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.

-RW