Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Centrally Planned Decentralization

Either that or an excellent example of a strawman argument.  Or both.

Recently, some of my friends singled out this piece by Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, as truly awful. When I actually read it, however, it seemed like a reasonable presentation of a plausible view.

You know, I always say you can tell about a man by the company he keeps.  While Caplan refers to the piece as “reasonable” and “plausible,” his friends see it as “truly awful.”  What do his friends see as “truly awful”?  We can’t know for sure, other than to perhaps infer something from the lines of Deist’s speech cited by Caplan:

[L]ibertarians are busy promoting universalism even as the world moves in the other direction…. Mecca is not Paris, an Irishman is not an Aboriginal, a Buddhist is not a Rastafarian, a soccer mom is not a Russian…. Or would our time be better spent making the case for political decentralization, secession, and subsidiarity? In other words, should we let Malta be Maltese?

We should prefer states’ rights to federalization in the US, and cheer for the breakup of EU. We should support breakaway movements in places like Catalonia and Scotland and California.

Now maybe these are the parts Caplan finds “reasonable”; maybe these are not the parts Caplan’s friends find “truly awful.”  You might get some sense of this when you find that Caplan is to the left of the United Nations on open borders and immigration.  I leave to you to decide the reason why Caplan’s friends regard Deist’s piece as “truly awful.”

But where is the “centrally planned” stuff hinted at in my title, or the “strawman” introduced shortly thereafter?

The strawman will be found with Caplan’s opening objection – really a rhetorical question:

But does decentralization alone really promote liberty or prosperity?

Now, you know my view: more choices, it’s all about more choices.

But I won’t speak for Deist.  Did anyone say anything about “alone”?  A words search on Deist’s piece yields exactly zero results for the word “alone.”  It doesn’t seem to be a point raised by Deist.

Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries. Labor can’t move; capital can’t move. In this scenario, each country seems perfectly able to pursue its policies free of competitive pressure.

Why does Caplan “suppose” this?  Deist certainly doesn’t suppose this in his piece.  I think it is “reasonable” (to borrow that word from Caplan) to “suppose” that some of these decentralized governance entities will support controls on capital and labor to a greater or lesser degree than others…you know, kind of like what happens today.

Why would Deist even think to bother introducing this issue of “mobility,” that this even need be said?  Why does Caplan introduce this?  The questions answer themselves.

So much for the strawman.  The central planning will be found in Caplan’s requirements for this decentralized world offered by Deist:

The story would change, of course, if you combine decentralization with resource mobility.

Government large or small doesn’t matter to Caplan; what matters is “resource [labor and capital] mobility.”  In other words, open borders and open immigration.  Of course, the simplest solution to achieve this is one world government….


From Deist’s speech (and cited by Caplan):

We should, in sum, prefer small to large when it comes to government.

I can’t think of a way to disagree with this from a libertarian standpoint: smaller in size, smaller in geography, smaller in regulations, smaller in military, smaller in population, etc., etc., etc.  Is there anything non-libertarian about “small” as opposed to “big” when it comes to modern government?  Caplan believes so:

If you can decentralize without changing anything else, great.

Impossible.  You can’t change just one thing.  Either Caplan doesn’t understand the reasons why people might want to decentralize (they want “change”; I know this seems too obvious to have to point it out, but there you have it) or he purposely introduces conditions that make decentralization impossible for libertarian support.

Otherwise, hold your applause until you’ve carefully analyzed decentralization’s net effect on liberty and prosperity.

In other words, “liberty and prosperity” must be centrally planned, and defined only as Caplan and other universalist utopians define the terms; based only on their value scale and not the value scale of those who want to decentralize.  Decentralization is only worthwhile if all governments (and all people) first embrace Caplan’s view of “liberty and prosperity.”


Regarding the subject piece by Jeff Deist, I wrote something on it at the time.  You might find it of interest.


  1. "Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries. Labor can’t move; capital can’t move... Why should we expect [decentralization under these conditions] to promote liberty, prosperity, or anything else?" - Caplan

    Even taking his "zero mobility" premise for granted, I still think it would be a boon for liberty. 1.) Smaller government means, all else equal, that the disparity of force between the government and any given person will be less. This means that if the ruler of the smaller nation begins violating the rights of his people, he's more likely to be killed for it, thus he's more likely to refrain from violating rights. 2.) Also smaller governments, especially if they don't trade with the outside world, will have less resources at their disposal and therefore, will be less capable militarily and thus less likely to pursue a policy of militaristic empire building (one of the primary ways states justify subverting rights).

    Of course his whole "zero mobility" premise is pure nonsense. No place in the world that has zero mobility today, and there's absolutely no reason to believe that in a world of a much greater number of smaller sovereign nations that every single one will adopt this policy. It's almost as absurd as imagining an anarcho-capitalist world where every single property owner or covenant community practices an open border policy. That Caplan has to subject decentralization to such an absurd condition in order cast a hint of a shadow of a doubt on it proves just how obviously meritorious it really is.

    Hoppe has a great presentation on why smaller is better.

    "And the fact that a few great polities exist on Earth is small comfort to the vast majority of people who will never get to live or invest there." - Caplan

    That's their problem. Thanks to decentralization, there will be, by his own admission, a few places that are great. Isn't that alone worth supporting?

    "While people around the world migrate for prosperity and freedom, they rarely vote for them." - Caplan

    It seems from the statement above and his open borders stance, he is willfully advocating policies antithetical toward liberty, since, I'm sure he would agree, it is a policy of liberty that is always responsible for prosperity.

    So he advocates open borders while living in a democracy which he must tacitly agree (given his statement on voting) will most likely decrease prosperity and liberty, but he's not so sure about decentralization, which might decrease prosperity and liberty if a ridiculously absurd and highly improbable condition arises.

    Me thinks he has an agenda other than the promotion of liberty.

    1. Open borders advocates often attempt to conflate the movement of goods with the movement of people; of course, there is no reason - natural, logical, even libertarian - to do this.

      "Look, when you decentralize you will have to produce your own oil, build your own plastic junk to sell in your self-built Wal-Mart. See! You don't want to decentralize."

      He is holding the freedom afforded by decentralization and smaller governments hostage to his open borders religion. I think it is not more complicated than this.

    2. It's similar logic to the old rhetoric about isolationism - all or nothing, be the policemen of the world or have no interaction at all.

      There's no happy medium for these people and the reason for the attack has nothing to do with their stated objections and everything to do with reshaping the world in their image.

    3. Same for open borders (by many of the same libertarians who criticize Deist's speech). You are either for open borders or you support the police state. Nothing possible in between, no other alternative can be contemplated.

  2. Internationalist maybe globalist is the term which can be taken as xenophobic or racist. I believe you catch my drift. It seems to boil down to this as uncomfortable as it is to discuss.

    The whole thing you got to ask yourself is it sincere meaning his philosophy or is he be holding to a higher power.

    Is it because that evil white nationalism just doesn't sit well with him or is it too contrary or uncontrollable to those who seek Dominion and seizure of production and resources on a global scale and are by in large Mercantillist by definition?

  3. This is embarrassing, but I really don't know how to email you directly.
    So, Hi Jonathon.
    You probably have seen this, but if not, you need to see this. ESPECIALLY, but not exclusively, minute 57 or so.
    J. Peterson. Boy, what a great inspiration he is.
    All the best, Bugman,
    Capn Mike

    1. Thanks, I will check it out.

      For an email address, see the "About / Comment" tab.


  4. I am not against polemic, but you are really too shallow in those kind of things. I think that polemics are where you are at your worst. You are far better when you explain your ideas without polemicize, and when you comment authors with which you agree.

    The impression your writing gives to me, this time and many others, is that you are never trying to really understand the reasoning of the people you criticize. And also that you are never really trying to falsify your thesis.

    In this case I found your piece a little embarrassing with silly rethorical questions like “Did anyone say anything about alone?” “Why does Caplan introduce this?” “Why does Caplan suppose this?”.

    With the same attitude I can say that Caplan never said (here) open borders, and never said centralization. You can’t seriously equate open borders and mobility. And about decentralization I think Caplan is simply saying “what if I have a central power that exercises a minimal control, but prevent other power to come, and decentralizing I found that the new powers will implement more control?” Isn’t this possible?

    And your conclusion is completely unmotivated, at least if we refer to what Caplan written this time. I can understand what you write and the rancor in it because I know your, Caplan, Deist positions and precedent string polemics and accusations, but here you did not add anything worthwhile neither about decentralization, nor about right an left libertarianism.