The Origins of Glibertarianism

by Henry on August 31, 2017

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been involved in an on-and-off floating argument over Nancy MacLean’s book on James Buchanan and public choice, Democracy in Chains. This essay, with Steve Teles, lays out the problems we see with the book. The book makes very big claims e.g. that Buchanan provided the political strategies that made Pinochet’s Chile what it was, and galvanized an American right that had been in disarray before his decisive intervention. But the evidence that MacLean provides for these claims is problematic – key documents simply don’t say what MacLean thinks they do. MacLean describes Buchanan as an inventive creator of dastardly political ploys, using terms such as ‘evil genius’ and ‘wicked genius,’ but economists, no more than political scientists, make for good competent political strategists – the median is closer to Professor Pippy P. Poopypants than Svengali.

This said, economists can sometimes have very substantial consequences indeed, albeit through more subtle political channels than those that MacLean posits. At more or less the same time as I was reading Democracy in Chains, I was reading Angus Burgin’s fantastic book on the Mont Pelerin Society, The Great Persuasion. There’s plenty in the latter that I didn’t know and was fascinated to find out (for example: Lippmann’s surprisingly central role in the 1930s European invention of neo-liberalism), but for me the best part was Burgin’s extensive discussion of Milton Friedman. In contrast to MacLean’s treatment of Buchanan, one doesn’t feel expected to boo and hiss every time Friedman appears on the stage. But his account is (I think deliberately) comprehensively damning, and all the more damning because of its subtlety. Burgin on Friedman on race:

“Friedman’s perspective on civil rights was complex. His correspondence from the early 1950s demonstrated a genuine concern with civil rights and a preference for politicians who emphasized the issue. By the time he wrote Capitalism and Freedom, however, he had developed a strong opposition to civil rights legislation. He categorized the problem of segregated schools as one more example of why government-administered education was an unwise idea, arguing that much of the social conflict over desegregation was caused by the absence of institutional alternatives. In Friedman’s view, a world with competing private institutions would be likely to integrate much faster than one with a government-run monopoly. His views on schooling aligned with his argument that market costs would provide the most effective impetus to resolve the social problems that racism imposed. “The man who objects to buying from or working alongside a Negro, for example, thereby limits his range of choice,” he explained. “He will generally have to pay a higher price for what he buys or receive a lower return for his work. Or, put the other way, those of us who regard color of skin or religion as irrelevant can buy some things more cheaply as a result.” He believed that the market, over time and aided by continued public discussion, would eventually lead people to act as the advocates of civil rights legislation wished. His views were indicative of the degree to which he trusted markets to solve even the most apparently intractable and morally abhorrent social problems.

His unqualified confidence in the ameliorative capacities of the market was not shared by Hayek, who, despite some reservations about the coercive aspects of the fair-employment clause and the public accommodation clause, expressed sympathy for what he otherwise regarded as a “highly desirable” civil rights bill.(pp.202-203).”

What struck me first on reading this was that Friedman has a strong claim to be the world’s first glibertarian, or at the least, one of the most important popularizers of that noxious variety of rhetoric. What struck me second was that the argument beneath this passage, if extrapolated, implies a tolerably precise definition of what glibertarianism is, and why it is so annoying.

Specifically, glibertarianism is a particular kind of circular two step. For the glibertarian, governments are necessarily the problem, because markets (which are, for Friedman, the main form of ‘participative democracy’) are necessarily the answer. Markets, by definition, allow people to get what they want. Thus, for any social problem you care to name, you just let markets and individual freedom work their magic and voila! – one of two things will happen. Either the problem gets solved, in which case, we have yet another demonstration of the awesomeness of markets. Or it does not get solved, in which case we now know that we were wrong in thinking of it as a problem in the first place. We have applied markets, which maximize free choice and thus produce outcomes that are Demonstrably What the People Want. Since the problem has not gone away, it is clearly what the people want, and we should never have worried our silly little heads about it in the first place.

This logic is so neatly constructed as to assume away any possible disproof by definition. Perhaps the definition will not strike you as as much of a revelation as it struck me (or perhaps not so much a revelation, as a disentangling and clarification of things I had never gotten quite clear in my head), but I believe that this definition of glibertarianism can help both counter and resolve many vexing instances of bad right wing rhetoric. There are, of course, many good arguments for markets too, which should not be nearly so readily dismissed, but I will leave the drawing of appropriate distinctions as an exercise for the reader.

I’ve remarked before that in a better world than the one we now inhabit, some left-leaning plutocrat would have already assuaged his or her guilt by picking up the publishing rights for Tom Slee’s No-One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart, making the title a bit punchier, commissioning Tom to rewrite and update as appropriate, and sending large numbers to schools, universities, libraries, journalists, and other instruments of public enlightenment that they themselves might become better enlightened. NMYSaWM, more than any other that I’ve read, is a specific against Friedman-style glibertarianism, and a specific that employs unimpeachable economic reasoning to demonstrate why the two-step fails. Burgin’s book too is really good, and I strongly recommend it.

{ 88 comments }

1

NickUrfe 08.31.17 at 9:54 pm

This summary of libertarian rhetoric is insightful. Indeed, it reminded me of the often-mentioned position of Gary Becker’s well-known “The Economics of Discrimination.” In one chapter, Becker purports to show that housing segregation is a natural phenomenon, because, given even a slightly weighted preference for neighbors of one’s own race, over iterated moves, individuals will self-segregate, and neighborhoods will become racially segregated. As the glibertarian would say, because it’s a natural phenomenon, it’s not a problem!

2

Alex SL 08.31.17 at 10:13 pm

This is great, thanks. I am fascinated by the kind of reasoning that “assumes away any possible disproof by definition”.

3

bob mcmanus 08.31.17 at 10:14 pm

Course Mirowski was the canonical source, though he is too conspiratorial even for my taste.

Varoufakis in Modern Political Economy has a parallel history and causality involving early 50s game theory, his area of expertise, which skewers some liberal icons.

I think, based among other sources on the Regulation School, Italian autonomists, and Post-Fordism, all of which precede Free to Choose that neoliberalism is a logic of late or globalizing capitalism, economically rather than politically determined, and pretty much inevitable.

The denial of the possibility of market failure and the claim that markets self-correct goes back a long ways, as far as Ricardo vs Malthus, and Say. This denial, and the structural inevitability of market failure, not in theory but in practice, along with the failures of 1848, inspired Marx. I don’t think liberal economics can survive the admission, the Keynesian interlude was weak and short, through an unwillingness to control prices and generate profits.

I hope the Burgin addresses some of the above, cause I plan on reading it.

4

Howard Frant 08.31.17 at 11:34 pm

Reading Monbiot’s exposition of MacLean in the Guardian, I thought, Boy, this guy just loves those theories exposing the True Origins of Everything Bad. The absurdly inflated claims for the sinister influence of Public Choice eerily echo his earlier efforts to trace a line from Hillary Clinton back to Hayek. If only someone could go back in time and prevent Hayek and Buchanan from being born, we’d be livingin a socialist paradised now. If Gordon Tullock were alive, he’d probably regard this as the final indignity, not to even get credit for being an evil genius.

@1
Self-segregation is a real phenomenon. My uninformed impression is that really mixed neighborhoods don’t survive very long. Good discussion in Schelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior. I think Becker’s claim, as related to labor markets, is that discrimination cannot survive without government enforcement. That’s pretty different from the glibertarian claim.

5

Leo Casey 08.31.17 at 11:40 pm

Henry:

As it happens, I just published an essay with Dissent that examines the relationship between the emergence of vouchers and post-Brown efforts to thwart the desegregation of Jim Crow education in the South. Milton Friedman figures prominently in that story, given his universally acknowledged role as the father of vouchers. Folks can read the piece here (https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/private-school-vouchers-racist-history-milton-friedman-betsy-devos), but let me just point to some highlights to explain why the account of Friedman you are citing here is, in my view, radically incomplete.

1. In the field of education, Friedman’s avowals of opposition to racial prejudice was invariably followed with policy advocacy that not only opposed efforts to desegregate schools, but actually aided efforts maintain racial segregation. Friedman said we should examine educational policy by its outcomes, not the intentions behind them, and so we should do with his policy advocacy.

2. In the historic struggle to end Jim Crow segregation, Friedman declared himself opposed to both “forced non-segregation” of schools, that is, the post-Brown efforts to integrate public schools, and “forced segregation.” He proposed vouchers as the ‘third way’ between these two “evils,” as he characterized them.

3. He was clear and unequivocal that vouchers program must include the right to attend racially segregated schools — and at the very point in history that vouchers programs were being instituted throughout the South for the express purpose of maintaining segregated, white only schools, as he himself acknowledged.

4. He supported legislation specifically enacted to maintain racial segregation in schools through vouchers, such as the Virginia vouchers law which allowed Prince Edward County to close all of its public schools and to redirect public funds into vouchers which were used in a white-only private school created for this purpose. The Virginia law (and others like it) were struck down by the federal courts after a number of years as subterfuges for maintaining racially segregated education.

These positions fit a pattern of Freidman’s opposition to civil rights legislation, including the most important sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In Capitalism and Freedom, he actually proposed a moral equivalency between legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring and Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws, because in his view both violated individual property rights, the first by outlawing racial discrimination, the second by mandating it.

And against this we have… the claim that in private correspondence he exhibited “a genuine concern” about civil rights, whatever that might mean from a man whose public advocacy was in opposition to desegregation and civil rights legislation, and was enabling of legisation whose express purpose was to maintain racial segregation. Is this claim any more compelling than Thomas Sowell’s argument that he had an African-American secretary?

Does this recitation place me in the camp of those who “boo and hiss” at Friedman’s every appearance on the historical stage? From where I sit, it is simply honoring the actual public record, established by Friedman’s own published words.

6

Ben Alpers 08.31.17 at 11:56 pm

I know you’re not saying otherwise, NickUrfe, but it’s worth pointing out that residential segregation was a direct result of state, federal, and local policies. For example, for decades the Federal Housing Administration would not insure loans for black people in white neighborhoods or for white people in black neighborhoods. California realtors would not show black people homes in white areas. And so forth. The idea that the segregation of housing in this country was the result of individual preferences is an utterly inaccurate description of how housing became and remained so segregated in this country.

7

Isaac Nitor 09.01.17 at 12:04 am

Friedman didn’t have to believe that markets in schooling would integrate schools well, just that they would work better than government.? You seem to suggest that he was clearly wrong in thinking that “a world with competing private institutions would be likely to integrate much faster than one with a government-run monopoly,” but was he? 60 years later, American schools are still quite segregated.

8

Tabasco 09.01.17 at 12:32 am

“economists can sometimes have very substantial consequences”

The alternative hypothesis is that politicians reach for economists for intellectual support to justify doing things they were going to do anyway. And then they discard when they are no longer useful.

9

Donald A. Coffin 09.01.17 at 12:34 am

Back in the 1980s, one of my colleagues was teaching a course focused on Free to Choose–the video series, although the students also read the book. He had some of us in the econ department in as visiting experts for various videos, and I did the video on poverty and anti-poverty programs. I had not seen the video before I attended the class; I had read (and disliked) the book. So I had some discussion points I wanted to make. The video changed what I did completely. The first question I asked was, “Did you notice anything odd about all the segment that included black welfare recipients in the U.S.?”

That was met with silence until one of the 2 or 3 black students said: “They were all black.”

Yep. At a time when more than 70% of U.S. welfare recipients were white, Friedman (or his producers–but he was in charge) depicted U.S. welfare recipients exclusively as black.

I had a lot of disagreements with Friedman’s economic analyses, but seeing that video changed forever how I thought of him as a person.

10

Belle Waring 09.01.17 at 12:55 am

6: thanks for writing my comment, Ben.

11

bob mcmanus 09.01.17 at 1:18 am

3: Burgin, 50 pages read, 50 pages skimmed, dropped. I have no interest in conservative ideas, and well, see paragraph 3 in comment 3 above.

My uninformed impression is that really mixed neighborhoods don’t survive very long.

Informed, but personal so not really evidence: my own blue collar hood starter homes, 30% white, 40% Latino, 20% black, a smattering of Asians, South Asians, and Middle Easterners. Thirty years.

12

derrida derider 09.01.17 at 4:22 am

Yep, Schelling – impeccably neoliberal and a famous Cold War nuclear strategist – has a more plausible and persuasive treatment of discrimination than Becker, and Becker in turn is better than Friedman on this. Unlike Friedman, Schelling posits that discrimination arises and persists because it is often individually rational and indeed optimal. Unlike Becker, he posits that it is also socially highly sub-optimal. You actually can get a strong economic case for affirmative action laws out of Schelling’s models.

More generally, Micromotives is a better book than any Friedman or Becker wrote.

But it is ridiculous to make out Buchanan was some kind of evil genius who plotted successfully to destroy Teh Left. You can’t counter an idea by defaming individual developers of it, satisfying as that may sometimes feel. Books like McLean’s are a waste of paper.

13

Dr. Hilarius 09.01.17 at 4:31 am

Having lived in the segregated South of the 1950s and 60s I find it hard to credit Friedman with good faith in his arguments. The market clearly had done nothing to economically disadvantage racists even if you accepted the absurdity that people make decisions based laregly on price. Being a libertarian requires constant vigilance against the intrusion of everyday experience. Either that or dishonesty.

14

John Holbo 09.01.17 at 4:56 am

Thanks Henry, good post. I’ve been following the MacLean stuff at an ignorant distance, but with an interest. The weight of criticism against her seems pretty damning, overall, but I was reading something the other day (dammit, where was that?) which was trying to argue that some of the criticism has been overdone. That is, some weak critiques of the book has crept in with the strong critiques, making the case again her book seem even more damning than it really is. Well, this isn’t very helpful unless I can actually remember what I was reading, is it? I’ll try to remember and comment again later. But if you have any thoughts about that, I’d be curious. Is it true that 1) there are damning criticisms of her book and also 2) that the pile on has itself gotten pretty sloppy by this point, as one might expect (on purely a priori grounds)?

15

Nia Psaka 09.01.17 at 9:52 am

Milton Friedman embodied glibness, as can be seen from mere seconds of video of the man. It’d be terrifying to think anyone would take him seriously enough to actually change their opinions on anything.

But I think his sort of attitude mainly appeals to those who want an excuse to do what they already naively want, without learning better. It’s like listening to a political comedian one largely agrees with: reflection on one’s prejudices only through rose-coloured spectacles; harsher self-criticism thought is deemed unnecessary.

16

Nia Psaka 09.01.17 at 10:04 am

NickUrfe @1:

The USA has segregated neighbourhoods because of a century of conscious policy by various power structures, including some governmental & some extra-legal, to specifically accomplish racial separation. Absent such a doctrine being so consciously and religiously enforced, humans tend somewhat to mix together across ethnic lines.

Any appearance of “inevitability” of racial “self-segregation” disappears once you get to know someone from a neighbourhood with many mixed-race families in places where that is legal. Or basically within 15 minutes of talking to anyone from Barranquilla.

17

Lee A. Arnold 09.01.17 at 10:48 am

I liked MacLean’s book very much, and I learned something. The book shows how an intellectual footnote (in this case, public choice theory) gained prominence, at the contingent crossings of socio-political milieu (post-Civil War Virginia) and political-economic interests (of plutocrats building a think-tank movement, and looking for theories to promulgate). Further, the story partly recreates an emotional history of its participants and tells the story in a rather novelistic way. (This I think is apt, because emotions determine preference — individual and social preference — and it is preference, not market supply and demand nor the log-rolling of politicians, which ought to be the true object of economics.) To keep the story short, and to keep the narrative novelistic, which is the essence of emotional story, the author pulls quotes out of letters and keeps it brief. This stylistic choice may be part the reason that the critics have been vociferous. I hope McLean writes an expanded, revised edition that deals with the criticisms being made of it.

18

Collin Street 09.01.17 at 11:51 am

The market clearly had done nothing to economically disadvantage racists even if you accepted the absurdity that people make decisions based laregly on price.

But of course. A low-status group must close-to-definitionally be a low-income group, and the pull a person has on a market-derived outcome is weighted by their disposable income. Black people in the south had little or no leverage to affect market-based outcomes for the simple reason that they had little or no money. This is… kind of basic? Kind of fundamental?

19

Lee A. Arnold 09.01.17 at 12:02 pm

To the point of the post, I got the clear impression that Buchanan already saw the shortcoming of Friedman-style glibertarianism, because sometimes the market outcomes are Demonstrably NOT What the People Want, and so they will vote for extra things for themselves. Including school integration, and a social welfare state. This violates the two holy virtues supposedly better served by markets than by government: 1. individual freedom (particularly the freedom of high-income taxpayers, though this is rarely mentioned by the glibertarians) and 2. efficiency (of a certain exclusive definition) and productive innovations. We have seen this argumentative strategy repeated countless times on the internet and now in social media over the last 15 years. But simple glibertarianism does not argue the People out of voting for non-market things, because for the large part, things like integration and a social welfare state are moral and serve justice. So the next step for the greater glory of glibertarianism was (and still is) a two-pronged attack: A) to openly propagandize a new theory to create distrust in voting itself: democratic government cannot be trusted in economic matters because the politicians are crooked and are in it for themselves — which is really a very old complaint that is now dressed up in the suitable game-theoretic clothes of modern economic jargon as “public choice theory”. B) A slow series of secretive political moves at advantageous contingencies, to prevent voters from voting for what they want, using various public and private tactics and addressing a wide variety of institutional structures going all the way to rewriting constitutions, if possible. (The threat of today’s multiplicity of examples of B was clearly the impetus for MacLean’s book; see the Introduction.)

20

faustusnotes 09.01.17 at 12:30 pm

An alternative possibility: that all American politics is glib, and anything that rises above that level is rare and unusual; and that economic “theory” is, in general, either bullshit, poorly argued or theoretically pissy, i.e. glib. Combine these two and of course you’ll get glibertarianism, because you’re combining two incredibly shallow pools of thought.

21

Robert 09.01.17 at 12:34 pm

From what I known of Buchanan from the secondary literature, his theory of “rent-seeking” contrasts a world where government intervenes to provide incomes to some political donors to some imaginary utopia without government intervention. This theory was already answered by Robert Lee Hale’s 1923 essay, Coercion and distribution in a supposedly non-coercive state.

As far as I can see, the right-wing law and economics movement replaced an already existing, more advanced field of law and economics, based on institutional economics.

This observation generalizes. Many propertarians answer objections to particular abuses in capitalism by saying you should join us in working toward a truly free market, as if such was possible.

And it generalizes in another way. Much of what economists say, especially on the right is bad economics, already answered in many ways. For example, Friedman on the minimum wage is demonstrately balderdash to anybody who understands Sraffa (1960). (Although I respect empirical work by Card, Dube, etc., they, too, do not seem to understand price theory.)

22

Robert 09.01.17 at 12:46 pm

It is amazing how much of the history of neoliberalism seems fit a conspiracy. The Mont Pelerin Society was an international movement attempting to make certain ideas dominant. You can see how they worked through so-called think tanks, of various levels of sophistication, to influence politicians. The funding comes from various definitely self-interested multi-millionaires. The Powell memo explicitly calls for trying an end run around universities, although you see funding in academia, too, for pre-decided conclusions.

And then there is explicit examples of direct political intervention, like Chile or reconstruction in Iraq or New Orleans.

I have read Mirowski, and have yet to read Burgin. Who recently wrote on the so-called Nobel Prize in economics? Does that book fit into this story? Has anybody read Amadae?

I feel I’d like more of a historical materialistic account of these movements in the superstructure.

23

bob mcmanus 09.01.17 at 1:29 pm

I feel I’d like more of a historical materialistic account of these movements in the superstructure.

You rang?

Besides the schools mentioned in 3.3 way above, a whole lot of recent, well last couple decades academic work on neoliberalism comes from fields like sociology anthropology urban studies which are informed by Marxism much more than Anglo-American economics or political science. Routledge Handbook of Neoliberalism is 2016, huge and comprehensive with 50 monographs.

Kees van der Piljs is Marxian, Making of the Transatlantic Ruling Class deals with the ideological discourses and construction of political economies up to 1980 but he writes about the people making policy, bankers, politicians, industrialists (Versailles, Bretton Woods, IMF etc), instead of pundits. Warning: KvdP sneers in the intro and insists on using the European “liberal.” His more recent books may be even better, not yet read

Thing is, historical materialists tend to look for neoliberalism on the factory floor and the ways actual policy impacts and interpellates individuals and don’t spend so much time on Hayek and Friedman.

David Harvey is popular. Mandel. Jameson. Frankfurt School.

24

monboddo 09.01.17 at 2:23 pm

11: bob mcmanus, you may not be interested in conservative ideas, but conservative ideas are interested in you…

25

steven t johnson 09.01.17 at 2:25 pm

Yes, it is entirely true that Jason Brennan and his ilk are disgraceful. Nonetheless, the rhetoric of the Farrell/Teles essay enlists the authors in Brennan’s crusade. They argue that it is MacLean whose bad (read “lying”) scholarship imperils human reason, spiritual goodness and the good name of academics everywhere…unlike the antics of a Jason Brennan or a Phil Magness. Their essay has of course already been cited, rightfully, by the fire-Nancy-MacLean crowd as support.

Given the polemical purpose of their essay, I am not shocked they do not consider the possibility that intellectual influence does not require open citation, much less personal engagement by the intellectual. After all, if they did, then the absence of citations and documentary evidence of Buchanan’s personal interventions wouldn’t stand as the objective, scholarly proof that MacLean is a thought criminal. And, implicitly, Buchanan’s very real, very serious work is actually a contribution to truth, and human welfare too. This makes me think of the scholars who object against Jonathan Israel there is no documentary proof that Bayle and Spinoza were so hugely influential as Israel claims.

To be upfront, I have no intention of reading MacLean. But unlike the authors, it’s because I think there’s a lot more dirty money than the Kochs corrupting the academy. And I can’t see singling out a particular villain. That’s like the people who rant about “banksters,” but are otherwise pro-capitalist, and pro-imperialist. Yet, the prospect of wide popularity for her views doesn’t inspire me with a need to hate-read her work to attack it from the right.

26

RD 09.01.17 at 2:32 pm

Anecdote Re #1 & 16:
We recently resided in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC.
One of its main intersections is Broadway, Roosevelt Ave. and 74th Street.
74th is the core of Little India.
R. Ave is Hispanic, mostly Colombian.
It is also NYC’s 2nd largest Gay community.
B’way is the smallest of the 4 “Chinatowns” in the city, although there is a minority of Chinese.Viet Namese ,Filipinos, Malays, Koreans,etc.
No official segregation.
Great street meat, BTW.

27

Efcdons 09.01.17 at 2:51 pm

When people vote for things the market hasn’t provided (e.g. desegregation of housing or schools) the glibertarian response I’ve seen is that a vote isn’t evidence of one’s “true” preference because a vote doesn’t “cost” anything to the voter. Compared to actions through the market which truly reveal peoples’ preferences because it is made through the use of dollars which do have a real “cost”.

I’ve seen this argued in Ilya Simon’s posts on “political ignorance” at the Volokh Report.

28

WLGR 09.01.17 at 4:06 pm

Without having more than skimmed Maclean’s book, my impression is that it provides an unintentional object lesson in how to run afoul of Mirowski’s perpetual idée fixe about the importance of thought collectives, or more generally a Marxist idée fixe about the importance of broad material forces, in contrast to Great Man Theory — obviously at the level of Buchanan, who was an important member of the Mont Pèlerin Society but by no means some unparalleled mastermind who singlehandedly plotted the rise of neoliberalism in advance on the back of a napkin, and also in a way at the level of Maclean herself, whose research into Buchanan’s papers at GMU is important but by no means an unparalleled Holy Grail for her to singlehandedly decipher the rise of neoliberalism in retrospect on the back of said napkin either.

The history of all hitherto existing society is not the history of individual geniuses shouting “eureka!”

29

bruce wilder 09.01.17 at 4:25 pm

Jane Mayer, Dark Money ought to go on the pile.

An allergy to conspiracy theories seems to be employed by too many people as a specialized kind of paranoia, an “anti-paranoia” if you prefer, conferring immunity to an awareness of how the world works, that the rich really are out to dominate the rest of us, and yes, they have worked deliberately and successfully to shape the academy as a tool to purpose.

Buchanan was a genius, but he was very much part of well-funded efforts to promote an intellectual ecology friendly to the plutocracy. Nancy MacLean did not make that up. I have begun reading her book, do not so far find it either great or bad in the ways some critics have charged.

The tough part of writing any history of how ideas have mattered to the grand course of politics is establishing a plausible theory of how ideas matter and what determines which ideas matter. Inevitably, the counterfactual shadows of the ideas and writers ignored and marginalized explain much, but it may be hard to document their traces.

Economics took a turn after 1970 that would be hard to explain or justify with reference only to the substantive merit of the affirmative arguments made for the ideas that dominated.

As McManus hints, the “inevitability” associated with the evolutionary dynamics of “late Capitalism” had something to do with it. Friedman got a lot of mileage out of “predicting” stagflation. The Lucas Critique makes little sense, but its timing — coinciding with the collapse of computer models using linear simultaneous equations for predictions — took advantage of an academic vacuum and filled it with a sure-fire method of generating “publishable” papers, for journals primed (and funded) to publish them.

In some ways, it is a bit like Thatcher targeting coal and steel at the moment those industries began their predictable slide into oblivion; make Labour defend preservation of a status quo that cannot survive — all the rest is easy.

Friedman and Lucas and Barro and the rest could not have succeeded on the merits of their ideas if they had had worthy opponents. Friedman’s signal success with the prediction of the failure of Keynesian policy at the end of the 1960s depended upon the times. The stagflation came. The capitalist class was in a corner. That was part of it. But Friedman’s successful joke required that Solow play the straightman, set it up by transforming Keynesian theory into a caricature of itself first, with a silly interpretation of the Phillips Curve and his growth model and its indefensible concept of capital and the absurdity of an aggregate production function.

Pickett asked about Lee’s failure at Gettysburg, quipped, “I have always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” Henry’s remark about Professor Pippy P. Poopypants cannot explain Buchanan, who was far from average, but may explain some of Buchanan’s success. Most of the attendees at a meeting of the AEA are vaguely liberal, but hapless. The “mainstream” profession has no standards, but a lot of top-down drivel about rigor and a core of bullies, dependent on business money or plutocratic largess, pushing right-wing “ideas”. That is the reality.

Buchanan was a genius, but politically, he was also a true believer in a reactionary political ideology typical of the old Chicago School and its heirs. Over time, it has become just hackery. Or, easier now to recognize as hackwork all-around, with broken spreadsheets and Anne-Marie of Blob fame wielding the axe when cued, etc. If I were to suggest a focus, I think the post-cabinet career of Edwin Meese in shaping schools would be more enlightening about how things work than Buchanan. And, no one would think he was working with “ideas”.

30

WLGR 09.01.17 at 5:08 pm

steven t johnson “I think there’s a lot more dirty money than the Kochs corrupting the academy. And I can’t see singling out a particular villain. That’s like the people who rant about “banksters,” but are otherwise pro-capitalist, and pro-imperialist.”

http://www.lacan.com/zizpopulism.htm

In populism, the enemy is externalized/reified into a positive ontological entity (even if this entity is spectral), whose annihilation would restore balance and justice; symmetrically, our own — the populist political agent’s — identity is also perceived as pre-existing the enemy’s onslaught. Let us take Laclau’s own precise analysis of why one should count Chartism as populism: “Its dominant leitmotiv is to situate the evils of society not in something that is inherent in the economic system, but quite the opposite: in the abuse of power by parasitic and speculative groups which have control of political power — ‘old corruption,’ in Cobbett’s words. /…/ It was for this reason that the feature most strongly picked out in the ruling class was its idleness and parasitism.”

In other words, for a populist, the cause of the troubles is ultimately never the system as such, but the intruder who corrupted it (financial manipulators, not capitalists as such, etc.); not a fatal flaw inscribed into the structure as such, but an element that doesn’t play its role within the structure properly. For a Marxist, on the contrary (like for a Freudian), the pathological (deviating misbehavior of some elements) is the symptom of the normal, an indicator of what is wrong in the very structure that is threatened with “pathological” outbursts: for Marx, economic crises are the key to understanding the “normal” functioning of capitalism; for Freud, pathological phenomena like hysterical outbursts provide the key to the constitution (and hidden antagonisms that sustain the functioning) of a “normal” subject.

31

J-D 09.01.17 at 5:29 pm

I think his sort of attitude mainly appeals to those who want an excuse to do what they already naively want, without learning better.

In one of Douglas Adams’s book sequels to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy there is a ‘streetwalker’ (not in the usual sense, but in a more strictly literal one) who is paid to get into cars with rich men and tell them that their wealth is morally justified and they have nothing to feel guilty about. This is, she explains, how you make a living with an economics degree.

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dale self 09.01.17 at 5:33 pm

Thank you Bob, your insights over the years have allowed me to see my way clear of many distorted rationales for various bad actors. And of course, great thanks to Crooked Timber’s great minds for providing the space and stimulating the discussions.

Keep it goin.

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Ram 09.01.17 at 6:40 pm

Does anyone actually believe minimal state libertarianism is *necessarily* optimal? Maybe Nozick, but surely not Friedman. The quoted passage is consistent with the idea that something close to minimal state libertarianism is *contingently* optimal, in which case, this optimality could be defeated with appropriate social scientific evidence and/or philosophical argument. There’s a Friedman quote about how he’d be a socialist if he thought it would give people what they want or something. That certainly sounds like someone who thinks it’s possible that socialism is optimal, but that it in fact is not. There’s also the question of why Friedman spent so much time collecting and analyzing data if he thought he knew the optimal design for society a priori.

You may read the quote as creating no opening to question whether the free market is optimal, but I read it differently. I hear him saying that choice and competition create a situation in which discrimination is costly for the discriminator. This is an empirical claim, and can be evaluated (and has been, extensively). Given the assumptions of his model, this claim is a theorem, and so can’t be questioned, but his model is precisely what is in question. I read him as saying, “I think the evidence best supports my model, and in my model this is a theorem”. You read him as saying “My model is necessarily correct, and this claim follows from my necessarily correct model.” I really find it hard to believe that this reading is more plausible than mine.

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Mike Furlan 09.01.17 at 10:59 pm

Friedman acknowledged the existence of market failure, and the competency of government to provide a remedy. He made his name (big assist from Anna Schwartz, I am sure) arguing that the Federal Government has ability to conduct something as sophisticated and difficult as an active monetary policy.

However it was his apparently sincere opinion, public schools are too difficult for government to provide.

Glibertarian Reductio ad absurdum would be the requirement that our nuclear weapons be sold to private contractors, and that our strategic defense needs be met by a series of annual contracts.

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Belle Waring 09.01.17 at 11:50 pm

Ram: I read the quote as obvious falsehood offered as thin justification for otherwise totally fixed views.

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Ebenezer Scrooge 09.02.17 at 1:14 am

The Friedman argument only works (on its own terms) if you assume other-regarding preferences and collective action away. The glibertarian gets rid of collective action by imputing it uniquely to the state, thus treating the corporation as an individual. (For some reason, unions don’t get the same kindly treatment.)

The glibertarian has greater problems with other-regarding preferences. The glibertarians of the Ayn Rand cult treat them all as evil, although they don’t propose doing anything about them. Some glibertarians acknowledge that things like the family and altruism might not be evil, but they seem to get pretty incoherent past that point.

To get back to the Friedman argument, there is Colin Powell’s tale of trying to book a hotel room when he was a mere lieutenant in the days of Jim Crow. It’s a bit distorted by my memory, but nicely shows why individuals can’t do much with a caste system, or institutionalized bigotry in general: “You’re from India, aren’t you?” “No, ma’am.” “Are you Portuguese, maybe?” “No, ma’am.” “Cuba?” “Sorry, no ma’am; I’m a Negro.” “Oh, then I’m afraid I can’t serve you. Are you sure you’re not Portuguese?”

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John Jackson 09.02.17 at 2:54 am

I have a short essay on Friedman’s 1962 chapter on discrimination that examines some of his specific historical claims. Friedman’s basic position is that capitalism historically has decreased racial discrimination: empirically suspect claims when he first made them in 1962 and empirically bankrupt ones when he re-endorses them in later editions of the book:

https://altrightorigins.com/2017/08/09/white-ignorance-milton-friedman/

I have also defended MacLean’s chapters about Buchanan’s role in Virginia in 1959. She is absolutely right in those chapters at least, whatever one may think about the rest of the book:
https://altrightorigins.com/2017/07/13/was-james-buchanan-a-racist-libertarians-and-historical-research/

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Ram 09.02.17 at 3:30 am

Belle Waring: Where in what he says is there any evidence that this view is “totally fixed”? The quotes simply describe a particular counterfactual implication of his theory. That theory may be wrong. Is he supposed to start every thought with “maybe I’m wrong, but…”, or “I’m open to changing my mind, but…”? Am I to assume that every time someone presents their understanding of something, based on their preferred theory, that the view is totally fixed? Or only when they disagree with me?

It’s a particularly funny comment, because the passage describes how his views evolved over time (totally fixed views tend to be, well, fixed). As to its obvious falsity, I wonder whether the massive literature that followed Becker’s analysis of discrimination agrees. Much of that literature may have been critical of this idea, but these scholars felt that this was an idea worth responding to with scholarly rigor, which is not something typically done for obviously false ideas.

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bruce wilder 09.02.17 at 6:59 am

@ Mike Furlan

“Friedman acknowledged the existence of market failure, and the competency of government to provide a remedy. He made his name (big assist from Anna Schwartz, I am sure) arguing that the Federal Government has ability to conduct something as sophisticated and difficult as an active monetary policy.”

His patent argument on externalities took this form: the cost of the externality seldom outweighs the cost of an actual and necessarily imperfect government policy intervention to remedy the externality. His general view seemed to be that practical efficiency would often be achieved by tolerating the incidental messiness of the externality in order to enjoy the benefits of efficient private enterprise acting freely, while foregoing the distortions and burdens necessarily attending the remedies of a palsied state.

The highly tendentious argument at the center of the Monetary History was precisely that the Federal government and its agency, the Federal Reserve, though it might have the necessary authority, lacked an essential capacity for wise discretion, and could not be trusted to respond intelligently to circumstances and so should not conduct an active monetary policy. A proponent of the Quantity Theory, Friedman quite famously argued that the central bank should commit to a policy of blindly expanding the money supply at a steady and unvarying rate. Anything else risked the government making things worse, because, in Friedman’s view, that is what governments from their nature tended to do: clumsily make things worse.

At base, Friedman’s “arguments” were little more than narrative morality plays in which government was always the villain of the piece.

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ccc 09.02.17 at 9:40 am

Friedman is also shaped by the deep tendency toward what we may call “glib preferentialism” in economics. The idea that there is only preferences and utility (wellbeing, flourishing, …) isn’t interpersonally comparable. One person’s preference for racial equality has no special status over another persons preference for segregation, the starving person’s preference for food has no different status over the rich person’s preference for a third car.

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Peter T 09.02.17 at 10:06 am

Ram

Much of economics is an enormous mass of scholarship rigorously and minutely examining obviously false ideas.

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Joe 09.02.17 at 10:07 am

@ John Holbo Maybe this was the piece?
https://niskanencenter.org/blog/public-choice-theory-politics-charity/
It argues libertarianism breeds a lack of interpretive charity and public choice provides an appropriately uncharitable theory of politics to match. He says that Maclean is rightly outraged at the wholesale dismissal of important social movements and legislation as misdirected egoism.

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Collin Street 09.02.17 at 11:02 am

It argues libertarianism breeds a lack of interpretive charity

Tell me: who will pay for this charity?

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Lee A. Arnold 09.02.17 at 12:26 pm

Some economists have loved to dance between the two positions, first, “I’m only just theorizing,” and then afterward, using their same musing, to engage in what has been called prescriptive consequentialism. Which means: “Let’s formulate real policy in this way, we ought to get more efficiency and more freedom out of it, somehow.”

My own favorite bit of Friedman lunacy is in Capitalism and Freedom which, iirc (I threw the book in the rubbish decades ago), he advocates privatizing the U.S. national park system, because then, the people who really want it, can pay for it. Now, a minute’s thought will tell you, it won’t work. But it also showed revealed an astonishing ignorance, and it is why ecologists immediately came to despise him: Friedman, who belittled people for not knowing the subject matter of economics, didn’t bother to learn a thing about the subject of wildlife ecology or about the subject of ecosystem services (as it later would be called) — nor did he uphold the moral position that some things are simply beautiful, incalculable, invaluable and worth saving from the market, although that position had been established 50 years before by John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt.

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steven t johnson 09.02.17 at 12:55 pm

WLGR@28 If I understand the import of the phrase “fall afoul of” idee fixe (from Mirowski and Marx, in context with the final parody of Marx, it is that Nancy MacLean combined their crank ideas into a silly Great Man theory? It’s not clear whether you object to the idea of a school of scholars devoted to a completely irrational goal, even while steadfastly adhering to the canons of scholarship as widely understood in their field? Or whether you object to the idea that Mont Pelerin was actually influential? Or whether you object to the idea that broad material forces generate ideas that perpetuate the system in the heads of those who benefit by it, and critical ideas in those who suffer from it? Or whether you object to the idea that the Kochs are so influential? Or that Buchanan is so influential? Or whether, like Farrell, Teles, Brennan et al. you object to MacLean’s terrifying corruption of the human spirit?

If the first, I can only point to every seminary in the real world. (I have my suspicions about economics departments, to be sure.)

If the second, this is much like claiming that advertising or propaganda are ineffective because you can’t document the action and measure the results. This kind of scholastic approach, which you share with the authors, is wrong headed, misconceived, inadequate. Demanding this sort of thing is like insisting that a weatherman tell you which butterfly flapped its wings to “cause” Harvey.

If the third, the fear of the Kochs suggests otherwise. Demonstrating this fear is absurd would be a public service I think, and I would urge you to do so.

If the fourth, I can only say I’ve seen the simplistic, pop versions of Popper, Friedman and Buchanan most of my life, passed off as obvious truths by the most unlikely people. Regulatory capture and rent seeking, vacuous ideas but powerful slogans, have the imprimatur of science, because Buchanan, public choice, Nobel! As to whether this is effective, again, the notion that you must be able to document the effect of unconscious assumptions about the scientificity of common notions by citations is still like insisting that you must be able to calculate the path of each molecule of a gas.

If the fifth, yes, well, the usual thing is to damn with faint praise. The point for the authors and people like Brennan is to damn outright. I don’t think MacLean is likely to corrupt the people, so I rather suspect tenderness for the ox that is being gored. I can only confess I am quite open to the notion that the academy is contaminated by systemic corruption. To be more precise, that said systemic corruption is how the academy is constrained to fulfill its apologetic function.

WLGR@30 I do not believe that political movements are products of mass psychology. Mass psychology, insofar as it exists, is the product of social life. And political ideas tend to be created by actual people living in rather specific situations. So, no, I don’t think the paranoia of the unwashed is causing “populism,” and that therefore we need to prophylactically root out the MacLeans.

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Jerry Vinokurov 09.02.17 at 4:39 pm

But of course, libertarianism cannot help being glib. Glibness is a the heart of its philosophy. There’s the glibness that Henry describes in the OP, which is bad enough, but there’s pretty much no way not to end up there. The problem that libertarians have is that despite claiming to start with axioms, they actually start with conclusions (the infamous “self-ownership” concept is one example). Then they assume that they can logically derive the rules of society and that anyone who doesn’t accept this derivation or the “axioms” it’s based on must be anti-freedom. That’s me being charitable, actually; I’m assuming here that they actually believe what they preach, whereas most libertarian dogma is just cover for allowing the wealthy to do as they please (the Niskanen piece linked above at 42 recognizes this dynamic as well).

There was a time, maybe roughly 10 years ago, when I thought that formulating detailed responses to libertarianism was something that was worth doing. I no longer believe that; all the good responses have already been written, and they’ve made no difference whatsoever. Libertarianism will always find succor among billionaires who resent having to follow the same rules as the rest of us peasants, so there’s always going to be a fresh load of bullshit produced every day about how free markets will save us all or taxes are theft or whatever. It’s not worth engaging with seriously because it is fundamentally unserious. The way to win this argument is not to hope to defeat it by its own methods and expect libertarians to vanish in a puff of logic but to mobilize large-scale political power to expropriate the billionaire class.

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Henry Farrell 09.03.17 at 3:07 am

John@14 – As we mention in the piece, there are some trivial criticisms that have crept in too, as well as some nonsense. But as we argue the basic case against the book is strong. Not only is there no good evidence to support the book’s major claims, but she seems to have fundamentally misunderstood much of the source material she does use. The Koch speech in particular, which she presents as a smoking gun for Koch adopting Buchanan’s cunning tactics, but which obviously and transparently is nothing of the sort – it is Koch praising _his own_ crackpot management philosophy and the principles beneath it.

Steven T Johnson – that is all a bit silly. I don’t object to MacLean’s “terrifying corruption of the human spirit .” I object to bad history, which makes big sweeping arguments about how a semi-obscure figure is in fact the cunning and demonic genius behind the rise of the American right, and then doesn’t provide any real evidence to support its extraordinary claims. There’s a lot of rhetorical puffery in your extravagant serial condemnation of me, but no particular evidence of any argument beyond a muddy minded wave towards guilt by association. Trilling famously described conservatism as not so much a system of serious thought as a set of “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” Unfortunately, that indictment can sometimes have purchase beyond conservatism.

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steven t johnson 09.03.17 at 3:26 am

Two comments, and a link?

A Nobel Laureate whose popularized ideas I have encountered too many times to remember where is not “a semi-obscure figure.”

Given the truly shocking amount of bad history in the libertarian movement, the judgment that its’ Nancy MacLean’s bad history that needs smacking down is remarkable. The parable about motes and beams comes to mind.

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/public-choice-theory-politics-charity/ I recommend readers follow the links to Jason Brennan’s friends, especially that Phil Magness he worked with in their attack on the malice of adjunct professors getting all uppity about their salaries.

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H Horan 09.03.17 at 6:52 pm

Your Boston Review article seems to get factual details right but (quite unnecessarily) gets the bigger picture badly wrong. It starts in the first paragraph where you note most people see this as a political, not an intellectual fight. They are right–no one who reads this (or any related) article can evaluate it outside the primary political context, but you decide to ignore this clear reality and treat it as a purely intellectual fight. Let me assume up front that your specific academic criticisms of MacLean’s book are fair (I’ve only read bits of her book). You could have made those same points without (to use another commenter’s phrase) attacking “MacLean’s terrifying corruption of the human spirit.”
Start with some (I hope utterly uncontroversial) historic context. Massive political changes have driven by certain “conservative” factions in the last 30-40 years that have has enormous impacts on economic and social welfare. As many historians have documented, one can trace the foundations of this movement back to a variety of political and economic writings by academics and public intellectuals in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In isolation, those writings had little impact on public policy or society, but the political impact grew when many of those ideas were simplified or mutated into more actionable form, and were weaponized by advocacy groups using classic mass communication techniques funded by very large sums of cash, provided by very wealthy donors with specific political objectives. As with any important political movement, the advocates of these changes formed alliances of convenience with other political factions. While there has been a fair amount of academic work (including your own) documenting this history, there is close to total ignorance about the impact of these processes on the massive economic changes that have occurred in the mainstream media and political discourse.
Recognizing the political context, one could have raised your specific objections in a totally different way, for example “MacLean’s book covers a critical period when many of the policies that have led to much greater inequality, economic volatility and political polarization were developed and implemented, and her book provides a great deal of information useful to anyone trying to better understand the source of these changes. Unfortunately it happens to overstate the role of Buchannan, who was one of many important players, but wasn’t quite the central, decisive power MacLean implies. The political power of the extreme laissez-faire advocates grew as they developed alliances with other movements, such as Southern whites resisting school desegregation, and actively linked to similar movements in Chile and elsewhere abroad, and developed sophisticated propaganda-based techniques that moved their ideas into the mainstream while avoiding open disclosure of their core objectives. Buchannan, as MacLean demonstrates, played an active role in all of these, but her claim that he was the original innovator and primary driver obscures the fact that a lot of people played critical roles here. This feeds the tendency of some liberals/leftists to misrepresent these conservative movements as resulting from a single grand plan engineered by a couple of powerful villains. This not only gets the history wrong, but would lead to simplistic, ineffective programs to counter these movements. But while we disagree with her interpretation, MacLean presents a lot of history that needs to reach a wider audience.”
You’ve argued that while it may exist somewhere, MacLean failed to provide evidence powerful enough to justify her powerful claims. But your powerful claim that MacLean’s work is such an egregious violation of academic standards that it should be totally excluded from anyone’s reading list also lacks powerful backing. You don’t show that Buchannan didn’t play a central role in this history, or provide the evidence for a better, alternate explanation. Your claim that “Public Choice” theory was originally constructed as a seemingly benign, politically-neutral, empirically based concept ignores the obvious history that movement conservatives rapidly converted it into explicitly political narratives serving the needs of those who wanted to delegitimize any public/government activity that might constrain the complete freedom of capital accumulators, and that none of the main “Public Choice” economists ever attacked its ongoing political use, or fought to show how it applied equally to corruption enabled by concentrated corporate power. If you want to claim Buchannan was only motivated by abstract concepts of “individual liberty” you need to show a bunch of examples where he used his academic arguments to fight on behalf of the individual liberty of people his capital accumulator paymasters or their political allies didn’t like. Simply arguing that some of MacLean’s source material could have hypothetically supported an alternative interpretation is unacceptable, under the terms of argumentation that you defined.
One of the keys to the huge political success of the various factions of movement conservatism is the manufacture of narratives, and the ability to get media and other elites to believe those narrative claims derived from rigorous academic-type analysis while remaining oblivious to the actual political objectives of the billionaires funding the promulgation of the narratives. “Deregulation” had the same legitimate academic appearances when it was used to point out flaws in CAB decision-making, but as with “Public Choice” this quickly mutated into a program to eliminate all protections for labor, consumers, to eliminate all antitrust protections for market competition, and to protections against systemic financial risk. But the New York Times and Wall Street Journal continue to use the word “deregulation” as if we were having 1975 debates about airline pricing flexibility, and they treat propaganda spreading groups like the Heritage Institute as if their current research was just as rigorous as 1975 Brookings or AEI treatises. Your Boston Review article foolishly applies 1975 Oxford debating society rules to a public debate about MacLean’s paper that will be universally be read in a political context where one major group of readers has been dedicated to the utter destruction of 1975 standards of rigor, and another major group remains willfully ignorant that those standards have been dead for decades. There were ways to voice your disagreement with MacLean’s interpretation of history without discouraging people from getting a better understanding of how this history contributed to massive political changes.

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George Hogenson 09.03.17 at 7:10 pm

Regarding arguments that prevent counterarguments, the philosopher Hans Blumenberg coined the term “paratheory” in his massive Work on Myth (Arbeit on Mythos). He applied it in particular to Freud in that instance, but it applies as well here. A paratheory is a structural element in a theory that has the consequence of folding any objections into the dynamics of the original theory, thereby neutralizing them. Thus, in Freud, to object to the psychoanalytic theory is to engage in a form of unconscious resistance, which is then subject to psychoanalytic interpretation that proves that psychoanalysis is correct. The phenomenon, however, pops up all over the place, as demonstrated in this piece.

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Moz of Yarramulla 09.05.17 at 7:22 am

Howard Frant @4:

My uninformed impression is that really mixed neighborhoods don’t survive very long.

I tend to agree, a few generations at most and they stop being mixed. Where I live is largely recent immigrants and currently quite mixed as a result. Even the usual broad categories of white/non, christian/non fail to produce a useful overview (much as describing Northern Ireland as christian doesn’t).

But looking at similar areas of the city where the immigrant flow tapered off a few decades ago they’re now much more homogenised, full of mixed-race English speaking Australians who attend their family cultural/religious events once or twice a year.

But then, what race is someone who needs a whole paragraph to describe their immediate ethnicity? “my maternal grandfather was from Guangzhou in China, my maternal grandmother was Malaysian from Sabah; my paternal grandmother was Indian Chinese from Thailand and my paternal grandfather was a half-Aboriginal, half-Afghani man from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory”. Race? Do tell…

52

Lee A. Arnold 09.05.17 at 11:52 am

I think there are a lot of mixed-race suburbs surviving in the northeast U.S.

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WLGR 09.05.17 at 5:21 pm

steven t johnson, where are you getting the idea that I disagree with Mirowski or the Marxists? Is it because the term “idée fixe” can only ever be a pejorative for a theoretical universe we disagree with, not a mildly self-deprecating reference to our own theoretical obsessions? The point I was trying to make is that Maclean’s narrative seems to misinterpret the significance of its subject matter by zeroing in on the figure of Buchanan as a Great Man driving the train of history, and that this shortcoming can be diagnosed in terms of something Mirowski would say about thought collectives or something a Marxist would say about overall economic forces of history. Whether Mirowski’s account itself is sufficiently Marxist is another can of worms that needn’t necessarily be opened here, as long as both can march in lockstep against the Great Mannified version of Mirowski’s account being promoted by Maclean.

Also I share your aversion to the individualistic psychologization of mass politics, but that kind of Haidt/Pinker-esque pseudointellectual reductionism isn’t what someone like Žižek is doing. In fact Žižek’s idée fixe is much the point you yourself are making: social antagonisms aren’t an outside force disrupting a preexisting social fabric, but are immanent to their specific forms of social organization and can only be overcome through the concrete development of the entire society. In that sense Žižek would criticize the typical liberal-democratic rejection of populism as a form of the same ideological operation it rejects, except the reified pseudo-concrete figure intruding on its preexisting social fabric is the specter of populist politics itself. (Hence the current wave of liberal silliness about Trump, along with any other challenges to mainstream liberal/conservative electoral politics, as products of foreign intervention by the dastardly scheming Rooskies, not expressions of the very inner contradictions of US liberal democratic capitalism, and so on.)

Of course the relevance to the Maclean/Buchanan discussion is that regardless of what Buchanan and his fellow travelers were doing either as individuals or as a thought collective, in the final instance the victory of neoliberalism over Keynesian social democracy has resulted not from the dastardly schemes of an outside intruder like Buchanan or the Kochs, but from the unsolvable immanent contradictions of the Keynesian social compact. So if we’re going to dismiss the vulgar Clintonite project of “Make Liberal Democracy Great Again (by casting out the Trumpian populist intruder)” for its Trumplike ideological mystification, we should be consistent enough to also reject the vulgar Sandersista project of “Make Social Democracy Great Again (by casting out the Kochian neoliberal intruder)” on similar grounds. To subvert one of the most trite glibertarian aphorisms, the point is that an individual agent should stop making externalized excuses and take personal responsibility for resolving its own internal problems — where the individual agent in question is the entire sociopolitical totality.

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Chris Mealy 09.05.17 at 8:10 pm

I think of it as a kind of libertarian zen, “where there is no solution, there is no problem.” I remember a long time ago Will Wilkinson arguing that inequality wasn’t a problem because dishwashers were so cheap nowadays, and Tyler Cowen arguing that we don’t need universal health insurance because medical care is overrated anyway. So much libertarian discourse is dedicated to creating a New Libertarian Man, a person who values their freedom to sleep under a bridge more than living indoors.

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Bernard Yomtov 09.05.17 at 9:38 pm

@13

Having lived in the segregated South of the 1950s and 60s I find it hard to credit Friedman with good faith in his arguments. The market clearly had done nothing to economically disadvantage racists even if you accepted the absurdity that people make decisions based laregly on price.

Dr. Hilarius,

I too lived in the South in that era, and I think you do not go far enough. It was not just that the market did not disadvantage racists, it encouraged racist practices among (the very few) non-racists.

Anyone who thinks, for example, that refusal to hire blacks must put an employer at a disadvantage, does not understand the place. A black worker, no matter how diligent, was going to disruptive, and damage the enterprise, because he would get no cooperation, and some sabotage, from co-workers and would find it difficult to get much done. And promoting a black worker to a supervisory role would have produced mutiny. Here, as in other areas, a rational non-racist economic actor has every incentive to discriminate.

One might study the well-known example of major league baseball, where customer and co-worker preferences, not a lack of talented black players, kept the game all white for a half-century or more.

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Henry Farrell 09.06.17 at 2:17 am

H Horan – don’t have the time to get into it beyond this but you seem to have had some difficulties in reading and understanding the article – not only do we never say that public choice was “originally constructed as a seemingly benign, politically-neutral, empirically based concept,” we explicitly and emphatically state the contrary. The points that we dispute are not trivial ones – they are fundamental to the claims of the book. A book that has no evidence for some key claims, and is demonstrably basically mistaken on others is not a good book, and there are no two ways around that.

There are plenty of good books on the consequences of the right’s economic ideas and deregulation – I mention Burgin’s book above, and have talked at length about Hacker and Pierson’s discussion in an earlier post, and in a forthcoming piece. There is really good work on the malign influence of the Kochs – we mention both Jane Mayer’s book (which is excellent) and Theda Skocpol’s work in our article. So there is no particular need, beyond Steven Johnson style four-legs-good-two-legs-bad solidarity, to defend a book that plainly fails to meet the standards of good history. Lots of other good work out there that one can build on instead.

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Cassander 09.06.17 at 3:12 am

I search for an actual argument Henry has made here against Friedman’s case. I find none. I suppose once you’ve proclaimed someone a heretic racist no further argument is considered necessary.

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Bernard Yomtov 09.06.17 at 12:10 pm

Cassander,

One simple argument against Friedman’s case is that the market did not accomplish what he claimed, or else did so at a glacial case.

Markets reflect preferences, and not just for money. If there exists a strong and widespread preference to avoid those of other races the market will honor that preference, just as it will honor a strong and widespread preference for blue cars over green cars.

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CJColucci 09.06.17 at 7:02 pm

Friedman’s argument is 50-odd years old and has been dealt with on its merits many times. There is no point in Henry reinventing the wheel. But people insist on arguing to this day that there can’t be, not justisn’t, but can’t be, any such thing as discrimination in employment or provision of services because — dammit — it’s economically irrational, and people just don’t let $20 bills lie on the sidewalk. What looks like discrimination is the effects of such things as segregation laws, which prevent restaurants from marketing themselves as purveyors of integrated dining experiences to those who want such things, and the minimum wage, which prevents employers from hiring colored help cheaper than white.
It’s probably too much to ask of a major economic theorist to go out on the street and look around, but a moderately clever student in freshman economics could easily come up with realistic examples where discrimination is economically rational. You can probably do it too.

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Cassander 09.06.17 at 11:44 pm

@Bernard Yomtov 09.06.17 at 12:10 pm

One simple argument against Friedman’s case is that the market did not accomplish what he claimed, or else did so at a glacial case.

Those are two very different claims, which are you claiming? If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so. That was the whole point of jim crow, after all, to stand in the way free association. And if you claim that it did so only slowly, then I have to ask, on what metric? In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?

Markets reflect preferences, and not just for money. If there exists a strong and widespread preference to avoid those of other races the market will honor that preference, just as it will honor a strong and widespread preference for blue cars over green cars.

Yep, and so do democratic governments. The difference is that if 51%, or 99%, of the people vote for everyone to have green cars and you like blue, you’re SOL. With a market, the minority can still get their preferences met, unlike, say, what happened to blacks in the post-bellum south.

@CJColucci

Friedman’s argument is 50-odd years old and has been dealt with on its merits many times. There is no point in Henry reinventing the wheel.

If you aren’t interested in his point, then why bring it up except to sneer? Does the world not already have enough empty moral preening?

But people insist on arguing to this day that there can’t be, not justisn’t, but can’t be, any such thing as discrimination in employment or provision of services because — dammit — it’s economically irrational, and people just don’t let $20 bills lie on the sidewalk.

No, they don’t. But you show that strawman who’s boss!

What they actually argue is that, when it’s legal to pick them up, 20 dollar bills lying around are a great and universal disincentive towards discrimination, and that governments, almost by definition, are far more reliably tools of majority preference than liberation. It was not governments that gave the first spousal rights to gay couples, it was not governments that helped plessy sue the government to overturn separate but equal laws, it was private actors acting in their economic best interests. Your argument is basically to proclaim the good government did in 1964, to ignore the bad it did for the century prior, and then conclude that therefore, it is morally superior to markets. This is nonsense.

What looks like discrimination is the effects of such things as segregation laws, which prevent restaurants from marketing themselves as purveyors of integrated dining experiences to those who want such things, and the minimum wage, which prevents employers from hiring colored help cheaper than white.

By and large people don’t want an integrated dining experience. They also don’t not want one. the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, don’t give a shit about politics, they just want a good, cheap meal. If forced to choose between bad/expensive segregated meal and a good/cheap integrated one, they will, in the long run, go with the integrated one, and they’ll do it while happily voting for segregation. They do this because when you make people put their money where their mouth is, they either tend towards economic rationality, or lose money. That’s the wonderful thing about markets, they’re darwinian. And while like evolution, they take a long time to work, they do work towards progress.

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Cassander 09.06.17 at 11:47 pm

ugh, I screwed up the HTML tags, please delete the previous post.

@Bernard Yomtov 09.06.17 at 12:10 pm

Those are two very different claims, which are you claiming? If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so. That was the whole point of jim crow, after all, to stand in the way free association. And if you claim that it did so only slowly, then I have to ask, on what metric? In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?

Yep, and so do democratic governments. The difference is that if 51%, or 99%, of the people vote for everyone to have green cars and you like blue, you’re SOL. With a market, the minority can still get their preferences met, unlike, say, what happened to blacks in the post-bellum south.

@CJColucci

No, they don’t. But you show that strawman who’s boss!

What they actually argue is that, when it’s legal to pick them up, 20 dollar bills lying around are a great and universal disincentive towards discrimination, and that governments, almost by definition, are far more reliably tools of majority preference than liberation. It was not governments that gave the first spousal rights to gay couples, it was not governments that helped plessy sue the government to overturn separate but equal laws, it was private actors acting in their economic best interests. Your argument is basically to proclaim the good government did in 1964, to ignore the bad it did for the century prior, and then conclude that therefore, it is morally superior to markets. This is nonsense.

By and large people don’t want an integrated dining experience. They also don’t not want one. the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, don’t give a shit about politics, they just want a good, cheap meal. If forced to choose between bad/expensive segregated meal and a good/cheap integrated one, they will, in the long run, go with the integrated one, and they’ll do it while happily voting for segregation. They do this because when you make people put their money where their mouth is, they either tend towards economic rationality, or lose money. That’s the wonderful thing about markets, they’re darwinian. And while like evolution, they take a long time to work, they do work towards progress.

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Cassander 09.06.17 at 11:49 pm

Bah, third time’s the charm perhaps.

@Bernard Yomtov 09.06.17 at 12:10 pm

>One simple argument against Friedman’s case is that the market did not accomplish what he claimed, or else did so at a glacial case.

Those are two very different claims, which are you claiming? If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so. That was the whole point of jim crow, after all, to stand in the way free association. And if you claim that it did so only slowly, then I have to ask, on what metric? In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?

>Markets reflect preferences, and not just for money. If there exists a strong and widespread preference to avoid those of other races the market will honor that preference, just as it will honor a strong and widespread preference for blue cars over green cars.

Yep, and so do governments. The difference is that if 51%, or 99%, of the people vote for everyone to have green cars and you like blue, you’re SOL. With a market, the minority can still get their preferences met, unlike, say, what happened to blacks in the post-bellum south.

@CJColucci

>Friedman’s argument is 50-odd years old and has been dealt with on its merits many times. There is no point in Henry reinventing the wheel.

If you aren’t interested in his point, then why bring it up except to sneer? Does the world not already have enough empty moral preening?

>But people insist on arguing to this day that there can’t be, not justisn’t, but can’t be, any such thing as discrimination in employment or provision of services because — dammit — it’s economically irrational, and people just don’t let $20 bills lie on the sidewalk.

No, they don’t. But you show that strawman who’s boss!

What they actually argue is that, when it’s legal to pick them up, 20 dollar bills lying around are a great and universal disincentive towards discrimination, and that governments, almost by definition, are far more reliably tools of majority preference than liberation. It was not governments that gave the first spousal rights to gay couples, it was not governments that helped plessy sue the government to overturn separate but equal laws, it was private actors acting in their economic best interests. Your argument is basically to proclaim the good government did in 1964, to ignore the bad it did for the century prior, and then conclude that therefore, it is morally superior to markets. This is nonsense.

>What looks like discrimination is the effects of such things as segregation laws, which prevent restaurants from marketing themselves as purveyors of integrated dining experiences to those who want such things, and the minimum wage, which prevents employers from hiring colored help cheaper than white.

By and large people don’t want an integrated dining experience. They also don’t not want one. the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, don’t give a shit about politics, they just want a good, cheap meal. If forced to choose between bad/expensive segregated meal and a good/cheap integrated one, they will, in the long run, go with the integrated one, and they’ll do it while happily voting for segregation. They do this because when you make people put their money where their mouth is, they either tend towards economic rationality, or lose money. That’s the wonderful thing about markets, they’re darwinian. And while like evolution, they take a long time to work, they do work towards progress.

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Mike Furlan 09.07.17 at 1:17 am

“That’s the wonderful thing about markets, they’re darwinian. And while like evolution, they take a long time to work, they do work towards progress.”

As someone once said, in the long run we are all dead. Someday try listening to some of your black friends, as they try to explain to you what it was like to hear all the nice white folks tell them, “we’ll change, but not quite yet, be patient.”

Racial discrimination was ameliorated by goverment, big government, in the form of the Federal Courts. Reminds me that one of the big Libertarians (N. Taleb) is expounding on twitter how lawsuits are good, but the Post Office should be abolished. Why does he pretend not to understand that they are both run by the goverment and in the case of the Federal Courts even established by the same document, the US Constitution?

Markets are just a tool that works all the time, except when you really need it.

You think the tens of thousands of people rescued in the aftermath of Harvey should have called Uber instead?

This is why sane people all over the world have accepted the idea of a mixed economy. Markets are good for allocating Pokemon cards, they are bad for providing public health.

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john c. halasz 09.07.17 at 2:16 am

Why does someone name himself after Cassander, Alexander the Great’s more mediocre, if no less ruthless successor?

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Cassander 09.07.17 at 2:32 am

As someone once said, in the long run we are all dead. Someday try listening to some of your black friends, as they try to explain to you what it was like to hear all the nice white folks tell them, “we’ll change, but not quite yet, be patient.”

And, pray tell, what would you tell them in the century prior to the 60s, “no, don’t try markets that will take forever, we’ll pass civil rights legislation any day now!”

I would take slow, steady, measurable progress over the hope that some other people over whom I have no control magically decide to take up my plight as a political issue any day of the week. And so would anyone more interesting in actually improving people’s lives than they are in using politics to signal how virtuous they are.

Racial discrimination was ameliorated by goverment, big government, in the form of the Federal Courts.

Sure. And for a century prior to that, they did the opposite. Live by the whim of government, die by the whim of government. I want a structural solution, not one that depends on the fickle winds of what’s currently politically popular.

This is why sane people all over the world have accepted the idea of a mixed economy. Markets are good for allocating Pokemon cards, they are bad for providing public health.

Ah, goalpost shifting. a sure sign you can’t win an argument. We’re not talking about public health. we’re talking about discrimination, and you’ve not offered up a single argument that refutes Friedman’s point. All you’ve done is whine about markets allegedly being “slow”, imply politics is fast (while offering zero evidence to this effect), and ignore basically the political history of the world prior to 1960 or so.

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Katsue 09.07.17 at 1:14 pm

@65

The idea that there is some kind of distinction between the actions of the market and the actions of state power is bizarre. Legal markets are and have always been the instruments of state power, and even illegal markets rely on the state for their existence – where would the drug cartels be without the War on Drugs?

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cassander 09.07.17 at 2:56 pm

@ john c. halasz

Why does someone name himself after Cassander, Alexander the Great’s more mediocre, if no less ruthless successor?

One doesn’t.

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ave 09.07.17 at 3:06 pm

Robert [22]: “Has anybody read Amadae?”

I assume you’re talking about Prisoners of Reason and not Rationalizing Liberal Democracy (which I haven’t read yet). Prisoners of Reason is good but Amadae has an idiosyncratic definition of neoliberalism. Her main goal seems to be to rescue classical liberalism as distinct from neoliberalism, by identifying the first with the voluntary rule-following and mutual other-regarding behavior, and the latter with the Prisoner’s Dilemma logic of mutual defection and impoverishment. This separates for example the Classical Liberal Hayek (Friedman is barely mentioned at all) from the Neoliberal Buchanan, since Buchanan apparently came to believe a heavy-handed government was necessary to keep people from constantly cheating each other. According to Amadae’s reading of him, it’s irrational for us not to do so if it means disobeying our expected utility functions.

What I found odd about the book’s central distinction is that it makes it hard to see Neoliberalism as at all related to political conflicts over wealth distribution, civil rights, etc. Instead it’s influence permeated the social sciences (and Dawkins-style evolutionary theory) from rarefied Cold War debates over rational deterrence. Its primary impact on the rest of us is through re-imagining the social contract and recreating our individual subjectivity in the image of Cold War homo strategicus. Overall I thought Prisoners of Reason is a good intellectual history and critique of game theory and an original but somewhat incomplete take on Neoliberalism.

As a side note, Amadae’s writing was where I first heard of MacLean and Democracy in Chains, which she mentioned sympathetically prior to its publication. I wish I had read MacLean sooner so I could follow the debate over her better, but I’m just getting around to it now. It’s been weird watching this blow up. I listened to an interview with her before it all started and didn’t find what she had to say either paranoid or especially controversial – that libertarian economics and social theory is uneasy with and often outright hostile to democratic governance, and that “individual choice” like “states rights” is a faux-neutral smokescreen for maintaining status-quo (racist among other descriptions) power relationships. I’ll read the book first and then see what I think of the various criticisms.

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CJColucci 09.07.17 at 3:21 pm

>But people insist on arguing to this day that there can’t be, not justisn’t, but can’t be, any such thing as discrimination in employment or provision of services because — dammit — it’s economically irrational, and people just don’t let $20 bills lie on the sidewalk.

No, they don’t. But you show that strawman who’s boss!

I actually had a long wrangle with just such a “strawman” last week. And, in any event, if there is a difference between my claim and your rephrasing, other than length, I don’t see it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So let’s talk restaurants. It’s 1958 in a medium-sized southern city. There are no laws compelling segregation. You own a fine-dining restaurant in a town that can support maybe two of them. You regularly host banquets and other events for your (segregated) county bar association, the Rotary Club, and the Daughters of the Confederacy. You, personally, despise segregation and would very much like to be able to serve the four or five negro families who could afford to eat in your place, maybe four or five times a year each, and take their money. Most of your customers may be utterly indifferent to the presence of well-behaved negroes at nearby tables, but about a third of your customer base wouldn’t countenance such a thing. And, as you say, nobody is actively looking for an integrated dining experience. So do you piss off a third of your customers and lose your banquet business just to serve a dozen or so meals to negroes? It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize-worthy grasp of economics to answer that question.

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steven t johnson 09.07.17 at 3:44 pm

WLGR@53 Yes, I do believe I’ve never seen anyone ever use “idee fixe” in any but a pejorative sense. And I can’t help but feel it confirmed by the phrase “Great Mannified version.” It seems to me MacLean’s book probably does overemphasize the Kochs’ role, and I get a hint of reformist “kick out the villains!” politics, which is why I don’t plan on buying the book. (It’s not going to make it to the public library.)

Nonetheless, although ideas always have their origins in the real world, not an man’s brain, and although the perpetuation of those ideas is always in service to activity in the real world (apologetic for the rulers, practical efficacy in production or political action for others,) even so, the forms of those ideas are very much due to the Great Man (or Woman who lost the credit?)

I suppose the classic example is Marx, whose work can be summarized as French socialism, English political economy and German philosophy. Nonetheless, the actual formulation is his. And even though the spread of his ideas depended entirely upon forces beyond his individual power to summon, nonetheless, it is his words that encapsulate the practical ideas. It’s not just true in politics. Boris Hessen demonstrated the social and economic roots of Newton’s work, which was by no means unique. After all, Newton’s calculus was independently invented. Nonetheless, it is Newton’s formulation of the system of the world, something unique to him, that had such huge influence, along with the daily experience of the clock. If you dismiss nonsense about Great Men being self-caused, or divinely inspired, and such, even so, the history of ideas is also the history of Great Men.

And this is true for good or for evil. I’m sorry but in my experience weird “ideas” about regulatory capture, the inability of the state to modify markets because politics is self-interest, rent-seeking, on an on, appear to go back to Buchanan. And they have the imprimatur of science because of him. Other forces than him led to his ideas being so appetizing to the Swedish central bank, but, they were still his ideas.

I think what Jacob Levy and Steve Teles and Jason Brennan and Phil Magness and all the claque are so offended by is the possibility that MacLean’s book might popularize the idea that the wealthy are pushing false ideas in their own interest, even within academia, and that this corruption might be attributed to even the most eminent. (And it seems to me you’re solidarizing with that, sorry.) I think that’s why Jane Mayer is acceptable, especially in her emphasis on campaign expenditures, given that the Kochs have been sidelined by Trump. And I rather suspect the same of Burgin and Skocpol (and is Skocpol even relevant to popular ideas?)

I imagine Levy feels (or maybe even thinks consciously) that this is a defense of human reason against the genetic fallacy, the idea that ideas can be refuted just by pointing to the origins. And that the issue isn’t just that Buchanan’s public choice ideas can’t be dismissed because his megaphone was paid for by the Kochs. Levy and Teles essentially conduct a legal defense of Buchanan. Well, I don’t think demanding legal standards of proof is always good history. I don’t think Levy and Teles address the larger issue, because on those, they stand with the Brennans and the Magnesses.

As to the genetic fallacy itself, I can relieve Jacob Levy’s mind by confessing openly that I think every informal fallacy is yet at times a valid argument. And yes, I think the default should be to assume that academic work funded by activist parties is never to be assumed to be good science. And even worse, that academic accolades, like a Nobel, are not sufficient reason.

H Horan, your model of what Levy and Teles might have said if their object was really to sloppy historiography was very good. I think you were mistaken in thinking that was the real problem, and in thinking gentle suasion could resolve this enmity.

john c. halasz @64 “Why does someone name himself after Cassander, Alexander the Great’s more mediocre, if no less ruthless successor?”

Alexander was often noted for his clemency. The notorious exceptions were Thebes and Gaza, and the killing of people he feared threatened his life (including I suspect the notorious spearing of Cleitus, who very likely seemed to be playing Pausanias to Alexander’s Philip?) Well, Cassander as I recall didn’t have too many captured cities to treat ruthlessly, so it’s hard to know he was more merciful than Alexander.

But, Cassander evidently thought Alexander’s mother, wife and son threatened his life. He killed them. So, when I think of Cassander, I think of mediocrity stamping even the family of his superior.

And yes, you do have to wonder what’s inspiring about this image. Still, maybe Caspar Alexander can portmanteau into “Cassander?”

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Layman 09.07.17 at 3:57 pm

Cassander: “If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so. That was the whole point of jim crow, after all, to stand in the way free association. And if you claim that it did so only slowly, then I have to ask, on what metric? In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?”

Yet there were segregated schools in places that did not mandate school segregation nor enact Jim Crow laws. There were segregated neighborhoods in cities and states that did not enact Jim Crow laws. There were segregated workplaces in cities and states that did not enact Jim Crow laws. What force created this state of affairs, if not markets?

More to the point, there are segregated schools, neighborhoods, workplaces _today_, despite a state regime which overtly opposes segregation. What forces maintain this state of affairs, if not markets?

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Bernard Yomtov 09.07.17 at 4:42 pm

Cassander,

If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so. That was the whole point of jim crow, after all, to stand in the way free association. And if you claim that it did so only slowly, then I have to ask, on what metric? In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?.

A few points:

1. There was a tremendous amount of racism in areas were there were no laws requiring it. Employment is an excellent example. Employers were, in general, perfectly free, under the law, to avoid discrimination in hiring, pay, promotions, etc. Yet they discriminated, and did so for economically quite rational reasons. The market which so admire as a force for equality actually operated, under no duress, in quite the opposite way. An excellent symbolic example is the sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. There was no law prohibiting the store from serving the demonstrators. It was a presumably market-based decision by management.

2. As for schools, I think we can look at what happened after Brown. First, in many areas schools remained heavily and firmly segregated, and no private integrated schools popped up. So perhaps market forces were not, in fact, sufficient to provide integrated schools when they were free to do so. What they did provide, of course, was private segregated schools for those who wanted them. Again, the market catered to preference for racism. Thus your statement that, ” In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools.” is simply wrong as a matter of basic fact.

3. The notion that Jim Crow would not have existed without state laws is absurd. As noted, in many case there were no actual laws mandating discrimination. More important, the laws existed because they were overwhelmingly popular with the voting public. Politicians in the Jim Cow South routinely campaigned by arguing that they were bigger racists than their opponents. The public drove the laws, nat the other way around.

4. CJ Colucci’s point about restaurants is well worth your attention and careful study.

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cassander 09.07.17 at 8:48 pm

@CJColucci

So do you piss off a third of your customers and lose your banquet business just to serve a dozen or so meals to negroes? It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize-worthy grasp of economics to answer that question.

Nor does it take a expert grasp of politics to point out that in the situation you describe, there is no political solution to the situation you describe either. So again, you fail to actually offer up an argument demonstrating that markets are a worse solution than politics.

@Layman

Yet there were segregated schools in places that did not mandate school segregation nor enact Jim Crow laws. There were segregated neighborhoods in cities and states that did not enact Jim Crow laws. There were segregated workplaces in cities and states that did not enact Jim Crow laws. What force created this state of affairs, if not markets?

The question is not did they exist, the question is did markets produce more or less segregation than legally mandated segregation, and the answer is clearly, markets produced less.

More to the point, there are segregated schools, neighborhoods, workplaces _today_, despite a state regime which overtly opposes segregation. What forces maintain this state of affairs, if not markets?

so the state fails to achieve its goals, but markets are to blame? that’s impressively convoluted logic.

@Bernard Yomtov

1. There was a tremendous amount of racism in areas were there were no laws requiring it. Employment is an excellent example. Employers were, in general, perfectly free, under the law, to avoid discrimination in hiring, pay, promotions, etc. Yet they discriminated, and did so for economically quite rational reasons.

they were not perfectly free to do so in a world where there was government mandated segregation. that world imposed real and serious costs for integrated workplaces, and cannot be so casually ignored.

2. As for schools, I think we can look at what happened after Brown. First, in many areas schools remained heavily and firmly segregated, and no private integrated schools popped up.

Schools cost money. We should not be surprised that the advantages of integration were not greater than the amount of subsidy the government was providing to government run schools.

What they did provide, of course, was private segregated schools for those who wanted them. Again, the market catered to preference for racism. Thus your statement that, ” In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools.” is simply wrong as a matter of basic fact.

I love it. A century of outright state oppression dedicated to ensuring the impoverishment of black Americans in the south, and you cite the failure of them to be able to pay for public schools as a failure of markets. Truly, the special pleading is shameless, and that’s before I even get to the great migration, and the fact that something like half of the black population in the country took advantage of market forces to move out of their jim crow imposed towns and into places that were far more integrated.

3. The notion that Jim Crow would not have existed without state laws is absurd. As noted, in many case there were no actual laws mandating discrimination.

This claim was made, it remains untrue.

4. CJ Colucci’s point about restaurants is well worth your attention and careful study.

His point is a carefully constructed hothouse flower that completely ignores how markets actually work. It ignores the fact that people leave the town, move to the town, change over time, experiment with different methods. . It is easy to construct toy models that “prove” out points, but I try not to waste time with sophistry.

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J-D 09.07.17 at 9:25 pm

steven t johnson

Alexander was often noted for his clemency. The notorious exceptions were Thebes and Gaza, and the killing of people he feared threatened his life (including I suspect the notorious spearing of Cleitus, who very likely seemed to be playing Pausanias to Alexander’s Philip?) Well, Cassander as I recall didn’t have too many captured cities to treat ruthlessly, so it’s hard to know he was more merciful than Alexander.

But, Cassander evidently thought Alexander’s mother, wife and son threatened his life. He killed them. So, when I think of Cassander, I think of mediocrity stamping even the family of his superior.

When I think of Cassander, I think of the hatchet job Mary Renault did on him as a by-product of her idolisation of Alexander. But for what should Alexander be idolised? what great services did he perform for humanity? if his elective clemency after his battles is to be scored to his credit, should not the casualty totals of those battles go on the other side of the balance sheet? they were, after all, mostly if not entirely wars of choice. How much suffering and death would have been saved if he had chosen to accept any one of the peace offers Darius made him? Surely the toll for which he was responsible dwarfs Cassander’s.

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Cassander 09.08.17 at 12:00 am

@Katsue

The idea that there is some kind of distinction between the actions of the market and the actions of state power is bizarre. Legal markets are and have always been the instruments of state power, and even illegal markets rely on the state for their existence – where would the drug cartels be without the War on Drugs?

that states affect markets does not mean one cannot distinguish between market action and state action, nor does it mean that markets require states to exist. to believe that is to believe that because the sea effects beaches, one cannot possibly distinguish between water and sand.

that markets can exist in the face of extreme efforts to eliminate them, as with drugs, is proof enough of this point. There might not be drug cartels without the state, but people would certainly exchange drugs for other things, with or without the involvement of violence.

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CJColucci 09.08.17 at 1:36 am

Actually, Cassander, it turned out that there was a “political solution.” But that’s freshman history, not freshman economics. You seem to be trying to make some larger point about some general theory of government v. markets, but that’s something you should take up with someone else who cares about that. As for knowing how markets work — particularly the market for eating out and serving people who want to eat out — my family and I have been in and around the hospitality business for generations. Enlighten me.

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Orange Watch 09.08.17 at 4:36 am

Cassander@73 (mostly):

If you say that the market did not accomplish those aims, I respond, well of course not, the state prohibited it from doing so.
[…]
The question is not did they exist, the question is did markets produce more or less segregation than legally mandated segregation, and the answer is clearly, markets produced less.
[…]
so the state fails to achieve its goals, but markets are to blame? that’s impressively convoluted logic.

Markets must be credited with their successes, but cannot be blamed for their failures? Special pleading, to put it mildly.

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Katsue 09.08.17 at 12:42 pm

@75

The analogy between oceans and the state is a poor one. States are constructed and administered by humans, whereas oceans are not.

As for residential segregation and markets – a moment’s thought will show that there cannot possibly exist a market in land without a state to create the institution of private property in the first place. Without a state to enforce private property rights, territory will be held by whatever kin group is strong enough to take and hold it. Whether segregation is directly caused by state action or by the ostensibly free market, the ultimate cause is, in fact, political. The cause being political, it is unlikely that the solution is not political.

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Katsue 09.08.17 at 1:03 pm

Back to Milton Friedman.

When I was in secondary school, I was taught in my Economics class that Milton Friedman argued that it wasn’t the responsibility of the government to provide for the poor – it should be left to private charity. Later, when I studied accountancy, I learned that Milton Friedman opposed corporate charity as theft from the corporation’s shareholders.

It was hard not to draw the conclusion that Milton Friedman had some kind of issue with poor people and didn’t want them to be helped.

80

steven t johnson 09.08.17 at 1:21 pm

J-D@74 Perhaps your friend Cassander should take this up? Except for a desire to argue with me specifically?

The wars with Persia began long before Alexander. Even the specific war that Alexander fought had already started. Parmenion was leading an invasion force before Alexander became king. As to the notion that a nineteen year old with a claim to the throne would risk his life by not acting on the claim, or that he would not need to win the wars to keep his throne, that just isn’t very alert to the sad facts of real world life. For that matter, though, the notion that somehow Darius would make a genuine final peace with the Greeks when Persia hadn’t all those years before isn’t very plausible either.

In short, the idea the wars were really wars of choice, in the world of two millennia ago, is nicely judgmental. But it’s the sort of thing that gives moralizing a bad name. That’s especially given that if you want to rant about wars of choice, there is the US to consider. Or if that’s too topical, there’s the Great War, whose significance we still refuse to acknowledge, despite the centenary.

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Bernard Yomtov 09.08.17 at 1:54 pm

Cassander,

Perhaps you can tell us what great costs government-mandated segregation imposed on an employer who had an integrated workplace. Remember, there were hardly any laws mandating segregated workplaces. Perhaps you can tell us how you think whites in the Jim Crow South would have reacted to having a black supervisor. If you think the project would be a success you are mistaken.

Let me ask you a question. In 1950’s Alabama you are charged with a serious crime. Would you hire a black lawyer to defend you in front of an inevitably racist judge and jury?

at 62 you wrote,

In the US there was no period in which market forces were allowed to work on desegregating schools. we jumped straight from government mandated and enforced segregation to government mandated and enforced desegregation. In what period did markets have time to fail to work insufficiently quickly to meet your tastes?

That statement, as I and others have pointed out, is plainly false. Now you defend it by the irrelevant claim that the reason is that schools cost money. Well, yes, but so what? Besides, that cost did not prevent the establishment, as a consequence of market forces, of private segregatedschools once public schools were integrated. If you cannot acknowledge this simple point you are simply trolling.

You say, if I understand correctly, that segregation occurred only when required by law, claiming my disagreement with this is untrue. I don’t know how to respond, except that you don’t know what you are talking about.

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Collin Street 09.08.17 at 2:15 pm

There might not be drug cartels without the state, but people would certainly exchange drugs for other things, with or without the involvement of violence.

Roflcopters.

Sure. But it’s not a market, Jim. The defining feature of a market is indifference to the identity of the counterparty; you buy off whoever sells your product, you sell to whoever has the coin. This… doesn’t really happen, in non-state polities; exchange runs through preexisting social relations, you only trade with people you know and have a pre-existing relationship, that you feel you can trust. It’s only the all-pervading power of the modern state that lets us deal safely with complete strangers; even in primative states like plantagenet britain markets were a pretty marginal affair.

Seriously, you need to know this shit. It’s fairly basic economic history; it was known to the people who wrote the texts you’re working off, and if you don’t understand it yourself you won’t be able to understand what they were trying to tell you.

[you can humpty-dumpty “market” to cover every form of exchange, but then results that depend on the old definition of “market” don’t expand to follow. I mean… you expand “market” enough and “tax” becomes a market exchange…]

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cassander 09.08.17 at 3:33 pm

@CJColucci 09.08.17 at 1:36 am

Actually, Cassander, it turned out that there was a “political solution.” But that’s freshman history, not freshman economics.

There was a political solution in the US as a whole, not in the southern town you describe. So which are we talking about, your model, or actual history? Because you can’t have it both ways, though from where I’m sitting, neither example proves your point. If you’re talking about your closed town, then there’s no political solution, so markets are, at most, equally unhelpful. If we’re going outside the town, then we have the actual historical example of millions of blacks taking advantage of market opportunities to leave the south, and move to less segregated places, exactly the sort of thing you say doesn’t happen.

@orange

Markets must be credited with their successes, but cannot be blamed for their failures? Special pleading, to put it mildly.

there is no special pleading here. if you make market action illegal or effectively illegal, you cannot blame markets for the outcome produced. If I threaten to shoot

markets get credit or blame when they are tried, and fail. On the question of school segregation in the south you cannot argue that markets failed, because they were never tried. You could argue that they were tried in the sense that 1/3-1/2 of the black population moved out of the south in the great migration into vastly less segregated environments, but in that sense they succeeded.

@Katsue

You seem to be trying to make some larger point about some general theory of government v. markets, but that’s something you should take up with someone else who cares about that.

No, I just want to see if anyone here has an actual, internally coherent argument against Friedman. Despite the fact that you all seem incredibly certain he is obviously wrong, the answer so far appears to be no. I find this curious, if not unsurprising.

The analogy between oceans and the state is a poor one. States are constructed and administered by humans, whereas oceans are not.

this makes no difference. But if you prefer, you are saying that because the sword was forged with a hammer, you can’t tell the difference between the sword and the hammer.

As for residential segregation and markets – a moment’s thought will show that there cannot possibly exist a market in land without a state to create the institution of private property in the first place.

A moment’s thought might show that. A pity you didn’t think about it for more than a moment though. If you had, you might have realized that while this idea is plausible, it’s demonstrably false. I can give you a list of markets existing without government enforcement, often in the face of vigorous attempts by government to suppress them, as long as my arm. Nobel prizes have been won studying them. Governments can certainly make markets function better and with less violence, but to say that because they often do that there is no distinction between the two is pure sophistry, the sort of foolishness only the clever can convince themselves of.

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Collin Street 09.08.17 at 9:54 pm

I can give you a list of markets existing without government enforcement

Not in the technical sense you can’t. Drug dealing and what have you aren’t “market exchanges” in the technical economic sense because the desire not to buy from or sell to Officer Joe Strange means that the identity of the counterparty matters, and the net result means that buying drugs is — in areas with active enforcement — actually closer to those weird formalised social-structure-reinforcing exchanges you see in primitive societies than it is to walking down to the corner shop for a loaf of bread.

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Bernard Yomtov 09.09.17 at 5:49 pm

On the question of school segregation in the south you cannot argue that markets failed, because they were never tried.

What do you mean, they were never tried. Markets did not provide integrated schools, but not because they had no opportunity to do so, as has been repeatedly pointed out. (and that has little to do with competition from free public schools. Private schools do exist, after all, and some were established to avoid integration.) They were not provided because there was no demand. That doesn’t mean they had no chance.

I just want to see if anyone here has an actual, internally coherent argument against Friedman. Despite the fact that you all seem incredibly certain he is obviously wrong, the answer so far appears to be no.

Nonsense. Lots of such arguments have been presented. You sound like the parish priest arguing that no one has any good argument against the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

Consider the exact word quoted:

“The man who objects to buying from or working alongside a Negro, for example, thereby limits his range of choice,” he explained. “He will generally have to pay a higher price for what he buys or receive a lower return for his work. Or, put the other way, those of us who regard color of skin or religion as irrelevant can buy some things more cheaply as a result.”

The simple blunder here is the assumption that having more money rather than less is the sole preference that drives all human behavior. Not so. A worker who is a racist may be glad to accept a lower-paying job, if in fact he has to (in the south he didn’t have to) , to avoid working with blacks. That is just spending money to get something you want, just as paying extra to have a steak rather than hamburger for dinner is. Individual economic behavior is not about money, but about tastes and preferences.

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Shirley0401 09.09.17 at 6:46 pm

As a layperson, I agree that a lot more people should read No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart. Part of me felt a little embarrassed at the simplistic for-instances, before realizing I was giving myself far too much credit, and admitted that they were helping me understand the things he was addressing far better than I would have without the examples.
I also agree that, when it’s published, it should have a new title.

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Shirley0401 09.09.17 at 6:46 pm

*RE-published. Oops.

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CJColucci 09.10.17 at 12:26 am

There was a political solution in the U.S. as a whole, not in the southern town you describe.

Last I looked, little southern towns were part of “the U.S. as a whole.” We fought a war over just that point, though some folks down there still refuse to accept that their side lost.

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