrain or ensure accountability against a monopoly moral claim on the legitimate use of force.
The essential summary can be best rolled up under the banner of “libertarian class theory.” E.D. Kain is, I’m sure, familiar with this critique, but he dismisses it, or at least dismisses it as a fatal blow against the “presumption of liberal democracy,” largely on the premise that all “social arrangements are coercive.” Another way to state the premise is that “coercive force” is a natural monopoly. This premise is a familiar claim and is often used to blunt the libertarian political critique with the charge that libertarian social arrangements would be rooted in coercion as well.
In the end, the “presumption of liberal democracy” survives; but it survives as a type of dilemma. In other words, we end up with the oft quoted phrase, “Democracy is evil, but it’s the least evil alternative we have.” Put yet another way, we end up with the “presumption of liberal democracy being the least worst rights’ violator.”
That a consideration of coercion supposedly leads us to this dilemma is illustrative why a mathematical minimization of this quantity called coercion is not the foundation of the social order(nor should serve as the basis of social analysis). If we understand the libertarian principle, in a social context, to be the Lockean Proviso and not NAP, then it’s fairly straight-forward to debunk the “Dilemma Presumption.”
For example, consider a workplace democracy scenario(Scenario #1) where workers vote on an increase in income flows to go toward immediate increased salary compensation or a deferred benefit retirement plan. If one’s preferred choice loses out in the vote, is that person then a victim of coercion? Consider, of course, that the increased income flows may be a consequence of increased labor hours.
The answer would generally be no, if we assume that the worker is better off in the workplace bargain than without it. Agents do not enter into contracts or bargains as means to satisfy a mathematical min behavioral constraint on coercion–indeed, if humans were coercion “minimizers,” they would never enter any contracts or bargains. In short, there would be no society, no cooperation.
Humans cooperate and enter into contracts because it increases their welfare. The act of cooperation creates surplus. Bargaining theory deals with how humans will rationally bargain the distribution of such a surplus. One obvious constraint is that if an agent is made worse off in a bargain, it shouldn’t agree to the bargain.
If we consider say another democratic scenario(Scenario #2) where a geographical group of voters vote to impose a protectionist requirement, or barrier of entry, for our agent to make a workplace bargain, then it should be obvious that this agent is made worse off by this type of bargain, and it should reject it.
The distinction between #1 and #2 isn’t best illuminated by an analysis of coercion, but rather by an analysis of the Lockean proviso constraint. With #1, we have a collective body that has to bear the responsibility of it’s agreements and operates under a bargaining constraint. #2 gives us a collective body that does not have to bear the responsibility of it’s actions and is incentivized to maximize artificial surplus, under no bargaining constraint, while dispersing the costs to others.
#1 is an example of a collective action that does not violate libertarian constraints while #2 is an example of one that does. #2 is often dressed up in the language of the “Social Contract,” but it is evident that #2 can be a bad bargain for some(or many, or even most), so the presumption of something like the Social Contract, from a LP perspective, is not warranted.
An easily anticipated counter-argument is the appeal to a greater context that the State operates in, particular with respect to it’s other actions that may be said to create “positive externalities” which would offset the “bad bargain.” But this is actually a utilitarian appeal; in no way does a school or a road offset the bad bargain for those rotting in a cage because of protectionist laws. Indeed, tax-subsidized roads, for example, can be a bad bargain for mom-pop businesses that cannot compete against subsidized economies of scale.
The libertarian principle is not a utilitarian one, but the utilitarian argument, that is, the argument of overall welfare, doesn’t fare particularly well under the libertarian knife. A public Choice analysis of the competition for artificial rents in money,land,patents, tariffs and security provides a political economic model for welfare reduction. The model also provides us with an empirical measurement of a ruling class: when the flow of economic rent far exceeds the competitive money bidding for such rent, we have a “ruling class.”
The obvious empirical problem for a welfare defense of a the social contract presumption is what need does a utilitarian welfare state, one that is on the business of manufacturing positive externalities, have with things like the secret police? Why has the utilitarian liberal welfare state seen the need to overtly eviscerate it’s legal foundation of the Great Writ? These aren’t the actions of a liberal state ; rather they are the actions of an Actor that views the presumption of the social contract as a thing to be enforced, not as something rooted in consent.
From a social theoretic perspective, treating libertarianism as a theory of rational moral constraints–as a boundary condition on moral claims–rather than a moral theory of coercion(NAP), avoids the argument for a claim of the presumption of the social contract(the social contract of liberal democracy) rooted in a “coercion dilemma.”
Coercion as the foundational tool of social analysis is useless. Human social interaction is not explained by a coercion max/min problem. Indeed, if humans were coercion minimizers, they would never socially interact. We would all be Robinson Crusoes.
Instead, human social interaction, in a world of scarcity, is best explained by the fact that human cooperation creates “surplus.” The libertarian principle is a boundary constraint on this human cooperation, namely that any given rational agent benefits from the cooperative equilibrium relative to the defection state1.
Since it can be demonstrated that there are examples of social interactions of “constrained maximizers” vs those that incentivize unconstrained maximization, there is no real basis for the presumption of the Social Contract.
Further, E.D. Kain’s social contract presumption suffers from the empirical fact that the presumption of the State, the National Security State, is that it’s citizens do not abide by the presumption of the social contract. That’s why you have a National Security State and a secret police. The ballot box is not a means to legitimacy when there is none to be had.
1 For more details, refer to the these previous posts:
My warnings against conservative expropriation of libertarianism, as an extinction destructive factor, can perhaps be further demonstrated by the great benefit progressive expropriation of union labor has wrought organized labor. If the last refuge of union labor victory is the unionization of the Gestapo, it should be evident that any chance of a renaissance of union labor, as a favorable institution in the public eye, is forever doomed. No one has a special place in their heart for the secret police; really that kind of identity is something that a movement would probably want to avoid.
I have no idea how such an article can appear in a “left libertarian” feed, or how any libertarian could even remotely endorse such a piece. To me, it’s as morally repugnant as an RSS feed of a Rush Limbaugh or Eric Dondero article. When the libertarian vs left libertarian flare-ups periodically occur, as with the recent debate between Carson and Gregory, it’s exactly this type of piece that reinforces criticism of the left-libertarian position–namely that is not particularly libertarian.
Frankly, if the choice is between the vulgar libertarianism of Taco Bell vs the vulgar libertarianism of the TSA–really the defense of TSA doesn’t even meet the standard of “vulgar”–I will choose Taco Bell. If left libertarians are quick to criticize an apology of Taco Bell that appears on the Mises feed, let it be known this left libertarian condemns that indefensible piece that laughably views permanent war as a war against the collective bargaining rights of the bureaucratic administrative state.
Of course, in the end, I don’t view progressivism as liberal; it is largely, though with some exceptions, conservative. It is a “conservative” mutation of liberalism…
The problem with Metcalf, in the end, is that he is just a bad political philosopher. The actual point he apparently is trying to make is that there needs to be a debate about the justice of markets, but libertarianism has created an extremist narrow filter that excludes justice from any debate. Metcalf blames Nozick.
To give an analogy to illustrate this extremism, Metcalf proposes a bizarro world where Rawls is the philosophical father of a Marxist or St. Simon narrow filter of justice that excludes any debate on market discipline. Metcalf then informs us that “bizarro Metcalf” would make an analogous argument against Rawls.
But Metcalf only demonstrates that “bizarro Metcalf” stinks even more as a political philosopher. While it’s inaccurate to thumb Nozick as the “philosophical father of libertarianism,” it’s even more inaccurate to put Rawls at the head of some St. Simon coalition.
Bizarro Metcalf should prompt one to question what Metcalf exactly means by “justice.” We should recall Rawlsian Justice is a set of guaranteed primary goods(liberties) and a difference principle(maximizing the minimum). Rawlsian Justice is not concerned with perfect equality nor minimizing something like a Gini coefficient. Metcalf tosses around justice and Rawls quite a bit, but is he actually talking about “Rawlsian Justice”?
The silliness of Metcalf as a political philosopher culminates with his winning strategy of pitting justice vs liberty in a democratic vote. Of course, Metcalf is choosing the definition for each option, which is a nice scam if you can manage it. It’s nice to play dictator. However, Metcalf concludes by lamenting the lack of unanimity by the left around his own dictatorial preference of justice, noting, of course, we don’t actually know what his own preference is. Of course, there is no such thing as “justice” as a singular thing to begin with; there are as many definitions/preferences of justice as there are voters.
And we can’t rely on an authorities like Rawls to narrow down the choices. Rawls doesn’t survive the vote. What we find is that voters will opt to impose a set of primary obligations to avoid minimizing the minimum. That’s “bizarro Rawls” in the Metcalf world. You can’t blame that on libertarianism…
New York Senator Chuck Schumer probably occupies a top place in the libertarian axis of evil. A bigot, a religious fanatic, a nanny-state totalitarian and a crook, Schumer epitomizes the libertarian critique against political authority. This is a man who is accustomed to barking orders at a servile populace, a man who counts intimidation and threats to be among his preferred methods of executing governance. So this video and story of Schumer’s outrage over Silk Road and Bitcoin, likely facilitated by a recent Gawker article, is vintage Chuck. Conjure moral outrage, summon the TV cameras, bark orders…
But, unfortunately for Chuck, this ain’t Four Loco. Ordering the Feds to shutdown the website and “seize the domain” was comedic display of Mussolini buffoonery. I suppose it’s sad that no one in the press corp had the technical wherewithal to challenge Schumer’s stupidity, but it’s amusing that Schumer’s aide, the one that set up the TOR client to access the site, didn’t have the cojones to prevent Chuck from looking like a moron. But then again, I suppose it’s probably career suicide to stand between Schumer’s moral outrage and a TV camera.
Silk Road is running as a TOR hidden service on the TOR P2P tunneling network. This means it’s being run from someone’s anonymous box that generally can’t be identified. It can be anywhere in the world. Anyone who downloads the TOR software can setup a hidden service. There’s no “domain name” to seize here and the only way to stop this sort of thing (at least until the “Internet Kill Switch Bill” is enacted) is to ban the TOR protocol outright, which would counter the government’s interests because: (i) it would cast the US in a bad authoritarian light (ii) more importantly, it’s used by US intelligence organs as a secure communications tunneling network with international assets. After all, it was the US government that originally developed it, and it was released into the wild because it’s useless, like any other P2P network, without a robust number of nodes. In particular, here, a TOR network of nodes consisting of just the spies, informants and US bureaucrats would be “stick out like a sore thumb” tunnel; these tunnels need lots of “noise,” that is, lots and lots of other tunnels to be effective. Also, of course, if the software was “classified,” there would be an obvious distribution problem of getting the software into the hands of the intelligence assets, a vulnerability(which could be exploited, because the acquisition method of the software could be compromised and tracked) that, combined with the “stick out like a sore thumb” intelligence-only tunnels, would make TOR useless. And this is why the US government released TOR into the wild.
Chuck hasn’t gotten the memo on TOR yet, but I imagine he will get the intelligence organ “sit down” on that. It’s not TOR that’s the threat, it’s Bitcoin. Schumer called Bitcoin a “money laundering mechanism;” certainly he is ready to take the lead in Senate hearings to foster drafting new legislation that would outlaw any unauthorized crypto-currency. However, the government, particularly the intelligence organs, is a bit ahead of Schumer in that the CIA is sponsoring a presentation by the Bitcoin lead developer.
Hitherto, the problem of crypto-currencies, in terms of being any threat to the State, was the need of a central authority to regulate against fraud. Anyone can define an electronic coin as a ledger/chain of digital signatures. One obvious problem is how to prevent Agent A, who is wishing to transfer ownership of the coin for a good/service, to simultaneously use the same coin to buy something from Agent B and Agent C, that is, more or less simultaneously digitally sign over the coin to Agent B and Agent C. This problem would seem to require a central authority to referee between A’s transaction with B and A’s transaction with C.
The Bitcoin algorithm, from I gather reading the technical whitepaper, solves the problem of transaction verification by incentivizing every node in the Bitcoin network to race for verification of outstanding transactions. In other words, every node is in competition to serve as the clearinghouse for the current existing block of unverified transactions. The verification is done by timestamp. All transactions are broadcast to all nodes, but in a P2P network, Node X’s timestamp for the current unverified transactions may be differ than Node Y’s timestamp for the same. The timestamp verification that wins out, that is the node that wins the clearinghouse game, depends on that node solving a “proof of work concept” that is able to solve a difficult mathematical problem of converting a hash representation of it’s own block into a required leading zero-bit format. The winning node then broadcasts it’s time stamp block to all nodes that readjust accordingly. The winning node is awarded a certain amount of bitcoins which serves as the first transaction in the next block of unverified transactions that will need to be verified.
Bitcoin is able to use competition to resolve the clearinghouse problem(clearinghouse nodes are incentivized by new coin creation). It ingeniously self-corrects for the introduction of cpu power by making the mathematical work of proof problem geometrically more difficult. This allows scalability without monopoly capture, but it does create a division of labor scenario where clearinghouse nodes invest in GPU cycles over CPU cycles(the investment in GPU cycles allows the system to handle the clearinghouse needs of an expanding system). However, the system constraints cap the total coin creation which means that clearinghouse nodes will eventually only compete over transaction fees.
The question concerning Bitcoin is two-fold: (i) can it survive a coordinated hacker attack (ii) can it survive government censorship/banning. We are probably about to find out about (ii). The thing about the US is that it is not a hard censorship regime; it’s a soft censorship regime. An actual honest-to-god crypto currency, however, is it’s worst nightmare. The US government will release something like TOR into the wild, but it would never release something like Bitcoin into the wild.
Whenever I read Andrew Sullivan declare the triumph of something, I prepare for the cognitive dissonance to follow. He is a master in that art. So, what is one to say about this Sullivan effort, The Triumph of Libertarianism?.
The Triumph of Libertarianism. Really?
What is libertarianism? It is governance by laissez-faire civil society. It is anti-Statist.
Who in their right mind is going to claim that we are riding a crest of anti-Statism? Indeed, it’s precisely the opposite. We are riding a crest of putrid statism, particularly with regard to the political economy of the permanent war State.
Let’s look closer at Sullivan’s little blurb. What is he actually identifying libertarianism to be? Easy…Friedman’s 2nd Generation Chicago School, or if you prefer, “Friedmanite Liberalism.” And what are the defining characteristics of this?
Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized. Simultaneously, the intellectual climate has shifted to be dramatically more favorable to libertarian insights. Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s. No one seriously advocates bringing them back today. The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was north of 90 percent. Today, the debate is whether the top rate will be 35 percent or 39 percent.
Sullivan then informs us that a liberal today can safely spout Friedman. This, I gather, is the reason for the “triumphalism.” But then Sullivan can’t help himself and veers off into some tangent about Thatcher and Reagan. Opines Sullivan:
It is to see libertarian ideas as an ideology, not a useful way to critique excessive and counterproductive government intervention, when appropriate depending on the circumstances. Again, Reagan did not say “government is the problem,” he said, “In our present crisis, government is the problem.” The present crisis of 2010 is not the present crisis of 1981. And the failure of the conservative imagination in understanding this is one of the right’s deepest current problems.
I’m not sure what Sullivan means here. I think he is saying that the key to being a “triumphant libertarian” and a good conservative is a proper imagination necessary to divine Reagan; apparently, this is critical for determining when price controls constitute good public policy.
But enough with Sullivan. He is actually getting the “liberal stuff” from Tim Lee, The Return of Bottom up Liberalism. So let’s take a took. Lee uses an obscure post by whiny academic lamenting the lack of a robust “leftist” blogosphere. For Lee, this is a cause for celebration. That the lefty blogosphere is dominated by “neoliberals” like Matt Yglesias is proof positive of an “impressive libertarian winning streak.” Matt Yglesias represents the “Triumph of Libertarianism.”
Lee uses this post, No enemies on the Left, as proof positive. Writes Lee:
One way to interpret this is to say that Matt is a moderate libertarian with a redistributionist streak, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. Rather, what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too.
Well, you can call Yglesias a “moderate libertarian,(the now defunct “liberaltarian”)” if you like, but I would also point out that he also lugs around a pretty sizable authoritarian streak. Yes, he may question occupational licensing from time to time, but he also waxes poetic about Blackwater. IOZ calls him an odious, totalitarian, albino squirrel for a reason.
Using the likes of Yglesias to pound chests and declare the return of “bottom-up liberalism” is exhibit A of what I call libertarian incoherence(i still haven’t got around to publishing part II of my three part series regarding the “Trouble with Liberty.” Part II deals with this exact issue).
“Bottom-up Liberalism” is the rehashing of the “enlightenment distinction between civil society and State.” Libertarianism historically proper had done away with this delusion of this distinction, jettisoning the State in favor of laissez faire civil society. For reasons discussed in this post, libertarianism in the United States in the 20th century became associated with restoring this distinction. Today, led by Cato acolytes, this “restoration project” is usually discussed in terms of marginal tax rates and “deregulation.” Tim Lee is another perfect example. Cast in these terms, the “restoration project,” whose roots derive from the Mont Pelerin Society, is declared a success. But I don’t see it that way. I look at the the National Security State, the Military Industrial Complex, and the evolution of the most vast State intelligence apparatuses in human history, and I see abject failure.
Nick Turse’s The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives destroys any pretense of any “enlightenment distinction between civil society and State.” Turse’s scholarship is analogous to some extent to the New Left’s deconstruction of the myths of corporate liberalism. In this case, however, the radical non-libertarian left takes down the “restoration project.” I’ll give ya’ll a clue here. It’s not the likes of Chris Beam or any other from the bevy of establishment progressive writers who actually take down Cato. It’s Nick Turse.
Tim Lee writes historical revisionism like this:
Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s.
That’s a half truth. They weren’t really “standard tools;” rather they were last ditch desperate measures to stabilize the crumbling Bretton Woods regime. Bretton Woods transitioned to Chicago. And Chicago hit the wall in 2008. TARP, the bailouts, the increased monopolization of money and credit were measures to stabilize Chicago in an analogous way that the wage and price controls of the early 1970s were invoked to stabilize Keynesian Bretton Woods. But this type of stability comes at the price of resiliency, meaning that increasingly draconian measures have to be employed to stabilize against increasingly minor shocks to system. The system has to transition to a new “regime.” But what alternative rules-based “capitalist regime” is there to transition to? (1) Oligarchy (2) Anarchy
So, I would suggest why there is good reason to be afraid of this massive National Security State, Intelligence Apparatus that has evolved. And when I read Wilkinson or Drum on these matters, I will point out that they engaging in an anachronistic debate–debating Keynes vs Hayek with respect to regimes that no longer exist.
A coherent debate would be around what type of regime you want to live under going forward. But don’t expect oligarchy vs anarchy to be the topic of polite political debate…
One suggestion: I think we can do without knuckleheads babbling about the only role of the State is to protect property and enforce contracts vs knuckleheads babbling about the “Hobbesian State of Nature” and Rousseau’s “General Will.” We are long past any relevant debate between Locke’s Enlightenment Liberal distinction between civil society and State and Rousseau’s “Democratic Will” of the modest city-state.
Historically speaking, the libertarian vs progressive debate is not an 18th century product. It’s not a Locke vs Rousseau debate. It’s a 19th century product. It’s more along the lines of a Proudhon vs Saint-Simon debate, that is, Laissez-Faire vs Dirigisme. Frankly, the fact that both “Laissez-Faire” and “Dirigisme” are French terms and that, today, the people of contemporary France are more clueless about this debate than the Americans probably is a good indicator of just how relevant the historical debate is to the modern context.
The reality of today is the 21st Century Corporate State in the Global Capitalist Order. In this modern context, the libertarian vs progressive debate isn’t really much of a debate. The management rules of the corporate state are not going to be a product of American political debate. There are many progressives who dream of a referendum on “Neo-Liberalism;” they blame libertarianism for corrupting FDR’s New Deal State. But this is just a half-truth. The reality is that post WW II Bretton Woods was a paradigm for a global capitalist order. The distinction between “modern” and “neo” when it comes liberalism is a matter of semantics. When Bretton Woods broke down in the 1970s, it was supplanted by “Chicago,” but the “regime change” was merely in the rules; it was still the same system.
Progressive referendum on “Neo-Liberalism” is a fantasy; the delusion that the US can arbitrarily pull the rug out on the global system–that the whole world has been playing by–that the US itself invented and imposed. They typically trot out James K. Galbraith who reassures them that US military supremacy allows the US the privilege to rewrite the rules at will. Not quite, James. Expect some shit. And you can’t blame European and Asian push back on American right wing politics and Sarah Palin. And if/when the IMF comes calling, Galbraith’s coping mechanisms with irony, likely to be a combination of bourbon and Yeats, will be preferable to Krugman’s mechanisms, which appear to be war.
Progressives are delusional; but libertarians are incoherent. I can’t get over this latest comedy by Reason, casting Jeb Bush as an agent of disruption against the Status Quo. I don’t need to reference anything further.
The modern progressive vs libertarian debate is Delusion vs Incoherence…
Yes, I know that there are many progressives and libertarians who object to this casting. But that’s the thing…Progressive push back against delusion is a Progressive vs Progressive debate, and Libertarian push back against incoherence is a Libertarian vs Libertarian debate…
I’m with Charles Davis on this one. I suppose it may a point of debate whether mockery or utter disdain should be hurled at Yglesias’ suggested synergy of a quasi-military federal force that would be both on loan to the US Military abroad as a police/security force for US occupation and to the local yokel cops here at home as a new adjunct to domestic “crime fighting.”
I have chuckle at the Progressive critique of libertarianism–that it is utopian and fails to take in account how the world actually works–when you read drivel like this. If Yglesias would have written this tripe back in 2004, I could have predicted that his “gendarmes” would wind up being Blackwater(or at least Blackwater being an important part of an “gendarmes” cartel). But it’s 2011 now, and it’s no longer a matter of prediction since Blackwater, for a number of years, has functioned in a domestic capacity: (1) the war on drugs and (2) the training of local police Departments.
The only thing worse than being stupid is being stupid and incompetent.
Libertarianism, politically, can be cast as a radical liberal critique of the social contract. The libertarian position is that this so-called “social contract” doesn’t survive the class theory critique. TSA is serving as a textbook example of this libertarian critique in real time while also illustrating the absurd lengths Statists are resorting to in terms of rationalizing the TSA in some cloak of a “social contract.”
Case in Point: Ruth Marcus in her Washington Post article,Don’t touch my junk? Grow up, America, informs us by fiat that there is a “modern social contract” afoot. Of course, one might ask whence this “modern social contract”? Who deliberated it? Who signed it? What are the terms?
It’s not difficult to establish a class theory analysis behind TSA and the expansion of the TSA security procedures. However, it’s pretty comical reading the ex post justification of this vis a vis “social contract theory.” Ruth Marcus informs us that the new modern social contract is that information asymmetry regarding your body and health with medical experts(you don’t know if that lump on your body is cancerous, but they do) justifies a public interest in resolving any information asymmetry regarding security(you know that lump under your clothes is not a bomb, but they don’t know). I suppose you can read this as ObamaCare justifying TSA.
Ruth Marcus’ modern social contract, in essence, boils down to an argument that making an appointment with a proctologist thusly opens you up to an anal cavity search by security experts in any type of “public space.” Marcus claim is that the public has no more ability to question the rational basis of security protocols devised by security experts than it has of questioning the rational basis of medical experts telling it that males should have annual prostate examinations after 50 or females should have regular breast examinations. The public doesn’t question the latter; it shouldn’t question the former. So grow up…
My defense of the new procedures assumes that there is some rational basis for the screening madness: that the techniques work and that there is not a less intrusive alternative.
So much for the Progressive contention that Hayek was a crank…
Two years ago at Freedom Democrats, I praised George Soros in post that nonetheless had a qualification at the end. I noted that for all the money he had pumped into progressive political infrastructure in the US, he still had not in any fundamental way changed Dem Policy. I suggested at the time that he needed to get out of the game lest he suffer a credibility implosion.
Now fast forward to the present. Yesterday, Soros, in an acceptance speech for a “Globalist of the Year” award from the Canadian International Council, intimated that the failure of Dem Political Re-alignment in the United States was essentially ceding the world stage to China. From Foreign Policy:
“There is a really remarkable, rapid shift of power and influence from the United States to China,” Mr. Soros said, likening the U.S.’s decline to that of the U.K. after the Second World War.
Because global economic power is shifting, Mr. Soros said China needs to change its focus. “China has risen very rapidly by looking out for its own interests,” he said. “They have now got to accept responsibility for world order and the interests of other people as well.”
Mr. Soros even went so far as to say that at times China wields more power than the U.S. because of the political gridlock in Washington. “Today China has not only a more vigorous economy, but actually a better functioning government than the United States,” he said, a hard statement for him to make because he spent much of his life donating to anti-communist groups in Eastern Europe.
What Soros is saying that the Financial crises is a serious challenge to the “Washington Consensus.” But given that Washington is in gridlock, the effect globally is that the Washington consensus is now finished. With nothing to replace it with, “the world order as we know it is turning into disorder.” Soros is now effectively endorsing China to step into the power vacuum, with all the qualifications, of course, that “they accept responsibility for this world order and the interests of other people as well.” Indeed, this is a reversal for Soros, who had spent previous decades funding democratic institutions in opposition to communism.
Soros, like all Social Democrats, has a dilemma. They thought the financial crises would spur a new consensus. But it has not. There is no new political realignment in the US(the midterms served to “de-align” the Dem realignment). Social Democrats in the US, if we go by Krugman, are in serious disharmony with their European counterparts(over such things as the Stimulus and QE). And these political creatures, when the chips are down, will always go authoritarian. So, for the likes of Soros, it’s not unexpected, but it is, nonetheless, disheartening.
Now Soros is correct about the Washington Consensus being dead. I’ve writing about this for two years. The problem, for the political class, is that there is no intellectual framework to replace it with. A Political Economy, stuck in a regime that has lost resiliency, will exhibit increasing intervention to enforce an artificially stable equilibrium. This is a viscous cycle. A problem for the political class is that the class conflict in such a regime becomes pretty naked and obvious. And contra Soros, “the “Bejing Consensus” is no replacement. It wouldn’t last 5 seconds. The Chinese economy is a bubble economy to begin with and the consensus of communist bureaucrats cannot run the new world 21st century capitalist order.
Unlike Soros, I have a different interpretation politically of the ramifications of “broken government.” In an older post at Freedom Democrats, Broken Government: A Return of Radical Politics, I argued, from a historical perspective, that “broken government” today would once again raise the specter of radical politics in America. Radicalism in American politics is a weed that sprouts up from time to time. It’s due to sprout up again. The one pesticide that could kill it or contain it is the culture war, which is the communitarian conflict that was born out of the last bout of radicalism in America, namely during the 60s(which also, of course, spawned the modern american libertarian movement). This is why I’ve been critical of the likes of Angelo Codevilla, who is trying to recast the burgeoning class conflict narrative into the old communitarian or culture war categories. Despite that, I think a return of radicalism in American politics is inevitable. However, I make no prediction of what the final product of this will be, although I would tend toward the pessimistic side. But it should be clear that the 21st century is the twilight of liberal political institutionalism. The only real political debate anymore is authoritarianism vs. libertarianism.