The end of shmibertarianism

by John Quiggin on November 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Rodrik seminar

by Henry on November 1, 2007

We’ll be doing a seminar on Dani Rodrik’s new book _One Economics, Many Recipes_ in the nearish future. Originally, the seminar was going to go upshortly after the book’s launch, but the book got out into the stores earlier than originally planned. Those who have an interest in buying the book so as better to follow the discussion can do so at “Powells”: or “Amazon”:

Something funny with the hedge funds

by Henry on November 1, 2007

“This FT article”: from Eoin Callan on private equity and hedge fund managers’ efforts to fight off taxes on deferred interests has a weird undertone to it. First of all, this:

House Democrats are determined to move ahead with new taxes, so the industry has concentrated its efforts on blocking threatened legislation in the Senate, courting influential figures such as Harry Reid, majority leader. Mr Reid was toasted by industry lobbyists recently at a party held at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The event was billed as a moneyraiser for his special fund to get more Democrats elected – with generous donations suggested – and ended with a serenade by singer Barry Manilow. After the event, Mr Reid’s office indicated that the Senate leader continued to think it unlikely a bill to increase tax on carried interest would be passed before the end of this session. Lobbyists were anxious not to appear too gleeful.

So far, so run of the mill Democrats-showing-that-they-too-can-ramp-up-the-sleaze-to-11. But this is where it gets strange:

But while winning new friends, the industry is also gaining a reputation for making enemies that might haunt them as the political fight drags on. “These guys are not playing it well. They have hired too many people too quickly,” a senior Democratic tax staffer said. An industry lobbyist said: “A lot of good people are being hired, but some bozos too. They are trying to throw too much weight around but it is going to backfire.

“It is getting nasty: below the belt stuff; delving into people’s personal lives; crossing lines,” added the lobbyist, who was critical of colleagues but reluctant to repeat publicly allegations being made privately about lawmakers and congressional staff. People close to industry lobby groups such as the Private Equity Council and the Managed Funds Association are adamant they are not to blame for any sharp elbows thrown on Capitol Hill. Privately they tend to blame each other for black eyes to the industry’s reputation.

I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that Callan (who is an excellent and careful journalist, as best as I can tell from his previous articles) is suggesting that hedge fund lobbyists are blackmailing politicians and their aides over their personal lives, or doing the next best thing to it. Is there another plausible explanation that I’m missing here?

Half a metaphor

by John Quiggin on November 1, 2007

I’m writing a piece (in the form of a debate with Jason Potts) on the Internet and non-market innovation (open source, blogs, wikis and Web 2.0 more generally) and the editors asked us to say something about digital literacy. I’ve never paid much attention to this metaphor, maybe because of excessive exposure to its predecessor, computer literacy.

It strikes me though, that discussion of digital literacy focuses almost entirely on reading (how to navigate the Web, find reliable information and so on). The things I’m talking about are forms of writing.

Thinking about the rise of text literacy, the distinction tends to be blurred a bit, because most (not all) people who learn to read also learn to write. Still, there’s plenty of discussion of the importance of writing to groups (women, working people) traditionally excluded from written culture.

So, I’m surprised at the neglect of this point in relation to digital literacy, especially because the Internet has done so much to break down the asymmetry between a small group of writers and a large group of readers that characterises most communications media. Having said this, I’m sure this point has been made many times before, and I invite readers to write in with good references.

As an aside, “computer literacy” programs in the late 70s and early 80s had, if anything, the opposite problem. Lots of emphasis on how to code in BASIC and very little appreciation of the potential for computers as tools for general use.