Wednesday, November 2, 2016

John Chait on "Libertarian Economics"

You knew this was going to happen somewhere. A scribe was going to open up his laptop and link libertarianism with authoritarianism and statist economic policies.

Jonathan Chait has written a column for New York following Peter Theil's speech Monday in Washington D.C at the National Press Club. The speech was in support of the very policy confused Donald Trump.

I attacked  Theil's speech aggressively here at EPJ, fearing it would result in just the kind of essay that Chait pumped out. Theil is no libertarian and I said so:
Many view billionaire Silicon Valley operator Peter Thiel a libertarian. Indeed, he calls himself a libertarian. But he is far from such. It is a stretch to even call him a conservative in the old school sense....
It would be nice to see some free market support coming from a Silicon Valley billionaire or, even better, libertarian support, but Theil is not that billionaire.
It is extremely dangerous for libertarians to provide unqualified support for  people like Theil and Trump. The state is evil but those that oppose the current form of evil may not be in favor of ripping down the structure, just in favor of replacing it with themselves or their operatives at the top.

Their support for Trump provides the opportunity for Chait to write the words:
My argument that the [Republican] party is lurching toward a synthesis of libertarian (economic) ends harnessed to authoritarian means may sound at first blush like a contradiction. But Thiel is a helpful illustration of the reality that right-wing libertarianism is far more comfortable with authoritarianism than you might presume.
I repeat what I wrote in my original post on the Theil speech. Theil is against free trade, he absurdly sees the trade deficit as a problem and appears to be in favor of massive government infrastructure programs. None of these things are libertarian positions. These aren't even free market positions. Indeed, during the speech, Theil seemed to be fed up with free market solutions.

"We cannot let free market ideology serve as an excuse for decline," he said.

Chait is taking Theil's declaration that he is a libertarian as accurate. It is not.

Chait goes on:
Economic libertarianism contains an intrinsic fear of the majority using the ballot box to redistribute resources from the few to the many.
But libertarianism is against all redistribution. It is NOT in favor of crony corporate opportunists anymore  than a redistribution from businessmen who  provide products and services that consumers desire.

In other words, the libertarian position is much more sophisticated and encompassing than Chait suggests. It does not support crony corporations who gain by cooperating with the state. Chait is far from clear about this point to the degree it could be argued he is providing the misimpression that libertarians are in favor of all corporations---including crony corporations.

As for Chait attempting to tie in the populist campaign of Trump with libertarianism, there is a severe problem here. Populists are anti-establishment and not necessarily against the vote or a strong government. Indeed, Chait correctly hints that parts of the Trump populist movement wouldn't mind seeing an authoritarian leader doing away with much of democracy.

The libertarian position on democracy is far different. It does not see democracy as an impediment to an authoritarian leader but a method by which the state is advanced in a particularly clever manner. The last thing libertarians want to see is an authoritarian leader spout edicts from above, democratically elected or otherwise. Libertarianism is about shrinking the state.

It is not difficult to understand how Chait reaches his view that libertarianism is somehow intertwined with the Trump movement when some under the libertarian banner offer support for Trump without qualifications.

It is one thing for a libertarian to point out that the establishment fears Trump but it is wrong to do so and not point out that on almost every policy position Trump is neither free market oriented nor libertarian.

I repeat, libertarianism is not about shrinking the state except for some right wing statist positions. Nor is libertarianism about shrinking the state except for some cultural Marxists positions, which Chait seems to be more in favor of:
To be sure, many libertarians oppose Trump. The most anti-Trump libertarians are the ones who place the least emphasis on economic policy...
Libertarianism is about shrinking the state, end of story.

If this is not consistently made clear by libertarians, every opportunist out there is going to tie libertarianism with some form of authoritarianism.

Peter Theil and Donald Trump are not a help to the libertarian movement. They are advocates almost across the board for state interventions. Libertarians must make this clear at every opportunity.



  1. So many straw men. Ugh. Haven't both sides, for over century, been absorbing ideologies and using their popularity as a means to their ends (which is almost always some form of mercantilism in my mind)? It's clear that true libertarianism can not be totalitarian, unless it can be shown that markets could create authoritarian structures equal to that of totalitarian governments. That's fairly cost prohibitive from a market standpoint.

    Apologists are such rabidly crazy preachers for the state. Krugman is one of the worst, which is why he's so well rewarded, I guess. Honestly, quoting someone on libertarianism, then switching the word to conservatism? Apples and oranges, Kruggie. High school math students get it better than you. Of course, they're not as well paid and promoted to lie to such an extent.

    1. It's clear that true libertarianism can not be totalitarian, unless

      Someone please describe in detail a model where totalitarianism can be enforced where there is strict and enforceable ban upon the initiation of violence.

    2. So, Bob, you took that out of context. Way to go, as the rest of that sentence, from its beginning to end, pretty much answers your question. Sheesh, what a stickler.

      Here's a question for you: If there is a libertarian society according to your description, would guns be necessary? Or any other type of defensive weapon?

    3. The women who know me (and thus hate me) call it O.C.D. I point out to them that they are similarly concerned that their plates don’t clash with their curtains. So who’s crazy now?

      And yes, and I do have O.C.D. regarding the fact that private neighborhoods will write their own by-laws and which libertarians do not have to write. One set of bylaws could be for a “progressive” lifestyle community which bans guns and homophobes. Another set could be for an evangelical community which bans dope, dopers, gays and atheists.

      I suppose that if your AnCap community is on the German/Polish border in 1939, it might be wise to have some guns. But that’s not my call.

    4. I'm not going to really start something with you, Bob. That's out of respect for your insights, which I've enjoyed reading here in the comments section for many moons. However, the question I have is this: Who enforces? And how? A society where the initiation of force is banned would be wonderful, imo, but what's to uphold the ban? How are contracts enforced? All answers seem to lead back to some sort of group with guns - or maybe lasers by the time something like this comes to fruition (jet packs optional). Could a group become state-like in its ability to monopolize force to a point that it is not challenged? (A government by any other name.)

      If so, could it afford to? I'll give you the last word if you wish. I will not respond further in order to keep this civil and short.

    5. Brutus: Those are perfectly good questions which I admit are rarely addressed. For AnCap to work, it will require a rather large consensus. Since we are not starting from scratch and we have hardly any consensus at all, prospects appear dim. What must happen is a consensus holding that you cannot sue someone for not entering into a contract with you and that private neighborhoods must be allowed to form which can keep out whomever they want and which have private roads, schools and sidewalks. Those communities could jointly retain contractual security forces if they chose and opt out of various taxes for services they no longer require. Central to any outreach is an emphasis that these communities can (if they chose) reflect varying lifestyle choices so that such choices are de-politicized and available.

      But until that is established, there is really little point in worrying about the next stage of state reduction, at least in so far as aiming for AnCap. In addition to the near total hostility from non-libertarians, the Gary Johnson and “thick” factions do not seem interested in defending those positions either.

      I still think that we should always demand that a statist prove beyond a reasonable doubt the basis for his/her proposal for violent intervention.

  2. Articles written by Jonathan Chait is why I hate it when some within the movement throw the "purist" argument when other writers criticize "libertarians" like Johnson. It's not being a purist it's being on point and clear with the philosophy. It's not a centrist view between liberalism and conservatism nor is it some sub group of conservatism. I also read this article on the way to take the LP from the leftists for those who are interested

  3. The state is not evil. It's not a creature. It's just a man-made organization. You sound religious about it.

    1. The IDEA of the State is a creature. It is alive, in the same sense as parasitic bacteria are alive.