The end of shmibertarianism

by John Quiggin on November 1, 2007

As Andrew Sullivan notes, Glenn Reynolds no longer even claims to be a libertarian[1] and his repudiation of this former position is shared by a number of leading shmibertarians, who are now happy enough to identify as orthodox Republicans. I haven’t yet seen anything similar from some others, such as the Volokhs, but the idea that a relaxed attitude to sex and drugs, and support for economic policies that favour your own social class (note that shmibertarians happily square their anti-tax line with support for higher taxes on the poor), can trump the authoritarian implications of militarism, from Gitmo to collusion in government lies, is now pretty much dead. Insofar as an idea can be tested by experiment, prowar libertarianism has been tried and failed (a bit more on this from Jim Henley).

The implications go further I think. Given that the Republicans are now definitively the war party (not that the Democrats have yet become the peace party, but that’s another story), it’s hard to see how libertarian Republicans can survive, any more than Dixiecrats survived Nixon’s Southern strategy. The recent decision by RedState to ban Ron Paul supporters is a pretty clear indication of how real Republicans think about this. This has big implications for a thinktank like Cato, which has opposed the war (but very sotto voce – a visitor to their website would be hard pressed to tell that there even was a war) while remaining within the Republican tent. They had a good discussion of the issues a while back, but it doesn’t seem to have had any effect.

This process cuts both ways. It’s hard to witness the catastrophic government failure that has characterized every aspect of this war without becoming more sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and also classically conservative) arguments, particularly those focusing on the fallibility of planning. As our recent discussions about freedom of speech have shown, there are still plenty of disagreements between libertarians and the kinds of views represented at CT (what kinds of speech need protection, and from whom), though I suspect some of these differences are sharper in theory than in practice.

fn1. Apparently my ignorance of the further reaches of US party politics may have led me to overstate Reynolds’ candor. What’s being announced is, apparently, a break with the Libertarian Party, leaving him free to label himself a (small-l) libertarian. Thanks to Kevin Drum for pointing this out. Jim Henley, linked above, also commented on this distinction, concluding “I doubt it matters. In a corrupt political discourse, no label is much use.” and that’s about where I stand.

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{ 93 comments }

1

P O'Neill 11.01.07 at 9:19 pm

There was a strange discussion at The Corner yesterday about this strange Washington Post op-ed by Michael Gerson, who claimed to be finding 2 belief systems within the Republican party — one based on Catholic social thought, and on one on libertarianism. He’s arguing the former needs to dominate. Now there are many strange things about that argument, not least that this alleged strain of Catholic social thought is very hard to find. There hasn’t been a peep recently out of that Santorum-Duncan Smith joint project which was supposedly going to find joint pro-family themes for the Republicans and Tories to work on, and when US Catholic bishops do get around to issuing some kind of economic assessment, it’s not very favourable to the current state of affairs. But given Gerson’s influence on Bush, one question has to be whether Bush ever gave a rat’s ass about the libertarian (soi-disant) side of the party, since Gerson clearly doesn’t. In a two-party system, where do those people go?

One incidental lowlight of the Corner discussion was when it was veering very close to contradicting the thesis of Jonah’s book, as it was demonstrated that 19th century Catholic social thought, which was of course a precursor of fascism via corporatism/syndicalism, was in fact the true basis of small government conservative philosophy. “Conservative Fascism”, if you will.

2

Gene O'Grady 11.01.07 at 9:24 pm

I don’t quite understand the point — Catholic social thought is hardly difficult to find — one might check Benedict XVI, or his three immediate predecessors, or Leo XIII and Benedict XV for that matter; one might check de Lubac or Congar or Guardini (at least two of whom qualify as conservatives in some sense); one might check the US Catholic bishops, although some of their stuff is not as well done.

Looking to Rick Santorum for Catholic Social Thought is beyond bizarre, to put it kindly.

3

Uncle Kvetch 11.01.07 at 9:33 pm

This process cuts both ways. It’s hard to witness the catastrophic government failure that has characterized every aspect of this war without becoming more sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and also classically conservative) arguments, particularly those focusing on the fallibility of planning.

Well put. I’m about as lefty as one can go in the US without falling off the edge, but I’ve been drawn to Jim Henley’s site because he and his co-bloggers are among the few who unequivocally get it on the crucial issues of militarism, imperialism, and executive power. And as you say, they’ve given me a lot to chew on in regards to my own political proclivities. Good thing I stumbled on them (and Arthur Silber and a few others) before I wrote off the entire “libertarian” project as a bad (and fundamentally dishonest) joke.

4

c. harrison 11.01.07 at 9:44 pm

This post is more than a little dishonest. Reynolds says he is a former ‘card-carrying’ libertarian, which hardly means he’s sworn off libertarianism in general.

5

Azael 11.01.07 at 9:51 pm

but I’ve been drawn to Jim Henley’s site because he and his co-bloggers are among the few who unequivocally get it on the crucial issues of militarism, imperialism, and executive power.

And there’s a lot to agree with them on these issues. Politics does make strange bedfellows and crisis politics doubly so.

Still, it’s helpful to remember they’re not on the same side. Certainly Jim still has the knee jerk reaction to label lefties as “hating the rich” when arguing about such things as eminent domain. Mona really has a bizarre (from my POV) viewpoint on health care that is completely at odds with any even mildly leftist viewpoint.

Granted, any old port in a storm, but let’s remember that when – if – the storm breaks, I’m sure the old knives will once again be sharpened.

Let’s hope we can remember the common ground we do share as the divisions re-emerge, and perhaps build some common structures that will remind us of this shared base of civil liberties and such.

I mean, I hear Jim (on OTB radio) say that he was now sympathetic to the PETA viewpoint (paraphrasing, obviously) for “Bob’s” sake. Surely, if this can happen, perhaps other miracles can occur.

6

Cranky Observer 11.01.07 at 9:53 pm

> It’s hard to witness the catastrophic
> government failure that has characterized
> every aspect of this war without becoming more
> sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and
> also classically conservative) arguments,
> particularly those focusing on the fallibility of
> planning.

In general I would say that this in a very good essay, but you seem to be leaving out the possibility that there wasn’t actually a failure of planning. Specifically, that Cheney’s plan was exactly to create chaos and demonstrate the incompetence of government – and that this plan was executed successfully. This is a controversial theory since it requires the existence of a “conspiracy” which is thought to be impossible in the larger case, but I do not think this objection is as powerful as it was in prior to November 2000.

Cranky

7

John Quiggin 11.01.07 at 10:01 pm

I think you’re right about Cheney, at least as far as creating chaos goes, though I suspect the motivation was different – closer to gratuitous evil than ideological pointscoring. But the larger problem was that lots of people had incompatible plans, yet united behind the war on the assumption that their plan would be implemented afterwards. Obviously this situation favored those who wanted chaos.

8

Joshua Holmes 11.01.07 at 10:05 pm

The Secret Libertarian Conspiracy to Screw Things Up gets trotted out from time to time. The main problem with it, of course, is the complete lack of evidence that the “conspirators” will reduce the size and power of the government.

9

Cranky Observer 11.01.07 at 10:14 pm

> but the larger problem was that lots of people
> had incompatible plans, yet united behind the war
> on the assumption that their plan would be
> implemented afterwards.

I am not sure how this invalidates the notion of government and planning though. The Marine Corps and the State Department both had post-invasion plans for Iraq (the Army probably did too) and had Grant, either Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or probably even John McCain been President those plans would have been used and managed [1]. That Cheney and Rumsfeld both preferred no plan be implemented is an indication of their personal incompetence not the impossibility of planning. FDR and Marshall certainly made and executed several long-term plans, as did the Allied Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (and not without major internal battles) during WWII.

Cranky

[1] Assuming for the moment that any of them would have invaded Iraq, which is another question altogether.

10

Cranky Observer 11.01.07 at 10:18 pm

> The main problem with it, of course, is the
> complete lack of evidence that the “conspirators”
> will reduce the size and power of the government.

Cheney and Co. aren’t libertarians (or conservatives if any such still exist) and they certainly had no goal to reduce government expenditures.

Just the opposite – IMHO the one goal of Cheney’s that is almost certain is that he viewed his Administration as a chance to get his friends’ money out of the Federal Government vault and back in their pockets where it belonged (in their view).

Cranky

11

abb1 11.01.07 at 10:24 pm

It works all the same with right and left, libertarian and authoritarian, conservative and progressive: as long as they are weak it’s all about ideology; but as soon as they get power it’s all about power, how to hold on to power, how to get more power.

12

Ashish George 11.01.07 at 10:27 pm

I’m also sympathetic to what libertarians have to say, but I think it’s important to distinguish between libertarian intellectuals on the one hand and the libertarian public–however large or small that may be–on the other. Libertarian intellectuals tend to be urban and cosmopolitan, but that probably doesn’t describe the libertarian rank-and-file very well. Most self-identified libertarians have three primary concerns: (1) Keeping their money, (2) keeping their guns, and (3) keeping government bureaucracy to a minimum. These people also still have a fairly strong aversion to certain segments of the left that may deserve a bit of ridicule but probably aren’t very influential–hippies, Hollywood activists, etc. These are those South Park Republicans you’ve heard so much about, and it’s important to remember that they are as much anti-left as they are anti-state.

Libertarian intellectuals–the types who congregate at institutions like Cato and Reason–are more likely to put an emphasis on broader social questions like the state of the criminal justice system or the environment society creates for diverse lifestyle choices. Because they tend to have spent large portions of their lives in big cities or college towns and because their professional and social lives encourage an emphasis on pluralism, the way they approach politics probably differs a great deal from the way other libertarians do.

Conservative and liberal intellectuals are more representative of other self-identified conservatives and liberals. The two most distinguising features of contemporary conservatism are religious traditionalism and frank nationalism. These are strains of thought that many people grow up with and keep their whole lives. The attachments to God and country are an ideological and tribal bond strong enough to overcome the don’t-be-such-a-square sentiments of liberal cities like New York or Washington. As for liberal intellectuals, urban life and the commitments to diversity, autonomy, and social justice dovetail neatly. Most of the major American cities vote Democratic.

13

rea 11.01.07 at 10:57 pm

It’s hard to witness the catastrophic government failure that has characterized every aspect of this war without becoming more sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and also classically conservative) arguments, particularly those focusing on the fallibility of planning..

That would be like watching the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-19) and concluding that it was impossible to play baseball.

This admisntration was militantly opposed to planning–that’s no basis for concluding that all admistrations would be incspable of planning . . .

14

robertdfeinman 11.01.07 at 11:09 pm

Just to be clear the libertarian movement in this country is the product of a small group of the super wealthy who fund it. Prominent among these is Charles Koch who founded Cato and provided the funding to create the libertarian George Mason economics department.

Koch seems to be a true philosophical libertarian, but most of his peers support libertarianism because it gives an intellectual veneer which is used to cover their real objective: the amassing of wealth. The estate tax debate is a good example. The Koch brothers stand to save about $4 billion if it’s repealed. Rather than reveal this they fund the libertarian think tanks to provide the cover.

If libertarianism was able to stand on its own as a real philosophical school it would exist elsewhere in the world. It only exists in the US because it is kept on life support by the core group of donors. Sourcewatch is a good place to see the connections. Names like Coors, Scaife and Koch pop up time and again when looking at the think tanks.

The libertarians allied with the GOP because they thought the wealthy who run the party really believed what they favored. This is the same mistake that the “values” voters made. The wealthy favor nothing but preserving and enlarging their wealth. If this takes a police state, so be it.

15

Stuart 11.01.07 at 11:11 pm

That would be like watching the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-19) and concluding that it was impossible to play baseball.

Wouldn’t that be rather good baseball, add 100 losses and it would be bad.

16

Ginger Yellow 11.01.07 at 11:35 pm

Glenn highlights this line, apparently without irony: “From here, it looks as if the Republicans have become wrong and corrupt, the Democrats are stupid and corrupt, and the Libertarians have gone plain crazy.”

17

Seth Edenbaum 11.01.07 at 11:41 pm

“As our recent discussions about freedom of speech have shown, there are still plenty of disagreements between libertarians and the kinds of views represented at CT (what kinds of speech need protection, and from whom),”

You seem to think the choice is between optimism about the state or optimism about the individual. But the the rule of law is a pessimist’s philosophy, and the ACLU is a conservative institution.
And of course libertarianism outside academia is a cult.

18

rea 11.01.07 at 11:42 pm

Wouldn’t that be rather good baseball, add 100 losses and it would be bad.

Oh, man, I dropped a digit . . .

19

Slocum 11.01.07 at 11:44 pm

It works all the same with right and left, libertarian and authoritarian, conservative and progressive: as long as they are weak it’s all about ideology; but as soon as they get power it’s all about power.

But when have libertarians ever had power in the U.S.? I mean, seriously.

What this was about is that Ron Paul is small ‘c’ crazy and his rabid net-based supporters seem to be mostly big ‘C’ crazy. Small ‘l’ libertarians want no part of that.

But for the sake of argument, suppose you are non-religious, in favor of free trade, free markets, gay marriage, & decriminalization of drugs and then end to the drug war (and all the law enforcement abuses that go with that)? What do you call yourself? Small ‘l’ libertarian? Classic Liberal? Whig? And what party do you vote for and why?

20

John Quiggin 11.02.07 at 12:02 am

Coming from a preferential (single transferable vote) background, my instant response is “it doesn’t matter, just as long as you put the Republicans last”. The choices in a plurality system like that of the US are a bit less appealing, but I guess you’re stuck with voting for the Democrats or (effectively) abstaining.

21

Azael 11.02.07 at 12:03 am

And what party do you vote for and why?

Well, except for the decriminalization of drugs and the end to the drug war, what about the democrats makes you think they’re not for the rest? And hard? I mean, remember Clinton and the vast expansion of free trade and globalization under that democratic rule?

22

mugwump 11.02.07 at 12:07 am

If libertarianism was able to stand on its own as a real philosophical school it would exist elsewhere in the world

It does.

The ldp are running several candidates in the upcoming Australian federal election.

23

Bruce Baugh 11.02.07 at 12:15 am

Slocum: I’d suggest calling yourself a believer in small government both socially and economically and a supporter of minimal social and economic regulation, and that you base your vote on (where possible) the presence of candidates who might actually advance your agenda and (where necessary) the presence of candidates who need to be stopped dead in their tracks.

24

Joshua Holmes 11.02.07 at 12:16 am

Just to be clear the libertarian movement in this country is the product of a small group of the super wealthy who fund it.

Ah yes. “Those who agree with me are publically-minded. Those who don’t are evil conspirators.” You would have made a fine dittohead in another life.

25

notsneaky 11.02.07 at 12:22 am

” If libertarianism was able to stand on its own as a real philosophical school it would exist elsewhere in the world

It does.

The ldp are running several candidates in the upcoming Australian federal election.”

And a fairly libertarian party just won the elections in Poland. (Strictly speaking on social issues they sort of have “libertarian” “conservative” factions).

26

SG 11.02.07 at 12:39 am

I would add that for reasons which escape me, lefties have been way too kind to libertarians about their social policies. In a world with no public health system and unrestricted access to guns, having a system of unrestricted access to alcohol, heroin and cocaine is a recipe for disaster. This social program is actually pretty far from what most non-radical leftist liberals envision, and it would lead to a society of extremely high crime, extremely high death rates amongst the young, extremely high HIV and HCV incidence, and soaring long-term health costs. Add cigarettes and gambling to the mix, and you have a recipe for working class communities soaked in crime, death and long-term decrepitude.

27

mugwump 11.02.07 at 12:43 am

Add cigarettes and gambling to the mix, and you have a recipe for working class communities soaked in crime, death and long-term decrepitude.

Nice to see such respect for the lower classes, sg.

/sarcasm

28

mugwump 11.02.07 at 12:44 am

test

29

Mary Catherine 11.02.07 at 1:26 am

and you have a recipe for working class communities soaked in crime, death and long-term decrepitude.

That’s the price they’re willing to have others pay in defence of their own liberties. And anyway, the libertarians would live in gated communities, and would drive around in armoured vehicles.

30

Slocum 11.02.07 at 1:35 am

azael: Well, except for the decriminalization of drugs and the end to the drug war, what about the democrats makes you think they’re not for the rest? And hard? I mean, remember Clinton and the vast expansion of free trade and globalization under that democratic rule?

Yes, I remember Clinton’s commitment to free-trade and voted for him twice. But even then, the Democratic Party as a whole wasn’t as committed to free-trade as Clinton was (NAFTA passed with more Republican than Democratic support in Congress). And Democrats as a whole are even more hostile to free trade and globalization now than they were then. Perhaps Hillary is an exception, and if I had to vote today, she’d get my vote. But I couldn’t imagine myself pulling the lever for Edwards.

sg: In a world with no public health system and unrestricted access to guns, having a system of unrestricted access to alcohol, heroin and cocaine is a recipe for disaster.

I think you’ve got that exactly 180 degrees backwards. Guns and drugs are already readily available. The crime and violence derives from the large sums of money to be made (because drugs are illegal) and the crimes committed to get the money to buy drugs (which are expensive because they are illegal). And that’s not even mentioning the enormous number of lives that are destroyed by prison terms and criminal records (because drugs are illegal). The crime, violence, and prison sentences do far more harm than drug addiction alone could ever do. Not to mention, the war on drugs costs a fortune and is a far greater threat to our civil liberties than warrantless wiretaps:

http://www.catostore.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&method=cats&scid=15&pid=1441318

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2006/08/21/another-asset-forfeiture-outrage/

And I haven’t even mentioned yet the disastrous corrosive, corrupting influence U.S. drug laws have on poorer countries in our hemisphere.

The drug war is an absolutely unbelievable cluster f**k. At this point, I’d be inclined to vote for any serious candidate that ran on calling off the drug war whatever other planks there might be in his or her platform.

31

Matthew 11.02.07 at 1:45 am

Mary Catherine says – That’s the price they’re willing to have others pay in defence of their own liberties. And anyway, the libertarians would live in gated communities, and would drive around in armoured vehicles.

Or perhaps libertarians have a stronger faith in human nature. They believe that if people are taught not to rely on government, but to instead rely upon themselves, they will make choices in their own long-term self interest.

Living in a socialist society where one depends upon the government leads one not to take responsibility for ones own actions. Living in a libertarian society where one depends upon themselves, friends and family leads one to take good care of both person and property.

Socialism and modern liberalism are a form of racism – against all men. They believe that individuals are inferior to members of a collective. Libertarians disagree.

32

franck 11.02.07 at 1:51 am

azael is right on the money on this one. As soon as the current crisis is over, the posters on Jim Henley’s site will be right back to slamming “liberals” and the “Left”. They are right about the current crisis, but scratch them a bit and the weird obsessions come out: gun rights, racialist thinking (especially by “White Tribe” Mona), etc.

33

SG 11.02.07 at 2:06 am

Slocum, there is a world outside the US. Hence,

Guns and drugs are already readily available

is not true in Australia, and wouldn’t be true in the US either (at least the former) if the US would actually try and police the drug trade.

While it is certainly true that decriminalising drug use would reduce crimes by traffickers, it wouldn’t necessarily decrease crimes by users. Such a supposition relies on the assumption that the reduced cost of drugs would more than offset increased consumption by individuals. Given that individuals have been shown to massively increase their use when the drug (particularly heroin) is legally available, this supposition is not necessarily correct.

It is also not reasonable to assume that legalising drugs would make them cheaper. In the 80s in New York, crack was $5 a vial. That was cheap even in 80s dollars. It is well-established that the cheapest unit of sex work follows the price of the drug, so in the 80s in NY, blow jobs were $5 a go. Why should one assume that this would be different if the drugs were decriminalised?

Finally you say this:

The crime, violence, and prison sentences do far more harm than drug addiction alone could ever do.

but you forget that heroin kills, which is kind of the ultimate harm. Also, at least in Australia, many injecting drug users’ interaction with the prison system can be positive – they eat, they get some respect, they learn skills and get medical care. In fact I would go so far as to say that for many IDUs, their interactions with the state services are the only time in their lives when they actually get respect. I don’t know how this accords with libertarian fantasies about the state.

Matthew says

Or perhaps libertarians have a stronger faith in human nature. They believe that if people are taught not to rely on government, but to instead rely upon themselves, they will make choices in their own long-term self interest.

which is exactly the type of qualities in a person most rapidly destroyed by heroin. Yet libertarians want to make it freely available…

34

SG 11.02.07 at 2:10 am

(btw slocum I don’t disagree with your depiction of the US war on drugs as a clusterfuck. I do think that this argument from incompetence – “our war doesn’t work, so this war is not worth fighting” – isn’t the right response. The US isn’t actually trying to stop drug use, and the war on drugs is really a war on black and poor people. In Australia we actually started trying to police – rather than abet – the drug market in 1998, and in 2001 we started to show significant results. It’s nowhere near as hard as the decriminalizers suggest).

35

engels 11.02.07 at 2:10 am

They believe that individuals are inferior to members of a collective.

Individuals are inferior to collectives, as you would know if tried to build a PC by yourself out of materials you can find in your back garden.

36

Mattsky 11.02.07 at 2:13 am

John you and Andrew Sullivan either don’t read what Glenn Reynolds posts on his blog or are dishonest.

37

John Emerson 11.02.07 at 2:29 am

Or perhaps libertarians have a stronger faith in human nature.

Noted without comment.

38

mugwump 11.02.07 at 2:44 am

RE #30:

Socialism and modern liberalism are a form of racism – against all men. They believe that individuals are inferior to members of a collective. Libertarians disagree.

While I wait for my last incredibly witty and perceptive comment to clear the moderation queue, I’d like to respectfully disagree: soci4lists and modern liberals believe that others are inferior to themselves, and hence cannot be trusted to run their own lives. Libertarians disagree again.

39

Lee A. Arnold 11.02.07 at 3:00 am

that’s “shmorthodox” Republicans

40

eduardo 11.02.07 at 3:41 am

When you get right down to the true nature of the beast, one has to conclude that fiscal conservatism and social liberalism amount to opposing forces. The idea of smaller government, and less bureaucracy, is countered by the notion of liberal social problems–which always require not only more spending but more bureaucracy to administer the programs. Thus, libertarian (lower case or capital L) are freaking nuts.

41

Walter in Denver 11.02.07 at 4:09 am

Just to be clear the libertarian movement in this country is the product of a small group of the super wealthy who fund it. Prominent among these is Charles Koch who founded Cato and provided the funding to create the libertarian George Mason economics department.

Koch seems to be a true philosophical libertarian, but most of his peers support libertarianism because it gives an intellectual veneer which is used to cover their real objective: the amassing of wealth. The estate tax debate is a good example. The Koch brothers stand to save about $4 billion if it’s repealed. Rather than reveal this they fund the libertarian think tanks to provide the cover.

After a decade plus of libertariam activism, including working with nationally prominent libertarians, and meeting hundreds of activists and donors, I’m compelled to say your characterization describes precisely none of them.

Then again I’ve never received funding from the Kochs, so…

42

Leinad 11.02.07 at 4:41 am

The LDP in Australia are a micro-micro party, the only headlines they’ve gotten are over one of their members running for a seat in the Northern Territory when he lives in Perth. Libertarianism is dead letter in Australia, and small-l ‘liberalism’ is in dire straits, via the collapse of the Aus. Democrats and the Liberal Party’s rightward plunge (though this should be amended in some measure by their thumping at the upcoming election)

43

Backword Dave 11.02.07 at 6:53 am

If I could raise a pedantic note here, what Glenn Reynolds says is that he’s a “former card-carrying Libertarian”. He doesn’t say that he’s a former libertarian. “…[T]he Libertarians have gone plain crazy…” That’s capital-L libertarians; but one can be a socialist and resign from the Labour Party, or be a conservative and then the party of that name is run by wishy-washy liberals who spend like drunken sailors. He’s denying being a party member, that’s philosophically and practically different from denying being a libertarian.

I don’t think Glenn Reynolds has ever been a libertarian – it’s a word he likes because it’s cooler than Republican, but I think Andrew Sullivan is plain wrong to read anything into a typically terse blog post.

44

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.02.07 at 6:54 am

“and wouldn’t be true in the US either (at least the former) if the US would actually try and police the drug trade”

Good heavens, what would actually trying to police the drug trade look like? We already have draconian punishment and reduced civil liberties.

45

omg Quiggin is wrong 11.02.07 at 7:18 am

“As Andrew Sullivan notes, Glenn Reynolds no longer even claims to be a libertarian”

Except that he does.

Your opening sentence is just wrong. Append a correction, not a measly footnote squirming about the error and saying “it doesn’t matter”.

46

Ben Alpers 11.02.07 at 7:55 am

And what party do you vote for and why?

Well, except for the decriminalization of drugs and the end to the drug war, what about the democrats makes you think they’re not for the rest? And hard? I mean, remember Clinton and the vast expansion of free trade and globalization under that democratic rule?

As an actual assessment of the party’s policies, this is largely correct. But that’s not necessarily the way most voters look at their choices. Many of my in-laws’ friends in a medium-sized town in north central Ohio are small-businesspeople and staunchly Republican. And they keep voting Republican (despite some misgivings about the Christian right) because the Democratic party means two things to them that are utterly anathema: unions and regulation.

Our two party system, which has been, under the best of circumstances, an imprecise way for most voters to express their political preferences, is now deeply broken. As recently as the early 1980s (or in the case of the Democrats, the late 1980s), the major parties contained deep divisions among their leading members that made primary battles meaningful disputes over important issues. Now, with the exception of fringe figures like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel, the differences among major presidential candidates within each major party are fairly minor.

And more and more voters seem to choose which party to support on the basis of the intensity of their dislike for the other major party rather than their wholehearted support of the party for which they vote.

47

dsquared 11.02.07 at 7:57 am

As I think I’ve said elsewhere, the main lesson of the last six years is that the part of the government responsible for wars does actually work in exactly the way the Buchananites think the whole government does.

48

Zarquon 11.02.07 at 8:11 am

The LDP’s candidate for Dobell shows they’re not serious. Even Screaming Lord Sutch and the Monster Raving Loony Party have more credibility.
(and they’re not running and he’s dead)

49

bad Jim 11.02.07 at 8:16 am

As long as we’re eulogizing the death of libertarian innocence, I’d like to nominate privatization for general opprobrium. I spent my working life in the private sector, a good part of it as a business owner, and to me the idea that any private enterprise cannot fail to do a better job than a government agency is hilarious. Give me a horror story from a state bureaucracy and I’ll match it with one from the corporate realm.

It could be argued that governmental organizations would be as successful as private enterprises if only their executives could expect tens or hundreds of millions in incentive pay after a few years’ service, like their corporate counterparts. I’m not aware of anyone making that argument, though, and I don’t wonder why.

50

SG 11.02.07 at 8:19 am

Sebastian, you fight drugs not by getting nastier and increasing the penalties, but by eliminating corruption in your police force. Then you coordinate customs, federal and local police so that they actually work together and know what’s going on. The idea of a police force free of corruption working for the common good is novel, but it can be done.

A lot of people seem to think the criminal gangs are super clever and better at this game than the police. They aren’t, but in the past they’ve been very good at corrupting them. This is easy to do because the police don’t naturally consider themselves the friends of the kind of lumpen proles you see using drugs, and are happy to aid them in their sorry trajectory out of this world. Kill this attitude and get them to start thinking of themselves as civil servants, and it can work wonders for the drug war without stiffening the penalties.

51

Katherine 11.02.07 at 8:27 am

Just a small aside, mostly off-topic (for which apologies) – would it not perhaps be worth referring to this particular political ideology as “right libertarianism” rather than just “libertarianism”. There is a strain called “left libertarianism” you see, which shares not much with right libertarianism except part of the name, and I think they’d rather not be lumped together.

52

abb1 11.02.07 at 9:29 am

Living in a socialist society where one depends upon the government leads one not to take responsibility for ones own actions. Living in a libertarian society where one depends upon themselves, friends and family leads one to take good care of both person and property.

Living in a society where one depends upon the dentists leads one not to take good care of one’s teeth. Having access to antibiotics leads one to not taking responsibility for avoiding infections.

Hmm, maybe your thesis needs a bit more work, Matthew; what do you think?

53

Slocum 11.02.07 at 9:56 am

dsquared: As I think I’ve said elsewhere, the main lesson of the last six years is that the part of the government responsible for wars does actually work in exactly the way the Buchananites think the whole government does.

While general confusion about libertarianism reigns around here, I hope nobody is so confused as to consider Buchanan and his followers to be libertarians — they’re right-wing authoritarians (nationalist, isolationist, anti-free trade, anti-immigration).

sg: While it is certainly true that decriminalising drug use would reduce crimes by traffickers, it wouldn’t necessarily decrease crimes by users. Such a supposition relies on the assumption that the reduced cost of drugs would more than offset increased consumption by individuals.

Nonsense — we have a perfectly good model for that already. How big is the problem of alcoholics committing crimes to buy liquor? And the answer is that it’s not very big because cheap alcohol is cheap.

Guns and drugs are already readily available is not true in Australia, and wouldn’t be true in the US either (at least the former) if the US would actually try and police the drug trade.

It’s hard to say which produced the louder snort — the idea that drugs are not available in Australia or that the US hasn’t yet actually tried to police the drug trade.

…but you forget that heroin kills, which is kind of the ultimate harm. Also, at least in Australia, many injecting drug users’ interaction with the prison system can be positive – they eat, they get some respect, they learn skills and get medical care.

Alcohol abuse kills far more people than heroin or any other illegal drugs do. So should we re-introduce prohibition and alcohol abusers to prison as well? I mean, they could get some respect there and learn skills, and receive medical care — sounds just wonderful.

Man, I thought ending the drug war was one thing I agreed with lefties on … sigh.

54

Slocum 11.02.07 at 10:03 am

I spent my working life in the private sector, a good part of it as a business owner, and to me the idea that any private enterprise cannot fail to do a better job than a government agency is hilarious. Give me a horror story from a state bureaucracy and I’ll match it with one from the corporate realm.

I’m sure you can. Dilbert specializes in exactly that.

But the big difference is that private enterprises have competitors. So the businesses run by clowns either get straightened out or decline, go under, and are replaced by smarter, better run companies. One could say we see this writ large with the American ‘Big 3’ auto companies.

But government programs have no competitors. Gross incompetence or inefficiency isn’t necessarily punished and doesn’t mean a loss of next year’s funding.

55

MR. Bill 11.02.07 at 10:12 am

One, to say that ‘failure of planning’ was the case in much of Bush’s failures overstates the case. More like ‘failure of lack of planning’ or ‘failure by confusing hoping with planning’.
Two, the real way to begin to break out of the Drug War madness is for policymakers to stop lumping all drugs together: marijuana doesn’t equal heroin; abused prescription drugs are the largest source of hospitalizations.
Three, it’s gonna take a while for sensible libertarians to reclaim any sort of intellectual currency other than reflexive anti-government posturing.

56

SG 11.02.07 at 10:22 am

Slocum, you can’t necessarily easily compare the alcohol and heroin markets, because the drugs are different, their production method is different and their patterns of use extremely different. While it is reasonable to think that crime would decrease when heroin became more affordable, it is not guaranteed. I gave the counter-example of crack cocaine in NY, which you should consider.

You also say

It’s hard to say which produced the louder snort—the idea that drugs are not available in Australia or that the US hasn’t yet actually tried to police the drug trade.

but I didn’t say “not available”, I said “not readily available”. Big difference. For more information on that fact, review the results of the heroin shortage in Australia. And its reasons. As for the US not actually policing the drug trade, I think you have selectively quoted me there. I made it pretty clear in the following sentence that I think the US war is an attempt to police poor and black people, not drug use. i.e. the war is not actually aimed at the drugs.

Alcohol abuse kills far more people than heroin or any other illegal drugs do. So should we re-introduce prohibition and alcohol abusers to prison as well? I mean, they could get some respect there and learn skills, and receive medical care—sounds just wonderful.

This is a classic libertarian argument style, to use the results of one market as an example for another. Alcohol kills a lot more people than heroin but it is also used by a lot more people. In fact it kills a lot less young people than heroin. 10 year survival rates for heroin users are around 70%, and we haven’t even begun to touch the surface of the long-term consequences of the hepatitis C epidemic in IDUs. In some areas of the US 80-100% of IDUs have hepatitis C, which will soon become the leading cause of liver transplant, overtaking alcohol abuse, even though only a tiny proportion of people use heroin.

The markets are radically different, the drugs are radically different, and the drug use careers of their respective users are radically different. Libertarians (and, less criminally, left-wing drug decriminalization advocates) don’t admit this, and consistently fail to recognise the damage which would be done to society – and particularly to young people – if heroin use were to become more accessible. As I said before, recognising these problems and maintaining some kind of prohibition on drug use does not require the maintenance of a US style “war” on drugs, or any of the nastiness it entails. But we need to proceed cautiously in advocating freer or equal use of all drugs.

And we should stop pretending that the libertarians have any kind of left-wing cred just because they have picked up on one of the left’s less sensible ideas. They remain a pack of bigotted, anti-social prats who hate poor people. The fact that they are happy for the poor to drug themselves into an early grave shouldn’t be taken as a sign that they have a conscience.

57

SG 11.02.07 at 10:24 am

Gross incompetence or inefficiency isn’t necessarily punished and doesn’t mean a loss of next year’s funding.

This seems a bit of a strange statement. Isn’t GWB being punished for Katrina and Iraq, and will soon lose “next year’s funding”? And did Exxon suffer for its incompetence? Your view seems a bit black and white.

58

bi 11.02.07 at 10:28 am

And for some reason, the horror stories I hear about borked software projects tend to come from the private realm. The train wreck that’s Netscape Collabra, the quagmire that’s Chandler, the curse of Xanadu

Fact-free arguments sound nice, but they tend to vanish in a puff of smoke when you start adding facts into them.

59

Brett Bellmore 11.02.07 at 11:01 am

“A lot of people seem to think the criminal gangs are super clever and better at this game than the police.”

Nah, I just think the police are handicapped by a fundamental aspect of victimless crimes: Nobody directly involved in them wants the police to stop them. Which denies police their greatest asset: Somebody involved in the crime who will alert the police to the fact that it happened.

Now, I think that tends to cause police corruption, because police don’t like not being able to stop crimes, and faced with crimes they can’t stop by legitimate means, are tempted to resort to illegitimate means. Or just give up, and settle down to being bought off. But I suppose that’s not inevitable, they could just resign themselves to not being very successful, and soldier on.

“Man, I thought ending the drug war was one thing I agreed with lefties on … sigh.”

No kidding! Victimless crimes AND censorship; When you get down to it, there’s not a lot for a libertarian to like about the left as it actually exists outside of leftists’ self-images: Bad on economics AND civil liberties. OTOH, while there are one or two issues where the Right is still moderately attractive to us libs, (Guns, for instance.) I think they’re slipping fast. I swear, it would be enough to drive me back to the Libertarian party, if campaign ‘reforms’ hadn’t made that too much of an exercise in futility for me to stomach anymore.

60

bi 11.02.07 at 11:20 am

Brett Bellmore:

“Nah, I just think the police are handicapped by a fundamental aspect of victimless crimes: Nobody directly involved in them wants the police to stop them. Which denies police their greatest asset: Somebody involved in the crime who will alert the police to the fact that it happened.”

Which is only true if you subscribe to some idiosyncratic definition of “directly involved”. Just as murder ruins families, so drugs also ruin families, and the families of a murder victim aren’t any less “directly involved” just because the victim’s dead and unable to speak up.

“Bad on economics AND civil liberties.”

Gah, go on spewing pseudo-philosophical crap about abstract Platonic ideas which aren’t even self-coherent. But at the end of the day, the role of government is to solve real problems faced by real people, not imaginary problems which only exist in your abstract noosphere.

61

senderista 11.02.07 at 11:27 am

Contemporary libertarian intellectuals have done a piss-poor job of calling attention to principles like the non-initiation of force and the vital role of voluntary collective action in resolving market failures, where they could find some sympathy from if not common ground with the left. Unfortunately, this is probably because, as everyone suspects, most rank-and-file libertarians are just a bunch of immature, selfish bastards (and I say this as someone with strong libertarian sympathies).

62

SG 11.02.07 at 11:27 am

Brett, do you think that every IDU who ends up in prison has been busted for drug possession? In reality most of the crimes they get busted for are robbery, theft and assault (often serious). There are frequently quite a few victims willing to testify against them.

again, as an antidote to your suppositions about how the police operate, I should point out to you that in Australia they have had success in stopping the drug trade and protecting the health and welfare of its most desperate participants. I suppose though it’s too much for you to consider the successful social programs of non-US countries…?

Bad on economics AND civil liberties

Yes, having young women willing to suck you off for $5 so they can get their next hit is the purest and most powerful expression of libertarian economics AND civil liberties, right?

63

novakant 11.02.07 at 11:39 am

As far as I know (yeah, lame disclaimer, but I haven’t studied that libertarianism extensively),
the most inconsistent aspect of libertarianism is the way they are fine with all sorts of restrictions of individual liberties as long as these are implemented by “private” as opposed to government actors.

For all the talk of liberty in the US there are a myriad of restrictions imposed by private actors such as e.g. companies regulating the private lives of their employees, security firms restricting freedom of movement and gated communities enforcing certain standards of behaviour. It seems to me that while Europe is certainly less libertarian the goverments there actually do a better job of prohibiting such overreaches.

64

bi 11.02.07 at 11:52 am

“I suppose though it’s too much for you to consider the successful social programs of non-US countries…?”

He’s in Brett Bellmore Zone, where facts and logic don’t apply. Don’t work hard; work smart…

65

Seth Edenbaum 11.02.07 at 12:12 pm

And again the debate between liberals and libetarians is between pity and paternalism on the one hand and indifference on the other.
Two easy outs.

The necessity of concern with all the complexity that word implies.
No discussion of that.

66

SG 11.02.07 at 12:20 pm

It’s not pity, seth, to demand that society set bounds on what people are allowed to do. It is pitiful to then treat people who breach those boundaries cruelly or disrespectfully. It is also not paternalistic to recognise that under the influence of some drugs some people lose their ability to make their own decisions, morally or otherwise. It might seem that way, but once you have seen the workings of the subculture in which IDUs live, you might be convinced to change your mind.

And whether or not it is paternalistic to want to protect others from the crimes which IDUs commit – and they commit a lot, which aren’t victimless – it is also necessary. Any social program – be it anarchism, libertarianism or sethism – which resiles from that responsibility will ultimately fail.

67

Cranky Observer 11.02.07 at 12:22 pm

> But the big difference is that private
> enterprises have competitors. So the businesses
> run by clowns either get straightened out or
> decline, go under, and are replaced by smarter,
> better run companies. One could say we see this
> writ large with the American ‘Big 3’ auto
> companies.
>
> But government programs have no competitors.

Clearly niche businesses and small-scale monopolies can and do continue with very high percentages of mismanagement, stupidity, and rake-off for long periods of time. But I fear the example of The New AT&T (nee SBC) demolishes your theory entirely – it is an incredibly large, incredibly incompetent organization that has destroyed all its competitors and cannot and will not be replaced in a 30-year timeframe. Whereas governments are subject to oversight and change at regular intervals and government’s customers can demand any amount of transparency they desire.

Of course, our experience with Bush/Cheney, the Freedom of Information Act, FISA, and Constitutional rights generally shows that USians don’t really want much transparency in their government – but that is another strike against the “gubmit steals from me” argument.

Cranky

68

JP Stormcrow 11.02.07 at 1:04 pm

And for some reason, the horror stories I hear about borked software projects tend to come from the private realm.

Trust me I have no patience for the “private rulez, public droolz” argument in general, but I don’t think software is the right place to highlight. They may not always get the press, but some of the most FUBAR software in the world has come as a result of IRS, FBI projects etc. Millions of dollars spent – and basically nothing usable in return. …but then again most of these projects were contracted by the Gov’t agencies to private firms. And that is the real toxic brew as we have seen with this administration – corrupt and/or clueless Gov’t oversight [or lack thereof – remember L. Jean Lewis’ (of Whitewater infamy) appointment to chief of staff of the Defense Department’s inspector general office], mixed with the private sectors profit motive.

69

Uncle Kvetch 11.02.07 at 1:08 pm

FWIW, I disagree with just about everything sg has said above about drug policy, and I’m a lefty. And I don’t think I’m the only lefty to feel this way. But I see that Brett prefers to think that sg represents “Teh Left” writ large, as this jibes better with his preconceptions.

So many of these people don’t want to vote Republican–but they have no choice! It breaks your heart.

70

Seth Edenbaum 11.02.07 at 1:09 pm

“It’s not pity, seth, to demand that society set bounds on what people are allowed to do.”
No that’s simple authority

“It is pitiful to then treat people who breach those boundaries cruelly or disrespectfully”

That’s moralizing paternalism and moralizing hypocrisy. It’s implicit in law that those convicted of crimes are treated “disrespectfully.” They’ve lost their privileges as a result of their actions. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as self-harm, or crime for that matter (not the same thing) but you’re not facing the complexity of the issue. The same problems that were in the first thread on free speech.
Reminds me of DeLongs’s description of the opportunities for free expression in “the flick of your wrist so that the supermarket laser-scanner reads the bar code.”
Try doing it for a living. And try to be aware of the implications of what you’re saying.

71

franck 11.02.07 at 1:27 pm

Could someone actually moderate my comment from 12 hours ago?

72

SamChevre 11.02.07 at 1:36 pm

Ashish George says,

Most self-identified libertarians have three primary concerns: (1) Keeping their money, (2) keeping their guns, and (3) keeping government bureaucracy to a minimum. These people also still have a fairly strong aversion to certain segments of the left that may deserve a bit of ridicule but probably aren’t very influential—hippies, Hollywood activists, etc.

I think this is exactly backward. The people most libertarian-identified and libertarian-leaning people detest aren’t hippies, but technocrats. The hippies are usually allies.

73

Mrs Tilton 11.02.07 at 1:55 pm

sg @51:

Yes, having young women willing to suck you off for $5 so they can get their next hit is the purest and most powerful expression of libertarian economics AND civil liberties, right?

Have prostitution and the sale and possession of hard drugs been legalised before this dramatic tableau takes place? If so, then yes; yes, it is.

74

bi 11.02.07 at 1:56 pm

“The hippies are usually allies.”

Except when it comes to taxes for rich people, the environment, social security, healthcare, attitude towards Arabs and Muslims, Enron, voting for Bush, Diebold voting machines, genetically-modified crops, …

75

JanieM 11.02.07 at 2:01 pm

Novakant @ 52 — Thank you. I have been waiting for a long time for someone to point this out. I could never figure out how to do it within the bounds of a comment thread….

76

Kevin P. 11.02.07 at 2:10 pm

To all the “pure” Libertarians:
Go ahead, attack Reynolds for being a heritic and cast him from your clan. And continue to be a out of power minority that is clean and pure and under the thumb of the political parties that are running this country.

77

Stuart 11.02.07 at 2:20 pm

One could say we see this writ large with the American ‘Big 3’ auto companies.

So an example of the cleansing hand of the market for incompetence and inefficiency are three companies that have continued to sell millions of units, employ hundreds of thousands of people, and make hundreds of billions of dollars despite decades of incompetence, mismanagement and bad reputation for their products?

Oh yeah, the markets are just whipping those bad actors into shape.

78

Stuart 11.02.07 at 2:20 pm

make hundreds of billions of dollars

in revenue, that is

79

abb1 11.02.07 at 2:31 pm

For all the talk of liberty in the US there are a myriad of restrictions imposed by private actors such as e.g. companies regulating the private lives of their employees, security firms restricting freedom of movement and gated communities enforcing certain standards of behaviour.

I agree, but I want to point out that in the abstract libertarian world this is not a problem, because you don’t have to, you’re not (technically) being coerced into working for these companies or live in these gated communities.

Now, I understand that in real life you often have no choice; I’m just saying that in the libertarian abstract model this is not a flaw, not a contradiction.

What you really need to address here is their unrealistic model, where if you don’t like your boss you just quit and start working a good boss next day.

80

Cranky Observer 11.02.07 at 2:31 pm

>> “The hippies are usually allies.”

> Except when it comes to taxes for
> rich people, the environment, social
> security, healthcare,

One thing that causes some confusion is that in the central area of the US small organic farmers tend to be gun-loving libertarians who sell much of their crop to ex-hippies. And in some flyover states the gun-loving libertarian hunters have allied with the enviros to promote strong conservation efforts. I don’t think these alliances (which I view as being more of convenience than structural, but which did come in to play somewhat in the 2006 elections) are as common on the coasts where the influential pundits hang out.

Cranky

81

SamChevre 11.02.07 at 2:56 pm

One thing that causes some confusion is that in the central area of the US small organic farmers tend to be gun-loving libertarians who sell much of their crop to ex-hippies.

True; that’s pretty exactly the demographics of my county. (In addition, of course, there are the small organic farmers who are gun-loving libertarians and not-entirely-ex-hippies.)

82

david still 11.02.07 at 2:57 pm

Yes, having young women willing to suck you off for $5 so they can get their next hit is the purest and most powerful expression of libertarian economics??
give phone number, please!

83

CJColucci 11.02.07 at 4:01 pm

“It is well-established that the cheapest unit of sex work follows the price of the drug, so in the 80s in NY, blow jobs were $5 a go.”

Is that right? Then I could have afforded them even as an impoverished law student back then? What wasted opportunities!

84

Seth Edenbaum 11.02.07 at 4:14 pm

A friend of mine bargained a girl down to $10 in 1983. East 3rd st.
And I have an old girlfriend who was working the exit ramps in the Bronx in ’79. And she was a junkie.
I could ask her, if you want.

85

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.02.07 at 4:55 pm

“So an example of the cleansing hand of the market for incompetence and inefficiency are three companies that have continued to sell millions of units, employ hundreds of thousands of people, and make hundreds of billions of dollars despite decades of incompetence, mismanagement and bad reputation for their products?”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I presume you know about the government bailouts and protectionism that get employed almost every time one of them has serious trouble? The US government has historically been unwilling to let the market drive one of the Big 3 automakers into bankruptcy. As a result of GOVERNMENT action, the market doesn’t clear.

86

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.02.07 at 5:00 pm

As for ‘first fix corruption’, despite what you see on television, considering the immense power policemen have in the US they are amazingly non-corrupt. And unfortunately, much of the corruption you see is in being OVERZEALOUS in their prosecution of the drug war (see especially civil forfeitures, which shock me every time I think about it). So the idea that the drug trade would be under control in the United States if only the police would get their act together, is just wrong.

As mentioned above, drug crimes tend to be victimless (tend to, please don’t read that as ‘never have victims’). As such it is tough to use lots of normal crime fighting techniques.

87

CJColucci 11.02.07 at 7:04 pm

Thanks for the tips, seth, but I’m happily married these days, and if that were to change I could now afford better.

88

Seth Edenbaum 11.03.07 at 2:17 pm

better?
She’s one of the most beuatiful women I’ve ever met and very smart. I doubt yor wife could match her either way, after all she married you.

I’ve never paid for sex because the notion of body servants of any kind bothers me, but I have more respect for hookers than for johns.

89

abb1 11.03.07 at 6:27 pm

Ah, this reminds me of this recent Your Letters episode at exile.ru:

NINE TEARS

Hello Mark!

Oh Mark… I like your newspaper and your work, but one or two years ago I red one your artical “Nine years, Nine hours, Nine whores”… I’m sure that you remember this artical. And I can say that this artical frustrated me much then… I remember I thought when I red this artical: Fucking american idiot! Stop do it! Stop fucking our poor women and girl. They are so unhappy and so wrecked!”

I remember that I was sick up to vomiting when I red it. If you write on this subject, try to do it not in the way you use…becoz your way is a little disgusting…

with respect.

Trinity :)

Dear Mr. :), Wait a minute, you think the whores were unhappy? What about Ames? What about his feelings? Ames is a human being too you know. Each “poor women” that Ames fucked for that article only wanted his money, and didn’t give a wink about his pain, his emotions, or his chronic flaccidity.

90

freshlysqueezedcynic 11.03.07 at 7:16 pm

While general confusion about libertarianism reigns around here, I hope nobody is so confused as to consider Buchanan and his followers to be libertarians—they’re right-wing authoritarians (nationalist, isolationist, anti-free trade, anti-immigration).

I can’t speak for dsquared, but I suspect that he means James M. Buchanan and the rest of the public choice theorists, rather than Pat Buchanan and his merry band of nativists.

91

CJColucci 11.05.07 at 3:32 pm

Seth: Are we off our meds?

92

Roderick T. Long 11.06.07 at 5:52 pm

As mentioned above, there’s a left-libertarian strain of thought that’s being revived; check out all-left.net and leftlibertarian.org.

93

Roderick T. Long 11.06.07 at 5:54 pm

For some reason that 2nd link above didn’t work; let’s try again: leftlibertarian.org.

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