Monday, February 10, 2014

Go Along and Get Along Libertarians

Just because I have already used the term “milquetoast”….

A faction of libertarians (very loosely applying the term) believes that there is hope in working within the system, that the intentions of many in power are good and that they only need to be influenced by better policy prescriptions.  Here, for example, from FEE:

If logic decided policy in Washington, federal spending would be low, the budget would be balanced, the benefits of regulations would exceed the costs, and policymakers would guard against unintended consequences. Unfortunately, the nation’s capital is largely impervious to logic, and the tragic results are obvious for all to see.

Let’s examine this introductory clause:

If logic decided policy in Washington…

Too many go-along-libertarians miss a very important point: logic does decide policy in Washington.  It is not logic of the market; it is not logic of respecting private property; it is not logic of negative rights.

It is logic of coercion, used to achieve ends not achievable through voluntary means.  As Hoppe puts it, it is not a competition in the productions of goods but a competition in the production of bads. Get-along libertarians want to apply the logic of the production of goods to the production of bads.  Washington is very logical when one accepts that it uses a logic perfectly fit for the production of bads.

Once one accepts that this is Washington-logic, then the rest of this paragraph is not applicable.  Instead, under Washington-logic…

…federal spending would be high, the budget would always be in deficit, the benefits of regulations would accrue to the politically connected, and policymakers would be indifferent to unintended consequences.

The misdiagnosis of this reality by go-along libertarians leads to faulty strategies – faulty strategies based on the premise that good can come via working through the political system.

The article at FEE highlights the consequences of such misdiagnosis:

Emotion and intention seem to have become the principal determinants of government policy.

It isn’t emotion; it is a pandering to influential and financially connected constituents.

People are poor? Increase the minimum wage.

It isn’t for concern of the poor; it is to protect union jobs which can be counted on, for the most part, to support the political class.

Not everyone can afford a home? Create a dozen housing subsidy programs.

It isn’t for home affordability; it is a subsidy to the homebuilding and real estate industries.

Some people don’t have health insurance? Enact Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare.

It isn’t for “health insurance” (a silly concept in any case); at best, it is subsidy to the medical and medical insurance industries.  At worst, something more nefarious.

There is an infinitesimal chance of something bad happening somewhere somehow? Issue a regulation making everyone spend a lot of money and effort to ensure that it doesn’t.

Regulation isn’t enacted to prevent something bad from happening; regulation is protection for existing producers against potential producers, it is protection for large producers from the small producers.

And all of it requires force to enact – the most basic violation of property rights, and without property rights there are no rights.

As the officials involved mean well…

This is the most dangerous belief.  Most of the “officials,” and certainly the ones in position to act, don’t mean well – at least not “well” in any moral definition of the term.  The belief in this by the go-along libertarians demonstrates their naiveté, or cynicism.

In an attempt to excuse the politicians’ poor judgment, the author offers:

This widespread inability to compare consequences to intentions is a basic problem of humanity.

This is nonsense.  If humans were programmed with this “basic problem,” human life on earth would not have survived the dawning of the age.  It is not a “basic problem of humanity”; it is not even a basic problem for politicians: the politicians and government officials are acting quite logically within a system that rewards the production of bads.

Politicians are rewarded for such behavior – better committees, higher political donations, more influence in the party.  Bureaucrats are rewarded when they spend more money or promote regulation favorable to the industry they later hope to call “employer”; prosecutors receive promotions the higher the conviction rate, regardless of justice; more arrests require more police and more convictions.  The list is as long as the list of government departments.

Today those who think with their hearts rather than their minds have largely taken control of the nation’s policy agenda.

Please…did George Bush and Dick Cheney think with their hearts?  Pelosi with Obamacare?  The entire apparatus of the state turning the Middle East and North Africa into an unlivable hell?  Is it due to heartfelt concern for the citizenry that we are not told the true story of September 11?

I could write ten-thousand words with examples of those in “control of the nation’s policy agenda” acting, not with their hearts, but with cold, calculating cruelty and evil…the best one can say is that they are acting logically in the competition for producing bads.

Nowhere has this been more destructive than in the area of poverty.

As Charles Murray demonstrated so devastatingly three decades ago in his famous book, Losing Ground, ever-expanding federal anti-poverty initiatives ended up turning poor people into permanent wards of Washington. Worse, unconditional welfare benefits turned out to discourage education, punish work, inhibit marriage, preclude family formation, and, ultimately, destroy community.

No one intended this result.

Is it possible that this is due solely to misplaced good intentions?  After 50 years of the obviously failing war on poverty (if success is actually to mean a reduction in poverty), not only have the policies been continued and expanded – there is virtually no serious dialogue about taking a philosophically different path.

After ten years, wasn’t it obvious that the war on poverty was failing, and that political power was increasing and other forms of governance decreasing?  After 20 years?  30?

What if the intent is to create constituents for increased political power?  What if the intent is to erode other forms of governance – individual, family, community, and church – to slowly move society toward the acceptance of civic governance as the only form of governance?  Would it be possible, then, to consider the policies were not failures, but successes?

The competition is not for goods, it is for bads.  If it was for goods, lessons would be learned and significant changes made.  Instead, each year brings a doubling down of policies that appear to be failures to the go-along libertarians but in fact are successes to the politicians and government officials.

Few people in politics fail to claim to be acting for the public good. In many cases they really believe it. But good intentions are never enough. Consequences are critical.

Admittedly, worrying about consequences seems cold and utilitarian. But consequences are the truest test of any policy.

This is my biggest beef with the go-along-get-along libertarians.  They are utilitarian.  They measure consequences.  They ignore the root.

The root is theft.  The root is the violation of property rights via the violation of the non-aggression principle.  I don’t want to be slave to an econometrician telling me how government spending helps the economy; or the FDA telling me what I can or can’t put in my body; or the pros and cons of intervention in Iraq.

It is not acceptable that my consequences are the result of someone else’s policy.  Yet this is the discussion in which go-along libertarians want to participate.

If the litmus test is consequences, interventions of all sorts are a certainty because debate on intervention is acceptable. 

This ensures that the interventionists will win.

And this is what is advocated in articles such as this one at FEE.


  1. love your "milquetoast commentaries" series, as I'm dubbing them now.

    I'll post this one this week. Excellent!

  2. You commented on Vance's dismantling the empire with Jefferson's Empire of virtue all across North America. He should have known better and I suspect totally regretted his time as president, becoming the producer in chief of the 'bads"

  3. Quite right! We should be careful not to confuse the rhetoric of coercive rulers with their actual objectives.